For many people, January is the time to re-evaluate dietary habits. If your family includes furry four-legged varieties, this is a great time to re-evaluate their dietary habits, too.

Choices for pet food are almost endless. The goal is to help your pet live a longer, healthier and happier life with you. Every pet food brand, advertisement, and homemade recipe touts this. How can you narrow your selection, and choose what is best for your Fido and Fluffy?

If you have a puppy or kitten, pay close attention to their dietary needs. Puppies and kittens are rapidly growing babies. Choosing food to meet their bodies’ nutrient demands is important for optimal health. Select feline growth formula for baby Fluffy. This should be continued for one year, when Fluffy is transitioned to adult cat food.
Since dog sizes vary tremendously, a one-size-fits-all puppy formula is not adequate. If baby Fido is a small-breed dog, regular canine growth formula is appropriate. However, this same formula is detrimental to larger puppies. Large-breed puppy diets are available and are the food-of-choice for rapidly growing canines. Their formulations promote healthy orthopedic growth, thereby decreasing developmental problems such as hip dysplasia.

Puppies should be fed growth formulas until their growth is complete. Small breeds reach this maturity in less than a year. But retrievers and other large dogs continue growing for a full year, or even longer if Fido is a giant canine such as Great Dane.

If your adult cat or dog is healthy, you have various pet foods to choose from. The goal is to select a diet that is well-balanced and nutritious. Unfortunately, human food fads influence pet food fads, so be careful with pet-nutrition internet stories and eureka advice. Pet foods containing typical ingredients made by companies with long track records of producing quality diets is important. Your veterinary team can help guide you to reputable brands.

If your adult pet has no specific health issues, consider a dental diet as the maintenance food. All pets are prone to oral disease, and prevention is key. Every pet parent should provide home dental care for their pets. Dental diets are one option. They are formulated to scrape plaque off teeth. This helps prevent tartar and keeps gums healthy. Unfortunately, regular dry food does nothing to prevent dental disease. Look for diets that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. The VOHC seal is proof that the food promotes oral health as claimed.

Many adult pets, though, have chronic health conditions and would benefit from a therapeutic diet. These are sometimes called prescription diets, because they are formulated to address medical issues and are therefore recommended by veterinarians. The American Animal Hospital Association reports that only seven percent of dogs and cats that could benefit from a therapeutic diet are being fed one. These diets help manage conditions that range from food allergies to bladder stones to feline thyroid disease. For older pets with chronic renal disease, therapeutic kidney diets absolutely make a difference in improving life quality and longevity. If your Fido has a “sensitive stomach,” a therapeutic gastrointestinal diet may halt his episodes of vomiting and pudding-like poop.

At the other end of the spectrum are homemade diets. They may be cooked or raw, and are prepared by well-intentioned pet parents. These diets, however, can be risky. Raw diets have been documented to cause food-borne infections in both pets and their human family members. Despite testimonials on the internet and social media, the claimed benefits of raw diets have not been scientifically supported. Also, studies on randomly selected homemade pet foods – both cooked and raw – reveal that most are unbalanced and don’t provide proper nutrition, increasing the pet’s risk of illness. Fortunately, if homecooking is your thing, you can consult a veterinary nutritionist who will help you balance your pet’s diet. For example, Dr. Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN, provides this service at

Dog owners should also be reminded about the Food and Drug Administration alert from July 2018 regarding nutrition and heart disease in dogs. The FDA warned that grain-free diets should be avoided, as they have been associated with cardiomyopathy in dogs.

On a final note, consider your pet’s weight. Obesity among pets is a nationwide epidemic. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that over fifty percent of cats and dogs in our country are overweight or obese. These pets have more health problems, including painful conditions such as arthritis and pancreatitis, and their lives are shorter. One well-documented lifelong study of Labrador retrievers showed that slim dogs lived two years longer than their heavier counterparts. These are sobering facts. If you need help getting your beloved pet to trim down, ask your veterinary team for advice. They are trained to help with weight management.