Your Top 9 Food Questions Answered!
Eating right is important for pets, but just what constitutes right? Your veterinarian—and this article—can help
Nutrition is a critically important element of your pet’s health. But when it comes to feeding your dog or cat, choosing the best diet can be difficult. After all, the options available—and the amount of information about them—are seemingly endless. Your veterinarian can help narrow the choices down by suggesting appropriate options for your furry friend’s specific nutritional needs. In the meantime, here are the answers to common pet-food questions.
What is the best food for my pet?
When it comes to pets, there is no one best or right diet. As with people, different pets have different nutritional needs. Pet foods can be homemade or commercially prepared, wet or dry, and conventional (meaning they contain traditional ingredients in a conventional formulation) or alternative (such as homemade or containing raw ingredients). The best choice for your pet depends on, well, your individual pet.
Does my pet need a varied diet?
There’s no solid evidence to support that pets are healthier when they eat a variety of foods. However, providing a variety has an advantage: It prevents your pet from getting locked into one type of food and makes it easier to make changes if necessary.
What is the difference between therapeutic and regular diets?
Therapeutic diets are formulated to reverse or control clinical signs of disease or to slow disease progression. Kidney failure diets, for example, can slow progression of kidney disease in pets and improve their quality of life. (For more about kidney disease in pets, see page 20.) Therapeutic diets usually contain more defined ingredients, use higher-quality ingredients, and have tighter quality control. The formulations don’t change unless new scientific information becomes available. Because they’re intended for pets with specific health conditions, these diets are only available through veterinarians and should be used under veterinary supervision.
Is there a danger in feeding my pet the wrong diet?
In a word, yes. Your healthy pet should be fed a diet formulated for its specific stage of life. The Association of American Feed Control Officials recognizes two life stages: adult and reproduction, which includes pets that are pregnant, lactating, and growing. It would be inappropriate to feed an adult dog a diet designed for growing puppies, for example, because doing so could result in obesity. Likewise, it’d be inappropriate to feed cat food to a dog (or vice versa), because diets are designed specifically to meet the different nutritional requirements of each species.
My pet is overweight. What can I do?
Obesity is the most common nutritional problem veterinarians see in dogs and cats today. Being overweight can bring on a host of problems for your pet, including arthritis, urinary problems, heart disease, endocrine problems, intestinal problems, and cancer, and it can even decrease your pet’s life expectancy. So it’s important to recognize a pet’s obesity, accept it, and then change it with diet, exercise, and possibly medication.
Obesity is the most common nutritional problem veterinarians see in dogs and cats today.
Several types of diets, typically those higher in fiber and lower in fat, can help manage obesity in dogs. (“Lite” diets don’t usually work, nor does feeding your pet less of its current diet.) In cats, there are two different dietary strategies: a higher fiber, lower fat diet or a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet. It also helps to feed your dogs or cats regular meals every day rather than having food available to them all the time, to decrease or eliminate treats, and to prevent access to additional foods. Increasing exercise and energy expenditure helps, too.
Generally, diet and exercise are the best options; however, there is a medication called Slentrol that can help dogs decrease weight. (It is not designed for cats.) The medication is not without side effects and risk, and using it requires thorough veterinary supervision. So ask your doctor if it’s right for your dog.
Is it OK to give my pet table scraps?
Table scraps are not necessarily bad; however, they can be bad depending on what is fed and how much. Treats and table foods should not exceed 5% of your pet’s daily food intake. Feeding higher amounts can increase your pet’s risk of obesity and can unbalance your pet’s diet. What’s more, certain types of people foods are toxic or unsafe for pets. Some examples include chocolate, onions (especially bad for cats), high-fat foods like butter and oil that can lead to obesity or intestinal problems, dairy products (most pets lose the ability to adequately digest milk), and raw eggs because of the potential for bacteria.
What about raw food diets—are they safe for my pet?
Homemade raw food diets have potential drawbacks, including nutritional imbalances and deficiencies and the risk of infectious disease like Salmonella. Because of these risks, avoid feeding raw food diets to puppies and kittens. However, for adult pets, these diets can be formulated to be complete and balanced, and proper hygiene and storage can minimize the risk of infections. Raw food diets even have advantages, including more digestible ingredients, the ability to tailor the diet to your pet’s specific needs, and control over what your pet eats.
Treats and table foods should not exceed 5% of your pet’s daily food intake.
If you’re interested in feeding your pet a homemade raw food diet, ask a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to evaluate the formula. If you’d like to buy a commercial raw-ingredient diet, look for those approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
What should I look for in a pet food?
It’s important to read the label. In addition to listing the nutrients and the guaranteed analysis (the minimum or maximum amount of four essential nutrients: water, fiber, protein, and fat), the label provides a nutritional adequacy statement that details which animal the diet is intended for and how its nutritional adequacy was substantiated. When possible, choose a diet that has been through feeding trials—this tells you that the diet was actually fed to dogs or cats before sale. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to choose a food that’s appropriate for your pet’s size and age and that meets any special nutritional requirements for your pet.
When it comes to dry or canned food, is one better for my pet?
Depending on the diet, the manufacturer, and your preferences, both are acceptable. Dry food is made by mixing dry ingredients with water; the dough is then baked and cut into shapes. For this reason, ingredients may be listed as meals (for example, chicken meal). Canned foods contain wet ingredients such as whole meat or whole vegetables and have a higher water content. Generally, canned foods are more easily digested. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no proof that dry foods prevent teeth problems.
Remember, the best way to decide which foods are right for your cat or dog is to talk with your veterinarian. He or she will provide important nutritional advice that you—and your pet—can sink your teeth into.