As you start out in pet parenthood, you’ll quickly find that your new child will likely become your everything. And you’ll find yourself doing all that you can to make sure your doggo or kitty is healthy and happy. Nutrition plays a big part, but where do you start? We’ve uncovered some tips from pet industry bodies like the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the Pet Food Industry Association Australia (PFIAA) to answer some common questions you might be asking yourself. Consider these thought-starters – because when it comes to looking after your pet, it’s always best to chat to your vet.
What does ‘complete and balanced’ mean?
If you head to a pet shop, pick up a bag of food and see the words ‘complete and balanced’ on the label, you might find yourself scratching your head. (Hopefully you’ve kept up to date with your pet’s flea treatments and this itch is just confusion.) What does ‘complete and balanced’ mean? Well, according to the WSAVA, a complete and balanced diet is one that “provides all nutrients essential in the correct amounts and proportions”. And under the Australian pet food standards, food with these words on the packet must reach the nutritional requirements set by an industry body like the PFIAA or the Department of Agriculture (DAWE). They’re two organisations who regulate animal food to help make sure it has all the right nutritional stuff in it. So, if we cut back to you still scratching your head in the shop, think of ‘complete and balanced’ as a kind of stamp of approval – it likely has all the nutrients your pet needs.
What’s better: wet food or dry?
As long as it’s part of a complete and balanced diet, the main difference between wet and dry food might be in your dog’s or cat’s preference. Some floofers love the ‘cronch, cronch, cronch’ of dry food, others like a mixture, while some slobbery slurpers love getting stuck in to the wet stuff. Yuck! Cute! Try a few different options when your pet is young to find out what they like and ask your vet for advice on the best options for optimum health. Keep in mind too that, just like us, domestic pets can be habitual creatures, so the food you feed them regularly might become their favourite by default. Cats, especially. Most cats aren’t big on surprises when it comes to their din-dins.
What can I find out from reading the ingredients list?
An ingredients list can be super helpful when it comes to avoiding triggers of food allergies or certain intolerances you already know about. Checking the ingredients list helps you avoid giving your pet something you shouldn’t. Is it a way to check for nutritional value? Not perfectly, but the list organises the ingredients by weight in descending order, so keep your eyes peeled for an animal-based protein first and then look for any ingredients that deliver healthy fatty acids (for skin and coat) and fibre (for digestion).
Can I make pet meals at home?
Home-cooked diets can be totally fine for pets provided they are – you guessed it – complete and balanced. The benefits are many: you can make food exactly how your dog or cat likes it; it can be cheaper than commercial food; and you’ll get peace of mind knowing exactly what your pet is consuming. However, because you probably don’t have a laboratory in your home to run nutrition analysis on Fido’s food, it can be tricky to track nutritional value. So, if you’re thinking of going home-cooked, work with your vet to create a nutritious meow-nu (that’s cat for menu) and keep an eye on your pet’s health with regular vet check-ups.
Here’s a meaty topic: what about feeding raw?
If you’ve googled pet food, you might have come across raw diets. That is, diets of primarily raw meat. It makes sense to think that raw diets are more natural and evolutionary correct, but the fact is domestic pets have lived with humans (and shared their food) for a very long time. So while you might call your wolfhound Wolfie or think of your ginger as king of the jungle, they aren’t quite wild animals.
If you want to feed raw, it can be safe provided it’s complete and balanced. Plus, raw diets can be easier to digest. Here are some tips from the PFIAA: get a vet’s advice, store the food safely, feed fresh human-grade meat and always practise good handling hygiene. There are some risks: bacterial contamination, bones getting stuck in places they shouldn’t and a chance of nutrition deficiencies. And be mindful that a pet can pick up bugs from raw food and pass them on to humans through touch and poop, so take a little extra care. Remember, advice from your vet is an important first step as raw diets are not appropriate for all dogs or cats e.g. young animals and large breed dogs often develop calcium defiency from being fed raw diets.
I’m a vegetarian. Can my pet be, too?
Cats are obligate carnivores – that means they get their energy solely from animal tissue or meat. So your vet will probably say it’s a no for cats. But if you’re the parent of a doggo, you might be okay to go meat-free. Dogs can potentially receive all their required nutrients from a vego diet, provided it’s complete and balanced. One watchout, though – veg-sourced nutrients aren’t always as easily absorbed. So, as always, talk to your vet.
He’s been such a good boy lately. Can I give him treats?
There’s nothing wrong with a little reward every now and then (this goes for you, too). When it comes to treats, the rule of thumb is that they shouldn’t take up more than 10% of a pet’s diet. You don’t want to spoil their appetite, or their health. There are commercial pet treats out there (dogs really do go whacko for certain treats) but you can offer some human food too, in moderation. Just make sure you avoid toxic foods like onions, garlic, chocolate and certain nuts.
The information is current as at publication.
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