The bond between people and their pets is undeniable. When you adopt pets, they become a part of your family, and you want to do everything you can to keep them happy and healthy.
You know diet plays a significant role in your health and wellbeing, and the same is true of your pet. If your dog or cat eats a diet lacking the necessary nutrients, the deficiency will reveal itself in noticeable ways.
At Continental Animal Wellness Center, we know pet parents want to provide their furry family members with a safe and nutritionally appropriate diet. Still, it can often feel like a daunting task. In the United States, pet owners collectively spend more than $31 billion on pet food each year. The sheer variety of available options alongside conflicting messages about pet nutrition can make it challenging to know what diet is best for your pet’s health. So, we have assembled this guide to help pet parents like you cut through the confusion and make informed decisions about your pet’s diet plan.
Tip 1: Feed your pet a balanced diet that meets AAFCO standards
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes guidelines for nutritional requirements, standard ingredient definitions, feeding trials, laboratory nutritional analysis, and product labels for pet foods. Pet foods that meet or exceed AAFCO nutritional adequacy standards will include a statement on its packaging stating whether the food contains essential nutrients, how this was determined, and for which life stage.
When you’re shopping for pet food, you should look for the AAFCO statement on the label to ensure the product is complete and balanced for your pet and their life stage. If your pet has additional dietary needs determined by their breed, lifestyle, or health concerns, you should discuss these with your veterinarian before making any changes to their diet.
Tip 2: Avoid raw food diets
Though raw food diets for cats and dogs have gained popularity in recent years, the CDC, FDA, and many veterinarians caution against it. The risks of feeding your pet a raw diet are well documented, and there is no evidence a raw diet for pets has benefits to outweigh these risks. Raw pet food, even those sold commercially, has been found to contain germs like listeria and salmonella, which can cause you, your pets, and your family to get sick. Raw diets are also unlikely to provide your pet with the complete and balanced nutrition they need, which can cause other health problems both now and in the future. If you have further questions regarding raw food diets, please consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist.
Tip 3: If you plan on feeding your pet home-cooked meals, consult with a veterinary nutritionist first
Commercial pet foods are designed and tested to ensure your pet gets the right amount of nutrients for their developmental needs. Many pet owners who wish to cook their own pet food underestimate how challenging it can be to achieve the right balance of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that their pet needs to stay healthy.
Certain pets should never be fed home-cooked diets, including cats and most dogs under 12 months old, pregnant or nursing pets, overweight pets, and any pet with ongoing or unaddressed allergies or health concerns. If you plan to provide a home-cooked diet for any other pet, it is vital that you do so in consultation with a veterinary nutritionist who can evaluate your recipes and recommend changes or supplements.
Tip 4: Unless your veterinarian feels it is medically necessary, avoiding feeding dogs a grain-free diet
Though grain-free diets for dogs have frequently popped up on store shelves, you should avoid feeding your dog a grain-free diet except under the direction and care of your vet. An FDA investigation into 515 dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) found 90% of them were fed a grain-free diet. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to DCM, but veterinary cardiologists have noted an increase in DCM diagnoses in breeds without a genetic predisposition. If your veterinarian feels a grain-free diet is appropriate for your dog based on other health factors, they should monitor them closely for signs of DCM.
Tip 5: Pick a protein and stick with it
We humans may believe variety is the spice of life, but that is not the case for our pets. If you change your pet’s food frequently, you could inadvertently risk their health. Frequent food changes can upset their GI tract and lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Anytime you introduce a new ingredient to your pet, you should do so slowly by incorporating it into their typical diet and closely observing for any health or behavioral changes. Furthermore, if your pet is eating without showing any signs of allergies or intolerance, there really is not any reason to introduce new foods. Many pet parents wrongly believe they can reduce allergies in their pets by exposing them to a variety of proteins. Unfortunately, the opposite is true–the more proteins your pet is exposed to, the more likely they are to develop an allergy. If you plan to transition your pet from one protein to another, talk to your veterinarian first to understand how to do so safely.
Tip 6: Establish a twice-daily feeding schedule
Failing to establish a healthy meal routine is one of the most common mistakes pet owners make. If food is always available, pets who graze throughout the day tend to overeat, which could lead to obesity. Pets who are fed only once per day may develop bilious vomiting syndrome, which occurs when stomach inactivity aggravates the bile reflux, causing bile to enter the stomach. Once bile enters the stomach, your pet may vomit or, if they don’t, they may develop gastric reflux.
A twice-per-day feeding schedule is ideal in most situations, though some pets may benefit from smaller portions spread across more feedings. If you are unsure what schedule is best for your pet, talk to your vet.
Tip 7: Do not feed your pets table scraps
It can be hard to resist those pleading puppy dog eyes, but when your pet is begging for a taste of your family’s dinner, the best thing you can do for them is refuse. When you feed your pet table scraps or other human food, they can easily exceed their daily intake needs, leading to weight gain. In addition, many human foods can cause stomach upset or allergic reactions, and some may even be toxic. If you are snacking on a healthy treat, such as green beans or carrots, it is okay to share a few bite-sized pieces with your dog. For all other human foods, resist the urge to give in to your pet’s pleading.
Tip 8: Don’t give your dog hard bones
Few things seem more natural than a dog with a bone. What many dog parents don’t know, however, is that hard bones can cause serious injury. The FDA cautions pet owners against giving bones to dogs, citing instances of injuries to dog’s teeth, tongues, and mouths. Bones can also splinter, causing pieces to get stuck in a dog’s digestive tract and requiring surgery to remove. Though you will find no shortage of bones, hooves, and other hard treats for dogs lining the aisles of your pet store, you should follow the fingernail test before giving your dog a bone–if it’s too hard to indent with your fingernail, it’s too hard for your dog to chew.
Tip 9: Annual dental cleaning beginning around 3 years of age
Most pet parents know their dogs and cats need to visit the vet each year for an annual check-up, but some are surprised to learn they should bring them in for annual dental cleaning, as well. Though your vet will talk to you about when your pet should have its first dental cleaning, most pets should begin having annual dental cleanings by the time they turn 3 years old. Regular at-home cleanings along with annual dental cleanings keep plaque, tartar, and bacteria at bay. This, in turn, protects your pet from tooth loss, gum disease, and even heart and kidney problems that can develop as they age.
We know you want to keep your pet healthy and happy, and we are here to provide the expert care and advice you need along the way. At Continental Animal Wellness Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, we focus on the health and overall well-being of every pet who visits us. Our practice combines behavioral health with traditional medicine at our state-of-the-art animal wellness facility, where we provide your pet with compassionate and comprehensive care. Whether you have questions about your pet’s diet or need to schedule your annual wellness exam, our caring team is here and happy to help – contact us today.