My dog Rosie has decided that her favourite thing, the thing she prizes above all others, is not a long walk or a lie in, it’s not a belly rub or chin scratch. No, the thing that gets Rosie up in the morning is the vain hope that today, for tea, she may get a poppadum. Now we here at the Arc Veterinary Centre do not recommend poppadums as part of your pet’s routine diet but what should you feed them?
The first point that I would make is that there is no one food that is the best, different diets suit different pets. I have seen dogs fed offal and scraps and look magnificent and I see pedigree cats fed hypo-allergenic, organic food really struggling with allergies or digestive upsets.
The gastrointestinal tract responds to evolutionary pressures fairly rapidly. Lactase resistance, the phenomenon by which human beings retain their ability to digest milk into adulthood, is thought to have emerged in the last ten thousand years, a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms. A million years of eating small mammals cannot, however, be completely undone in the thirty thousand years of domestication and I think this is a good point to start from when recommending diets for pets.
BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diets have gained favour in some parts and I have had good responses for dogs and cats with this regimen. It is definitely not for everybody though. There are pragmatic reasons for this, raw food and busy households don’t usually go together very well and if all pets were fed in this manner the incidence of food poisoning (salmonella, campylobacter etc) would increase dramatically as would the number of animals requiring surgery for retrieval of a gastro-intestinal foreign body.
A reasonable proportion of my clients now choose organic or ‘natural’ dog foods. I don’t see a health benefit for animals being fed organic food (a position the Food Standards Agency agrees with in regard to humans) and think in a world where there is not enough food to go around this is probably one indulgence to middle class sensibilities too far. This, however, is a personal rather than a professional opinion and I certainly see no harm to the individual pet in choosing one of these diets.
So how can we make feeding our pets a bit more user friendly but also something which is in tune with their natural digestive processes. Dry foods have lots of advantages for people but perhaps not so many for the pet. Dry foods generally are higher in carbohydrate than a dog or cat may have encountered in their non-domesticated life, typically around 50-60%. This makes dry foods cheaper to produce, longer lasting, less smelly and easier to store. If you’re feeding a good quality dry food you also know your pet is getting all the nutrients they require and the crunchy kibble is better for their teeth. The contents of dry food tend to be more easily regulated than those chunks in tins so the label on the side more accurately describes what your pet is eating.
The ideal food, in my opinion, would be as consumer friendly and consistent as dry food but with a higher protein and moisture content (making it more like the typical rabbit). To this end I feed my animals a high quality dry food which I supplement with a simple protein like chicken, egg or tuna and on Sundays we all have a poppadum.