Nutrition Center Common Questions

  • Why should I buy cat food according to my cat’s life stage?

    The nutritional needs for your cat vary depending on their life stage. Kittens should follow a diet that is higher in protein and calories to meet their growth requirements (without consuming excess). For adult cats, it’s important to remember that an “all life stage” cat food may seem like a good idea, but may have an adverse effect for some adult and senior cats due to excess nutrients. If you’re tempted to feed your kitten an “all life stage” food this may result in health concerns as well. “All life stage” cat food must meet or exceed requirements needed for growth and when fed to a kitten the food may have a harmful effect on their health and weight. As always, it’s best to consult a veterinarian so he or she can help you make an educated decision about what type of food is best for your cat’s individual needs.
  • Why is it important for my dog’s food to be balanced?

    Balance is vital for your dog’s metabolism and efficiency. Dog food is formulated to be the main nutritional source and the ingredient ratios are essential in making your dog’s diet complete and balanced. If, for example, an essential amino acid is low a pet food company may add another ingredient higher in that essential amino acid. However, too much of a certain ingredient can have an adverse effect. For instance, too much protein and the excess of phosphorus may exacerbate kidney issues. The need for balance is why reputable pet food companies hire trained veterinary nutritionists to select ingredients carefully and find the proper balance for optimal health.
  • What shopping tips should I follow when searching for a pet food that best suits the needs of my cat?

    You should feed your pet a diet based on his or her age, breed, activity level, and weight or health condition. As always, it’s important to consult your veterinarian on what food suits your pet’s needs best.
  • What is the difference between manufactured “by” vs. “for” when it comes to my dog’s food?

    According to the FDA, a pet food label or statement that says that the food is “manufactured by” identifies the party is responsible for the quality, safety, and location of the product. A label that reads “manufactured for” or “distributed by” indicates that the product was manufactured by another company other than the one selling the product. This usually happens with private label pet foods. When a pet food company uses their own facilities for production they are able to set high quality control standards and are better equipped to deal with quality control issues that may arise.
  • What quality control measures should pet food manufacturers use to assure the quality of their product?

    A company should be able to outline their quality control measures and provide proof of quality when asked. This includes separating raw ingredients from cooked products so that there is no cross-contamination. A careful process is especially important when it comes to pathogen or allergen contamination. Also, when inquiring about quality control make sure to find out about food testing throughout the manufacturing process and ask how recalls are handled by the pet food manufacturer. Companies who put safety at the top of their list often test their food for contaminants and wait for the results before shipping the product to retail outlets.
  • How important is it for a pet food company to have a veterinary nutritionist on staff?

    Very important. A veterinary nutritionist is someone who has special training in formulating pet foods. This is especially true for a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Dogs and cats have different nutritional requirements in relation to other species; therefore it’s essential to have someone with a strong background involved in the food development process.
  • Should I follow the feeding recommendations on my pet food?

    Feeding recommendations can be good guidelines, but the pets they are based on get more exercise than the average pet. Evaluate daily food portions based on your pet’s age, body condition, and overall health. And be sure to consult with your vet.
  • How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

    Stand above pets and look down on them. From this vantage point you should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. Both dogs and cats should also have a nice taper at their waist. If they are too heavy, they’ll be oval shaped. Check with your vet to be sure!
  • Do puppies need special food?

    Yes. Puppy foods are designed to provide adequate nutrition for the rapid growth phase without providing too many calories. Optimal nutrient profiles are especially important for large breed puppies, who can develop painful bone conditions when they are allowed to grow too quickly.
  • Why does a puppy “need” toys?

    Puppies have an intrinsic need to chew due to their growing teeth and jaw development. If they are not given dog-appropriate chew toys, they will find (inappropriate) objects around the home to chew.
  • Can I still give my overweight cat treats?

    Initiate a weight loss plan with your veterinarian and work in a way to use healthy treats as a reward for exercise. Hide treats around the house at different levels so your cat has to climb to find them. Just be careful if you have dogs or children around too.
  • Do senior dogs need special food?

    Yes. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog. For example, diets lower in sodium are sometimes advocated for dogs with heart disease, while diets that help control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels are given to dogs with kidney disease.
  • What does “natural” mean on a pet food label?

