EP 3: What should your dog or cat really eat?

In this episode of the Pet Nutrition Show, Amanda and Dr. Anna Sutton speak with Laura Ward, a renowned pet nutritionist from the UK. They explore key components of a balanced diet for dogs and cats, focusing on proteins, fats, fibres, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Here are the headlines of what's covered:

  • They explore the concept of biologically appropriate diets for dogs, considering their ancestral wild type diet and evolution.
  • They talk about pet nutrition, including the best sources of protein, the role of carbohydrates, and the essential fats for pets' health.
  • They discuss the nutritional requirements for balanced diets in dogs, including protein, fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and water andexplore the differences between AAFCO and FEDIAF guidelines in formulating pet food and the potential need to beef up certain areas for optimal health outcomes.
  • They touch on the trend of increasing protein levels in pet food and the potential drawbacks of excessive protein consumption.
  • They discuss the benefits of variety in a pet's diet, including how rotating between different proteins can support gut health and prevent nutrient imbalances. 
  • They emphasize the importance of sustainable formulation in pet food, considering ingredient choices, environmental impact, and making the most of co-products and by-products from the human food industry.
  • The hosts highlight the low prevalence of food allergies in pets and the importance of hypoallergenic diets for identifying and managing food sensitivities. 
  • They also share a food hack involving celery as a nutritious addition to a dog's meal.

Have a listen to the show, or watch some clips:



Have a listen to the show, but if you’re more of a reader, here's the transcript:

The Pet Nutrition Show: What should your dog or cat really eat?

Achieving Balance and Sustainability in Your Pet's Diet


00:02 Introduction to the Pet Nutrition Show

00:18 Understanding Biologically Appropriate Foods

01:05 Pet Q&A: Offal in Dog's Diet

02:45 Interview with Laura Ward: Key Components of a Balanced Diet

03:22 Understanding Protein Sources and Carbohydrates in Pet Food

06:02 The Importance of Fats in Pet Food

06:55 Understanding AAFCO and FEDIAF Standards

08:54 The Debate on High Protein Diets

11:40 Understanding Biologically Appropriate Diets

16:58 Addressing Food Allergies in Pets

20:47 The Importance of Sustainable Formulation

23:14 Home Food Hacks with Dr. Anna

24:07 Closing Remarks and Show Outro

The Pet Nutrition Show EP3: Transcript

[00:00:00] LAURA: This is the Pet Nutrition Show with Amanda and Dr.

[00:00:05] ANNA: Anna. And welcome to the Pet Nutrition Show. I'm Dr. Anna Sutton. And

[00:00:10] AMANDA: I'm Amanda Falconer. And together we're talking nutrition, sustainable pet food and food hacks you can

[00:00:17] LAURA: do at home. When foods are being described as biologically appropriate, they're claiming to be a more natural, uncooked or minimally processed.

[00:00:26] LAURA: type of food, which tends to then correlate with those foods being more closely matched to a dog's ancestral wild type diet. But I think sometimes people forget that we're not necessarily feeding a wolf and disregard the 15, 000 years of evolution which has taken place. And those Styles of diet can work really well for some dogs, but aren't necessarily the be all and end all.

[00:00:56] AMANDA: That was Laura Ward, a renowned pet nutritionist from the [00:01:00] UK, and Anna's interview with Laura about good diets for dogs and cats is coming up. But first, it's Q& A.

[00:01:08] LAURA: Pet Q& A, where we answer what you're wondering about food, moods and poos.

[00:01:15] AMANDA: Now Anna, here's one someone asked me during the week. If I want to add offal to my dog's diet, is one type of offal

[00:01:22] ANNA: better than another?

[00:01:23] ANNA: Oh gosh Amanda, that's actually a great question and it comes up quite a bit. So when I'm talking about offals, we're usually talking about things like hearts, livers and kidneys and they all differ a bit in their nutritional profile. So a heart is a muscle meat, so it's kind of more like your steak. So you can go up to maybe 10, 15 odd percent of your Dog's diet, if you wish, with heart, with no problems.

