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  • You stated many times (and I agree) that an ingredient deck can not be used to evaluate the supposed quality of a pet food. My question is would you be willing to give a detailed explanation as to why this can not be done.
  • The only detail needed is that the ingredient description (AAFCO 2016 pg 210) for any one of the terms in the ingredient list is too vague to be certain of the nutritional value for 2 reasons:

    1. The "terms" used in the ingredient list although ‘defined’ are of little to no value to anyone. They are defined for the player in the industry – not veterinarians, nutritionists or pet owners.

    Example of the nasty terms rating web sites like to pick on: "by-products" (vegetable or animal type).

    First, the definition of any “by-product" is simply the second product resulting after some processing of the primary intended product. If corn meal is the primary intended product, then the oil removed is a by-product and vice versa. It means nothing more than that.

    Organ meats (kidney, livers, etc) are by-products of animal processing because the muscle meat was the first intended product. A pet food manufacturer could list "meat by-products" if the ingredient came as a mix of organ meats, or they could list the organs individually (liver, kidney, hearts, etc) on the label.

    AAFCO definitions (paraphrased):  rendered = cooked; non rendered = raw

    ‘Meat’: the clean flesh derived from the slaughtered mammals and limited to skeletal muscle, tongue diaphragm, heart, or esophagus with fat, skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels. AAFCO 2016 pg 375.

    ‘Meat by-products’: non-rendered clean parts other than meat derived from the slaughtered mammals. May include lungs, spleen, kidney brain, liver, blood, stomach or intestines (excluding the contents of the stomach or intestine). This definitions goes on to specifically exclude hair, horns, teeth and hoof. AAFCO 2016 pg 375.

    Now people think they know what ‘meat’ is and do not think twice about eating it themselves when served up in a restaurant but do not realize that in pet food term ‘meat’ includes tongue, esophagus etc and probably would think twice before they themselves eat a hamburger made of what AAFCO has defined as ‘meat’ although still nutritious.

    The term ‘meat’ is for mammals so there are similar definitions for ‘poultry’. Another definition that people are unaware of is that “meat” can only be from beef, pig, lamb or goat. So there is no room for the exaggerated claim about horses, zoo, birds, wildlife, or game animals, etc in the meat definition.  No dogs or cats either - The FDA developed a canine and feline DNA test and then tested pet foods and found no evidence of dog or cat DNA in any pet food products. So

    ‘Meat and bone meal’ is a cooked product of mammals that includes bone but cannot include blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide, manure, stomach contents or added extraneous materials (such as what some have claimed, i.e., floor sweepings or saw dust). AAFCO 2016 pg 377.

    ‘Meal’ is simply the ground product after the water has been removed by cooking. Water has no nutrient value, expensive to ship and can always be added back. So those who are anti-meal are simply not thinking.

    There are additional calcium and phosphorous content specification on this particular ingredient so the pet food manufacturer using this ingredient can gage the amount of bone included. Some want high bone content to help with the final calcium and phosphorous content of their pet food, some do not because the calcium and phosphorous is coming from a different ingredient. There is no right or wrong here … it depends on pet food formulation desired and the other ingredients being used such that the FINAL nutrient profile meets AAFCO nutrient recommendations.

    And here is what’s worth talking about and what does separate the good from the ugly……..

    It is entirely the responsibility of the manufacturer to test each ingredient for nutrient value and a list of known contaminants before accepting and using that ingredient in their pet food product.  The better manufacturers have very specific contracts with ingredient vendors which outlines the nutrient profile, and double check the ingredient nutrient profile in their own labs before using that ingredient. So when I see specific pet food manufacturers on the FDA recall list repeatedly for things that should have been discovered at the point plant delivery and before incorporation into their product ( such as aflatoxin or most recently …. pentobarbital) speak volumes to me about their quality control (QC).

    Ingredient lists are virtually meaningless in evaluating a pet food but the reason why certain manufacturers come up on the FDA Pet Food Recall list speaks loudly about QC. The nutrient profile of an INDIVIDUAL ingredient is worthless to the pet owner and nutritionist because the nutrient profile of FINAL pet product is controlled, stated on the label and usually available upon request.


    2. If not defined specifically, then a common or usual name can be used. AAFCO 2016 pg 210.

    Many pet food manufacturer are using this 2nd 'escape' clause to attract pet owner as when they list individual fruits, e.g. apples. No doubt a common name and we all think we know what an apple is but there is NO way to known what parts of the ‘apple’ was used in the pet food: whole, skins, core, pomace, stems, pieces a by-product of making apple pies, etc are actually used in the food. Yes manufactures may have a picture of a wholesome looking shiny red apple on their website but there is no way to know if that accurately represents the ingredient used in the product – not without going to the plant to see for yourself.