    “Natural” means that, according to FDA guidelines, the ingredients in the pet food have not had any chemical alterations made to them.
  • What is a “minimum nutrition requirement”?

    This means the food formulation has been determined to meet nutrition levels established by the AAFCO using laboratory analysis versus being actually determined by feeding to animals.
  • What is a “body condition score”?

    The body condition score is a system for determining your pet’s weight. The system ranges from underweight to ideal to overweight, and is based on a visual and palpable examination of the pet.
  • How much food needs to be cut from the pet’s diet for weight loss?

    According to Dr. Jim Dobies, cutting your pet’s food intake by 25% along with a gradual increase in daily exercise is a good way to achieve weight loss in the overweight pet.
  • Why does my dog have to be held in by a dog-seatbelt or dog-carrier when we go for car rides?

    One of the leading dangers for pets is injury as a result of not being restrained when a car accident occurs, and escaping from a car that has been in a collision. Seat belts and carriers ensure safety.
  • How were the nutrient ratios in MyBowl determined?

    Veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists collaborated together to determine the appropriate ratios for each MyBowl nutrient category using reference texts such as Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th edition, the National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats and the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) Official Publication. All of the nutrient proportions in MyBowl comply with the NRC's and AAFCO's most recent nutritional standards.
  • Are grain-free cat foods better than foods that contain grains?

    Not necessarily. When part of a balanced diet, grains (especially whole grains) are excellent sources of energy, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients for cats. Owners who prefer to feed a grain-free food should look for ingredients that offer similar nutritional benefits like potato. Rather than focusing solely on ingredients, owners also need to ensure that the cat food they choose offers balanced and complete nutrition.
  • What does the word "holistic" on a cat food label mean?

    Nothing. The use of the term "holistic" is completely unregulated, which means pet food manufacturers can apply it to any of their products.
  • Isn't fat bad for cats?

    Too much fat in the diet can lead to obesity, but as long as a cat is eating an appropriate amount of a nutritionally balanced food, he should be getting just the right amount to keep him healthy. Proper proportions of high-quality fats and oils in a cat’s food have many health benefits including reducing inflammation, immune system support, proper brain and eye development and promoting healthy skin and a glossy coat.
  • Can I feed my cat "people" food?

    It's important to understand the negative impact that "people" food can have on your cat. To maintain an ideal weight a 10 pound cat may need just 200-300 calories per day. Therefore, even small "treats" really add up and put your cat at risk for nutrient imbalances and obesity.
  • How long does it take for cat food to go bad?

    Cat food should be used ahead of the "best before" date that is printed on most labels. Store food off the floor or in a container in a cool, dry location to reduce the chances that mice, insects, or other vermin will gain access to it.

    Dry food can be left out in bowls as long as it is not exposed to moisture or hot temperatures. Wash and refill food and water bowls at least once a week. Canned food should be discarded after it has been at room temperature for four hours and the bowl is cleaned prior to being refilled. Opened cans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
  • How much should I feed my cat?

    How much a cat should eat depends on many variables including his activity level, metabolic rate and the food you are offering. Use the feeding guide on the cat food label as a starting point. These instructions usually read something like, "for cats weighing 5 lbs, feed between ½ and ¾ cup per day; for cat's weighing 10 lbs, feed between ¾ and 1 cup per day; and for cats weighing 15 lbs, feed between 1 cup and 1 ½ cups per day".

    Use your cat's body condition to fine tune the amount you offer. For example, if he is overweight offer an amount on the low end of the recommended range and reevaluate in a few weeks to a month. Your veterinarian can also help you determine how much of a particular food you should be offering.
  • What is AAFCO?

    AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. AAFCO has no regulatory authority but works to protect consumers and safeguard the health of both animals and people.
  • How important is water to cats?

    Water is very important to cats. Dehydration puts cats at risk for many health problems, including urinary tract disorders. Cats get some of their water from their food, but they should always have access to fresh, clean water. Some cats seem to prefer to drink from a running source of water instead of a bowl. Rather than leaving a faucet on, look into purchasing a kitty "water fountain."
  • Can cats digest carbohydrates?

