a cat eats dry pet food

Pet Food Insights with Royal Canin and Purina


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Dog and cat food has come a long way in the last few decades. Scientific developments now make it possible to feed pets in support of highly individualised life stages. Among the pet food companies taking this approach are Purina and Royal Canin. Recently they talked to us at PD Insurance about how the industry is changing and what’s trending.

In this article, they’re sharing key insights on the innovations happening within the pet food industry. We look at health conditions and how pet food is changing to meet the individual pet’s needs. Then we take a deep dive into these foods and how they can help to mitigate several health conditions.

We also look at how pet care professionals can help guide pet owners to find their pet’s best food.

a customer looks at Royal Canin and Purina pet food packaging and tries to understand global pet food guidelines

Helping pet owners understand pet food guidelines

They say you are what you eat. For pet owners, this has become a driving component in their approach to feeding cats and dogs. Google statistics show  questions like ‘how much fibre should be in dog food’ and ‘is fish based cat food bad for cats’ are popular searches here in New Zealand.

This indicates a growing interest in feeding dogs and cats a complete and balanced diet. What does feeding a complete and balanced pet food diet really mean?

As Royal Canin’s Scientific Services Veterinary Manager, Dr Corey Regnerus, says, “There are a few questions that we need to think about when answering this. One, is it safe? Two, is it nutritious? And three, is there evidence or science behind what we’re actually recommending?”

While the basic notion of ‘complete and balanced’ has remained relatively unchanged for many years Dr. Corey explains that what’s changing is how we apply this to pets’ individual or niche needs. Pet owners are no longer boundaried by a simple selection of dog, cat, kitten and puppy food.

Rather, they’re able to select from hundreds of tailored pet profiles and can feed for health, breed, age and more unique conditions. These include pregnancy, lactation and anxiety, to name just a few.

puppy eats dog food that is designed to meet its individual growth needs

WSAVA, AAFCO and FEDIAF feeding guidelines

However, even the most diligent pet owners can still be outfoxed by the endless variety of products available. Not to mention interpreting lists of ingredients and guidelines on packaging. Is there anything we pet professionals can do to guide this process?

Dr Corey says the simple answer is yes. “Absolutely. We do need to do more in this space. If we take it back to basics the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has now recognized that there are five vital signs for pets. In addition to temperature, pulse, respiration and pain, there is the fifth vital sign, nutritional status. As pet professionals, prioritising nutrition in our daily assessments of pets helps the pet owner to put the same value on the importance of nutrition.”

Purina’s Nutrition Advisor, Beth Bryant, says, “A well-balanced diet should adhere to the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) or the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF), and needs to have the correct balance of the six major nutrient groups in the correct proportions. These are proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates – including fibre – and water.”

Appropriate pet food guidelines to follow

As pet care professionals, we can tool up our pet owner customers in a simple way by sharing these globally recognised standards for pet food:

Beth adds that, “feeding poor quality food can affect many body systems, including digestion, the immune system, and skin and coat health. Inferior quality foods may be both less nutrient and calorie dense, which means you need to feed more, resulting in false economy.

Purina and Royal Canin are among the pet food companies that follow, AAFCO and FEDIAF guidelines for their pet food products.

an owner holds up their small kitten that is still eating soft cat food

Pet owners want the best for their pets in terms of food. However, when it comes to pet food trends sometimes even the best intentions can have undesired outcomes.

Beth explains that “a pet diet that is deficient in Vitamin D may result in rickets. This disease can cause soft and deformed bones, particularly during gestation of puppies or kittens and during their early life.”

Dr Corey says, “we’ve seen a re-emergence in the last five years of rickets in puppies now that has been directly attributed to raw feeding in puppies. That’s not to say that all raw feeding is bad, but it can be very challenging to do well in that particular growth phase. Making sure that we have the energy levels right, and the calcium and phosphorus in particular, and in the correct ratios is important when we’re talking about feeding puppies and kittens which can be nearly impossible to achieve with raw feeding.”

“From a nutritional perspective,” says Beth, “good quality pet foods like that from Purina will always be formulated to meet one of the recognised guidelines for pet essential nutrition, such as AAFCO or FEDIAF.

Feeding any food that does not meet these guidelines, including home prepared food, risks under-delivery of essential nutrients, which causes poor health over time. It is also possible to overdose on some essential nutrients, which is why supplementation should only be done with the advice of a veterinarian or a trained pet nutritionist.”

Too much of a good thing is bad

Sharing this sentiment, Dr Corey explains that “we know puppies can’t actually manage the amount of calcium that they absorb. So the more calcium that you feed, the more calcium they absorb. And if they get too much calcium, that’s where they start to get those bendy bones.

