If you’ve been a pet owner or even if you have a brand new pet, you may have noticed a plethora of information out there (especially online) about pet food and pet nutrition. The internet abounds with advice, marketing, and guidance for pet owners about what they should feed their pets. How is a conscientious pet owner to make a decision about what to feed?

But wait. It should be easy, right? Pour the food into their bowl and that’s it? Not quite. Pets have specific nutritional requirements that need to be met in order for them to thrive.

Before your throw up your hands in confusion, have no fear. Fairview Veterinary Hospital has the scoop (no pun intended) on pet nutrition.

Pet Nutrition 101

The very most basic guidance for pet nutrition is this: just as in people, pets who eat a higher quality diet feel better, are healthier, and live longer lives with fewer diseases. Pet foods should be nutritionally balanced and have the right ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates for your pet’s age, breed, and activity.

It’s virtually impossible to tell the nutritional content of pet food from the list of ingredients on the bag. Very few companies have the resources to do food research, proper quality control, and feeding studies. Please don’t be fooled by marketing statements and claims. Ask our veterinarians about their advice and opinions when it comes to choosing a reputable company and pet food.

Here are a few things we consider:

Age – age should always be a consideration when selecting a pet food. Puppies and kittens need extra protein to help their bodies and brains grow and develop properly. Senior pets who are perhaps less active- can benefit from a different ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates than an active agility dog in her prime.

Activity – some pets have different energy needs based on their lifestyle. Breeding, pregnant, or lactating females will also need a specific nutrient mix.

Breed – your pet’s breed should be taken into account when selecting a pet food. Large breed dogs may need a different food than a toy breed, for example. Some breeds can benefit from a diet that takes their genetic predispositions into account.

Portion Control and Treats

No matter what diet we choose together for your pet, portion control is always important. It has been studies that over 50% of the pet population today is overweight or obese, and this contributes to a whole host of health problems. Learn how many calories are in a portion of your pet’s food, and ask your veterinarian to help you determine the proper portion for your pet – then measure your pet’s food at every meal!

Treats should make up no more than 5% of your pet’s daily caloric intake. For a fun and low calorie treat, cut up raw apples, carrots, and green beans instead of high calorie and expensive commercial pet treats.

A Word About Fad Diets

Raw diets, vegan or vegetarian diets, and grain-free diets have all made appearances for pets. But, is this the best nutrition for our pets?

  • Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can and should eat nutrients from a variety of food sources. There is no evidence that grain free diets are of benefit to dogs, and in some cases grain free diets may even cause health problems.
  • It’s extremely difficult for dogs to get the nutrients they need from a vegan or vegetarian diet, and if you choose to go this route, we recommend you work with a veterinary nutritionist who can help you create a diet that is nutritionally balanced, so as to avoid health issues in your dog.  
  • Raw diets can contain unsafe pathogens, are not usually nutritionally balanced, and can cause a whole host of problems.
  • Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must have amino acids from meat/animal sources in order to live. Feeding your cat a vegan, vegetarian, or other fad diet puts their life at risk.  

Manage Disease with Diet

If your pet has a health issue such as allergies, kidney disease, arthritis, or diabetes, your veterinarian may prescribe a specially formulated pet food as a part of our treatment plan. Prescription foods have been diligently researched, formulated, and studied to be effective in treating specific diseases.

Pet nutrition is one of the most complicated and nuanced topics in veterinary medicine. Please call us if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s diet. We’re here to help!