Nutrition Starts Here
Nutrients are the substances obtained from food,used by the body as a source of energy or to promote maintenance, growth and reproduction on a daily basis. There are six major nutrient groups.
Seventy percent of a lean adult dog or cats body weight is water , making it the single most important nutrient for dogs and cats. Although animals can live after losing almost all of their body fat and more than half of the protein, a loss of only 10% of water can lead to death.
Within the body, water functions as a solvent that facilitates cellular reactions and as a transport medium for nutrients and the end products of cellular metabolism. During the many metabolic processes occurring in the pets body, heat is generated and water acts to absorb this heat without dramatically increasing the pets temperature. Water further contributes to temperature control by transporting this heat away from the working organs through the blood and , also , by evaporation from the respiratory tract or out through pads on a dogs paws.
Water is also an essential component in normal digestion a it helps hydrolysis, the splitting of large molecules, which then interact with digestive enzymes to promote nutrient absorption.
It’s not hard to see , therefore, why it’s essential that clean water is always available.
Where does the water go?
All dogs and cats experience daily water losses. Urination accounts for the greatest loss of volume in most animals. Fecal water loss is another source, but only really becomes concerning if there is a problem with the intestines capacity to absorb water (Often reflected with diarrhea). A third route for water loss is evaporation during respiration. In Australia’s hot climate, panting is very important for the regulation of a dog or cats temperature.
Daily water consumption must compensate for these continual fluid losses.
A pets total water intake comes from three possible sources, water present in food, drinking water and metabolic water.
The quality of water present in food depends on the type of diet. Commercial dry pet food may contain as little as 7% water, but some canned rations contain up to 84% water.
Metabolic water is the water produced when fats. carbohydrates and protein are broken down into energy and represents just 5% to 10% of the total intake of most animals.
The last and most important source of water is voluntary drinking. Factors that affect a pet’s voluntary water consumption include the ambient temperature, type of diet, level of exercise, physiological state and health.
A constant clean, fresh supply of water is essential for every dog or cat. Couple that with a well balanced diet, and an animal will look after itself,
The digestive system of a dog or cat
To understand what nutrients are used for, it helps to have a basic understanding of what goes where when it comes to the digestive system.
Digestion is the process in which proteins, fats and carbohydrates are broken down onto short chains or individual amino acids, fatty acids or sugars. These smaller particles, along with vitamins and minerals, are then able to be absorbed through the wall of the small intestine into the bloodstream and lymph. From here, these nutrients are transported to the tissues where they are used for energy, growth, maintenance or repair.
1.Teeth designed to hold, cut and slice meat
2.Saliva The saliva of a dog or cat is not rich in enzymes to breakdown food (as is the case with humans). Its main purpose is as a lubricant and to facilitate swallowing.
3.Oesophagus A muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Food passes into the oesophagus and is moved along in wave-like muscular contractions to push the food to the stomach. This process is called peristalsis.
4.Stomach A sac-like structure designed to store large volumes of food. Initially , acid helps break up proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Protein requires a more extensive breakdown process that is accomplished with a stomach enzyme called pepsin. The partially digested food has a semi-liquid consistency (called chyme), This exists the stomach and then enters the duodenum (the first segment of the small intestines).
5.Small Intestines A tube like structure extending between the stomach and large intestine. Its long length and the presence of small projections called villi along its surface provide a large surface area through which nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Secretions of the first part of the small intestine are alkaline and help to neutralise the stomach acid. Enzymes from both the pancreas and the lining of the small intestine, as well as secretions from the liver, help further break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Bile from the liver is stored in the gall bladder and released into the small intestine, where it breaks up large fat molecules into sizes that can be acted by enzymes.
6.Large Intestines Connects the small intestines to the anus. Its primary function is to absorb water from feces, keeping the hydration level of the body constant. Other important functions include the fermentation of dietary fibre and prebiotics by bacteria, and the storage of fecal matter.
Proteins are complex molecules that consist of basic units known as amino acids. The role of protein in a dog or cat food is not to provide the body directly , but to supply the pet with sufficient levels of amino acids.
Once absorbed during digestion, amino acids in the body have numerous functions.
- They are the major structural components of hair, skin, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.
- Proteins play a main role in the body’s essential metabolic reactions through the production of enzymes and hormones (such as insulin and glucagon).
- Additionally, amino acids in the blood act as important carrier substances- for example, haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to tissues.
- The antibodies that maintain the body’s immune system are all composed of large protein molecules.
Protein Can also be used for energy. In dogs, only a very small amount of energy comes from protein- fats and carbohydrates are the major sources. As obligate carnivores cats, however, utilise protein differently and need a higher minimum requirement of protein in their diet.
This is reflected in the amount of protein contained in premium pet foods. Whereas a premium dog food will typically contain 25% protein, premium cat foods contain up to 34%.
Hair is made up of around 95% protein (mostly keratin , to be precise). Switch from a grocery to a premium pet food brand- from low protein quality to high protein quality- and you’ll notice the most dramatic change in the pets coat. It will be softer and shinier in just over a month.
There are 22 alpha-amino acids found in protein chains. Dogs and cats are able to synthesise twelve of them. These are called non-essential amino acids. The remaining ten- called essential amino acids- must be supplied in the pet’s diet.
Feeding ‘as nature intended’- the case for carnivorism
The body structure of domestic dogs is similar to that of its carnivorous ancestors and relatives, the wall, coyote, fox and jackal. Domestic cats also share many similar characteristics with their wild ancestors, and are closely related to the African wildcat, Chinese desert cat, jungle cat and European wildcat- all carnivores.
Aside from there strong muscular bodies and acute senses developed over millions of years for hunting, dogs and cats retain two defining traits in common with their flesh eating family members,
Dogs and cats teeth are designed for holding and cutting meat. The carnassials (from which the name carnivore is derived) act like scissors and were used to slice chunks of meat in the wild. Dogs do have some crushing surfaces on the last few upper and lower molars, whereas cats have no such teeth. Large adult dogs have 42 teeth- the same number as a wolf. Domestic cats have the same number of teeth(30) as a cheetah.
In comparison, the teeth of a herbivore are suited for grinding down plant ,material. They have no teeth for grasping or cutting. Their small front teeth (the incisors) are for nibbling grass.
The gastrointestinal tract of a cat or dog is simple with no capacity to digest large amounts of plant products. Its is more suited to digesting and absorbing nutrients from a meat-based diet- food than can be digested quickly and easily. A herbivore that survives on grasses and cereals requires a longer digestive tract, Plants and plant-based proteins are not highly digestible and require a more complex intestinal tract to be broken down (hense the very different design of a ruminant’s stomach).
Cats cannot obtain all the necessary nutrients they need from plant proteins. They must consume animal protein ( making them an obligate carnivore). A dogs gastrointestinal tract is simple with no capacity to digest large amounts of plant products, So whilst they can survive on plant-based diet, dogs are best fed as carnivores.
It’s all about the source.
Protein in pet food can come from both plant and animal sources.
The degree to which a dog or cat is able to use dietary protein as a source of amino acids is affected by both the digestibility and the quality of the protein included in the diet.
Proteins are highly digestible and include all the essential amino acids in their proper proportions for a dog or cat are considered high quality proteins. Examples include chicken, fish and egg, The higher the quality of a protein in a diet, the less quantity that is needed by the animal to meet all of its essential amino acid needs ( and the less there is to clean up in the backyard).
In contrast, those proteins that are either low in digestibility or limiting in one or more of the essential amino acids are of lower quality. Examples includes corn, gluten meal and wheat gluten.
High quality protein sources have also shown to do a better job of supporting lean-muscle mass in dogs than vegetable proteins. Plant based proteins (such as corn gluten meal) have been shown to increase body fat and increase mineral requirements in the dog.
This chart on this page shows the usability of different protein sources. As you can see, the most digestible protein is egg. It is the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to protein- yet still many ( even premium) pet food manufactures fail to include egg in their formulas.
Carbohydrates have two main purposes: energy and fibre.
In their digestible form ( starches and sugars) they supply energy. Individual cats and dogs have different energy needs , and their carbohydrate intake should be adjusted accordingly.
Non-digestible carbohydrates are a major source of dietary fibre.
