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Introduction – Ethical cat and dog food

Feeding domesticated animals pet food was not always the norm. In fact, as Dr. Ken Tudor writes in PetMD, the first market success was a biscuit product developed in England and later introduced to US consumers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But up until the early-mid 20th century, it was still very common for pets to primarily be fed raw meat and table scraps. Lack of regulation early on also meant that almost anything could branded as a canned or bagged pet food, including horse meat.

A lot has changed in the past 100 years or so. Regulation has seen significant improvement and notable progress has been made. But the choice of ethical cat and dog food in the main supermarkets still tends to be rather limited, and the ethics behind the most readily available brands remains in question. This is because most supermarkets 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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Organic

One way to ensure your purchasing decisions support ethical cat and dog food is to buy organic and to avoid 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.

Pet Food Labels

The Pet Food Manufacturing Association offers all kinds of fact sheets and posters on pet food, including meat-based and vegetarian diets. You can learn about an assortment of pet food facts here. Additionally, below is an information graphic on pet food labels, which may help educate any potentially confused consumer.

pet food

 

Animal testing

Cruelty Free International (previously the 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 and Vegan Pet Food

Commercial vegetarian dog food has been made in the UK since 1980 and it is commonly accepted by the pet industry, and organisations such as the RSPCA, that dogs – as omnivores – are perfectly able to thrive on a professionally formulated, nutritionally complete meat-free dog food. Vegetarian dog food is now made in countries around the world. Cats differ from dogs, in that they are described as ‘obligate carnivores’, which means in the wild, they need the nutrients in the meat of their prey to survive as they do not synthesise them on their own. However, these nutrients – such as Taurine, Vitamin A and Arachidonic Acid, can now be obtained from non-animal sources and are often added to most pet foods. Benevo, Yarrah and V-Dog offer vegan and vegetarian pet foods.

Ethical Cat & Dog Food Rankings Detailed Table



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Ethical cat and dog food – We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Benevo, 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 and V-Dog.

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LAST UPDATED: 2017