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Q&A about dog's nutrition with Pedigree®

Mumsnetters had the chance to ask three pet nutrition experts their questions about how to best support their dog's health and wellbeing

Dr Jo Gale (Science Engagement and Communication Manager at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition), Dr Richard Butterwick (Global Nutrition Advisor at Pedigree®), and Jane Bingham (Vet Communications Manager at Mars Petcare) take the stand - see what they had to say below. 

Want answers on a specific topic? Take a look at the following:

- What type of food should you feed your dog?

- Understanding exactly what goes into Pedigree® dog food

- Understanding the science and culture behind Pedigree®

- How to best care for your dog's health

- How often should you treat your dog and with what?

What type of food should you feed your dog?

What do you feed your own dogs and why? (whatsitallabout1)

Dr Jo Gale: I feed my dogs a mixture of Pedigree® wet food (canned) and dry food (kibble) because they really seem to enjoy the mixture of the two textures. They like all the flavours and varieties and, like most Labradors, they really enjoy their food. I'm happy because I'm confident they are getting the right nutrients in the right amounts and ratios. What I particularly like about Pedigree® is the glossy coats it gives them - people often comment on how shiny they are! They also both really enjoy Dentaflex and will usually retreat to separate corners of the garden to settle down for a good chew. 

Do you think that dogs are better having a raw food diet? (BigGreenOlives)

Pedigree®: Raw feeding diets comprise mainly of meat, bones and organs that have not been cooked. Some people believe that feeding raw uncooked food to their pet will give it a shinier healthy coat, improve vitality and a host of other benefits, however there is no scientific evidence to support these sorts of claims. 

A number of veterinary and government organisations including the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have issued recommendations advising against feeding raw meat diets to pets due to concerns about the risks associated with it.

The most significant and concerning risk of feeding raw meat diets relates to the contamination from pathogenic disease-causing bacteria. A number of published scientific studies have shown the presence of a variety of bacteria, including Salmonella species, in raw meat diets. These bacteria represent a risk not just to the pet but other animals in contact with them, human family members, and the public. 

Another health concern for an animal eating a raw meat-based diet are the risks from ingestion of bones, which include constipation, diarrhoea, dental fractures and gastro-intestinal obstructions.

It is also very difficult to ensure home-prepared raw food delivers the right number of calories and all the nutrients a dog needs. Dogs and cats have evolved with very different nutritional needs from us, but as with humans, pets need to have a balanced diet that supplies all of the nutrients they need for a healthy, happy life. Dogs require much higher levels of certain nutrients like protein, and have a requirement for some nutrients like arginine and taurine that we do not need. Because of these specific, and in some cases unique, nutritional needs, it is difficult to know how to formulate a home-prepared diet that is complete and balanced for your pet. We follow established guidelines and recommendations on the nutritional needs of dogs to ensure that all Pedigree® Wet and Pedigree® Complete Dry food is 100% complete and balanced. This means that they are formulated to meet the nutrient requirements of your dog according to their life stage or size, and contain the right levels of energy and nutrients that your dog requires for a full and healthy life. 

Feeding a commercially formulated pet food that is designed to meet all of your pet's nutritional needs takes out the guess work involved in ensuring your pet has a balanced and healthy diet.

Is wet or dry food best? As I have heard good and bad points for both (FeelingSmurfy)

Pedigree®: It is possible to get complete and balanced, good quality nutrition from wet food, dry food or a combination of both these foods. 

Many pet owners choose to mix wet and dry pet food, combining the benefits of the two, like promoting oral health by helping to remove dental plaque. It also provides pets with the opportunity to experience a greater variety in their diet, which they often enjoy.

Pedigree® recommend feeding a mixture of 50% wet food and 50% dry food as a main meal diet which gives your dog different health benefits, tastes and textures - making mealtimes even more enjoyable. It is perfectly fine to feed your dog only on dry food or only on wet food though. The most important thing is that you are providing them with a 100% complete and balanced diet. 