Carbohydrate for energy
Dogs and cats eat for one main reason- to get the energy to sustain life.
Starch is the form in which plants store energy. When digested, starch provides dogs and cats with a quick source of energy,
Starches are broken down to sugars that are the absorbed by the digestive tract, resulting in an increase in blood glucose levels after eating, This is known as the blood glucose response or blood sugar response.
Different sources of carbohydrates have different blood sugar responses. These are measured using something called a glycaemic index (GI). Carbohydrates that break down rapidly during digestion release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream, giving the pet an immediate burst of energy. These have a high blood sugar response or high GI. Carbohydrates that break down slowly , releasing glucose gradually, have a low GI.
Only a limited amount of carbohydrates can be stored in the body as glycogen. Too much and it is metabolised to body fat for energy storage. The secret is to use a tailored carbohydrate blend, matched to the pet’s life stage and lifestyle, to provide optimal levels of energy than can be sustained for longer periods of time.
The chief carbohydrates present in most commercial pet foods are derived from cereal grains such as corn, wheat, sorghum, barley and rice.
Barley: Whole grain barley that is cooked at high temperatures and finely ground.
Corn: Corn can come in various forms. To produce corn meal, corn kernels are finely ground to break up the outside covering of each kernel, then cooked at high temperatures to increase digestibility. Corn grits are hard , coarse portions of ground corn that contain little or no fibre or protein. Corn grits are used processing to add a fuller shape to pet-food kibbles.
Grain Sorghum: Grain sorghum, also called milo, is cracked, finely ground and cooked before it is added to dry dog and cat foods.
Rice Flour: Small kernels of white rice are separated from the larger kernels of milled rice, then ground and cooked at high temperatures to optimise digestibility.
Wheat: In biscuits, wheat serves as an excellent palatable carbohydrate source and also adds a firm texture to the biscuit during baking process.
The chart below shows you the blood sugar response of each.
What does it all mean?
Carbohydrates are not all the same. The blood sugar response can impact a pet’s overall energy levels and also their predisposition to weight gain. It is important that the carbohydrate in a diet match the needs of the animal.
For example, in a senior pet or one prone to weight gain, the ideal mix is a blend of carbohydrates with a lower blood sugar response ( such as grain sorghum and barley). In these circumstances, carbohydrates with a higher blood sugar response ( such as rice) are best avoided.
However, for a more active dog- and not just one on the farm, but one that undertakes rigorous exercise- carbohydrates with a higher blood sugar response are fine. They’ll burn the excess of during exercise.
In the wild
You might wonder whether carnivores in the wild eat any carbohydrate at all. The answer is yes. Most, if not all, of their carbohydrate intake is as semi-digested material from the gut of their prey.
Carbohydrates for fibre
For dogs and cats, fibre has one main purpose- to maintain the health of the digestive tract.
Unlike herbivores like sheep or cattle that use fibre for energy in their diets, dogs and cats are unable to directly digest dietary fibre (because of the relatively short and simple structure of their intestinal tracts).
The bacteria found in their intestines, however, is able to break down this fibre to certain degrees, This bacterial fermentation produces short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). The cells that line the intestinal tract ( enterocytes and colonocytes) have a higher turnover rate and rely on SCFAs as a significant energy source.
Research has shown that when dogs are fed a diet with a moderate fermentable fibre they have had increased colon weights, mucosal surface area and thickening of the intestinal wall compared to dogs fed a non- fermentable fibre. these changes to the intestinal tract indicate improved absorption capacity and overall increased intestinal health.
The key word here is fermentability : poorly fermentable fibre does not provide the intestinal cells with enough or the right type of SCFAs. Highly fermentable fibres provides plenty of SCFAs but the rapid fermentation can result in flatulence and digestive upsets. So dogs and cats are best fed moderate fermentable fibre- the right amount of SCFAs and no nasty side effects.
Fibre also provides the bulk to help transport food through the intestines. This is all about solubility A low solubility is going to help promote the right amount of bulk for firm stools. High solubility fibres can lead to the stool being loose-and that makes for a very hard backyard pick up.
Whilst type is important, so to is the amount. Too much or too little fibre can cause loose stools, excessive stools, and/or flatulence. The ideal amount of fibre is between 3% and 7% in the guaranteed analysis (with amounts between 5-7% really only seem in hairball diets).
Although fibre is not considered ‘essential” to the dog or cat, the benefits of including a moderately fermentable fibre source are clear and significant to the overall health of the pet.
As discussed , when it comes to fibre the source is crucial. Choose the right source and the intestinal tract thrives. Choose the wrong on and it suffers (this might sound a little dramatic) but look at the pictures above.
What we’re looking for is a fibre with a low solubility ( to maintain bulk for moving food through the digestive tract) and moderate fermentability ( for the right amount of short chain fatty acids). The chart below shows the solubility and fermentability if various fibre sources.
Basucally, low solubility + moderate fermentability = BEET PULP
FOS for intestinal Health
fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are a prebiotic fibre that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines (similar tot he bacteria found in yoghurts for humans), Prebiotics help maintain the natural balance of a healthy gut.
Dogs and cats eat for one reason: to get energy and sustain life. Dietary fats play a very important role when it comes to energy. If carbohydrates are used to kick off energy , high quality fats sustain it.
Dogs for example, derive 70-90% of their energy for muscle contraction from fat metabolism. So if you’ve got a hard working dog, a high fat content in their diet is essential. As mentioned before, hard working doesn’t just mean on the farm- it could be an active Jack Russell or a Border Collie who loves to play fetch.
Gram for kilocalorie , fat is also the most concentrated energy source in food. High quality fats allows us to provide cats and dogs with their complete nutritional energy needs in smaller nutrient dense quantities. Which means feeding less per day (which can actually make a premium dog food more economical than a poor quality one).
Fat also aid in the digestion of essential fat soluble vitamins, supporting a strong immune system. Plus they provide insulation and protection under the skin and around internal organs.
So fats are good. However, like everything in a diet, its the source of the nutrients that’s all important.
Fats can come from both plant and animal sources , as solids (fats) or liquids (oils).
The main components of fats are fatty acids. And , when it comes to dog and cat food, these are two main fatty acids to concentrate on: omega-0 and omega-3.
Omega-6 is derived from animal fats and corn and vegetable oils.
Omega -3 is from fishmeal, fish oils and canola and flaxseed (linseed oil).
A greater example of the importance of fatty acids in an animals diet can be seen in how they can affect a cat or dog’s largest organ- its skin (and coat).
Fatty acids, skin and coat health
There are two essential fatty acids for skin and coat health. Linoleic acid maintains skin and coat condition in dogs and cats. Without enough linoleic acid, dogs and cats may experience dull dry coat, hair loss, greasy skin and increased susceptibility to skin inflammation. Cats also require arachidonic acid for normal skin and coat health.
Both of these essential fatty acids are omega-6 fatty acids and are found in animal tissues like chicken fat. Linoleic acid is also found in some vegetable oils such as corn and soybean oils.
Most commercial dog and cat diets contain more than adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, Because these fatty acids can also be converted to compounds that increase susceptibility to skin inflammation, it is important to balance them with omega-3 fatty acids (which reduce susceptibility to inflammation).
Traditionally , management of inflammatory skin disease was done through pharmaceutical remedies and fatty acid supplements, However, research has found that combining fat sources in the diet in the ratio of between five and ten omega-6 fatty acids to one omega-3 fatty acid (5-10:1) results in excellent skin and coat health.
Omega 3 fatty acids also play a vital role in numerous normal body functions such as supporting healthy brain cells and learning ability, maintaining healthy blood clotting and blood lipid parameters and maintaining healthy cell growth. Nutritionally important omega -3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), ALA is an essential fatty acid as it cannot be synthesised by the body but it may take generations to show any deficiency. EPA can be used to help with slowing down joint degeneration while DHA plays a vital role in the development of the central nervous system and retinal function as well as reproduction.
You may have read a bit about the importance of omega-3 and brain development in humans. Well, its just as important for dogs and cats. A particular omega-3 fatty acid, known as DHA (Docosahexanoic acid), has been shown to improve the trainability of puppies. In the long run, on easier to train puppy means better behaviour, a stronger bond between pet and owner and fewer unwanted dogs. (Behavioural problems are the number one reason for the euthanasia of young dogs and cats in Australia).
