What constitutes good nutrition for cats and dogs?
With hundreds of pet food brands, crazy treat trends, and confusing ingredients, it’s hard to know what’s best for your pet. There are many things you can do to ensure your pet is getting the right nutrition, including: feeding your pet a food that’s certified to meet the dietary needs for their size and life stage (look for an AAFCO statement under the ingredients list), buying from a brand that has a veterinary nutritionist on staff, ensuring your pet does not get more than 10% of their daily calories from treats, and avoiding grain-free and raw pet foods (which have been linked to health issues).
Pet nutrition consultations & healthy weight checks
During your pet’s regular wellness exams, we’ll always check their weight and discuss their nutrition and lifestyle with you. We can help discuss specific pet food brands with you to determine what’s best for your pet. If your pet is overweight, underweight or struggling with a nutritional deficiency, they may benefit from specific nutrition consultations to get them back on track.
Our doctors can put together a treatment program, with precise recommendations on the type and amount of food they need, guidelines on treats, any supplements and exercise requirements to get them back to a healthy weight, and a nutritionally complete diet.
- What’s the best food for my pet?There are many types and brands of food that can provide a full and balanced diet for your pet. The most important way to do this is to ensure the food is AAFCO certified for your pet’s life stage, and it’s specifically designed for your pet’s size (if they’re a large or small breed). Check out our articles on Dog Nutrition 101 and Cat Nutrition 101 for recommended food brands and further advice on choosing a food for your pet.
- Is the ingredient list a good way to determine the quality of a pet food?While it can be useful to look at the ingredient list (check to see if a protein source is listed as one of the top ingredients), they can also be confusing and sometimes misleading. Certain terms can be used for marketing purposes; “human-grade” has no medical meaning, whilst “meat byproduct” can include organ meats but nothing crazy like hair, horns, teeth, or hooves. It’s best not to overthink the ingredients. A better way to determine the quality of a food is to check for an AAFCO statement under the ingredients list, and to choose a brand whose food is formulated by certified animal nutritionists. If you’re worried about any ingredients in your pet’s food, our doctors can clarify any confusing terms for you.
- Does my puppy/kitten need a different type of food to an adult pet?Yes. What you feed your puppy or kitten is really important for their growth and development. Puppies and kittens need more calories, fat and a different vitamin and mineral balance than adults. Puppy and kitten foods account for these specific nutrition needs.
- Does my senior cat/dog need a different type of food to an adult pet?Senior pets can benefit from a specific senior pet food. Senior food formulations can include fewer calories (to help prevent obesity due to reduced metabolic rate), higher fiber content (to improve gastrointestinal health), and lower sodium content, amongst others. If your senior pet has a condition such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver disease, they may also require a prescription diet.
- How many calories or cups of food should I be feeding my pet?The instructions on the food packaging will give you a general idea of how much to feed your pet, although it’s worth noting that manufacturers often overestimate the amount of food required (in an attempt to get you to buy food more quickly!) The best way to gauge required food intake is to keep a close eye on your pet’s weight and body composition. If you notice them putting on weight/becoming fat or conversely losing weight, you should adjust their food allowance. A general rule of thumb is that you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs but not see them through the fur. Remember that if your pet’s usual exercise routine decreases (for example if they’re recovering from a sore paw), they will need less food during this period.
- Is a grain-free diet appropriate for my pet?No. While grain-free diets have got a lot of press in recent years, and often compared to the benefits of gluten free diets in people, this just isn’t accurate. Grain free diets have been linked to an increased risk of a heart disease, called dilated cardio-myopathy. We don’t know enough to say why this is, but we do know that we should not be feeding pets grain free foods.
- Is a raw diet appropriate for my pet?No. While pop culture has popularized the idea that we should treat dogs as wolves, there are actually no scientific studies that prove the health benefits claimed for raw diets. In fact, there are many studies showing the opposite: nutritional imbalances, diet-induced hyperthyroidism and bacterial infections, and they also pose Raw diets can also be dangerous for both owners and pets. They pose increased contamination risks from Salmonella and other bacteria, and so we do not recommend feeding them to your pets.
- Is a vegan or vegetarian diet appropriate for my pet?Cats cannot be fed a vegan or vegetarian diet, because they are obligate carnivores – this means they can’t get the nutrients they need from plants, and so must eat meat and not a lot of carbohydrates. This is most notably because they get taurine, an essential amino acid for heart function, from their diets. While vegan and vegetarian diets are not as dangerous for dogs, they may not provide enough protein. If you’d like to pursue a vegetarian diet for your dog, we recommend Royal Canin Vegetarian or Purina ProPlan HA Vegetarian.
- Should I feed my pet a home cooked diet?Many people value home cooked diets for their pets, as they know exactly what is going in it. However, it’s unfortunately very difficult to create a properly balanced diet with all the nutrients your pet needs to thrive. If you’d like to provide homemade food for your pet, you should speak to our doctors to ensure there are no underlying medical issues that may make certain types of diets less desirable for your pet. To create a diet plan, we recommend either using the Balance It website which helps to formulate a balanced diet for your pet, or working directly with a veterinary nutritionist. Some good alternatives include NomNomNow or Just Food For Dogs/Just Food For Cats; they’re fresh pet foods delivered to your door that are precisely formulated under the supervision of veterinary nutritionists, so you can ensure your pet is getting the nutrients needed.