Pet Nutritional Basics – what do you need to know?
Whether you have had a pet before or are getting a new pet, often many questions of feeding come to mind. Many new pet pet owners will ask their vet, breeder, friends or local pet stores questions like; “What is the best food to feed my pet? How often and how much should I feed my pet? Should I feed my pet raw or bones? If so what sort? What about treats?” Depending on who you ask or what website you visit, you may get conflicting answers and then start to worry that you may not be doing the best for your pet. So, what should you believe? In this article, we look at basic nutrition
From the very beginning, the nutritional needs of a pet are extremely important. A dog is what I like to call an opportunistic carnivore. For centuries of evolution cats and dogs differ greatly; cats are meat eaters and dogs in the wild would eat whatever they could find. One Size doesn’t fit all
Don’t be fooled by marketing claims
Don’t be fooled by the claims of natural ingredients and complete nutrition. Most dog foods may not carry enough of human grade ingredients to really give your pup the nutrients that he/she requires. If I were to tell you that in order to be healthy you needed to eat a highly processed diet, full of ingredients that would not be fit for the human food chain, mixed and cooked at very high temperatures, loaded with preservatives and some food coloring, you would tell me that I was crazy. Common sense tells us that I might like to eat at fast food from time to time but a diet loaded with carbs and fillers is not one that will foster bone development.
Some of the top myths out there are:
– Only pet food companies can create a nutritious diet for your pet
– Dry kibble is the healthiest diet for your pet
– A larger kibble is needed to keep teeth clean
– My favorite: never feed “people food”; What does “people food” really mean? Whole fruits, vegetables and human grade proteins are nutrient rich. However, there are some exceptions that are not good for your pet like grapes(raisins), some nuts and onions.
– A natural pet food is expensive. If you feed a diet that has less fillers you actually feed less per feeding.
Dry pet foods were created out of convenience, not for nutritional reasons. Not all kibble is created equal. Some are made with what I like to call the leftovers of the human food chain (that is not fit for human consumption). It is no coincidence that pet food companies have been following the trend toward more natural ingredients. It is the identical trend that we see in our own diets. We feel better as we eat healthier and reduce our processed diet. There is a greater impact on our puppies as their systems are not meant to thrive on a highly processed diet. Common sense tells us if we feed our puppies a natural diet, they will be healthier, which, in turn, will lead to less issues in the future such as joint and kidney issues.
Read the FOOD label.
Turn the bag over and look at the ingredient panel. The first five ingredients typically make up over 90% of what is in the bag. You always want to look for protein(s) to be first. Avoid corn soy, wheat or processed grains (gluten etc) because they are difficult to digest and are the top culprits for allergies. You want to see whole grains, fruits and vegetables. If you would not eat a protein/carb only diet, why should your pet.
Selecting a FOOD
It is important to select a food that best meets your pet’s needs. First, you should follow a needs checklist:
1) Size – Do you have a large breed pet? (expect adult weight to be >70lb. or a small breed)
2) Digestive tract – Does your pet or his breed have a sensitive digestive tract?
3) Allergies – Does your pet have allergies? What are the common signs?
How big or little your pet is going to be is a key factor in selecting a food. For large breed puppies, you don’t want them to grow too fast. For small dogs you want a food with bites that are not too big.
We don’t know why, but some pets have a more sensitive digestive tract than others. They could eat a shoe in your closet and not have a problem, but if you switch the food suddenly, your pet could have loose stool or diarrhea. The issue can be hereditary to the breed. For example, boxers and bulldogs typically have a sensitive stomach. Look for foods that have probiotics and feed proteins that are easier to digest, such as chicken or pork. If you are going to switch foods, take about a week and transition by mixing the old food with the new food.
Chances are your pet will have some allergies or sensitivity to food or the environment during its lifetime. Key indicators that your pet has an allergy is that you will start to see signs from the exit points in their body (ears, eyes, feet). In addition you may see hot spots or red skin. Many pets have developed allergies to things that have been around for a long time in their food chain. For example, how many times have we heard that little children are very allergic to peanuts? If you look at most processed foods at the grocery store, you will see the words, “may contain peanuts”. If you think your pet has allergies, you probably want to stay away from corn, soy, wheat and limit processed ingredients in their diet.
HOW much should I Feed?
Start with the guidelines on the bag. Puppies eat more as they grow, but it is important not to feed too much as it taxes their system to process all the food. The feeding guidelines on the bag are typically set by calorie guidelines set by AAFCO (Associate of American Feed Control Officials). If your pet does not eat all the food in his bowl, you probably should cut back. It is also good to feed your pet at least 2-3 times a day. You wouldn’t eat once a day so why would your pet. You want to make sure he has the nutrients available to keep him going all day. Depending on what food you select, foods that are full of human grade protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables can be feed less than a food that has lower quality protein and lots of processed ingredients.
Other common questions.
When should I switch to adult food?.
Rule of thumb is 1year for small/medium breeds and up to 2 years for large breed dogs. If you are feeding a large breed pet diet, it should be feed until your pet gets to his adult skeletal size.
Not everyone is comfortable feeding raw food or bones. Dogs systems are meant to digest raw protein, because these nutrients are more easily absorbed. Have you ever seen a dog eat a bone that has been in the yard and not get sick.? If you are thinking of raw, it is important to start slow so that their pancreas and internal digestive tract creates enough enzymes to break it down. As you feed more raw, their system will be ready for it. Dry food was developed out of convenience, not because it was better for your pet. Raw is not for everyone. However, by feeding less processed foods you will see a shiny coat and white teeth. You would never think of a wolf having to go to a dentist.
Chewing is important for a pet. If you don’t find something for them to chew on, they will find something themselves (a carpet, a shoe). Ideally, you would want to give them something natural like a raw meaty bone. Never feed them a cooked bone from the dinner table or a dried out cooked bone from a store. Raw bones are best, but if you want one that is cooked, look for a slow roasted bone. If you were to shatter a slow processed bone vs a overcooked bone, you will see the slow cooked will have smooth edges while the overcooked bone will shatter is sharp edges. Also, never feed rawhide. Rawhide, when ingested, will expand and can cause blockages that may result in a trip to the emergency room. Try putting a rawhide in a bowl with water and see what happens.
As for other treats, look for nutritious treats. You don’t want to feed treats that equate to candy. Feed healthy, nutritious snacks. Look for the same things in treats as you would for food, the less processed, the better. Pieces of cooked chicken, raw carrots or broccoli make good snacks.
Feeding a nutritious diet to your pet is key for his/her development into a grown adult. If your pet doesn’t like its food, change it. It may be that he/she doesn’t like it or it does not give him/her the nutrients its body craves. If you want some advice on what to feed your pet stop by your local pet store. There is a growing number of “natural” foods and treats in the market. However, be careful of marketing hype. Typically small food makers of premium foods are those who are committed to achieving truly excellent products that contain things like fresh, whole meats, vegetables, fruits and grains. As we become more educated about our own diets, use the same principles to select products for your pets. They will love it and be healthier.