THE BLOG

The Great Pet Food Debate

30/01/2014 16:58 GMT | Updated 01/04/2014 10:59 BST

It can be extremely confusing when deciding what is best to feed your pet. There are hundreds of brands available. Should you go wet or dry? Feed for your pet's breed, type or activity level? Diets come wheat and gluten free, hypoallergenic, additive free and low fat. Some are supplemented with ingredients for shiny coats, supple joints, enhanced brain function, dental care and easy digestibility. You can add water to make a gravy mixture, chose a wet food and add a mixer biscuit or even feed a completely raw diet. Perhaps you should lovingly cook their meals fresh everyday?

No wonder the biggest selling brands are the ones who advertise on the TV and are on the supermarket shelves. They make the choice easy by being available, inexpensive and palatable. However, think of it like this; when was the last time you saw healthy human food on a television advert? Exactly and it's the same for our pets. The better quality brands don't advertise widely because they are busy spending their money on decent ingredients and research. Not stuffing their products with sugar, fats and additives and making adverts with dogs in space.

I am a big believer in feeding animals pre-prepared pet food. I am not an advocate of making home-cooked meals or raw food diets. We all have busy lives and it is hard enough creating healthy balanced meals for our families, let alone our pets. Nutritionally complete home cooked diets for pets require a huge amount of effort and I believe few pet owners have the time to commit to it fully. Raw diets are also popular and have a hard-core fan base who believe any commercial pet food is tantamount to poison but even they have to accept it isn't for everyone. For a start you need the freezer space for large amounts of meat and an area in your home where your pet can chow down on the raw product safely. There are also the risks from bacterial infections, including salmonella and campylobacter, and damage to teeth and guts from the hard bones. To be fair, many animals fed these diets do very well but they just aren't suitable for the vast majority of owners and you are not doing your pet a disservice by not choosing them.

I believe the best diets are made by the 'super premium' manufacturers, who include Royal Canin, Hills and Purina. Obviously there are other quality brands available but I have most experience with these veterinary associated companies and have no hesitation in recommending them. I have seen in my own and my client's pets, how well animals do on them and how they benefit their health. These foods are made from high quality ingredients, with stringent quality control & are backed up by millions of pounds of research by the worlds leading pet nutritionists.

An often heard criticism is that there is a conspiracy between vets and these pet food manufacturers. They sponsor our training to make sure we are brain washed from an early stage (sure I have a few logos printed on my university notes but otherwise that's it), pay us hefty commissions for stocking their food (I've worked in veterinary practice for 10 years and I've never had any commission from selling pet food, clearly I've been missing out!) and we make millions from selling their products. This latter point is a complete fabrication; in my clinic less than 1% of the total revenue comes from pet food sales and this is a fairly typical figure. Our primary business is fixing sick animals and keeping them well. We stock foods in our surgeries because we are often asked by owners what to feed their pets and these are the diets we believe in.

So, how do you chose what is best for your pets? My advice would be to seek advice from vets, quality pet shops & other animal professionals, try out a few different brands to see what suits your pets (but not so often you make them fussy!) and don't let them get fat!

Here are my tips;

Ignore anything that's available at a supermarket. Shop at your vets or local pet food store. There are many small traders selling excellent quality niche brands.

Never by a food with biscuits of different shapes and colours. This is achieved by adding e numbers and colourings, which are as bad for our pets as they are for our children! Also, animals are more or less colour blind, so they are only in there for our sake, not theirs.

Buy the most expensive food you can afford. There is no doubt the quality brands are costly but they are worth it and when fed at the recommended amounts, don't always come to that much more than the cheaper alternatives.

If you fancy giving your pets a home cooked or raw diet, do your research to ensure you are well aware of the effort, costs and practicalities involved!