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The Basics of Good Pet Nutrition

cat eating

One of the key elements of good pet care is good nutrition – that’s why we tend to be choosy about what we recommend for your pets. Good nutrition is the foundation of ensuring your pet develops and lives healthily.

Helping to understand what you should feed your pet is easier if you understand the basic biology of the species and why they eat, what they eat.

Dogs:

Dogs are primarily carnivorous. However, as you may notice from what your dog will happily steal from your plate, they tend to be more omnivorous in eating habits. For example, when wild dogs make a kill, they will often eat the stomach and contents (normally grasses and grains) of their prey first.

The important thing to note is that dogs are historically opportunistic hunters. This requires them to be flexible so, if they cannot get enough meat, they will happily supplement their diet with things like eggs, fruits and seeds. This is not a long-term survival strategy for them but it does go some way to explaining why our pet dogs will happily steal all manner of odd things from our plates!

Cats:

Unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores. This means that cats need to eat meat as a biological necessity. As clever as they are, cats are unable to produce a very important organic acid called Taurine. This is ONLY found in meat products.

What does Taurine do? Taurine plays an essential role in the development and function of muscles, the central nervous system and the retina.

Over thousands of years of being a predatory carnivore, cats’ bodies have become used to getting Taurine and other vital acids and nutrients from their prey and their bodies have ceased to produce them. Their digestive systems are also adapted to digest large amounts of meat.

Did you know? Cats aren’t the only obligate carnivore out there – others include dolphins and seals!

So where does this leave the vegetarian pet debate?

The vegetarian pet debate is one that draws passionate responses from both sides. As you can see from this article, we are of the understanding that it is generally healthier for your pet to be fed a meat-based diet. If you would like to feed your pet a vegetarian diet then please speak to a veterinary professional about what they would advise.

The basis of good nutrition:

We would recommend feeding a good quality complete diet. Both dry and wet foods have their pro’s and cons – wet foods tend to be a bit tastier but are generally not good in the long term for dental health, whilst dry foods are a bit less exciting but tend to be very nutritionally beneficial.

Your pet will probably have a preference and let you know!

We would recommend that you avoid making your home-made food for your pet as these often lack in the correct balance of nutrients.

One size doesn’t fit all:

Pets’ nutritional needs differ according to their age, breed, size, whether they are neutered and a host of other factors. You can buy food for the young, the old, the ill and those in need of shifting a few pounds!

Put simply, there is no one recommendation that is right for all pets.

If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of choice on display, then please ask us for advice and we can find the right product for your pet and their needs.

Be aware that your pet’s nutritional needs will change as they age so their diet should reflect this. You may want to switch your pet onto a neutered diet once they are castrated or spayed so they don’t put on weight, or switch to a diet for a mature pet once your pet is around seven years old so they can benefit from an increase in certain supplements and vitamins.

Snacking and treats:

We’ve all been there – sad pet eyes looking at us hopefully as they beg for our food. But it’s very important that you resist the urge to give them human food as a treat.

Because of our pets’ smaller size, any snack they have is the equivalent of far more – so just one slice of ham is around 20% of a cat’s daily calorie intake! This means that ‘just one little treat’ can have a serious impact on your pet’s food intake and lead to pet obesity in the long term. Pet obesity can lead to a reduced life span and compromised quality of life, so giving human food is really ‘killing with kindness’. If you do give them treats, make sure that they are designed for pets and are given sparingly.

My pet is fussy!

This isn’t unusual. You may find that your pet will happily eat a food one day and then turn their nose up at it the next. This is often known as food monotony and dates back to your pet’s ancestral history as a hunter, with pets trying to eat a variety of foods so they don’t exhaust a single food source.

Of course, it may be that your pet IS just fussy. A lot of pets know that their owners will fret over them and offer them alternatives. It’s important to be firm with how you deal with this – don’t offer treats as an incentive or replacement and don’t give them human food.

Make your pet aware that you won’t be offering other options and remove bowls after 30 minutes, whether they’ve eaten the food or not. Do this again at their next meal time. Eventually, you will win this battle! If your pet doesn’t start to eat the food, it may be that they have a health problem. Please call your local vet for advice or to book a consultation.

Cats are normally ‘grazers’ who like to return to their dish multiple times so we would not advise using the takeaway bowl strategy in the long term.

I still have questions…!

Just like us, pets can have their own individual tastes and opinions on food. If you’re having issues with finding the right food for your pet, want to know your options or have any other problems, please give your local Medivet practice a call. You can use our online practice finder to locate your nearest Medivet.

Glossary:

Carnivore – An animal that feeds on other animals

Obligate Carnivore – An animal that must feed on other animals

Omnivore – An animal that eats both other animals and plants

Vegetarian – Someone/something which does not eat meat or fish, or sometimes other animal products

Herbivore – An animal that feeds only on plants

Food monotony – Becoming bored of their usual diet 

Posted April 22, 2015 in Pet Care Advice

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