By: Peta Gay Railton
Our companion pets aren’t just animals—they’re our beloved friends and family members. But while we research gourmet recipes and meal plan for the family, we don’t always think about what’s going into Fido’s mouth. Instead, we just grab the closest pack of pet food off the shelf at the supermarket, with its convenient promise of a complete food in a bag.
The truth is, commercial pet food isn’t all created equal. Just like there’s a difference between take-out fries and a salad, there’s a huge scope in terms of nutrition when it comes to pet food.
Does this mean you need to fork out for the ones with the fanciest packaging and boldest health claims? Not necessarily. With over two decades in clinical practice and working with animals throughout the world, I’ve learned what’s really important when it comes to feeding your pet.
Learn to read the ingredients list
Have a quick scan of the supermarket shelves and you’ll see rows of pet food packets. Don’t be swayed by the packaging featuring fluffy and bright-eyed pets; turn the pack around and get out your reading glasses.
In minuscule writing on the side is the list of ingredients—and this is one place pet food manufacturers can’t fool you with pretty pictures. The first ingredient listed is the one that makes up the largest portion of the food.
If it’s cornmeal that means the bulk of the diet is made up of cornmeal—essentially filler with zero nutritional value. So what should the first ingredient be? Look for a type of meat, such as chicken or beef.
Distinguish between meat and meat byproducts
Succulent chicken, tasty beef… The descriptions of meat on the packet often sound enticing, conjuring up images of big juicy carcasses. But in reality, the only meat involved in your pet food may be animal byproducts—things like feathers, beaks and feet. Not exactly appetising—and not very nutritious, either.
However, if the first ingredient is meat it’s a great sign—it indicates the company cares enough to use meat as their main ingredient, which usually spells a high-quality product.
Spending a little more on wet food can save you in the long run
It’s true that meat-based products do tend to be on the more expensive side. But it can pay to spend a little more. The better-quality products are much more nutritionally dense, so you’ll need less of them to satisfy your pet.
Even better: when fed the good stuff, animals tend to poo much less—only about once a day. Your lawns will thank you!
Ditch the biscuits
Can’t justify the hefty price tag of good quality pet food? Instead of buying dog or cat biscuits, get bones. You can pick up huge bags of meaty bones from the abattoir or butcher for next to nothing. It’s not just a great penny-saving technique: it’s better for your animals too.
Opting for bones instead of dry biscuits can also prevent feline dental problems. Cats actually need to gnaw on their food to clean their teeth, but most commercial cat biscuits crumble easily. Raw chicken bones and tough strips of meat give their teeth the work-out they need.
Dry cat biscuits may also lead cats to develop feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), a very common condition in which cats develop stones in their urine and can’t go to the toilet.
What about special vitamins?
It’s true that cats require some essential amino acids that their bodies can’t make. However, you don’t need to buy into feverish health claims from the biscuit boxes. Sardines and tuna from the tin will do the trick just fine.
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