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cat eating from bowl

Choosing the right food for your pet

Walking down the pet food aisle in your local supermarket you’ll be amazed by how many different products you can buy. So how do you know what’s best for your cat or dog?

There’s so much to choose from - tins, pouches, mixers, fresh food, treats, chews - all ranging from a few pence to tens of pounds. Being fed the wrong thing is one of the main reasons that pets become ill so it’s important to get it right.

You are what you eat

This is as true for our pets as it is for us.  Giving cats and dogs too much of the wrong kind of food will make them ill.  As well as causing obesity, a bad diet can lead to serious health problems like diabetes, pancreatitis or bowel disease.

Many pet foods are stuffed full of carbohydrates like wheat and corn.  These are cheap ingredients so are often used to bulk out products, especially saver or value brands.

But our pets aren’t designed to live on high carb diets, finding them hard to digest. In the wild dogs and cats will mainly eat meat.  Cats especially can’t handle large amounts of carbohydrate rich food.  If pets only have this for a little while then their health won’t be affected, but if their diet is carb heavy all the time then problems will begin.

How will I know something is wrong?

Alarm bells should start ringing if you notice any changes in your pet’s skin and coat condition.  If they have dandruff, are constantly moulting or lose their normal shine, this can be a warning sign that their diet is wrong. 

Changes to their faeces can also tell you something isn’t right.  Your pet’s poo should be firm and easy to pick up.  If it’s very smelly, sloppy or your pet has a lot of flatulence then you should consider changing their food.

How do I know what diet to choose?

Often the diet you choose will simply be the one your pet likes most.  If you have a fussy eater on your hands then you are going to settle for the food they will eat best.

This may mean you need to add in extra nutrients to your pet’s diet to help them stay healthy.  A daily supplement will make sure they have all the vitamins and minerals they need. Adding essential fatty acid oils like Yumega will help keep their skin and coat in good condition.  Mixing vegetables and cooked meat in their bowl and reducing the amount of shop bought food will also help lighten your pet’s carbohydrate load.
Usually the more expensive the food, the better quality it will be with more protein and less carbohydrate.

Looking at the list of ingredients on your pet food packaging is also a good idea.  If products contain ‘chicken meal’ then this is a clue that there isn’t a huge amount of actual chicken meat in there.  ‘Meal’ is used to describe something we all prefer not to think about - the product of all the various parts of an animal being ground together. If you can afford to, then you should always choose food which lists ‘chicken’ (or another protein) as its first ingredient as this will have proper chunks of meat in it.  Beware of products with too much corn or wheat too, look for brown rice instead.

Wet or Dry Food?

Many owners wonder if wet or dry food is better for their pet.  As long as your cat or dog doesn’t need a special diet due to health problems, it really doesn’t matter whether their food is wet, dry or both.  There are benefits for your pet’s teeth if they eat a dry diet that’s specially designed to stop dental disease, such as Hills t/d, however normal dry food will only have a small benefit to help keep teeth clean.  Really it’s just about what your pet prefers. 

If they are a fussy eater then it’s worth giving both types a try to see if one is more appealing then the other.

Can I give my pet left-overs?

It’s tempting to give your pet left-over food, after all it seems wrong to throw it in the bin when there’s a willing puppy-eyed face waiting under the table.

If your cat or dog isn’t overweight then a few left-overs now and again won’t do them any harm.  Pets will love your scraps of meat and veg and these will be great for keeping them in good shape.  Giving a cooked or raw egg two or three times a week is also really good and may help a fussy eater gobble up their dry food.

Be careful though, too much high-carb food like pasta, rice or bread is bad for your pet and may lead to them getting ill.  Don’t be tempted to give them left over pizza or chips, however much they look like they are going to enjoy it.  Don’t give stews or curries either as lots of onions can be toxic for cats and dogs.  
If your cat or dog has diabetes or problems with their stomach, kidneys or bowel then you need to ask your vet’s advice about what to feed them as they will need a special diet and may have to avoid certain foods.
Sticking to the golden rule that the best diets are low in carbohydrate and high in protein will help make sure your pet is eating the right food to stay in tip top condition.