From organic to dehydrated pet foods, there is no shortage of choice when it comes to buying pet food and to the uninitiated it can seem a dizzying array. Nicole Paley at the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) talks us through the growing variety and how products differ to help us make an informed choice of what to feed our four legged friends.
The pet food buyer’s glossary:
‘Complete’ pet foods
This is probably the most important term you need to be familiar with. The term ‘complete’ is in fact a legal definition and it means the product must contain (as required by law) all the nutrients your pet needs for healthy bodily function. Feeding a complete diet means you don’t need to provide any other food for them. Members of the PFMA follow European nutritional guidelines when producing their diets which are approved by veterinary nutrition experts across Europe giving you that extra reassurance.
‘Complementary’ pet foods
The term complementary means that the product isn’t nutritionally complete and it will need to be fed alongside something else. Dog and cat treats for instance are complementary pet foods. Remember to keep treats to a minimum as these will need to be taken in to consideration at mealtimes and this can disrupt the nutritional balance of the main meal. The rule with treats is that they should comprise no more than 10% of a pet’s daily energy intake.
You’ll always find either term ‘complete’ or ‘complementary’ on the pet food packet.
Organic Pet Foods
The question of whether organic food is better for us has been circulating without a clear answer for many years but for some people buying organic food is their ethos. Whilst there is no specific organic standard for pet food, companies making an organic claim will need to be approved by an accreditation agency such as the Soil Association. Organic standards include:
- 95% of ingredients must be certified organic (the remaining 5% must be from a permitted list)
- Cleaning materials and pest control methods are restricted
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are strictly prohibited
- Flavourings must be either naturally or organically produced
What exactly does natural mean in a food sense? The dictionary gives us some clues where natural is defined as “Present in or produced by nature” or “Conforming to the usual course of nature” etc. Whilst there is no legal definition for pet food, the European Pet Food Federation has set a standard which requires that all pet foods marketed as ‘natural’ must only be made with natural ingredients and the food must not contain any chemically synthesised ingredients. Additionally, “they should only be subjected to such physical processing as to make them suitable for pet food production and maintaining the natural composition.”
Commercial Raw Pet Foods
There is a range of commercially produced raw pet foods available from complete foods to freeze dried treats. If feeding a raw diet, our advice to owners is to ensure you’re providing a complete and balanced diet and to be even more diligent with your hygiene practices when handling raw food. Safety is key and raw pet foods produced in Europe must comply with strict legislation which set strict limits for microbiological testing, for instance a zero tolerance for salmonella.
Pet owners may have heard or may soon hear of dehydrated pet foods, this is a relatively new product format which is becoming popular in the US. The dehydration process provides a slow, gentle method of processing the food to take away the moisture from the raw ingredients. Dehydration takes several hours, and uses warm air to ‘blow away’ the moisture whilst preserving the nutrients. Pet owners then add warm water to serve. These foods should be handled in the same way as other raw pet foods.
How can I tell if my pet is doing well on their food?
In summary, the most important thing any owner can do is to provide a good quality nutritionally complete and balanced pet food. If a pet isn’t getting the nutrition they need, it will become apparent in their physical appearance.
Key signs that your cat/dog is healthy and thriving are:
- A clean and shiny coat
- Clear, bright eyes
- A good weight
- Mouth should smell fresh and gums should be pink
Of course, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to speak to your vet.
For more information on pet foods, pet food ingredients, understanding pet food labels and a downloadable ‘Healthy Pet’ kit, visit www.pfma.org.uk