Pet food is a minefield. The best people to know what to feed your animal friends are likely you and your vet (if he/she is schooled in nutrition, not just selling products on commission). Holistic vets tend to know more, but don’t go the other way and switch a senior dog who is happy on present food onto a fast and raw diet, which may shock the system. Use your common sense, as well as knowledge. Older pets tend to like routine, and switching their food around is not good (any pet should be gradually weaned over in a few weeks or even months, not just changed in a day).
Obviously pet food choices depend on health, species, budget, availability etc. What they should not be based on is ethical beliefs (if you are a raw vegan, your cat likely won’t want to be). Many vets and ‘experts’ all give conflicting advice (raw, cooked, vegan, meat, grain, no-grain) making it impossible to feed animal friends without worry). Some say soy is fine for dogs, others say that it’s bad (but usually due to regular foods using GM-modified ingredients and toxic glyphosate that can cause leaky gut and even cancer). So do your homework and use your intuition to determine the best way forward.
Keep Toxic Foods Away from Pets
Most ‘human foods’ are not suitable for pets. Although giving leftovers likely would do not harm overall, today there are so many things added (for instance, salt is toxic to pets and added to nearly all ready-made foods). Cooked bones are a choking hazard, and dogs that take little exercise may try to beg for leftovers, more than the happy dog who has regular exercise and company, so has other things to think about). Rather than ‘remembering a list’, if you find a good food brand for pets, you don’t have to worry. But here is a list of the most common foods that are toxic to pets:
- Fatty meats and raw salmon
- Alliums (onion, garlic, leeks, chives)
- Mushrooms & jackfruit (meat alternatives)
- Avocado and fruit pips/seeds
- Nuts (esp. macadamia, pecans, almonds, walnuts, hickory)
- Spices (cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace)
- Caffeine & alcohol
- Chocolate (white chocolate is also too rich in fat)
- Xylitol (this sweetener is lethal even from dropped crumbs, so never use in baked goods, nor in gum or toothpaste containing it).
- Dairy (most cats are lactose-intolerant)
- Green tomatoes, green potatoes, rhubarb leaves etc
A few other important points
- Raw bread dough can expand in the stomach, so keep away if baking.
- Corn cobs are serious choking hazards
- Seaweed fronds are tempting to play with, but expand in the stomach
- Peanut butter/honey are fine in biscuits (but too rich alone).
- Some pets eat flowers and herbs. Make your garden safe for pets, to avoid toxic plants in the house and garden.
Choosing Better Pet Bowls
All pets need fresh drinking water (filtered tap is ideal). Do not use tap water from bathrooms (nor hot water for drinking or cooking) as often it’s not fresh from the mains, but rather from storage tanks. Vets do not recommend distilled water due to effects on urinary and cardiac health, but filtered tap water is fine.
Choose dog bowls made from safe stainless steel or non-lead-coated ceramic, and wash and rinse thoroughly after use (including water bowls). Avoid plastic bowls that can cause nasal dermatitis. This book to keep your dog safe has info on choosing good bowls, plus illustrated first-aid guides for choking and other emergencies.
Leave animals to eat slowly in peace, to avoid bloat (not all dogs should use raised bowls). Give an hour (or preferably two) before letting dogs run (or travelling in the car) after eating. Other risks for bloat include gulping water quickly and eating too fast (most susceptible dogs are nervous and excitable and large-breed dogs with deep chests, though any dog is at risk).
Switching to a Better Pet Food?
So how do you choose the best food? It’s difficult with vested interests from food brands (and often vets who are selling certain established brands). The future may well be in-vitro meat’ which is real meat but without the abattoir (cells are taken from a previously slaughtered animal and made in a lab). It may sound like Frankenstein science, but there is no animal suffering, the food has less risk of disease, and it ticks all the nutritional boxes, for animals that in nature would eat real meat. Here are a few brands to look into:
Once you’ve found a pet food you would like to switch to, do so gradually over a few weeks, gradually mixing in the old food (older pets may need months to switch or may be best kept on present food near end-of-life if they are happy with it, to avoid upsetting their digestive system and routine).
Plant-Based Dog Foods
If you are concerned but interested about switching your pooch, take the Dogs Go Plant-Based Course, which is formulated by a collaboration of the main brands of plant-based pet foods and this vet referral service (the course is popular with many vets and vet nurses).
The Pack is one of the better plant-based canned pet foods made from pulses, vegetables and superfoods, and conforming to all the regulation advice for pet foods. The founders comprise of an animal nutritionist, a food technologist, a food scientist and a pet food manufacturer (who have animal nutritionists and food scientists in-house). The packaging is also plastic-free and the site has a feeding guide online, which you and your vet can use to safely transition, if wished. In No-Moo Ragu, No-Cluck Casserole and No-Fishy Dishy.
Omni was founded by a vet (Dr Guy Sandelowsky) and formulated witih Dr Mike Davies (a specialist in small animal nutrition) with each batch tested at Nottingham Vet School. Made with a protein base of soy, pulses, vegetables and fruits, it contains all the amino acids recommended for pet foods. In versions for puppies and seniors, you can also book an online appointment with their vets (for subscribers) to help with any issues or concerns.
