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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

The Foundation of Lifelong Health: Why Pet Nutrition Matters

Since childhood, most of us recognize the food pyramid and understand the important role diet plays in overall health. For our furry friends, this is equally true. Pet nutrition is not only crucial to daily wellbeing, it’s also useful in managing and preventing certain health conditions.

Nutrition is more than just throwing some random kibble in your pet’s bowl. There is a rhyme and reason behind nutritional guidelines for cats and dogs that include age, health, size, and species. To provide your pet with the best possible dietary choices, check out some of our information about pet nutrition guidelines.

The Building Blocks of Pet Nutrition

Although there are many diet fads that influence pet foods on the market, most pets require a spectrum of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other essentials. While dogs are omnivores and can exist on a vegetarian diet, they definitely thrive on a meal plan that also includes animal proteins. Cats are obligate carnivores and therefore require healthy animal proteins to comprise their diets.

Some of the basics you should consider when choosing a diet for your pet include:

Lean, quality animal proteins – This might include chicken, turkey, fish, beef, or lamb. You can look for grass-fed or organic, but also check for complete animal proteins rather than “meals” as the first ingredient listed. Keep in mind, cats require higher amounts of protein in their diets and the amino acid taurine, which they cannot produce naturally. Be sure to stick with diets specifically for felines when feeding your cat.

Fats – Although given a bad rap, fats are actually one of the best sources of sustained energy and are required for total health. Of course, there are healthier fats, which are often plant-based but can also include (in limited quantities) fats from animal sources such as those in meat cuts.

Carbohydrates – While all animals can benefit from carbs, they are often the primary content of pet foods simply because they’re cheaper. Some carbs are very nutrient-dense, such as vegetables and select fruits, while others are more refined and act as a filler, like processed grains.

Vitamins and minerals – Vitamins and minerals also play key roles in your pet’s health, helping nutrients be processed and absorbed by the body.

Water – Water is critical to keeping the body functioning, so hydration is very important. As a rule, dogs should drink one ounce of water per pound of his or her total weight each day, while cats need 5-10 ounces daily. If your pet is not drinking enough water, a wet diet, which contains a much higher percentage of moisture content, may be needed.

Dare to Compare when Shopping for Pet Food

When reviewing the list of ingredients in pet food the first one listed will be the most common ingredient, with the next one being the second most common, etc. which is per federal regulation. Most manufacturers of commercial diets are voluntarily regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to ensure proper pet nutrition. You can look for this label on your pet’s food, and be sure to choose a food that is specific to your pet’s species and age.

The first ingredient listed should be whichever protein is being promoted for the diet. Do not chose a diet that has a “meal” or a carbohydrate as the primary ingredient – this indicates a poor quality diet. However, it is alright if there are “meals” included in the diet, as long as they are a little further down on the ingredients list.

So, for example, let’s compare two fictional foods as if you are considering them for your pet:

Diet # 1: Home Style Chicken & Rice – ingredient list: chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, barley, and oatmeal.

Diet # 2: Savory Beef Delight – ingredient list: ground whole corn, soybean meal, beef & bone meal, corn gluten meal, and ground wheat.

With the names Home Style Chicken & Rice and Savory Beef Delight these two diets might seem like they are comparable, but the front label will say many things to give the appearance of a quality food. After reviewing the ingredient list, which should be located on the back or side of the package, it is plain to see that diet # 2 is a very poor quality diet as the first two ingredients are carbohydrates and the only protein is a dried ground up mix of a variety of meats and bone.

Since we are discussing what should be in your pet’s food it is important to note that there is nothing wrong with grains such as rice, wheat, corn, etc. The trend of grain free diets is misrepresented since a good diet just needs to have pure meat as the first ingredient. So don’t get hung up on grain free diets – it is still a good diet even if it contains grains. However, if there is ever a place for the saying “grain free” it is for cats.  For dogs this is not a valid concern since dogs, like humans, eat both carbohydrates and proteins naturally, whereas cats primarily eat protein in their natural state.

Feline nutritionists recommend cats be feed canned food if at all possible. Canned cat food is more likely to contain a high amount of protein with just a small amount of carbohydrates, along with being more hydrating. It is recommended to be below 8% carbohydrates in cat foods, however you will find the only way to do this is with canned food. Dry cat foods have, by and large, mostly carbohydrates and meat meals as the main ingredients, with actual meat being much further down the list.

In some cases, as with animals who have health conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, a prescription diet along with certain supplements can be great options for increased well-being. Your veterinarian is always happy to discuss your pet’s nutritional needs with you.

As a friendly reminder, people food is typically not a healthy choice for your fur friend and can set him or her up for obesity, poisoning, or pancreatitis. Whenever you are in doubt, please do not hesitate to call us.