When choosing a new food for your dog, the very first question you have to answer is 'what kind of food do I want to feed?' Only a few decades ago, that choice was pretty simple - dry food or wet food. If you were really adventurous you might go for a mix of the two! Well, those days are long gone and now dog owners have many, MANY more options to choose from. In the next two posts we'll take a look at all of the different categories of food that are currently available as well as examining their respective pros and cons for both owner and dog.

Part 1: Complete vs Complementary

The first and most fundamental division between pet foods is whether they provide everything needed by a pet in a single feed (known as complete food) or whether they do not (known as complementary food). All pet foods fall into one of these two categories.

Complete foods

Complete foods take the guess work out of feeding your pet as they (should) contain everything your furry friend needs to stay fit and healthy, day after day, year after year. This incredible convenience means that ever since their inception in the late 1960's, they have been by-far the most popular feeding choice for pet owners the world over.

Although the term 'complete' is most often associated with dry foods, there are now a whole host of complete food options including wet, raw, semi-moist and fresh and in terms of quality, complete foods can fall anywhere from the very worst to some of the very best foods on the market.

Complete foods are, however, not without their critics. Some natural feeding advocates, for example, do not approve of the synthetic multi-vitamin/mineral mixes that must be added to foods in order for it to meet the legal definition of 'complete and balanced'. Another criticism is that complete foods inevitably encourage pet owners to stick with a single recipe for extended periods of time which can be detrimental in a species that usually benefits greatly from dietary variety.

Complementary Foods

Unlike complete foods, complementary foods do not contain everything a pet needs and so have to be combined with other foods in order to form a balanced diet.

The complementary food category is enormously varied, from the traditional mixer biscuits and wet food ‘toppers’ to raw meat minces and fruit/veg mixes. Even simple dietary additions like eggs or human leftovers would qualify as complementary foods. Although treats and health supplements are also technically complementary foods, they are generally categorised separately.

Complementary foods can be combined with complete foods to provide a bit more variety or to provide a bit of targeted nutritional support where it’s needed without jeopardising nutritional balance. For example, a dog who is prone to skin or coat issues might benefit from adding some sardines to his regular complete food now and then.

Home Prepared Foods

The other option is to forgo complete foods altogether and to combine a variety of complementary foods to create your own nutritionally complete and balanced diet. This is generally called home-prepared pet food.

When it is done correctly, home-preparing pet food is arguably the best dietary option available for any pet as it ensures total control over the quality, balance and variety of every single ingredient of every meal. But home-preparing pet food should not be undertaken lightly. Vets generally take a very dim view since even a small nutrient imbalance or deficiency can quickly have profound health impacts for the animal. Getting it right requires research, time, money and a certain amount of expertise… but it is not impossible - it is, after all, what we do for ourselves and our children every day. There are plenty of good advice sites on home-preparing pet food so if you are tempted to give it a go, be sure to give them a thorough read first to ensure it’s the right choice for both you and your pet.

Next time…

Be sure to tune in for Part 2 where we’ll take a deep dive into the myriad ways in which pet foods are made these days and how each might help or hinder your pet's health.