Easily, the most common question I get in the exam room is about what food is best for their pet. I understand why because there are so many choices out there and pet food labels only muddy the waters. What I generally offer people are some broad guidelines to help navigate the waters and choose the right food for their pet at certain life stages.
Puppies and kittens have different nutritional needs when they are actively growing and they need diets designed for this stage of life. Large-breed dogs such as Labradors can be prone to some developmental orthopedic problems if they grow too quickly and large-breed puppy foods are not as calorie dense as regular puppy food, so look for a food formulated for large-breed dogs.
Toy breeds such as poodles can have trouble with the larger kibble and many puppy food lines will have a small bite that the little ones can handle better. These foods are nutritionally complete, so never give your puppy a supplement without consulting with your veterinarian.
How long to feed your puppy or kitten this diet can be confusing as well. The larger your dog, the closer to six months of age should be the target time to transition to an adult food. The added calories can contribute to some obesity issues, and switching to an adult food early may help. This doesn't mean you have to throw out the brand new 40-pound bag of food when your puppy hits six months, but transition over a few days to the new food at the end of the bag.
Whether to offer canned or wet food is purely a personal choice. For cats it can be a good idea to occasionally offer a small treat of canned food so that if you ever need to give medication to him you have a method to hide a pill or powder. But remember, the density of calories is much higher in a can of pet food compared to dry and a little bit can lead to a lot of extra pounds, so if you do give canned food subtract the appropriate amount from the dry diet.
Older pets can benefit from some of the extra antioxidants and lower calorie senior foods. What is considered senior varies by breed, but seven years is a good ballpark for most pets. As your pet ages, some diseases may require a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Kidney disease and bladder stones are examples of conditions that respond extremely well to dietary management. These are very specific diets for diseases that require a definitive diagnosis, so never feed a diet for a disease without the advice of your veterinarian.
Regarding the brand of food that is best, I will leave that to the marketing departments of the manufacturers to try to convince you. However, I typically tell people that a better quality food from an established manufacturer is a safe bet. If you are happy with a certain brand and your dog or cat has done well with that food, stick with it. Frequent diet changes may also result in a picky eater, so try not to switch if at all possible. Your veterinarian can help you with diet recommendations that fit your preferences and your pet's needs.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be e-mailed to email@example.com or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.