There are a number of benefits offered through feeding wet food to dogs:

  • It can help with healthy weight maintenance: Wet pet food has a low calorie density and therefore allows you to feed bigger portion size. Gram for gram the average wet dog food contains about four times fewer calories than dry pet food
  • It's closer to nature: Wet pet food provides dogs (and cats) with a macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrate) content that is closer to foods they would eat in nature. Wet food is usually relatively high in protein and moisture, moderate in fat and low in carbohydrates – one of the reasons why dogs enjoy it so much
  • It can promote good water balance: Because of the high level of moisture, wet pet food may help small dogs maintain good water balance, promoting urinary tract health. Studies show that providing additional dietary water can be beneficial for urinary health in cats and small dogs
  • It's good for young and aging pets: Due to its soft texture, wet pet food may be beneficial for both younger and older pets. It's easier to chew and swallow for pets with fewer teeth, or those with sensitive gums
  • It's a healthy alternative: Wet pet food is a great alternative to dry pet food that still offers all of the essential nutrients that your dog or cat needs to stay healthy
  • It reinforces the bond between pets and owners: Wet pet food provides the opportunity for a more involved feeding experience between pets and their owners. The greater variety of flavours and textures can also make for a more enjoyable meal experience.

Additional treats and daily dental care products are not 100% complete, so should only make up around 10% of your dog’s daily calories to ensure healthy weight maintenance. Just as with human food, remember to count calories and adjust your dog's main meal food if/when treating. You'll find calorie information on all Pedigree® packaging, but another easy way to help you do this is with the free Pedigree® Tracks app that allows you to create a bespoke diet for your dog based on their age, breed, gender, weight and current activity level. 

Is being gluten intolerant a common problem with dogs or have I just been unlucky in getting two with this digestive problem? (AmyInTheBoonies)

Pedigree®: Dietary allergies are very difficult to diagnose in pets. For this reason we don't fully know how common they are, however it is generally thought to be pretty rare. 

A number of different food types including meats, dairy, cereals, eggs and vegetables have been reported to cause dietary allergy. It is known that allergy to gluten is more common in certain breeds such as the Irish Setter. Only dogs with this type of condition will need to be fed a gluten-free diet.

If you suspect your dog does have an allergy to a certain type of food, the best advice is to visit a qualified vet for a professional opinion. 

Is variety important for dogs? (sharond101)

Pedigree®: The most important factor to consider when feeding your dog is that the diet is nutritionally complete and balanced. There are a number of different formats, flavours and textures of dog food available but only those which are complete and balanced give your dog everything they need. If your dog enjoys having a variety of types of food such as different flavours of dry kibble or pouches of chunks in gravy and jelly that is great and it's fine to provide variety however, it is not necessary from a nutritional perspective and many dogs are quite content to eat the same type of food every day.

Understanding exactly what goes into Pedigree®dog food

What exactly are 'derivatives' and why is the meat percentage so low? (ScrotesOnFire) 

Pedigree®: 'Meat and animal derivatives' is a legal term that the pet food industry is bound by, and simply describes the non-flesh parts of an animal including organs such as liver, kidneys and heart.

We are proud to include these 'animal derivatives' in our dog food because they are the most nutritionally dense parts of the animal and as such would be the parts that a dog would choose to eat first in the wild. They provide a rich, natural, palatable source of protein, amino acids, fats, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.

All of the animal material that we use has come from the human food chain, but is surplus to it. This means the material must be fresh, clean and collected in a hygienic manner from animals that have been presented for inspection and passed fit for human consumption by a veterinary surgeon at the time of slaughter. 

Simply speaking, the steak that you tuck into at home could come from the same animal that the heart, liver and kidneys that go into our dog food come from.

The total meat and animal derivatives content of Pedigree® is up to 65% for our wet food and up to 39% for our dry food. 

However, by law we have to include on our packaging the minimum % of the material from a particular animal that needs to be present to make a specific variety claim. For example, on our 'with beef' variety, it doesn't mean that only 4% meat and animal derivatives are present, it means that at least 4% of the recipe is beef. This can often be a lot more, but we are legally obliged to state the amount that we guarantee will be present.

