Nutrition labels on our food help us choose what we need for a balanced diet. With dog and cat food it isn’t always as straightforward.
Pet food legislation allows manufacturers to be vague when labelling their food. If the ingredients list refers to “animal derivatives” and “cereals” rather than naming the specific ingredients, we can never be sure what we are feeding our pets and the manufacturers can change the ingredients whenever they like. If a food is labelled as “lamb & rice” for example, it only has to contain 4% lamb and 4% rice. Therefore the other 92% is made of cheap, poor quality ingredients listed as “animal derivatives” and “cereals” thus keeping the price down for the consumer. This can be a problem if your pet suffers from food intolerances or allergies as it is all the more important that you are aware of exactly what they are eating.
A healthy digestive system is the key to a healthy pet, therefore choosing the correct diet can prevent a number of digestive problems. Foods which contain indigestible ingredients are often the cause of digestive upset. Some other ailments which could be caused by diet include itchy skin and ears, dry coat, persistent moulting, wax in the ears, and anal gland problems.
So what is a balanced diet for my pet?
As with humans, dogs and cats need a combination of water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The amount each pet will need depends upon their species, gender, age and lifestyle.
The type of protein found in pet food varies considerably between brands. Food containing soya or other vegetable protein is difficult to digest unlike animal protein. Taurine, one of the amino acids found in protein, is essential in a cats’ diet. A lack of Taurine can result in blindness, heart and reproductive problems. Therefore cats cannot survive on a vegetarian diet.
Dog and Cat food manufacturers use different techniques to market their food, all claiming to be the best for your pet. Some brands appeal to the owner, with a big television advertising campaign, flashy packaging, and bright artificial colours in the food. Such food can cause pets to be hyperactive which can lead to behaviour problems. Cheaper brands may look like an attractive buy but contain fewer nutrients than hypoallergenic brands. Therefore the pet has to be fed more than they would on a hypoallergenic food, making the difference in price much narrower.
Raw food diets
More people are choosing to feed their dogs the ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw Food’ or BARF diet. This diet replicates what our dogs’ ancestors would have eaten in the wild. It cuts out carbohydrates and contains just raw bones, meat and vegetables. Some dogs do very well on this diet. However, it isn’t always practical and the bones can damage dogs’ teeth.
Hypoallergenic foods are designed specifically to provide the correct nutrition for your pet. They are less likely than others to cause allergies such as stomach upsets or skin problems. Hypoallergenic diets leave out ingredients more likely to cause allergies such as wheat, soya, eggs, milk and beef. Artificial colours, flavours and preservatives are never used. They only use a single source of meat and include beneficial ingredients such as rice or vegetables, cranberries (for their antioxidant properties), a range of fibres and omega fatty acids. Some brands also contain MOS and FOS which are added prebiotics. In the case of Berrimans, their dog food also includes “Allergy-X” and “Verm-X” which are a blend of herbs designed to assist in the eradication of many allergies suffered by dogs, with the latter used to eradicate intestinal parasites, helping to maintain good gut health.