Pet Nutrition & Food Facts
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A nutritious diet and weight management should be a priority in maintaining your pet's health. During a routine exam, we will discuss dietary recommendations based on age, breed, activity level, and current body condition. We do not recommend giving your pet unlimited access to food (free feeding) as very few pets will maintain a lean body condition. Keeping your pet lean for life has been shown to improve their mobility and extend their lifespan. Remember that overweight pets are more likely to suffer from arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and skin problems.
* Ingredient lists don't tell you anything about the quality of the diet! They are easily manipulated by food companies to appeal to pet owners. It has become common for ingredients to be added in tiny portions that add no nutritional value... but appear healthier to you. Ingredients are listed by weight so ingredients with high water content (such as meats) are listed higher in the list of ingredients even though they may contribute fewer nutrients to the diet.
* Whole grains contribute valuable nutrients including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber to diets. Dogs and cats are very efficient at digesting and utilizing nutrients from grains.
* Grain free diets substitute grains with refined starches such as tapioca and cassava, that often provide fewer nutrients than whole grains (and cost more to utilize). "Grain free" is a marketing strategy, not backed by science.
* Food allergies are relatively uncommon. Allergies to grains are less commonly diagnosed than allergies to meat proteins, dairy or soy. The best way to diagnose food allergy is a veterinary supervised food elimination trial with a prescription hypoallergenic diet. Blood tests for food allergies are generally not used by dermatology specialists because they are highly inaccurate.
* There is no evidence that raw diets offer any benefit over cooked diets. There is, however, substantial evidence that they may be associated with dental fractures, bacterial or parasitic infections, and other health concerns to pets. There is also potential risk to humans, especially young children or immunocompromised people.
* By-products are commonly disparaged (also a marketing strategy). By-products include some highly nutritious organ meats such as liver, spleen, heart and kidneys. (These organ meats are highly valued by wild animals and are often the first eaten). They do not contain hooves, feet, beaks, hair, hide, or intestinal contents as often claimed by various food companies. They frequently provide more nutrients than the muscle meat.
* Natural pet food is defined as having 'natural' ingredients that are obtained entirely from plants, animals, and/or mined sources. Natural does not mean better. Preservatives keep dog food from spoiling. Many 'artificial' flavors and preservatives actually occur naturally and are not man-made. And most synthetic products added to food, especially in a pet food company that does rigorous testing, have been well researched and are not unsafe. They may, in fact, be beneficial to your pet!
* Organic pet food is, at minimum, 95% produced and handled in observance of all USDA National Organic Program requirements. The USDA does not consider organic foods to be necessarily safer, healthier or more nutritious than conventionally-produced foods.
*Keep in mind that a pet food classification does not dictate superiority. Many pet food manufacturers market their natural or organic foods as being better than pet foods with by-product, but that is not the case. Some organic and natural foods lack the vitamins and minerals that a food with by-product can offer. The main goal of pet food is to maintain a nutritious and balanced diet; this is best obtained from a food company that does rigorous research, testing and feeding trials with their diets. If you need help choosing proper pet food, our veterinary staff will happily provide you with our recommendations.
* Prescription diets are created to meet or augment nutritional needs for pets dealing with illness or disease. A variety of manufacturers design pet food specifically for pets suffering from allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, and more. These diets are recommended on a case by case basis by your veterinarian.
Common pet food questions:
Q: Are grain-free diets healthy for my pet?
A: No. In the past 12 months grain free diets, exotic ingredient and boutique diets have been linked to a severe form of heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). This is currently under investigation by the FDA and multiple other groups. We have a thorough description of this issue under our Latest News tab. If your pet has been eating one of these diets, please change their food immediately. Choose one of the diets recommended below- these are the only companies currently doing routine feeding trials on their foods. Second- please schedule an echocardiogram for your dog. This is the ONLY way to find out if they have developed DCM. Please call us and we will assist you!
The 4 food brands that currently meet WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Assoc) guidelines are Science Diet/ Hills, Royal Canin, Purina, and Iams/Eukanuba.
Links for further information:
Q: How do I know if my pet has a food allergy? And what do I do next?
A: Many food allergies result in ear infections, skin problems, or intermittent gastrointestinal upset. Some tell-tale signs of food allergy may include excessive licking of the paws, recurrent ear infections, chronic itching especially under the tail, or skin infections that don't respond to medications. Some pets may have recurrent gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive gas. Food allergies are diagnosed by a food elimination trial using an appropriate prescription diet under veterinary supervision.
Q: Can my pet benefit from a raw diet or homemade meals?
A: Because raw meats can contain E. coli, Salmonella and other bacteria, we recommend that you do not feed your pet raw meat. While a raw diet can provide an abundance of protein, it is often unbalanced and lacking in other essential nutrients. Raw meat that is contaminated with bacteria can be especially harmful to young or older pets, as well as their owners. Careful handling and appropriate supplements are essential if you choose to feed a raw diet. Homemade diets also have to be prepared carefully and appropriately balanced with the necessary supplements, which is best prepared under the supervision of a veterinary nutritionist.
Q: Are there pet treats meant for obese animals?
A: While many pet treats are high in fat and calories, there are many options available. There are weight management dog treats available that offer low-sodium, low calorie or sugar-free options. Other pet treats may include dehydrated or natural vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, or green beans. A good rule of thumb is that treats should never consist of more than 10% of your pet’s total food consumption. Use small treats! Your pets understand that they are getting a treat...whether it is 1/4 of a biscuit or a whole biscuit!
Q: I have heard that corn is unhealthy for my pet’s diet. Is this true?
A: No. It used to be commonly believed that corn was the number one cause for pet food allergies. However, current studies show that less than 3% of pet food allergies are caused by corn, and more than 70% are related to chicken, beef, dairy, soy or wheat in the diet. If your pet is not allergic to corn, it is highly beneficial to include it in a pet’s diet, because it offers several antioxidants and is an excellent source of proteins that help with muscle and tissue growth.