Your comprehensive guide to pet nutrition
February 8, 2019 10:30

As we understand more about what we, as humans, should eat and how what we put into our own bodies affects the way we feel, we are also learning so much more about pet nutrition. Gone are the days when we thought all pet food was created equal and that the quality of ingredients didn’t really matter.

Thanks to experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding more about pet food, we now have a better understanding of how a balanced and high-quality ingredient diet can drastically improve your pet’s health and well-being… and even lengthen their lifespan.

pet food and pet nutrition

New trends and discoveries in pet nutrition

The major new trend is the humanisation of pet food. What we mean by this is that it’s now common to see descriptions such as ‘roasted chicken’ or ‘tender lamb with rosemary’, and there is a growing focus on the ingredients in terms of where they come from, if they are free-range or not and also the tastiness of the food itself. We may see this as us reflecting our own needs, emotions, likes and dislikes onto our pets but it goes much deeper than this: it is a sign of the new understanding of pet nutrition and just how important it is to invest in the best quality ingredients because a truly balanced and nutritious diet will help your pet thrive.

Building on this, we see the cross-over into pet nutrition of many trends in human nutrition, and so we are delighted to be welcoming more pet food options that offer things like ‘free-range’, ‘no-grain’, ‘natural’ or 'organic' ingredients; and many with a greater focus on sustainability and also, of course, more carb-conscious options (see more on this later).

Pet food designed specifically for every life stage

One of the most radical changes in our understanding of pet food over the last decade or so, is learning exactly what each life stage requires in terms of nutrition. We know that a puppy or a kitten has very different requirements to a senior dog or cat. A puppy needs the right nourishment to sustain their rapid growth, while a senior dog is at risk of gaining weight and may need more support for joints and loss in lean muscle mass. Reputable pet food brands now offer life stage specific and even breed specific options to cater for these specific needs.

Let’s hear from the experts

It’s totally normal to have a lot of questions when it comes to choosing the right pet food for your cat or dog. There are so many options available these days (many of them are superb), but there is a lot to consider and it can be quite overwhelming trying to navigate your options.

So we asked a few experts in the industry to share their knowledge and advice.

First we chatted to one of our Absolute Pets Area Managers, Elmarie de Kock, who has been in the industry for nine years. We asked her for the questions she is asked most frequently by pet parents who visit our Absolute Pets stores.

We then chatted to Myles van Heerden from NutritionHub for his help answering some of these interesting questions!

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

How much should I feed my pet and how often?

It really is important to use the feeding table on the food bag as your guide. Also, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet about your pet’s diet during your regular visits. We recommend splitting their food into a few meals, if possible. For small breeds, this caters for their small stomach capacity and for large breeds, it helps to prevent and/or reduce the risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus (the bloating of the stomach).

What if my pet guzzles their food too fast?

It’s definitely worth investing in a slow feeder bowl if your pet eats their food too quickly. These bowls can slow down their pace and prevent bloating or indigestion. Also recommended especially for large breed dogs, is avoiding the use of elevated feeding stations, rather feed from floor level. Feeding your dogs separately and the use of larger kibble sizes is also recommended for larger breeds to slow down feeding.

Can I feed my pet the same diet all their life?

You can absolutely feed your pet the same brand of food all of their life but it should be specific to their life stage. So a puppy diet for your growing companion, and a senior or geriatric diet to support your aging and loyal friend. There is plenty of variety and complexity within the kibble itself.

Why is dry kibble more beneficial than feeding table scraps?

A good brand of dry kibble has been scientifically formulated to be a complete and balanced diet so that it delivers everything to cover your dog’s essential needs. Feeding only table scraps can quickly result in an unbalanced diet (that is often high in fat and salt) where your pet’s nutritional needs are not fulfilled or the wrong ratio of nutrients are given. For example, table scraps may not deliver all the essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids and may result in over or under supplying their needs. Small bones may also be present in table scraps that may cause damage to your pet.

My dog or cat is on a weight loss diet but is always hungry… what should I do?

There is an element of energy requirement that needs to be balanced with the sensation of gut fill (especially for dogs). For weight loss you either feed less or adjust the energy intake. Speak to your vet or pet nutrition expert and he/she may advise looking for an adjusted energy intake diet and/or comply to the feeding guidelines provided for weight loss.

What should I feed my pregnant dog?

Foods with specifications that cater for higher nutrient demands such as puppy foods are often recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers as their nutrient requirements increase with gestation and lactation. Again, speak to your vet or pet nutritionist for more specific guidance here.

Can cats and dogs eat the same food?

The answer here is no. If your cat eats a little dog food or visa versa, it is no cause for panic but just like different life-stages have different nutrient requirements, so do cats and dogs. As an example, cats need the amino acid, taurine, whereas taurine is not an essential requirement for dogs. If a cat were to only eat dog food, there is a risk that their taurine nutrient requirement would not be fulfilled and this could lead to heart health issues (dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the heart which can lead to heart failure) and eye health issues (the most extreme being blindness).

