Shana Bohac is a local veterinarian who writes a column about animal issues.

Many people are turning toward foods they feel are more natural, organic, wholesome, or holistic for their pets. Some recent diet trends include raw food, homemade, and freeze-dried or frozen diets. Every diet selection has pros and cons. It is best if you and your veterinarian discuss the options for your pet so that you will make an informed decision that is best for your animal.

Homemade diets can be very expensive and a time consuming task to keep up with. Truly balanced home prepared diets require a lot of time, effort, and expense. Many times homemade diets fall short of providing all the essential nutrients your pet needs on a daily basis. Common issues seen with homemade diets include feeding excessive protein, inadequate calories, and insufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals. There are commercially available books with recipes for homemade diets, however many of these recipes lack testing to confirm nutrient content and true availability. In order to ensure that a homemade diet is accurately balanced, vitamin and mineral additives are needed and strict recipes need to be followed.

Raw food diets are becoming increasingly popular. There are similar concerns about nutritional imbalances with raw food diets just as there are with homemade diets. Raw food diets also pose safety and human health risks which may be more concerning. Raw meats and eggs contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These bugs can be potentially harmful for the pet or humans in contact with the food itself.

Freeze dried or frozen pet foods have some advantages since the freezing process should kill any bacterial contaminants. The concern however is that when the food is heated the nutrients may be getting degraded. Owners that feed frozen food also have to be extra careful to avoid excessive heat, humidity, or improper storage conditions. Mishandling could lead to contamination and spoilage.

Commercially available pet foods are not created equally. High quality ingredients are needed to make a high quality pet food. Many inexpensive ingredients are not easily digested and therefore do not provide the best nutrition. When choosing a pet food start with the label of ingredients. You will want to see that meat, fish, eggs or some type of meat meal is the first or second ingredient since these are the best forms of digestible and useable protein. The ingredients are listed by weight; therefore the first products will also be high in moisture content. Ingredients further down the list may offer important nutrients as well. Grains are used in dog foods and are important sources of carbohydrates. Avoiding grains if really only important if your pet has a specific allergy. It is actually much more common for dogs to be allergic to protein sources than grains or even gluten. Research now shows that grain-free diets can lead to a serious heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy. By-products are often listed on the label. Many people have the misconception that this includes things like hair, horns, or hooves; however it is typically highly digestible and nutritious organs such as liver and lungs. Reputable food companies choose quality by-products.

Consult with your veterinarian today to determine what diet is best for your pet. Research all your options thoroughly so that you can choose the healthiest option that fits your pets needs.

Dr. Shana Bohac is a veterinarian and the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic.

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