The type of food you choose for your pet can have significant consequences (good or bad) on overall health and disease. Whether your pet is a growing puppy, healthy adult, or a senior with osteoarthritis or other medical conditions, there are specific dietary modifications that can be made to enhance the health of your pet and prolong his life. Each patient is an individual, and broad recommendations are difficult to make. Simple rules to follow: most importantly, talk to you veterinarian about what you currently feed your four-legged friend, how much, and types of treats or human food he gets. This should be part of the conversation during exams at least twice a year, or whenever new medical information is discovered. Rule number two: be an informed owner and critical of what you find online, in pet food stores, or hear from friends/family. The best advice to follow is based upon scientific research and carefully formulated nutrition. This information should come from your veterinarian as they have access to the most up to date veterinary nutrition research information.
Although there are many confusing phrases and terms to decipher on pet food bags and labels, your veterinarian can help you understand terms such as organic, natural, by-products, light/lite, along with many others. Some of these terms are regulated by the USDA and must meet certain requirements to be printed on a bag of dog or cat food. What may appear to be a great food in a leading pet store, may actually be harmful to your pet. Often the detrimental results of under or over feeding particular nutrients may take years to cause obvious problems in your pet. However, once these problems occur, they may not be reversible.
Ingredients can be misleading items that cause confusion when trying to find the best food for your pet. Ingredients are listed by weight (in descending order) at the time of production. This means that dry ingredients will be listed farther down on the list, while ingredients containing water (whole meat) will appear higher on the list. Of course we want the best ingredients to make up a nutritionally sound food; this is not the only thing to consider. Although ingredients may sound delicious – whole chicken breast, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, etc – more important is the nutrient profile that your pet will digest and utilize. We all know that vegetables are good for us, but if you ONLY ate green beans all day, every day for months, you would certainly not be getting all of the nutrients you need to function and be healthy. The same goes for pet food. Quality ingredients must be present in a nutritionally balanced diet, but just because a food has quality ingredients, doesn’t mean that it will contain all of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients required.
The American Association of Feed Officials (AAFCO) is a governing body that imposing regulations on pet food labels. You should look on the bag of food for a statement that reads “Product X has undergone AAFCO approved feeding trials for adult maintenance”. You may also find a statement that the product has “been formulated” to meet certain requirement. This means that the food has not been fed to dogs/cats in a controlled setting. Feeding trials involve 6 months of intense (and costly) study of the dogs or cats being fed the food. Dogs are weighed and blood/urine testing is done at the beginning, and throughout the study. While not perfect, these tests give us confidence that the food is a healthy product and the company producing it cares about the animals being fed.
Giving your furry friend treats and rewards is an important part of training and bonding. While treats may seem very small to us, they can add up very quickly in calories and change the balance of nutrients in their diet. Some chews/treats can have more than 75% of your dog’s daily caloric needs – and for small dogs, this can be even more significant. Many dogs will be just as happy receiving a piece of their regular dog kibble as a treat. Other healthy options include carrots, green beans, or Cheerios. Although these are great healthy alternative to high salt and high calorie treats, they can certainly become a significant source of calories. Total treats (whether veggies or raw hides) should not be more than 10% of your pets total intake for the day.
Foods/treats to avoid: Onions, garlic, chocolate, grapes, and raisins can all be toxic to dogs. Do not give your pet any of these foods, and contact us or an emergency veterinarian immediately if your pet consumes any of these. Real bones (even when cooked) can cause teeth to fracture. They also pose a potential risk for bacterial contamination for your pet and for the humans in the household (especially children). When a tooth becomes fractured, this is a urgent condition that may require extraction (or root canal) to prevent infection from moving into the jaw bone. Ice cubes and anything harder than enamel can also cause fractured teeth.
While we may not be able to control our own nutrition due to lifestyle and busy schedules, we have an obligation to our pets to provide them with the best that they deserve. Schedule an appointment today for a nutrition consultation, or wellness exam (recommended every 6 months) to learn more about your pet’s nutrition.