HOW TO FEED YOUR PET WELL
We're all busy—working, socialising, constantly being pulled in every direction—so you have to admit that dry food is very practical for feeding your pet. You open a packet, pour out the required quantity or, even better, programme a dispenser, et voilà: your pet has all the sustenance they need! But all pet owners wonder, at some time or another, how to really feed their pet well, and whether or not their furry friend is eating a balanced diet. When certain disorders start to emerge (e.g. constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, digestion issues, repeated vomiting, etc.), we understandably start to question our method of feeding.
In terms of food, dogs have a very varied appetite: they are carnivorous animals with omnivorous tendencies. It's impressive how much they'll eat! Depending on the individual dog, they can digest or assimilate different foods more or less well, but overall they can stomach a varied diet. Lest we forget that, not so long ago, dogs were exclusively fed table scraps. And a short stroll in certain countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East allows us to see that wild dogs still don't hesitate to find their meal in the trash (and we can all agree that this isn’t healthy!).
Based on this observation, what choices are available to owners who show a real desire to feed their pet well? There are five main options:
Industrial pet food: packets of kibble (dry food) and cans of pâté (wet food)
BARF: a diet which combines raw meats and vegetables
Homemade meals, known as household rations
Suitable, high-quality table scraps
And the 5th? A mix of all 4 options! Opt for bi-nutrition (wet and dry food) by mixing fresh food with your pet's kibble. Dogs and cats will be all the happier to find themselves faced with a bowl full of surprises! And they will also be much better fed.
What's the Ideal Composition and Quantity?
When choosing how to feed your pet well, make sure to read the composition label carefully and ensure that it details the types of meats, nutrients, and quantities present. Like dry food, comprehensive wet food should be rich in meat and, as a bonus, it should contain a lot of water.
minimum 60% quality meat
no by-products (unless they are detailed and visibly good quality, such as offal)
no artificial colours/preservatives
few vegetables and sources of carbohydrates
corn and wheat should be banned or severely limited
little to no broth (max 40%)
Compared to dry food, you simply have to multiply the portion by 3 or 4.
Example: A 4kg cat who eats 50g of dry food per day will eat around 200g of comprehensive wet food.
If you mix dry food and wet food in the same bowl, replace 20g of dry food with 70g of wet food, or 25/30g with 100g. Of course, this ratio depends on each animal and their specific needs and activity level. Your vet is best qualified to help you determine all of this and learn how to feed your pet well.
If they have previously eaten a diet of exclusively dry food, to make sure you feed your pet well, gradually introduce wet food into their bowl to avoid them suffering from diarrhoea!
Cats and Pâté: A Difficult History
Cats are often more reluctant than dogs to devour their food (not all cats, however!). This is because several factors need to be taken into account to appease their delicate palate: the smell of new food (don't hesitate to mix it with their old food to start with), the temperature (don't even think about giving them something fresh out of the fridge), the shape and texture (minced pâté will be eaten faster than a jelly, a large bowl is more comfortable, etc.), and the taste (throw away a can that has been open for too long - your kitty won't want it). Finally, we mustn't forget that any change, including a dietary change, can be a source of stress for your cat, and a good reason for them to despise the food associated with it. With cats, anything can happen, so to feed your pet well, you have to tread carefully!
A Varied Diet: How to Enrich Their Food Bowl
Dry food which, as we've already seen (or read), is produced by extrusion-cooking is the most comprehensive and practical way to feed your pet well (it's true!), despite being dehydrated food.
But it is perfectly possible—even highly recommended—to mix dry kibble and pâté with fresh, raw food. You might be thinking that this sounds a lot like the BARF diet, and you would be quite right! BARF, which originally stood for "Bones And Raw Food" and has since been changed to "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food", is a diet based on raw food, said to be close to the original diet of dogs before they were domesticated. Close, therefore, to the "natural needs" of the dog.
A recurring myth is that it is strictly forbidden to mix raw meat and kibble, because of the difference in digestibility between the two types of food. But, when it comes to feeding your pet well, it's all a question of quantity and quality.
