Pet food buying guide

A guide to dog and cat nutrition.
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  • Updated:22 May 2007

01.Give your dog a bone?

Begging dog

There's no denying it - commercial pet food is vastly different to the diets of dogs and cats in the wild. Our furry friends' jaws and teeth are designed to rip through the raw flesh of animal carcasses and crunch bone - not to chew on processed pellets or slurp up cans of soft food.

The ideal would probably be to create your cat or dog's natural diet at home, but few of us have the fridge space for large quantities of meat and bone, or the time to formulate a nutritionally balanced diet. Dogs and cats in the wild eat not only the meat of their prey, but bone, intestines, and organs like the liver as well - all of which contain important nutrients.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Are we poisoning our pets?

Very little independent research has been done in Australia about the long-term effects on the health of pets eating commercial pet food - the majority of research is done by manufacturers themselves and focuses on the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats.

Critics of the industry claim commercial pet food, whether it's dry, semi-moist or canned, is 'poison to our pets' and not easily tolerated by animal digestive systems, causing health problems. But there's little evidence to suggest this is true.

Nick Costa, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and former professor of Biochemistry and Nutrition in the School of Veterinary and Biochemical Sciences at Murdoch University told us: "The average age of dogs has been increasing because we've really developed better ways of treating diseases, better nutrition and better care in general."

'Complete and balanced'

'Complete and balanced' refers to a pet food that is formulated to contain all the nutrients required by a dog or cat, in the appropriate quantities and proportions to maintain good health.

To provide 'complete and balanced' nutrition, Australian manufacturers rely on the US government agency, the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In order to pass AAFCO requirements, the manufacturer must either conduct a structured feeding trial of its pet food, or meet AAFCO's specified formulation of ingredients.

  • AAFCO trials last six months for adult 'maintenance' products, during which time the animals are given only the test food and water, and their health and progress are monitored for signs of nutrition-related disease. Foods that pass this test can carry a label claim along the lines of: "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that product X provides complete and balanced nutrition."
  • If manufacturers are simply meeting recommended nutrient requirements, they'll carry a claim along the lines of: "This formula meets the nutritional levels established by AAFCO."

All the pet food we looked at, from the premium brands such as HILL'S SCIENCE DIET, through to budget supermarket products, carry AAFCO claims.

Is my pet healthy?

CatA healthy pet should be neither too fat nor too thin. To make sure your pet isn't putting weight on (or losing weight), weigh them regularly, or run your hands over their ribs. If they're an ideal weight, you'll be able to feel their ribs but they won't feel too bony.

According to the RSPCA your dog should be:

  • Alert and responsive with good stamina.
  • Have a clean glossy coat and clear eyes, free of discharge.
  • Have a cold and damp nose when outdoors and dry and warm nose when indoors.

And a healthy cat should be:

  • Alert and responsive, yet calm and contented most of the time.
  • Have a good appetite.
  • Have a clean glossy coat and clear eyes, free of discharge.


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