There’s an old school of thought that commercial diets don’t have enough calcium. Unfortunately, this has led to people supplementing with calcium on top of a puppy food, thinking that that was the right thing to do. Not understanding that actually puppies don’t have the ability to regulate calcium until they reach adulthood and those bones stop growing.”

Purina and Royal Canin have long histories of developing science-backed pet food. This means they’re able to forecast and mitigate certain health conditions using accumulative knowledge.

Unfortunately, new food trends like raw pet food diets can unwittingly fall short of pet food needs in terms of nutrition. Without a historical and scientific understanding of pet food at a metabolic level, it’s possible to misstep.

A Labrador eating a Royal Canin diet that helps prevent obesity and hip dysplasia

Royal Canin and Purina on prevention rather than cure through pet food

We’re all well aware that prevention is better than cure. In this sense science-backed pet food can be a powerful preventative tool against ailments and disease.

“Feeding dogs to a lean body condition using the correct amount of correctly formulated pet food and maintaining this throughout their life, has been proven in several studies to extend the healthy life of dogs.”

– Purina Nutrition Advisor, Beth Bryant

Musculoskeletal conditions and obesity

For example, says Dr Corey, “we know that Labradors in particular tend to suffer from things like elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia. They also suffer from things like obesity. The evidence has actually proven that they are missing the ‘off’ gene in feeling full. So Labradors quite literally don’t have an off button, which is why they will eat and eat and eat.

We take that in mind in formulating breed health nutritional products by supplementing with joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. But we’re also limiting the calorie content and increasing the fibre content in order to help them try to feel fuller as well as make sure that they’re able to eat larger volumes without overwhelming them from an energy standpoint.”

Hereditary conditions

Dr Corey explains further by providing an example. “Dalmatians have a genetic mutation where they convert purines into a rare form of urinary stone. This abnormal gene function in the Dalmatian dog breed has been bred for years and years and years.

We know they’re predisposed to that, so the ROYAL CANIN® Dalmatian diet is a low purine diet. Purines are water converted into urates in the urine. By having that understanding and that evidence, the breed specific diets can be founded on genetics.

Here’s another example – if we think about the Maine Coon, we know we’d have that extended growth rate because they’re a large breed. They too can suffer from hip dysplasia. So we have some of the same types of nutrients in their food as we do with our Labrador diets.”

Food physics

Interestingly, the shape of the food can also be designed to best match the breed.

Dr Corey says, “The Maine Coon also has a really big bulky shaped kibble because they’re the only cat breed with what we call a matchbox jaw, which is a square fronted jaw. They use their incisors to pick up the kibble. By having that large cube, they can actually pick up the food and eat it a lot easier than a normal standard shaped kibble that you would imagine.

a puppy eating Royal Canin dog food is petted by it's pet owner

Kittens and puppies: Food for thought

“Pets require different levels of protein and fat throughout their lives,” Beth explains. “For example, the highest levels are needed when they are puppies and kittens as they need to fuel the rapid growth and development they undergo.”

Dr Corey says, “if we think about that growth phase in particular, generally speaking, puppies and kittens need 50 percent more energy than a standard adult dog or cat. If we look at kittens for example, we have a phase one for that first to four months of age when they’re in a really rapid growth phase.

Then phase two runs from four months up to 12 months of age or even up to 15 months of age if it’s a Maine Coon kitten because it’s a large breed. When it comes down to that individual pet, then the growth period is even more specific. Here we’re talking not just about the lifestyle and life stage, but also the size of the pet.

Similarly, with the giant breed puppy diets, because we know that these giant dogs can continue to grow for up to 24 months of age, it is a very different growth period when compared to something like a Chihuahua that might reach its adult weight at 10 months of age.”

Cats and dogs: Tailored benefits

Beth explains that adult years become complex in other unique ways. She tells us that “dogs tend to put on weight in their senior years and so may need adjusted levels of fat and protein to reduce calorific intake and maintain a healthy body condition.

In the ‘Super Senior’years, the ability to digest food – and therefore absorb nutrients – can decline, so highly digestible ingredients are important, along with an increased level of protein to maintain muscle mass.”

Dr Corey describes how once pets “get older, obviously the metabolism starts to decline. However, we know that they’ve got different types of requirements, like a lot of oxidative or ageing damage to different bones, joints and organs. It becomes important to start ramping up those nutrients to be more protective as pets age.

