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The choice of cat and dog foods in the main supermarkets tends to be rather limited, because most of them source their products from only two manufacturers: Mars and Nestlé. Organic brands are beginning to appear alongside these big names, although they are still easiest to find in specialist shops. Animal testing is an important issue in the manufacture of pet foods, and some owners even consider vegetarianism for their animals.

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Buying organic, ethical pet food is a way of avoiding factory-farmed meat, especially where a vegetarian diet is unsuitable. Yarrah is one of the organic brands which is available within supermarkets. New foods should always be introduced slowly, as they may not be readily accepted at first.

To avoid shop-bought feeds altogether, it is possible to give pets home-cooked food. However, it is advisable to consult the vet before embarking on a new diet, as there is a risk of the animal developing imbalances in vitamins and minerals. Dogs need the right phosphorous/calcium ratio to maintain healthy bones, and without taurine (an amino acid that comes almost exclusively from animal sources) cats can go blind. Feeding them too much raw fish can cause neurological problems.

Just like humans, animals are increasingly suffering from weight problems. An estimated 40 per cent of pet cats and dogs in the UK are obese.

Animal testing

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has discovered serious cases of animal testing by the pet food industry. The big four pet food companies include Purina Petcare (Nestlé), Hills Pet Nutrition (Colgate Palmolive), Iams (Procter & Gamble), and Pedigree (Mars). Investigation by the BUAV has shown that all of these companies provide funding for, or carry out their own, animal testing.

Procedures in the UK may involve some of the following: isolation of animals for long periods, endoscopy, periods of complete fasting or food restriction, application of skin irritants, frequent changes of diet during trials and plucking hair from near the base of the tail, as well as regular sedation, anaesthetics and enemas. Many animals become too sick as a result of the testing and have to be withdrawn from trials. The fate for others can be worse still; according to the BUAV, an experiment supported by Iams artificially induced kidney failure in cats, resulting in the death of two animals.

Alternative brands to try are Lily’s Kitchen, Burns Pet Nutrition, Pure Dog and Trophy Pet Foods – none of whom test on animals. These brands have also been accredited by the Ethical Company Organisation, which indicates that they are ethically and environmentally sound.

Buy dried formulations

Some dried food formulations are thought to be healthier than tinned food. Pets need to eat more tinned food than dried to gain the same amount of nutrition.

The environmental evidence is also in favour of dried food. Tinned foods are at least 60 per cent water, making the transported volume and weight much greater. Paper bags are obviously a lower environmental impact choice than tins. Bulk buying is preferable, whether in the form of large sacks or tins.

The new innovation of single-serve portions in plastic pouches and foil trays is utterly wasteful of resources.

Vegetarian pets?

It is highly controversial, but some argue that dogs can be fed a vegan diet, and some companies like Yarrah (Roelevink Beheer BV) make vegan and vegetarian dog food. Cats, however, do need meat because they require taurine. If they are deprived of it they will soon turn to hunting birds and mice for meat. The Vegan Society imports something called Vegecat from the US, a supplement designed to be added to home-cooked cat food.

Ethical Cat & Dog Food Rankings Detailed Table

We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Lily’s Kitchen, Yarrah, Burns, Feelwells, Fish4Dogs, Trophy, Antler Dog Chews, Pooch & Mutt, Pure Dog, Din Dins, Thrive, Barking & Meowing Heads, Wagg, Webbox, Pascoe’s, Hi-Life, Butcher’s, Hill’s Science Plan, Whiskas, Pedigree, Eukanuba, Iams, Friskies, Felix, Baker’s Complete

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