[00:01:50] ANNA: However, liver is naturally high in vitamin A and because most dog diets were already supplemented with the right amount of vitamin A, you don't [00:02:00] necessarily want to go overboard with liver. So typically you might want to keep to around 5 percent or so of your diet with liver. Kidneys, you've got a bit more leeway.

[00:02:10] ANNA: They've got a little bit, a bit of an A in there, but not. Nothing like, uh, what you get with liver. So you can go a bit higher, you can go up to 10 percent if you wish. Kidney adds proteins and various vitamins as well. One thing you've got to remember is when you're adding stuff to your dog's diet and you're feeding them a complete and balanced diet, try not to.

[00:02:33] ANNA: disrupt that balance. So as a general rule, don't feed any more than a total of 10 percent when I term extras, if you're already using a complete and balanced diet. So Laura, let's cover the basics. Now, what, what do you see as the key components of a balanced diet for, for dogs? We'll stick with dogs for the moment.

[00:02:53] ANNA: They're a bit

[00:02:54] LAURA: easier. Sure. So the, the key components of a balanced diet [00:03:00] for dogs that includes protein, fats, fiber. vitamins, minerals and water, all in the ideal quantities needed for a balance and supplying energy as well. And with

[00:03:14] ANNA: those, so it sounds a bit like us really, so starting with protein, what do you think are the best sources of proteins for

[00:03:22] LAURA: dogs?

[00:03:23] LAURA: So the Sources of protein which are preferable are the ones which supply the right balance of amino acids. So, usually, this includes meat and eggs, but also there are some good sources of protein from vegetables, yeasts. Insects even, so it's quite a wide variety that can be used. Quite a

[00:03:51] ANNA: smuggler's board, I guess.

[00:03:53] ANNA: Actually, you mentioned there the vegetable proteins. We're hearing more and more about plant based proteins. [00:04:00] So how do you see that they compare, or how do they compare against meat based proteins in general for pets?

[00:04:06] LAURA: Uh, vegetable based proteins and plant based proteins. They might not have the complete suite of amino acids that a dog might need, but often in combination they can still form the complete ideal protein source.

[00:04:22] LAURA: So they're still a great option for supplying protein for dogs. It can require very careful balance, but so does a diet containing meat. protein sources. Essentially, they're another option that can still provide all the amino acid and protein requirements that the dogs need. Now, what about

[00:04:44] ANNA: carbohydrates?

[00:04:46] ANNA: You know, we hear a lot about low carb, high carb, no carbs, low carb.

[00:04:50] LAURA: Yeah, carbohydrates aren't an essential nutrient, but they are really useful for supplying energy. [00:05:00] And so for situations where Dogs and cats have a particularly high energy requirement, such as pregnancy, lactation, that kind of thing. They can become, conditionally, an essential part of the diet to supply those increased energy requirements.

[00:05:19] LAURA: The types of carbohydrates that you tend to see in pet food do vary, so from traditional Cereals to rice and grain free options like potatoes and pumpkin, those kind of vegetable choices and the no carb, low carb diet options. They're still good choices in a lot of, a lot of situations. It really depends upon the individual animal and its lifestyle and energy requirements.

[00:05:55] LAURA: And when there are no carbohydrates in the diet, that energy all has to [00:06:00] be supplied through the fats and protein.

[00:06:02] ANNA: So you mentioned fats there. So what types of fats are really essential for our pet's health and which one packs the most punch if you like?

[00:06:11] LAURA: So the, the fats which have. A nutrient requirement against them would be the omega 6 and omega 3 fats.

[00:06:19] LAURA: And omega 3 is really the one that really does pack a punch and that I guess a lot of people are also aware of because we're told about it for our own diets. So it's omega 3 which has the anti inflammatory properties. Um, connected with it, the DHA and EPA fatty acids in particular, it makes it a really great addition for things like skin and coat health, joint health.

[00:06:50] LAURA: eyesight, brain health, all those kinds of really, really key functional areas. Now, when you two

[00:06:56] AMANDA: are formulating, we know, or you know, how [00:07:00] much of all of these things to include because there are some standards like AAFCO and FEDIAF. So Laura, can you explain what those are and the differences?

