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How to Give Man’s Best Friend a Well-Balanced Diet



No matter how many tricks my dog performs or how many commands she follows, I have to agree with dog trainer Cesar Millan who says, “One of my cardinal rules in life is that we must respect animals as the beings they are, rather than the near-human companions we might wish them to be.”

Pet Intelligence is Selective

Much like selective hearing in teenagers, pets have selective intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, my dog is pretty smart! For instance, if I say “car” or “walk” then she runs to the front door. If I say “din-din” or “water” then she runs to her food and water bowls. And if I say “vet” or “bath” then you can be sure she’s hiding beneath the bed!

However, my dog isn’t smart enough to know what she should and should not eat. Her taste buds tell her that a strip of rawhide based in actual beef juices is as yummy as my sweaty, smelly socks that I throw in the hamper after my morning jog.

The same holds true for my cat. He’s smart enough to hide when my son and his friends are noisily playing video games in the family room, but eating is a whole other ball of catnip! That furry feline will devour my elastic hair ties as readily as he would eat a can of salmon-flavored kitty kibble.

Avoid These Pet Food Ingredients

When you grocery shop for yourself, your cart most likely has a well-balanced mix of items from all four food groups. For instance, you probably select fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, quality meats, and dairy products.

So why is it that when people shop for pet food, they buy whatever food is most convenient? Convenience does not always equal value when it comes to your pet’s health. The last thing you want to deal with is a doggy with diarrhea or a constipated cat. Here are some items to avoid when shopping for pet products.

Fillers – Ingredients such as soy, rice, and corn are empty carbs that cause your pet to gain extra pounds. Much like humans, when pets are overweight they face similar risks of developing medical conditions such as diabetes. Additionally, if your pet is allergic to an ingredient such as wheat or soy, then the food could be doing more harm than good.

Meals – If you see something like “beef meal” or “chicken meal” listed in the ingredients, then steer clear. While “meals” are a source of animal proteins, which are better for your pet than plant proteins, they aren’t the best choice. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (, the meal is the leftover product after human meat is stripped from the source, and should not contain added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, or stomach contents.

By-Products – Unlike meal, which doesn’t contain “other parts”, by-products are made up primarily of things like hooves, animal hair, hide trimmings, stomach contents, and so forth. While meals and by-products are still a source of animal protein, whole meats are always a healthier choice as an ingredient in your pet’s food.

Additives & Preservatives – Ingredients in this category are much like what we see in human foods – corn syrup, MSG, propylene glycol, sodium nitrate, and molasses. These have no nutritional value and add nothing to your pet’s overall well-being. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want it in your food then your pet doesn’t want it in his food.

Dyes and Colors – Some manufacturers of pet food dye bits so that they resemble things that aren’t actually in the food, such as fresh green peas, brilliant orange carrots, and succulent red meat. As with additives and preservatives, these have no nutritional value and can actually be the cause of bad behavior associated with allergies.

Giving Your Pet the Very Best

When selecting a brand of pet food or even healthy pet snacks, it pays to research the company. You’ll find that the best ones were created out of deep respect and admiration for these animals we call pets and that they’ve often worked tirelessly to create a combination of ingredients that contribute to a well-balanced diet.

Just like you wouldn’t start a new diet without consulting your doctor, be sure to consult your family veterinarian for advice before making any drastic changes to pet’s eating plan. This is especially true if you are trying to plan out a holistic or organic menu for your pet.