News & Advice

Pet Food – So many choices?

Aug 15, 2019 | Cats, Dogs, Pet Health, Rabbit

Paul van der Wel, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets

Raw, grain-free, dry, wet – so many pet food options! In recent times there have been a myriad of choices appearing in the pet food scene, somewhat paralleling the human picture where we are barraged with a range of dietary advice including veganism, gluten free, grain free, paleo, keto and the list goes on.

It can be difficult to sort fact from fiction at times because aggressive marketing, and social media, can turn ideas into facts without any real scientific basis. Here is some background to help you in your decision making.

Historically up to the 1970’s most pets were fed canned wet food, pet rolls or home-made diets, and there was little regulation to ensure the foods met the nutritional requirements of our pets. As late as the 1980’s we still saw a lot of nutritional related diseases such as rickets, hypervitaminosis A, and taurine deficiency in cats to name but a few.

With the advent of dried food diets (where the food was dehydrated to increase the shelf life) storage of good quality food was made much easier for the consumer. A large amount of research was carried out by some of the major pet food manufacturers to determine the optimal nutrient profile for dogs and cats. This led to the formation of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which was an independent body analysing content and manufacturing systems of pet food to ensure it was safe, and nutritionally sound, for our pets. We started looking for pet food that was labelled “AAFCO approved”.

The building blocks of pet nutrition are similar in both humans and animals and include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibre, minerals and vitamins. There has been a large amount of research into the levels that are appropriate for different life stages and breeds (particularly size). This has seen a drop in the incidence of nutritionally related diseases and it is now very rare to diagnose these in our pets.

In the last few years a lot of new ideas about feeding our pets have appeared on the pet food scene, making choices more complex for pet owners. These seem to be aligned with the human nutrition scene. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has developed a series of questions for you to investigate when selecting a food for your pet CLICK HERE to view these questions.

At Anexa we have a group of vets that assess the pet food we stock to ensure that it is up to par. We also field many questions from our clients regarding diet, which has prompted us to look into diets available in the market place. From research undertaken we would like to share the following thoughts:

Raw food diets

Despite anecdotal reports from pet owners, and even some veterinarians, there is currently no scientifically reported evidence that raw diets offer any benefits over cooked diets, other than some work indicating that raw meat may be more easily digested by our pets than cooked meat. However, there is substantial evidence that these diets may be associated with dental fractures, bacterial and parasitic infections (such as sheep measles) and other health concerns in pets. There are also potential risks to people, especially those that are immunocompromised (young children, elderly, patients receiving immune -modifying drugs, and people who have cancer). Pets that eat contaminated raw diets have been demonstrated to shed viable pathologic organisms, such as Salmonella, in their faeces and it is likely that areas they frequent become contaminated. As numerous recalls and some pathogen surveys in the last few years have proven, all raw meat, regardless of source, should be considered contaminated until proven otherwise.

In addition to food safety concerns nearly all home-prepared raw diets, and many commercially available raw diets, are deficient in essential nutrients. It is also common for commercial raw diets to be very high in fat, which may not be tolerated by some animals.

Grain free diets

There is currently no peer reviewed scientific evidence that grain free diets are better for our pets than diets containing grains. Conversely there are currently some concerns that some dogs may be more susceptible to a condition called Dilated cardio-myopathy (DCM) when fed an exclusively grain free diet. There is further research being done on this to determine the cause. There are a couple of theories around this including the fact that in some diets grain is being replaced with high levels of legumes, such as peas and lentils, which may be a contributing factor. The other theory is that although most dogs can manufacture taurine (which is contained in grain) there may be a small proportion of the population which cannot, and when these dogs are fed a grain free diet they can suffer from taurine deficiency.

Whole grains, rather than being fillers, contribute valuable nutrients including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fibre to diets while helping to keep the fat and calories lower than if animal products were used in their place. Even refined grains, such as white rice, can have beneficial health implications depending on the type of diet and the pet. The vast majority of dogs (and cats!) are very efficient at digesting and utilizing nutrients from grains. While some dogs are allergic to specific grains, these allergies are no more common than allergies to animal proteins such as chicken, beef and dairy.

It is becoming more common in the saturated pet food market for manufacturers to perpetuate myths in order to sell diets and increase market share. Grain-free diets are often an example of this strategy. Many of these diets merely substitute highly refined starches such as those from potatoes, peas, lentils or tapioca (cassava) in place of grains. These ingredients often provide fewer nutrients and less fibre than whole grains, while costing more.

So what do you feed your pet? Well that depends on their circumstances, such as age and breed, as well as any health issues your pet may have . Ask our trained staff for a recommendation. We are happy to help!

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