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Choosing the right pet food

Choosing the right pet food

Just like humans, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet for cats and dogs. Every animal will have its own nutritional needs depending on factors such as age, size, activity level and taste buds. As always, check with your vet for advice about specific dietary requirements your animal might have before taking a punt in the pet food aisle.

The difference between cats and dogs

If you’re the lucky owner of both a cat and a dog, you need to know you can’t feed them the same diet. Cats are carnivores and dogs are generally considered as omnivores. Cats need protein and fat from meat, and can’t process the vitamins and carbohydrates in vegetables in the same way dogs do. Some dog owners have been known to feed their pets vegetarian diets without complication, although most vets will recommend a balanced diet of meat and vegetables for dogs. But never give onions, garlic, chives and shallots to cats or dogs.

Commercial foods

In Australia, the most important description to seek out on pet food packaging is ‘complete’ or ‘balanced.’ Under Australian pet food standards this means the product contains all of the essential nutrients required by a dog or cat to maintain good health. Beyond ‘complete’ or ‘balanced’ you can look for products marketed towards your pet’s specific needs as identified by a vet – for example, food labelled for ‘weight management’, ‘digestive care’ or ‘dental health.’

Most commercial pet foods are also either ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. Both contain similar nutritional value, however most vets recommend a portion of dry food on your pet’s daily menu to promote healthy teeth and gums. If your pet shows a preference for wet food, try mixing it with kibble.

Fresh meat

There’s a movement similar to the human paleo diet that suggests fresh meat is best for dogs because it’s what they ate before they became domesticated. However, others say dogs have evolved beyond wolves and now require the balance that comes with adding nutrients found in vegetables, grains and the vitamins that supplement commercial pet foods.

If you do want to feed your dog raw meat, beware that some products marketed as ‘pet meat’ have been found to contain preservatives that can cause severe illness. The RSPCA recommends buying ‘human-grade’ meat products in conjunction with a ‘complete and balanced’ diet.


Tinned fish is a safe option for cats and dogs if you check for bones that may pose a choking hazard. Sardines, salmon and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and are generally a favourite of cats. However, fish alone is not a complete meal for cats or dogs and must be part of a broader balanced diet.


There is much debate about the safety of feeding bones to our pets. On one hand, they can provide animals with nutrients and promote dental health. However, they can also break teeth, cause constipation and internal blockages, and carry harmful bacteria. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to feed your pet bones:

Bones should always be raw. Cooked bones can splinter, causing internal damage or blockages.

  • Always supervise your pet when eating bones.
  • Bones should come from mammals (not fish).
  • Bones should be large enough for your pet not to swallow or break them.

No-go foods

Finally, it’s worth taking note of the foods you should never feed your cat or dog. These include:

  • Nuts (especially macadamias)
  • Avocadoes
  • Onion, garlic and chives
  • Grapes, sultanas and raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus and stone fruits
  • Fatty meat such as bacon and sausages
  • Corn on the cob (separated kernels are OK)
  • Sugary foods
  • Dairy products

Bon appetite!


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