Demystifying pet food

Obesity is a huge problem for today’s domesticated cats and dogs. Part of the issue is the amount of unhealthy material added to mass-produced pet food. Due to this, many pet owners have started seriously looking at the food they buy for their animals, or making their own entirely.

Either option can be daunting for those new to pet nutrition. “It’s very difficult to do a homemade diet and have it be well-balanced,” said Meridith Holloman, licensed veterinary technician at Seven Bends Veterinary Hospital in Woodstock.

Known as the “food guru” at Seven Bends, Holloman became interested in pet nutrition about 16 years ago due to a cat she had at the time. He had feline immunodeficiency virus and she was looking for food that would strengthen his immune system.

“The more I looked the more I got interested and I realized it was this huge can of worms.”

According to Holloman, making your own pet food is tricky because there are so many variables depending on age, breed and lifestyle. “There’s lots more to do than just throwing food in a pot.”

While animals need a certain amount of fat and protein, there are different minerals also needed in their diet. Holloman recommends adding some type of multivitamin to any homemade meal plan.

“The nice thing when you do a homemade diet is it’s not cookie-cutter. You can customize it more specifically. But, there’s not just one or two minerals that are more important than another,” she said.

For those who may be apprehensive to start making their own pet food, there are still healthy options available in stores.

“Look for meat, especially with cats. They need a lot more meat than they do grain. Cats and carbs aren’t really a good combination.”

However, this isn’t as simple as it seems. Many different brands of pet food have taken to advertising the protein in the food, while still including too many unnecessary components.

“You have to turn to the ingredients list and read that part. Just because it’s advertised as well-balanced that doesn’t always correlate to what the actual ingredient list says.” When looking at the ingredients list, Holloman says to look at the amount of each part included. The better foods are predominantly meat-based and the amount of meat will outweigh the rest of the ingredients.

She also suggests avoiding chemical preservatives, food coloring, sweeteners and salts. “When I recommend foods I do corn-free because rarely do they use the good parts of the corn.” For cats especially, the best option is food that is completely grain-free.

Holloman says that dry and wet food are both fine for cats and dogs, just be sure to look at the quality of ingredients and measure how much you are giving your pets.

“Canned is preferable for cats. They are carnivores and canned foods typically have a lot fewer carbs,” she said.

For dogs, while they can have canned food, Holloman recommends giving them plain, fat-free yogurt instead as a way to cut back on the amount of calories.

For more information on pet diet plans, Seven Bends Veterinary Hospital offers lists of premium food and food dos and don’ts to the public. You can obtain a copy by calling 540-459-8387 or visiting

Contact staff writer Hilary Legge at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or

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