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Is dry food better for my dog than canned food?

Maybe! What you really want to know is whether the ingredients and their proportions in terms of digestible nutrients combine to make the food, regardless of form, the best choice for your pet's nutritional needs. For the answer, you will need to read and compare labels for their ingredients listings, guaranteed analyses and nutritional statements referring to life stage and other factors.

What does 'premium' mean on a dog food label?

Anything from 'not much' to 'supremely, delectably, wonderfully concocted and healthy'! Premium may refer to the quality of one ingredient, like 'high quality', but if it's 'high quality chicken by-products' do you really care that your cat is getting the best chicken beaks, feathers and feet on the planet? Even if it refers to "high quality 'real meat' as the first ingredient," how do the other ingredients combine in proportion and quality to that all-important first ingredient?

My dog will eat anything put in front of him. So does it really matter whether I feed him high-priced brands, or food that is artificially flavored?

Sure, you could feed your dog the cheap day-old donuts with those multi-colored sugar sprinkles for breakfast every morning, but 'where's the meat'? Higher quality products cost more to produce, and your dog's nutrition is worth it. And, besides that, the 'cost per serving' of a higher-priced, better-formulated dog food may be more economical because your dog may need to eat less to maintain optimal health. Of course, that doesn't mean just up your budget a couple bucks a can - check the ingredients and proportions of 'high quality' ingredients.

I'm hearing more and more about natural dog food, and my brand has just introduced a new line of expensive all-natural canned food in addition to the dog food I've been using for years. Should I switch, or is this just a gimmick?

Even major brand-name manufacturers are responding to the demand for healthier, more natural pet food, marketing them as better than any other product you'll ever find for your beloved companion. So the next question is, if these are so much better, why are those other products, including their own, still being made and sold? The answer is, because they are cheaper.

The pet food market reality is that cheap pet food is made with cheap ingredients. Many well-known brand name pet food producers are subsidiaries of big-name livestock or cereal producers, and they prosper by diverting everything that they couldn't sell for humans into their pet food. The pet food market grew out of the human food market to take care of all the stuff that wasn't fit for human consumption.

As for the term natural, it can mean anything from 'no chemical preservatives' to an abundance of truly natural, organic, human-grade ingredients, formulated and processed to maintain a diet suited to an original carnivore in their natural environment hundreds of years ago.

Do pets require nutritional supplements or vitamins?

That depends on what you're feeding them in the first place. Pets are just like us - they require a certain mix of essential food groups to maintain optimal health depending on their lifestyle, medical condition and environment: water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals. Most pet food on the market will meet the minimal standards of many veterinarians and the AAFCO for a 'complete and balanced' diet, but many others encourage different standards that include supplements, vitamins, and even herbs.

Friends tell me it's important to pick one brand of food for your pet and stick with it. Is that true? Isn't variety the spice of life?

Sure it's true, if you're someone who wants loyal, lifelong buyers of your product! Actually, the 'stick with it' advice should be translated to 'if you introduce variety, be gentle about it' to ensure that your pet's system can adjust to the changes. If you eat only macaroni and cheese every day for 2 years, and then have a meal of prime rib, potatoes and asparagus, your stomach is going to react!

The standard instructions about introducing variety are that you add the new food a little at a time to the old food over a period of several days. On the other hand, for many, variety is the spice of life - and it is the basis of many a healthy pet's eating habits from an early stage.

My dog is always trying to steal our cat's food. Can that be harmful to the dog's health?

Only if your cat hasn't been de-clawed! Dogs and cats have very different nutritional needs and digestive systems. While feeding either on another's food for extended periods is strongly discouraged because the nutritional balance in each is different, the actual food won't hurt them.

Can't I just buy one pet food for both my cats and dogs?

No! Dogs and cats have very different make-ups. Cats are 'true carnivores', meaning that if we had left them in their natural environment, they would be eating small animal prey exclusively. The only grains and vegetables in their diet came from the recently eaten food of their prey. This means that a truly natural diet for cats would consist almost entirely of meat, which contains 70% moisture.

Furthermore, this natural moisture in the food is said to be necessary because cats have a different thirst instinct than dogs, so they need to ingest the water required for their health through their food intake. All of this also means that feeding a cat food with high levels of corn and other low level grain ingredients simply does not meet the nutritional needs of our feline friends.

How is dog food for 'senior' dogs different than normal dog food?

Let's face it, we're all going to slow down at some point, and we deserve a healthy retirement. Once we do slow down, we require less of certain nutrients that were in our diet to maintain our energy levels and our appetite changes in response to our lifestyles. If our appetite doesn't change along the proportions of our reduced energy, we're going to gain weight! Not only that, but our systems become less able to process or metabolize certain nutrients in the same way.

Dog food for seniors is formulated to address these changes, just as dog food is specifically made for the growing puppy or the pregnant bitch. A product that is labeled 'maintenance for all life stages' would meet the requirements of any one of these conditions.

Some of those rawhide treats look gross. What are they made of? And those pig's ears … they're not REAL pig's ears, are they?

Rawhide treats are, in fact, made from the inner layer of a cowhide. They are processed and re-processed to make a chewy treat of varying degrees of, well, chewiness: hardness, density and chewing time intended for different purposes. For example, you wouldn't feed your two-month old puppy one at the top end on the hardness and density scale, but you would want it to have a long chewing time because puppies need to chew!

As for pig's ears, well, they look like pig ears, they taste like pig ears, they are pig ears! And, they even come without preservatives or additives of any kind! Hmmm.

Does nutrition play a role in how much my dog sheds?

Depending on how you look at it, nutrition plays a role in every aspect of your dog's well-being. As for skin and coat health, you'll find many testimonials about how a particular dog food made such miraculous improvements that even the pet's doctor was commenting on it.

In all seriousness, yes, nutrition plays a role, and it also extends to the prevention of tick and flea infestations. A dog with a healthy coat and skin is less susceptible to parasites, and when they do get hit, they are less likely to suffer as much from the aggravations caused by the bites than unhealthy dogs.

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