I recently overheard a manager in an animal shelter recommend a brand of dog food to an adopter, claiming that it was one of the best foods available. I had to bite my tongue for not wanting to embarrass her in front of a customer. But she was giving poor advice. Without mentioning the brand name, let’s just say it is sold in grocery stores. For anyone who has researched pet foods, the grocery store brands are inexpensive and generally not made from the highest quality ingredients. Many of them are based on the main ingredient of some kind of grain. But dogs are carnivores. The main ingredient needs to be protein, and preferably not by-products.

Pets are no different than humans; we all require a nutritionally balanced diet with healthful ingredients. Feeding a pet a low-quality food is tantamount to a human surviving on a diet of corn chips and Pop Tarts. Health issues such as diabetes, arthritis and other diseases resulting from a poor immune system will follow.

Many animal welfare advocates are well-versed about pet foods. Rescue groups supply their adopters with information on what to feed the pets, and some are quite adamant about the adopters feeding their new pets a premium food.

But here are the questions I grapple with: Not everyone has the budget to spend on premium dog foods. If someone cannot afford to fork out a lot of money for premium dog foods, should they be denied the privilege of having a pet? And isn’t it better for pets to have homes that feed them lower quality foods than to have overcrowded shelters and more pets killed?

It’s a tough call. I’ve had Golden Retrievers for over 20 years. Sadly, Goldens have a high rate of cancer. From the research I’ve done, Goldens’ cancer can be genetically based yet there is evidence that feeding the dogs high quality food can stave off the occurrences of this devastating disease. Or not. I’ve known many Golden owners who have fed their dogs premium foods all of their lives but the dogs still died young of cancer.

And then there are those who feed their dogs the worst-of-the-worst foods and the dogs live forever.  Go figure!

How do you feel about this issue? Are you aware of the differences in pet food quality? And if so, do you try to feed your pets premium food? If someone could not afford to buy the best food, would you deny them the pleasure of having a pet?