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by Suzie Cyrenne March 01, 2019 11 min read4 Comments
It goes without saying that every loving pet parent wants their four-legged family member to live the longest, healthiest life possible. And while life is unpredictable, a huge part of helping your dog or cat reach a ripe old age has to do with nutrition. It’s no wonder that one of the most common questions pet parents ask their vets is, “What’s the best dog diet / cat diet out there?”
The short answer is that there’s no one-size-fits all formula for every animal. Each pet has different dietary needs depending on health, age, activity level, genetics, and more. Therefore, the best feeding plan for your companion is the one you create alongside your vet or pet nutritionist. Still, there are many bad feeding habits that, in general, should be avoided when it comes to providing optimum pet nutrition.
Based on information collected from 35 vets and pet nutritionists around the world, here are four of the biggest feeding mistakes that pet owners make.
Obesity is a health issue that many pet professionals see, and in most cases, this condition can be reversed or avoided altogether. “In my [experience], I see too many overweight pets due to poor nutrition and owners feeding treats and ‘people food’ to them,” says Mishelle Hancock, owner ofTails-A-Wagn’, a multi-service pet care facility in Oklahoma.
Barring medical issues that cause pets to gain weight, dogs and cats usually become overweight simply because they’re overeating. Below are just some of the consequences that result from overfeeding your pet.
First and foremost, medical issues should be ruled out if your pet becomes obese, especially if it’s sudden or accompanied by a change in appetite. “If your [pet] is overeating, take [them] to the vet to make sure they do not have worms or an underlying issue,” advises Angela Ardolino ofCBD Dog Health in Florida. As mentioned, worms,parasites, and even illnesses likeCushing’s disease andhypothyroidism can lead to weight gain, so it’s important to get your pet evaluated if he starts getting hefty.
Many pet parents give their companions too many treats because they want to show their love. But while the goodies make our begging pals happy for a few seconds, no pet can live their happiest, healthiest life when their weight makes moving difficult, or when they develop an illness that’s linked to their obesity.
Amy Paschka, who ownsBlue Ribbon Kennels in Minnesota, adds that she often sees her four-legged clients “getting treats from owners that feel guilty for leaving them home.”
Our furry friends often pack on the pounds when they’re fed too many table scraps. While certain fresh foods can make a healthy treat and can even add nutrition to your pet’s diet, it’s important to remember that some “human” foods -- like chocolate, macadamia nuts, grapes, and more --can actually be toxic to animals. Further, feeding your pet from your plate rewards bad behavior: begging at the table!
Of course, you can still feed your pal a snack or two. For healthy treats, try using carrot sticks, pieces of plain chicken or fish (no seasoning, sauces, or dressings!), frozen banana slices, or frozen bone broth as tasty rewards or as a pet diet supplement. As in any healthy lifestyle, the trick here is moderation. (Check out this article for more healthy treat ideas!)
Resource guarding can also lead to overeating and weight gain, something especially common in dogs. This happens when animals are overprotective of a resource -- in this case, food -- for fear that it’ll be taken away from them. This habit can cause pets to eat too fast, eat too much, and often, become aggressive if someone gets too close to their food bowl.
The best way to deal with a food-possessive pup is to feed them in a place where they feel safe and unthreatened. Next, it is essential to consult with a professional trainer to teach your dog healthier and safer habits. Resource guarding is more than having bad manners; it can be dangerous to other members of the family.
Perhaps your pet simply eats too fast or likes to munch throughout the day. If this is the case, don’t keep food out so he can “graze” -- it’s difficult to track of consumption.
“Eating too fast or overeating are habits that pet owners should correct,” says Ardolino. “If your pet is eating too quickly, feed him a few smaller meals throughout the day rather than one large meal.” Further, she says, “Your dog may be overeating because [he is] bored, so exercise him more.”
When it comes to portion sizes, the recommendations on your dog or cat’s kibble bag usually give a good general guide, but the pet’s age and activity level should also be taken into consideration. (For instance, sedentary older animals probably need less food than energetic young adults.) Again, when discussing your dog or cat’s diet, this is a great question to ask your vet or pet nutritionist!
Let’s not forget that exercise is another huge part of weight management, too! The idea is simple: if your pal consumes more calories than he burns off, he’ll gain weight. Set aside time every day for some physical activity, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes. (Remember, their bodies are much smaller than ours, so each calorie consumed or burned has much more of an impact.) Not only does exercise burn off extra energy, it can eliminate boredom eating, plus it’s great bonding time for the two of you.
If your dog or cat is heavy or out of shape, be sure to start slow, and consult with your vet about the safest way to start an active routine. On those days when you simply don’t have time for a walk or a play session, consider holding off on those extra treats to keep your pet’s nutrition and caloric intake in balance.
When it comes to feeding your dog or cat a healthy, balanced diet, you shouldn’t opt for the cheapest food just to save money; however, paying top-dollar doesn’t ensure you’re getting the best quality, either. In order to choose a premium pet diet or food formula, forget the price tag and focus on the nutrition panel, instead.
