Pre-prepared food

Lanceau - Royal Canin

As stated above, achieving the right nutritional balance in a home-prepared ration is a complicated process. Supplements have to be properly managed to ensure the dog does not suffer from any deficiencies or excesses. The advantages of pre-prepared foods are nutritional balance (provided the quality is good, of course), convenience (complete foods, preservation) and cost.

Most owners feed their dog a pre-prepared food. While figures vary from country to country, generally speaking, three in every four buy this pre-prepared food in a supermarket, while most of the rest go to specialist outlets, such as pet stores and garden centres. Less than one in ten buy food from a veterinarian.

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Raw ingredients, production and food safety

The information stated on the pet food label is governed by law. Some information is obligatory, some optional. A manufacturers’ code of regulations and good practice lists the various national and international laws and specifies the conditions they impose on the use of raw ingredients (animal by-products, vegetable meal), how these ingredients must be identified, the composition of foods, their designation and the packaging of finished products.

Meat products not used for human food are used in dog food. These are surplus products (meat, livers, kidneys, hearts), cuts that are not usually consumed by humans (lungs and udders,) by-products from production of suet or lard, off-cuts from fowl (carcasses, by-products) and off-cuts from fish filleting. All of these products are from animals slaughtered in abattoirs and certified as fit for human consumption. The industry does not use meat meal from rendering plants, which is incinerated.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

L'industrie n'utilise pas de farines provenant d'équarrissage (cadavres, saisies sanitaires d'abattoir...). Ces matières sont détruites par incinération.

The entire dog food production chain – from the collection of raw materials, through production plants, to storage of the finished product – is strictly regulated (ISO 9000 certification). The most efficient plants using these foodstuffs (in refrigerated, frozen or dehydrated form) follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) management system. They guarantee the quality of the products that enter and leave their plant, conduct regular quality controls and implement a system that enables tracing of every batch. They are also regularly checked by government bodies.

Foods are also analysed to ensure they comply with the recommendations of the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) and the NRC (National Research Council), two US organisations that set the standards in animal feed.

All the nutrients the dog requires are provided by mixtures of meat, fish, cereals, vegetables and supplements (vitamins and minerals, purified nutrients).

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

In wet food, which is packaged in cans, sachets or alutrays, the raw ingredients (meat, cereals, minerals, vitamins, gelling agents) are mixed, cooked, packed and sterilised. Wet foods typically have a high protein and fat content. Additives can be used to change the texture, giving them a jelly-like appearance, for example.

The mixed raw ingredients in dry foods undergo a process of cooking-extrusion, a technological process in which they are subjected to high temperature and high pressure for a short time before being passed through a die to form the mixture into kibbles. The cooking and expansion of the starch is what enables the production of food in the form of kibbles. The kibbles thus retain all the starch (at least 30% of their dry matter). Coating ingredients that cannot survive this process (vitamins, fats, natural aromas) are then sprayed onto the kibbles. The kibbles are immediately packaged in airtight bags, sometimes in a modified atmosphere (replacing oxygen with nitrogen), which guarantees a longer shelf life and preservation of the aroma of the food.


The kibbles are immediately packaged in airtight bags, sometimes
in a modified atmosphere (replacing oxygen with nitrogen), which guarantees a longer shelf life and preservation of the aroma of the food.


Ideally, the kibbles should be consumed within about a month of opening the bag, and stored in a dry, cool, dark place. Small bags are therefore preferable for small dogs.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

Food labelling: available information

There are four categories of pre-prepared dog food:

- Complete foods, which fulfil all the nutritional requirements of a dog in good health, except for water.

- Complementary foods (e.g. flakes, meat sausages, mixer), which must be combined with other foodstuffs to make up the dog’s complete ration.

- Specially formulated clinical diets for dogs suffering from illness (e.g. obesity, kidney failure), available from veterinarians.

- Treats, which are not an essential part of the dog’s nutritional requirements and should be given in small quantities.

Learn more

Is obesity always a result of organic causes or lack of physical activity?

No, there are behavioral causes, some related to attitude (behavioural problems), and some with communication rituals regarding food. For example, development disorders, accompanied by lack of self-control, anxiety, hierarchy disputes, etc.

It's very easy to develop rituals regarding food as part of the communication with our pets. With dogs, it's very easy to get their attention with palatable food, and food is also a communication resource: the dominant dog has the food prerogative, it has, divides and organizes the food for the whole group. Regarding the social communication issues, it is usual that the dog demands food from its owners, a lot of times not out of hunger, but to access the resource. This last, makes it easier for the dog to over-eat and be obese.


Maria de la Paz Salinas,
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine,
Behaviour Specialist (Argentina)

Legal framework

As stated above, according to law, the label must contain certain information about the product.

The label must also clearly identify the product as a “complete food” or a “ complementary food”

The ingredients must be listed in decreasing order of weight. The more detailed the list, the better.

If the list is vague the manufacturer will have more leeway to substitute ingredients based on supply, which will mean that the composition could vary from one batch to the next.

Where an ingredient is highlighted in the product presentation – chicken, for example, - the percentage must be stated in the list of ingredients.

Average analysis

The average or guaranteed analysis of ingredients comprises the content of protein, fat, ash, crude fibre and water (optional for kibbles). These values are most often given in grams per 100 grams of food.

Other substances (e.g. sodium, calcium, phosphorus) do not have to be specified. If they are, the manufacturer is obliged to ensure that their stated contents are strictly adhered to.

