When talking about pet nutrition we always hear “complete and balanced”, but what does it really mean?
A “complete and balanced” label placed on a pet food product means that it has been formulated to provide the right proportions of every nutrient that a dog or cat requires every day. When it’s “complete and balanced” it can be given as a sole diet for pets, thus supplementation is not recommended as it can bring about a high level of some vitamins and/or minerals that can be dangerous to pets.
The Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) has established specific guidelines regarding nutrient profiles and/or feeding trials before pet food can be labeled “complete and balanced”. Thus, when choosing pet food, make sure that the manufacturer’s claim is backed up by AAFCO’s seal of approval.
“Complete and Balanced” differs between pets
Cats and dogs differ in their needs for specific nutrients, thus a complete and balanced diet may be unique to each one. This is where life-stage specific diets come in as the nutritional needs of pets vary with age, breed, lifestyle, as well as health status. It is not appropriate for senior dogs to be given puppy food or for pugs to be placed on pet food that’s formulated for Bullmastiffs. Puppies and kittens, as well as adult females that are pregnant or lactating, need more calcium and magnesium. On the other hand, senior pets benefit from fewer minerals in their diet to prevent damage to their kidneys.
If your pet is suffering from a health issue, such as arthritis or kidney disease, giving him an incorrectly balanced diet could worsen the symptoms. Indeed, there are also “complete and balanced” special diets to meet the specific nutritional needs of these pets. For example, a low-pH diet is often prescribed for pets with infections of the urinary bladder, or an anemic cat can thrive well with a high-calorie diet to encourage the production of red blood cells.
Whatever may be the specific nutritional needs of your pet, always remember that when switching to a new type or brand of pet food, a transition period of at least a week should always be observed to prevent digestive upsets. This will give enough time for the animal’s body to adjust to the new type of pet food.
Pet Food Pyramid
The food pyramid shows the variety of nutrients that pets should consume every day.
For reference to this discussion, let's start with the maintenance requirements of an adult dog. AAFCO recommends the essential nutrients below that should be present in pet food that is complete and balanced.
1. Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals play an important role in most of the physical and physiological functions of a dog’s body. They should make up 15-20% of a dog’s diet.
Fat is an essential source of energy. It also enhances the absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6). Fat supports healthy skin and hair coat, boosts immune system function, and aid in the development of the major organ systems of the body. Fat is 10-15% of the ration of adult dogs.
The carbohydrate component of pet food is the main source of energy for the body. Fiber, a type of complex carbohydrate, promotes colon health, and helps manage weight. It should compose 15-20% (with less than 5% fiber) of a dog’s daily ration.
Protein is the building blocks of the body. They are essential for the growth, development, and repair of the tissues and organs of the body. The protein component should be 30-40% of a dog’s diet.
Cats, on the other hand, have different nutritional needs compared to dogs as they are obligate carnivores. Thus, it is not recommended to feed dog food to cats or vice versa as it can lead to malnutrition.
The recommended nutritional composition of an adult cat’s diet is 40% protein, 30% fats and oils, 25% vitamins and minerals, and 5% carbohydrates.
Water is also a basic nutrient. Be sure that your pet has easy access to fresh clean water at all times.
Check the list of ingredients
Responsible pet owners have developed the habit of checking out the list of ingredients before buying pet food. The first ingredient on the list of a complete and balanced pet food product should be a high-quality source of protein. Make sure that the product does not contain fillers, artificial additives, dyes, preservatives, and other chemicals.
What happens when a dog or cat does not have a complete and balanced diet?
A cat or dog is malnourished when their bodies lack essential nutrients. Many pet owners have a preconceived notion that malnourished pets simply don’t get enough food. But this is incorrect. Even overweight or obese pets can be malnourished, too!
If the imbalance in their diet is not corrected, nutritional deficiency can eventually pave the way for the development of certain health issues which can include the following:
- Food intolerance and allergies
- Dry skin and hair coat
- Ear infections
- Digestive issues
- Low energy
- Specific health issues and medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney problems, pancreatitis, and diabetes mellitus
- Tooth and gum problems
- Weight issues
- Changes in behavior -- A lack of or too much protein have been shown to influence the behavior of pets. Sedentary pets that consume too much protein can develop anxiety and aggression as a result of stunted serotonin levels. A high-carb diet can cause spikes in blood sugar and can contribute to hyperactivity.
If you are unsure of what pet food will provide optimum nutrition to your pet, consult your veterinarian or pet nutritionist. These experts are your best resources when it comes to meeting your pet’s nutritional needs.