Did you know there are more pieces of legislation that affect pet food than affect human food?

We know that the 4% on the label can be confusing, so to ensure that our labels are much clearer, we are now starting to add the actual meat and animal derivative percentage. In future, you will see the following on our labels: 'meat and animal derivatives (xx% including x% chicken)'.

Clearly we have limited space on our labels but we are always open to answering more specific questions on ingredients through our consumer care line and social media pages. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what meat and animal derivatives are and we want to set the record straight. 

What do we NOT include? At Pedigree® we are proud of the strict product quality specifications we deliver in collaboration with our suppliers. We fully align with the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) and all legislation that states that animal-based ingredients not allowed in UK pet food include any animal not passed as fit for human consumption at time of slaughter, road kill, diseased animals or waste products.

In addition, we do not include: horse derived ingredients, cowhide, hooves, hair, mammal intestines, intestinal contents, floor sweepings, mammal heads and spinal cord etc. All of our 'meat and animal derivatives' materials must be clean and collected in a hygienic manner from animals that have been presented for inspection and been passed fit for human consumption.

Why is cereal the main ingredient when so many dogs are intolerant to them and dogs are carnivores? (tabulahrasa) 

Pedigree®: All the ingredients we use in our food are there to fulfil a specific role such as providing nutrition, improving safety, enjoyment or owner satisfaction. We are proud to include cereals such as wheat, corn and rice in our products, as they are a good source of carbohydrate and protein. Primarily we include cereals for two reasons, as a source of energy from carbohydrates, as well as fibre to promote a healthy digestive tract.

Although carbohydrate is not strictly an essential nutrient for dogs and cats it is an important source of energy. Cereals are also a good source of protein and amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of skeletal muscle and other structural tissues, and also many other proteins that have important metabolic and regulatory functions in the body.

We also include cereals to optimise the transit time of food through the gut. This supports the necessary absorption of nutrients through the digestive tract. We aim for 85% digestibility, which means that for every 100g of Pedigree® food your dog eats, 85g should be fully absorbed and used by your dog's body, leaving just 15g as waste.  

While the topic of dog poo may not be the most appealing of conversations, it is something that every single dog owner has to deal with, so it is an important and much discussed subject at Pedigree®. We take poo very seriously, both in terms of quality and quantity. After all it’s one of the key measures that dog owners use to judge the quality of their dog's current diet. When a dog has diarrhoea it is concerning to the owner, and the cause is often attributed to the food they are eating. However, it is often more likely to be a result of illness, stress, eating human foods or indulging in the odd unseen snack while out for a walk. Changing your dog's diet too quickly is another common cause. Remember that if you're switching your dog from one food to another, you'll need to do it gradually over a period of around a week.

All our products are highly digestible which can only be achieved with good quality ingredients and no fillers. 

Understanding the science and culture behind Pedigree®

Why do you think there is so much animosity towards your brand? It was only this morning the vet told me to bin the Pedigree® and feed my puppy something else. (DementedUnicorn)

Pedigree®: We're incredibly proud about the quality of our products. Making the world a better place for dogs is something we work hard at and, as dog lovers ourselves, we know what an important role nutrition plays in this. Our dogs even join us in the office every day, helping us set brand strategy, optimise our products and generally providing much appreciated energy and affection during the work day.

Pedigree®'s nutritional philosophy is to provide professional quality nutrition that is accessible to all dog owners, and we do this through our close relationship with WALTHAM, a world leading authority on pet nutrition, and our 50 years' experience of making dog food under the Pedigree® brand.

It makes us very sad when we see negative rumours and myths about our food, but we accept that this is inevitable given just how passionate people are about their pets, and how competitive the pet food category has become. Naturally, with passion comes opinion and so we welcome every dog owner's personal thoughts and experience of our brand. 

However, there are also some people who aggressively voice their negative opinions of Pedigree® and deliberately promote 'facts' about our food that are completely false. Many of these myths are started and spread by people who have a vested interest in another dog food brand or method of feeding your dog. For too long now we have chosen to remain silent in the face of these opinions, so we have decided to openly share the real facts about our food, as we want to give people as much factual information as possible, so you can make up your own minds about Pedigree®.