All veterinarians specialising in nutrition lean in favour of a mixed diet; the key to feeding your pet well is to respect the nutritional needs of the animal and dose properly to limit any imbalance.
Add pieces of meat, suitable raw fleshy bones, mixed or cooked fresh vegetables, whole egg yolks, fermented milk, yoghurt, or a little fish oil (great for its high Omega-3 content), and your pet's food bowl will be all the more appetising and healthy. If you can't do it every day, a few times a week is already enough to make a difference.
What Fresh Foods Can I Use to Enrich Industrial Pet Food?
👉 Raw Meat
This is the most popular and appetising type of food for your pet! It contains much higher quality protein than dry food, in particular, because the high cooking temperature of kibble alters the majority of its essential amino acids and prevents your pet from gaining the full benefits. By adding raw meat to their dry food ration, you provide them with quality protein, as well as digestible food which is rich in water and will greatly improve the overall health of your animal. Great for feeding your pet well!
When adding raw meat, however, be careful not to give them something too rich or too large, as this can create digestive problems. If your animal has a delicate digestive system, we recommend that to feed your pet well, you give them small amounts to start with, and consider offering them supplements such as prebiotics, probiotics, and even charcoal.
Cheap, easy to prepare, and easily digestible, eggs are great for feeding your pet well. They constitute a very practical form of protein which enhances any meal. Plus, their amino acid profile is just perfect! Eggs contain fatty acids that are beneficial for your pet's skin and coat, as well as group B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium. Eggs provide certain essential amino acids, such as glycine, which is often lacking in dry food.
Be careful though: Start gently and see if your animal (and their intestines!) enjoys it. Try giving them just the yolk at first. If that goes well, you can try giving them a whole, raw egg (yolk + white). Please note: To feed your pet well, you should only give them an egg once or twice a week to limit the action of avidin, a protein contained in egg white which can inhibit the essential vitamin biotin (B8).
👉 Fish Oil
If you only have time to add one product to your pet's regular ration, definitely opt for fish oil: this is undoubtedly the supplement with the most health benefits.
An Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio of between 4:1 and 2:1 is a good balance (because too much omega 6 is not good either). It's not found in dry food due to the volatility of these oils in products with a long shelf life.
When choosing a fish oil, it’s best to go for a source rich in Omega-3 and low in mercury and other heavy metals and toxic components, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and herring. Alternatively, you can also feed your pet well by adding a few plain pieces of these types of fish to their bowl. Oily fish (salmon, tuna) are allowed, but only in small quantities and not every day.
So what’s the correct dosage of fish oil to feed your pet well? At least ½ to 1 tsp of fish oil per 10kg of bodyweight can be mixed with their food daily.
Carrots, green beans, courgette, pumpkin, aubergine, cucumber, chicory, edible mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes… Most vegetables can be eaten by dogs and cats, provided they're cooked first.
Some vegetables should be limited in frequency and quantity: beetroot (very high in sugar), sorrel and spinach (rich in oxalate acid), lentils and beans, leeks (more difficult to digest).
Vegetables are low in calories and generally enjoyed so long as the quantity is introduced slowly and increased gradually. A great way to feed your pet well! In adult cats, start with a few small cubes, and increase up to 10-15g per kg of bodyweight. In adult dogs: start with 10g per kg of bodyweight, and increase up to 25g per kg.
Surprised? Even so, yoghurt and kefir are great additions for feeding your pet well. A few slices of banana mixed with half a yoghurt can be a simple, appetising solution which provides your pet with prebiotics and probiotics and promotes digestive comfort.
Why Should I Moisten My Pet’s Dry Food?
Kibble is a bit like crisps; can you imagine yourself eating only crisps? Moistening dry food helps prevent your pet from getting too thirsty, sparing their kidney function while often promoting better digestion.
To feed your pet well, you can make a sort of soup with their dry food as a quick and easy way to improve your dog's meal. It’s best to avoid this option for cats, who may not like the look of it.