Don’t try this at home
Getting the omega-6 to omega-3 5-10:1 balance right with home prepared meals or dietary supplements can be tricky. A fixed formula ensures peoples dogs and cats are getting the right balance of fats in their diets.
A vitamin is an organic compound the body requires in tiny amounts for normal growth and nourishment. Most vitamins cannot be synthesised in the body so must be supported from food. Vitamins are classified into two main categories: fat soluble and water soluble.
Fat soluble vitamins
Play an important role in dogs and cats, specifically in structural growth, supporting the immune system and also antioxidants. They are absorbed together with fat and are stored wherever fat is deposited. Because they can be stored in the body, there is a very serious risk of accumulating excess and possibly toxic levels if these vitamins are over supplemented. Some of the most important fat soluble vitamins are listed below.
Vitamin A Essential for growth, vision and for skin and mucous membranes, An important antioxidant.
Vitamin D Essential for calcium metabolism. Required for growth, bone and tooth development.
Vitamin E An important antioxidant, Provides support for the immune system.
Vitamin K Promotes normal blood clotting.
Lutein Supports cells of the immune system. Particularly important in senior dogs and cats where it strengthens declining immune system and improves the activity of white blood cells.
B-Carolene Important in the formation of Vitamin A in dogs (not in cats). Supports the immune system in senior dogs by promoting antibody production.
Water soluble vitamins
Are involved in the utilisation of food and the transfer of energy in chemical reactions. They are absorbed from the intestine along with water and are not stored in the body. Excess water soluble vitamins are excreted from the body in urine.
Vitamin C Essential for healing wounds and tissue repair. An antioxidant.
Vitamin B1 Important in carbohydrates metabolism and normal functioning of the nervous system.
What is an antioxidant?
Antioxidants play a key role in preventing damage to cells, such as those that make up the immune system. Nutritionally supporting the immune system is especially important for young animals. The immune system of a kitten for example, is still developing at the time it is being challenged with vaccinations and exposure to disease- causing agents.
Minerals are chemical elements all animals need in their diet for normal growth and function. Minerals cannot be synthesised by the body, so must be provided in the right balance.
Minerals of particular importance to dogs and cats include the following:
Calcium (CA) One of the major structural components of bones and teeth. Whilst mainly stored in bones, calcium is moved from bone to blood plasma for other functions such as blood clotting , muscle function and nerve transmission.
Too much and too little calcium?
Over supplementation of calcium can lead to bone growth problems. Large or giant breed puppies especially do not need extra calcium. Alternatively, a homemade diet without enough calcium can lead to problems.
Phosphorus (P) The other major structural components of bones and teeth. Phosphorous is also involved in enzymatic reactions and is critical to the production of cellular energy.
Potassium (K) Essential for nerve transmission, muscle function and body fluid balance, Potassium deficiencies induce muscle weakness, growth problems and heart and kidney disorders. Deficiencies at uncommon but may be associated with drug therapy ( some diuretics).
Magnesium (Mg) Functions with calcium in bone development and nerve impulse conduction. Magnesium deficiency can lead to loss of appetite, vomiting, nervousness and convulsions. Very high levels of magnesium in cats has been linked with a secondary factor in the development of struvite urinary stones ( also called uraliths ).
Say no to supplementation.
Feeding a complete and balanced diet means there is no need for pet owners to provide vitamin supplements (unless the dog or cat is under veterinary care). Over supplementation, especially of fat-soluble vitamins, can lead to serious health concerns. Excess Vitamin A, for example, may result in bone and joint pain, brittle bones and dry skin. Excess Vitamin D may result in very dense bones, soft calcification or joint calcification.
Nutrients in a nutshell
Different nutrients are utilised by the body in different ways to provide energy that is essential for life. here’s a quick summary of the sic nutrients and some of the most important points to remember about each.
Water Always have fresh water available ( combined with a well balanced diet) and a dog or cat will generally look after its hydration.
Protein The best protein for dogs and cats come from animals ( such as chicken, fish and egg). They are better quality than vegetable protein as they have complete amino acid profile and build stronger muscles. Best of all, animal protein promotes a shinier, softer skin and coat in as little as four weeks.
Carbohydrates The major source of energy for dogs and cats. The type of carbohydrates must be tailored for the activity and life stage of the pet to encourage performance or prevent obesity. Rice is a high GI carbohydrate for performance but not weight loss. Corn, barley and sorghum are perfect for sustained energy. Fibre is also a form of carbohydrate. Whilst it doesn’t provide energy, an ingredient like beet pulp fibre is essential to gut health to increase nutrient absorption and promote smaller, firmer stools.
Fats The most concentrated energy source for dogs and cats. Particularly important is omega- 6 and omega-3 fatty acids. When the ratio between these two is the right balance (5 to 10 omega’s to every 1 omega 3) this can reduce inflammation and further enhance a softer shinier coat.
Vitamins Essential in tiny amounts and should be tailored to the life stage and lifestyle of the dog or cat. Vitamins include antioxidants, like Vitamin E, which are especially important for strengthening the immune system of puppies and seniors.
Minerals Chemicals elements that dogs and cats need for growth, repair and maintenance. If feeding a premium pet food that is complete and balanced, pet owner do not need to supplement. Minerals like calcium and phosphorus can have serious implications if over supplemented in large breed puppies.
Basically, it all comes down to two words: SOURCE and BALANCE . Select a brand that uses only premium quality ingredients from the best source available. A premium Food will have a higher quality ingredients in the correct balance, tailored to a pets life stage and lifestyle.
Too much, or too little of any nutrient will not result in optimal health. After all, most owners don’t want their pets just to survive, but to thrive. So how we check the food we recommend gets the source and balance right?
Always read the label
So now you know what a dog or cat is meant to get out of their food. But what exactly goes into it? The answer is on every single bag or can of pet food. And you might be surprised.
You would imagine that meat is the main ingredient. After all, dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems are purpose built for a diet based on meat.
labelling laws mean that every food product in Australia (not just pet food) needs to tell people exactly what goes into it- on the label. And ingredients must be listed by volume in descending order ( the first ingredient is present in the greater amount). There are still, however a few things to look out for.
So let’s start by looking at the label.
Whatever brand of pet food you’re looking at, whether it’s wet and in a can or dry and in a bag, a fully balanced meal, or a snack, it will have an ingredients panel. If you’re into pet nutrition it can make pretty interesting reading.
Ingredients (DOG): Chicken, Chicken By Product Meal, Ground Whole Grain, Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Fish Meal(source of fish oil), Chicken Fat, (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of vitamin E and Citric Acid), Brewers Rice, Chicken Digest, Dried Beet, Pulp (sugar removed), Dried Egg Product, Brewers Dried Yeast, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, (source of Vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Flax Meal, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Minerals ( Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulphate, Copper Sulphate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt, Carbonate), DL-Methionine, Rosemary Extract.
Ingredients (CAT): Chicken, Chicken By-Product, Meal, Corn Meal, Corn Grits, Chicken Meal, Dried Beet, Pulp, Dried Egg Product, Natural Chicekn Flavour, Sodium Bisulphate, Potassium Chloride, Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of vitamin E), DL-Methionine, Brewers Dried Yeast, Choline Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1),Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, (source of Vitamin B2), Inositol, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Minerals (ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulphate, Copper Sulphate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt, Carbonate), Rosemary Extract.
The First 5 Ingredients Test
Just the first ingredients can tell us a lot about the food the food we are holding. Obviously , what are the main ingredients?
(Remember they’re listed in descending order by volume).
But the million dollar question should be : is the main ingredients and animal based protein?
Take the following two real examples (we’ve just taken the first 5 ingredients of each),
Ingredients 1: Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain, Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley
Ingredients 2: Ground Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By -Product Meal, Soy Bean Meal, Animal Fat, Soybean Oil
So, in the first example, the main ingredients is chicken (as in chicken meat- see the table below). Next is chicken by-product meal. That means the two main ingredients are animal- based protein.