[00:07:09] LAURA: Sure. Like you say, these AAFCO and FEDIAF, they provide the nutritional guidelines that we used to formulate too.

[00:07:17] LAURA: And depending on Where you are in the world tends to decide whether you use the Fediaf or AAFCO. Fediaf is

[00:07:29] LAURA: These are the bodies which represent the pet food industry in these areas, but both sets of nutritional guidelines are based upon like the National Research Council Nutrient Requirements for Dogs and Cats. So they are very alike with just some smaller differences which were decided upon. By like the nutritional boards for each body.

[00:07:55] AMANDA: Are there some typical areas where they're a little bit underdone and you [00:08:00] would routinely beef them up, if you like, to deliver a more optimal

[00:08:04] LAURA: health outcome? Sure. I think the way that pet food trends especially are at the moment, there are, there are many of the nutrients which are routinely supplied well above the ASCO and 30F.

[00:08:20] LAURA: minimums, even if we look at protein. So in the dry matter, so if you're taking the example of a food has no moisture in it at all, the minimum is 18%, whereas it's unusual now in the kind of trends that, that we see amongst the, the pet foods that are, are on offer, that There would be a food that is just meeting those levels in terms of what you might find for healthy dogs anyway, rather than a veterinary type diet.

[00:08:54] LAURA: Now, Anna, I

[00:08:55] AMANDA: know you have a view about this move to potentially too much [00:09:00] protein. Let me ask you, Anna, do you think this trend to increasing the protein levels in these formulated diets is erring to the too much side? I

[00:09:11] ANNA: think in some cases, yes. How much protein do you need? Well, it depends on the type of protein, its amino acid profile, its digestibility and bioavailability.

[00:09:22] ANNA: When we look at some of the diets coming over from Developing nations and we're approaching 35, 38, 40, 45 percent protein dry matter basis on a dry pet food. You've got to say, is that really necessarily the animal and is it in their best interest? And I think when it's starting to approach those upper levels, then we start to question, well, can it all be utilized?

[00:09:50] ANNA: And if it can't, what happens to it? And that tends to put stress on the kidneys, but also on. The, the additional protein that's not utilized can get [00:10:00] fermented in different parts of the gut, and that can lead to dysbiosis. So there's some negatives as well. Now, just a caveat on that. A lot of the high end wet diets are actually around typically 35, 40 percent protein, a dry matter basis.

[00:10:16] ANNA: They just don't look that way because they've got a truckload of moisture in them. Just remember that when comparing diets. But I think it's, once we get up to those high levels, it's probably a bit wasteful. And Laura,

[00:10:27] LAURA: what about you? What do you think? Yeah, I'm inclined to agree. I think that there, there does come a point where there is a lot more protein in a diet and that is.

[00:10:38] LAURA: And I think there comes a point also where that protein isn't necessarily being digested well and absorbed properly from the food. I used to see quite regularly that the high protein foods, dogs would not [00:11:00] be digesting and have such a good digestion and situation as they would on a lower protein diet.

[00:11:08] LAURA: There seems to be a point where it just becomes a little bit rich, even, even before you consider the, what happens to that, that excess and also in terms of a climate and sustainability perspective, there's the Extra nitrogen excretion, which isn't ideal, should be, should be avoided from that side of things as well.

[00:11:32] LAURA: So, for

[00:11:32] AMANDA: a raw feeder who says that raw feeding is the biologically appropriate way to go, what does that really mean and is it

[00:11:40] LAURA: true? Biologically appropriate doesn't have like a legal definition. And so as there's no universal definition for it, it can mean different things to different feeding styles and brands that, that use it.

[00:11:58] LAURA: So it does become a little [00:12:00] bit confusing in that regard. Generally. When foods are being described as biologically appropriate, they're claiming to be a more natural, uncooked, or minimally processed type of food that generally contains a high proportion of meat and minimal carbohydrates. That is a claim which tends to then correlate with those foods being more closely matched to a dog's.

[00:12:32] LAURA: Ancestral, wild type diet, but I think sometimes people forget that we're not necessarily feeding a wolf and disregard the 15, 000 years of, of evolution, which has taken place. So those styles of diet can work really well for some dogs, but aren't necessarily the be all and end all and, and kind of solution for, [00:13:00] for.

