How to feed our pets properly is critical to their well-being. There is some confusion regarding cat and dog nutrition and how to ensure the pet food we buy will meet their needs.

Royal Canin‘s Dr Mina Magelakis uncovers the truth behind some common myths surrounding cat and dog nutrition.  Dr Mina addresses cat and dog nutritional needs for general health and wellbeing, meat vs vegetarian, grain-free diets, food allergies, and what you need to know about feeding pets raw food.

What is a healthy dog and cat diet?

Dr Mina: Cats and dogs require over 40 essential nutrients in their diet to remain healthy. A healthy diet for a cat or a dog is nutritionally balanced (i.e. contains all the necessary nutrients), highly digestible and precisely formulated to support the pet’s age, size, breed, lifestyle and any specific health needs.

Are grain-free diets becoming popular in Australia? Can a grain-free diet be nutritionally balanced?

Dr Mina: Grain-free diets for cats and dogs have been promoted in the Australian market as a consumer-driven diet trend. Grain-free diets can be nutritionally balanced and many contain an alternative source of carbohydrate in place of grain. It is common for pet owners to misinterpret skin and coat issues as food allergies and switch their itchy pet to a grain free diet. In fact, 90% of diagnosed cases of food allergies in cats and dogs are to meat-based proteins. Grain allergies are extremely rare! Furthermore, food allergies are not as common as pet owners believe, with the majority of skin allergies in pets caused by environmental allergens such as pollen, grasses and dust mites.

What are the common food allergies in pets and what are the signs to watch out for?

Dr Mina: Food allergies in cats and dogs can be caused by any ingredient in pet food containing protein, with 90% of diagnosed food allergies in cats and dogs being to meat-based sources of protein. Carbohydrate allergies in cats and dogs are rare. Cats and dogs with diagnosed food allergy typically develop itchy skin; this can be an all over itch or an itch confined to specific areas such as the face, feet, ears and perineal area. Some cats and dogs may also experience gastrointestinal upsets such as diarrhoea.

Is meat more nutritious and digestible than vegetables in pets?

Dr Mina: Meat and vegetable-based ingredients in pet food contribute different nutrients and are included in the diet recipe for different reasons, so one cannot be considered superior to another. For example, chicken meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B3 and phosphorus, whereas, wheat is an excellent source of fibre, vitamin B1 and minerals. Due to the different nutrients, each can deliver to a diet, a combination of meat and vegetable-based ingredients offers the most complementary nutrient profile and results in a nutritionally balanced diet for cats and dogs.

Are raw diets common? What are the risks of feeding our pets raw food, if any?

Dr Mina: Raw diets are becoming popular among pet owners, however, there are no proven health benefits and some risks to consider. Pet owners need to be aware that many raw diets are unbalanced, especially those labelled as “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding”. Additionally, when feeding any diet containing bone, there is a risk of obstruction or perforation of the intestinal tract that can lead to serious health consequences for your pet.

Food safety risks have also been identified with raw diets, with many studies identifying both home prepared and commercially produced raw diets contaminated with various types of harmful bacteria. It is important to recognise that even in the instance that the cat or dog doesn’t fall ill from eating a raw diet, bacteria can be found in their faeces for several days. This poses a health risk to individuals in the household, especially those who are immunocompromised or pregnant women and children.

About Dr Mina Magelakis

Cat and dog nutrition

Cat and dog nutrition. Dr Mina Magelakis holding Tiggy. Photo: Royal Canin

Dr Mina Magelakis graduated with honours from the University of Melbourne in 2011 and practised for close to four years in a busy small animal hospital in the northeastern suburbs of Melbourne. During this time, she worked with a variety of small animals, including reptiles and specifically offered consultations in cat and dog behaviour under the mentorship of a renowned veterinary behaviourist.

After completing her Masters in Small Animal Studies, Mina began with Royal Canin in June 2015, starting in scientific communications and now transitioning into scientific affairs and stakeholder management.