How are we doing this? Well, you are already part of that story. All the work we are doing with Mumsnet is aimed at sharing the facts about our food. Aside from this Q&A, we have also been working with Mumsnet on a number of other initiatives:

Finally, we're engaging with over 4,500 vet practices in the UK to provide them with the same feeding trial as we have to Mumsnetters, so they can see the difference a Pedigree® diet can make to their dogs, and feel confident about recommending our brand as a healthy and affordable diet for your dog.

We're not here to tell everyone that they should be feeding their dogs Pedigree® -  we're simply here to share the facts about our food, how we develop it and why we do it. The decision after that is all yours. After all, you know your dog better than anyone else.

Why do Pedigree® use preservatives that are banned in other countries? (ScrotesOnFire)

Pedigree®: The health and wellbeing of dogs is Pedigree®'s absolute priority. All of the raw materials that we and our suppliers use must meet our strict global internal quality and safety requirements, in addition to local laws and regulation. Our robust global standards, which apply at every stage of the supply chain, allow us to ensure that all of our products are safe, nutritious and enjoyable, meaning owners can feel confident that their dogs will thrive on our products.  

Preservatives are essential to ensure both the quality and safety of any dry dog food (and indeed some human foods) because they prevent foodspoilage. Contrary to some common myths, the preservatives used in pet food don't cause any adverse health effects in animals. The two main types of preservatives we use are Anti-mycotics (eg scorbic acid, which stops the growth of bacteria) and Antioxidants (eg butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hyrdroxytoluene which help prevent fats and oils becoming rancid).  

All of the preservatives we use in our dry dog food are authorized for pet consumption and are approved for use by the relevant official food safety bodies including the European Food Safety Agency. We continuously monitor further developments in research on preservatives and remain committed to ensuring the safety of our products for pets.

Other products like our can and pouch wet food products don't need preservatives because they are sealed and then sterilized during production, meaning bacteria can't grow. However, just like with human food, any sign of damage to the packaging could indicate that the necessary air-tight seal may have been broken, and therefore there is potential for the product inside to have spoiled. You should always look out for damage to a can/pouch/tray of wet food, and avoid purchasing if this is evident. 

Do Pedigree® still test on animals? If so what type of tests? (Earbudbitter)

Pedigree®: As Pedigree® is made for dogs, it's important that we continue to expand knowledge in dog nutrition, behaviour and wellbeing. We do this at The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, the global fundamental science centre for Mars Petcare, which focuses on the nutrition and wellbeing of dogs, cats, horses, birds and fish, and their benefits to humans. For over 50 years, WALTHAM has been a leading scientific authority in the field of companion animal health and nutrition. The dogs and cats that live at WALTHAM are treated like our pets and the staff that look after them love and adore them. 

At the heart of Pedigree®'s success is an approach that strives to look after our pets in an enriched environment with a high standard of care that ensures both their health and happiness. We call this our Caring Science approach. This approach means that the pet housing and husbandry at WALTHAM is of the utmost importance, with large investments made on a continual basis to ensure that high standards are achieved and that the environment meets the needs of our pets, ensuring they are healthy and happy. 

Appropriate socialisation is also an essential part of ensuring the wellbeing of our pets. Each pet receives several hours of daily socialisation both with other pets of the same species and with their human carers. This involves regular play sessions with a variety of toys as well as, of course, plenty of cuddles. Our Caring Science approach means that WALTHAM scientists are always looking for innovative ways to obtain the research data we need without compromising pet welfare. 

Our reward-based training ensures that the tasks the pets carry out in order to complete a scientific study are fun and rewarding. These methods offer massive benefits because they produce relevant results that can be transferred to pets everywhere through the brands of Mars Petcare, including Pedigree®. Examples of our Caring Science approach include:

  • Specialist carers who look after the wellbeing of our pets
  • Living areas designed to keep our pets healthy and happy
  • Pet-friendly solutions to research problems, such as a computer activated 24-hour system that collects and measures naturally voided urine samples from cats in a natural and stress-free way
  • A non-invasive probe that when placed against the skin measures water loss in dogs
  • Saliva collection from cats and dogs using cotton wool buds and positive reward based clicker training
  • A sensory garden for dogs that provides stimulation and play while teaching us about their behaviour

Our employees also re-home every single dog and cat from WALTHAM when it's time for them to retire. 