In the second example, the main ingredient is corn – a carbohydrate, not even a protein. Two protein sources comes next- but soybean meat is plant based (which, as we have just learnt, does not supply the complete amino acid profile a cat or dog needs).
Even before we consider this in terms of nutrition, a lot of people who buy the products thinking they are doing the best for their pet would be surprised that the number one ingredient is a carbohydrate and not an animal-based protein.
A ‘fixed formula’ means that , regardless of when you buy it, every single bag of dog or cat food contains exactly the same ingredients every time. Some manufactures may use what is available cheaply and easily. For example,’ Meat’ may be chicken one day, and beef the next. This can become a real issue if a particular dog or cat has allergies (a lot of dogs have allergic reactions to beef). So its always best to feed a fixed formula- and for the ingredients panel to be a bit more specific than simply ‘meat’.
As you can see from the examples below (the leading dog and cat food supermarket brands in Australia),their ingredient list does not specify what meat is actually used ( they also combine ‘meat’ and ‘meat by-products’ as one ingredients to make it appear earlier in the list – see ‘ Tricks of the Trade’).
Ingredients: Wholegrain cereals, meat & meat by-products (poultry, beef and /or sheep), Vegetables protein, animal tallow and /or vegetable oil, all essential vitamins and minerals, food colouring, flavours, amino acids (including taurine, antioxidants, preservatives and sodium tripolyphosphate
Ingredients: Meat & meat by-products (beef, poultry, lamb), wheat & /or sorghum & /or Barley, wheat bran, glycerol, sunflower oil, vegetables, beet, pulp, salt, minerals (including calcium, zinc, iron, potassium), safflower seed, vitamins including A, C, D3, E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B5, B6, folic acid, B12), preservatives, antioxidants and food colourings
What Nutrient is that?
It can be difficult to know what nutrient classification a particular ingredient falls under (for example, corn is not always used as a carbohydrate Corn barn is a fibre source. And corn gluten meal is a plant-based protein). We’ve put this list of typical ingredients together to help you.
Proteins Carbohydrates (Starch & Fibre) Fats Vitamins
Alfalfa Meal Apple Pomace- MFF Animal Fat -n6 Ascorbic Acid
Animal Digest Barley Beef Tallow -n6 Calcium Pantothenate
Beef Brown Rice Borage Oil -n6 Folic Acid
Brewers Dried Yeast Carrageenan -HFF Chicken Fat -n6 L-Camitine (vitamin like)
Casein Carrots Corn Oil -n6 Lutein (antioxidant)
Catfish Cellulose -PFF Ground Flax Seed Niacin
Chicken Citrus Pulp -MFF Poultry Fat -n6 Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
Chicken By-Products Corn, Ground Corn, Ground Yellow Corn Fish Oil -n3 Riboflavin
Chicken By-Product Meal Corn Meal Fish Meal -n3 Thiamine Mononitrate
Chicken Liver Meal Corn Bran -PFF Flax Seed -n3 Vitamin A Acetate
Chicken Digest Dried Beef Pulp Safflower Oil-n6 Vitamin B, Supplement
Chicken Meal Dried Whey Sunflower Oil-n6 Vitamin D, Supplement
Corn Gluten Meal Grain Sorghum Meal Vegetable Oil -n6 Vitamin E, Supplement
Dried Egg Product Guar Gum -HFF Whole Falx Seed
Fish Gum Arabic -PFF
Fish Meal Lactose Minerals Other
Glandular Meal Molasses Calcium Carbonate Animal Digest -E
Lamb Oat Bran -PFF Cobalt Carbonate Caramel Colour -C
Lamb Meal Oat Groats Dicalcium Phosphate Citric Acid -P
Liver Oatmeal Ferrous Sulphates Choline Chloride
Mar and Bone Meal Peanut Hulls -PFF Copper Sulphate Dl-Methionine -AA
Meat By-Products Pearled Barley Copper Oxide Ethoxygin -P
Meat Meal Peas Manganous Oxide Garlic Powder -E
Poultry By-Product Meal Pea Fibre Manganese Sulphate Iron Oxide – C
Rice Gluten Meal Potato Flour Magnesium Oxide L-Lysine -AA
Soy Meal Rice, Ground Rice, Rice Flour Magnesium Sulphate Mixed Tocopherols -P
Soybean Meal Rice Bran – MFF Monosodium Phosphate Natural Flavours -E
Soy Protein Concentrate Soybean Hulls -PFF Potassium Chloride Onion Powder -E
Soy Protein Isolate Sugar Potassium Lodide Potassium Sorbate -P
Turkey Tomato Pomace -MFF Salt Propyl Gallate -P
Wheat Germ Meal Vegetable Gums -HFF Sodium Selenite Taurine -AA
Wheat, Wheat Flour, Ground Wheat Zinc Oxide Titanium Dioxide -C
Wheat Bran Zinc Sulphate
Wheat Grain Sorghum
Xanthan Gum -HFF
n6- Abundant source of omega 6 fatty acids E- Flavour Enhancer
n3- Abundant source of omega 3 fatty acids C- Colouring
PFF- Poorly fermentable fibre P- Preservative
MFF- Moderately fermentable fibre AA- Amino Acids
HFF- Highly fermentable fibre
Meal vs Meal
Common chicken ingredients in pet foods include chicken meat, chicken meal, and chicken by-product meal. What is the difference?
Chicken Meat: is cleaned muscle meat and skin
Chicken Meal: is muscle meat, skin and bone that have been cleaned, dried, cooked and ground.
Chicken By-Product Meal: is muscle meat, bone, and internal organs ( including intestines) that have been cleaned, dried, cooked and ground. Chicken by-product meal (CBPM) excludes non digestible beaks, feathers and feet. It’s a nutrient-rich protein source that provides excellent amounts of amino acid, minerals and great natural palatability for dogs and cats- and replicates, to a large degree, the diets of wolves and cheetahs in the wild (where they consume a large portion of their kill).
There is one thing out for CBPM (and other by-products meals) comes in different grades, Super premium pet foods should be using CBPM which is twice refined from human grade chicken (as opposed to poultry meal which could come from any old bird).
Tricks of the trade.
Some manufacturers make a pet food appear to have more ingredients, or greater proportions of an ingredient than it actually does, by separating multiple sources of the same ingredient. For example Brand A’s main ingredient is corn (30%) followed by Chicken Meal (25%). By slitting the corn into two separate ingredients, the packaging can list chicken meal as the main ingredient. Chicken Meal (25%),Corn Flour (20%), Yellow Corn (10%).
Alternatively, sometimes ingredients are combined. One leading premium brand list Chicken and Chicken Meal (Two separate ingredients) as a single ingredient on their packaging. If they were to separate them, Corn could be the first ingredient listed. So, they’re able to give the impression that the primary ingredient is an animal-based protein when this is not the case.
When meat shouldn’t be number 1
There are a few instances where it may not be in the best interest of the dog or cat to have an animal-based protein as the primary ingredient. these include weight loss diets, when it is important to keep fat levels down, a carbohydrate- based protein may be the main ingredient.
The First 5 Ingredients Test is a simple at a glance way to tell the difference between pet foods (it will clearly differentiate Premium foods from the Supermarket brands)
To compare pet foods more thoroughly (particular Premium vs Premium) you need to group ingredients into their nutrient classification. This enables you to compare apples with apples (or in our case, corn with corn).
Take the following Cat food for example.
Ingredients: Chicken, Liver, Rice Flour, Ground Corn, Chicken By-Products, Fish Meal, Dried Egg Products, Chicken Fat, Flax Seed
If you were to group them by their nutrient classification it would look like this
Proteins Carbohydrates (Starch and Fibre) Fats
Chicken Liver Rice Flour Chicken Fat
Chicken By-Products Ground Corn Flax Seed
Dried Egg Products
After grouping the ingredients, address the following questions before making a comparison.
Are all the major protein sources animal based?
Protein sources can be animal or plant-based. High quality animal- based protein sources are recommended because they contain an appropriate balance of all essential amino acids and are generally highly digestible.
Is the fibre source moderately fermentable?
Remember a moderately fermentable fibre source is recommended. it is broken down (fermented) to a moderate degree into short-chain fatty acids, which nourish the cells in the intestines and maximise the absorption of nutrients for that dog or cat. The non- fermented component of fibre acts as bulk to promote a healthier and smaller, firmer stools.
