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    Pet Food Checklist

    We know how confusing choosing the right food for your pet can be, to help with this we have put together our Pet Food Checklist to assist you in finding the best food for your very best friend.

    Is The Protein Source Of The Food Identified In The Ingredients List?

    Ingredients in pet food are listed on the pet food label in order of quantity. Ideally, you want the first ingredient to be a named protein source, for example, “fresh chicken.” If your pet’s food does not state what meat is being used in the food, the protein source may be a combination of different meats, and there is no guarantee on the quality of these meats.

    *NB Just because it says “Chicken” on the front of the label, it does not mean that this is all the meat varieties included in the pet food, always check the ingredients list on the back of the bag or tin to confirm what meats the food contains.

    Does The Food Contain “Meat and Animal Derivatives” Or “Animal By-Products”?

    Meat and animal derivatives are defined as being:

    All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals.

    Animal by-products are defined as being: 

    Entire bodies or parts of animals, products of animal origin or other products obtained from animals, which are not intended for human consumption, including oocytes, embryos and semen.

    The above definitions are broad. This means meat and animal derivatives and animal by-products can contain beneficial meats such as organ meat, offal, and quality cuts of meat.  It is also possible, however, for meat and animal derivatives and animal by-product to contain any part of the carcass, including feathers; beaks; hooves; and wool. These sources of protein have a low biological value, making them less digestible forms of protein. The less digestible the protein the less essential amino acids your pet will gain from the protein. Dogs and cats need 22 amino acids to be healthy. Dogs can synthesize 12 of these amino acids and cats can synthesize 11 of them. The remaining amino acids must come from the food they eat. This is why they are called essential amino acids.

    Animal by-product and meat and animal derivatives vary in amino acid digestibility for dogs. This variation depends on the quality of the raw ingredients contained in the by-product. The problem is if the manufacturer does not tell you what ingredients make-up the by-product, then you have no way of knowing what is in your pet’s food and whether it contains quality protein.

    Whilst there is no noticeable difference in the percentage of protein a dog and cat can digest when fed a highly digestible protein such a fresh mince, cats find it even harder than dogs to digest poor quality protein.

    Pet food manufacturers are required to state the source of the protein if the food contains an identifiable source of protein that makes up 4% or more of the pet food.  For example, if liver is included in the meat and animal derivatives in sufficient quantities to represent 4% of the pet food, it will state on the ingredient list:

    Meat and animal derivatives (including 4% liver)

    Therefore, if a specific protein source is not stated, it can be assumed that the food contains low percentages of various protein sources, which could be anything from liver to wool.  Even when percentages are stated, it should be considered what the remaining unnamed percentage of the meat and animal derivatives contain.

    Foods containing fresh, dried, and de-boned identified meats sources, are likely to contain more high-quality protein and have a higher biological value than meat and animal derivatives and animal by-products.

    Is The Food High In Carbohydrates Or Protein?

    Dogs and cats are both animals that thrive on protein as an energy source.  Cats in particular are obligate carnivores, so require high levels of meat in their diet to survive. 

    Carbohydrates in different forms are included in the majority of dry pet foods and some wet foods. Dogs can tolerate higher levels of carbohydrates in their food than cats, but high carbohydrate dog foods are not ideal. Ideally the percentage of meat protein in a healthy pet’s diet should be higher than the percentage of carbohydrates. 

    High levels of carbohydrates in commercial pet food has also been linked to the rise is diabetes in cats.  

    There is no legal requirement for pet food manufacturers to state the carbohydrate content of a pet food on the packaging. By looking at the list of carbohydrate-based ingredients listed in a pet food on the ingredients label, you can obtain an idea as to whether the food is a high carbohydrate pet food.

    What Is The Fibre Content Of The Food?