All Pedigree® petcare products are designed with pets' needs in mind - it's the number one priority in our Mars Petcare Nutrition Philosophy. In order to better understand what pets need, it's important to ensure we are the forefront of research into their nutrition, feeding behaviour and health issues such as oral care. Wherever possible we carry out our studies without using animals, using existing research and developing laboratory models and tests rather than using actual animals; our lab facility is an important enabler for this. We have invested millions of pounds in state-of-the-art laboratory equipment that allows us to conduct our research using non-animal based methods. For answers to some scientific questions we need to look at the whole animal, and our Caring Science approach is key in how we do that.

The studies carried out at WALTHAM typically involve the types of procedures that dogs might undergo during a visit to the vets, such as the collection of naturally excreted urine and faeces, blood samples and dental examinations. At WALTHAM we have a proactive and energetic pet welfare committee that, together with our researchers, seeks refinement, replacement and reduction strategies in all the research we conduct.

Refinement seeks to find ways of doing things that minimises the impact of the studies on our pets; housing and handling are very important parts of this. 

Replacement means doing research without animals, using existing research wherever possible and developing laboratory models and tests rather than using actual animals; our lab facility is an important enabler for this. We have invested millions of pounds in state-of-the-art laboratory equipment that allows us to conduct our research using non-animal based methods. 

Reduction relies on our statistical experts who help us design appropriate studies with the right number of pets and we are constantly developing techniques that allow us to work in partnership with our pets so that they do not experience any pain, suffering or distress.

Mars has a very clear animal welfare policy, which states that "in the day-to-day development of our chocolate, gum and confection, food, drinks and pet care products we do not undertake, support or sponsor studies that harm animals."   

How to best care for your dog's health

Should a dog's diet change over their lifetime? (ButterflyOfFreedom)

Pedigree®: The nutritional needs of dogs, like us, change as they age. Puppies have an increased requirement for certain nutrients to enable them to grow to healthy adults - this is why it is important to feed specially designed puppy food while your puppy is growing. 

Adult dogs have different nutritional needs, and you can feed them a diet that is designed for what we call 'adult maintenance'. If you have a female dog that is pregnant or nursing, they may also need a special diet. 

As dogs age you may see a change in their appetite, and their behaviour, such as activity level and how much they sleep. To ensure your pet stays healthy and well it may be helpful to consider a diet that is formulated for the older pet. 

Pedigree® offer a range of puppy, adult and senior in both wet and dry food, so you can always find the right nutrition for the age of your dog.

If my dog has a very busy day with lots of exercise and outdoor activity, should she have more to eat? (Sammyislost)

Pedigree®: If your dog has been expending a particularly large amount of energy, then it can be a good idea to add a little extra to their food. However, it can be difficult to determine exactly how many extra calories your dog has burnt off and how much extra dinner that equates to. One way to do that is to use the free Pedigree® Tracks app, a personalised dog advisor in your pocket which allows you to track their daily exercise levels and helps you create a tailored menu based on your dog's age, breed, gender, weight and activity levels. 

Over a longer time period, you can determine whether your dog is getting the right amount of food by assessing their body condition using a scoring system such as the WALTHAM S.H.A.P.E Guide.   

Your veterinary practice team will also be happy to help you do this but don't forget to monitor body condition about once a month, to check they're staying on track.

What is the best way to keep your dog's teeth free from plaque? (RoseBud2016)

Pedigree®: Your dog may not be able to tell you when something is wrong, but sadly fourout of five dogs over the age of three years have some form of gum disease. This is caused by plaque and tartar build-up around the gum line, which can be reduced by an effective dental care routine.