Even if the food you choose is on the pricier side, Becky Mobley ofWild Kingdom Pet Supplies in Texas makes this case: “You get what you pay for. If you buy cheap food, be prepared to spend more at the vet. The best course of action is preventative maintenance, which means paying more now for higher quality foods. In the end, your pet will be happier and healthier, and you'll spend less at the vet.”
The pet care industry rakes in about $70 billion a year in the US alone. It’s a big business, and just because an item is on a store shelf doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy for your beloved pet. (This has been made especially evident by the slew ofpet food recalls that have happened in the past few years.)
As an advocate for your furry family member, it’s important to know the basics about how to read pet food packages. You know that your companion is a carnivore, so in finding a formula for your cat or dog’s diet, you may look for a protein source as the first item on the ingredient list. However, pet food companies are sneaky and can manipulate ingredients, print misleading labels, and find loopholes in the (already loose) pet nutrition laws.
For instance, the ingredients on labels are often measured in their whole forms, so by the time they’re dehydrated and processed, the majority of the food may actually be non-nutritional fillers and grains. Further, the grains used in cheap foods can be so low-quality, they’re not even safe for human consumption. This is why many pet parents feel that grain-free pet foods are the best way to nourish their dog or cat.
Plus, big pet food companies depend on consumer trust, and take advantage of it.
“Lack of time tends to lead people to pick brands well marketed which are not always the best nutritional choices,” points out Concetta Ferragamo of King's Cages International, LLC, a bird supply store.
But a high percentage of protein isn’t the only thing you should look for, since the quality of it depends on the source. You may be shocked to learn that ambiguously-labeled ingredients, such as “meat meals,” “animal meals,” and “by-products” may actually be a rendered, ground-up mixture of deceased animals including euthanized farm animals and road kill. Instead, look for specific protein sources, like “beef,” “poultry,” “lamb,” “fish,” etc.
Some pet foods and treats are filled with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, and more. And when you think about it, kibble meant to look “appetizing” with dyes and fun shapes is a marketing tactic to trick owners, not their pets. After all, your companion doesn’t care what colors are in his food bowl!
Not only are cheaply-made formulas lacking in essential nutrition, they can also contribute to obesity, especially if they’re high in filler grains like corn, wheat, or soy. That’s because these ingredients are high in carbs and sugars with little nutrients. Basically, it’s empty-calorie pet junk food.
“We don’t recommend using any food that contains corn, wheat, and soy,” says Emily Ellsworth ofPure Pet in Ohio. “[We] are starting to steer people away from heavy use of potato, tapioca, and legumes as well.”
If this is all news to you, don’t panic! With a little knowledge, you can choose a premium food that fulfills your pet’s nutritional needs. (Bonus tip: theDog Food Advisor websitebreaks down the ingredients of hundreds of pet food brands and varieties. Don’t choose a food based on the site’s ratings, but rather, use it as a tool to help you analyze ingredients. Along with research and advice from your vet and pet nutritionist, you can make the best formula choice for your pet.)
In general, when reading the ingredient panels on pet foods, here are some things to look for:
In general, here are some ingredients you should always avoid:
Just like with humans, it’s imperative that dog diets and cat diets are balanced. While protein is an essential amino acid for our furry friends, they also need the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals provided by fruits, veggies, and other foods.
Wary of pet food brands following exposé articles, films, and countless recalls, many dog and cat owners are transitioning their furry family members to homemade or raw food diets. While these can be incredibly healthy choices, again, these kinds of diets aren’t one-size-fits-all, and work better for some animals than others.
Raw diets seem to be all the rage, and for good reason. When executed properly, dogs and cats fed uncooked whole foods can show immediate improvements in health, energy level, and more.
However,feeding your pet a raw diet is much more complicated than opening a package of meat and dumping it into a food bowl. For proper pet nutrition, each meal must be balanced with the right micronutrients, and failure to add essential components into the diet can be detrimental to health in the long run. That’s why you must do your research, and most importantly, consult with a veterinary professional or pet nutritionist before transitioning your pal to a raw diet.
What’s more, raw diets aren’t recommended for every animal. Young puppies or kittens, senior dogs or cats, or any pets with a compromised immune system may not be good candidates for this type of eating. Some vets are even opposed to raw diets altogether, since pets are exposed to more bacteria from uncooked food.
Feeding companion animals a vegetarian diet is also a growing trend, but in reality, their bodies are meant to be nourished by animal protein. This is especially true for cats, who are obligate carnivores. This means theymust eat meat for survival, and depriving them of that can have life-threatening consequences.
While all this information may be overwhelming, focus on starting small. Maybe you begin by feeding your pet less table scraps or switching packaged treats to carrot sticks or bits of chicken. Maybe you start looking for a kibble with more natural ingredients, and eventually, you might go raw. Just remember: every little measure you take to improve the health of your pet can make a big impact in the long run. More importantly, any change in diet -- especially a big one -- should be done under the guidance of your vet or pet nutritionist.