    Although fibre is not considered to be an essential nutrient for your pet, it does have certain benefits. Most dry pet foods contain a fibre concentration of between 2.5 to 4.5 percent, and it has been proven that in these small amounts dietary fibre can be particularly beneficial to elderly pets to aid in their digestive health and potentially help prevent disease.  Higher amounts of fibre can also be beneficial for pets with certain digestive disorders.  

    Too much fibre in a healthy pet’s diet can, however, have a detrimental effect on their health, as it can reduce the digestibility of other important nutrients in your pet’s food.

    Pets with pancreatitis require a low fat and low fibre diet, so it is important to understand the fibre content of your pet’s food if your pet suffers from this condition.  The fibre content of a food should be stated alongside the ingredients on the packaging, however, this can still be misleading.  If a percentage of crude fibre is stated, this is not necessarily an accurate representation of the true fibre content in the food.  For example, if a pet food states:

    “Crude Fibre = 4%”

    This could mean the minimum amount of fibre contained in the pet food and not the maximum, and the true fibre content could be significantly more. If, however, the food states a maximum amount such as:

    “Crude Fibre = 4% (max.)”

    Then this guarantees that there will no more than 4% fibre present in the food.

    Some weight maintenance pet foods have an increased fibre content to help aid with weight loss, however, studies have shown that this is not necessarily the most effective method for helping your pets lose weight and that a diet containing digestible protein is more likely to assist weight loss.

    Is The Food Grain Free?

    Grain free foods are ideal for pets that suffer from certain allergies.  

    Wheat and other cereal ingredients are common allergens for both dogs and cats. They are not highly digestible and have the potential to trigger skin and stomach allergies. Wheat has a high glycemic index, which means that it adversely affects your pet’s blood sugar levels and over time could contribute to your pet developing diabetes.

    Be aware that some pet foods may advertise themselves as being wheat-free products, but this does not mean that the product is grain free and the product may, in fact, contain other grains including spelt (a variety of wheat), oats, barley and maize.

    Another common grain found in pet food is rice. As a carbohydrate source, rice is more digestible and beneficial than wheat. When included in pet foods in small amounts it acts as a partially digestible energy source, it is often recommended by vets to feed alongside a high-quality protein source during recovery from surgery, or, to aid with a digestive disorder.  When rice is present in pet foods in large quantities, however, it acts more as a filler than as a beneficial ingredient.  As well as affecting the overall digestibility of the food, high levels of rice in foods can cause your pet’s blood sugar levels to increase rapidly and adversely affect your pet’s health.  Rice can also trigger allergic reactions in some dogs and cats, and as brown rice is high in fibre, including too much in your pet’s diet can interfere with your pet’s ability to digest other important nutrients.

    Foods that are not grain free can become infested with storage mites. Storage mites are microscopic arthropods that can trigger skin allergies and cause atopic dermatitis in some pets. It isn’t just grain-based dry foods that are at risk of infestation, even raw foods that contain grains can be at risk of becoming infested with storage mites.  For storage mites to be controlled in grain-based foods, the food must be frozen at a temperature below -18 °C for a minimum of five hours. This will kill the mites.  Even when the food has been frozen, however, the detritus left behind by the dead mites can still be present on the food, thus triggering an allergic reaction in your pet.  If your pet has a known storage mite allergy then it is best to feed a grain free diet.

    As an alternative to grain, some pet foods use sweet potato. Sweet potato has a low glycemic index compared to other common carbohydrates used in pet food.  This allows sweet potato to be digested and absorbed into the body slowly, this does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, but rather a gradual rise that is considered healthy and can aid in weight control. 

    Does The Food Contain Joint Care?

    Joint care usually comes in the form of glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and green lipped mussels.  Glucosamine lubricates the joints and helps rebuild damaged cartilage, vital for older pets or pets with pre-existing injuries or joint disorders. Chondroitin prevents cartilage from dehydrating, thus allowing it to remain flexible and able to cushion the joint more effectively.  It is best used when supplemented alongside glucosamine. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) helps to maintain connective tissues around the joint and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help slow down the progression of arthritis. Green-lipped mussels are a mollusc species native to the coast of New Zealand and are high in omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that have been linked to alleviating arthritis and a variety of other inflammatory diseases.