    Yes. Multiple studies have shown that cats can effectively use carbohydrates as a source of energy. The moderate levels of carbohydrates included in high-quality foods are well-tolerated by healthy cats.
  • Why are vitamins and minerals added to cat foods?

    Vitamins and minerals are found naturally in many ingredients (e.g., meat, meat meals, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates) that are used to make cat foods. However, precise amounts of individual vitamins and minerals are used to balance the diet so that cats do not get too much of one nutrient and not enough of another.
  • What is a meat meal?

    Meat meals are made from animal tissues after blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide, and the contents of the gastrointestinal tract have been removed. Meat meals are also dehydrated (i.e., most of the water is removed), which makes them a concentrated source of protein in pet foods.
  • Does the guaranteed analysis provide any useful information about a food?

    A guaranteed analysis must tell consumers the minimum percentages of protein and fat and the maximum amounts of water (moisture) and fiber that are in a cat food. Some pet food manufacturers will also voluntarily include information about the amounts of certain vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients in the guaranteed analysis. However, owners should be aware that a guaranteed analysis provides no information about the quality of a food and does not indicate whether or not a diet provides optimally balanced nutrition.Owners can use this information to compare different foods and to determine whether a food provides balanced nutrition using a tool like MyBowl.
  • What information can I take away from the ingredient list on a cat food label?

    The order of the ingredient list on a cat food label provides owners with useful information. As determined by its weight, the most prevalent ingredient in the food has to be listed first, the next most prevalent is listed second, and so on. While it's important to focus on the ingredients that appear high on the list, those lower down are equally important and usually refer to the vitamins and minerals that are added in small amounts to the diet.

    It is important to remember that an ingredient's weight includes any water that it may contain prior to a food's processing. Therefore, a heavy ingredient (e.g., chicken) that contains a lot of water may appear high on the list but contribute relatively less to a food's nutrient profile than does a lighter ingredient (e.g., chicken meal) that appears a few positions lower.
  • Why is so much emphasis put on protein in cat foods?

    Cats require more protein in their diets than do dogs. Cats break down dietary protein to provide themselves with the amino acids they need to build proteins within their own bodies(e.g., muscle cells and enzymes). A cat's body can convert some amino acids into others. These are called non-essential amino acids because they do not have to be supplied directly by the diet. On the other hand, essential amino acids do need to be included in a cat's food because the feline body is incapable of making them. Taurine is an example of an essential amino acid for cats.
  • What nutrients have to be included in a cat food to make it balanced?

    Five nutrient categories are included in nutritionally complete cat foods: proteins, carbohydrates, fats/oils, vitamins, and minerals. Veterinary nutritionists use a variety of ingredients to precisely balance the proportion of each nutrient category in relation to the others. For cats, too much of a nutrient can be just as dangerous as too little.

    A sixth nutrient, water, is also essential for feline health. Some water is included in all pet foods, and cats get the rest of what they need from the water bowl. Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times.
  • What does the word "natural" on cat food labels mean?

    The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates the use of the word "natural". It can only be applied to cat foods that don't contain ingredients or additives that have been chemically synthesized unless their inclusion at a particular level is absolutely necessary.

    The official AAFCO definition of natural is "a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices."
  • Are natural ingredients the most important element in a dog food?

    No, proper pet nutrition is not just about which ingredients are used; it's about the balance of nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats/oils, minerals and vitamins) in the formula. An excess of nutrients, as well as insufficient nutrients, can be harmful to your pet's health.
  • What nutrients make up a properly balanced dog food?

    To make sure your pet's health is maintained, there must be appropriate amounts and proportions of carbohydrates, protein, fats/oils, vitamins and minerals in the diet.
  • What do carbohydrates do for my dog?

    Carbohydrates provide a source of energy, fiber and nutrients to your pet. Whole grains are the best sources of carbohydrates, as they have higher levels of fiber that keep your dog feeling full longer, keep blood sugar levels steady, and promote digestion.
  • Just because a dog food is more expensive, does that mean it’s more nutritious?

    Not necessarily. Price should not always be the only consideration when choosing a dog food. One of the most important things to consider is the type of ingredients listed on the label. Ingredients are listed primarily by weight on the ingredient list. The ones that come first are the ones that are present in the greatest amount in the formula.