[00:13:01] LAURA: Dog. And um, I do think that other types of diet are still just as valid and just as healthy.

[00:13:12] AMANDA: And what about cats? Because people will say, oh my, you know, cats are obligate carnivores, therefore they must eat meat. Could you explain that and is that

[00:13:21] LAURA: true? Sure. Yes, cats being obligate carnivores do have differing requirements to dogs, and they do have that requirement for a lot of the nutrition, which is essential to them, is from meat.

[00:13:38] LAURA: that doesn't mean that they require only meat or that they can't benefit from other kinds of ingredients or nutrients in their diet in particular situations. So it's probably a little bit more applicable for cats. With their obligate carnival [00:14:00] stated, but still not necessarily true that they require a hundred percent meat type.

[00:14:06] LAURA: I guess the

[00:14:07] AMANDA: argument or, or the position that you're putting is that dogs and cats have a requirement for nutrients, not particular ingredients. Does that just mean that we need to look at the nutritional composition of food?

[00:14:20] LAURA: Yeah, so they have a requirement like people and I guess any, any other animal that their body requires nutrients rather than food.

[00:14:29] LAURA: So they're For instance, requirement for amino acids might be met through meat, but that doesn't mean that they necessarily have a requirement for meat, but for that, the nutrients which it supplies. So there are options where those nutrients can be provided through other ingredients. And in terms of, of a food matrix, my [00:15:00] understanding of that is that ingredients interconnect and interact with each other.

[00:15:07] LAURA: Um, they combine to supply nutritional requirements, and so there's a complex balance between the ingredients included and how each affects those different requirements. Um, so some ingredient combinations will complement each other, others will inhibit.

[00:15:30] ANNA: So on that note then, Laura, we've talked a bit about digestibility and just mentioned availability there.

[00:15:36] ANNA: So what does it really mean then when a diet claims to be highly digestible? And what is this digestibility and bioavailability? And why does it really matter to us, or to our dogs rather,

[00:15:48] LAURA: and cats? When a diet claims to be highly digestible, they usually mean that the nutrients in the food are available to the pet.

[00:15:57] LAURA: Once digested, essentially it's no good [00:16:00] the food having a fantastic nutrient profile on paper if that isn't accessible to, once it's eaten it. An example is leather contains protein, but if you eat leather that isn't. And accessible means of, of getting protein through your diet. So digestibility, that's the quantity of a foodstuff which is absorbed into the body from the digestive tract.

[00:16:30] LAURA: Whereas bioavailability, that is the quantity of a nutrient. which becomes available for use and for storage by the body once it's been digested. So, that difference essentially is that if, if the nutrients are available, um, so that they are, they're there for the body to use once that food has.

[00:16:56] ANNA: It's a common question that comes up.

[00:16:58] ANNA: So thinking against [00:17:00] along this tracks and different proteins, we hear a lot about food allergies in dogs. So what are the common food allergies in dogs and cats and is there an easy way to identify and possibly manage them through diet? Food

[00:17:14] LAURA: allergies are a lot less common really than, than we would think.

[00:17:19] LAURA: The majority of allergies tend to be to things within the environment or. flea bites. Sensitivities and allergies to food are still there. I guess the most common ingredients which dogs and cats are sensitive to would include beef, chicken, pork, dairy, eggs, wheat and soya. And The best way to establish whether the signs that you're seeing from your dog and cat are a sensitivity or an allergy to a food is to feed them a veterinary [00:18:00] hypoallergenic diet.

[00:18:02] LAURA: That's a diet where all of the protein ingredients are hydrolyzed or completely broken down to their components in a way that they are not then identifiable to the body's immune system. So that body then wouldn't see. That ingredient as, for example, chicken, it's just components of a protein. And that means that if your dog or cat does have an allergy to a food ingredient, that this food would not trigger that allergy.

[00:18:40] LAURA: And therefore, it gives you that blank page to start from. You can Then use that diet to rule out whether the, the symptoms that you're seeing are an allergy to food. If they, if they continue after a few months of that food, then there is [00:19:00] going to be something else. Even potentially it could be alongside a food allergy, but there's something else is the main trigger for that at the time.

