April 2018: Vet's Advice

March 27 2018

You are what you eat

As the saying goes ‘You are what you eat’ and that is just as true for our pets as it is for us. It can be difficult to navigate your way through the vast number of different pet foods available. Feeding a good diet is one of the most important factors determining not just how glossy your cat’s coat is or how much energy your dog has to chase his ball, but how long and how healthy their life is likely to be. 

1. Is the diet balanced and complete? Complete  foods are designed to be given as the only food source alongside a plentiful supply of fresh water, and contain everything the pet needs. Complementary foods are designed to be fed as part of a mixed diet, and this term is usually found on treat items or mixers that have to be fed with a tinned meat. Some owners choose to mix different cooked or raw foodstuffs to make up their own ration, but these are often unbalanced and deficient in certain nutrients in the longer term. 

2. Is the diet suitable for the life-stage and size of the pet? The requirements of your pet will change throughout life – a growing kitten needs quite a different diet from a golden oldie, and a Chihuahua has different requirements from a Great Dane. Neutering has a significant affect on the metabolism and neutered pets need a diet designed to avoid weight gain.

3. Wet or dry? Dry foods are processed into kibbles, a convenient way to store and serve food, but many owners prefer to offer some wet food in the form of tins or pouches. We often say that dry food is better for animal’s teeth, but there are situations where the increased water intake from wet food is beneficial. Dry food is significantly less expensive, so a better quality diet can often be purchased for the same amount of money.

4. Cost per day? As purchasers we often look at the headline cost of the bag or tray of food, but it’s better to calculate the cost per day. A better quality food will often have a lower feeding volume because it is more nutrient –dense, so may cost less in the long run. 

5. Read the ingredients! Cats are obligate carnivores – they have to get the majority of their calories from animal/fish sources to stay healthy. Dogs are omnivores – they eat anything (as many owners have discovered to their cost) but still should have a diet with meat as the largest constituent. Manufacturers have to list ingredients from largest to smallest, but like human food manufacturers there are ways round that requirement. Broad terms like  ‘meat and animal derivatives’ covers a whole multitude of ingredients, likewise ‘cereals’ On the flip side, they may split ingredients so they appear further down the list, so a food might contain ‘maize’ ‘maize gluten’ and ‘maize flour’ listed separately

6. Fixed formula or variable? In a similar way that ‘strawberry flavour’ yoghurt may not have ever seen a strawberry, ‘chicken flavour’ dogfood may contain as little as 4%chicken. Many pet foods are not ‘fixed formula’ which means ingredients may vary between batches, which can be an issue for pets with sensitive digestion.

7. How much to feed? The packaging should give you a guide, but it is only a starting point. It’s important to know your pet’s current weight and their body condition score (a numerical scale of how they measure up to ideal body shape) and to be realistic about their activity level. Breed weight ranges are not very helpful due to the variation in size and shape even within the same breed. Your vet practice should be able to advise on your pet’s current weight and condition and whether they need to lose or gain weight. Up to 60% of pets are overweight, and owners are often unaware of this. If you can’t easily feel your pet’s ribs, take it to the vet for a body condition score. 

All this before we even touch on diets as part of the treatment strategy for disease – clinical nutrition is a very important part of holistic treatment of acute and chronic diseases. It is a lot to get to grips with – please talk to your vet or vet nurse about what is appropriate for your pet. All the above applies to dogs and cats, diet is also incredibly important for all the other species we keep as pets. 

See the June edition of Downend Voice for advice on feeding rabbits from our new vet Kezia.