Proper Nutrition: The Best Thing for Your Pet’s Health
Many diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, allergic skin diseases, and metabolic bone disease, can be linked to inappropriate diet and nutrition. On the other hand, appropriate nutrition can help manage diseases by decreasing inflammation, reactivity, and minimizing organ dysfunction.
Our pets today are nothing like their wild ancestors. However, some of their nutritional needs are still similar. For example, cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet much higher in protein and fat, but still need some carbohydrates. Dogs, which are more omnivorous and require less protein, require a better balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. This is why it is never good to allow dogs to eat cat food and vice versa. In addition, cats cannot make taurine, an essential amino acid necessary for their metabolism and proper heart function, so certain nutrients are added to prepared cat food to accommodate this need. Vegetarian diets do not work well for pets, as soy is a very difficult protein to absorb. Even though it is available commercially, we do not recommend feeding a vegetarian diet to dogs or cats.
Commercially Prepared Versus Homemade Pet Foods
The veterinarians at Mountainview Small Animal Hospital recommend feeding a high-quality, commercially prepared pet food over making your pet’s food at home. Quality, commercially prepared pet foods are fully balanced for the right ratio of vitamins and minerals that each species needs for metabolic function. Additionally, it is more expensive to feed a complete homemade diet, and in most cases it is almost impossible to completely balance this homemade food adequately. For example, small breed dogs fed homemade food can often suffer from metabolic bone disease. This is because of the incorrect ratio of calcium and phosphorus in the food. This often leads to bone loss, leading to thin bones, joint problems, bad teeth, and even jaw fractures.
Should I Feed a “Grain-Free” Diet?
First of all, not all grains are bad, and in some cases, feeding grain-free diets increases allergies to other ingredients, such as potato, sweet potato, and green peas. With an increase in pet food allergies, trying to find a replacement diet for a corn- or wheat-based food that does not contain these other ingredients can be challenging. If the pet is not suffering from any problems, it is not always a good idea to switch their diet. They do not have the same digestion or flora as their wild ancestors, and changing diets frequently can be harmful in the long run. They do not need a variety in their diet, and if we vary ingredients, we expose them to more allergic proteins, which later in life may make finding the right diet difficult. Keep in mind, food is a type of medicine, and overuse or misuse can be just as bad as giving the wrong medication in many cases.
Treats and Chews
People love to give their pets treats, whether they come from a package or off their own plate. Unfortunately, there can be several negative consequences to both of these scenarios.
In general, we do not advocate “people food/table scraps” at all for pets. These can often lead to pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, and even foreign objects getting stuck. Many packaged treats that are labeled for pets also can cause problems. This is most associated with “jerky” treats. These come in all forms, but are usually made from chicken, duck, and other protein sources. In recent years, there have been chemical contaminants, and salmonella contaminants, leading to severe illness and even death. In general, we recommend avoiding all jerky treats no matter the form or where they are made. Also, rawhide, pig ears, cow hooves, or other processed byproducts can cause gastrointestinal problems, as well as allergic food reactions.
We understand dogs like to chew on things, and cats need some kind of enrichment. For dogs, we recommend antlers of the appropriate size, sterilized beef bones (white and hollow with no stuffing), and Nylabones or Kong toys. These are all great chews, and if used early with young pets, they are more likely to be accepting of these and play with them. As with any chew toy, supervision is recommended and chews should be replaced as they wear down in size to avoid choking or swallowing large pieces whole.
For cats, we recommend environmental enrichment, such as cat trees of various shapes and sizes, “play-n-treat” toys that allow them to eat their meals while playing with toys, catnip, and even outdoor enclosures to allow them freedom from boredom.
Above all, prevention is much easier than treating after the fact, and we hope that this information will help keep your pets happy and healthy.