pet foods

With all the different pet foods available today, it’s getting easier than ever to feed your dog or cat a nutritious, natural diet.

Janice voiced her concerns to a holistic vet, who assured her she didn’t need to become a gourmet cook to feed her felines a good quality diet. Nowadays, premium food manufacturers are offering a wide variety of frozen raw, canned and packaged diets made from wholesome, natural ingredients. These foods are designed with busy, health-conscious consumers in mind, and are specially formulated and packaged to be as easy to feed as any mainstream commercial pet food, with one big difference – they’re a lot healthier. “I was amazed to learn about all the choices there are nowadays,” says Janice. “I didn’t realize that good quality pet food could be so convenient.”

Packaged foods – the ultimate in ease

When canned and dry dog and cat foods first came out, it was hailed as a big step forward in pet care. Unfortunately, the majority of these foods then and now are made with inferior ingredients including meat by-products, fillers and unhealthy additives. The good news is that an increasing number of manufacturers are coming out with packaged diets carefully formulated from fresh, whole, natural ingredients, and without the artificial colors and preservatives that characterize most commercial foods. Companies such as Nature’s Variety, Evanger’s, Timberwolf Organics, and Breeder’s Choice specialize in high quality nutrition for dogs and cats, and offer a wide variety of canned and/or dry foods in healthy flavors and formulas you’d never find on a mainstream grocery store shelf. Some are even made from organic ingredients, or are specially formulated for animals with allergies.

It’s in the can

“We do everything we can to make the best product possible,” says Holly Sher of Evanger’s. “To keep things fresh, you have to order every day exactly what you’re going to make the next day, and ensure it gets used. Our meat, fruits and vegetables come in the day before we used them.” As with several other premium manufacturers, Evanger’s offers a complete line of protein sources for dogs and cats, from chicken, beef, fish and lamb, to pheasant, rabbit, duck and bison. “We also do a special hand-packed canned line,” adds Holly. “The food isn’t ground up, so when you open the can you see the complete chicken thighs or hunk of beef, along with added peas, carrots and pasta.” (Cooked bones are included in chicken diets, but are specially processed so they become soft enough to be safely edible.)

Dry selections

Kibble is perhaps the most convenient food for dogs and cats because it keeps well and is easy to store. Again, though, commercial dry foods are made from poor quality ingredients, are full of carbohydrates, glutens and artificial additives, and contain very little real meat. In fact, these foods are lacking in the nutrition dogs and cats need to stay healthy and have actually been linked to a variety of diseases, including kidney disease and diabetes, especially when they make up the bulk of the animal’s diet.

Fortunately, you now have the choice of buying dry diets that are far superior in nutritional value to mainstream commercial kibbles. Not only do these foods place the emphasis on whole meats rather than grains and meals, but harmful artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin are replaced by natural alternatives like vitamins C and E, mixed tocopherals and rosemary.

Packaging is also specially designed to help ensure the food enjoys a long shelf life. For its Pinnacle line, for example, Breeder’s Choice uses an oxygen barrier bag that helps prevent the nutrients in the food from being oxidized and degraded over time. Some companies are also switching to resealable bags that are not only extra convenient, but go one step further to help preserve the food’s freshness once the package has been opened. “We use poly metallic bags that add another two months to the life of the food,” adds Holly. “They also don’t rip as easily as paper bags.”

Raw doesn’t mean messy

Think raw, and a lot of people picture a slab of bloody meat that has to be handled, cut up, and mixed with other ingredients to make a complete meal, a job that some regard as distasteful and time-consuming. But when it comes to the frozen raw diets on the market today, nothing could be further from the truth. Raw diets from companies such as Amore, Urban Carnivore, Northwest Naturals, Steve’s Real Food and Bravo are just as neat and convenient to feed as anything that comes out of a can or bag. “We have one, two, five, and ten-pound blends of chicken, turkey, lamb or beef with added bone, organ meats and vegetables,” says Bette Loughran of Bravo.

Just as importantly for those who don’t want to have to cut or handle raw food, many of these diets are formed and packaged to make them quick and easy to feed. Some come in compact tubes or scored bars of various sizes, while others are shaped into ready-to-serve patties, medallions or nuggets. “We make eight-ounce patties with paper in between so they’re easy to separate,” says Bette. “They look just like a regular hamburger patty.”

As with packaged foods, a varied selection of whole meat proteins is available in raw frozen form, including diverse choices such as goat, quail and elk, so your dog or cat has the chance to enjoy plenty of variety.

How about freeze dried?

Several premium food companies also manufacture lines of freeze dried food, using the same whole, natural, healthy ingredients they put into their raw frozen foods. Lightweight, convenient and long-lasting, freeze dried food is ideal for those who travel or camp with their animals, but it can also be used on a regular basis or as nutritious treats. All you need to do is add water for a wholesome food for your dog or cat.

To create their freeze dried foods, Steve’s Real Food prepares their ingredients the same way they do their raw frozen diets. “The product goes to a freeze-drier where it’s put in a large vacuum chamber,” explains CEO Gary Bursell. “They vary the temperature up and down slightly, which forms ice crystals on the kibbles, then use air to blow the crystals off. What that does is extract the moisture from the product while preserving all the nutrients. And convenience is one of our long suits because we make the food in the form of kibbles so people can easily count them out.” Nature’s Variety also offers a line of freeze dried diets that come in the form of medallions; several flavors are available, including chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and venison.

“I’m going to gradually switch my cats to a premium canned food, and maybe try them on a frozen raw diet once in awhile as well,” says Janice. “It’s a relief to know that I can feed them healthy meals without having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s like having the best of both worlds!”