Let’s talk about pet food, its origins and how we feed our pets. What do cats eat? What should dogs eat? Dogs and cats should eat nutritious food. That should have been the title, beginning and end of the article! Unfortunately, our pets have fallen prey to the pitfalls of marketing, commercialisation and pretty pictures of food on packages which do not convert to nutritious sources of nourishment.
When did packaged pet food come into existence ? and why are we conditioned to believe that our dogs must eat pellets that emerge from a bag to derive complete nutrition? Let’s take a common sense look at one of the most important decisions you will make for your pets.
A brief history of Pet Food
History tells us that James Spratt in the 1860’s saw dogs being fed with leftover biscuits from a ship and formulated a “dog biscuit” from wheat meal, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood. The recipe found success and by 1870, Spratt had taken his invention to the United States.
Prior to Spratt and his biscuits, canning horse meat had begun at the end of WWI to get rid of the carcasses of deceased horses. Canned cat food precedes dog food and was a convenient and profitable way to dispose off horse meat profitably. By the end of World War II , commercial dog food sales had reached $200 million It was safe to say, an industry was born.
We’ve been conditioned for the better part of a century to believe dog and cat food is somehow separate from ‘human’ food. In part this is true, their food is grain free, or at least should be, and there are a number of foods human beings eat which are harmful to cats and dogs. However, the basic ingredients of food are the same, certain species may eat specific foods and reject others, but you must remember that cats and dogs no longer eat like their wild cousins.
Can you eat the food you buy for your dog?
Most of you will answer in the negative. The ideal answer is yes, now we do not mean you need to start chewing bones with your cat or dog? If your dog is on a raw diet, we’re not asking or encouraging you to eat uncooked meat. The intent of this question is to make you think… if you can’t eat it, the implication is that the ingredients are not safe.
This conclusion is not a scientific deduction, it is common sense, ingredients should be safe, for bipeds and quadrupeds.
Choosing a Pet Food
What should you be looking for when you choose a pet food?
Pay attention to labelling not buzz words like “high quality”. Do your research when a food is recommended to you, consider the source recommending it. There is a wealth of information available, research, read and talk to pet owners. Practical experience with a product- any product outweigh reviews online or offline. Make sure a pet food you select meets the requirements of your pets age, activity level, breed, history, dietary requirements…
Sound daunting? Not really… educate yourself to keep your vet bills down and more importantly have a happy healthy dog or cat.
Pet Food Terminology to know, there are too many to list here, we’re listing a few and will address more in future blogs. These are simple explanations, meant to introduce you to terms, they are not scientific definitions.
Complete and balanced nutrition- as a term does not mean much. Complete and balanced put together however, does not tell you if food is appropriate for your animal. If the words on a package of food meet all the buzz words, does not mean it meets the need of your pets gut.
Biologically appropriate – is food that is appropriate for a species digestive tract to process and derive nutrition
Obligate Carnivore – this is probably one of most important terms you will learn. An obligate carnivore, as the term suggests, derives all their nutrition exclusively from a meat based diet. So, giving your cat that bowl of cold milk, is not nutritious. Though your cat enjoys it, he/she derives no nutrition from the milk.
Breed and age Specific dog foods- Pet food companies have unique methods of marketing kibble/ dry food. They’ve broken it down into age, breed and a myriad other classifications. A logical mind asks itself, how varied can dog food really be? Puppy food and kitten food may be specialised as compared to adult food. However, an adult dog or cat irrespective of breed have fairly similar constitutions and guts. They both require reliable sources of protein, and nutritious quality ingredients to derive their nutritional needs.
The specifics of the gut requirements of each breed are beyond the scope of this blog and we’ll address in future blogs with the advice and inputs of qualified veterinarians.
It would be remiss of us not to thank and mention Dr. Susan Thixton, of The Truth About Pet Food, who has been an incredible source of knowledge and research, she has also graciously permitted us to share her insights and invaluable knowledge into the pet food industry.