We all want to feed our pets the healthiest foods we possibly can. But in reality, do most animal lovers truly understand what "healthy" means? What is healthy for a human can cause some serious health concerns for our beloved pets. "Natural" is fine. There's no sense gulping down pesticides or other useless ingredients if we don't need to. But what is "natural" and do these ingredients really help our pets? The term itself can mean just about anything, and the FDA hasn't spent much time worrying about how the food industry uses the term in human food or pet food. One company could have natural ingredients that were grown without pesticides, and another company might have a pet food that contains lots of lean meat and vegetables and label it "natural ingredients". When it comes to animals, however, their entire digestive systems have different needs. They can eat and process bones, rotten meat and leftover people food. Dogs are pack animals that scavenge anything they can find that is remotely edible and even the fussiest spoiled toy poodle will be happy to chow down on a rotting bird carcass if need be, with no consequences. Cats are no different. So, do you really need to spend hard earned money on probiotics, antioxidants, and a host of vitamin additives? Depends. Like humans, it's usually fairly obvious when your pet needs a healthier diet. His eyes get runny and cloudy, and either his ribs start to show or he just gets fat. His fur starts to thin out, his skin gets scaly, and his breath smells. Of course, in reality, few pets get to this point if their owners feed them decent store bought quality food and provide them with regular health care and exams. Does your dog need kibble at $45 for a 16 pound bag? No! Animals need meat, and lots of it. Dogs and cats would be thrilled to have nothing more than some raw chicken or steak. Of course, few families can afford to indulge their furry friends like this, and a meat only diet isn't good for anyone. They do need variety, and that would include meat byproducts, grain (as a filler), some dried vegetables, or even softer canned ones mixed in. In short, use commercially prepared foods you can get in any grocery store. You don't need high priced options from your vet unless the food is for a specific dietary concern such as kidney failure, etc. Look at labels. If meat, byproducts and grains are not listed within the first two ingredients, do find another brand. Many fillers are nothing more than ash - and these foods leave your pet hungry. Ash has no nutritional value. Your pet needs fillers such as grain, rice, etc. in order to fill them up. Many foods also have a fairly high fat content to give the food flavor and, again, substance. Fats are important to keep their bones and joints in optimal health and quality fats will help keep coats shiny and healthy. The worst thing you can do for your pet is to inflict your personal dietary requirements on a dog or cat. I was shocked to see a new neighbor feed her Boxer a bowl of steamed broccoli, pasta and brown rice. And the dog ate it, although I could tell he was so hungry he would have eaten anything. As the dog struggled through his meal I noticed he was significantly underweight. I asked his owner why she was feeding him a vegetarian diet and she explained, "We simply can't have meat in the house. It's disgusting." I asked how their vet felt about this diet and she said, "Well, he understands our concerns." I shot back, "Well, my concern is your dog is going to die from malnutrition. Dogs are not meant to be vegetarians, and if you can't feed him what he's supposed to have, you are putting his life in jeopardy." I ran to my house to bring an emergency can of dog food, something always on hand in my home. I returned with an entire can of food mixed with some hard kibble, in a plastic bowl. That poor dog almost attacked me when I walked through the door. I just pointed and said, "That is what your dog is supposed to look like as he enjoys a meal." She followed my advice and bought a case of dog food. Within two weeks that dog put on three very needed pounds and gave me the biggest sloppiest kisses he could every time I walked over to visit. Your pet will tell you, one way or the other, if his diet is lacking in anything. The high end expensive brands are rarely any better for your pet than the average priced food found in a good grocery store. I grew up with animals, long before we needed fancy foods to give them for our own piece of mind. I remember my mother giving our cats fresh fish and liver from the grocery store, and whatever scraps they could steal from our dinner plates. The dogs got ground beef, mashed potatoes, canned vegetables, a little gravy, and some hard food. These animals lived well into their teens without major health concerns. They didn't take vitamins, and they never had a probiotic or an antioxidant, other than the time my kitten drank my cranapple juice one morning. When it comes to Iams and Science Diet vs. 9 Lives or Friskies - trust me. My pets will go for the 9 Lives every time. And my vet tells me I must be doing something right to keep them so healthy.