    If the definitions were tight with specific nutrient profiles we would all be happier but that is simply not plausible. The people rating pet foods based on the label simply are ‘rendering’ opinions without a full education on the subject – dangerous but allowable somehow on the web. Majority of those self-anointed pet food gurus have never been in any manufacturing plant, never worked for a manufacturer or been an ingredient vendor to know firsthand of what they speak. Then most website simply copy the rhetoric on another. So now we a whole slew of website repeating the same bunk in a never ending circle - absent of any reality check or first hand knowledge.  Then pet owners visit these multiple “cut and paste made” web sites thinking they are all separate independent first-hand knowing web sites, and then the pet owner thinks they themselves have done “research” on the topic of pet foods – having read not one primary source of information. The whole thing is a house of cards…..

    Very few people are given pet food manufacturing tours, veterinary nutritionist are among that select group (myself included), and notice how those individuals do not ‘rate’ pet foods. In fact most will tell you, the ingredient list is of very limited value to them in making pet food recommendations.   Why?

    Because in the end, any one ingredient, no matter how defined, does vary widely in nutrient content. The definitions are much too vague to "rate" any one ingredient and so no one can rate the entire ingredient list and say that it represents the entire pet food product.  IF the information in the building blocks is vague and lacks detail, how can that poor quality information suddenly become a fine tuned instrument for “rating” the whole pet food product? It can’t and truth is it was NEVER intended by AAFCO that the ingredient list could be used to ‘rate’ pet foods. It is a very poor tool. The whole rating game online and in pet journals has no true value to the individual pet owner trying to do best by their dog or cat.

  • We have a 3 year old male long hair who has been diagnosed with hypercalcemia. We would like to treat the condition by diet and not by medication. Thru research and on the advice of out locale vet we first tried increasing his fiber intake with adding canned pumpkin to his food and switching his dry food to Science Diet W/D. He liked the pumpkin but his last test showed no improvement, in fact his level increased slightly.

    Our vet then suggested contacting a group called BalanceIT who provided recipes of home prepared foods and their feline -ca supplement. He will not eat the meal because of the odor that the supplement has, which they state happens in many cases. Do you have any suggestions?
  • Lowering hypercalcemia via diet is not very effective b/c there is another metabolic problem driving the calcium up.

    So dietary options are not very effective ... maybe at first but has the metabolic problem escalates the diet is of no help.

    I would not recommend relying on diet only.

  • What food do you feed your own pets?
  • One dog is on a chicken and rice product formulated from Just RIght Purina.
    The other dog I am testing for food allergies (12 wks) using the Crocodile product from Rayne Clinical Nutrition.
  • A lot of high-quality pet foods have alfalfa in them. Is this a possible health problem in terms of digestion? Its cattle food after all
  • "High - quality" is an opinion and not a fact that can be determined by reading the label or asking the manufacturer - contrary to all the buzz.

    Alfalfa is commonly a fiber diet ingredient fed to animals that have section of the gut with fermentation.

    When used in a monogastric diet, it is probably there to raise the protein and calcium on paper b/c availability of those nutrients to the dog or cat has to be seriously questioned.

  • I recently started making homemade food for my two Boston terriers. Neither have any medical conditions, both are very fit and perfectly healthy. My food consists of about 40-50% protein (pork or chicken) sweet potatoes, apples, green beans, carrots, kidney beans, peas, and olive oil. I roast all of it in a crock pot for around 8 hours and then freeze individual portions. When I feed them I add a scoop of wholistic pet organics canine complete, dogzymes ultimate, and ground eggshells for calcium. My 25 lb dog gets about 2 cups a day while the 15 lb dog gets around 1.5 cups a day. Both love the food and seem just as happy and energetic as they were on dry food. I just wanted to make sure that this is going to provide the proper caloric intake and be a good diet for my dogs.
  • Thank you for checking - most homemade diets described by owners are not complete or balanced. You have several options for checking your recipe;

    1. You can have the diet analyzed at a lab for $45 for 12 nutrients and up to $2400 for all nutrients + $300 for us to correct any imbalances.

    2. We could assess your recipe based on having very accurate gram amounts per day of each food and very good description of each food so that we can find it in the USDA Food Database and then correct any imbalances for $300.

    3. If your dogs have no long standing medical issues from the previous episode, you could simply use our automated Homemade Diet Module for $25.


    Go to You begin the process by logging into your account or opening an account for you, your pet and link it to your Vet info, then click on  ‘Homemade diets’ (upper left) dog and cat picture. Select the “all options” to see all of our ingredient options or one of several specific diet types. Hopefully, you will be able to select ingredients similar to those you are now feeding. The software will re-balance your diet properly and suggest vitamin & trace mineral supplements. The cost is $25 for the first recipe and $12 for each thereafter purchased at the same time. Recipes are available for immediate download.


    Most owners select option 3 because it gets them back on track sooner and for less money. Please let me know if you need any other help.