[00:19:10] ANNA: So on that note, would you suggest to people to set to when they're feeding their dogs and cats to stick to one protein or rotate through a number of proteins in their diets, assuming they've achieved nutritional

[00:19:27] LAURA: completeness? I think that rotating between different diets is beneficial. Gut health and microbiome can be benefited by having a variety in the diet and by using the same diet or the same ingredients continuously.

[00:19:48] LAURA: It just doesn't provide that variety in the diet to support microbiome health. There are other reasons, such as air flow [00:20:00] to feed the same diet. Like, week in, week out, year in, year out, and there was a nutrient imbalance in there over time that could cause an issue for your pet's health, whereas by rotating between different diets, those nutrient imbalances wouldn't be an issue, they would balance between each other over time and balance between each other over time.

[00:20:29] LAURA: I don't know. As it wouldn't be the same nutrient, say, always being oversupplied or undersupplied. It wouldn't have that cumulative effect that you might see feeding only one diet.

[00:20:43] ANNA: Very good point, because a lot of people do stick to one diet all the time, don't they? Finally, I know we've touched on this as we've gone through today, but in previous episodes we've heard from academics highlighting the environmental impact of PET.

[00:20:56] ANNA: So, so with this in mind, what's your view on [00:21:00] sustainable formulation.

[00:21:01] LAURA: I think sustainable formulation is important to consider. Climate crisis is something which we all need to think about and act on now. And so taking steps to minimize our pet's environmental impact can. only be beneficial for the environment.

[00:21:21] LAURA: And so sustainable formulation is really being mindful about the recipes which we're creating and not supplying nutrients in excess of what is required, opting for more environmentally conscious. Ingredient sources and choices. I guess thinking about things like the longevity of ingredient supplies, how that might interact with the human food chain, making the most of things like co products and by products to the human food industry.

[00:21:55] LAURA: I want to

[00:21:55] AMANDA: leap in here. So you talked about making better use of co products and by [00:22:00] products. So would I infer from that, that render is not a dirty word and that. Potentially this move to increasingly high levels of human grade meat is potentially a problem.

[00:22:13] LAURA: Yeah. I think that meat meal is an ingredient which we've kind of made the most of for a long time in the pet food industry.

[00:22:23] LAURA: And it's a really useful way to make the most of that nutrition for pets that is a part of the human food chain, which would otherwise go to waste. In terms of the human grown and fresh meat sources, they are fantastic ingredients. The longevity of those ingredient, um, supplies is questionable, really.

[00:22:55] AMANDA: Well, that was super interesting, Anna. But we haven't actually finished with this [00:23:00] topic yet, because we're talking with you in even more detail next week, when we compare different protein ingredients and different formats of pet food and what that all does to nutrient quality, but now it's time for a food hack.

[00:23:16] AMANDA: It's

[00:23:16] ANNA: time

[00:23:17] LAURA: for Home Food

[00:23:18] ANNA: Hacks with Dr. Anna. Ah, yes, the food hack Amanda so, I went back into my fridge, and I had some celery in the back of the fridge, but it wasn't the super crunchy celery that's nice in salads. It kind of gone a bit soft and wilted, but was still perfectly alright. What I decided to do with that was I stuck a couple of stalks, not overboard, and a little bit of apple for sweetness into the blender, and I popped that on my doggy's dinner last night.

[00:23:46] ANNA: Now, celery is really interesting because it's super high in water, so it's low in calories, but it's pretty high naturally in vitamin K, vitamin C, there's also some other vitamins in there. It's also high in fiber though, so [00:24:00] you kind of, if you're giving your dog celery, don't go overboard, otherwise you're going to be in for a very whiffy night.

[00:24:08] The Pet Nutrition Show is proudly presented by Planet A Pet Food, bringing dogs a flexitarian diet that's good for them and the planet.


Join us in future episodes of the Pet Nutrition Show as we dig deeper into topics like the ideal protein content for pets, the importance of gut health, and the role of pet food in waste management. Let's create a sustainable and healthy future for our pets and the environment.

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