Nutrition is one of the most important, and often confusing, parts of pet ownership. There are currently a large variety of commercial diets available for both dogs and cats. Statistically, pet owners spend more on food than on veterinary care and other services combined. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans spent $21.6 billion on pet food in 2013. Despite the often overwhelming variety of pet diets, they tend to fall into five main categories.
VETERINARY PRESCRIPTION DIETS
Veterinary prescription diets are processed diets that are scientifically developed to address specific medical conditions. These diets are developed by veterinary nutritionists and undergo rigorous medical and nutritional studies. Prescription diets are only available through your veterinary office. These diets address a variety of medical concerns including diabetes, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders and even epilepsy. Your veterinary team can help guide you to find the best diet to address your pet’s individual medical concerns.
COMMERCIAL PROCESSED DIETS
Commercial processed diets are the traditional kibble and canned food that can be found in pet stores, online retailers and even your local grocer’s. This category boasts the largest variety of diets on the market. To ensure you are selecting a nutritious and wellbalanced diet, look for the AAFCO seal. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. This ensures that the pet food manufacturer is providing a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.
Some pet owners prefer to make their own food for their pets to ensure the quality of ingredients. Homecooked diets can be a great resource, especially for picky eaters. However, it is very important to ensure that homecooked diets provide all the nutrients needed to maintain health. There are a variety of vitamin supplements, specific recipes and even pet nutritional consults available to ensure that a diet is well balanced. Your veterinarian can help you with these resources to ensure your homecooked diet is appropriate and nutritious
Grain-free diets are a fairly new diet option available for dogs and cats. These diets claim to contain no grains (corn and oats are most common grains used in pet foods), and often contain potatoes and tapioca, which have a lower nutritive value than grains. There have been no scientific studies indicating that grain-free diets are superior or healthier for dogs and cats. In addition, grains are not a common cause of food allergies, and there is no increased risk of developing diabetes in cats or dogs being fed a diet containing grains.
Raw, BARF (which stands for Bones And Raw Food, and more recently Biologically Approved Raw Food), frozen and freezedried diets are composed of raw ingredients. These commercial diets are often marketed as complete; however, many raw diets do not contain a balanced and complete nutritional composition. This can be problematic, especially when fed to growing puppies and kittens. Studies have also found high levels of bacterial contamination in raw foods. One found that 80% of raw food diets tested positive for Salmonella, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal disease. In addition, 30% of stool sample from dogs that are fed these diets were positive for Salmonella. Contaminated stools can pose a significant health risk for children, immunocompromised people and elderly family members.
When selecting a diet for your pet, it is very important to work with your veterinarian. They have advanced training in nutrition and preventive care and can help select the best diet based on age, breed and underlying medical concerns.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON. email@example.com
Nutrition is one of the most important and most frequently discussed aspects of veterinary medicine. A balanced and nutritious diet is essential to help our feline companions enjoy a long and healthy life. Cats have evolved to become obligate carnivores, which means their nutritional needs are met by eating a diet that consists primarily of animal-based proteins. In the wild, this would include birds, mice and other small rodents. Domesticated cats have developed their own unique physiological and anatomical adaptions to assist with consuming a strictly carnivorous diet. Healthy indoor cats should be fed a diet higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than other animals. Cats depend primarily on protein for energy. During growth, kittens will need more protein
than adults; as adults, cats need more than twice the adult dog or human protein requirements. Nutritional needs will change in relation to certain disease processes in cats. There are a variety of veterinary diets that are developed and formulated to address the highly specific nutritional needs of certain
feline diseases. These are the four most common diseases in cats in which a special diet may be indicated:
DIABETES – Diabetic cats most commonly suffer from non-insulin-dependent diabetes, meaning their pancreas still produces insulin, which helps break down sugars to provide energy for the body. However, the pancreas tends to not produce enough insulin to meet their body’s needs. In cats, if their metabolism is corrected before permanent damage to the pancreas occurs, there is a potential that the diabetes may be reversed. Diet is essential in this
process. Diabetic cats should be fed a lowcarbohydrate, low-fibre diet that is also high in protein. Studies have found that cats fed these diets were more likely to revert to a non-insulin-dependent state compared to cats fed a moderate carbohydrate, high-fibre diet. There is a variety of specific dry and canned veterinary therapeutic diets available on the market for diabetic cats that meet their unique nutritional needs.
OBESITY – Up to 50% of cats in developed countries between five and 10 years of age are either overweight or obese. Obesity can be often attributed to the loss of natural activities, including play, stalking and hunting. In addition, many cats are free fed diets high in carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to overeating and an excess of consumed calories. Current evidence suggests that feeding diets with more than 40% protein (on an energy basis) is important to facilitate weight loss and maintain a lean body mass. Feeding a high-protein, low-fat diet in combination with increased activity and play is essential to achieve weight loss in overweight and obese cats.
CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE – Cats with mid- to end-stage kidney disease should be fed a protein-restrictive diet that is also low in phosphorous. As important as protein is to feline health, it can be very hard on diseased kidney function. Canned diets are preferred for cats suffering from kidney disease, as they are higher in water content in comparison to dry diets. The higher water composition aids in keeping the body hydrated and flushing kidney toxins
out of the body through urine. In addition, supplementing kidney diets with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and aid kidney function. There are numerous veterinary therapeutic diets available in a variety of flavours to help preserve and support kidney function.
FOOD ALLERGIES/SENSITIVITIES – Many cats suffer from food allergies and/or sensitivities. Cats may present with skin disease (skin infections, itching, scabbing) or chronic gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, soft stools, diarrhea). Many cats have allergies and sensitivities to common protein sources, including chicken, fish and beef. Providing a novel protein diet, meaning a diet consisting of a protein source that the cat has never had, can help correct this. The immune system usually does not recognize these protein sources and thus does not cause overreaction, which can result in skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. Common novel protein sources include venison, duck, rabbit and even kangaroo. There are many diets available commercially
for cats of all ages and health states. Consult your veterinarian, who can help you choose the most optimal diet for your feline friend to ensure a healthy and happy life.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is an associate veterinarian at the Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto. firstname.lastname@example.org.