Pet nutrition in a nutshell
There are many opposing views on the topic of nutrition for pets. Science is tinged by public perception and hype. We all want our pets to enjoy eating and to live for a long time. This article will address some of the hot topics with a goal to keep our pets happy and healthy.
Dry versus canned food:
They both have their benefits! Dry food helps keep teeth clean by mechanical scrubbing during chewing. It is also usually less expensive to feed. Canned food adds liquid to a pet’s diet and can tempt picky eaters. Feeding dry food alone to dogs is fine, and there is nothing wrong with feeding some of each. Cats are notoriously poor drinkers, so offering some canned food as well as dry can improve hydration.
Free choice versus meals:
For dogs we prefer meals. This limits caloric intake, helping to prevent obesity. It also helps with urine acidity, helping to prevent bladder problems. And, very importantly for our hikin’, bikin’ bow valley pups; we know that they have had sufficient nutrition before you travel to keep them energized! Unless your cat is overweight and lazy, free choice dry food may work for you. Nibbling over the course of the day is more like their ancestral diet of mice. It is a great idea to make them work for their food. Treat balls, maze-type feeding bowls, hiding food around the house and even simply tossing kibbles one by one down the hallway or stairs increases exercise and makes mealtime more exciting.
Raw food diets:
Not such a good idea for two main reasons. Number one, in random sampling of many brands of raw pet food, very pathogenic bacteria have been found. Think bugs like Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridum; bugs that are commonly implicated in food poisoning outbreaks. These bugs are tough too; 24-hour soaks in bleach didn’t kill them. We would rather your pets, children and your kitchen not be exposed to these bacteria and parasites. Number two, these diets are not balanced for nutrients. Commercial diets must follow strict guidelines regarding balancing vitamins and minerals, not so raw diets. If you like the idea of a healthy whole foods diet, ask your veterinarian for recipes with supplied vitamin mineral premixes to ensure balance, and be sure to cook the meat!
Corn, Wheat, and Soy:
These foods have a completely undeserved bad reputation. Ground, cooked corn is an excellent source of omega fatty acids, anti-oxidant vitamins, digestible carbohydrates and quality proteins. Wheat has been implicated in food allergies, but this is rarely the case in pets. Moderate amounts of wheat are very healthy. Soy is an excellent source of protein. Provided that these nutrients are high quality and prepared correctly they add significant benefit to pet food.
All meat or mostly meat diets:
Cats require higher protein levels than dogs. Both species need vitamins, minerals and amino acids from non-meat sources to complete their nutrition. In laboratory testing, high meat diets have been found to have poor Calcium/ Phosphorus balance, predisposing the pet to bone and joint disease. Excess protein in the diet can put a strain on the kidneys and liver, especially in older pets. When choosing a healthy diet, think “balance” not “meat”.
Bones can cause fractured teeth, abscesses, vomiting, diarrhea, impaction, perforation of the GI tract and death. Find rawhide chews, rubber toys, treat filled puzzle toys, etc. to keep your pet happily occupied without endangering their health.
“By-products” and “Meat Meal”:
Most people shudder when they see these terms used in pet foods. However, many of these ingredients are wholesome and yummy. By-products include things like animal fats, organ meats, beet pulp and tomato pomace, all of which add benefit to pet foods. Meat meal means that chicken, beef or other high-quality meats have been ground, and then dried to make a protein-rich healthy ingredient.
Curvy Versus Slim:
New research has shown that slim littermates live 1-2 years longer than their curvy littermates. And we all know that pet obesity is rampant. Overweight pets are prone to many serious and costly diseases and will not live as long as healthier weight pets. It is well worth the time and energy monitoring you pet’s weight, calories and exercise. A healthy pet has a slim waist and ribs that can be felt under the skin. We all want our pets to live for a very long time, keeping them slim is the most important thing you can do.
Grocery Store Foods versus Veterinary Pet Foods:
Although there is a perceived cost and convenience in purchasing grocery store foods, you may actually spend more in the long run. Veterinary pet foods use premium ingredients and have undergone extensive testing. They may seem to cost more but typically have less filler, requiring you to feed less; and pick up fewer poops. They are formulated to enhance health, maximize longevity and reduce the likelihood of your pet getting illnesses. You may save thousands of dollars in veterinary bills by feeding healthy diets specifically formulated to prevent diseases such as dental disease, obesity, bladder stones, heart disease and kidney failure to name a few. Ask your vet for nutrition advice; they have years of experience and the scientific knowledge to help you. In the words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”