We are spoilt for choice when it comes to diets for our pets. Pets stores and supermarket shelves have shelf after shelf of the stuff, many claiming to make our dog or cat slimmer, healthier, fitter, happier. Often diet X is promoted as the cure of all ills, much like Dr Dulcamara’s Elisir in Donizzetti’s L’elisir d’amore (Love’s elixir) – apologies to non- opera lovers, I am a great fan, my paternal granddad knew Mascagni (of Cavalleria Rusticana fame). Unless your pet is ill or has a chronic condition requiring a special diet (e.g. kidney problems, pancreatitis), my advice would be to feed the best quality food which suits your pet and your pocket. However, I would add, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
When selecting a diet we usually consider not only the ingredients, but cost, visual appeal, taste and practicality.
While all pet foods have to adhere to a minimum standards, diets range from ‘economy’ to ‘premium’, breed or age specific, for both dogs and cats. The nutritional balance of a diet aimed at a puppy will differ from that for an oldie. Diets are also described as ‘natural’, ‘home-made’, ‘special’ – all these are usually just marketing.
But all diets belong to one of three broad groups: raw, fixed ingredients, variable ingredients.
Raw food – is composed mainly of uncooked meat from one source (e.g. chicken, rabbit) , bones and often vegetables. It can be home made or purchased in ready made patties or blocks.
Fixed ingredients – these foods, often sold as premium or veterinary endorsed, are made with the same ingredients. Every bag or tin is made with the same ingredients in the same proportion.
Variable ingredients – most standard pet foods fall into this category. While the nutritional value does not vary, the ingredients do. For example the source of protein is described as meat or animal derivatives without specifying the exact type. So a batch could have mostly beef, a different one chicken, but mostly it will be a mixture of protein sources. This is not necessarily an issue unless your pet has an allergy or hypersensitivity to a specific protein.
When considering cost comparison between foods is as simple as looking at cost per kilo. Is is necessary to consider the nutritional values and caloric content of the foods. One bag may cost more but if the pet only needs half the amount, then it may be more cost effective.
Visual appeal and taste
This is very important to us but perhaps not so much to the pet. A brown blob or a scoopful of kibble may not look that appealing to us but does it matter to the pet? If the taste is good, I am not sure they care. With many dogs, does the food stay in the mouth long enough to worry about it? Also what our pets consider yummy may not be the same as we do – cat poo anyone?
We lead busy lives and for many people ease of administration is important. Kibble can be stored easily, does not go off quickly in the heat and can be used as treats or rewards in training. Conversely, feeding raw food requires careful storage and handling, and spotless hygiene.
So there is a lot of choice – do your homework and ask your vet for advice