What You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Diet
A well-balanced, complete diet is essential throughout your dog or cat’s life. But beyond that, considering the wide range of choices available, how do you decide which pet food is best for your pet? We’re here to help!
Keep reading to learn about the basics of pet nutrition and how your veterinarian can make sure your pet is getting the most appropriate food for his or her needs.
Pet Nutrition 101
Dogs and cats both have specific nutritional needs, which can change over time, depending on life stage and health status (whether a pet has a disease or medical condition that requires a specialized diet).
As a pet owner, you want to ensure that your pet gets a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, which means that it contains the proper amount of essential nutrients in the correct ratios. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine which pet foods are safe and meet pets’ nutritional needs.
When comparing pet foods, you want to avoid focusing on the ingredients (unless your pet has a true food allergy) and instead pay attention to the nutrients that the food provides, as well as the quality and digestibility of the food.
All dogs and cats require the following basic nutrients as part of their diet:
These nutrient categories can be further broken down into the essential nutrients. These include:
- Essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins
- Essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, both key omega-3 fatty acids)
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K and choline
- Minerals such as calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, and sodium
A poor diet can result in problems such as obesity, arthritis, heart disease, and more.
The Special Nutritional Needs of Cats
Both dogs and cats have specific nutritional needs, but cats’ needs tend to be a bit more specific. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need to consume meat to survive. They also can’t make certain essential nutrients (or can’t make them well). Their regular food must provide an amino acid called taurine, as well as other essential nutrients, such as arginine, niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
Pet Food Labels
So how can you tell if a food is appropriate for your pet? You might be surprised to learn that pet food labels aren’t the answer. They don’t provide information about quality, and you can’t generally tell by looking at the label whether a food will be digestible for your pet. However, if the label says the food is “completed and balanced,” it does indicate that the food should provide all the essential nutrients in the right amounts for a specific species (dog or cat).
Some pet foods include ingredients that may appeal to pet owners but don’t provide any significant nutritional value.
In addition, most pet food labels also list the life stage that the food is intended for.
Your pet’s nutritional needs may change during different life stages and for a number of other reasons, including level of activity, lifestyle, and health. Pet foods are generally tailored towards these life stages:
- Gestation and lactation (reproduction)
- Growth (puppy/kitten)
- Adult maintenance
- All life stages
If the food is labeled for all life stages or growth, it should also indicate whether the food is appropriate for dogs expected to reach at least 70 pounds (32 kilograms) as adults.
Note that there are no nutritional standards for senior pet diets, although manufacturers often sell commercial diets marketed for aging pets. Your veterinarian can help you decide if your older dog or cat may benefit from a change in diet.
Nutritional needs vary over time and from pet to pet, so your veterinarian will evaluate your individual dog or cat before recommending a specific food.
For pets who have certain health conditions, we may prescribe a therapeutic diet. These special diets are manufactured to maintain the health of pets with specific health problems. For instance, pets with chronic kidney disease, heart disease, skin issues, or food allergies can all benefit from tailored nutrition.
For pets who need to watch their weight or slim down some, we can recommend a weight management diet.
The Truth About Raw Diets
Raw diets continue making headlines, and social media posts promoting their purported benefits seem to pop up every day. But let’s be clear: Raw diets are not safe and pose significant health risks to both people and pets.
Not only do raw diets carry a high risk of bacterial contamination, which could make both pets and people ill, but raw diets may also contain parasites. Raw diets often have nutritional imbalances as well, and there’s no scientific evidence that raw diets help improve pets’ oral health, keep them trim, help them live longer, or cure diseases. In fact, bones in raw diets are dangerous and can crack teeth, cause punctures in a pet’s digestive tract, and even get stuck in the throat or intestines.
The risk of raw diets far outweighs any supposed benefits.
Personalized Nutritional Counseling
We know how important it is to feed your pet the right diet for his or her individual needs. Unlike a pet store, we make personalized dietary recommendations for each of our patients, based on history, physical findings, health, your pet’s needs, and your preferences.
For many of our patients, we recommend premium Royal Canin diets because they provide precise nutrition for pets’ specific life stages, sizes, and any health conditions. Royal Canin diets are available for curbside pickup and through our online store. We also recommend other veterinary diets, depending on a pet’s specific dietary needs.
Call us today to set up an appointment so we can recommend the best food for your pet!