What is the one thing you do every single day for your pet that impacts his or her health? If you answered, “feed them” you are correct! Choosing an appropriate diet can set your pet on a path of lifelong good nutrition and help prevent many problems, including allergies, nutritional deficiencies, skin and coat disorders, and obesity. Since dogs and cats have a condensed life span compared to humans, it’s even more important they are getting superior nutrition, as it can have a stronger impact on that shorter life span. We also know that excesses of certain nutrients can be very damaging when consumed over time. In fact, excesses of nutrients are just as harmful as deficiencies. It is entirely possible that providing superior nutrition might help delay the onset of some diet-related diseases as well as help to prevent some.
There are literally hundreds of pet foods available and it is easy to get confused or overwhelmed by all the various brands on the market. Other issues that often confuse the subject are advertising and websites that may present false and misleading information. We can help you sort through the choices and find a food that will meet your pet’s specific nutritional needs.
Some points to keep in mind when selecting food for your pet(s) are listed below. You want to know that your pet’s food:
- Meets specific dietary requirements for your pet’s age and health status
- Delivers the right balance of nutrients
- Is backed by scientific research
- Has quality controls in place, such as ingredient screening and product inspections
- Has gone through AAFCO feeding trials (i.e., the food was actually fed to dogs or cats to ensure they are getting proper levels of nutrients)
- Is formulated for a specific life stage (i.e., growth, adult or senior)
Nutritional needs of pets change throughout their lives therefore no single food is appropriate for all stages of a pet’s life. Just like people, every dog and cat has unique nutritional needs based on their age, environment, health status and activity level. Puppies and kittens have different needs compared to adult and senior pets. Nutrition for each life stage is briefly discussed below.
Puppies and kittens (up to 1 year of age)
Proper nutrition during the first year of life is particularly important because it will give them a healthy start and will make a difference later in their life. Puppies and kittens need high quality nutrition to provide the extra ‘building blocks’ for healthy growth and the development of strong teeth, bones and muscles. It is also important to avoid “overfeeding” your puppy or kitten as that may result in an overweight adult. Ideally you don’t necessarily want to be able to see their ribs, but should be able to feel them without having to search for them. When your puppy or kitten reaches 12 months of age, he or she should be transitioned to an adult food.
Large and giant breed puppies (defined as dogs that will be 55 pounds or more as an adult)
Not all puppy foods are good for all breeds. Because large and giant breed puppies grow very rapidly, they have unique dietary requirements and it is crucially important they are fed properly during their first year. Examples of some specific large breeds are Labradors, golden retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Weimaraners and Doberman Pinschers. Examples of giant breeds include Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Giant Schnauzers and Saint Bernards. Obviously there are many mixed-breed dogs that fall into this category as well.
Studies show that large breed puppies require lower levels of dietary calcium and fat than small or medium-sized breeds. Consuming too much calcium and too many calories can increase the risk of developmental skeletal problems such as hip dysplasia and osteochondritis. Very few commercial puppy foods offer the ideal mix of calcium and calorie levels that these breeds need. We can provide you with feeding recommendations that will help you maximize your dog’s growth potential without causing developmental problems. We recommend that you do NOT give supplemental calcium to large breed puppies (this can include calcium pills as well as dairy products such as cottage cheese, milk, ice cream and cheese). For your convenience, we stock veterinary-approved diets for large and giant breeds.
During adulthood, we want to feed a pet food that is designed specifically for the adult life stage. Since adult pets are no longer growing, they require less calories, calcium, protein, sodium and various other nutrients compared to a growth diet. We want to select a pet food that has optimal levels (not too much or too little) of nutrients to help maintain good health. It is also important to avoid overfeeding or select a pet food that has too many calories.
Dogs and cats are often considered older when they reach half of their life expectancy. A food change should be considered around the age of seven for cats and small to medium-sized dogs, and at five years for large and giant breed dogs.
Similar to humans, a pet’s body and daily activity levels change with age. Once your cat or dog enters their senior years, you can help maintain good health by altering the way you care for your pet. This includes the nutrition we select for them. Just as with adult pets, we want to select a pet food that has optimal levels (not too much or too little) of nutrients to help maintain good health. As pets mature, they may gradually begin to gain weight and develop age-related physical and behavioral changes. Older cats and dogs also have a greater risk of developing problems with their kidneys and heart. They may have special digestive needs, so a food with lower fat, protein, sodium, phosphorus and calorie levels with increased amounts of fiber is ideal.
Therapeutic pet foods
There are many therapeutic nutrition products available to help manage many of the diseases we see in pets. In many cases, nutrition is a critical part of the treatment regimen. Disease conditions that can be managed in part through nutrition include:
- obesity and weight management
- kidney disease
- heart disease
- liver disease
- dental disease
- intestinal conditions
- dermatologic (skin) conditions
- food allergy
- urinary tract disease (including urinary bladder stones)
- cognitive dysfunction in dogs
- hyperthyroidism in cats
Please don’t hesitate to ask if a therapeutic pet food might be appropriate for your pet!
Our veterinarians can help you make informed decisions about your pet’s diet. We can counsel you on which foods are the best choices based on your pet’s needs, how much to feed, and even how to understand pet food labels. We can create a nutrition plan specifically for your pet, and we’re also happy to work with you to help an overweight pet get down to a healthy weight. Please call us to set up a personalized nutrition consultation for you and your pet. We’re happy to help!