You need to decide on a pet food, but which do you choose? The tuna or the turkey? The lamb or the beef? The wet or the dry? It can be confusing, but it’s not as complicated as it looks. Some people decide which foods to feed to their pets based on previous experience with pets, some base their decision on what friends say they feed their pets on. Others stick to what the breeder has recommended, and some go by what their vet advises. Lastly, there is the influence of hundreds of television and magazine advertisements, all of which claim to be the highest quality.

Now lets look in some detail at the myths regarding the best foods and why.

The best foods are those recommended by vets?

While large brands sold in vet practices may be marketed as premium, top of the line foods, one look at the ingredients tells a different story.

These formulas, made by large conglomerate food manufacturers, derive far more protein from grains or grain by-product sources such as corn gluten meal, brewer’s rice, and wheat, than from healthy meat sources. Brands like these can be found in grocery stores, but they all have one thing in common, namely they contain poultry by-product, which consists of the leftovers unfit for human consumption, like feet, beaks, undeveloped eggs, and intestines; everything BUT clean meat. In a nutshell, it’s a cheap, low quality source of protein that is far less digestible than clean chicken meal.

These ingredients are an indicator of poor quality food and are the same as discount brands at the grocery store. However, the formulas may contain a few specialised ingredients to position them as a special diet for health conditions such as joint support, urinary tract health, for example. A better way to treat these conditions is with a truly healthy food and one or more daily supplements.

What to look for:

The best food will have a named meat meal, like chicken meal or lamb meal, listed before any grains. Our dogs and cats are designed by nature to eat protein from meat sources, not grains. Remember, the higher % of meat is the best. A primary contributor to the growing obesity and allergy problems in pets as been linked to the grain content of pet foods. That said, this does not mean that all grains are bad for dogs and cats.

Does dry food clean your dog’s or cat’s teeth?

This one is very common, even among some vets, but it is certainly isn’t true. Dogs and cats have very pointed teeth; even their molars are sharp edged, not flat. These teeth are designed to bite, tear, and chew raw meat, so when a dog or cat eats kibble, they either swallow it whole or shatter it.

Kibble does not scrape down onto the lower parts of the teeth or near the gums, which is where dental problems start. In fact, kibble can contribute to dental problems when the shattered bits lodge between the teeth, promoting bacterial growth. Just like with your diet, carbohydrate food debris breaks down into sugar, which dental bacteria feeds upon.

“Dental care for dogs and cats is vitally important because poor dental health can lead to chronic disease conditions.”

Kibble isn’t going to help. Healthy teeth start with a natural diet, healthy chews, and regular brushing. For more information, check out next months blog, dental health for my best friend. I will give detailed information on caring for your best friend’s teeth.

Do pets need life stage appropriate diets, such as puppy, kitten, and senior formulas?

To be completely transparent, life stage diets were created as a marketing tool. After all the more formulas manufacturers develop, the more shelf space they command. Now it’s true that puppies and kittens need more food for their size than adults, but they don’t need a specially formulated puppy or kitten diet. The best option for your little friend(s), a high-quality, varied diet.

For example for puppies this can include dry food, canned, freeze-dried, dehydrated and raw food.

While for kittens, high meat, grain-free foods are a good option if you’re supplementing with kibble, then canned, freeze-dried, dehydrated and raw are the best choices. It is not recommended to feed large portions of Kibble in a kitten/cats diet because it can contribute to dehydration, urinary tract issues and less than optimal health over time. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they eat mostly meat and very little carbohydrates.

How many times a day should I feed my pet?

Feeding younger animals more frequent meals, such as 3 times a day is helpful while they are in their biggest growth phase. However, after 3 or 4 months of age, 2 meals a day should suffice for most animals.

Puppies and kittens should be kept slim, just like adult animals; hence always keep an eye on your small friends waistline and don’t let him or her get round.

Animals of Senior years

Senior animals tend to take life at a slower pace as they age, so their calorie requirements might shrink, that said, the need for the healthiest food you can provide is much greater because as animals age, they require excellent nutrition to keep their immune system as strong as possible and their joints in good working order. The best thing you can do for your companion is to continue to feed a high quality, varied diet, but just feed a little less of it; older dogs and cats are the more susceptible to health issues that obesity can contribute to, including diabetes, arthritis, and urinary tract problems.

