Introduction to Animal Nutrition, the real facts behind the label…

Pet food for cats and dogs

Ok, several people have asked me to talk about nutrition so here goes, I’m lucky as I did cover nutrition as part of my BioVeterinary Science degree so do have a little knowledge here. However there is no way I can fit everything onto a single diary entry so I will be spreading this out over the next couple of weeks. Today is simply going be an introduction of sorts, I am going try and keep it general and just cover a few key points.

Pet food for cats and dogs
What is really in pet food?

There are many arguments into what is the best type of diet to feed animals, I don’t intendto get involved in this and will just cover the scientifics. Generally there are 6 main nutrients required by the body to function being protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids and water. Understanding nutrition has taken food from allowing animals to “survive” through to improving their health, and increasing their life expectancy. Now food for animals is formulated to specific needs or requirements. Even within species there are now different feeds for ages, sizes, and even breeds. And thats before even looking at pregnancy or illness such as diabeties.

Different species eat different types of food, with Herbivores, Omnivores and Carnivores. These can be broken down even further which I will do another day, however lets keep it simple for now. Generally the approach to food preparation can either be nutritionally based or by ingredients. When nutritionally prepared exact combinations of the right amounts of nutritients are used. Where with the ingredient approach a simple ingredients list is used and mixed as a food with no consideration for amounts or nutritional content.

The recent advance of Health Nutrition has four objectives split between nutrition and health nutrition

Nutrition – Body Development and Maintenance: Amino acides, minerals, trace elements, vitamins and fatty acids are the basis of body development

Nutrition – Energy Provision: Lipids and carbohydrates are the main energy sources. However some species (such as cats) also require proteins for energy metabolism

Health Nutrition – Nourishing and Prevention: When nutrients (such as antioxidants, essential fatty acids, prebiotics, fibre etc) are used to reduce risks of diseases

Health Nutrition – Nourising and Caring: When nutrients are added or others limited to support the theraputic or recovery process, for example for diabeties

When you take all of these into account you start to realise how important nutrition is to an animals welfare. However labelling for feeds can be misleading which is disappointing. Basically it stems from the law that requires manufacturers to list food in descending order by weight before cooking. This means that water rich ingerdients such as meat ends up at the top of the list, but being a minority in the final product. Fresh meat for example contains up to 75% water, so a food containing 25% fresh meat will provide just 4-5% protein in the dry food. With the other labelling guidelines, its especially important to understand them.

Here’s what the labels means….

  • “contains…” – less than 4% of the ingredient mentioned
  • “with…” – 4-14% of the ingredient mentioned
  • “rich in…” – 14-26% of the ingredient mentioned
  • “…paste” – 26-100% of the ingredient mentioned
  • “full…” 100% of the ingredient mentioned (aka can’t be nutritionally balanced)

So what does this mean in real life?

Say a company makes a pet food formulated with 4% lamb, 4% chicken and 4% beef. They can simply package it in 3 different packs and label it as “with chicken”, “with beef” or “with lamb”.