Choosing the right food can make all the difference to the health and happiness of your dog or cat, but it can be a daunting task trying to work out what’s actually best for your pet.
Signs that your pet is eating a nutritious diet include clear and bright eyes, a shiny and dandruff-free coat, plenty of enthusiasm for life and a lack of excess body fat – you should be able to feel their ribs and see their waist.
To help you navigate the pet-food aisles a little more easily and pick the best food for your cat or dog, we've also asked vets for their expert advice on how to choose the right pet food.
How to choose the best dog food
Raw, hypoallergenic, home-made, kibble, puppy, senior, vegetarian; there’s an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to picking the right food for your dog. Here are some pointers to help lead you in the right direction.
Dog food ingredients
- Dog food that says it is ‘with chicken’ must contain at least 4% chicken, but a ‘chicken-flavoured’ product doesn’t have to contain any at all. High-quality pet foods tend to contain more meat.
- The higher up the list of ingredients meat is, the more it contains. But while proteins from meat can be better used than plant matter in the body once it’s been digested, a mixture of plant and meat protein is important in a diet.
- Try to avoid dog foods where the first listed ingredient is labelled as ‘animal derivative’ or ‘meal’ as these products are much lower in quality.
- Some dog foods are marketed as ‘complete’, meaning they contain all the nutrients an animal needs, while others are complementary, meaning they should be given to your pet alongside a complete food.
- All complete foods have to meet certain feeding requirements, so your dog should be getting all the nutrition that it needs, regardless of how much the product costs.
- Complete foods – which can be wet or dry and contain all the nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy. These don’t necessarily cost more, but there may be an element of false economy with cheaper foods, as each individual kibble can contain fewer nutrients.
How much should my dog eat and weigh?
Amount of dog food
PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) recommends that the type and amount of food a dog needs depends on their breed, type, age, health and lifestyle. For example, a working sheepdog needs much more energy than a small dog that spends most of the day sleeping.
Cost of dog food
With some dog foods, it will cost as little as £140 a year to make sure your dog has a balanced diet, but others can set you back by more than £850.
How to choose the best cat food
Cats choose their food based on smell, texture and how they feel once they start to digest it. It's not based on taste like us humans. Here are a few cat-food tips to help keep yours happy and healthy.
Cat food ingredients
- Cats aren’t vegetarians – they have to eat meat to be healthy because their bodies need certain amino acids, such as taurine, that can only be found in meat and fish. Without them, your cat could become very ill. The easiest way to make sure you cat is getting all the nutrients they need is to feed them a complete commercial cat food.
- Commercial cat food, like dog food, is classified as either complete or complimentary and it works in the same way; complete foods provide all the necessary nutrients in the right balance so no other food is needed, while complementary foods need to be combined with other foods for the right balance of nutrients.
- If you would like to change your cat's diet you can slowly introduce the new food by mixing it with the old food over a period of a week.
Cost of cat food
- The price difference of varying cat foods is vast, with the cheapest brands we assessed costing less than £60 a year – and the most expensive wet foods being more than 10 times this amount.
Amount of cat food
- Many companies make food especially for kittens, juniors, adults and seniors so if you pick the correct age or stage food you can be sure your cat’s dietary needs are being met.
- Cats prefer lots of small meals to one large one – they ‘graze’, eating between eight and 16 times a day, so it’s best to leave food out for them.
- But if your cat is eating too much and putting on weight, it may be better to feed them two meals a day, instead of leaving food out.
Vets answer your pet food questions
Whether you’re curious about a raw-food diet or you think your pet has a sensitive stomach, we asked some top vets and pet food experts about key issues when it comes to feeding your cats and dogs.