Raw facts on pet food

THE EXPERT: Small animal internal medicine specialist Dr Mark Robson of Mt Albert Veterinary Specialist Group. 
THE EXPERT: Small animal internal medicine specialist Dr Mark Robson of Mt Albert Veterinary Specialist Group. 

Are supermarket brands really any worse than the premium options?

Dr Mark Robson: Most cats and dogs are going to do just as well on a cheap supermarket version as they are on a premium,  luxury,  pet clinic version.

To be sold as a commercial complete petfood, foods have to meet a set of standards around minimum amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals so that a cat or dog could eat only that food and be healthy.

There is a percentage of cats and dogs that are going to have problems with certain foods, but it really isn't much to do with whether it's a supermarket food or a premium food, it is about the components of the food.

Some people would argue that if you really looked you would see a difference. Everyone has seen the television advertising for brighter eyes and a shinier coat, more energy and less flatulence.

It's probably true to an extent that there are a population of dogs that would look and feel better on premium food than they would on dog roll but there is no proven evidence that any particular premium food is going to produce a healthier dog over a population of dogs.

What sort of diet-related issues do you see in cats and dogs?

In dogs the biggest thing we see is what we used to call food allergies.

In my side of the business we see a lot of dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, which is like Crohn's disease in people.The most common theory about that is that it is a immunologic reaction to the protein type in food.

There is a big debate about cats. They are obligate carnivores - they absolutely must eat meat. In the wild they would very rarely consume much in the way of carbohydrate.

Even honest people at pet food companies admit the only reason that there is carbohydrate in cat food - usually in the form of grains or cereals -  is that it is cheap.

What we're seeing in pet cats is a problem with obesity and diabetes - an increasing problem. This is also partly where there has been an explosion in raw foods.

What about the raw food diet?

It involves feeding cats and dogs raw foods that mimic what they would eat in the wild.

Bones, hide and other parts of animals are included in raw food products.The raw food diet is sometimes called the bones and raw food diet - or BARF.

My colleague often calls it the bones and reduced finance diet because of all the complications we've seen from feeding only raw food.The main problem is that chunks of bone are included in certain raw petfood products.

We've seen an increase in cases here where bones have become stuck in the oesophagus.

It's a fatal complication if we don't get it out.

Only raw meat isn't a balanced diet for anybody.

One thing I always ask owners is: ''Do wild cats and dogs lead healthy lives?''

Largely they don't live that long, they typically have a lot of problems with dental disease, parasites and fleas and they're always hungry and on the hunt for food. 

But I think there is some wisdom in having a hybrid, so real food mixed with some cat or dog biscuits and things. It's not as simple as replacing pet food with raw food and having good health.

All diets have their complications.

Have you got any advice for people considering making their own pet food?

There are all kinds of websites. You would preferably want to go with something from a vet school.

The fresh and natural lobby groups will have recipes and even the commercial pet food companies will sometimes.
In the United States there are nutritionists you could have an online consultation with. They'll come up with a diet for your dog.

Have a pretty high level of skepticism about great claims anyone makes though, like ''your dog will have a better life if you do this diet''.

We do see dogs that have been on a commercial diet and they're doing well and then they change to a fresh diet and the owners perceive that they're better but there is a big placebo effect.

You're talking about things like how shiny is his coat.

Just don't necessarily believe everything that people are claiming.

Auckland City Harbour News