Daily tooth brushing for your dog is the best way to keep their gums and teeth healthy and fight gum disease. To do this you will need a tooth brush with medium bristles, the correct size for your dog, pet toothpaste (do not use human tooth paste), a quiet place without distractions, and plenty of patience! Introducing tooth brushing gradually will mean they will learn to enjoy the experience. 

Here's some more useful tips on tooth brushing:

  • Keep each session short - from a few seconds to a maximum of a couple of minutes
  • Pick a time which suits your daily routine and try to keep it as your usual time to brush. It doesn't matter when in the day you do the brushing
  • Repeat each stage daily until your dog is comfortable with it and then for a few more days beyond, then you can move on to the next stage. You may do the established stage first and then continue into the new stage when introducing a new stage
  • Every dog is different - so train at a pace which suits your dog. Remember, you can always go back a stage
  • Give lots of praise and a reward but only for good behaviour.

Remember to take care when putting your fingers into your dog's mouth - we don't recommend doing so if your dog is likely to bite or become aggressive.

If daily tooth brushing isn't practical, there are oral care chews available to buy. Pedigree Dentastix® and DentaFlex® are developed with Specialist Vet Dentists, while also being low in fat:

  • Pedigree Dentastix® are scientifically proven to reduce tartar by up to 80% when fed as part of a daily regime. They are recommended by vets and are the only oral care chew in the UK that are endorsed by the BVDA (British Veterinary Dental Association)
  • When fed twice a week, Pedigree DentaFlex® are developed with Specialist Vet Dentists and scientifically proven to reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar by providing a deep clean right down to the gum line.

While the abrasive action of eating dry dog food can help maintain good oral health within a wider regime, it is not sufficient on its own to effectively prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar.

Finally, you need to be mindful of the chews and toys your dog has access to. It is important to check that they're not too hard because the enamel on a dog's teeth is actually far thinner than ours, so can be easily damaged. A general rule is that if you can press your thumb nail into the chew/toy then it is likely to be safe, but if you can't then it's too hard and could cause damage. Bones, rawhide, hard plastic toys and even tennis balls all pose a potential risk to your dog's oral health.

See here for a more detailed guide to tooth brushing with your dog.

How often should you treat your dog - and with what?

I don't feed my dog any treats, should I? (Sammyislost)

Pedigree®: Most dogs love eating and dog owners love to treat their pets. There are many benefits to providing treats, such as helping to develop a strong bond between dog and owner, providing positive rewards during training sessions and providing functional health benefits with treats such as dental chews. However, the treat must be safe for your pet to eat (many human snacks are not) and the calories in the treats must not be overlooked. To ensure your dog's diet remains nutritionally complete and balanced, treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog's weekly calories. If you stick to this then you can treat your dog while being confident that their nutrition is not compromised. 

It is also important to check that the chews and toys you are offering your dog are not too hard, as the enamel on a dog's teeth is actually far thinner than humans', so can be easily damaged. A general rule is that if you can press your thumb nail into the chew/toy then it is likely to be safe, but if you can't then it is too hard and could cause damage to their teeth. Bones, rawhide, hard plastic toys and even tennis balls all pose a potential risk to your dog's oral health.

Is it true you shouldn't give a dog chocolate, and if so, why? (moneypenny66)

Pedigree®: There are a number of human foods which are toxic to dogs so it's important to make sure your pet doesn't munch on any of these, even accidentally. The top toxins such as chocolate are now fairly well known. The constituent of chocolate which causes problems for dogs is called theobromine; it's found in cocoa so the higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the more toxic it is. This means that dark chocolate (especially the luxury high cocoa content products) can be fatal to pets, and cocoa powder is another danger food. All dogs have individual sensitivities to theobromine, with some dogs being more sensitive to the effects than others, but this means the only safe advice is to avoid chocolateit altogether. Pet-safe dog-chocs don't contain theobromine so are safe for dogs to eat. 

Other toxic foods include grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and macadamia nuts. Xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in many sugar-free products such as sweets, chewing gum and some peanut butters is also highly toxic to dogs and can have fatal effects.


Last updated: about 2 years ago