science based pet foods
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Chewy EditorialNutrition / Special Diets

What Is Science-Based Pet Food and Is It Right for Your Pet?

You may have read about science-based pet foods and wondered what that’s about, how it differs from other types of pet foods, and if these might be a good change or addition to your own pet’s diet. We asked Dr. Katy Nelson, Chewy’s resident veterinarian to fill us in and here’s what she had to say about this interesting pet dietary option.

Q:

What are the basic nutritional needs for cats and dogs?

A:

Over the last 20,000 plus years of our canine and feline best friends’ domestication, their tooth structure and intestinal tracts have adapted.  For dogs, their systems are more suited to a diet that is a combination of plants and animal foods. Cats are considered obligate carnivores and require a strictly meat based diet. While the source of these proteins and fats are important, even more important is the digestibility of these foods for pets to be able to extract the nutrients that they require.  Modern pet foods that are scientifically formulated optimize the balance and availability of those essential elements.

There are six basic categories of nutrients that animals need:  proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.  Over the years, research into our pets’ nutrition has shown that a well-balanced diet, including all of these ingredients plus essential amino acids (derived from protein) and fatty acids (derived from fats), is needed to build lean muscle and carry out basic bodily functions.  The amount of these nutrients does vary depending on the pet’s life stage (puppy/kitten, adult, senior), lifestyle (active vs. couch potato) and any conditions that the pet may suffer from.


Q:

What are science-based pet foods?

A: Science-based pet foods developed by brands like Royal Canin, Hill’s, and Purina Pro Plan are grounded in research and formulated with advanced nutrient profiles that are optimized for life-stage, lifestyle, and sometimes pet conditions. Diets made of science-based pet foods are created with the help of nutritionists, veterinarians, and scientists working together to make foods that taste good while maintaining a high standard for quality controls and consistency to deliver those essential elements to your pet. (Find a variety of science-based diets in Chewy's Science Shop.)

Q:

Can you tell us what to look for in a science-based diet product?

A:

When helping to select a diet for my clients, I not only ensure that the company producing the food follows the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) protocols for a complete and balanced diet, but I also follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) nutritional guidelines.

I typically reach for Royal Canin, Hill’s or Purina Pro Plan, as these are the companies with proven track records of leveraging clinical research and testing, and have worked closely with veterinarians and pet parents alike to ensure that their foods are keeping pets healthy and happy long term.  The pet’s life-stage, lifestyle and any conditions will help to select a formula and brand designed for that pet’s specific needs.

For your average non-performance or low activity pet, I would choose a science-based diet that is on the lower end of the caloric spectrum as most indoor, spayed/neutered dogs and cats have low energy requirements.


Q:

Is there a “perfect” food for every pet?

A:

While there may be no “perfect” food for every dog or cat out there, there can be a food that is perfect for YOUR pet.  Talk with your veterinarian today to find the right diet, one that is scientifically formulated with all the right nutrients in a highly digestible and highly palatable format.  Your pet will thank you, and you’ll know you’re feeding your four-legged loved one the very best food that modern science has to offer.

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