“Health with the Best Performance”
How to choose the food for my cat or my dog? How to recognize quality pet food ?
A lot of information can be found on the food packaging.
We want to guide you with 8 steps-reading for you to better understand the various pack characteristics. These aspects cover safety, packaging, labeling , and innovation for your beloved pet. Then will come the visible efficacy and health performances you will notice once your cat or dog will be fed the food.
8 steps-reading on the food packaging layout
Feline and canine nutrition requirements can look complicated at first glance. In fact, with a bit of practice, it is quite simple to identify elements that will guide you or tell you more. This article is here to help you choosing the ideal food for your four-legged companion.
We will never make any compromise of food safety. Neither will you. Cats or dogs are a real family member, they are precious to us so we want them eat as safe as we would do for us. More than that, it could happen that you or your kids would touch the bag content so there is a potent link between pet food and human interaction. State-of-the-art industrial standards such as GMP or HACCP shall be put in place to guarantee that any batch released by a pet food plant are perfectly appropriate and secured for further consumption. GMP (“Good Manufacturing Practices”) are production ways meeting guidelines proposed by specific agencies controling the sales of sensitive items such as food, drinks or medicines. These recommendations are intended to manufacturers if they want to ensure their products are always at the highest quality, batch after batch, before being put on the market and used by pet owners. HACCP (“Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points”) is an industrial way of production based on prevention when it comes to approach to food safety, going from biological, physical, chemical hazards or even radiological risks in production processes.
This is a very important part for pet owners because it is where all food information can be assessed. Moreover, the pack is what guarantees the freshness of the food but also all nutritional properties.
The bags can be made of paper or plastic, woven or not, with an inner protection or not, sometimes with an aluminium layer inside.
A key general principle is to always maintain the food inside its original bag.
The layers have been chosen to keep the food away from ambient air and light. Oxygen and light can stimulate lipid oxydation. Eventually, the food flavors can be alterered, this leading to a less palatable product and maybe your pet will not enjoy it as much. It would be a pity to lose all food benefits when in fact a lot is put in place to make it at its best…
Here are a few tips or general rules that will make the difference:
- Best Before Date (BBD): it is an indication showing until when the food is at its best. However, it is a well-known fact the freshness of a product is at the highest during the first 6 months after its production. Palatability will be maximum during this slot.
- Opening: once opened, the pack should be used within 30 days after the first opening. It also means the size of the bag shall be adapted to the daily intake of your dog or cat. For example, if your pet eats 100 grams per day of a defined product, a 3 kilos bag looks like the ideal format when bought.
- Closing: as previously mentioned, the bag content should be used within 30 days after opening. When the food is served on the daily basis, it should be kept in it original bag. The air content must be flushed out by pressing on the bag, then the latter must be securely fastened. Most of recent bags have a zipper, this allowing proper closing after each use. Then the pack must be stored in a a dry cool place, never in hot temperature or in direct contact with sun.
Here comes a tricky part. Beside the general look & feel or emotion giving a good perception on what the brand or product stand for, a close reading of details can reveal precious information:
- Technology – generally speaking, food for cats and dogs can be found in a dry form (extruded kibbles, or sometimes pellets), wet form (pate, chunks in gravy/jelly, chopped, …) or through multiple textures and shapes (typically, all treats and snacks).
- Definition – the food can either be “100% complete and balanced” (sufficient to cover nutritional needs every day, only fresh water must be available), or rather “complementary” (not sufficient to cover daily nutritional needs, so give only as a supplemental treats, snack, or care such as dental care)/
- Species (cat or dog) – cats are considered as obligate carnivorous (meat shall be part of their meal) when dogs are recognized as omnivorous (their diet can be made of either animal or vegetable origin). It means cats have to be fed cat food. Dog food will not be complete and balanced for them. There are specific nutrients that have to be part of the diet to avoid deficiencies. You may have heard about taurine or arginine which are protein components. The blend of ingredients to make a food for cats must provide all specific elements covering daily nutritional needs. If this is true for dogs, this is even more the truth for cats. Feeding cats with a food for dogs can lead to severe deficiencies with possible consequences on the heart or the eyes for example. This being said, both cats and dogs can digest plant-based ingredients but what matters at the end is the full nutritional profile for each species (either cat or dog).
