Pet Food: Commercial or home prepared?

There’s a vast range of pet foods available on the market, and there are many strongly opinionated views on which is best, from cheapest to priciest, raw to uber-processed, meatiest to vegetarian.

Pet food accounts for around 90% of the cost of owning a pet so it’s important to choose well. At a conference last week, there was a panel of five experts, including a “consultant in small animal nutrition” (a vet who has trained in the US to become a specialist in the subject, an owner of a commercial pet food company, a vet who markets “raw food” for dogs, and others. Given the wide range of viewpoints represented on the panel, the level of consensus agreed on many topics was surprising.

Some key points included:

  • a pet’s diet must be “complete and balanced” i.e. it must contain all essential nutrients in the correct amounts.
  • all commercial diets sold in the UK are legally bound to comply with European guidelines which ensure that they are complete and balanced.
  • however “sensible” a home prepared diet may seem, there is no guarantee that it will include all necessary nutrients in the correct proportions.
  • the only way to ensure that such home made diets are adequate would be to employ the services of a nutritionist to carry out a simple analysis of the ingredients and formulation.

One question from the audience received an interesting answer:

Q: If a nutritionist is so important for pet food, how is it that humans seem to manage so well creating their own dietary plans without professional help?

A: Many humans do suffer from nutritional disease (obesity is the obvious one), and they would indeed benefit from the services of a nutritional advisor. Nutritional deficiencies can produce subtle signs that are common but often go undiagnosed (e.g. low vitamin D levels). Bizarrely, if many humans chose to eat complete dog food, they would often end up having a more balanced diet than what they are currently eating.

Last year, an American blogger lived for six days on nothing but pet food: kibble for breakfast, chicken bisque for lunch, chicken and beef stew for dinner. She lost weight and her blood test results improved compared to a paleo diet that she’d tried previously. She says that she’d do it again.

Looking for a new diet fad that provides balanced nutrition at a bargain price? If you own a dog or cat, the answer could already be waiting for you in your kitchen cupboards

As for Christmas dinner for pets, the simple answer is this: limit treats to no more than 10% of the total food on the plate. Any more than that and you risk causing a digestive upset. Every year in the days after Christmas, vets see pets with gastroenteritis caused by over indulgence. They may love turkey, stuffing and sprouts at the time, but they suffer later… And you need to pay the cost of an after-hours vet…

Questions today:

  • Any advice on how we stop neighbour’s cat coming into our home. Any time a window or door is open, the cat runs in and hides
  • Is it ok to mix dog foods?
  • I feed raw beef, cooked chicken, veg mixed with a lower protein meal also add primrose oils and other vitamins and my dogs thrive and always have a shiny healthy coat.
  • I have a 2 yr old shih tzu who will not eat dog food if any kind. Just leftovers etc. Is there anything can be done to change this?
  • How can you stop dogs from eating other animal faeces when out walking?
  • Anna says “Can Pete recommend a children’s book to educate kids about caring for animals please”.
  • My cat’s tail has a mind of its own, when her tail keeps flicking she gets very upset. Why does this happen?

Two Callers:

  • Hi Caroline from Galway here. I’ve a 9mth old kunekune pig. His diet is mainly grass, we give him fruit mostly apples and a little oats. what is the best food source to replace grass? Thanks
  • Hi Pat and Pete, we are moving to our first home in Jan. We live with 7 housemates in a large house with our dog Sammy. We were looking for advice on how best to transition Sammy to his new home and from 7 to 2 people. Also he wont have as much company during the day when we are both working,we are worried he wont be as happy as us to move ! many thanks

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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