Importance of Pet Nutrition
Barbara Fougere, BSCBVMS (HONS) IVAS CERT
Pet nutrition is a vital and important topic for all concerned pet owners because
optimal nutrition underlies optimal health. The understanding of the nutritional
requirements of dogs and cats is an evolving science. Much, but not all, is known
about what these companion animals need. The bottom line is that there is no one
diet that suits every pet. Each animal is individual. There are biochemical differences,
differences in genetic make up, environmental differences, different levels of activity,
exposure to pollutants, toxins, emotional stresses and so on. All these factors can
impact upon your pet's health and nutritional requirements.
There is also much debate about what constitutes a proper diet for dogs. Some
veterinarians recommend home made diets, raw or cooked, diets based around raw
meaty bones, diets based on organic meats and vegetables, diets without grains,
others suggest natural prepared foods, or commercial dog foods and many
veterinarians recommend premium quality pet foods. What is the right way? The
answer is simple, there is more than one way to feed a cat or dog!
Many people say that the best way to feed a companion animal is the natural way.
The ancestors of our dogs would naturally have consumed the whole body of their
prey-bones, flesh, internal organs, gut contents, skin, hair, feathers, all of which
would have provided the right balance of nutrients to sustain them. In today's
society this is no longer an option for most of us. Meaty bones are not a substitute
for a whole carcass; vegetables are not the equivalent of gut contents of prey.
However they can be supplemented appropriately to form a balance diet.
Many prepared pet foods provide excellent nutrition in a safe and convenient form.
They are balanced and complete and simple to feed. The trends in pet foods today,
in response to peoples concerns, wrongly or rightly, are that more and more natural
preservatives systems are being used. Colourings are being reduced in pet foods or
are not used at all. Ingredients that have both nutritional value and improved health
characteristics are experiencing more widespread use, examples are probiotics and
essential fatty acids.
I generally advise those owners who like to feed their pets on prepared foods to
look for the best quality they can afford. Generally better quality ingredients cost
more, but the results are worth it. I also suggest they provide their dogs with an
appropriate raw bone or alternative two to three times weekly, along with about
20% of the weekly diet, being fresh meat, some fruits and vegetables for variety.
I have seen many animals suffering from poor health because of poor quality pet
foods or 'natural' diets based on meat, bones, pasta and vegetables, or some other
home made combination under supplied with minerals, protein and vitamins or in the
wrong ratios. I have also seen very healthy animals on the same diets! It is amazing
how relatively flexible pets are in being able to adapt and survive on just about any
My experience as a holistic veterinarian and one who has had several years
experience in the pet food industry is that many people who choose to feed home
made diets need some help in balancing them. This is a challenge, and we can learn
from all the research that is available on the nutritional requirements of dogs and
cats. Deficiencies or excesses in the diet can take a long time before they become
apparent. Many people have seen improvements in the health of their animals
through some minor modifications and addition of particular supplement.
The key to a long healthy and vital life is to look at health in the whole perspective.
Nutritionally we need to provide the right balance of nutrients, the right amount of
energy in the food (kcal), and make educated feeding choices. Ultimately the
decision is a personal one, based on experience, personal eating preferences, what
you read (critically-don't believe everything that is written), the health of your pet
and your veterinarian's advice. The health and well being of your companion animal
is dependent not only on nutrition but the total care you provide-the best diet,
health care, environmental conditions, exercise and love you can provide.
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