Understanding Commercialized Prepared Pet Food (PPF)
In this modern era, the vast majority of cats are fed commercially prepared pet foods (PPF). The enormous range of manufactured pet food available offer the pet parent a convenient method of feeding their cats. Preparation time is minimized and the cat is provided with various flavours and textures in the diet. All of these diets are nutritionally balanced when fed according to the instructions on the label and are all prepared according to the same standard requirements.
Prepared diets for cats are either complete or complementary and this information should be stated on the product label. A complete diet will provide a balanced diet when fed alone, although the specific life stage (such as growth, reproductive or adult maintenance) for which it is designed must be specified. A complementary diet is designed to be fed in combination with an additional specified food source, such as canned meat and kibble mixer.
There are three main forms in which prepared pet foods are usually presented:
Dry foods, which have a moisture content of 10-14% (depending on formulation) that come in kibble dry form suitable for the muzzle size of the cat. The kibbles are mainly meat-based dry protein concentrate with all the relevant vitamins and minerals built into it. Dry foods come in various flavours from poultry to fish base that includes vegetables too. Cats are finicky eaters that graze their food compared to dogs so take note of what variant is given.
Moist foods, are the most popular means to cats. Their moisture content is 60-85% and packed in cans, plastic or semi-rigid aluminium. They tend to have higher meat content and filled with gravy or set in jelly, both of which provide important vitamins and minerals and improve the palatability of the product. Canned meat products tend to be the most palatable.
Semi-moist foods, have a moisture content of 25-40% and are composed of a meat and kibble mixture which is cooked to a paste and extruded into a small shaped piece. The main advantage of this type of diet is its convenience.
The product packaging provides useful data, some of which is legally required, that should help the pet parent to make important decisions about how to feed the product. In addition to information which identifies the product and the species for which the food is intended, the pet food label should state:
- The ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight
- The typical (or guaranteed) analysis giving the concentrations of protein, oil, fibre, ash and moisture (if over 14%) in the product
- Whether the food is complete or complimentary in respect of the particular lifestage for which it is designed
- The manufacturer’s directions for use, including feeding recommendations or guidelines
The palatability of food is a complex subject, including a knowledge of the factors affecting appetite and behaviour, as well as an understanding of taste, smell and texture of food and their interrelationships. The importance of palatability cannot be overemphasised since a food which is left uneaten, whatever its nutrient content, is of no nutritive value to the animal.
First impressions of a food are always important and food must always be presented in a manner which is appropriate to the size of the animal. Cats and small dogs prefer food in small pieces which are not too sticky, whereas larger dogs are able to eat foods with a much broader spectrum of shape and size.
Small and taste necessary sensory components of any meal and animals with poor appetites can often be tempted to eat by providing strong-smelling foods, particularly if the food is warmed to about 35 degrees Celsius. Cats can distinguish between sweet and bitter tastes but do not respond to the addition of glucose in their food. In general, meat is very palatable to dogs and cats, and its acceptance can often be further enhanced by the addition of fat, especially animal fat.
Most animals enjoy variety in their diet, although they may be initially suspicious of a food which differs markedly from their previous diet. Above all, it is important to recognise that, like humans, all animals are individuals with their own dietary likes and dislikes.
Now that you have understood what prepared pet food is and palatability. Let’s go into lifestages of prepared pet food.
The lifestage of commercially prepared pet food comes in three stages:
Cat Mature (Senior)
Kitten (2 months to 1 years old)
There are several ways to feed kittens. Firstly, you need to decide if you want to feed canned or dry food. Canned foods tend to be more expensive, since they contain between 70% and 85% water.
Dry foods are usually more economical to feed. Kittens tend to nibble food (we call them as Grazers) and like their food left out for them so they return several times during the day for a quick top up. Canned food is not a good idea when left out for several hours and since kitty grazers her/his food, there’ll be flies and it will dry up which makes it less palatable. Both canned and dry foods are complete and balanced.
A complete dry food provides all the goodness your kitten needs and can be fed on its own with just water to drink. A complementary food must be mixed with another type of food to provide a properly balanced diet. Most commercially available kitten foods are complete.
A growing kitten needs more calories, protein, minerals and vitamins than theadult cat. Kittens should stay on growth/development diets until their first birthday.
Adult (1-6 years old)
This is the maintenance stage where precisely balanced nutrition is vital to the overall health and development of cats. For adult cats, the ideal balance of vitamins and minerals help them stay healthier, longer.
This stage is similar to us humans where we eat everything especially protein to help us grow, heal, develop and maintain.
Senior (Over 6 or 7 years old)
For mature cats, reduced levels of phosphorus and sodium are important to maintain kidney and heart health. Protein levels are also dropped.
This stage is similar to us humans where less protein is consumed and even select certain proteins for consumption. More vegetables are consumed, sodium oil and sugar are less. This happens as our bodies change when we’re older. This applies very much so towards our cats.
With so many commercial prepared petfood brands out there, what should you feed? The best is to ask your trusted veterinarian.
Cats Cannot be Vegetarians
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they must have a source of animal protein in their diet daily. If you are a vegetarian, your kitten or adult cat cannot be one too. In doing so, you are putting them at risk of severe illness and even death.
Images courtesy of Mama Rose and her children Poppy, Yoda and Snowy.
Content courtesy of Pet Parent, Meem Siah.
Veterinary Nursing 2nd Edition – Edited by D.R. Lane & B. Cooper