With so many different dog foods out there it can be hard to know where to start when trying to find the one that’s best for your dog. In this article and the next we’ll take a look at the various categories of foods currently available. First up, complete vs complementary nutrition.
Complete vs Complementary
The first and most fundamental division between pet foods depends on whether they provide everything needed by a pet in a single feed (known as complete food) or whether they do not (known as complementary food). All pet foods fall into one of these two categories.
Since the term ‘nutritionally complete’ was legally defined in the 1960’s, complete pet foods have taken the market by storm. They take the guess work out of feeding your pet as they (should) contain everything your furry friend needs to stay fit and healthy, day after day, year after year. Their incredible convenience makes them by-far the most popular feeding choice for pet owners all over the world.
Although for a long time the only complete foods were dry kibble and cans of wet food, there’s now a whole host of complete food options including pre-prepared raw, semi-moist, freeze and air dried, cold pressed and packaged fresh foods. We’ll take a deep dive into these production methods next time.
In terms of quality, complete foods can fall anywhere from the very worst to some of the very best foods on the market.
Despite their obvious benefits, complete foods have picked up some criticism. Some natural feeding advocates, for example, do not approve of the synthetic multi-vitamin/mineral mixes that must be added to foods in order for them to meet the legal definition of ‘complete and balanced’. Another criticism is that complete foods inevitably encourage pet owners to stick with a single recipe for extended periods of time which can be detrimental since most dogs benefit greatly from dietary variety.
Unlike complete foods, complementary foods do not contain every nutrient needed by your pet and so would have to be combined with other foods to make a balanced diet.
Traditionally the most popular complementary foods have always been mixer biscuits and wet food ‘toppers’ but with the growth of complementary raw foods and fruit/veg mixes, the category is becoming more and more diverse.
Of course, not all complementary foods are store-bought. Any foods you might add to your dog’s diet like eggs, chicken wings or mealtime leftovers would also count. Although treats and health supplements are also technically complementary foods, they are generally categorised separately.
Complementary + Complete
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding some complementary foods to your dog’s complete food. Additions like these can help to provide more nutritional variety, which can be really beneficial for dogs, or give a bit of targeted nutritional support where it’s needed. A simple example would be adding a sardine to the diet of a dog that is prone to skin problems now and then for the beneficial fish oils.
Do take care though not to overfeed or unbalance the diet. Any dietary additions should be offset with a similar reduction in the amount of complete food being fed and you generally don’t want to add too much from any one food group as it might jeopardise the balance of the complete food.
Home Prepared Foods
The other option is to forgo complete foods altogether and to combine a variety of complementary foods to create your own nutritionally complete and balanced diet. This is generally called home-prepared pet food.
When it’s done well, home-prepared pet food is unquestionably the best dietary option available for any pet as it ensures total control over the quality, variety and balance of each and every ingredient of each and every meal.
But home-preparing pet food should not be undertaken lightly. Vets generally take a dim view since any prolonged nutrient imbalance or deficiency can have profound health impacts for the animal. Getting it right requires research, time, money and a certain amount of expertise… but it is not impossible – it is, after all, what we do for ourselves and our children every day.
There are plenty of good advice and support sites for home-preparing pet food so if you would like to give it a try, be sure to give them a thorough read first to ensure it’s the right choice for both you and your pet.
So many options… Both complete and complementary foods come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Make sure you tune in next time where we’ll take a close look at all of the different manufacturing methods used to make pet food, what makes each unique and what each has to offer for both you and your dog.
Author: David Jackson, All About Dog Food