How to Choose the Right Food for Your Pet: Nutritional Advice from PetMAC

This coming Saturday, champion dogs will be leaping off the docks at Lake Anne and splashing into the water. This event will be part of the grand opening celebration of PetMAC, a new store at Lake Anne Plaza. There will also be dog scent work demos, cooking demonstrations, face painting, music, and giveaways. The fun will take place on May 30, 2015 from 1:00-4:00pm at PetMAC and the surrounding areas of the Plaza.


Kenzie, one of the Chesapeake Dock Diving Dogs who will be performing at Lake Anne on May 30, 2015 (photo by Key4prints, courtesy of PetMAC)

PetMAC is a pet supply store and adoption center that opened earlier this year in Reston. It is a nutrition-based shop that sells all-natural pet food and treats, as well as toys and other supplies and gifts.

PetMAC is owned by Cindy Williams, a Reston resident who has volunteered for years with pet adoption services. Over the course of her work, she has learned about pet nutrition and healthy pet food options. Her desire to help pet owners find quality food led her to start a pet food delivery business. Eventually she opened a brick-and-mortar shop, in conjunction with a pet adoption agency called Homeward Trails.


Dogs at an adoption fair at PetMAC

PetMAC works with Homeward Trails and other local rescue groups to find homes for dogs and cats. The shop hosts adoption fairs most weekends, and typically alternates between cat and dog adoptions each week. They also have adoptable kitties who live in the shop and are eager to greet visitors.

The store donates a portion of sales its partner rescue groups. They also offer educational seminars on topics such as the benefits of feeding a raw diet and how to prevent dental disease.

I spoke with PetMAC owner Cindy Williams about her advice for pet nutrition and selecting appropriate pet food. She offered some great guidelines for pet owners.


Cindy Williams, owner of PetMAC, with a special-needs cat available for adoption

by Cindy Williams of PetMAC



Whole, named meat sources
For example, chicken, salmon, turkey, beef, lamb, or venison. Look for good quality, human-grade meats, not by-products.

More protein than carbs
Dogs and cats are meat-eaters and are not designed to have a diet of carbs and grains. Dogs can tolerate more carbs than cats, who are obligate carnivores. Ideally, at least 2 of the first 3 ingredients should be a protein.

Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
Breaking up foods alters how they are digested and used by the body. The less processed they are going into the mixture, the more likely they are to retain their nutrients.

A good reputation
Choose an honorable company that has the animals’ best interest in mind. Smaller companies are able to maintain better quality control and are more likely to use better quality ingredients. Mass-produced food is never as good as those made by small, specialty companies.



Unnamed meat sources
For example, “poultry” instead of chicken, or “meat” instead of beef. You don’t know what kind of meat it is or how it has been handled.

Meat by-products
These are ingredients that are not fit for  consumption. Therefore, there is no guarantee of what they are or how they have been handled. Ingredients called the 4Ds — dead, diseased, dying, downed — are not allowed in human food but are allowed in pet food – and can be found in the cheap, lesser quality pet foods.

Grain by-products
Products like brewer’s rice and wheat bran are leftover by-products from other food manufacturing processes. Look for whole grains like brown rice or barley, or better yet, no grains!

Too many carbs
Ideally, at least 2 of the top 3 ingredients should be named protein sources, such as chicken, chicken meal, or deboned chicken.  An overabundance of carbs in the diet increases the risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Fractionated grains
For example, instead of putting “whole brown rice,” they may put “rice bran” and “rice flour,” each weighing less than the first ingredient, but the sum of the two would weigh more. Using whole grain ingredients is not only healthier, but it also offers a more accurate accounting of the ingredients used and their true proportions.

Fresh vs. meal
Ingredients are listed by weight, so you may look at an ingredient list and see: “chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal,” and think “Chicken is the first ingredient, so that must be good.” The problem is that 80% of the weight in fresh chicken is water. Once it is cooked and the water is removed, the chicken now doesn’t weigh as much and falls farther down the list of ingredients, so essentially, your ingredient list by weight is more like: “brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, chicken” – not so good!

Unnecessary chemicals
Chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin can potentially cause cancer, create a weakened immune system and speed aging. Farmers use ethoxyquin as an insecticide in their fields and are required to wear mask and gloves to handle! Propylene glycol is used to help keep foods moist and add sweetness, yet it is a less-toxic version of antifreeze! Also steer clear of artificial colorings. If the food is made from actual meat instead of corn, wheat or other non-meat products, artificial flavorings are unnecessary because it will taste good naturally!


Some of the catfood and dogfood available at PetMAC


  • Choose all-natural pet food products. Benefits include:
    • reduction/elimination of common allergies
    • reduction in inflammation of joints
    • stronger/healthier digestive tracts
    • cleaner/healthier teeth
    • decreased infections of ears and mouth
    • less shedding
    • smaller/firmer stools
    • a happier, healthier pet
  • Rotate your pet’s foods. Benefits include:
    • a larger variety of vitamins and minerals
    • fewer dietary deficiencies or excesses
    • prevents food boredom and frustration
    • helps to avoid the development of allergies
  • Generally, canned food is healthier for your pet, as it is less-processed and closer to their natural diet.
  • Bones and raw food most closely emulates what a pet would eat in the wild.

Many thanks to Cindy Williams and the team at PetMAC for all this great advice! If you’d like more information, Cindy recommends WebMD’s page on pet nutrition. Please consult with your veterinarian before making decisions regarding your pet’s health.


Kids visiting with some of the adoptable cats at PetMAC

PetMAC is located at Lake Anne Plaza, and is open Tuesday-Sunday until 6pm. Their grand opening celebration will be Saturday, May 30, 2015, from 1:00pm-4:00pm. Bring your family out to watch the dock-diving dogs, and then stop by the shop to say hello to the resident kitties. Perhaps you can even find a good home for one of them.

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