  • I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician doing research on pet nutrition. I am trying to implement dietary recommendations as the 5th vital assessment for our clients. I have been emailing multiple food manufacturers asking 8 questions suggested by AAHA. I have to admit it is becoming overwhelming. I am trying to make non-bias in company recommendations. I would like to be able to put together a list of brands and specific foods by Hill's, Royal Canin and Purina. But also other companies that are not owned by major marketing businesses. This list would be tailored for healthy pets and in each life stage. Can you assist me in suggestions of companies and specific brands. As you know the food marketing tactics have gotten out of control and as much as we educate clients they can still be stuck in the marketing. Thank you for your time.
  • I agree and sympathize with you .... probably the question that most easily separates out companies I can recommend from those I have less or far less confidence in is the question about do you have your own pet food manufacturing plant. This question alone will separate out about 5% from the ~300 manufactures in the US.

    I cannot keep tract of products or brands (> 5000), so I concentrate on the company - if the company meets certain expectations (like stringent quality control procedures) then I have to assume that follows through to their products. In my opinion, if a company makes dietary therapeutic products for VETS to use in the management, treatment or diagnosis of diseases, then most likely they do no less in the production of their OTC foods. And Do not fall for those claims that they have never been on the FDA Recall list .... to me it means they are not testing or looking and so more dangerous.

    So now your list should be down to less than 10 companies. Then I separate out the good from the ugly but watching their commercials.... and ask myself.... did that commercial just make my life easier in educating clients or much more difficult? If they just made a 'marketing contrary to science or reality' statement and made my job more difficult - they are off my list. If they make an incredible claim ... I call them up and ask for the data.... if they send me to the scientific literature to read more ... I am all ears about new stuff. If they give me more marketing gobbly-gook - they are out! 

    Most of the WSAVA questions are valid but a few are not in my opinion. These are the things I look for and ask about.

  • How do I cook chicken hearts for two small dogs who don't eat raw? I want to retain as much of the taurine and nutrients as I can. Also how much and how often would I feed them this? Especially for one dog who has heart failure.
  • If your dog has cardiomyopathy due to a taurine deficiency - which can be easily measured in the blood, then you should be feeding a taurine supplement and not relying on cooked meat.
    You can cook chicken hearts by steaming in water but the taurine content will be unknown and should not be used to treat taurine responsive heart disease.  
  • I am looking to give my dog a product called curcumin by a manufacturer call Mercola, It is pure 95 curcumin which is the main ingredient in turmeric. I am interested because I heard curcumin can shrink the heart, and my dog has heart disease/failure. So would this 95 percent curcumin be safe or would it be better to buy organic turmeric powder from the grocery store? Also would I still add oil and pepper to the curcumin to make it more easily absorbed?
  • There are no safety studies in dogs for this herb.
    There is no evidence that such herbs work in dogs depsite what people (who have a product to sell you) will tell you.
    Beware very aware. Herbs are not harmless and only rarely helpful.
  • I have a cat who is constipated. She prefers dry food and doesn't like to drink much. I feed her as much wet food as I can but she's more of a grazer rather than eating a whole helping of food all at once. Once the wet food dries, she won't eat it. She's on blue buffalo food. The dry food is the "healthy weight, indoor, hairball" type. My vet said she needs more fiber. So she sells me a food that has less? The royal canin gastrointestinal formula. I'm reading through the ingredients list and finding that the royal canin has less than my food. But I'm not a vet. Nor a nutritional expert. But I can't help but feel like my vet just sold me a food they sponsor. Anything you can tell me?
  • To be fair only "crude fiber" is on the bag which best measures insoluble fibers and does not include soluble fiber types.
    Most indoor hairball formulas use insoluble fibers so it makes sense that your vet suggested a different fiber type to try as soluble fibers tend to help feces hold more water.
    So give the Royal Canin with a different fiber type a try ..... finding the right fiber mix can only be done by trial and error.
  • what would you recommend to feed an obese beagle with numerous allergies? the weight gain came from previous steriod treatment. his allergies are responding well on hills z/d diet but we have been informed this is high in fat content and could be why he isnt loosing weight despite good exercise and strict food management. Can you recommend any other hypoallergenic, lower calorie complete dog food we could try? much thanks.
  •                                                                                                                 g fat/Mcal
    1. Purina Veterinary Diets
      1. HA Vegetarian, dry                                                                26
      2. HA Chicken Flavor, dry                                                         32
    2. Hill’s Prescription Diets                   
      1. Canine z/d Low Allergen, dry                                                33       
      2. Canine z/d ULTRA Allergen-free, dry                                  34
      3. Canine z/d Ultra Allergen-free, can                                       35                               
    3. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet
      1. HypoAllergenic, canned                                                         39       
      2. HypoAllergenic small dog dry                                               42
      3. UltAmino dry                                                                         43       
      4. HypoAllergenic, dry                                                               48     
    If you need less fat, then you will need a homemade diet.
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