Are these fat sources containing omega -6 and omega-3 fatty acids ?
Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in balancing out the effects of omega-6 fatty acids. A proper ratio of both will help ensure a healthy skin and coat. The levels of each will be listed in the Guaranteed Analysis on the pack ( see below) Remember to look for a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 of 5-10:1
Its useful to get in the habit of cross-referencing between Ingredients and the Guaranteed Analysis panels. For example, the Guaranteed Analysis will tell you the percentage of protein in the pet food, but it wont tell you what quality it is if it’s animal -based protein. You need to look at the ingredients for that. It’s a simple test of quality versus quantity.
Pet food manufacturers can make all sorts of marketing claims about the presence of an ingredient that will have a certain health benefit (eg’ maintains a healthy skin and coat’). There is an easier way to tell if that’s the case- by checking the Guaranteed Analysis on a pack of dog or cat food (it is usually somewhere near the ingredients listing). It’s particularly useful for ensuring that omega-6 and omega -3 fatty acids are actually present and in the right ratio (5-10:1).
Ingredients A: Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Guaranteed Analysis A:
Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Fish Meal 9source of fish oil),Chicken Nutrient Percent%
Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of vitamin E and Citric Crude Protein not less than 25.00
Acid), Brewers Rice, Natural Chicken Flavour, Dried Beet, Pulp (sugar Crude Fat not less than 16.00
removed), Dried Egg Product, Brewers Dried Yeast, Potassium Chloride, Crude Fibre not more than 5.00
Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin Moisture not more than 10.00
A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin BB12 Supplement, Thiamine Vitamin E not less than 1401u/kg
Mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin, Supplement (source Omega-6 fatty acids not less than 2.30
of vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine hydrochloride ( source of vitamin B6) Omega-3 fatty acids not less than .30
Vitamin d3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Flax Meal, Sodium Hexametaphosphate,
Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Minerals (Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc
Oxide, Manganese Sulphate, Copper Sulphate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium
Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), DL-Methionine,Rosemary Extract
Ingredients B: Meat and Meat by-products
Typical Analysis B: (from chicken and/or beef), wholegrain
Nutrient Percent %
cereals ( wheat and /or sorghum), cereal bran Crude Protein 22.00
and/or other cereals, beef, pulp, iodised Crude Fat 10.00
alt, vitamins ( A, D, E, K, B1, B6, niacin, Salt (Sodium Chloride) 1.3
riboflavin, folic acid, choline, biotin, B12) Crude Fibre 3.5
and trace minerals ( iron, zinc, copper, Calcium to Phosphorus 1:3:1
manganese), mixed natural tocopherols Sugar not added
(vitamin E), rosemary plant extract, lutein, Linoleic Acid 1.3
whole linseeds, garlic and kelp. Metabolisable energy 335Kcal/100g
Ingredients C: Meat and meat by-products
Nutritional Information C:
Average per 100gm (beef, poultry and lamb), wheat and /or
Thiamin (vit B1) 0.35mg
sorghum and/or barley, wheat bran, Protein Crude 22.00 Riboflavin (vit B2) 0.55mg
glycerol, sunflower oil, vegetables, beet, Fat, Crude 10.00 Vitamin C 5.0mg
pulp, salt, iron, potassium), safflower seed, Omega-6 1.6 Vitamin E 16mg
vitamins (including A, C, D3, E, thiamin), Omega-3 0.2 Calcium 1800mg
riboflavin, niacin, B5, B6, Folic acid, B12), Salt ( Sodium Chloride) 1.2 Phosphorus 1285mg
preservatives, antioxidants and food Fibre, Crude 2.8 Iron 10mg
colourings Sugar not added Zinc 33mg
Energy metabolisable 330kcal
Pet Food Formats
People feed their pets different types of food for different reasons. We list some of the pros and cons of each farmer below. However, if we compare them by the amount of nutrients and energy they delivery tot he pet, the results are pretty interesting.
Cost. Dry foods are less expensive than other types of pet food. Teeth, the abrasive effect of the kibble is good for your pets teeth. It decreases tartar accumulation.
You can feed ‘free choice’ (leave it out and pets can choose when to eat- because dry food doesn’t deteriorate in open air.
Why Not ?
Lower quality fry foods may be too high in carbohydrates and fibre, resulting in poor digestibility ( and greater stool volume).
The caloric density of dry food varies from 2500 to 3300 kcal for supermarket brands to between 3500 to 4500 kcal ME/kg for premium brands. Moisture content is usually between 8 and 12%.
Palatablity. It tends to be higher with wet foods. Appearance. Textured food resembles actual food, satisfying the consumers perception of what food ‘should’ look like,
Perishable once opened. Plus, it cannot be fed free choice. You really should be throwing it out if it hasn’t been eaten after 15 minutes, Its and expensive way to give your dog or cat a drink. Canned foods can contain up to 84% moisture. No abrasive benefits benefitting teeth. Eighty percent of dog over three years of age experience tartar build up.
Basic canned foods contain approximately 650 to 1100 kcal ME/kg, while premium canned foods contain around 1000 to 1500 kcal ME/kg. They typically contain anywhere from 64% to 84% moisture.
Soft, Moist Foods
Like dry food, it can be free fed. Kibble can be more delicate on teeth for those pets suffering from teeth and gum problems. Additionally, those that do get caught in the teeth will take less time to break down due to the higher moisture density.
Can be more expensive than dry food. Storage. It needs to be keep airtight as the moisture in the food can spoil quickly. Stool volume. As the food is not a nutrient to energy dense you have to feed them more which can increase tool volume.
Approximately 1500kcal ME/kg and 30% moisture.
Treats and biscuits come in a variety of forms. If they are not complete and balanced in their formulation ( containing all the nutrients in the right amounts), they should not constitute more than approximately 5% of an animals diet. Otherwise the diet becomes unbalanced. Some premium brands also use the same basic ingredients found in dry foods, others have a very high carbohydrate basis. Some have very low protein levels, some are very low in fat and others (especially fish varieties for cats) can contain very high levels of minerals (eg: Magnesium).
Measuring the energy in pet food
Energy in food is measured in calories or. with pet foods, in the thousands of calories (kilocalories to kcal) To determine the amount of nutrients in a particular pet food, we use a measure called metabolisable energy per kilogram (ME/kg). Its basically the amount of kilocalories in a kilogram of pet food or its caloric density.
So now you have got a better idea of how to tell if a particular pet food delivers all those nutrients we learnt about in the first chapter.
Here’s a quick summary . And it’s easy as picking up any bags or can of pet food.
Use The First 5 Ingredients Test to determine the quality of the food. Group the ingredients and check that animal protein is the primary ingredient. Remember, a diet based only on animal protein is the best way to feed a dog or cat.
Look at the guaranteed analysis in combination with the ingredients. Many companies claim they have a health benefit, but look here to see if they guarantee it. This is especially important for the omega-6 to omega-3 balance, antioxidants and joint nutrients. If there is no guarantee, how do you know that the claim has a real benefit for the pet?
Obviously cost is a major concern to some pet owners. By calculating a cost per day and days that the bag will last , you might find out that those ‘expensive’ premium brands actually work out cheaper in the long run. So a greater outlay in the beginning works out more economical in the long run. (And then there are all the health benefits).
Check for tricks- is it a fixed formula? Avoid ‘and /or’ for the protein source on the ingredients panel (Chicken and /or Beef and/ or Pork). That will ensure a dog or cat is getting the same quality nutrition every time and nots what’s cheapest at the time of manufacturing.
And finally, our recommendation is to feed a dry formula – for convenience, value for money and, most importantly, to deliver a high quality, nutritionally consistent diet for every dog or cat.
Different pet foods for different pets
So, now we know how to compare pet foods to ensure that dog and cat owners know what they’re buying. Job done, lets all go home.
Not so fast.
In case you haven’t noticed, a Great Dame and a Chihuahua are two pretty different animals.
Kittens aren’t the same as cats.
A Blue Heeler gets up to a bit more on a farm than on a couch watching TV.
Dachshunds are disproportionate to some of their hound cousins .
And some cats and dogs have propensity to develop, shall we say, a fuller figure.