Are table scraps and other “people foods” bad for your dog and cat?

The majority of holistically trained vets encourage the practice of feeding “people food” to our pets. Healthy leftovers are an excellent supplement to your companion’s regular diet, but there are 2 rules with people food for pets:

  1. It must be healthy for them: meat, steamed and finely chopped vegetables & fruits, baked sweet potato, rice, oatmeal; no junk food; or added salt, sugar or condiments.

2) If you give him/her some of what you are eating, remember to feed less of their own food so that they don’t pile on extra pounds.

It’s important to note that not all healthy foods for us are healthy for our pets, for example onions, grapes and raisins can all be toxic to dogs and cats. If you’re not sure if its safe, don’t feed it.

If we go beyond leftovers, home-cooking is becoming popular among dog and cat lovers. Homemade food has never been easier to create.”

You can source a number of homemade pre-mixes. With these all you need to do is add meat and an appropriate oil for healthy fat content. Pre-mixes contain vegetables, vitamins and minerals, and sometimes grains to make the meal complete. Types listed below:

  • Sojos comes in varieties with and without grains.

  • Honest Kitchen preference offers, a grain-free blend.

  • Dr. Harvey’s makes pre-mixes for home cooked food that contains organic grains with an amazing blend of herbs, and also a grain-free pre-mix.

Note: You don’t have to cook every meal for your companion to benefit from fresher food; even the occasional homemade dinner is a wonderful healthy treat!

Should your dog or cat only eat food labeled as complete and balanced ?

Pet food companies have a huge interest in perpetuating this myth. If we stop and just think for a moment about what we eat can we honestly say we eat a completely balanced meal every time. Not even the most health-conscious among us worry about meeting the proper balance of nutrients at every meal. However, we are conscious that over the course of the day or week our diet will be fairly complete, so we don’t have to worry about eating exactly what the food pyramid recommends on a daily basis. To fill in the gaps a lot of us take vitamins and supplements because a very healthy diet of whole foods may not provide all the vitamins and minerals our body needs to stay healthy.

Variety is the key to a healthy diet for dogs and cats as well. If you’re feeding at least 50-60% commercially prepared foods that are designed to be “complete,” then you are well on your way to providing a majority of the balance of nutrients. You can add canned, raw or cooked meats, human food, fresh vegetables or other non-formulated foods to your companion’s meals which will boost the overall nutrition of the diet providing you don’t go over the top. Providing a daily multi-vitamin adds extra insurance. However, one caveat here, meat is higher in phosphorus and lower in calcium, so when adding more than 15 – 20% extra meat to your companion’s diet on a regular basis, keep the calcium and phosphorus ratio balanced over time by including raw bones or adding a calcium supplement.

Are pets at risk of Salmonella and E. Coli from being fed raw food?

The digestive tracts of dogs and cats are different from those of humans. The human digestive tract is approximately 25 to 28 feet long with a stomach acidity between 1.5 and 2.5, unlike a dog and cat which have a much shorter digestive system at an average of 10 to 13 feet for dogs and cats with an acidity of less than 1

This means that raw food moves through your pet’s system in less than half the time it would through a human’s system, and the high acidity kills most bacteria. Hence, if the food was contaminated, it is likely that the microbes would not enter the animal’s bloodstream.

Commercially prepared raw food manufacturers take measures to control against the presence of unwanted organisms such as Salmonella and E. coli, therefore if you’re concerned about contamination, frozen raw diets are a good option. Always apply the same precautions to handling raw meat for pets as you would with meat for human consumption.

  • Wash bowls, utensils and your hands after feeding and handling the meat.

  • Keep the meat frozen until two to four days before feeding, and thaw in the refrigerator.

  • Don’t leave the food down for your pet for more than 30-40 minutes, and throw any leftovers away after this time.

Note: Providing you use a common sense, approach to feeding raw food, it is no more difficult or dangerous than any other pet food, and the health benefits are unparalleled.

Is high protein diets hard on your pet’s kidneys, particularly as they age?

Food manufacturers producing poor quality food are responsible for this myth. What is the truth, well high plant protein diets are hard on your pet’s organs, but high animal protein diets aren’t only healthy for an ageing pet, but essential.

