Pet Nutrition Dos and Don’ts for a Healthy Pet

A Proper Diet for Your Pet

By January 02 | See Comments

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    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

A Cat Eating Out Of A Big Bag Of Food With A German Shepherd Near By

Having a pet is a big responsibility, and one of the most important parts is nutrition. Contrary to popular belief, pets aren't able to eat just any and everything. Learn more here about what your pet requires daily in order to keep them healthy and happy.

Wondering what’s the best way to feed your cat or dog to ensure your pet’s daily nutritional needs are met? As the American Animal Hospital Association says, “good nutrition enhances pets’ quality and quantity of life.” So as a pet parent, getting educated about pet nutrition is an important part of taking care of your cat or dog.

Cat Nutrition Requirements

Commercially prepared cat food labeled --

  • “complete and balanced nutrition”
  • “meets the nutritional requirements of cats established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)”
  • or “complete and balanced nutrition for cats based on AAFCO feeding trials”

-- has all the nutrients cats need, including a healthy balance of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals.

Treats and meals not meant to be fed every day won’t have these claims.

Did you know? Cats are carnivores who need nutrition from animal sources to live, resulting in a protein-rich diet, with moderate fat and carb content.

Protein and Fat Ranges in Typical Commercial Cat Foods


Dry Food

Wet Food


24% or more

6% or more


16% or more

4% or more


Dog Nutrition Requirements

Want to make sure your dog’s nutrition is complete? The right balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals will be found in commercially available dog food labeled with a Nutritional Guarantee:

  • “complete and balanced nutrition”
  • “meets the nutritional requirements of dogs established by the AAFCO”
  • or “complete and balanced nutrition for dogs based on AAFCO feeding trials”

You’ll know if a dog food is meant to be a treat, and not an everyday balanced diet, if it doesn’t have one of these claims.

Typical Protein and Fat Ranges in Commercial Dog Food




Wet Food



Dry Food




Pet Nutrition Dos

Pet Nutrition Don’ts

  • Don’t expect a one-size-fits-all diet: The amount of food your pet needs will vary based on a number of factors, such as age, breed, sex, level of activity, behavior, environment, and metabolism.
  • Don’t feed your cat dog food and don’t feed your dog cat food: As noted above, dog and cat nutrition needs differ greatly.
  • Don’t over-supplement your pet’s diet with vitamins and minerals: Speak to a vet before adding anything outside commercially prepared diets which are already balanced for cats and dogs. You may throw off the balance.
  • Don’t overdo it on treats: Pet snacks should not amount to more than 10% of a pet’s daily caloric intake. Buy variety pack such as the Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Wet Dog Food Variety Pack if your dog is reluctant to eat.
  • Don’t fall blindly for fad diets like “grain-free” and “all raw”: There is no “best” diet for all pets. Pet food fads, like fads for human weight-loss and nutrition, tend to be more hype-based than science-based and may even be unhealthy for your loved one. Seek your vet’s guidance when you’re unsure.
  • Don’t give your pet these foods or drinks, which can be potentially toxic or unhealthy to cats and dogs:

    • Xylitol, a sugar alternative found in human toothpaste, candy, and gum
    • Onion, garlic, or chives
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine
    • Coffee
    • Chocolate
    • Avocados (particularly the pit!)
    • Macadamia nuts
    • Grapes and raisins
    • Yeast or yeast dough
    • Raw or undercooked meat, eggs, or bones
    • Milk (if lactose intolerant)
    • Salt (too much sodium is not advised for anyone!)
More on Pet Nutrition

Nutrition for Medium and Small Dog Breeds
Does Your Senior Cat Need to Lose Weight?
4 Reason Why You Need Nutri-Cal for Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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