Noochy Poochy is another brand set up by a vet. Made with cheese and herb flavours, there is a puppy version that is also sold for dogs with few teeth) This food is made with chickpeas and soybeans, with sweet lupins (although lupins are toxic from flowers, they are added to pet foods sometimes as a protein source in safe amounts, though confusingly, others say they are not good quality alternatives to meat).
Dogood Dog Food is cooked by chefs in a professional kitchen, nutritionally balanced with no fillers. This brand was founded by a couple who lived in Cambodia and saw dogs slumped in cages in 35c heat, being sold for dog meat at markets. They adopted two beagles, yet had to walk past dog-meat stalls at the end of their road each day. So on return to the UK, they looked into what to feed their own dogs and found that many brands contain blood, bone, feathers and even semen from farmyard animals. So working with canine nutritionists and a Michelin-star chef, they decided they could come up with something better.
Bonza offers a personalised meal plan for their plant-based food. Just enter your dog’s name, age, weight, breed, sex (and whether neutered/spayed) and any health issues, and their own nutritionist will come up with a feeding plan to suit.
Fleetful offers kits to make your own pet food. Just order a kit, add fresh ingredients and batch cook in 15 minutes. Vet formulated for balanced nutrition, you can also use the protein powders as toppers or to bake into treats. This brand was created by a dog mum whose own pup had health issues. After struggling for months, she teamed up with veg Dr Arielle who is an expert in canine nutrition. She learned that most processed foods have poor ingredients that are not very digestible, and many dogs switching to her kits have seen improvements.
Hownd is a brand of tinned food that has been developed in association with Dr Marc Abraham (aka ‘Marc the vet’ who you may know as being behind the campaign for the recent banning of puppy mills). Other backers include vet Dr Arielle (an expert in canine nutrition) and Andrew Knight (a veterinary professor of animal welfare). The treats range include Hemp Wellness, Playful Pup and Golden Oldies!
Herbie Wilde offers a wholesome blend of quality digestible plant proteins that can be fed alone or as part of a flexi-diet. The brand is backed by leading vets and nutritionists including vet Dr Abe Wiley and nutritional scientist Emma Passman.
Non-Veggie Pet Food Brands
This is what most people are going to feed their pets whatever. So let’s look at few of the better brands, which may be new to you, but are worlds away from the conventional best-sellers.
- Edgard Cooper mostly offers free-range and organic meat and fish, and also offers plant-based options for dogs including beetroot pumpkin and carrot courgette. This company also makes plant-based dental sticks which are tube-shaped to give a more effective clean, for fewer calories (vets recommend dental sticks only from around 6 months onward, and supervised at all times).
- Goood uses free-range and organic ingredients that are grain-free and sold in sustainable packaging (in cardboard to ensure vitamins remain intact). The dog treat range includes free-range chicken and lamb, and sustainable trout.
- Imby Pet Food offers ‘almost’ vegetarian pet food, made of insects, meat, poultry and fish. Their 2 vegetable snacks are plant-based, along with dental sticks (6 months plus, always unsupervised).
- Butternut Box offers fresh dog food that’s free from bones and nasties, and no kibble. Meals are gently cooked at 90 degrees, before being frozen to lock in nutrients.
- Honey’s Real Dog Food is a reputable brand of raw dog good, from a family-owned Wiltshire farm, in minimal packaging. Raw feeding is not for everyone, but these are the experts and offer free phone advice, if you need it.
Safe & Healthy Dog Treats
Choose quality treats that are free from common allergens (and always ask the guardian’s permission before offering them to a dog you don’t know (they may have allergies or medical conditions). Many vets discourage rawhide chews, pigs’ ears and antlers (these can break teeth – one vet says never give a dog a chew that you would not want to be whacked on the knee with). Never leave dogs unsupervised with chews (nor with socks or balls – choose the right sized one for their mouth).
Use homemade safe healthy treats (below), or give less of better brands. One size does not fit all (even mashed plain pumpkin can upset some tummies). Never give more than the recommended daily amounts listed on the packet. Raleigh NC Vet says in moderation, safe treats include:
- Fresh green peas
- Bite-sized pieces of carrots cut to size
- Cooked plain green beans
- Watermelon with no seeds or rind
- Cooked plain sweet potato (never raw or green potatoes, nor with butter, salt etc)
- Bananas not too many
- Broccoli (raw or steamed, no seasoning)
- Cooked plain squash or pumpkin
- Strawberries and blueberries
Preventive Vet is not a fan of using treats to train dogs (most good trainers don’t need them). He says treats should never make up more than 10% of meals. He suggests using a good quality low-calorie kibble for greedy hounds, which are healthier than conventional treats. Here are few of the better quality dog treats on the market:
- Omni Dog Treats are from a company founded by a vet and investment banker. These plant-based treats are made from natural ingredients, and sold in versions for supported joints, shiny coats, peaceful dogs, happy tummies and playful puppies!
- Hownd is a brand of tinned food that has been developed in association with Dr Marc Abraham (aka ‘Marc the vet’ who you may know as being behind the campaign for the recent banning of puppy mills). Other backers include vet Dr Arielle (an expert in canine nutrition) and Andrew Knight (a veterinary professor of animal welfare). The treats range include Hemp Wellness, Playful Pup and Golden Oldies!