Pet food can take a significant chunk out of your monthly budget and many pet owners are having to tighten their belts now more than ever. However, abandoning your usual kibble in favour of cheaper, lower-quality brands may not be the smartest option right now. Here’s why:

The health risks

Food plays a significant role in your pet’s immune system, his bones and growth, and the health of his organs. Feed him poor quality food and you increase the risk of diseases and ailments like skin allergies, bladder stones and growth abnormalities. Skin allergies, for example, are often food-related and the more your pet scratches the more susceptible he becomes to secondary bacterial infections which in turn, lead to a severe skin infection known as a ‘hotspot’. This can be very frustrating for an owner to treat.

Many of the cheaper animal foods save on manufacturing costs by using poorer quality proteins, too few vitamins and an incorrect balance of minerals. Too much of a particular mineral can lead to bladder stones, excessive and irregular bone growth and joint disease. Animal protein, especially chicken, is always a better choice for pets, yet many cheaper brands often use plant-based proteins like soya. Low-quality proteins contribute to poor muscle development, stunted growth, and can play a role in kidney failure. Maize is less digestible than rice and can lead to obesity.

Feed for the need

Like humans, our pets’ nutritional needs change as they age. Puppies and kittens have very different nutritional needs from adult pets, and seniors who are at increased risk of arthritis need to protect their ageing bones. Food can help.

Puppies raised on low-quality, incorrectly-formulated diets often suffer from abnormal growth, severe skin allergies and early organ failure, and have a low life expectancy.

Cats are at risk of bladder and kidney stones due to incorrect mineral balances in cheaper foods, and also to food allergies.

Large-breed dogs have their own special requirements. If you have a large-breed puppy, for example, its food should not contain too much calcium as this may predispose him to excessive and irregular bone growth and joint disease.  Large-breed puppies need more high-quality proteins to ensure the development of strong and healthy muscles with the minimum of excess body fat.

How do I know what’s good?

The quality of pet food is essentially determined by the formulation, the raw materials used, the additives included, and by the quality and reliability of manufacture. How much and what kind of protein, starch and fat is included in a food are the main determinants when it comes to quality. The quality and number of vitamins, minerals and trace elements is also very important.

The ins and outs of quality brands

The higher the quality of food, the smaller the portions needed to satisfy your pet’s appetite and health needs. And one of the biggest advantages is the size and frequency of stools. Your pooch absorbs more, so he poops less. Cheaper brands mean larger volumes of stool containing large amounts of undigested material.

We know it’s really tough to keep a healthy household budget right now, but if you can’t afford the best food indefinitely, try at least for the first year of your pet’s life, as the solid foundation good food builds in a growing pet will help to prevent illness (and costly vet’s bills) in later years. 

Veterinarian Dr Hilldidge Beer is CEO of the EberVet Petcare Group and of EberVet Vetshops

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