Gungahlin Vet Hospital

Pet meat - a healthy alternative?

There is no doubt that we all want to do the best we can for our pets and providing a balanced, nutritional diet is an essential part of raising a happy healthy animal. Unfortunately, not all the pet food products available meet the nutritional requirements that our pets need.

It’s easy to assume that ‘pet mince’ and ‘pet food rolls’ are fresh, nutritious, high quality and a more ‘natural’ alternative. They are usually cheaper than fresh mince that we get for our own consumption and some of them may not even require refrigeration.

Like non-premium dry foods, pet meat is deficient in some nutrients, contains an excess of other elements and contains non-essential ingredients. Some essential minerals e.g. calcium and phosphorus are required in a specific ratio, otherwise metabolic problems can result. Essential fatty acids play a role in inflammation, cell function, even mood and behaviour. Low levels of essential fatty acids or an inappropriate ratio of particular fatty acids can result in illness. For example, essential fatty acid deficiency is known to result in dermatitis in both people and animals.

The type of protein in the food is important because each protein source has its own inherent biological value, which is a measure of the protein’s usability. It is the proportion of the protein in a food that is absorbed by the body.

Many brands of pet meat contain sulphur dioxide or sulphites as preservatives. These preservatives include those from 220 to 228. They can have an antimicrobial effect but can also disguise spoilage by decreasing odour and preserving the red colour of meat. The main concern regarding their use in pet meat is that they destroy thiamine (Vitamin B1). Thiamine is required for metabolism of carbohydrates and energy production. Feeding a mostly pet meat diet results in thiamine deficiency, which can lead to loss of appetite, failure to grow, muscle weakness and neurological dysfunction such as incoordination, signs of depression and seizures. There are currently no legal requirements for pet food manufacturers to state the presence or concentration of preservatives in these foods.

It is illegal to add sulphur dioxide and sulphites to meat for human consumption. Sulphur dioxide and sulphites are not used in commercial canned and dry pet foods, because these are cooked in the tin or heat extruded, rendering them sterile and safe from bacterial spoilage within their use by date.

What about a fish based diet?

Thiaminase is an enzyme that deactivates thiamin. It is present in moderate to high amounts in raw fish. The feeding of raw fish to pets may deactivate thiamine due to the presence of thiaminase. Fortunately, thiaminase is destroyed by cooking. Tinned fish products are generally cooked in the tin, and tinned fish products for pets have added thiamine, just in case. [It is also important to note that fish alone is not a balanced diet for our pets].

So what does GVH recommend?

Gungahlin Vet Hospital recommends feeding our pets with a commercially prepared, nutritionally complete pet food, either canned or kibble. To add some variety, feed some fresh meat (including fish), small amounts of vegetable and plain pasta/rice. It is advisable to get fresh meat that is used for human consumption, as these do not have added preservatives. The meat fed should also be cooked as raw meat can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella. 75% of an animal’s ration should consist of a commercially balanced pet food.

Bones can be given 1-2 times a week. Feeding them more frequently can cause constipation. Bones should be raw as cooked bones splinter and can lead to intestinal damage. Always select a bone that your dog can’t fit completely in its mouth or swallow whole and supervise your dog, especially during the first few times that you give them a bone. Take care because some dogs may become protective of their bones and may be aggressive.

Softer bones such as brisket bones are ideal because they are less likely to damage the dog’s teeth. Do not feed chops, t-bones or fish bones because these have sharp ends and can splinter.

Some say to avoid large marrowbones, knuckles bones or bones sawn in half because they are more likely to cause broken teeth.

Always take any remains of the bone away after a day so that your dog doesn’t eat putrefying material that could cause a gastrointestinal upset.

Some of the risks of bones include constipation (can be avoided by feeding bones less frequent, and avoiding cooked bones), broken teeth (choose soft bones), oesophageal obstructions (select a large bone that can’t be swallowed in it’s entirety), intestinal perforations (don’t feed cooked bones or sharp, pointy bones like t-bones), vomiting/diarrhoea (feed human-grade fresh bones, cut off any fat, take away old bones).

Bones can provide hours of entertainment for a dog, provide valuable nutrients and minerals, and keep their teeth clean. If you have any questions about what is suitable for your dog, don’t hesitate to ask your vet.

Kim Cleary and Michael Hayward