01.Pet food for cats and dogs
Many of us love our pets, so what should we be feeding them to ensure a long and healthy life?
For many Australians, our pets are part of the family. At last count, 63% of Aussie households own a pet, with approximately 53% owning either a cat or dog. And a recent report has estimated that over the next five years, revenue of the Household Pet Products and Services industry is expected to increase 2.4% annually to $5.39 billion.
And when it comes to filling our pets’ bellies we are also enthusiastic. A national survey published in 2010 revealed we spend over $1.8 billion annually on feeding our pets, and a quick tour of pet stores and supermarkets reveals a wide selection of options from tinned wet foods to dry kibble, biscuits and fresh pet meat.
Add to that an array of products claiming to be suited especially for kittens and puppies or the senior citizens of the pet world and there are plenty of choices to be had.
For more information about pets, see our Backyard section.
Which pet foods are the most popular?
Earlier this year at the Sydney Pet and Animal Expo, Dr Alex Chaves an animal nutritionist at the University of Sydney and Emma Gosper a Masters student, surveyed dog owners to find out what they feed their dogs and why.
Out of the 280 people surveyed, 9% were found to buy commercial dog food, while seven percent make their own pet food. Most people (67%) only give their dogs dry food, just under a third feed them a mix of dry and wet food, and four percent of people used wet food only. The three most popular factors behind choosing a dog-food brand were cost, brand and the amount of vitamins and minerals in the diet.
We asked our CHOICE Facebook fans what they like to feed their cats and dogs and received 110 responses. The majority prefer commercially prepared pet food, with others using a mix of prepared and fresh meats, and some choosing to make their own food.
What is recommended?
Dr Jade Norris, scientific officer and veterinarian at RSPCA Australia, says that the RSPCA provides detailed feeding guidelines for cats and dogs. However, she says it’s important to keep the message simple. “We recommend that you go for a high-quality commercial diet as a baseline that’s appropriate for their age and health and that’s compliant to Australian standards, then you can add other elements to the diet as your pet likes, including raw, meaty bones occasionally.”
Dr David Neck, a veterinarian and small animals spokesperson for the Australian Veterinarians Association*, says that your vet is the best place to start when it comes to feeding advice for your pet. “Different pets have different nutritional requirements. Ideally, every pet owner needs to have a relationship with their vet and that includes being given advice on nutrition.”
*Both the RSPCA and AVA have commercial arrangements with pet food company Hills. The AVA says that this arrangement is to fund an education program and does not affect the recommendations of individual vets.
The complete package
As a pet owner shopping for pet food, what you should be looking for among all the cute puppies and kittens on the tins, packs and boxes?
Norris and Neck recommend pet owners choose products that are advertised as 'complete and balanced', this means that the pet food is formulated to contain all the nutrients required by a dog or cat, in the appropriate quantities and proportions to maintain good health.
Chaves says that when he conducted his survey of dog owners, he also asked if the labelling provided enough information on nutrition. He found that 71% of people at the pet show either strongly agreed or slightly agreed with the statement: "I want more detailed nutritional values printed on pet feed packaging."
Chaves believes the pet food labelling isn't clear enough for consumers to get the information they require. "It should be the same as the labelling on your human food - why is there a difference?"
Today, it seems that there is plenty of market segmentation in the pet food area – there are commercial foods available for kittens and puppies as well our more senior furry friends. The CHOICE experts we spoke to say that this is a good thing. Dr David Neck says “It is widely accepted that in nutritional terms, the three basic life stages are puppy and kitten, adult and senior. Each stage has specific nutritional requirements that need to be met. There are many reputable pet food companies that make foods tailored for these three periods in a pet’s life. Lactating dogs and cats have specific requirements that are best met under veterinary advice.”
Australian pet food standards
Until last year there wasn’t an Australian standard for any type of pet food, however a voluntary standard for processed tinned and dried pet food has now been released AS 5812-2011 – Manufacturing and Marketing of pet food.
This standard specifies requirements for the production and supply of manufactured food for dogs and cats. It covers production of pet food from sourcing and receipt of ingredients to storage, processing (including heat treatment), packing, labelling and storage of products in order to assure its safety for pets. It also includes instructions for the uniform application of information provided on labels.