Poor quality, mass produced pet foods are packed with protein from soy and corn. Unfortunately, dogs and cats are unable to properly digest and assimilate these sources of protein. Food manufacturers are able to boost the protein content of the food without actually offering your pet any substantial protein that they can use.

High plant protein diets may put an added strain on your pet because their bodies aren’t designed to process these ingredients. As they try to assimilate protein from these sources, their organs need to start working overtime.

“Animal protein is hugely important to our pets throughout their entire lives. High quality protein from actual meat sources contains important amino acids that your pets need to thrive.”

Avoid any bags that feature corn or soy as a prominent ingredient when choosing a healthy, high protein diet for your pet, even better, avoid them all together.

A sure-proof way to make sure your pet(s) are eating the diet nature intended is through named meat meals like chicken or lamb meal or quality meat as the primary protein source.

The content of Ash is an important guideline in choosing your cat’s food

Concerns about Ash content in pet foods came about as “vets and cat parents were looking for the cause of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD – formerly known as FUS). It was during the 70‘s & 80’s, that vets thought Ash was a factor in causing crystals in urine.

Ash is no longer considered a factor in causing FLUTD. There are, however, a variety of causes.

The main problem with the formulation of commercial pet foods; they create

more alkaline urine, so a higher pH which leads to an increase in struvite crystals. Furthermore, a lot of dry kibble diets are formulated with a high vegetable and grain content which creates a more alkaline urine. Whereas an all meat diet like a cat would eat in nature creates a more acidic urine.

A high protein diet is the best way to maintain a low urinary pH naturally. Cats eating canned foods have fewer problems with FLUTD than those eating primarily dry kibble diets. This is due both to the higher meat content of canned diets as well as the higher moisture content; although, increased hydration also prevents crystal formation.

A frozen raw food diet is ideal for maintaining a lower urinary pH and providing proper hydration. Focusing on low-Ash foods will not solve FLUTD problems, but a healthier diet and proper hydration will.

Stress

A more effective means of preventing FLUTD than stressing about the amount of Ash in your companion’s food is by focusing on stress reduction for your pet and you. Stress is an often overlooked contributing factor to FLUTD, along with lack of exercise. When our pets are stressed, their immune system are compromised. Also, when you are stressed, your companion is far more likely to be stressed.

Flower Essences are excellent stress reducers and act as an emotional support tool; cats are especially responsive to flower essences and can benefit greatly from their use. There are flower essences designed for every emotional state, so check out a selection and choose the one or two remedies that best match your companion’s issues.

Can changing formulas or brands of pet food cause digestion problems for your dog or cat?

A healthy dog or cat could eat a different food at each meal without a problem providing the food is high-quality. Holistically minded parents and vets know that a variety is important for several reasons, the most important being to avoid the development of sensitivities to any particular food or protein type. For example, when the same food is fed for many months or years at a time, animals can develop allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients in the food. Also, many holistic vets believe that feeding the same food for many years is a contributing factor to inflammatory bowel disease. A variety provides a wider range of nutrition for your companion as well.

Even though a food may be formulated to meet APHA standards, that does not mean it meets the standards of every dog or cat. In fact, many foods that meet APHA standards cannot be tolerated by our pets due to the heavy use of grains and grain by-products. However, a diverse diet will meet the nutritional needs of your companion over time, that said would you want to eat the same meal everyday? Remember, that every meal doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced, just so long as the diet is balanced over the course of a week.

Which ever diet you decide to feed, it’s important to remember to include supplements.

Digestive enzymes are hugely important and assist your pets transition from one type of food to another with ease. Furthermore, they help animals maintain a healthy digestive tract and get the maximum nutrition from their food.

Essential fatty acids, especially from fish oil, provide the omega 3 fatty acids missing from most processed pet foods that nourish the skin, coat and digestive tract.

Probiotics are important for animals on medication or those experiencing digestive upsets.

Is it ok to feed dogs and cats each other’s food?

It is fair to say that there are few canned formulas available that meet the needs of both species, most foods are designed specifically for cats or dogs.

It’s important to remember that cats require a higher percentage of protein and fat than most dogs and they have specific requirements for additional taurine.

Dogs that eat too much cat food are at risk of weight gain and even pancreatitis. Cats that eat dog food are at risk of weight gain when the food is high in carbohydrates, as well as more likely to develop deficiencies in important amino acids like Taurine.