I have recently rescued a six-year-old Labrador called Barney and I am seeking some guidance on what to feed him. I last had a dog 25 years ago, and there seem to be so many different foods to choose from now!
Anna Cherry advises…
The pet food market has certainly changed a lot in the last 25 years, and I can appreciate that all the choice can be rather confusing. To help you pick a food that will keep Barney healthy, active and satisfied, here’s a run down on the different types of dog food now available, and their pros and cons.
This is made through a process called extrusion that involves both high heat and high pressure. It was first introduced in the 1950s and is still a popular method of production today. From an owner’s perspective, dry food is convenient to store and easy to feed. As well as different flavours, there are foods tailored to a dog’s lifestyle and also life stage. Dry food is made by finely grinding the dried raw ingredients into a powder. Water and steam are then injected to form a paste or dough. The dough is extruded, and heated to around 100°C before being cut into the kibble shapes. The kibble is then cooled and dried to ensure most of the moisture is removed.
However, due to the high temperatures involved in this method of processing, the nutrients, natural flavours and fats of the raw ingredients can be degraded, making dry food less palatable. Spraying the cooled kibble with fats and vitamins helps redress the deficit. Since dry food has a moisture content of only 6-12 per cent, it’s important that dogs fed on a dry diet have access to plenty of fresh water. A good rule of thumb is to have one bowl for each pet plus one extra. On the plus side, dry food is more calorie-dense than wet, which means you won’t need to feed as much.
This is made by mixing the raw ingredients together, and cooking it as a loaf. Once cooked, it’s cut into chunks, mixed with jelly or gravy, and dispensed into trays, cans or pouches. The mixture then undergoes ‘heat sterilisation’ within its packaging to ensure any bacteria, fungi or parasites are killed. Gravy and jelly help bind the mixture together and also enhance the food’s palatability. Wet food is around 70-80 per cent water, so it’s less calorie-dense than dry food, and you’ll consequently need to feed a larger volume of wet food to meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
This can be problematic for larger-breed dogs that have a proportionately smaller stomach, as they will often feel full long before they have eaten the volume of food they need for good health. However, this can be overcome by mixing wet food with more calorie-rich dry food. Due to the higher levels of protein and fat, wet food is very palatable and can tempt even the fussiest pooch. It’s also soft and easy to eat, which can be helpful if your dog has any missing teeth or jaw problems. Do be aware that dogs tend to eat wet food more quickly than dry food (this is often mistaken as a sign of hunger), so you may end up feeding more than the recommended amount. Consequently, wet food can be associated with excess weight gain in some dogs.
This has been around for decades in Europe but has only recently become available in the UK. Raw ingredients (meat, cooked grains, cold-pressed oils and herbs) are ground up, then mixed together before being cold-pressed for a few seconds at a low temperature (around 40°C). The end product is a dense pellet that is highly palatable due to the preservation of much of the nutrients from the raw ingredients, including the meat fibres and aromas. At 12 per cent, the moisture content is slightly higher than that of dry food, and it is still calorie-dense.
Due to the low temperatures used in processing, it’s said to be the closest processed food to raw food. The processing method allows higher quantities of protein to be included compared to dry food, which again enhances its palatability, but the lower temperatures used in production mean it has a slightly shorter shelf life, usually around six months.
Raw commercial foods
These have gained in popularity in recent years, as more and more owners have begun to question the quality of the ingredients in dog food. Commercial raw food is the easiest way to feed your dog on a raw diet that is nutritionally complete. This type of food is made by mincing meat and mixing it with other raw ingredients, such as fruit, carbohydrates, vegetables and herbs, to form nuggets, which are then frozen. Commercial raw food is easy to feed, and preparation and handling of the raw contents is reduced to a minimum.
However, the meat used is still raw and could contain pathogenic bacteria and parasites that can be harmful to our health and our dogs. Careful preparation and storage is therefore needed to ensure maximum hygiene is maintained. Pregnant women, elderly people, and those who are immune-suppressed (for example, undergoing chemotherapy) should take extra precautions or avoid feeding raw pet food. You also need to have a suitable freezer in which to store it.
Whatever type of food you decide to feed Barney, remember that what’s in the bag or tin will only be as good as the raw ingredients used to make it. So my advice is to always buy the highest-quality food you can afford.