Health Beat: Prescription Pet: Food for thought

Health Beat: Prescription Pet: Food for thought

RALEIGH, N.C. - Here's a number that might give you some paws -- 170 million dogs and cats are owned in the United States. That's a lot of mouths to feed, but what exactly are you feeding your best friend? If you don't know how to interpret what's printed on their food bags and cans, it may not be what you think.

For agility dogs, good nutrition helps fuel performance.

"I try to feed my dogs the highest premium quality dog food that I can afford," said Debra Smith, an agility dog trainer.

Some trainers spend up to $70 per bag on food to make sure their four-legged athletes eat the best. But for a lot of pets, improper nutrition plays a major role in a big problem.

"Obesity is not only a problem, but it's actually a disease in veterinary medicine," said Dr. Korinn Saker, a veterinary clinical nutritionist.

Saker said a lot of people buy pet food based on the packaging, not what's in the package.

"They see a really cool picture; the food looks colorful; a nice cut of beef or some chicken or some fresh vegetables. I think a lot of people stop there," Saker explained.

But they shouldn't. Saker explains there are numerous things to look for on the labels, but the most important:

"The nutritional adequacy claim, which is probably the smallest part on the label, but by far the most important," said Saker.

The claim will tell you if the food meets the high standards of AAFCO, the Association Of American Feed Control Officials.

As for pet food ingredients, the more protein the better.

"The higher up they are on the ingredient list the higher percentage they are in the diet," explained Saker.

But the wording on your pet's food could mean they're not getting the amount they need. If it says beef flavor, it has less than three percent of animal protein. 'With beef' means it has a minimum three percent. Entrées must have at least 10 percent, and a label that has the name of the protein by itself will have at least 70 percent of that animal protein.

While these tips might not make your pet performing like an agility dog, understanding what their food labels mean could help keep them healthy.

If your pet seems to be gaining a lot of weight, you may need to change the way you feed it. Saker told us you should never leave food out around the clock for your pet. She said free-feeding is a big factor in pet obesity, so it's best to give them the proper serving size at set times during the day to make sure they're not getting too many calories.

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