Pet Nutrition: The Basics
By Tamara Kees
Just like us, pets need a healthy diet to maximize their lifespan, stamina, and well being. The right food plan can also keep pets at an optimal body fat ratio, which protects the joints, liver, and prevents many ailments that can be caused by excess fat accumulation. Back when many of us were kids, we would just feed kibble, maybe a few table scraps and the occasional bone—but now we can educate ourselves to feed for the best balance of nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and quality ingredients that are safe for our pets. We can also find out what foods to stay away from.
- Proteins: proteins are the basic building blocks of cells. The body repairs, grows, and maintains itself with the aid of proteins. Proteins in your pet’s dry or wet food will usually come from animal meat and egg or dairy sources.
- Fats: fats provide energy and essential fatty acids that keep inflammation responses in check, keep skin and fur coat smooth and supple, and even help protect the joints.
- Carbohydrates: though your pet does not need carbohydrates for energy, some can be beneficial in adding iron, some minerals, and fiber to the diet. Often corn, rice, oats, and potato are sources of carbs in your pet’s food.
- Vitamins: vitamins are critical to many processes in the body, and help your pet convert calories to energy. Only a small amount of vitamins are needed, but if you make your pet’s diet at home it is crucial that you add them via a quality supplement.
- Minerals: these are important to grow things like strong bones and teeth, and are needed only in small amounts. Use a supplement for a homemade diet or choose a high-quality pet food to ensure the proper amounts of minerals are included.
What to look for in your pet’s dry or wet food: puppies and kittens need more protein to grow, seniors need less protein to be gentle on their older kidneys, and adults need more balanced protein—somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Look for foods with no more than 1-2 proteins, and make sure high-quality named proteins and fats—like fish or duck, for example—are the first ingredient on the list. Avoid ingredients like “meat meal”, and “animal fat”, which are of poor quality and mostly comprised of water. Look for whole grains and avoid flours, brans, and refined grain products. Preservatives like tocopherols, vimatin E and C, and rosemary extract are okay. Others, like BHA, BHT, and propylene glycol or ethoxyquin are to be avoided. Also avoid sweeteners like grain fragments and any artificial colors or flavors.
Make sure to feed by the chart on your pet’s food for their ideal weight, and not the current weight if they need to lose a little. Keep snack to a minimum—5-10% at most—or factor them into total daily intake and reduce food when more treats are given. I’ll list a few of the healthy fruits and vegetables you can safely feed your cat or dog: Celery, green beans, carrots, asparagus, watermelon, cucumber, peaches (no pit!), blueberries, broccoli, and strawberries. You can also give them unflavored, air popped popcorn! With a little creativity you can save money and feed your pet the ideal diet by keeping portions in control, using high quality foods, and feeding alternative treats! See the link for our own veterinary assistant Caitlin’s homemade pumpkin biscuits!