Pet Nutrition Tips from Riverview Animal Hospital

Written by Monika Dembowy

Walk into any pet store, or even grocery store, and you’ll find a huge variety of pet food sitting on the shelves. Deciding between brands and wading through the ingredients on the back of each bag can be confusing. Choosing the appropriate food for your cat or dog can therefore be quite a difficult task. Unfortunately there is no one answer to which pet food is the best; each pet is different and will have different needs when it comes to their nutrition. One pup might do very well on a particular brand of food, while his littermate may not; it all comes down to the individual needs of your pet, and these needs will change with age and health. It’s best to consult a veterinarian or veterinary technician about the right food for your pet but to help get you on the right track here are a few tips and common misconceptions about pet food in general:


Seeing ground corn, corn gluten, or corn meal as an ingredient on a bag of food is not a bad thing. It is a common misconception that corn is just ‘filler’ when in fact it is a highly digestible source of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, even vitamins and minerals. In fact, corn gluten is 60-70% protein; this is why it is commonly found in cat food. Corn is also unlikely to cause an allergic reaction; a dog or cat is far more likely to suffer an allergy to beef or dairy.

Gluten Free

A mistake pet owners often make is they equate their own nutrition with that of their pet’s (what’s good for me is good for my dog or cat). This is not necessarily the case. Though some people suffer from celiac disease and must abstain from eating gluten, this is not common among dogs and cats. Fact is only 1% of dogs have true celiac disease, and of this 1% almost all (98%) are Irish Setters. Unless your pet has been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten or wheat (grains in general) should not be avoided. Gluten is an excellent source of highly digestible, concentrated protein which animals need for growth and development as well as for maintaining a good immune system.

Meat/Animal By-Products

The word ‘by-product’ often creates a negative connotation. Chicken by-product meal, for example, might make you think of only undesirable chicken parts, like feathers or feet, ground up into a powder and mixed into your pet food. However animal or meat by-products can be anything left over from when another meat product was being made. If a chicken was used for breasts, wings, and thighs, then the by-products could be liver, kidney, spleen, or bone. Muscle alone won’t provide your pet with all the nutrients it needs and so meat by-products are necessary in your pet’s food. The term ‘by-product’ is actually regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) meaning pet food suppliers cannot use this term if their meat products include feet, feathers, heads, or intestinal contents.

“Whole” vs “Meal”

Pet food labels often use the adjectives “whole” or “meal” when they list a meat source. Be aware, as these terms can be misleading. The term “whole” as in “whole chicken” is another AAFCO regulated term.  It describes meat that is weighed prior to cooking. Once any meat is cooked it loses 85% of its mass, or weight. You will likely find “whole chicken” at the top of the ingredients list as these lists are arranged by weight. Seeing “whole chicken” as the first ingredient does not mean that the chicken is of high quality or that there is a lot of chicken in the food, instead it means that before the chicken by-products were cooked, they out-weighed the other ingredients in that food. The term “meal” describes meat that has been dehydrated (cooked and dried out). What this means is that if you had 1 lbs. each of “whole chicken” and “chicken meal” there would actually be more chicken in the “chicken meal”.

You Get What You Pay For

This statement is true when it comes to pet food. All pet food is required by the AAFCO to meet certain nutritional standards but cheaper dog and cat food tends to have fewer quality ingredients. Your pet may still receive the nutrients it needs but it’s going to either have to work harder to digest that food to get at those nutrients, which may put strain on its digestive system, or it will need to eat a lot more of that food to get enough nutrients out of it. Some pets may do fine on a cheaper food brand diet, but others may develop health problems, such as obesity, poor skin or fur, or ear infections. Like humans, some animals can be pre-disposed to certain diseases and a low-quality diet can cause these diseases to manifest themselves (such as kidney stones or crystals, liver disease, even renal failure).

Please be advised that it is of utmost importance to follow veterinary advice regarding your pet’s diet. Changing food frequently or on a whim is not recommended; variety may be the spice of life for humans, but not so for our furry friends!  

If you have concerns or would like more information about your pet’s food or nutritional needs give us a call to book an appointment, 506-387-4015; we’re happy to help!