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Vegetarian food and natural products have been on the rise for years. This change in eating habits takes place within the framework of greater general well-being, both for people and the environment, and it does not stop at our own plate. We also think more often about our pets’ food bowls and snack times. When do you, as an owner, choose vegetarian or natural products for cats or dogs?
Giving them the best possible life is all we want for our loyal dogs and cats. Daily walks, moments of play and cuddles, but also a healthy diet are some of the basic requirements. Those good eating habits are created by maintaining a balanced diet. Not only the ingredients, but also taste and preferences largely determine how the diet of our pets develops. What role does an extensive vegetarian offer and natural products play in their diet?
Why choose natural/vegetarian dog snacks and cat snacks?
“Natural snacks have been on the market for some time now. In fact, all dry food products can be categorized as ‘natural’ because very few ingredients or preservatives are added,” says Nicole Rabehl. She has been a veterinarian for 25 years and is responsible for the R&D department of pet food manufacturer Vitakraft. “Most food companies, including Vitakraft, avoid adding unnecessary additives to natural dog or cat treats anyway.”
Rabehl and her team have been marketing vegetarian snacks for several years now. “A vegetarian variant can be made for every type of snack with meat or animal proteins. Our range includes vegetarian sticks for dogs. For cats, we aim for liquid snacks. They have a very high taste content, which is very important for cats.” Given the health and taste preferences of the dog or cat, you as the owner can choose whether vegetarian or natural snacks are given as an afternoon snack.
A veggie range may contain dairy, but its main purpose is to reduce meat or fish intake. This is also one of the reasons why dog and cat owners would choose these vegetarian pet-friendly snacks. The number of vegetarians is increasing all over the world and many people intend to eat less meat in the future. Some of them would also extend this to their dog or cat’s diet. Although Rabehl believes that this only applies to a limited group of vegetarians. “Of course it is possible to offer your pet only vegetarian meals. But I don’t think there are many people who want to feed their dog or cat only vegetarian or vegan products. Rather, it is an additional alternative, not a complete replacement.”
The variety of animal proteins in the pet food industry is very large. For example, you can look for products with very specific (meat) ingredients.
Snacks provide a tasteful variation
Most people add vegetarian animal snacks to their pet’s diet to increase variety while also reducing overall meat consumption. “A larger number of consumers are definitely interested in feeding their pets food with less or no meat at all. Even if it was just to test whether the pet in question likes these vegetarian variants,” says Rabehl. “First you feel whether they like the taste. This is especially difficult with cats, as they are more choosy.” In other words, according to Rabehl, most pet owners will opt for a mix of non-vegetarian complete food with vegetarian snacks. “Dog and cat owners also just like to give their beloved pets snacks and they are happy that there are tasty, vegetarian variants on the market.”
According to the vet, this parallels the increasing consumer demand for transparency and clear labeling of these food products. “When it comes to natural pet snacks, it has been a trend for some time that dog and cat owners want to know exactly what is in a product. And whether or not highly processed foods have been added. As a food manufacturer, we can also provide additional information via the website to offer them even more transparency and information.”
When is natural and vegetarian food sufficient?
Another motivation for switching to more natural or meatless products is that the animal’s health demands it. “It can always happen that a dog or cat has an allergic reaction to, say, beef or lamb. Or that your pet cannot process certain ingredients sufficiently, because they are typical animal proteins that have been present in their diet for a long time. The longer something appears in a diet, the greater the chance of side effects.”
After some research and product testing, you can then find out which ingredients the animal is sensitive to and then possibly switch to more natural snacks or vegetarian options. “It is an alternative, certainly, but the variety of animal proteins in the pet food industry is very large. For example, you can look for products with very specific (meat) ingredients. These days, insect-based protein is also very popular, such as our insect sticks, which in itself has its own nutritious properties.”
If we zoom in further on the health aspect, then the general nutritional value of cat and dog snacks is the most important factor. As the owner you are responsible for a good amount of necessary nutrients such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. “For this you mainly look at your dog or cat’s main meals,” explains Rabehl. “For the complete feed you have to see that all nutrients are present for a good balance. The FEDIAF, or European Pet Food Industry Federation, has developed a very good scientific framework with clear guidelines. As a manufacturer of pet food, we strictly adhere to these guidelines. A snack has a different function and only needs to fulfill the daily needs for a small part.”
Of course these snacks for dogs and cats are not just ’empty products’ without any nutritional value. This is especially challenging for cat snacks. Cats have a specific need for fatty acids that are not normally part of vegetarian meals. The amino acid taurine is especially important for cats. In addition, you also have to ensure that certain vitamins are absorbed.
For dogs it is a little less close. As omnivores, they are used to eating plant foods as well. “But as I said, for snacks, the presence of all the necessary nutrients is not so much the focus. Most companies develop their animal snacks in such a way that they provide 10 to 15 percent of the daily energy requirement. The main meal is most relevant in that regard. Snacks are part of the overall picture, but above all they provide an emotional layer. It is a way to communicate with your pet and to express your love for your dog or cat. This aspect is very important, perhaps more important than the content itself. Taste is equally essential. Above all, the dog or cat must like the treat and the ingredients are of course easily digestible and without harmful nutrients.”
Finally, the vet looks forward to even more interesting scientific insights and studies that the pet food industry is conducting to further increase the range. “In some cases it is comparable to data we have collected from ‘human nutrition’. For example, the fact that probiotics can also be added to animal feed. There are also many interesting developments in the pipeline with natural herbal ingredients that can greatly improve the wellbeing of pets.” Even more snack options!