There is no shortage of choice when it comes to buying pet food but to the uninitiated it can seem a dizzying array. Nicole Paley at the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) talks us through the growing variety and how products differ to help us make an informed choice of what to feed our four-legged friends.
A HEALTHY BALANCED DIET FOR CATS AND DOGS
To keep them healthy, happy and active for as long as possible, cats and dogs need the right balance of the six major nutrient groups in their diet: proteins, fats/oils, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and water. Dogs need 37 essential nutrients in their diet for healthy bodily function whilst cats need around 40. The expertise of the manufacturer is selecting and blending ingredients together to provide meals that meet the nutritional needs of pets.
‘COMPLETE’ PET FOODS
This is probably the most important term you need to be familiar with when choosing a pet food and it will be on the pet food label. The term ‘complete’ is in fact a legal definition and it means the product must contain (as required by law) all the nutrients your pet needs for healthy body function. Feeding a complete diet means you don’t need to provide any other food. Members of the PFMA follow European nutritional guidelines when producing their diets which are approved by veterinary nutrition experts across Europe giving you that extra reassurance.
‘COMPLEMENTARY’ PET FOODS
If the term ‘complementary’ is on the pet food label, this means that the product isn’t nutritionally complete, and it will need to be fed alongside something else. Dog treats for instance are a complementary pet food. Remember to keep treats to a minimum as these will need to be taken into consideration at mealtimes and this can disrupt the nutritional balance of the main meal.
If you feed your pet treats and snacks, they should not form more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. This means at least 90% of their calories should come from their main, complete and balanced pet food.
DIETARY NEEDS AT DIFFERENT LIFE STAGES
Balanced and complete nutrition is important for all cats and dogs; however, their nutritional needs can vary at different stages in their lives. For instance, the nutritional needs of a growing puppy or kitten are quite different to an adult cat or dog that may be less active. As pets progress into their senior years, their needs will change again. It is important to take your pet’s life stage into account when choosing your pet food as the diets have been specially formulated for a specific life-stage.
ORGANIC PET FOODS
The question of whether organic food is better for us has been circulating without a clear answer for many years but for some people buying organic food is their ethos. Whilst there is no specific organic standard for pet food, companies making an organic claim will need to be approved by an accreditation agency such as the soil association. Organic standards include:
- 95% of ingredients must be certified organic (the remaining 5% must be from a permitted list)
- Cleaning materials and pest control methods are restricted
- Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are strictly prohibited
- Flavourings must be either naturally or organically produced
What exactly does natural mean in a food sense? The dictionary gives us some clues where natural is defined as “Present in or produced by nature” or “Conforming to the usual course of nature” etc. Whilst there is no legal definition for pet food, the European Pet Food Federation has set a standard which requires that all pet foods marketed as ‘natural’ must only be made with natural ingredients and the food must not contain any chemically synthesised ingredients. Additionally, “they should only be subjected to such physical processing as to make them suitable for pet food production and maintaining the natural composition.”
RAW PET FOODS
There is a range of commercially produced raw products available from complete raw foods for cats and dogs to freeze dried treats. If feeding a raw diet, our advice to cat and dog owners is to ensure you’re providing a complete and balanced diet and to be even more diligent with your hygiene practices when handling raw food. Safety is key and raw pet foods produced in Europe must comply with strict legislation which set strict limits for microbiological testing, for instance a zero tolerance for salmonella.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I FEED?
Feeding guidelines are always provided on the pet food packet. The guidelines will show how much of the product you need to feed per day. The recommendations are usually based on the pet’s weight, and sometimes take in to account their life stage and activity level. Although each pet will have their own unique needs, you should at least start with the amounts recommended before making appropriate adjustments according to weight changes. It is important to remember that weight gain and loss are slow processes taking place over a number of weeks and even months so regular weight checks and keeping track of this is important.
IS MY PET A HEALTHY WEIGHT?
Pet obesity is a growing issue for cats and dogs and according to the veterinary profession, around 50% of the dogs and cats they see are overweight or obese. Research has shown that keeping pets in a healthy, lean condition can add two years on to their life. Make sure you get these extra two years by feeding the right amount, providing regular exercise and keeping track of your pet’s weight. Visit https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-size-o-meter to see if your pet is a healthy size.