An example is with senior cats, where we know up to 30% of cats over the age of 10 will suffer from chronic kidney disease. Being protective early is key. In this case we now not only have a reduced metabolism where we manage the energy, but we also need to reduce other levels like phosphorus in the diet in order to be protective of those kidneys as they age.”

“It’s also important”, says Beth, “to understand that a 7-10 day transition period is advised when changing a pet’s food. Slowly increasing the new cat food or dog food and decreasing the old gives the digestive system time to adjust to the new food and gives the pet time to get used to the new taste.”

Maine Coon peers into it's bage of specialised cat food

Pet food has become highly individualised

In much the same way the science behind human diets continues to evolve for specific needs, pet food can support pet health in highly individualised ways too.

Beth says, “It’s important to educate pet owners to understand that pet nutrition is as much grounded in science as human nutrition. The needs of cats, dogs and people are all different. Good quality commercial pet foods provide the correct balanced diet for dogs or cats, without the guess work.”

An apple a day keeps the doctor away for humans. For pets I would say, feed complete and balanced to be complete and balanced. Health Through Nutrition.”

– Royal Canin Scientific Services Veterinary Manager, Dr Corey Regnerus

This is especially important given the range of unique health and lifestyle factors that play into pet health. It’s another reason Royal Canin and Purina focus on energy needs beyond growth stages to provide even more individualised options.

Adjusting pet food for energy requirements

Dr Corey explains that “when we neuter a pet, dogs can for example have up to a 30% reduction in energy needs within 24 to 48 hours. So we could potentially go from a growth phase where we need 50% extra energy for a puppy onto an adult diet for a period of time until that animal is neutered.

Then once that animal’s neutered, it will have a further reduction in that energy need by up to 30%. That’s where things like the ROYAL CANIN® Neutered adult diets would come into play.

Lactating dogs in particular have a 350% increase in energy demands during peak lactation. This occurs in about 48 hours to a week after they’ve given birth.”

Beth brings up a common condition pets now face in higher numbers than in the past. “As in the human population, excessive weight and pet obesity is one of the most common conditions, so it would be great if more pet owners knew about the importance of monitoring their pets’ body condition and changing the amount of dog food or cat food they give accordingly.

Keeping an eye on your pets’ body condition and adjusting their food accordingly is important as well as following feeding guidelines for food and treats, regular vet check-ups and exercise. These are the best ways to help keep your pet fit and healthy.”

Two Sphynx cats relax after eating Royal Canin Calm food

Purina and Royal Canin are de-stressing pets through food

Pet anxiety and high levels of stress are factors that Royal Canin and Purina are both looking at mitigating through food.

Beth says, “Purina has a product in our vet supplement range called Calming Care containing a probiotic strain that has been shown to help dogs maintain calm behaviour and cope with external stressors like separation, unfamiliar visitors, novel sounds, or changes in routine and location.”

Royal Canin has a diet that’s only recently come to the market globally but also more recently in New Zealand and Australia called ROYAL CANIN® Calm. Dr Corey explains it contains the milk peptide that’s found in a lactating dog’s colostrum. Another ingredient is tryptophan, which is found in turkey and other foods sources. Both ingredients are soporific and actively cause a sense of calm relaxedness.

These Royal Canin and Purina cat food and dog food ranges can be helpful for pets who are recovering from injury or illness. They can also be used by pet owners in stressful environments and situations. Like when we’re looking out for pet safety in fireworks season for example.

Dr Corey also points out that reducing stress has a health element that goes beyond keeping calm. “We know stress is a huge component in feline lower urinary tract disease. Stress is also a big contributor to feline idiopathic cystitis. So by calming those cats down, we can actually reduce inflammation in the bladder and support them during those times of crisis.”

Further food for thought from Royal Canin and Purina

As Beth says, “veterinary care is improving all the time but, unfortunately, can be expensive. When your pet is under the weather, the last thing you want to worry about is having enough money to make them well again, which is why pet insurance may be a great idea.”

As Dr Corey says, let’s “leverage partners within our practice, our vet nurses, our reception staff, to make sure that they can have those continued conversations with pet owners about whether the cat food or dog food transition has gone well and whether they’re seeing the benefits of that particular diet.”

If you’re reading this as a pet care professional we invite you to become a PD partner. When you do so we give you the training and tools to share the benefits of pet health insurance with your customers.

We also give you rewards for every referral that converts. Let’s work together to give more Kiwi pets the healthcare they need and more Kiwi pet owners the financial security they deserve. Whether you’re a vet, breeder, pet food specialist or another pet professional enquire today about the pet care programme.

PD would like to thank Royal Canin and Purina for sharing their cat food and dog food knowledge and insights.

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