Over the last decade there has been a larger choice of feeding options for our pets. Some owners have moved to less conventional diets such as raw food, grain free and vegetarian diets.
Commercial foods are still very popular. A good quality complete diet will deliver a nutritionally balanced diet that is simple to feed and to store. They may contain antioxidant preservatives, and some may contain colourings (as are used in human food.) Commercial food may contain offal or by-products (labelled as meat derivatives). These are the parts of the animals deemed surplus to human consumption. For example, lungs, kidneys, heart, or intestines. Whilst these may be considered undesirable in our culture they are eaten regularly in others and are nutritious and a good use of the carcass of meat animals. Using meats that are part of human diets means there is direct competition with the human food chain. If an animal is slaughtered for human consumption (or leather) and parts aren’t used in pet food then alternative disposal is needed in either landfill or incineration. Therefore, using them in pet foods can be seen as environmentally beneficial.
Grain free feeding has become very fashionable in recent times and has been seen to be somehow healthier or more natural. Grain free was quickly marketed to pet owners. Marketing is a powerful tool for selling pet food, sometimes initiating, or expanding fads often unsupported by nutritional science! There is a misconception that grain is just a filler and that dogs often have grain allergies. In actual fact grain free diets are often filled with lower grade potato, legumes or pulses. Grains are not harmful. Less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grain leaving 99% of dogs able to gain nutritional benefit from them.
People may adopt a vegetarian diet for several reasons either personal, ethical or for health considerations. Dogs are omnivores and so can do well on a variety of animal derived as well as vegetable-sourced foods. Cats however are obligate carnivores meaning they need animal sourced ingredients. For dog owners wishing to feed a vegetarian diet there are many commercially available. It is important when choosing that notice is taken of whether the food is complete or is intended as complementary and that the food is balanced for the dog’s life stage.
The practice of feeding raw foods is on the increase partly because it is more widely available and partly as it is perceived to be more natural for our pets. Although anecdotally many pets appear to ‘do well’ on raw diets any health benefits have yet to be proven as any substantiated research has yet to be carried out.
Raw foods can be divided into 2 types, commercial and homemade:
Commercial raw foods which have been computer balanced to meet FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation) nutritional requirements should be complete and balanced and therefore meet your animal’s needs.
Homemade raw diets, unless at least computer balanced and supplemented are invariably unbalanced and incomplete. Studies have shown these diets are often deficient in calcium, potassium and zinc and have excessive levels of vitamin D. Therefore, care and advice should be taken before undertaking this style of feeding.
Hygiene considerations when feeding raw:
Feeding raw food carries risks of exposure to parasites and bacteria as raw meat often contains bacterial pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter. Therefore, stringent cleanliness is necessary. Exposure can be from various routes including handling raw food, cross contamination to human food, storage or preparation surfaces, food bowls or direct contact with your animal post feeding (face licking etc) or contact with faeces of raw fed animals. Care must be taken to wash hands thoroughly with soapy water after handling and as soon as your pet has finished eating remove and wash the food bowls to minimise any bacteria left behind. Care is also needed when cleaning up faeces as bacteria can be shed this way.
Feeding a raw diet or any other diet needs to be done after making an informed decision. Hygiene and worming is imperative. Commercial raw diets should be better balanced (FEDIAF members will at least have met nutritional requirements by computer balancing). If homemade raw is being fed the diet should be balanced by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary. Deworming is also very important when raw feeding.
Please call us if you require further advice regarding feeding you dog.