Pet expert reveals what to feed your pet

Just like humans, a healthy and balanced diet is essential for any pet you might be keeping. From hamsters and gerbils to Great Danes and horses, it’s important that your pet is getting the right amount of food and nutrition that they need, but with so many different people recommending different amounts, and with so many special diets available – how do we know what’s best?

The Guardian’s Marc Abraham answers seven popular questions to do with food and our pets:

Which is best: commercial pet-food diet or homemade cooking?

“Feeding a complete, commercial pet food is often much more preferable and often easier compared with the homemade diets – table scraps, or leftovers – which rarely contain the exact balance of nutrients required. Cats, unlike dogs, are true carnivores, meaning they specifically need meat or commercial cat food.”

Wet pet food or dry?

“It often depends on owner and pet preference with many opting for both for variety. Wet food often looks tastier, but dry food tends to be more convenient to leave out, weigh portions in measuring cups and even improves dental health. Wet or dry, always make sure there is plenty of fresh drinking water provided.”

How much/often should I feed my pet?

“Knowing more about your pet’s ideal shape and weight is essential. Follow breed specific feeding guidelines, preferably weighing food to prevent obesity and associated health problems such as heart disease and arthritis. Puppies and kittens often need more frequent feeding compared with adults. Introduce new diets gradually to avoid upset tummies.”

Is there food for specific ages/conditions?

“Feed your pet according to ‘life stage’: usually young, adult, or senior. Most leading brands of commercial food offer these options respecting differing nutritional requirements for the varying ages and stages in life. Specific diets are recommended for pets with a history of medical conditions such as pancreatitis, gastroenteritis and diabetes.”

What is the ‘raw diet’?

“Some see raw diets as more ideal, ‘back to nature’ – others a disaster waiting to happen. Available as complete diets or supplements to which raw meat and bone can be added. Unfortunately, such diets often mean a higher risk of fractured teeth, gastrointestinal obstruction, trauma, even gut perforation. Raw meat is often contaminated with parasites and bacteria too. For example, salmonella is dangerous to both humans and pets. However, some owners swear by feeding their dogs a raw diet so please make sure you do your research and always feed safely.”

How can I offer my pet treats without overfeeding?

“Most commercial pet food is complete and contains all nutritional needs in precisely formulated amounts. Extra treats usually mean extra calories turning into fat with insufficient exercise, so only offer food treats during reward-based training, reducing daily rations on those days. A healthy carrot makes the best edible treat for a dog, whilst games and walks are healthier ways to prove your affection. Remember that chocolate is poisonous to dogs and can kill. Other human food toxic to dogs include grapes, raisins, sultanas and onions.”

What should I consider when feeding small pets such as rabbits, hamsters, gerbils and tortoises?

“Most health problems seen with rabbits are diet related. Offer them plenty of good quality hay, greens and commercial nuggets. Avoid feeding muesli mix as it can cause a painful dental disease. Sugary treats, fruit, and carrots (except leafy tops) aren’t recommended. Grass encourages good dental and digestive health. Most good quality commercial small animal diets contain see, grain and nuts, but add fresh fruit and vegetables too. Tortoises are either herbivorous or omnivorous, depending on species and if yours hibernates than now’s the time to make sure he or she is prepared.”

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