Nutritional Requirements For Pets

The dinner dish: What to put on your pet’s plate for proper nutrition

By Mark Edward Nero
Copley News Service

Many of us are overly conscious of what and how we eat, obsessing over calories and crafting elaborate checklists of what is or isn’t, can, or can’t be consumed.

But although we sometimes take great care of our own diets, that care doesn’t necessarily extend to the diets of the roughly 60 million dogs and 75 million cats in the United States that are our household pets.

Sometimes pet owners assume that one brand of food will suffice for their pet’s life span. Cereal grains are the primary ingredients in most commercial pet foods, and many people select one pet food and feed it to their dogs and cats for a prolonged period of time.

But the notion of one pet food providing all the nutrition a pet will ever need in its lifetime is a myth, say pet nutrition experts.

Actually, nutritional requirements vary depending on the pet’s size and age, and change as the animal progresses from youth to adulthood to old age.

“It’s very similar to what we see in humans,” explained Dan Carey, a veterinarian with the Iams pet food company. When a dog is a puppy, it requires more protein and calcium.

“Large breeds of dogs have different needs from smaller dogs,” Carey said. “Large dogs need less calcium than small dogs.”

Large-breed adult dogs generally require a shift in diet around 5 years of age, once their metabolisms begin to change; for smaller dogs, it’s age 7. The exact type of modification the animal requires usually depends on factors like weight and breed.

“In cats, it’s a little different,” Carey said. “By the time they’re 7, they start showing metabolism change.”

One thing that’s almost always called for with animals as they age, Carey said, is a reduction in the amount of fat in their food.

“You still have to give them a lot of protein,” he said, “but you don’t want to give them too much fat.”

Experts also recommend changing brands or flavors of dry food every three to four months to avoid deficiencies or excesses of ingredients that may be problematic for your pet.

And when changing dry foods, mixing one-quarter of the new food with three-quarters of the old food is recommended, along with increasing the new food a little each day in order to gradually accustom your pet to the change.

Some finicky pets, though, may need a more gradual change over two or more weeks. Never let a cat skip more than one or two meals; return to the old food if necessary.

With any new food or supplement, watch for subtle changes in your pet’s skin and coat, appetite, energy level, mood, itchiness, discharges or odors, body weight, and the size and consistency of stool. If negative changes occur, try different food. If the change persists, consult your veterinarian.

Among the other recommendations, made by the Animal Protection Institute, Pet Food Institute, and other organizations dedicated to the nutritional well-being of household pets:

• Store dry pet food in a sealed nonporous container, such as a large popcorn tin, in a cool, dry place. Canned food is best removed from the can and refrigerated in a glass or ceramic container.

• It’s usually better to feed one or two meals per day rather than leaving food out all the time.

• Feed some canned food, which generally contains more animal protein and less grain than dry foods. Cats in particular need at least 50 percent of their diet in the form of wet food to reduce the workload on the kidneys and keep urine dilute.

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