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How to Choose Pet Food

The Martha Stewart Show, May 2010

Picking out pet food can be more complicated than choosing groceries for your family. It's hard to know what your pet will like, and more importantly, your pet's nutritional needs aren't as apparent as those of humans.

While we eat different foods at each meal to balance our diet, pets need more consistency. "Coming up with a balanced diet for cats and dogs is more like feeding an infant," says Dr. Jill Cline, an animal nutritionist at Purina. "You have to have a complete and balanced meal every meal."

Key Ingredients
Next time you're in the pet food aisle, Jill suggests looking for these essential ingredients.

  • Real meat, poultry, or fish: This should be the first ingredient on the back of the bag. These proteins provide the necessary amino acids to build strong muscles, including a healthy heart.
  • Antioxidants, like vitamin E and selenium: These promote a healthy immune system. As in people, the immune system of your pet is an important defense system against disease and illness. Antioxidants help your pet's whole body thrive.
  • Wholesome grains, like oatmeal and rice: Whole grains provide nutrients and the ongoing energy that your pet needs.

For balanced nutrition, Jill recommends the new versions of Purina ONE products called SmartBlend for a dog or cat's whole-body health.

Warning Signs
If your dog or cat isn't getting the proper nutritional balance, you'll know it from these red flags.

  • Dull coat, patchy skin, or dandruff: Any of these might signal that the fatty acid amount or combination in your pet's diet isn't correct. This can affect the coat color, hair texture, and hair strength.
  • Change in stool quality: Loose, unusually smelly, or very hard stool might mean your pet has an upset gut. The best way to address this is to feed a consistent diet, and be cognizant of what you're feeding as treats. Treats shouldn't be more than 10 percent of your pet's daily caloric intake.
  • Constant bad breath, plaque buildup, or decay: Crunchy pieces in food can help prevent all of these things, which is very important for dogs and cats. With dogs, it's really important to remediate plaque buildup, as it can lead to acquired heart disease.