The things that make dogs and cats such wonderful, varied creatures also mean they have different nutritional requirements – based on size, age, pets that have special needs relating to their lifestyle or recurring health issues, and some breeds that have genetic predispositions to certain health problems.
In this section we take a look at pet foods that are formulated for specific nutritional needs.
All creatures great and small
Dogs come in many shapes and sizes. Different breed sizes have different physiological traits. So it makes sense to tailor their diet to suit.
Small breeds- Up to 10 kilograms at maturity.
Example: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier, Maltese, Miniature Schnauzer, Pomeranian, Pug, Toy Poodle and West Highland White Terrier.
Small dog. Small stomach. That means that they need more energy out of a smaller amount of food ( or that their energy rate per kilogram is higher than large dogs). They have a higher metabolic rate.
Small breeds enjoy a longer average life expectancy and reach sexual maturity faster than large dogs.
And, in case you were wondering, it’s true. Small dogs tend to be more finicky eaters. (They’re also the ones most likely to be fed table scraps- which says more about their owners than it does about the dog).
So a diet customised for small breeds should provide an appropriate balance of greater energy and nutrients. As small breeds can live so long, it’s essential to start feeding them as a senior at the appropriate age (seven).We’ll deal a lot more with senior diets in a moment, but they help prevent signs of aging and give greater support to the immune system. If you’re going to live to 20+ years- which, whilst rare, is most common amongst small breeds- it means you’ll be spending the majority of your life as a senior.
Large breeds- 25 kilograms to 40 kilograms at maturity.
Giant breeds- Over 40 kilograms at maturity.
Examples: Boxer, Bullmastiff, Collie, Doberman, German Shepherd, German Shorthair Pointer, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler and Weimaraner.
Large and giant breeds grow faster and , because of their size, there’s greater pressure on their developing bones and joints. They are particularly prone to joint issues before they reach maturity. and the role nutrition can play om alleviating this should not be under- estimated.
A diet containing high quality animal based proteins is essential for the development of strong, lean muscle mass that helps support their joints. large breed dogs may also benefit from ingredients that provide cartilage building blocks, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, to help with the development and maintenance of healthy joints.
Because of their growth rate, large breeds should be fed as puppies for longer ( up until 18 months for large breeds or 24 months for giant breeds).
And they become seniors more quickly. They need to begin senior nutritional support at a younger age, normally around 6 years old ( or 5 for a giant breed).
Medium Breeds- 10 kilograms to 25 kilograms at maturity.
Examples: Australian Kelpie, Border Collie, Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Australian Cattle Dog, Siberian Husky, Dalmatian, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Shar Pei, Welsh Corgi and British Bulldog.
Most mixed breed dogs fall into the medium category.
Not surprisingly, they tend to have a blend of the needs of small and large breed dogs. At the lower end of the weight spectrum they’ll share the characteristics of small breeds. Those closer to the 25kg mark will be more similar to large dogs. Medium- sized breed customised diets will allow for their comparable metabolic rate.
As with all breeds, the important thing is to make sure you make the switch from puppy to adult and adult to senior at the appropriate ages. Medium breeds reach maturity at 12 months and become seniors at seven years.
Immune- System Development
A puppy’s immune system develops in the first several months of his life. In the first 24 hours after birth, a puppy gets protective antibodies from his mother’s milk. This special milk, called colostrum, will provide protection for the first four to eight weeks. After this period the immune system is still relatively underdeveloped. Feeding high quality puppy nutrition containing antioxidants such as vitamin E, lutein, and beta-carotene will help support the development of a young puppy’s natural defences during this time of vulnerability.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid is a critical nutrient necessary for the development, growth and maintenance of the puppy’s brain. It is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain, but young animals may be unable to synthesise enough of it. Therefore, puppies need an external dietary supply – from the placenta when they are foetuses, from mother’s milk when they are very young, and from the diet as they grow . Including DHA in a clinically proven level will help make a puppy smarter and more trainable.
The effects DHA has on the trainability of puppies have been proven. A P&G Pet Care study involving beagle puppies form 27 litters found that high DHA-nourished puppies were significantly more successful in responding to training than low DHA- nourished puppies. The results have been consistent in multiple replications of the study. Better trainability means better socialisation into a family environment, a quicker grasp of obedience training, less destructive behaviour and , ultimately , fewer abandoned dogs.
The dog is classified as an adult once it has reached its growth peak. From this point on, a dog needs less energy ( or calories) than a growing puppy. Nutrition becomes focused on ensuring energy levels are met, and on maintaining and repairing body tissue.
Balanced nutrition is critical at tis life stage: the ideal levels of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fibre on a daily basis will help an adult dog live a healthy life. This is the stage that can last longest in a pets life. Good nutrition is just as important now as it is in the puppy life stage.
Feeding amounts for adult dogs should be based on the animals size and energy output.
Oral health disease affects up to 80% of dogs over three years of age. poor oral health is one of the most common medical issues observed by veterinarians and can contribute to more serious problems like gum disease, tooth loss, and possibly even heart and kidney issues. Providing a dry kibble diet with a special phosphorous coating can help reduce tartar buildup by up to 55%.
Skin and Coat
A dogs skin and coat is a great indicator of its inner health. To maintain a healthy skin and coat an adult dog can benefit from a proper balance off omega fatty acids and a high-quality, animal based protein diet. Approximately one-third of a dogs daily protein intake is sued to support his coat.
dog (or cat) becomes ‘senior’ long before you might even start to think they are old. So it’s important to start feeding them as senior based on age, not appearance. If you wait until a dog starts looking old, you will have left it too late to get the real benefits of a tailored senior diet.
The main objectives of a seniors dog’s diet is to provide the nutrients to maintain optimum health and optimal body weight, to slow or prevent the development of chronic disease and to minimise or improve the clinical signs of disease that may already be present.
Dogs and cats begin to show visible age-related changes when they are seven to twelve years old. Before those changes become visible, though, there are metabolic, immunologic and body composition changes that slowly begin. Some of the changes are unavoidable. Others can be managed with diet.
Who are you calling old
Many people are surprised at the age when their dog becomes classified as Senior. An average mixed breed dog may live until fifteen years old (or more). So they could spend over half their lifetime as a senior making it really important to feed them like one. Since smaller dogs live longer and don’t experience the age-related changes as early as bigger dogs, size is used to determine the time to change the diet.
A dogs metabolic rate slows down with age, which changes the body’s composition. Normal ageing is associated with a decrease in lean muscle mass, bone mass and total body water, and an increase in the proportion of body fat (increasing the incidence of obesity ).
Skin looses elasticity with age as a result of increased calcium content. The incidence of skin neoplasia also increases with age. The coat may also deteriorate.
there can be changes in the gastrointestinal tract with reduced salivary and gastric acids secretions, decreased villi size, cellular turnover rate and colonic mobility. Protein and fat digestibility decreases significantly with increasing age.
Dental disease increases with age. The accumulation of tartar and periodontal disease increase the chance of having to extract teeth as the periodontal ligament will die and infection is a high possibility.
Cardiac output decreases with old age. Maximal heart rate and oxygen consumption during exercise also dramatically reduced.
As dogs get older, mobility issues may develop. Senior large breed dogs are especially prone to joint issues such as arthritis. Including cartilage building blocks such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate in the diet can help keep joints healthy. reducing fat levels in food will ensure healthy, lean muscles and no excess load on joints.
old age also means a weaker immune system and susceptibility to illness and disease. Premium foods designed for senior dogs tend to heave a high level of antioxidants and higher vitamin levels. In fact , research has shown that a senior dog’s immune system can be restored to that of an adult by harnessing the power of antioxidants. This can have a dramatic effect on quality of life, particularly to small breeds that live longer.
Having puppies or kittens puts new demands on an animal’s nutritional requirements. (Like we say for a human ” you’ve eating for two”. Only in this case. it could be seven)!.
There are two key stages in the reproduction cycle for a dog or cat and nutritional needs vary for both.
The important point to remember is that dogs and cats, in any life stage, or with any lifestyle, should be fed to condition. Keep them looking healthy and avoid them putting on excess fat.
