These three questions are the ones that most clients hesitate to answer. There is usually a long pause followed by a hesitant “uuuhhh, dry, a scoop and twice a day?” Many clients don’t seem to like to answer questions about what they feed their pets, especially dog owners. There are many possible reasons for this hesitation, some may be:
1. They honestly don’t know. Often, feeding is the responsibility of one family member and if that isn’t the person at the visit this can be a question that they weren’t prepared to answer.
2. They are worried that they will be judged for the type of food or how they feed their pet. I worry that this is more often the reason than any other. There is a ton of marketing out there bombarding pet owners with messages about pet food that are often designed to make pet parents feel bad about their current diet so they will switch to the brand in the commercial. We all love our pets and marketing strategies use this to their favor.
3. They feed a variety and the brand can change from bag to bag. Sometimes feeding is a question of availability and some pet parents mix it up from bag to bag to give a “change of pace” to their pets.
Below is a list of basic recommendations to help start this conversation with your pet’s veterinarian:
1. We will not judge your feeding choice. If you would like a recommendation or to discuss the diet you are currently feeding, just ask. We are happy to answer questions and discuss what food options would be best for your pet. Some veterinarians will not routinely offer unsolicited advice in this area unless we see there is a systemic condition or illness that would be benefited by a food change (i.e. therapeutic diets). Many times, if your pet is doing well and you are happy with the diet then we will say “Keep up the good work!”
2. Consistency is key. Most dogs and cats do best with a stable commercial diet that does not have a lot of variability. They will have consistent bowel movements, it is easier to judge their appetite level, and their weight will be more stable. I recommend to stick to a single diet and provide “interest” in the form of treats, toys, and play. This also goes for timing of feeding too. Meals that are fed 2x (3+ times in very young puppies) a day at consistent times will lead to more predictable digestion and can aid in housebreaking, especially in young dogs. This is also helpful to catch changes in appetite early. We know often within a day if there is a decrease or increase in appetite or willingness to eat because we are feeding meals rather than “free choice.”
3. Make sure your diet meets AAFCO standards for the life stage (puppy, adult, small breed, large breed, etc). There should be a seal on the back of the bag. (more on this topic later)
4. Don’t believe everything that you see in a pet food commercial. They are selling food first and foremost. This doesn’t mean that all foods being sold in commercials are bad, it just means that you should always remember their primary goal is getting you to buy the food. This also goes for the feeding recommendations on the bag. They are often high and most non-athlete pets do not need that amount of food. If your pet is overweight you should be gearing your feeding amounts toward what they would need at their goal weight, not to maintain their current weight.
5. Measure your pets meals with an actual measuring cup. This helps your vet know exactly how much you are feeding. This is important for weight loss plans and feeding consistency. We want to know that 1 cup = 8 oz. Your vet probably has measuring cups available because lots of pet food suppliers will drop them off with food shipments and they are free!
6. Do not feed a raw diet to your pet. These diets are often nutritionally deficient and can cause severe illness and infection. There is also a risk to you and your family with handling and storing raw meats. Dogs and cats that eat a raw diet can carry salmonella and other bacteria in higher quantities in and on their bodies that can make it possible to get sick from handling your pet even if you never touch their food or bowls.
7. If you have a question, call your vet! They should be happy to answer any questions you have about food and be able to give you reputable sources for more information.
This is a great website for veterinary nutrition information. They have a regular blog on many trending topics in pet nutrition: www.vetnutrition.tufts.edu
***A quick word about “nutritionists.” You want to seek nutrition information from your family veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. These doctors are veterinarians who have completed a residency in nutrition following veterinary school to become specialists in nutrition just like a cardiologist or orthopedic surgeon. They have also passed a rigorous board certification exam and have published research in the area of nutrition. Breeders, groomers, and other self-proclaimed “food experts” have not had the extensive training and board certification that a veterinary nutritionist has earned. While they may have great intentions, these folks may not always have good information to support their recommendations. Remember, if you have a question, always call your vet!