The food you choose to feed your pet is one of the most important decisions you can make for their long-term health.
By Nicole Paley, PFMA Deputy Chief Executive
With family budgets under strain, PFMA’s animal nutritionists give advice on what to consider when choosing a pet food.
SOMETHING TO SUIT ALL PURSES AND PREFERENCES
There is a range of pet food to suit all purses, needs and preferences so pet owners don’t need to compromise on good nutrition.
Look for the term ‘complete’ on the pet food label
Dogs need around 37 essential nutrients in their daily diet for healthy bodily function, and cats, around 40. Buying a ‘complete’ prepared pet food ensures a nutritionally balanced meal that meets all a pet’s needs. There are very good ‘complete’ pet foods available at all price points that cater for a pet’s life stage, lifestyle, and taste.
Don’t compromise health with a homemade diet
Table scraps and leftovers from family meals shouldn’t take the place of a specially formulated pet food, as there is a strong chance this won’t provide the right nutrients in the right proportions.¹ ²
Cats in particular need taurine, arginine, niacin, preformed vitamin A, and specific types of essential fatty acids. If their diet is deficient in any of these nutrients, they can suffer severe
health problems. Family leftovers can also be highly calorific and may contain some ingredients that are toxic for pets such as onion, garlic, and grapes.
FINDING THE BEST QUALITY FOOD THAT IS AVAILABLE AT A REASONABLE PRICE
Nutrients and ingredients are not the same thing Ingredients contain the nutrients your pet needs to ensure energy for healthy living as well as nourishment for optimal body function. There is no single ingredient that will contain all the nutrients your pet needs. Pet food manufacturers formulate recipes to ensure the correct blend of ingredients according to life-stage (e.g., kitten, adult, through to senior years) and lifestyle (e.g., whether your pet is neutered).
Once you’ve established the appropriate category for your pet, then when it comes to choosing between different ‘complete’ pet foods, the main point to consider is quality. Ingredient quality and the cooking process will determine how easily your pet can extract the nutrients from the food and absorb them.
A high quality food starts with high quality ingredients, which are then processed in a way that maintains their nutritional value and taste. A high-quality food will be more digestible and result in fewer, firmer, and less smelly poos. Poor quality ingredients will be less digestible and will result in a windy tummy or sloppy poos, which might mean a greater investment in cat litter or poo bags!
Some pet foods offer advanced nutrition and essentially this means they contain key functional ingredients that target specific body areas to help optimise normal function. A good example of this is the inclusion of specific fatty acids such as DHA in puppy and kitten diets to help support developing brain function. Other ingredient examples include pre-and/ or probiotics to help support gut health and beta-glucans to help support the immune system.
CONSIDERING A CHANGE OF DIET?
Any sudden change in diet might cause a stomach upset in your pet. If you’re switching diets, this should be done gradually over a period of 4-7 days. Start by introducing a little of the new diet to your pet’s regular food, gradually increasing this over a few days whilst decreasing the old food. Follow the feeding guidelines as these can vary between the different pet food brands.
Before deciding which pet food, do some research
Before deciding on your pet’s food, do your research to make sure you are choosing the best formula at the best price. Look to the experts for help. Manufacturers often have free carelines that will provide guidance to owners on choosing the right food for their pet and budget. Vets and local pet shops will also be able to advise. Read the pet food packets. The ingredients will be listed on the label, and these will differ from brand to brand. There are two ways in which the ingredients can be displayed, and these are defined under regulations. ‘Category labelling’ will list the ingredients under terms such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, ‘cereals’, and ‘derivatives of vegetable origin’.
Pet foods with this type of labelling will often be lower-priced, as the use of categories allows the manufacturer to use varied ingredient sources within the batches they produce. This means they can take advantage of market forces and potential cost-savings on ingredients. For example, a pet food with ‘meat and animal derivatives’ could at Christmas time include more turkey, whilst that ingredient is more plentiful and therefore more affordable in the market. When turkey becomes scarcer, the manufacturer can switch to a different meat source without having to change the information on their labels. This flexibility on ingredients allows the food to be produced at a lower price point to the customer.
A ‘fixed formula’ pet food will have the same ingredients in every batch, regardless of the price of that ingredient on the market. This time the ingredients are listed by their individual names, for example, lamb, rice, chicken. Every batch produced contains the same ingredients made to the same recipe. This has the advantage that the pet will be eating the exact same food each time, which is a benefit for those with sensitive tummies. This type of food will usually cost more as the manufacturer cannot take advantage of market forces but has the advantage of possibly decreasing vet visits for tummy upsets. In both category and individual labelling, the ingredients will be listed in descending order of weight.
TOP TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON PET FOOD
HUNT DOWN AN OFFER
Once you find the right food, have a look to see if the brand has a website, newsletter, or social media page that you can sign up to as these often have exclusive offers to help you make some savings. Most online shops offer loyalty discounts, discounted or free shipping, and even vouchers for products. It can be worth it to invest the time in searching for the best deals.
Buying bigger bags and multi packs is a more economical and environmentally friendly way to shop if storage space permits, as it’ll be a reduced cost per feed. Do ensure, however, that you buy a bag size that your pet will be able to get through in a reasonable time. Your manufacturer can help you work out the best bag size for your pet to avoid spoilage and the petfood label will give guidance on how to store properly.
HOW MUCH YOU NEED TO FEED DIFFERS FROM BRAND TO BRAND
The amount you need to feed can vary significantly depending on which food you buy. For instance, dry food has lower feeding quantities than wet foods, as the nutrients are more concentrated. Don’t just look at the cost per kg of the food you are buying – look at the feeding guidelines and work out how long the bag will last – then you can calculate the true cost per day of feeding that food. This allows better comparison between products than cost per kg. Your manufacturer can help do this calculation for you.
DON’T FEED MORE THAN YOUR PET NEEDS
Many owners overfeed their pets because they think the manufacturer’s recommended portion looks too small, or they don’t read the label and simply fill up the bowl. The costs of overfeeding add up and it will likely lead to excessive weight gain. Follow the feeding guidelines on the pack whilst regularly checking your pet’s weight. Check if your pet is a healthy size using the Pet-Size-O-Meter – www.pfma.org.uk/pet-size-o-meter
Look for a PFMA member
Pet food manufacture is strictly regulated by over 50 pieces of legislation. In addition, PFMA members formulate their diets in line with best practice guidelines. This provides an extra assurance of quality. Check to see if your manufacturer is a PFMA member and find out what it means to you.
The most important steps in budget friendly pet food purchasing are to choose a ‘complete’ diet appropriate to the pet’s life-stage and any additional needs they may have and do your research to get the best deal you can. There is a lot of free expertise out there to help you make the right decision.
For more information and a selection of handy tools to keep your pet fit and healthy, please visit: Healthy Weight Hub | PFMA at https://www.pfma.org.uk/weight-hub