Pet food is not always best for dietary needs

I am now getting through my season of pet show judging, comparing hamsters with goldfish and puppies with ponies.

No longer do I ask, What do you feed Rover/ Goldie/Bugs?Dog food, fish food or rabbit food would come the answer, much to the amusement of onlookers (although a cat fed Quavers crisps did catch everyone by surprise). Despite the apparent good sense of the answers, there are situations in which an animal’s nutritional requirements are not best met by traditional pet foods.

Attempts to create a home-prepared diet without a full understanding of nutrition can have significant consequences.

Dogs are perceived to be pure carnivores whereas a proportion of their natural diet is from plant matter in the guts of herbivores on which they prey. Feeding a strict meat diet leads to health issues. High levels of phosphorous compromise the availability of calcium and lead to metabolic bone disease, known as butcher’s dog syndrome. Diets over-reliant on liver lead to hypervitaminosis A and skeletal deformities.

With complete dog foods, these problems are now very rare. Not all foods are of equal quality, however, and the presumption that the dog likes it therefore it must be good for him carries no more logic than arguing a child will thrive on sweets because he finds them tasty. Vets and vet nurses are well positioned to offer advice.

Traditional parrot foods are a mix of seeds (predominantly sunflower) with dried fruits. But grey parrots’ natural diet is primarily the oil palm nut with fruit, vegetables, some carrion and very little seed. They like sunflower seeds, yet seed-based diets lead to weakness, bone deformities, liver problems and potentially fatal fits and fungal infections.

Wild rabbits evolved eating the sun-scorched grass of the Spanish peninsula and this high fibre, low protein, low carbohydrate diet is replicated by feeding hay. Most rabbit owners feed mueslis with fruit and vegetables, leading to problems with teeth, guts, eyes, bones and skin. Even feeding the more balanced, grass-based, pelleted foods should be considered supplementary.

Feeding your pet does not need to be complicated, but remember that neither the fact an animal likes a certain food, nor that the packaging has a picture of a happy pet on it means it is healthy. Feed the right amount of the right type of food and you are a long way towards a happy, healthy pet.


Director and Senior Vet