    What is most important is not just the type of ingredients, but rather how the balance of those ingredients provide adequate nutrients.
  • What should be found in the first several ingredients listed on a dog food bag?

    When looking at the ingredient listing, you should first see one or two quality protein sources (meats or meat meals), one or more source of carbohydrates (whole grain is best), and a quality fat or oil source.
  • What’s in a meat meal?

    Meat meal is the dehydrated product made from animal tissues (by definition without any blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, or stomach contents). Meals contribute a more concentrated amount of protein to a dog food because it contains only about 10 percent moisture.
  • What is a tocopherol?

    The common name for tocopherol is vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is necessary to a balanced diet and helps protect cells against the adverse effects of free radicals. Additionally, Vitamin E is important for normal reproduction and immune function.
  • What does 'complete and balanced' mean?

    The majority of dog food products are formulated to provide the sole source of nutrition for a dog. Products that are labeled "complete and balanced," as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), must meet guidelines to be sure they meet certain nutritional requirements.
  • How can I tell how much of a particular nutrient is in my dog’s food by just looking at the label?

    Pet food labels must meet strict regulations before a product can be sold commercially in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration and AAFCO regulate all aspects of dog food labeling to be sure the consumer is not mislead or misinformed by the packaging. Minimum and maximum guarantees tell consumers the minimum percentages of crude protein and fat and the maximum percentage of crude fiber and moisture contained in the product. When comparing guaranteed analyses, look at the moisture content of the particular product. This is very important when comparing a dry food to a canned product, which has a large amount of moisture.
  • Why is fat an important ingredient in dog food?

    As a concentrated form of energy, fat provides more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fat is also required for absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fats supply fatty acids, which provide healthy skin and coat, as well as reduce inflammation.

    Fats and oils have many important functions in your pet's healthy body and make dog food taste better. Fatty acids promote heart health and optimal brain function.
  • What are the best sources of quality protein?

    Proteins provide the basic building blocks for growth, maintenance, and repair of body tissues. The highest quality proteins for use in dog foods come from a variety of animal-based sources including chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, fish and eggs.
  • Why is water important for life?

    Water is essential for eliminating waste from the body, regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients, and preventing dehydration. While there is some water in dry dog foods, dogs should have a source of quality water available at all times to go along with a healthy, balanced diet.
  • What is AAFCO?

    Also known as the Association of American Feed Control Officials, the AAFCO is a private organization that defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. The AAFCO has no regulatory authority; its purpose is to protect consumers while safeguarding the health of humans and animals. The organization ensures a level playing field for manufacturers in the pet food and animal feed industries.
  • What is a statement of nutritional adequacy?

    The AAFCO requires this statement on all pet foods that claim to meet nutritional profiles as established by the AAFCO to ensure complete nutrition. Foods can either be formulated to meet these requirements or be tested in animals according to specific AAFCO-dictated procedures demonstrating that the food is nutritionally adequate. The statement must describe which life stage the product is suited for, such as for "growth," "maintenance," etc.
  • Why are 'human' ingredients like apples and carrots used in dog food?

    Common fruits and vegetables eaten by humans are also very healthy and beneficial for dogs. They provide essential vitamins and minerals that maintain health and prevent disease. Pet food manufacturers are using these ingredients more and more commonly as consumers become better aware of their benefits.
  • How do I know if I am feeding my dog a properly balanced diet?

    Pet owners should work with their veterinarians to determine the correct diet for their dogs and identify the best food choices. Pet owners can also use MyBowl, a great new resource created from a partnership between petMD and Hill’s Pet Nutrition that illustrates how much of each nutrient category needs to be represented in their dog’s food – carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, minerals and vitamins. MyBowl also includes information to help owners decode the back of a dog food bag and understand which high quality ingredients in what proportions – not too much, not too little – need to be included to achieve properly balanced nutrition.
  • What is a good example of a properly balanced dog food?

    There are many excellent products on the shelves today that are labeled "complete and balanced" and meet the AAFCO’s nutrient profiles. Ask your veterinarian for advice on a particular food that will meet your pet’s particular needs for lifestage and activity level.