Navigate the vast array of pet food options with veterinary tips and recommendations for optimal nutrition

dog foods diet bowl

What Should I Feed My Pet?

As pet owners, we all want the very best for our pets. A common question that we are asked as veterinarians is “What should I be feeding my pet?”. It is our responsibility to ensure they receive the correct nutrition to stay healthy, and there are so many opinions and options, it’s a daunting task to know that you’re making the best choices for them. But fear not! In this guide, we’ll navigate through the aisles of pet foods and nutrition to help you make informed choices, simply. 

Understanding Your Pet’s Needs

Just like us, our pets have unique dietary requirements based on factors such as age, breed, size, and activity level. Pets who enjoy sofa surfing don’t need pet foods as high in energy as their furry friends who enjoy more exercise. As with us humans, an excess in energy, or calories, results in increased fat deposition, and unwanted weight gain. Does your pet have any medical concerns or dietary restrictions? Some pets have dietary intolerances just like us. Considering these factors in their diet is crucial to keeping them healthy. 

Dogs and cats’ gastrointestinal tracts are designed to digest protein (they are carnivores). Protein should be featured as a main ingredient in their diets. Most dry pet food sits around 22%, better quality dry foods are 45% protein. 

pet treats

Is Wet or Dry Food Better?

It depends! As everything in life, not all “wet” and “dry” pet foods are created equal. “Wet” food would include quality fresh meat products and poor-quality canned foods. In addition, if you are feeding only wet food, then your pet’s dental health WILL suffer. This results in dental disease, and likely tooth extractions. Not only does this affect your pet’s health, but also your bank balance. Dogs and cats need to chew to maintain dental health. Expecting pet owners to brush their pet’s teeth daily is setting most people up for failure. 

We hear from owners who struggle to feed dry pet foods to their dogs or cats. This is often due to the pet refusing the food. “They won’t chew that”, “They don’t like hard food”. Unless the pet already has sore teeth from dental disease, or they have a medical condition in their mouth, pets can chew hard things. Exposing them early with these foods is important. 

Raw Diets: Are You Risking Your Own Health?

Nutritionally speaking, BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding), is matched well to what your dog needs. However, there has been scientific research to state that pets who are “raw fed” have a higher incidence of excreting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What does this mean for you? If you have an antibiotic-resistant bacteria-causing disease, the treatment options are reduced and the risk of not recovering from that infection is higher. Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and the reason why Doctors, and now other medical professionals like veterinarians, are reluctant to dispense antibiotics without good cause.

Matthew Avison, Professor of Molecular Bacteriology in CMM, who led a study explained: “Raw meat…whether intended for human consumption after cooking or sold as raw dog food… is likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant E.Coli (bacteria). Cooking kills the bacteria and good hygiene reduces the risk of these bacteria being swallowed and getting into a person’s intestines. Choosing to feed a dog raw meat means a person almost certainly has to handle the raw meat, and our research is clear that raw feeding also means pet owners are likely to be interacting with a pet that is excreting resistant E.Coli”. (Sealey, Hammond, Reyher, Avison (2023) One Health Transmission of Fluoroquinolone-resistant Escherichia coli and risk factors for their excretion by dogs living in urban and nearby rural settings. One Health. 17. DOI: 10.1016/j.onehlt.2023.100640).

Our stance is that owners have to be aware of what they are feeding their pets. And they should be aware of the potential health risks to themselves from raw feeding. Ensuring that the meat is from a reputable source and from first-world countries is important. There is also no known science to say that a dog or cat fed raw meat diets are “healthier” than those fed a good quality complete kibble or biscuit diet.

It is unfair, and unsafe for the pet, to expect the majority of pet owners to make a complete balanced diet for their pets at home.

The judgemental nature of some people in the “Raw Feeding” space is unfair. Pet owners love their pets and want the best for them. However, most pet owners are busy people and to assume that they can provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet from only raw feeding is unrealistic, and unsafe for your pet. A more balanced approach would be to use companies such as “Lyka Pet Food” to provide pet owners with a convenient way of giving their pets a raw food diet. Or to combine some raw feeding principles with a complete kibble pet food.

What are the Healthiest Pet Foods in Australia?

Ensure that the pet food you choose is labelled as “complete and balanced” by regulatory bodies like the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) or the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA). These formulas are formulated to provide all the essential nutrients your pet needs for optimal health and well-being. Remember, variety is key, so consider rotating between different flavours and brands.

Doing your research before purchasing foods can be made easier by websites such as “Pet Food Reviews“.

Food Allergies

If a dog or cat has a dietary food issue, it is usually related to the type of protein source. Misconceptions around diets are that carbohydrates affect pets like they do people. It would be rare for a pet to have a carbohydrate “allergy”. If your pet benefits from a lower carbohydrate food, it may be due to an increased or alternative protein content. No matter the reason, if your pet benefits from the changed food, continue to feed it. Talk to your vet if your pet is experiencing any dietary or gastrointestinal problems such as persistent vomiting or diarrhoea as this is not normal. 

cat litter food

Purr-fect Pet Treats and Snacks

Treats are used to reward good behaviour, help dental health, and bond with your pet. However, it’s important to choose pet food treats that complement your pet’s diet and avoid overindulgence. Opt for natural, nutrient-rich treats made from high-quality ingredients, and limit the intake to prevent weight gain and other health issues. If an 80kg human eats one biscuit as a snack, 20kg dog should eat a quarter of a biscuit (as an example!). 

Using dehydrated bones or meat such as roo ribs once or twice a week is a good treat. Daily snacks can be low-calorie options such as carrots (raw is fine) and ice cubes. Your dog will enjoy chewing these but won’t suffer from the added calories. 

In Conclusion

Choosing the best food for your dog or cat is an important decision, and it’s worth investing the time and effort to make informed decisions. By understanding your pet’s unique nutritional needs, reading labels carefully, and prioritizing quality ingredients, you can provide them with the foundation for a happy, healthy life. Talk to your vet if your dog or cat is experiencing any gut health issues.

If you want to read more about raw feeding, Professor of Canine and Feline Internal Medicine, Rob Foale has written a thorough review of the science and topic. You can access that here.