How is pet food formulated and what ingredients are used?
It depends on the company in question. Some companies will make use of what they call an open formulation. These companies will adjust their formulation based on the availability of the least expensive ingredients at the time of manufacturing. This means that the product may vary from batch to batch. Other companies use a fixed formulation in which all ingredients remain constant from bag to bag.
All dogs and cats have basic nutritional needs and products can vary significantly in their nutrient content, availability, digestibility, palatability, physical form, flavour and texture. Some companies market their food as adequate for the lifespan of the dog or cat, while those offering premium nutrition will formulate a food for a particular life or disease stage. The most important ingredient would be good quality protein from an animal source like meat. Protein levels and quality are the biggest investments into a pet food and this is where most companies cut corners.
A ‘balanced diet’ means that the food meets all the needs and requirements of the dog or cat for that specific life stage. The label can be quite deceiving. Many owners read the guaranteed analysis which includes the minimum and maximum percentages required. Owners should be aware that these percentages do not represent the actual quantities of the ingredients nor do they specify the quality, digestibility, palatability or any additional benefits.
For example, protein quality and bioavailability: feathers contain over 90% protein but none of this is digestible by cats or dogs. Cost can also be a good indicator. Purchasing a low-cost food may seem economically practical in today’s climate, but owners should note that these usually contain low-quality, low-digestible ingredients. Owners must feed far more to provide adequate nutrition than if the pet was fed on a premium product. In actual fact, the cost per meal is far higher.
We don’t recommend that dogs be fed cat food or vice versa. Cat food contains higher protein levels than dog food as cats need far more protein than dogs do. They also need protein from animal (meat-based) sources to promote acidic urine and optimal urinary tract health. Cats are unable to produce certain essential amino acids in their bodies and this should come from a good quality, primarily meat-based source. Different carbohydrates have different effects on energy release in both the dog and the cat.
Shana Ashpole Bsc (Hons) Animal Science