The gestation (pregnancy) period in both cats and dogs is about nine weeks- 63 days, During the first six weeks of gestation, foetuses do not grow significantly. The mothers nutritional needs can be met with he normal amount of food (her ‘maintenance’ level).
Beginning with the seventh week of gestation food intake should be increased gradually by up to 50% over her maintenance intake at the time of breeding. The mild increase is continued until delivery (called ‘whelping’ in dogs and ‘queening’ in cats). This will support the rapid growth of the foetuses during the last three weeks of gestation.
Since her stomach may not be able to expand sufficiently to accommodate normal sized meals, a bitch or queen with a larger litter may need to be fed more frequently, especially in the final stages of pregnancy. Also, it is not unusual for the appetite to drop near whelping or queening. At whelping or queening and the day immediately after, bitches and queens frequently lose their appetite. Keeping nutrients dense, highly palatable foods available at this time is beneficial so that when they do eat, they get as much nutrition in each mouthful as possible.
Practical feeding tips: Gestation
- Feed a diet that is highly digestible and energy and nutrient dense
- Do not increase feed intake until the sixth week of gestation
- Provide several small meals per day during gestation
- Increase food intake to approximately 1.5 times maintenance by the end of gestation (50% increase)
- Bitches and queens should gain about 15% to 25% of their body weight by the end of gestation
Bitches and queens should weigh 5% to 10% above their normal body weight after whelping / queening
Large amounts of nutrients are required for a lactating animal. During the first week of lactation, food intake will typically be about 50 to 75% greater than the maintenance level. During the second week , food intake may be increased to twice the maintenance level and to three times maintenance during the third week. Queens often increase their intake more, on a percentage basis, than bitches.
Kids’ meal for adults!
Because of their higher nutrient densities, it is recommended to revert to feeding prospective mothers a puppy or kitten formula from the moment of conception ( feeding the recommended amount for her weight). For a queen, feed kitten. For a small breed bitch, feed small breed puppy. For a medium breed bitch, medium breed puppy. The exception is large and giant breed bitches. Feed them a premium performance diet for large breeds. (Large bred puppy formulas do not provide enough energy and do not have the right calcium to phosphorous ratio).
The third and fourth weeks of lactation are the most nutritionally demanding for the new mothers. The offspring are still consuming almost all of their nutrients from milk and have not begun substantial intake of either dry or canned food. Once the kittens or puppies start eating some of the mother’s food, or food placed out specifically for them, their milk consumption will begin to level off and may even decrease until weaning. Because the large volumes of food the bitch or queen needs to support this large milk production may be difficult to consume, it is important to feed a nutrient dense diet to prevent the break down of body proteins and fats. Both lactating queens and bitches can usually be fed free-choice during lactation.
At weaning time the food amount for either the queen or bitch should be tapered back to maintenance levels. Otherwise, she will put on extra weight.
Milk production influenced by the quantity and quality of dietary protein. If a queen or bitch is being fed a high quality, nutritionally balanced pet food, she will not require additional vitamin or mineral supplementation during her breeding cycle. The use of such supplements is unlikely to be beneficial and, in some cases, may actually do harm.
Practical feeding tips: Lactation
Feed a diet that is highly digestible and energy and nutrient dense, A puppy formula for small breeds, a puppy or premium performance formula for medium breeds and a premium performance formula for large breeds. For cats, a kitten formula is ideal.
- Provide adequate calories to prevent excess weight loss.
- Feed two to three times maintenance during peak location.
- Provide free-choice feeding or several small meals per day during peak location.
- Slowly reduce the mother’s intake for the week before weaning.
- Always provide clean, fresh water free choice.
Tailoring nutrition for lifestyle and health issues.
All dogs are different, Some lead different lifestyles. Some have sensitivities to certain things. Providing the right levels of energy and the appropriate combination of vitamins and minerals tailored to a specific lifestyle or sensitivity can lead to a healthier, more active dog.
Lifestyles will vary from dog to dog. Some are very active and are trained to agility, compete in obedience trials or run every day with their owners. Other dogs are less active and spend more time indoors. Many premium brands have lifestyle-specific foods addressing both ends of the spectrum -from high-performance to weight-control needs.
Whether they are working, jogging, completing agility training or playing fly-ball, like any other athlete active dogs need to eat accordingly. Here are some of the things owners of active dogs should be thinking about with regards to diet.
Diets formulated for active dogs should contain high quality sources of nutrients to ensure high-digestibility and minimise the volume of food that must be fed to meet a dogs needs.
Fat and carbohydrates are the major energy sources. During low-intensity (aerobic) exercise, fat is the most important fuel used. As the intensity of the exercise increases, a shift toward more anaerobic metabolism occurs, and carbohydrate becomes increasingly important. Diets tailored for active dogs will allow for this in their nutritional balance,
Exercise can lead to (even minor) injuries. Prevention is the best approach, and stronger muscles from feeding additional levels of animal-based protein will help to protect joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin can help reduce wear and tear on joints. And the right blend of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (5-10:1) can help reduce the inflammation associated with injuries.
Hard-working dogs don’t need big meals just before a workout. And bear in mind that working ( or exercising ) in cold or hot weather will also affect the amount of calories needed by about 50%. (The hotter it is, the more energy a dog needs).
It is also important to be on the lookout for over exertion with active animals. Signs of severe stress include depression, abnormal weight loss and a reluctance to partake in the job or game on hand.
Ideal formula for performance
- Pritein-30% and animal based for strong muscles
- fat-20% with guaranteed omega ratio
- High GI (rice) & low GI (corn, barley or sorghum) carbohydrates for maximum energy
- L-carnitine for extra energy & strong lean muscles mass
Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder for pets with 41% of dogs and 33% of cats being affected. It’s most likely from middle age onwards. Young active adults lend not to put on too much fat.
Obesity is well known to increase the risk of chronic health problems such as the development of pulmonary and cardiovascular disease. Carrying excess weight can also put a strain on the circulatory system due to the increased cardiac workload required to perfuse the increased tissue mass. It can contribute to exercise and heat tolerance, joint and loco-motor problems and the development of arthritis. Basically, an over weight pet is not a healthy pet.
The short-term goal of treatment for obesity is to reduce fat stores. The long-term goal is for the pet to attain its ideal body weight and maintain its weight for the remainder of its life. A weight loss of one to two percent of total body weight per week is a recommended. In extremely obese patients, this means the desired weight loss could take four to six months. For example, for a ten kilogram dog that needs to be eight kilograms, the weight loss may only be 100g a week. So it will take the pet 5 months to reach their ideal weight safely. Explaining this to pet owners is important.
The ideal situation is to prevent obesity in the first place. As an expert in pet nutrition, you can have a large influence on the prevention of obesity in cats and dogs.
Ideal formula for overweight dogs:
- Low fat- 6-12% to reduce calorie intake
- Low fibre- maximum 5% beet pulp fibre for gastrointestinal health
- Moderate to high protein- 22-25% to promote optimal weight loss and healthy muscles
- Low GI Carbohydrates (avoid rice) for sustained energy
- L-carnitine & elevated Vitamin A- promotes weight loss and leaves pet feeling satisfied
Some dogs are prone to suffering mild or occasional health concerns that can affect their quality of life. The following is to help you with some of the most common ailments.
Most intestinal sensitivities become evident as diarrhoea, vomiting or anorexia. Causes can be varied, but common reasons include intestinal bacteria overgrowth, genetics, underlying disease and a condition known as inflammatory bowel disorder. In most cases, however, the cause is simply not unknown. Thankfully, most of these sensitivities are responsive to dietary management. Selecting the right diet can help repair damaged intestinal lining, restore normal populations of intestinal flora, promote normal gastrointestinal mobility absorption and function, and reduce overall gastrointestinal inflammation.
Prepare to be absorbed
The prebiotic FOS (Fructooligosaccharides) is a natural ingredient that beneficially stimulates the growth of good bacteria in a dog’s digestive tract. It has been clinically proven to increase nutrient absorption in dogs by up to 80% in just 28 days, leading to better digestive balance and optimal health
inside and out. Given that 70% of a dogs immune system is in the digestive tract, FOS can be very effective in boosting strong defences.
