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Lifelong Health: Nutrition for your pets

Just like with humans, proper nutritional diet is a foundation for excellent health in pets. BluePearl nutritionist Dr. Susan Wynn explains the most important things to know about lifelong nutrition for cats and dogs:

Above all, make sure your pet doesn’t get overweight. Obese dogs and cats are more likely to become ill and have shorter life spans, so it is essential to keep your pets trim. The best way is to feed your pets complete and balanced diets and speak to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist if you have any concerns. For a detailed guideline on maintaining a healthy weight for all breeds of dogs, please download the WSAVA body condition score graphic.

Pug with food.

Choosing the right food for your pet is also very important. It may surprise you to learn the list of ingredients is not necessarily the most valuable information on your pet’s food label. Pet food labels include an AAFCO statement, which informs pet owners on the intended use for the food. If this statement contains language such as “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only,” the product does NOT contain a complete and balanced diet. If a label contains phrases such as “complete and balanced nutrition” or “intended for all life stages,” this product is likely a good choice.

When considering a pet food, it is crucial to research the company supplying the product. Look for a company with a long track record and a veterinary nutritionist on staff. Use a combination of the AAFCO statement and company history to choose a complete and balanced food for your pet.

Make sure you choose pet foods with recognizable ingredients such as meats and starches.  Avoid foods with the term “meat meal” or food products with artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives.

If your pet has particular health concerns or a chronic illness, talk with your veterinarian about any dietary adjustments that may be needed to maintain proper nutritional balance.

Contrary to popular belief, choosing only one pet food product may not necessarily be the healthiest option. Switching out your pet’s food allows you to determine what brand and type of food works best while also decreasing the risk of health hazards, such as taurine deficiencies. Plus, pets often appreciate having a change in flavors and textures. To rotate your pet’s food, switch to a new BRAND once every two to four months. Choose three to five brands with a variety of forms and flavors.

Homemade pet food can be a very healthy option, but it has to be complete and balanced. Avoid researching homemade pet foods on the internet or from books not written by veterinary nutritionists, as these recipes are typically not balanced or optimized for proper nutrition.   If you are considering making your own pet food, ask a veterinary nutritionist for recipes or approved medical sources.

When it comes to treats, fruits and vegetables are the best choice for lifelong health. Nutritious and low in fat, these juicy treats are a great option for pet owners because you can control exactly what you are feeding your pets. Apples, melons, bananas and any healthy vegetable that your pet finds favorable should be your go-to snack for pets. But some fruits and vegetables can actually be dangerous, so please consult this list of fruits and vegetables that are unsafe for dogs.

It is best to introduce a variety of fruits, vegetables and pet foods of various textures and flavors to puppies and kittens. Pets develop their diets and sense of taste as babies, so you should make sure they are exposed to many foods that could become part of their complete and balanced diet at a young age.

If you own cats, feed them two or three times a day as part of a meal diet plan as opposed to a free choice plan, which allows for food to be available all day. For best nutrition, you should feed your cat canned or veterinarian-approved homemade wet food instead of or along with dry food on a daily basis.

Skin problems such as seborrhea, dandruff and inflammation are the most common signs of nutritional concern in pets. Others include  the inability to gain weight or an ongoing resistance to food. If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.

The most common nutritional medical emergency is starvation. Starvation and malnutrition occur when a cat has not eaten for three days, or about five days for dogs. If your pet’s body begins the process of starvation, a veterinarian will have to start feeding via a feeding tube or IV nutrition. If your pet has gone three or more days of eating, he is at risk of starvation and needs immediate veterinary care.

The bottom line? Proper pet nutrition is essential to lifelong health for pets. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a proper diet are two important factors in preventing illness and making sure your pet has a long, happy life.

“The most important thing is to make sure your pet stays trim.” says Dr. Wynn. “It is also very important to make sure your pet is being fed a complete and balanced diet throughout his life.”