Pet Food And Nutrition

Pet Food and Nutrition

If you have a pet, you have probably noticed that there is a lot of overwhelming information about pet food and nutrition out there. It seems we are constantly bombarded by TV ads, internet sites and pet store promotions all claiming to have the best and healthiest foods for our pets. We also can get differing information from our neighbors, family members and friends, groomers, trainers, and pet store employees. If you feel confused or overwhelmed by what to feed your pet, here are a few simple tips to make that stroll down the pet food aisle less challenging.

golden retriever carrying carrots in mouth

First, determine into which “life stage” category your pet falls. This label can be found on pet food products in the fine print (the important stuff is always the fine print). It is determined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and is usually found under the ingredient panel of the food. This feeding guideline is established by AAFCO and helps to minimize the risk of malnutrition or oversupplementation if followed. Life stages define subsets of pets based on their nutritional needs at certain stages in their lives and include “growth/gestation/lactation,” “maintenance,” and “all life stages.” Puppies, kittens, pregnant and lactating pets would fall into the first category, adult dogs would be in the second, and the third group claims that it can be fed to any pet at any time. Watch out for the “all life stages” label. For a food to be labeled as such, it must meet the nutritional requirements of the life stage that needs the MOST nutrition (calories, fat, protein, etc.). That is the first category, the growing pets and those that are pregnant or producing milk. This means that if your pet food is labeled as an adult food but the AAFCO statement claims it is sufficient for “all life stages,” you are actually feeding a puppy food (or kitten food if it is for cats). This may be why some of our pets seem to not eat a lot of food, but they are overweight and can’t lose weight even when we decrease their food. Feeding an all life stage food to an older pet with kidney disease or heart disease may be detrimental to their health. These foods may be too high in protein, salt and phosphorous for diseased organs to process.

Second, beware of labels that claim the food is “holistic,” “grain-free,” or “hypo-allergenic.” There is no legal definition for the term “holistic” when it comes to food. Any company can put that label on their food, but there are no actual requirements necessary for the food to meet. It just may mean a higher price tag. Some foods that are labeled as “grain free” or “hypo-allergenic” may in fact not have grain, but if your pet is allergic to a certain meat protein, it won’t help itchy skin or gastrointestinal discomfort. Also, there may be grain contaminants in the food because the previous batch of food may have contained grain (similar to how we have warnings on some of our foods that alert us that some products were made in the same factory where there are peanuts and other foods that may cause allergic reactions).

Third, it is important to consider the nutrition in the food, not just the ingredients. Animals can get essential amino acids, proteins and trace minerals from plant sources as well as meat sources, just as vegetarians can have a complete and balanced diet while avoiding meat. Even if the first ingredient on the label is not meat, it doesn’t mean that the food is nutritionally deficient.

If you have questions about pet food labels or what life stage food is appropriate for your pet, ask your veterinarian for more information. It may also be helpful to bring an empty bag or can of the food to your vet. There are so many out there that we sometimes aren’t familiar with every brand!


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Meet Our Team

  • Dr. Bob  Sarsfield Photo
    Dr. Bob Sarsfield
    Veterinarian in Harrisburg, PA The chief medical officer and owner and has been with the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County since 1979. He started out working in the kennel and then attended Penn State University, which he graduated from in 1985. He received his DVM from Purdue University in 1989. His professional areas of interest include feline and canine medicine and surgery, ultrasound, and low level laser therapy. Contact the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County today and make an appointment ...
  • Dr. Heather  Balmer Photo
    Dr. Heather Balmer
    Dr. Heather Balmer (Zanes) is lead exotics veterinarian and has been with the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County since 1999. Dr. Balmer first worked as a kennel assistant and then as a veterinary technician assistant. She received her undergraduate degree from Juniata College and her VMD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Balmer was raised in Penbrook but currently lives with her husband, Matt, and grandmother in Hummelstown along with their four-legged ...
  • Dr. Kelly  Allen Photo
    Dr. Kelly Allen
    Dr. Kelly Allen joined the staff of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in 2011. She is a graduate of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA. She enjoys talking to clients about their furry family members. Dr. Allen has a keen interest in animal behavior and enjoys helping new dog and cat owners as they experience the joy (and sometimes frustrations) of introducing an animal into the family. She lives with her husband, Todd, son, ...
  • Dr. Jennifer  Fletcher Eckenrode Photo
    Dr. Jennifer Fletcher Eckenrode
    Dr. Jennifer Fletcher Eckenrode, CCRT joined the staff of the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in 2011. She attended Colorado State University where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Microbiology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Originally from Boston, Dr. Fletcher grew up in Michigan. She has lived in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, and even Perth, Australia. She lives in Mechanicsburg with her husband (also a veterinarian!) and daughter, their Heeler-Lab mix, Colbie, ...
  • Dr. Audrey  Zajac Photo
    Dr. Audrey Zajac
    Dr. Audrey Zajac joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in July, 2013. Dr. Zajac enjoys house calls and is currently our only vet who performs them twice weekly. She became interested in animals at a young age, spending her summers working on her grandparents’ dairy farm and riding horses at 12 years old. Dr. Zajac attended King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and headed off to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, ...
  • Dr. Whitney  Wolfgang Photo
    Dr. Whitney Wolfgang
    Dr. Whitney Wolfgang joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in June 2016. Growing up in Hummelstown, PA, Dr. Wolfgang always knew she wanted to work with animals in some capacity. Early in her college career, she fell in love with veterinary medicine. She graduated from Towson University in Maryland with a dual degree in Biology and Animal Behavior. She traveled to South Africa for a veterinary experience with local community outreach and wildlife veterinary medicine. Dr. Wolfgang earned ...
  • Dr. Jamie  Putt Photo
    Dr. Jamie Putt
    Dr. Jamie Putt is a native of Harrisburg, PA. She obtained her B.S. in Animal Bioscience from Pennsylvania State University in 2001. She attended veterinary school at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and obtained her D.V.M. in 2005. Dr. Putt is a current active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry, the mission of which is to educate the public about the importance of oral health in animals. Her special ...
  • Dr. Jennifer  Starvetsky Photo
    Dr. Jennifer Starvetsky
    Dr. Jennifer Starvetsky joined the Animal Hospital of Dauphin County in August, 2020. A transplant from Georgia, Dr. Starvetsky attended Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee. Previously, while working toward her BS at Georgia Southwestern University, she has worked in most positions in a veterinary hospital as well as volunteering at the local zoo near her undergrad. She enjoys working with dogs, cats, and exotic pets (including reptiles and birds) as a general ...
  • Dr. Coby  Rudakewiz Photo
    Dr. Coby Rudakewiz
    Dr. Rudakewiz is an associate veterinarian and has been with the Animal hospital of Dauphin County since 2020. Dr. Rudakewiz started working in the veterinary field as veterinary assistant before starting school. She received her undergraduate degrees from Gettysburg College and her DVM from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2019. Dr. Rudakewiz grew up in Hershey, PA and wanted to return to area to continue her career in veterinary medicine. In her free time, Dr. Rudakewiz enjoys ...
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    Dr. Melissa Fisher
    Dr. Fisher grew up in northern New Jersey with many cats, hamsters, birds and her dog Tre, spending most of her time outdoors. After graduating Delaware Valley University in 2016 with a degree in Small Animal Pre-Veterinary Medicine she spent 2 years as a veterinary technician and supervisor in New Jersey while pet sitting/walking part time. In her spare time, Dr. Fisher played rugby for the Doylestown Dragons before heading to vet school. After graduating from Ross University of Veterinary ...