What About Homemade Dog Food and Table Scraps?
Homemade dog food, while nutritionally excellent, is unfortunately time-consuming to make. It requires the owner to prepare a precise ration each day from fresh raw materials, without adding any industrial feed. To feed your pet well, you must also be extremely scrupulous about the required quantity of each food group to avoid deficiencies.
Table scraps, on the other hand, do not require a lot of time and are the most advantageous option for the owner, economically speaking. And for pets who love to ogle your dinner plate... it's a delight!
The only problem: The nutritional balance may leave something to be desired in the long term as it's largely dependent on the owner's diet - not great for feeding your pet well if you eat a lot of fatty, salty, or sweet foods!
The Right Time for Good Digestion
While there is no "right time" to feed your dog or cat, there is one simple rule: learn to understand your companion, their habits and their physiological needs, and adapt their diet accordingly. A good diet is one that keeps them in good health and allows them to have regular, healthy bowel movements! As such, to feed your pet well, it's enough to simply ensure that their daily nutritional needs are satisfied.
Nevertheless, we recommend that you split your pet's daily ration of food into two or three small meals rather than giving them one large meal per day, as this is closer to the habits of wild animals. For example, wild cats eat 3 to 16 small prey per day, which equates to between 3 and 16 small meals! Additionally, this distribution will greatly facilitate digestion in case of illness or other key needs. The meals should be spaced at least 3 hours apart.
However, although the time itself doesn't matter, it is necessary to respect the fixed times selected. We also recommend that you avoid your pet doing physical activity for 2 hours after eating. You must, of course, always make sure they have a bowl of fresh water available. A dog drinks about 50ml of water per kg of bodyweight per day; if they eat wet food like pâté, they will inevitably drink less.
Is Your Pet Eating Too Fast? Try Using Fun Bowls!
Out in the wild, dogs and cats spend a large part of their day foraging for food and, due to things like cartilage, bones, fibres, etc., which take time to be properly chewed and swallowed, the consumption of prey can take up to 1 hour. Conversely, the average duration of a meal for domestic pets rarely exceeds 10 minutes! However, to feed your pet well, the duration of the meal is very important in ensuring that the animal secretes the quantity of saliva essential for good gastric digestion. Eating too quickly is how many greedy animals become overweight or start to exhibit digestive disorders, which has an impact on their health and longevity.
For several years now, so-called "fun" bowls have been available on the market, including dispensing balls, intelligence games, the Pipolino (created by a vet), and the Snuffle Mat. These lengthen the time it takes for an animal to eat their meal while stimulating them in the search for their food - a simulation of how they'd eat out in the wild! These bowls help to feed your pet well by increasing the length of ingestion time fourfold (even up to tenfold!), which is proven to increase digestive comfort. In just a few days, you'll start to see an improvement in your pet's physical capacities and character, as well as the improvement—and perhaps even complete stop—of problems such as vomiting, loose stools, bulimia, ingestion of grass or other non-digestible substances, smelly gas, intermittent lameness, chronic itching, listlessness in old dogs, etc.
The ideal way to feed your pet well is to provide them with a mix of all the options mentioned in this article, which is the diet increasingly recommended by vets and nutritionists. A dog or cat who is fed a little bit of all 4 main types of food will benefit from a balanced diet that is both pleasant for them and easy for their owner to provide. The quantity of each food group should be adapted according to the individual animal but, in any case, a mixed diet is suitable for all pets, except animals with very specific dietary needs.
Get to Know Your Pet and Talk to Your Vet
If your pet has digestive problems or needs a specific diet for a particular disease, the above suggestions may not be suitable. To feed your pet well, you need to know them well. This is the first step because every pet is different.
Right from the start, when you first adopt your pet, observe their physical reaction to the diet you've chosen for them. Describe the chosen diet as precisely as possible to your vet, and they'll be able to judge the nutritional balance of your animal. If necessary, they will adapt your pet’s diet and give you further recommendations.
PUBLISHED 29.10.2020 - HECTOR KITCHEN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team
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