Feeding Your Pet: One Food for Life or a Variety of Choices?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Variety in Pet Food

If variety is a virtue when it comes to nutrition, it stands to reason that the one-formula-for-life approach to pet foods might be problematic for our pets. One single formula seems unlikely to meet all of the needs any complex organism would require over a lifetime.

Nonetheless, pet food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to devise formulas that are “100% nutritionally-balanced.” These foods are meticulously formulated to best meet the needs of a wide variety of our dogs and cats. Decades of study and uncounted pet lifetimes underpin the majority of these foods.

What’s more, these formulas are revised and refined constantly. Pet food manufacturers know they have competition and they work very hard to put out a good product. I know this firsthand, having traveled cross-country and even across the pond to bear witness to how pet food manufacturers study up in hopes of the perfect formula.

The problem is this: If we’ve undertaken thousands of times more research on human nutrition and still can’t decide what’s best for us, does it not stand to reason that a “nutritionally-balanced” diet for our pets might elude modern veterinary science as well?

It’s for this fundamental reason that I tend to eschew the one-formula-for-life mantra in favor of the occasional formula change. Though we were never lectured on the subject of pet food formula switcheroos while studying nutrition in vet school, the dearth of hard facts in this arena easily defends such informal thinking.

It’s just common sense. And yet few veterinarians advocate this approach. In fact, plenty of veterinarians think it’s a bad idea.

Given the lack of evidence to support the benefit of formula rotation for optimum nutrition and the reality of its digestive drawbacks for some patients’ delicate GI tracts, it’s inevitable this nontraditional approach would have its detractors. Nonetheless, I stand by the reasonable assumption that variety is a good thing. Especially since we’re talking about making gradual changes every month or two, not 180-degree deviations every few days.

But whether you agree that variety is the secret to nutritional success or not, there are plenty of reasons why you may not have much of a choice when it comes to switching it up. Consider the following:

  1. Formulas change when ingredients wax and wane with the rigors of supply and demand.
  2. Food allergies may require an alteration in ingredients.
  3. Food intolerances may mean ingredient modification too.
  4. Gastrointestinal disorders typically necessitate dietary adjustments.
  5. Pet food recalls happen… and who knows when your preferred formula will be back.
  6. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, Costco’s change in hours, and other acts of God can mess with your food supply.

Formula variations are inevitable. So why fight it? After all, being so gastrointestinally wedded to any one formula that any accidental deviation leads to a lake of diarrhea can’t be a good thing. Then there’s the obvious to consider: How can you honestly say, “My pet eats ‘Brand X’ and he’s always done great!” unless you have something to compare it to?

Food for thought …

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