PET FOOD – FEASTS, FEARS AND FADS?
The food our pets eat has a critical effect on their health and longevity. But there’s such a confusing array of pet foods available, both in veterinary stores and supermarkets, as well as a host of dietary trends punted on the internet. How can we possibly know what’s best for our furkid from a nutritional perspective?
These Twisted Whiskers tips will help you to ask the right questions about your chosen brand or dietary approach and, hopefully, arm you with the information you need to make a choice that keeps your dog or cat healthy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed throughout their life.
- IS IT BACKED BY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH?
Canine and feline nutrition are pretty exhaustive subjects (and, it’s worthwhile to note here, species-specific: cats are not small dogs and require more key ingredients to be present in their diet than dogs do). The brand or type of diet you opt for should have the backing of peer-reviewed veterinary nutrition studies and, ideally, be supported by generations of healthy dogs and cats who have thrived on the product or formulation, rather than on someone else’s unscientific opinion.
- DOES IT MEET MY PETS NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS COMPLETELY?
Pets in various life-stages and with differing activity levels have specific requirements in terms of amino acids, protein and carbohydrate digestibility, as well as other nutrients. Puppies and kittens are growing, so they need more calories, as well as a vitamin and mineral profile to support their developing bodies and immune-system. DHA, an essential fatty acid, is also added to certain veterinary recommended premium diets, as it’s proven to aid in brain-development and trainability of young animals.
Toy breed dogs have tiny tummies, so their food needs to be nutrient dense and fed in divided meals to meet their energy requirements.
That said, excess weight in pets is always a health concern and those animals that are overweight (or have a tendency to be), should be fed a diet that is lower in calories, yet still supports their nutritional needs. For older animals and large dog breeds, joint support is a must. There is no “one size/age fits all” diet that will provide optimum nutrition for our pets and careful consideration needs to be taken when choosing the most suitable diet for each individual.
- IS IT SAFE TO FEED?
Given the recent concerns regarding human food production, the safety of pet food deserves attention. Does the brand you’re looking at go through rigorous testing (both of the raw ingredients and throughout production) and does it offer a customer guarantee on both quality and palatability? Is there a customer care line or advisory service you can contact with any questions about the food or its safety? Or, if you’re feeding RMBD (Raw Meat-Based Diet), or home-cooking, can you guarantee the safety of the ingredients you’re using?
- WHAT ABOUT DENTAL CARE?
Dogs and cats can’t brush their teeth and, although our vet is always recommending that we to do it for them, the number of us who actually manage this (even on a semi-regular basis) is very low. Brushing our pets’ teeth is still the best way to care for their oral health but if we aren’t doing this, it’s vitally important that we feed a diet that provides dental care. This may take the form of a mechanical aspect – many veterinary-recommended premium diets extrude the kibbles in such a way that when they are broken by the pet’s teeth, they have a “brushing” effect on the enamel and help remove plaque. Others include a polyphosphate coating, which activates on contact with saliva and coats the teeth to prevent calcium solids attaching and forming plaque. Pretty cool technology!
A word here on feeding bones – while chewing these helps to keep teeth clean, it also helps to damage them! Veterinary specialist dentists strongly advise against feeding bones as they see the resultant damage to the teeth of their patients. And for those who believe that eating bones is “normal” for dogs – wolves that have been brought from the wild into captivity, for example, have plenty of dental fractures as a result of chewing bones in their natural environment. Apart from this, bones can cause damage throughout the digestive tract, from getting stuck in the mouth, to puncturing intestines and organs, to causing obstruction, or clogging up the works in the rectum. Please feed bones with care.
- WHAT’S IN THE FOOD?
To correctly assess the quality of the food based on the ingredients stated on the label requires a good knowledge of pet nutrition, but there are a couple of things lay-people can be aware of. Your chosen brand should preferably feature an animal protein as the first ingredient, or at least in the top three ingredients listed. Cats are obligate carnivores which means they HAVE to eat meat in order to fulfil their dietary requirements of micronutrients. Dogs, although omnivores like humans, do best on an animal protein diet. Look for diets that specify the protein source (eg. chicken and turkey), as opposed to using terms like “meat and meat derivatives”. In the latter case, it shows that the product doesn’t have a fixed recipe and that the manufacturer can speculate on which protein happens to be the cheapest at the point of purchase. This could result in tummy upsets due to changes in formulation and consistency from batch to batch.
Because manufactured pet foods have a shelf-life, they have to include preservatives to ensure that the food’s safety, freshness and nutrient integrity are maintained. Look out for products that use natural preservatives like Vitamin E. It goes without saying that pet food should ideally not contain artificial colours and flavourants as they add no nutritional value.
AS NATURE INTENDED?
The sometimes heated debate on trends in nutrition can be confusing for pet-parents. Some people may feel a bit odd feeding manufactured kibble food to their pets, are possibly concerned about the lack of variety, or think that a more “natural” diet would surely be better. We strongly recommend consulting with your veterinarian before considering Raw feeding, home cooking or vegan/vegetarian options for your pet. Meat protein is vital for dogs and cats to thrive. The tonne of research that underpins this statement aside, one look at their dentition and intestinal tract shows that they are best suited to a carnivorous diet.
However, feeding a Raw Meat Based Diet to domesticated animals, unless you’re working with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure this diet is balanced, could do more damage than good. Not only does your furkid run the risk of suffering nutritional deficiencies, if the stringent hygiene protocols required for correctly managing such a diet are not adhered to, your pet is at risk of contracting a bacterial or parasite infection. Such is the reality of this concern that a number of international veterinary governing bodies advise against feeding Raw, for the safety of the pet and that of in- contact persons and animals. If young, elderly or immune-compromised people or animals live in the home, Raw-feeding should not even be a consideration for the pet!
Home cooking is a better option from a safety aspect, as it kills bacteria but, again, getting the nutritional balance right is important. A quality home-cooked diet does not include sharing with the pet whatever the human family are eating, or boiling up chicken carcasses and adding a sprinkling of rice and the odd piece of butternut. In addition, the dental care benefit of feeding a kibble formulation is lost so extra attention should be paid to the pet’s oral health.
Vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity as human nutritional lifestyles. BUT! To impose such a lifestyle choice on an animal that is built to consume meat and thrives best on a meat-based diet, is a questionable decision, especially for cats. Nutritional deficiencies resulting from feeding cats a non-animal-protein diet can lead to blindness, heart failure and even death and will probably not meet a dog’s requirements either, over time.
Veterinary recommended premium diets are the safest choice in nutrition for your pet – think of them like the ready-to-eat meals provided by the military for soldiers in combat. Or the nutritional shakes favoured by gym aficionados. They’re extensively researched and packed with everything your pet needs to thrive. Their manufacturing process and the quality of the end product are tightly regulated and this gives pet-parents the peace of mind that they are providing their dog or cat with the safest and most complete nutrition possible.
Twisted Whiskers is vet-owned and managed and our staff are trained to assist you with a variety of pet-care-related queries. We’re always available to talk pets!
© Written By Twisted Whiskers