Ash (total minerals) is what remains after the total incineration of the food (3 hours at 550-600°C).

The water content of a food determines which category it is in: a dry food (kibbles) contains less than 14% water and a wet food (cans, sachets, alutrays) more than 60% water. Semi-moist foods (e.g. “sausages”) are somewhere in between.

All additives (colouring agents, preservatives, antioxidants) must be approved for use in the country in question. In the European Union approved additives are standardised as E numbers. If vitamins are used, only the content of vitamins A, D3 and E need to be stated. All contents must be correct until the best-before date. Any copper additive must be specifically named and quantified.

The manufacturer’s name, address, country of origin and registration number are obligatory. The codes are sometimes difficult to understand, but they need to be noted down and stated in any complaint. The batch number and best before date are also invaluable information.

Instructions for use

The label will also provide instructions for use of the product based on the physiological condition of the animal it is intended for (puppy, adult, senior), the importance of providing clean water with kibbles and the recommended storage conditions. The suggested daily intake in volume or grams, based on the age and weight of the dog, may also be stated. The owner should adjust this to the individual dog. This is where professional advice adds value, compared with supermarkets.

Is the information on the label enough to make an informed choice?

The label must contain the legally required information which leaves a limited amount of space for further details and so labels provide limited information from which to make an informed choice from a selection of products.

Where a dog is suffering from a specific disorder, veterinary advice should be sought over the use of a veterinary clinical diet. For example, it is not obligatory to state the sodium (Na), i.e. salt, content of a food, so owners will find it difficult to choose a low salt food where required.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

The protein content provides no information whatsoever on protein quality, of course. The protein provided by good meat chunks is of a higher quality than protein from animal by-products. That is why it is important to read the list of ingredients.

Two products cannot be compared on the basis of the quantities of the raw ingredients. For example, does a wet food with 7.5% protein and 81.5% water have a higher, lower or the same protein content as a food containing 8.9% protein and 78% water?

The correct answer is the same. These two foods both contain around 40.5% protein by dry matter, although you need to be good at maths to get to the bottom of it.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

There is actually no easy way of comparing foods based on the information on the label (average analysis), other than the comparison of ingredients. The dry matter or energy concentration must be the basis of all calculations and comparisons.

The feeding amounts stated on packaging are approximate. The only way to know whether the energy intake is satisfactory is regularly weighing the dog to ensure that its weight is stable. Problems such as dull hair, scaly skin and persistent digestive disorders (soft, foul-smelling faeces, flatulence) are reasons for reviewing the dog’s food.

Food ranges and distribution channels


Dog food is sold by various types of outlet: supermarkets, specialist stores (pet shops, grooming salons, garden centres, agri merchants), veterinarians, breeders and online.

There are a great number of brands and formulas and the market is expanding all the time. Supermarkets and some specialist outlets have also introduced their own brands.

A range is made up of all the products sold by a particular brand and tailored to the physiological stage or activity level of the dog. The same brand can have more than one range, depending on the distribution channel. So, the same brand may sell its products through supermarkets, specialised stores and veterinarians under different names. Clinical diets are sold through veterinarians, to ensure the dog receives the correct choice of product along with appropriate health checks, screens and medical care.


Generally speaking, ,supermarkets carry products of either low or medium quality, while specialised shops carry a wider and sometimes excellent technical range of products. Clinical nutritional products, curative in some cases, in addition to life-stage ranges, are available from veterinarians.


Generally speaking, supermarkets carry products of either low or medium quality, while specialised shops carry a wider and sometimes excellent technical range of products. Clinical nutritional products, curative in some cases, in addition to life-stage ranges, are available from veterinarians.

There are many forms of wet food, in terms of both packaging and texture. Clinical diets are available in wet as well as dry form. The texture of wet food (gel, gravy, mousse) is more important to the owner than the dog. It has no impact on nutritional quality, except in certain very specific cases.

So what’s the trick to choosing a complete food? Basically, you get what you pay for. Low-priced products typically contain lower-quality nutrients and raw ingredients. Supermarkets sell so-called “premium” products, too. Here, it is interesting to compare the price per kilogram and feeding cost per day, which is generally less good value than the products sold through veterinarians. Included in the ranges sold in specialist outlets and veterinarians, some brands offer foods specially formulated for certain breeds or groups of breeds with specific sensitivities. All these foods meet the animal’s needs and are formulated on the basis of extensive studies of such parameters as kibble texture, hardness and shape, and the specific nutrients to benefit the health of specific breeds.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

When dealing with prepared foods, owners need to be on their guard for weasel words, such as “balanced” and “tasty”. When choosing a prepared product it is important to weigh up the pros and cons and not to be swayed by anthropomorphic arguments.

The dog is of course the best judge of whether a food is good or bad. With this in mind, the suitability of a particular food to a given individual can be checked on the basis of some simple observations:

- The animal’s appetite, which is an expression of its good health and the food’s sensory qualities (aroma, taste, consistency).

- The quality of the faeces, in terms of volume, consistency, wetness, colour and odour, which provides information on digestibility and the dog’s digestive system.

- The animal’s weight, which should be measured every week (puppies) or every month (adults) to ensure it does not gain or lose too much.

- The integrity of the skin and the beauty of the coat, which closely reflect the health of the dog, revealing any dietary imbalances or general health problems.

- The dog’s behaviour, which should be happy and active, depending on its habits.

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