- Age/lifestage – some food products can sometimes be labeled for both growth and adult age. This is often the case for common pet food, especially for brands with short ranges. However, it is broadly admitted that kitten or puppies require specific food compared to adult cats or dogs. Why is that ? First, because growth is an intense period of life, body requirements can be tremendous and pet food for growth must be higher in energy (growth is very demanding!), proteins (for the bones, muscles, immunity or tissues in general), minerals (eg. calcium or phosphorus) or vitamins. The canine species is very unique: it is the species with the greatest variety in the world. From a Chihuahua (1 kg) to a Great Dane (100 kg), differences can be incredible big. So are nutritional needs, especially during growth. Aging is also an very important aspect to consider. Ideally, the diet should be adjusted when a dog or cat is above 7 years old. This is a general number, but at this age, a pet enters in the maturity lifestage, some signs can start being obvious (coat and hair can change, so can the daily activity). It is highly recommended to see your vet for a check-up as some invisible signs of ageing could be present, only your vet will be able to give you pieces of advice and recommend the adapted health check. As for puppies or kitten requiring an adapted food, senior pets shall be fed tailor-made recipes.
- Size – we saw that the canine species is very unique: it is the species with the greatest variety in the world. From a Chihuahua (1 kg) to a Great Dane (100 kg), differences can be incredible big. On a simple anatomy stand-point, differences are numerous: length of the digestive tract, size/type of the jaw, energy needs, coat type, … all these particularities define what type of food should be fed. Superpremium brands usually propose a broad offer of recipes and products tailor-made for each specific dog size or even specific breed.
- Lifestyle – cats and dogs can have different activity levels, depending on their environment (indoor or outdoor, urban or countryside), age, nature, interaction with other pets or owner, available space (house or apartment), … It is possible to find targeted specific foods specially formulated for each or some of these needs. The energy level of the food is usually adapted (more or less calories) or with specific ingredients or nutrients bringing benefits for cats and dogs to deal with their individual environment.
- Status – it is recommended for cats and dogs to be surgically neutered early in life, unless pet parents have the will of them having them bred to have kitten or puppies. Except for this specific case and medical contraindication, sterilization should occur as early as 6 months of age. Moreover, after 7 years of age, sterilization is definitively highly recommended as it has preventive or protective health benefits. Once neutered, a cat or a dog may have a different energy metabolism requiring a closer look at daily food energy intake. It means the calories eaten every day should not be too high, especially in case of indoor lifestyles. Food for sterilized pets are common on the market and they should be considered as soon as a cat or a dog is sterilized. For any question related to sterilization, please get in touch with your veterinarian who is an expert of this matter and will provide all recommendation.
- Medical condition – as for humans, the health status of a cat or a dog can change through the course of the life, sometimes early or generally later. Regular veterinarian consultation is highly recommended, with a medical annual check (eg: vaccination booster), then more frequently when you cat or dog turns 7. Of course, any unexpected pathological state can require more frequent appointments with your veterinarian. Food is a supportive corner stone for the management of any medical status. Renal disease, intestinal disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, skin condition are typical situations where food has a major role to play. Therapeutic diets are specific foods prescribed by veterinarians to deal with special conditions. It is recommended to start using such therapeutic diets without prior medical prescription. Such foods are complete and balanced but also have very specifc nutritonal profiles for the management of each medical situation. Only a vet praticioner can make a good diagnosis, understand your pet’s individual need and the prescribed the proper food, how much and for how long.