    Some pet foods will include joint care in their products, and these should be listed as ingredients, ideally with an amount stated alongside the ingredient.  A high-quality joint supplement should be provided to your pet in addition to any joint care ingredients contained in your pet’s food, to provide maximum benefit to your pet’s joints.

    Does The Food Contain A Source Of Omega 3? If So Is It A Plant Or Marine Based Source?

    Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid for both dogs and cats, boosting the immune system, reducing the occurrence and impact of disease, and overall helping to keep your pet in optimum health.  It has proven anti-inflammatory properties and can also aid in the management of renal failure; heart; gastrointestinal; autoimmune; and skin disorders.  In pet foods, the source of omega oils can either come from a marine source such as fish or krill, or a plant source such as flaxseed or sunflower oil.

    Omega 3 sourced from plants, such as flaxseed oil, provides limited benefits to dogs and non-existent benefits for cats.  Flaxseed oil and other plant-based omega 3 oils contain the omega oil alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which does not contain the same health benefits as omega 3 oils found in fish oil, namely, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  When ALA is introduced into the body it must be converted to EPA and DHA in order for your pet to benefit from it.  Dogs can only convert limited amounts of ALA, and cats cannot convert it at all, due them lacking the enzyme needed to do so.

    One source of omega 3 oil that might not be advisable, however, is cod liver oil. All fish oils contain a level of vitamin A and vitamin D. Salmon oil and fish oils containing small fish, such as anchovies and sardines, have low to moderate amounts of vitamin A and D. Cod liver oil has high levels of vitamin A and can have high levels of vitamin D, both of which can be toxic if given to your pets in large quantities. 

    Does Your Pet’s Food Contain Omega 6?

    Another omega oil found in pet food is omega 6. Omega 6 is found in plant materials, eggs and meat. Omega 6 is regularly added to commercial pet food and is of benefit to dogs and cats and can aid in the prevention of greasy fur, itchy skin, and dandruff. Studies have demonstrated, however, that omega 6 can have a pro-inflammatory response in dogs and cats with certain conditions, such as renal failure, or, inflammatory bowel disease. Accordingly, omega 6 in any significant quantity could have a detrimental effect on the health of animals with these conditions.

    Have Any Salt, Sugar, Or Artificial Preservatives Been Added To The Food?

    Just like with humans, added salt and sugar can be detrimental to your pet’s health and they do not require these to be added to their diet. It is usually added to pet foods to increase the palatability of the food, especially if the food is lacking in other more naturally palatable ingredients.

    Artificial preservatives such as propylene glycol (found in some dog foods) can be harmful when ingested by a cat.  Propylene glycol is a cousin of ethanol glycol, also known as antifreeze. So if your dog food contains this ingredient it should be kept away from cats. Most good quality pet foods contain natural preservatives.

    Is The Food Suitable For Your Pet’s Life Stage?

    As your pet grows they will develop different nutritional needs.  It is important to feed a food appropriate for your pet’s life stage and to ensure the food reflects your pet’s age and energy requirements. 

    Puppies and kittens usually benefit from food specially designed for puppies and kittens, as these tend to be higher in proteins and fats than adult pet foods. This can help facilitates healthy bone and joint formation. Senior pets can benefit from foods containing lower levels of protein and fats (depending on the level of exercise they receive). Feeding a high quality pet food with a high protein content is good for a pet who has plenty of exercise, but if these foods are fed to a pet that has little exercise then it must be remembered that however good the protein source, if your pet does not require the level of protein you are feeding it, this will still create waste protein for your pet’s kidneys to deal with, and could place stress on your pet’s kidneys. This further emphasises the importance of not overfeeding your pet.