You’ve probably heard the saying that “food is medicine,” and the same goes for our pets. While many health issues are unavoidable, so many of them can be avoided or managed with a proper diet. Pet parents shouldnever underestimate the influence that a balanced, nutritional diet has on their pet’s overall health!
Johnna Devereaux, owner ofFetch RI, a holistic pet boutique in Rhode Island, says she’s seen lots of pets cheat death after a simple dietary change. “I have countless stories, but the ones that always come to mind are those that [the pet parents have] been told they should ‘put their pet down,’ as the pet is ‘too far gone’ and the animal is in pain,” she says. “They come to me as their last resort and last hope, and out of every single one of these stories, the animal is alive and thriving and [his] body is slowly healing and returning to a state of health no one thought was possible.”
Dr. Michele Tanner DVM ofAll Cypress Veterinary Hospital in Texas recounts the story of a patient who needed a very specific kind of pet food formula to turn his health around.“I had a patient that was brought in and the owner was considering euthanasia,” she says. “We were able to perform blood work on the dog and discovered that he had early kidney disease. The owner was not able to do any other diagnostics or much treatment, but was willing to try Hill's k/d prescription diet. [The owner] brought the pet back a couple weeks later and was thrilled with the progress he made. He was eating, gaining weight, and more active then he had been in months. Proper nutrition saved this dog's life!” (Note: this is a case where a kibble formula helped address one dog’s specific dietary needs, but may not be ideal for another dog.)
At the end of the day, the decision on what to feed your pet is up to you. However, it should be an educated one, and done under the guidance of a vet, holistic vet, or a pet nutritionist. Whether used to support a healthy lifestyle or manage an illness alongside medication or completely on its own, proper nutrition is the foundation to helping your pet lead the longest and healthiest life possible.
While there is no “right” diet that works for every animal, avoiding these four common feeding mistakes will help make your companion healthier from the inside out. As your pet’s biggest advocate, it’s up to you to be proactive, do some research, and help him live the full and happy life he deserves!
Want to learn more about choosing the right diet for your pet? Click here to read the next article in our pet nutrition series and learn about health issues associated with poor diets.
HOMEOPATH & CO-FOUNDER OF ZUMALKA
Suzie Cyrenne co-founded Zumalka over five years ago, and has worked in naturopathic pet medicine for more than six. Day-to-day, she works as the lead manager for the Zumalka staff and specializes in training the team to have thorough knowledge of pet health and the company’s extensive line of naturopathic remedies.
Suzie has gained a lot of experience from years spent in the pet health field and she earned her degree in Homeopathy at the School of Classical Homeopathy in Quebec, Canada, (a partner of the European Academy of Natural Medicine (AEMN) in France).
May 10, 2019
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May 10, 2019
I adopted /rescued a 2-1/2 year old pocket american bully. From what I was told he lived with 2 pit bulls and had to fight to eat, he apparently lost most of the time because he was skin and bones and was so malnutritioned he had no hair. He was also never trained on any commands, the person who surrendered him admitted to that. He also wasn’t potty trained and was in a kennel for n7-10 hours a day.
He was at the humane society for a month, was neutered and then was about to be put on the list to be euthanized. We adopted him, have had him for 3 weeks, I’ve taught him sit, he has learned his boundary with the kitchen. We found out he wasn’t potty trained through experiencing it. After realizing this, we restricted his free home access and open back door to yard to, when gone during day, to the office with a dog door (we taught him how to use it with treats, but when gone we leave the flap open) to the porch with a piece of fake grass. He’s been doing great, wakes me up at 4am a few times to go out and potty #2. I give him treats and show him soo much happiness and good boys when he goes. I come home every day at lunch and take him to the yard to play. I feel we have made great strides in a short amount of time with this. He has an accident, pee, but the situation was ok that he did. He has gained so much confidence, from being scared of every single thing (the overhead fan even), I got him used to the vacuum by moving it around a few times a day, giving him a treat next to it, and when I used it finally he was fine (the surrendered wrote he was scared of the vacuum). I feel I’ve been doing the right thing with everything but the biggest issue he has, being food driven and its bad.
I bought a slow eating bowl I make him sit until I put it down, but then its all hell breaking loose. He still manages to gobble it down and if I got to take the bowl away he growls but I still have managed to take it away a couple fo times, anytime he hears, smells sees food that’s all he cares about, and well considering his past, rightfully so, he was starved so food to him is life I guess. I don’t know what to do and how to get this under control. He knows I’m the alpha, I make sure I go first in and out of a door, so I figured this is the 1st step. I make him sit and until I say take does he get a treat (unless he goes potty outside then I just make sure he takes it lightly). What should I do to help quell this and his manners about begging? We have eaten in front of him, ignored him and he eventually lays down when he knows he isn’t getting anything….my biggest concern is his growling when eating his b-fast and dinner.
May 02, 2019
Great blog!!! Keep sharing such a blogs, these blogs are really helpful to keep your pets healthy and fit.
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