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8 things a pet nutrition expert wants you to know about your pet

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

We picked a pet nutrition expert's brain for advice on how to keep your cats and dogs healthy

We all want to do what's best for our pets where nutrition is concerned, but with so much information floating around out there, sometimes it's tough to know if we're making the right choices.

What are the benefits of a premium pet food? What should I look for to ensure balanced nutrition for my pet? How can I even be sure what I'm feeding my pets is the best fit for their nutritional needs?

To cut through some of the confusion, we tapped a nutrition expert, Jennifer Freeman — Natural Balance® Pet Foods, Inc., registered veterinary technician — to help us understand the most important principles of healthy diets for cats and dogs.

1. Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs

While it might not be the end of anyone's world if your dog occasionally consumes some kitty kibble (or vice versa), you should try to avoid the occurrence as much as possible. "One main reason why their nutritional needs differ is because cats are true carnivores, whereas dogs are not," Freeman told SheKnows. "As a true carnivore, cats require more protein, especially amino acids. There are also nutrients that cats require as essential nutrients that dogs don’t. An example is a fatty acid called arachidonic acid. For dogs, this is not considered an essential nutrient. This is why it is important to feed the correct diet for the species it is balanced for."

2. Association of American Feed Control Officials standards exist as a baseline

Not all pet food is created equal! There are certain considerations that should be made before placing a bag of food in your cart. AAFCO standards exist as a baseline to ensure those needs are met through a pet food.

Freeman explained the criteria's relevance in choosing pet food. "Natural Balance Pet Foods not only ensure that we meet the minimum nutrient requirements recommended by the AAFCO, but also set our own internal nutritional guidelines based on the most up-to-date research to provide balanced and quality food for healthy dogs, cats, puppies and kittens," she said.

3. Choose a food that is right for your pet’s breed and life stage

When you shop for yourself, you pick up a box and read the label, right? You scan the ingredients and decide whether they are good enough to merit making the trip home to your pantry. The same should apply when shopping for your pet's food.

"It is always important to read the label of the product you are feeding. Beyond looking for the species a product is intended for, it is very important to check for the nutritional adequacy statement that is located on the back panel of every completely balanced product — this is where you’ll see what life stage it is made for," elaborated Freeman. "The Nutritional Adequacy Statement and the Guaranteed Analysis are the only nutritionally objective statements on the label to demonstrate food quality. These can direct you to know more about what you are feeding your pet. For example, at Natural Balance Pet Foods we offer our All Life Stage Formulas, Adult Maintenance Formulas and Growth Formulas.”

4. Food safety impacts the life of your pet

"Pet food makers have two priorities in providing food for your pet: food safety and nutrition. Healthy, active dogs and cats are our consumers, and at Natural Balance Pet Foods, we work very hard at formulating and testing our finished products by doing nine safety tests through our Buy with Confidence® Program. This helps to provide assurance to the pet parents that our products are safe and nutritious. Our food, plus regular visits to your vet, will help support your pet's overall health," said Freeman.

5. There are options when your pet starts exhibiting picky eating behavior

What do you do if your pet suddenly shows a loss of interest in their food or starts being particularly picky? There are a few ways to address the situation. First and foremost, run it by a pet care professional. "As in any abrupt change in your pet's behavior, it is always important to consult your veterinarian, as there could be many reasons why your pet has lost interest in food," says Freeman.

If your pet gets the all clear from the vet, though, you should look to what's in their food bowl. "We don't know exactly why pets become picky, however, many options of texture and flavors are available to try to stimulate a pet's interest in food,” Freeman said. “Moreover, at Natural Balance Pet Foods, we have a team of nutrition experts who can help you find the right food for your individual pet."

6. Sometimes, a pet's dietary needs change in ways that are hard for pet parents to perceive

There are times when a change in the way your pet eats their food can signal a shift in their dietary needs. However, sometimes that shift occurs in ways that aren't immediately obvious to us — and that's OK as long as you keep up with your pet's routine care. "It isn't always easy to tell, and that's why it's so important to talk to your veterinarian about nutrition and what is and isn't working for your pet. A veterinarian can help determine if changes have occurred that require a change in diet," Freeman underscored.

7. You can limit the number of ingredients your pet consumes

Whether your pet should avoid certain ingredients, exhibits irregular behavior toward food or you simply prefer to keep your pet's diet as routine as possible, you don't have to reinvent the wheel to meet their needs — there are pet foods specifically formulated to be complete and balanced, to give consumers the opportunity to pick and choose what they're feeding in order to easily feed ingredients they are comfortable with. "A variety of limited-ingredient diet foods provide different options for the pet parent to choose from for their pet," explained Freeman. "Natural Balance® L.I.D Limited Ingredient Diet® formulas are developed to limit the number of animal protein sources."

8. Visit your vet if your pet experiences weight gain

Even too much of a good thing is possible, so it's important to keep serving sizes in mind when feeding your pet — no matter what food you've chosen. "It is important to feed proper feeding amounts, not over feed on treats and ensure your pet gets proper exercise," said Freeman. "Why is this important? Because obesity in animals can cause several secondary health issues." If your pet starts packing on the pounds, it's time to visit a vet to check for any underlying issues and come up with a plan for weight loss.

This post was sponsored by Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc..

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