Humans have long known that there is a direct relationship between what they eat and the general state of their health. That food affects our emotional and physical well-being and this is true of our furry companions as well. Our pets don’t get to choose what they eat, how much they eat or when they eat, so it’s up to pet owners to make good choices when it comes to their pets’ diets. However, we now have so many pet feeding options that it’s difficult to work out what constitutes a nutritious meal. How do we determine what nutrients our pets need for a balanced diet?
First of all, there are some fundamentals that cats and dogs need in order to maintain top physical form and inner health. These include:
It makes up about 60-70% of an adult pet’s body weight so they simply can’t survive without it. Fresh water should be readily available at all times as any meal you feed your pet simply won’t have enough water in it to meet their needs.
Proteins & Amino Acids
Both cats and dogs must have protein in their diets as it contains numerous amino acids that they don’t naturally make on their own. While cats generally require animal-based proteins, dogs may receive their protein from both animal and vegetable-based products. It’s important to feed your pets high quality proteins so that they receive a balance of all the essential amino acids.
Provide a concentrated source of energy that plays an integral part in physical wellbeing.
Provide energy and also play an important part in maintaining intestinal health in both cats and dogs.
Vitamins & Minerals
A balanced diet should also include vitamins A, D, E, K, B1, B6, and B12, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, choline, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium and iodine. These naturally occur in many foods but supplements may be given if you suspect your pet’s diet is lacking.
Fundamentally, these five categories must be included in any pet’s diet in order to ensure they are receiving all the nutrients they need. Carefully read food labels on both dry and wet food and monitor home-cooked meals to ensure your pet is receiving a range of ingredients across all categories. Generally speaking, table scraps won’t provide enough nutrients from each category to keep your pet in tip-top shape.
What percentage of each category constitutes your pet’s meal and how much you feed them will vary according to your pet’s species, breed, life stage and lifestyle. Protein should make up a substantial portion and reasonable amount of fibre will help to maintain gastrointestinal health. To determine how much to feed your pet, consider the following factors:
Your Pet’s Size
Your pet’s species and breed will largely determine its size with larger animals requiring a greater calorie intake than smaller ones. Regardless of species or breed though, all animals have an ideal body weight. In dogs, an ideal body weight is evident when you can clearly see a waist from the top and an abdominal dip from the side and when you can feel their ribs but not see them. In cats, an ideal body weight is present when you can spot a moderate waistline but can also feel a thin layer of fat across its underbelly. If your pet doesn’t fall within this range, then they might be underweight or overweight and you’ll need to adjust their diets accordingly. It’s important to ascertain this and to feed your pet in accordance with your veterinarian’s suggestions. Underweight animals run an increased risk of bacterial infections, parasites and osteoporosis, while overweight animals tend to suffer from complications such as diabetes and osteoarthritis.
Your Pet’s Life Stage
There are certain times in your pet’s life when they’ll expend more energy than others and you’ll have to increase their calorie intake accordingly. Growing puppies and kittens and pregnant or lactating mothers will require higher calorie intake. Generally speaking, younger and comparatively more active pets will require more calories than older, less active ones.
Your Pet’s Lifestyle
Your pet’s normal daily activity will largely determine its energy needs, which will, in turn, determine what and how much you feed it. For instance, an inactive dog who has limited opportunity to exercise should have a lower calorie intake than an active dog that perhaps lives in the country with plenty of room to run around in or in a household with other dogs.
When determining your pet’s dietary needs, it’s important to realise that their needs are constantly evolving. What you currently feed them isn’t necessarily what you’ll feed five years from now. One rule remains true though: a well-balanced diet, appropriate portion sizes and lots of fresh water will keep them healthy through the years.
Adapted from Pet Lovers Centre Magazine – Issue 10