Pets & Pet Care

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Dr. Weil on What to Feed Your Pet

My two Rhodesian Ridgebacks are part of my family and an important part of my life. My commitment to caring for them includes providing high quality food that is appropriate to their needs. I have long searched for pet foods that meet the nutritional requirements of my dogs and satisfies their natural instincts for meat, but that don’t contain ingredients and additives that I consider unhealthy and wouldn’t include in my own diet.

That’s no easy task.

Most commercially available pet food – even those claiming to be "natural" or "scientific" – contain rendered meats, animal byproducts and slaughterhouse scraps. "Byproducts" and animal "meals" are terms that may sound harmless but can mean almost any part of an animal: heads, blood, feet and viscera and even brain and spinal tissue. You wouldn’t eat any of those things, so why would you feed them to your dog or cat? Always look for pet food that contains no animal byproducts and no rendered or recycled meats, poultry or fats.

When shopping for pet food, check the labels carefully. Meat, fish or chicken (not "meals") should be the first ingredient listed. Beyond that, I look for grain-free products that use potato, pea, or tapioca starch, if any. Another tip-off to the quality of pet foods is what the packages claim – or more importantly, what they don’t claim – about added growth hormones, antibiotic-fed protein sources, rendered meats, fats or poultry. If the label doesn’t explicitly tell you that the product contains none of those additives or ingredients, assume that it does and move on.

I also look for pet foods naturally preserved with vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and vitamin C instead of BHT or sodium nitrate. (These preservatives may not be listed on the label if they are present in meat when purchased by the manufacturer.) I also avoid dyes – the red and green coloring in kibble comes from dyes that may be harmful.

In my experience, there are only a few brands on store shelves that meet these strict criteria. But even those brands have formulations that can change over time, and as we learn more about the health and nutrition of companion animals, the criteria for quality and safety may change as well. I urge you to apply the advice listed here in your own search for healthy products, and to stay informed about labeling laws and ingredient safety.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Updated: October, 2009