My dog is on a prescription diet but the vet is closed, what can I feed him in the meantime?

You should always stick to feeding the prescribed diet. However, if you are really stuck, look at what exactly the diet has been prescribed for. If for specific medical conditions such as kidney problems, then search for other kidney appropriate diets. If the prescription diet is prescribed for reasons such as weight loss or skin and coat condition, there are various options of pet foods that cater for ‘sensitive skin’ and 'weight management'. Food allergens may be managed by looking for foods with an open declaration of ingredients so you can avoid the allergen. 

Can I supplement my large breed puppy with a calcium supplement?

No, unless examined by a vet and recommended to do so. Complete and balanced diets deliver all the minerals that a dog needs in the correct ratios. By giving additional supplements you could be over-supplying calcium which could lead to other health implications.

Why would I go for a grain-free diet?

We are hearing a lot more about grain-free diets these days. These are a good option if your dog has a food allergy to common grains such as wheat or wheat bran which contain wheat protein also referred to as wheat gluten. It’s this protein that is most often the cause of the food allergy. A food allergy can take the form of many ingredients however some are more common than others.

What are the pros and cons of a raw diet?

Raw, as apposed to dry or cooked pet food, as long as it is complete and balanced is simply another vessel to deliver the nutrients to fulfil your pets needs, with the pros and cons being situational or personal preference.

Raw food is a great way to feed animals that may have a personal preference for it over dry food. A situational pro may include post-op feeding as a means to increase food and water intake where dogs and cats may be reluctant to eat dry food or drink water.

There may be doubt to the safety of raw food due to contaminants such as Salmonella and E.coli. One can avoid this by buying from a reputable brand that eliminates this risk by installing proper quality systems in place. As the pet parent you need to properly clean your feeding bowls between meals as to not leave any residue behind as well as follow the recommended storage guidelines and best before date.

Dry food has the convenience of a longer shelf life and denser nutrient content making feeding volumes lower thus eliminating the frequency in which you have to buy more food for your pet. Due to its lower moisture content, it is important to always have fresh clean water available to your pet.

Vet-recommended food brands

We stock some of the very best cat and dog food on the market (and you can order online so that we can deliver to your door). We highly recommend the following brands:

  • Lokuno is an incredible high-quality, protein-rich pet food, backed by FSSC 22000 certification. It's manufactured locally and we love that it supports local business. With chicken as the no. 1 ingredient it contains 25% protein for adult dogs, 28,5% protein for puppies and 24% protein for senior dogs. It’s also a great option for those watching their budget and for every bag sold R1 goes to animal welfare. 
  • Hill’s offers two ranges, Hill's Science Plan and Ideal Balance. The Science Plan range uses food science to develop precisely-balanced nutrition for all stages of your pet's life. They make scientifically developed food that supports, for example, mobility and joint health for dogs and helps cats that are prone to hairballs. The Ideal Balance range uses natural ingredients (no grains) together with vitamins, minerals and amino acids to provide a perfectly balanced food for pets.
  • Eukanuba uses high quality animal protein in their pet food, mainly chicken or lamb, as the source or protein. Their range caters for life stage, breed size, sensitivities and activity levels.
  • Iams  are famous for their cat food that supports strong muscles, a healthy heart, good digestion, a strong immune system and a healthy skin and coat.
  • Royal Canin  is a good range to investigate if you are on the search for breed-specific food (from Poodle to Boxer). Each is designed to provide a fully balanced diet, including the size kibble and formulation for that specific breed.
  • Orijen  pride themselves on the quality of their ingredients, so you can expect to find fresh, free-run chicken and turkey, nest-laid eggs and wild caught fish. A natural food that promotes healthy development. The food is designed to nourish your pet according to their biological need for a fresh meat and protein-rich diet.
  • Acana makes biologically appropriate dog and cat food and focuses on meat-based foods. The source of ingredients are absolutely key, including wild-caught fish, cage-free poultry and sun-ripened fruits and vegetables. 
  • Ultra Dog is scientifically formulated and and made for South African dogs living on our local conditions. It caters for every life stage or nutritional requirement (even if your dog needs a special hypo-allergenic diet) in the form of 3 ranges: Superwoof, Optiwoof and Special Diet. 
  • Montego  focuses on providing a highly digestible, vet -recommended food for your pet. With their Classic range, Karoo and Field & Forest, they have options for all adult cats and dogs, puppies and kittens.

Ask the experts

If you are in any doubt about your pet’s nutrition, we highly recommend you ask your vet or a qualified animal nutritionist. And remember, we are also here to help so, visit your local Absolute Pets store or get in touch with us online, or on Facebook.