What does pet health look like this month?
Welcome to the December edition of our ‘We Are One Health’ pet owner blog series. Throughout 2019 we’ve been exploring a different topic each month related to our companion animals. With Christmas quickly approaching and we plan what food we will be eating on the big day, we may also be tempted to “treat” our pets which is why we’re focusing this month’s blog on pet nutrition during the festive period.
Just like humans, it’s important that our pets eat a balanced and nutritious diet to keep them happy and healthy while avoiding any health concerns that come with bad diets. Before you slip a slice of turkey or the odd pig in blanket into the food bowl, read on to find out what pets can and can’t be treated to this Christmas.
Life stage nutrition
Similarly to the way we have different nutrition needs as we grow, our pets’ nutritional requirements will also change as they get older. Life stage nutrition is the practice of adjusting your pets’ diets depending on where they are in their life in terms of development and physiologic state. By practicing this way of feeding your pet you are ensuring that they receive the right nutrition to enable them to grow to become happy and healthy adults.
81% of vets and nurses have seen a rise in obesity in our pets. Just like in humans, pets that are overweight or obese are likely to develop medical conditions associated with weight gain. Obesity can also have a serious effect on your pet’s quality of life with overweight pets more reluctant to play due to a lack of energy. A common cause of obesity, particularly in dogs, is overfeeding, more specifically the frequent feeding of “treats” that tend to be unhealthy.
Nutrition for dogs
When feeding dogs, animal protein is the most important element of their diet. This links back to our canine friends’ origins as pack animals working together to hunt for food. There are many factors affecting what other nutritional elements that they will require for example, the bigger the breed; the more nutrients they need during their growth phase as a puppy, and of course the more food they need. During the puppy phase of all dogs, but especially large breeds, it is particularly important to feed a well-balanced and breed size specific diet. The PFMA produces a useful puppy nutrition factsheet to help. For all dogs, making sure you feed the right amount, and that the food you choose delivers the appropriate nutritional benefits for your dog is the important thing: it does not matter if you give wet or dry food, or even a combination of both.
Nutrition for cats
Cats are classed as Obligate Carnivores, which requires them to have a higher protein level in their diets. Cats also have very specific nutrient requirements meaning the wrong diet could lead to medical problems. When feeding your cat it’s important to think of the specific nutrients they need and the best way to ensure their diets are balanced and contain the nutrients essential for their health. Through feeding your cats good quality food along with a variety of wet and dry food will help to minimise the risk of deficiency in your animal. As with dogs, the age of your cat also plays a large part in the nutrients they need with kittens requiring a much different diet to older cats.
We spoke with dog owner Jo to find out how she looks after her labrador, Carson’s, diet.
Q1 How do you monitor Carson’s diet to make sure he gets the right level of nutrition?
When we got him at eight weeks old he was fed on a mixture of raw food and dried food. We decided pretty early on to stop the raw food and stick with dried as it's so much more convenient. The breeder and vet gave us advice on brands made from proper ingredients and we've stuck with our chosen one ever since. He's fed twice daily and I use the manufacturer’s guidelines for his size, although he's been looking a little chunkier lately so I've cut back a bit! He also has a supplement with every meal.
Q2 Has Carson ever experienced health issues due to his diet?
In February 2019, he was seriously ill after drinking water from the water butt at a cafe. Two days later he started vomiting and after 12 hours he was vomiting blood and ended up on IV rehydration and antibiotics for 24 hours. He bounced back fine but it took about a week to get him back on regular food. His vets gave some sensitive food alternatives to get him back to eating normally, which really helped.
Q3 Did you adapt Carson’s diet dependant on his age?
Not really, it has remained consistent since he was a puppy but we have always adjusted his portion sizes depending on what the vet and the guidelines on his food suggest.
Q4 Do you feed Carson ‘treats’ and if so how do you ensure they are not consuming too many?
Yes but we try to be sensible about how much we treat him. He has treats for walks to encourage recall and he also will not jump in the back of the car without a little edible encouragement. At home, he often has a kong or something chewy which will take a minute or two to eat which I'll give him as I leave the house to distract him from being left.
My attitude to treats is that I'm more interested in making sure he has good habits from a social point of view. He is absolutely never allowed anything from the dinner table and similarly if we are out in a cafe and someone asks if he can have a treat I would say no; not because I think it'll be bad for his nutrition necessarily, but because I don't want him to expect a treat in that scenario. In a cafe where they have treats at the till, I'll give him one as we leave to say well done for sitting quietly and not bothering me while I have my coffee but he knows to never ask for treats when the family are eating.