It’s true that commercially prepared pet foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals, but this is not due to “harsh” manufacturing processes destroying nutrients, as is sometimes incorrectly believed. Their inclusion aids in increasing the nutritional content of the product, in much the same way that most breakfast cereals are fortified. The benefit is building the nutritional intake of recipients of a mono-product diet, because pet foods that are complete and balanced often form the only food that the pet eats. In South Africa the government encourages industry and researchers to find ways to fortify staple foods with proteins, vitamins and minerals because of the benefit that is has to the end consumer. It is therefore important to ensure that the vitamins and minerals remain as per requirements up to the best before date marked on the food packaging.
A good comparison to dry pet food, in terms of manufacturing process, is rusks, which are produced by shaping a bread-like substance, cooking, cutting and finally drying the product. As a result of the low moisture content and added preservatives the product enjoys a longer shelf life. In dry pet food manufacturing, the similar process used is called extrusion. This entails the mixing of ingredients, adding water to achieve a 25-28% moisture content (to create a dough) to allow for a thorough cooking process to ensure starch is cooked through, making it safe for pet consumption. This wet dough is kneaded, proofed (or conditioned), shaped and then baked at temperatures not exceeding 160ºC. The food is then processed through an extruder, which cuts it into kibbles. As the kibbles are still wet at this stage, drying takes place at about 55ºC, until the product has less than 10% moisture (which is very similar to rusks) during which time the kibbles are often sprayed with fat, oil and flavours.
The process is no harsher than cooking processes used for human foods. The difference is that most humans enjoy the privilege of eating a varied diet, inclusive of fresh fruits and vegetables that do compensate for loss of nutrients, lost during cooking and possibly not contained in their main meals. Pets cannot (and should not) do this, nor is a human diet fit for pet consumption – their dietary needs are very different to ours. To ensure your pets are getting exactly what they need, commercially prepared pet foods are fortified with vitamins and other essential minerals in just the right quantities to suit their specific needs and balance the nutrition in the food, as defined and researched by qualified nutritionists. The end result is that your pet, though only consuming a mono-product diet, is receiving a nutritious and balanced meal. When choosing a Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) member brand you can rest assured that the food is also safe and prepared according to international standards, with your pet’s wellbeing kept top of mind. Remember that the vitamin and mineral quantities declared on pet food packaging are stated at the level contained in the food before or as it reaches its best before date. Once a food has passed this date these quantities cannot be guaranteed.
Now that we have checked off all required nutrients it’s important to ensure the food tastes good to our pets. To guarantee cats and dogs remain attracted to their food, it is advantageous to add flavourants to enhance the flavour. These flavours are created from by-products of specific tissue collected from slaughterhouses and treated with enzymes to digest them. After fermentation, to produce rich ‘soup broths’, the distinct flavour is added to the food. This is a highly professional and quality-driven procedure to ensure best results for pets.
It is a combination of the ingredients used in commercial pet foods, together with the processing method and flavours added that make the food desirable to and palatable for your pet. You cannot beat the convenience of feeding a commercially prepared pet food, and can rest assured that in doing so, you are providing your pet with all the nutrients he or she requires. To take this task on yourself is troublesome as your pet’s needs are very different to your own, and if attempting a homemade diet, you will need to ensure that the correct ratios of each food group for a specific species, with balanced energy intake is achieved. Wouldn’t you rather have trained nutritionists guide you? The good news is that you can – by simply choosing the best quality, commercially prepared pet food that you can afford.