How to Ensure that Your Pets Are Getting the Nutrition They Need
Most pets love food. Whether that be scraps from the table, peanut butter treats for your pup, or simply their favorite wet or dry food, the prospect of food can make many a pet’s face light up at mealtime. But what are the best foods to feed your pets, and how do you ensure they’re getting proper nutrition?
Today, pet owners have ample choices in pet food brands, many of which make bold claims of being the optimal nutrition for your pet. Increasingly popular options of raw and homemade food have also made their way to the forefront. Weigh that against periodic recalls on pet foods, and it’s difficult to know what really is optimal.
Certainly there are variations in the quality of pet food ingredients. Some pet food brands make their food in human kitchens, some even use organic ingredients. Others use more fillers and additives than maybe they do real meat. Some may have ingredients, like carrageenan, that have been under scrutiny for possibly causing inflammation in pets.
One of the best ways to start ensuring your pet is getting optimal nutrition is to read the ingredient list of the food you’re purchasing. If your pets have special dietary needs or certain health issues, it’s always a good idea to discuss their diet with your veterinarian; your pet may require a specialized diet, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best diet for them.
Ingredients Your Pets Need
Both cats and dogs need protein in their diet. Cats have higher protein requirements than dogs, and being carnivores, should get their protein from meat specifically.
Like humans, protein is crucial for your pet’s cell growth, muscle repair, and general body maintenance, so it’s important that it’s in their food. You’ll find that most animal based proteins contain all the essential amino acids that pets need, including:
- Arginine (detoxification of ammonia, resulting from the turnover and breakdown of proteins.)
- Histidine (plays a key role in oxygen exchange)
- Leucine (tissue regeneration)
- Lysine (helps produce carnitine, a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into energy and helping lower cholesterol)
- Methionine (incorporated into structural protein and is required for normal growth)
- Phenylalanine (helps with pain and skin disorders)
- Taurine (essential for all animals but particularly cats, as it affects their vision, hearts, and helps with their reproductive cycle; taurine is found only in animal-based proteins)
- Threonine (helps with nervous system disorders including spinal spasticity)
- Tryptophan (helps reduce aggression and stress)
- Valine (helps with muscle growth)
Fats and Your Pet’s Energy
Dietary fats are a good source of energy for your pets and in fact quite integral to their health. Fats help your pets absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D3, E and K. They also aid their digestion and contribute to ensuring your pet’s skin and coat are as healthy as can be.
Your pets need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and these need to be balanced a particular way. You can read more about the benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for your pet’s health here.
You’ve probably heard of the positive benefits of fish oil, which are high in essential fatty acids. Supplementation with fish oil products can help your pet with certain ailments and allergies.
One very important side note to remember: supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to speak with your veterinarian prior to starting your pet on any supplements.
Your veterinarian is the best source for helping you choose a quality supplement, as they’re likely familiar with the most reputable brands and with the scientific studies that have been done on them.
Don’t assume that human grade supplements are automatically better. Many fish oil supplements (including human ones) have been found to contain inadequate levels of EFAs and contain higher levels of peroxide, which makes them rancid.
So always talk to your veterinarian first before starting your pet on any type of supplement.
Carbohydrates are a valuable element of your pets diet, as they deliver energy, help maintain digestive health, and affect reproduction. Depending on the type of pet you have, their carbohydrate needs will vary. Cats, for instance, require smaller amounts of carbohydrates in their diet than dogs.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that can help when your pets are constipated, or at times if they have diarrhea. Pets don’t necessarily require fiber in their diet, but periodically, your vet may recommend fiber supplementation. As too much fiber can actually exacerbate certain issues, and there are different types of fiber (soluble vs. insoluble) it’s important to discuss your pet’s fiber needs with your veterinarian and have them recommend the type of supplementation that’s best.
Should You Feed Your Pets Dry Food?
There is a certain amount of debate on whether your pet will benefit more from wet or dry food. Cats in particular lack a thirst mechanism that can keep them in a regular state of dehydration, so it’s often recommended to feed your cats a wet-food diet. Veterinarians have differing opinions on the matter, and switching a pet’s diet isn’t always easy; pets can become very addicted to their favorite foods, in particular dry foods.
If your pet’s meals consist mainly of dry food, try to ensure they are getting adequate water. One option to consider is adding a pet water fountain to entice them to drink more.
The Importance of Water
The one main ingredient that all pets need is water. Like humans, about 60-70% of your pet’s body consists of water. Your pets should have access to fresh, clean water every day. If you live in an area with hard water, you may also want to consider filtering your pet’s water prior to serving it.
Vitamins and Minerals
It’s very important that cats and dogs get the proper vitamins and minerals in their diet. Most pet foods contain vitamin supplements in the food to ensure your pets are getting the right mix of vitamins and minerals.
If your pet is suffering from a vitamin deficiency, your vet may need to prescribe the vitamins they need. Too many vitamins, however, can also be problematic and cause health issues, so it’s important not to guess on what your pet needs. An overload of vitamin D, for instance, can lead to kidney issues and bone density, whereas too much vitamin A can create joint problems and fragile bones.
Say No to Table Scraps
Our pets will always want to eat what we’re eating, and unfortunately they have a great way of guilting us to give in. Try and resist the urge to feed your pet the food you’ve cooked for yourself. Your food may have spices or contain ingredients that may actually cause your pets harm. Certain human foods can also be toxic to pets, like onions, which can cause kidney failure in both dogs and cats.
Other Pet Food Options
Dogs and cats have different digestive systems compared to us humans, especially in terms of length. Think of this: for us humans we have up to 28 feet of digestive tract in our system, compared to 13 feet in most dogs and slightly smaller in cats. Humans have a stomach acidity in the range of 1.5 to 2.5, where the acidity in cats and dogs ranges at around 1.
With a smaller intestinal range, raw food moves through our pets in roughly half the time it would take than in us humans and the acidity in our pets would kill off any bacteria. Many proponents of raw food use these points to promote the benefits of a raw food diet. Proponents of raw food claim that it is better absorbed by our pets and that they obtain a higher nutritional value, going back to how our animals would eat in the wild.
Still, there are risks with raw food. Unwanted contaminants, such as salmonella and e. coli may appear if the food is poorly manufactured; of course this bacteria can occur in dry and canned pet food as well. But raw can increase those chances. Most commercial raw food companies claim to take precautions to prevent these contaminants from appearing. Anecdotally, freeze dried raw has less instances of harmful bacteria.
If you go the fresh raw food route, treat it the same as if you were preparing uncooked chicken or meat for yourself. Make sure you wash your hands and wash any items the meat comes in contact with, such as cutting boards, bowls, etc. Allow it to stay frozen from up to two to four days before you feed your pets, allowing it to thaw in your fridge. When feeding, don’t leave it out for more than 40 minutes and be sure to discard what remains uneaten.
If you’re preparing the raw diet yourself, it’s important to work with a pet nutritionist to ensure your pet is getting the correct nutrition it needs. A pet nutritionist can help you formulate a diet that will meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Alternatively, certain brands of pet food make frozen raw diets that contain the measured amounts of nutrition your pet needs.
Homemade Pet Food
It certainly can be done, but making your own pet food can be a time consuming venture. As with a raw food diet, it’s important to ensure your pets are getting their nutritional needs met; otherwise you may cause more harm than good. If you’re wondering what’s the best way to approach a homemade pet food diet, reach out to your veterinarian for advice. If they don’t specialize in nutrition and can’t help you put together a diet themselves, they may be able to recommend a pet nutritionist you can work with.