- Natural – this food attribute implies that the food components are no synthetic, to which nothing has been added and only physically processed. These are food or foddd ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to classical physical processing, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process. Natural products have been extremely popular worldwide, it is a common believe that natural ingredients or natural food are safer or better for health. If such shortcut seems rational, it has not been proven that non-natural foods may be detrimental or that natural foods may be better. Based on this, the best recommendation when choosing food is to look at some critical aspects : food produced within the highest industrial standards and in line with nutritional regulation and recommendations; clarity and transparency of what is labeled on the packaging; brand reputation and expertise; avoid misleading allegation and rely on scientifically-proven elements.
- Ingredients – as it would be the case when we cook at home, ingredients are mixed and blended before being cooked to produce the finish product.
- Fresh – this refers to the texture of the ingredient used to produce the food. It usually means it was introduced frozen or liquid in the recipe before being cooked. Whatever the initial texture, what matters is the final nutritional profile of the food.
The food offer can be very broad and diversified. It may not be so simple to navigate through the different solutions available on the market.
Choosing the food for your cat or dog
We all know that cats or dogs are not humans, or cats are certainly not like small dogs. It means that the food served every day must be really nutritionally adapted to your own pet when served. Rather rely on the final nutritional composition of the products (proteins, lipids, …) and make sure it is complete and balanced if not intended to be a snack or treat only. When this is defined, then you can start selecting the food based on your pet in particular, by going step by step:
- Food for cat or for dog.
- Complete and balanced, or rather snack/treat.
- If complete and balanced, either a dry technology or a wet one. Wet food comes either in cans, pouches or trays.
- For puppy/kitten or for adult.
- If for dog, is it a small, medium or large one.
- If a specific breed, it is possible to find a specific food depending on the brands.
- If you pet above 7 years of age, is it neutered.
- Does your pet has a specific medical condition ? If yes, it is highly recommended to ask your veterinarian which food or diet should be fed.
How much food for my pet ?
Typically, the feeding table is indicates the recommended quantity of food to be served every day. The amount are directly linked to the food inside the bag. It means these figures do not apply to another product or brand.
Food amounts are written in grams per day (weight) or sometimes in cups (volumes).
Using a cup sounds easier. However, they are approximate, this being especially true if the cup size is not standardized. It seems like a detail but over-estimating the food amount by 10 or 20% can easily lead to higher energy intakes. A few dozens of grams too much every day looks unsignificant for us, but are not actually for a cat or a tiny dog weighting a few kilos only. This deviation could potentially promote overweight. This is why we highmy recommend to weigh the food every day. Moreover, weitghing the daily food once a day the food amount with a scale is the ideal method. Then, when the amount is set, divide this amount in 3 small meals for dogs (morning, lunch time and dinner time) or at least 2 meals (morning and evening) – each meal lasting 15 minutes at the most, then remove the rest of the food. For cats, things are different due to the nature of the feline species. Cats eat 8 to 10 small meals every day and then to regulat their intake. For them, you can determine the daily food amount, the leave it available through the course of the day, including during the night as cats can also be active during that time.
How to use and read the feeding table ?
To define the good amount of food required daily for your pet, first is to know the exact body weight.You can either use your own scale (weigh yourself with your pet, then withdraw your own weight) or go to a vet clinic or grooming structure to use a scale over there.
Second, you must make sure you have the ideal Body Condition Score (B.C.S.) by using the following table:
Third, based on these two parameters, confirm your ideal pet’s body weight – the targeted one, the one your cat or dog should actually have if he/she was at the ideal body weight. If you don’t know how to define this weight, please always ask your veterinarian.
Fourth, look at the feeding table on your product pack and look at the amount of food recommended for your targeted ideal body weight. You may see a minimum/maximum amount of food. In this case, use the minimum amount if your pet is less active or tends to gain weight, or rather the maximum amount if you pet is active and slim.
As we saw above, please use a cooking scale to measure the food to be given every day, try not to use the cup unless you don’t have any other choice.
Pet stores have dedicated knowledgeable staff to guide you in your choice. Buying first your food on e-commerce may be more challenging as you may have limited information on screen.
Please always refer to your veterinarian in case you may have more questions on nutrition. He is eventually your best advice and will always recommend top-end products while knowing exactly what fits your pet.