A diet targeting intestinal sensitivities should provide high quality animal protein and carbohydrates which are easily digested. Chicken, chicken by-product meal, fish, egg and rice, corn, barley and sorghum are great examples of ingredients that are suitable for sensitive digestive tract. Pets should also be fed a reduced fat diet (fat can aggravate a sensitive stomach) with a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio to aid in the management of inflammatory intestinal disease.
Dietary fibres in the form of beef pulp fibre and a prebiotic, like Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), will nourish the gastrointestinal health and restore balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. These ingredients have been clinically proven to improve stool quality and resolve diarrhoea faster than other diets that focus just on resting the gut by using only bland ingredients (like chicken and rice).
Skin and Coat
Skin and coat conditions affect many dogs and cats and are the number one condition seen in Australian veterinary clinics. The category includes a vast array of conditions ranging from chronic food allergies, contact dermatitis and allergic reactions to pollens that present as raging red, itchy and inflamed skin, right through to dogs who have dull coats, increased coat shredding, flaking of the skin or hair loss.
The skin coat is one of the biggest organs in the body. Nutrition plays such an important role in the quality of a pet’s coat; especially when it comes to dogs and cats with skin and coat sensitivities.
Most skin and coat conditions are due to nutrient imbalances involving protein, vitamin A, vitamin E, fatty acids and zinc. (Food allergies represent only a small percentage of cases with beef, gluten, soy and dairy the most common causes).
So ensuring an animal is getting all the nutrients in the right amounts (through a properly balanced diet) is often the simple answer to skin and coat conditions. If a pet with mild skin and coat issues has been eating a grocery diet (based on poorer quality ingredients), then selecting a premium pet food (with animal proteins and omega fatty acids) can in many cases cure the condition. In case of food allergies, select a diet that contains novel proteins (a protein that the animal hasn’t eaten in the last year).
Look for a good animal protein source, vitamin A, E and zinc and , most important of all, the correct omega fatty acids ratio. Skin cells turn over rapidly and the right balance of omega-6: omega-3 can reduce the inflammation that leads to skin problems
Ingredients important to Skin and Coat Health
Large breeds, seniors and very active dogs are most likely to suffer from joint problems. Common locations include hips, hocks and shoulders.
Dogs enjoy running and jumping, but the forces acting on their legs can be almost double their total body weight. As dogs and cats age their joints and cartilage change. Osteoarthritis occurs in previously normal joints that may have been damaged by various factors, most commonly trauma, genetics or severe wear and tear. Clinical signs include slow progressive lameness, inability to jump , run, or climb, difficulty rising or stiffness after resting and, of course, pain.
With joint sensitivities it’s important to look at the complete picture that can predispose a dog to joint abnormalities. Exercise, body condition and nutrition are all closely related and all three must be addressed.
So holistic nutrition is the real answer for managing joint problems. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate specifically look after the joint, But if you’re not managing weight loss (with low fat levels, low GI carbohydrates and l-carnitine), building strong muscles (with animal protein) and reducing inflammation ( with the right balance of omega-6s and 3s), you could be fighting a losing battle.
To put it simply, it’s pointless to just put a 60kg Labrador on joint nutrients- you need to get the weight off and build strong muscles at the same time.
Nutrition made to order
There are many different breeds of dogs and cat. And it’s not just the size and shape that vary. Some breeds have genetic predispositions to certain ailments which can be minimised through nutrition.
Breed specific formulas are the result of extensive ongoing research and development, and can substantially benefit the life of a dog of that particular breed. So is a breed specific formula exists, it makes real sense to recommend it to a pet owner. These formulas are developed for use during the adult life stage only.
German Shepherds are known for being intelligent, alert and protective. They are also known for their sensitive digestive systems. A specific German Shepherd diet should include high quality animal protein and highly digestible ingredients to minimise gut upsets. Beef pulp fibre and FOS prebiotics also promote a healthy digestion. Due to their size, German Shepherds need joint support for most of their life. Cartilage nutrients , glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate help with keeping the joints healthy and mobile. L-carnitine helps burn fat naturally and maintains lean muscle mass, Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, zinc and copper provides optimal skin and coat care.
Labrador Retrievers are similar to German Shepherds in size and coat. What differentiates them is their need for extra immune system support and their predisposition to carry a little more weight. The best diet for this breed not only contains glucosamine and chondroitin and omega fatty acids, but has a significantly lower fat content, higher protein and vitamin E to increase antioxidant intake and , in turn , protects cells in the body against peroxidation ( the body destroying its own immune cells).
Rottweilers are similar to Labrador Retrievers in their predisposition to weight issues and hip dysplasia, so joint health and healthy weight maintenance should be targeted in their formulas. They also benefit from more taurine in their diets to support cardiac health.
Dachshunds have unique anatomical, dental and immune needs. Excess weight applies pressure to their spines, causing many issues later in their life. So a dachshund specific formula will include l-carnitine alongside a lower fat content. Being a small breed with a small mouth, dental health is especially important. A dry kibble will help, but even more beneficial are micro-cleansing crystals for tartar protection. As they can live up to 15-20 years of age, dachshunds can also benefit from the extra immune system support of vitamin E.
Yorkshire Terriers have a specific need for a shiny and healthy coat. Special sized kibble helps them more effectively chew their food (small mouths). The addition of vitamin E helps boost their immune systems and beef pulp fibre and prebiotic FOS target a healthy digestive tract.
Spaniels with their long ears tend to be prone to ear infections as well as skin and coat problems, obesity and osteoarthritis. A premium diet based on animal protein with the targeted omega fatty acid ratio can help promote ideal body weight for optimal mobility.
With the right balances of nutrients, minerals and supplements, nutrition can help build a dogs natural defences against breed specific issues and bring out the true magnificence of each breed.
Four things to remember
Size, Age, Special needs, Special breeds, The many different customised diets address the core four areas.
The nutritional needs for a Great Dane vary substantially to those of a Chihuahua and so does the nutrition in a small breed diet compared to a large breed diet, It is essential to feed the right breed size formula for each dog. (And remember, it’s based on ideal weight for the breed , not current weight).
Just how old is your dog or cat?
Puppies, active adults and sedentary seniors have a very different nutritional needs. So again, it’s essential that pet owners are feeding the right diet for the right life stage of their pet. Of most importance with regards to age is that the pet transitioned to the right diet at the right time. For example, dogs should be fed as seniors long before they start looking and acting old.
Special needs for adults dogs and cats
Obesity: 41% of dogs and 33% of cats are overweight. Don’t forget to ask the pet owner about the condition of their pet. If it’s a little overweight, then a weight loss diet should be recommended. It should have : lower fat levels, low GI carbohydrates, a low fibre level (from a moderately fermentable fibre) and added L-carnitine and vitamin A to optimise weight loss. Remember, a one or two percent weight loss a week means it can take several months to get the pet back to ideal weight.
Skin and Coat: The most common ailment seen by Australian Vets. Premium nutrition for skin and coat health must contain animal protein ( hair is 95% protein) and the omega fatty acid balance to reduce inflammation and improve coat shine. If the pet has a food allergy, some skin formulas will have unique ingredients that avoid the common allergies (beef, wheat, dairy, chicken and soy).
Joint Health: Nutrition for joints abnormalities must look at the complete picture than predisposes a dog or cat to the condition. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate should be included at guaranteed levels as well as animal protein for strong muscles. A targeted omega fatty acid helps to reduce inflammation and low GI carbohydrates and L-carnitine will promote ideal weight for improved mobility.
Digestive Upsets: A diet targeting intestinal sensitivities should provide high quality animal products and a reduced fat amount- but with a balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio to reduce inflammation. Most important of all is dietary fibre (beef pulp) and prebiotic (FOS). These ingredients have been clinically proven to improve stool quality and resolve diarrhoea faster than other diets that focus just on resting the gut by using only bland ingredients like chicken and rice.
Breed specific formulas are the results of extensive ongoing research and development, and can substantially benefit the life of a dog of a particular breed that is known to have certain disease predispositions. So if a breed specific formula exists, it makes sense to recommend it to a pet owner,
If you stock the full range of a premium pet food brand, then all you need to know is on the shelves on front of you. pet food labels tell you and are a great prompt for when you’re talking to customers.