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One of the most important responsibilities of being a pet parent is providing their pet with a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. Pet food manufacturers have come up with creative marketing strategies to make their products more eye-catching; however, this doesn't mean their products are necessarily high-quality.
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) create standards for balanced diets and ingredients used in animal feed and pet food. When buying pet food, the AAFCO recommends checking labels for ingredients, drugs/additives, feeding directions, calories, nutrient guarantees, and other descriptors.
Dogs and cats’ digestive systems and nutritional needs are similar to humans, but there are a few differences. Dogs are technically facultative carnivores meaning they prefer to get their nutrition from meat but as they are scavengers, they have adapted to eating more omnivorous-type diets. Cats are true carnivores but are able to derive some nutrition from carbohydrates. Their digestive systems are similar to humans in that they have a simple stomach, but their intestinal tracts are much shorter which corresponds with their preference for meat sources of energy. Nutritional needs are determined by age/life stage, reproductive status, weight and other health conditions, however there are six nutrients, pet parents can look for to create a generally balanced diet for any pet.
Water: This is the most important nutrient because it makes up more than half the animal’s body weight. Wet food offers some water but can damage an animal’s teeth. Dry food is fine to feed as long as the pet has access to plenty of water.
Proteins: Pet food should contain a high amount of protein. There are 10 amino acids dogs and cats are unable to make on their own, so they need to get them from the protein source in their food. Good pet food will have the protein source on the label.
Carbohydrates: Neither cats nor dogs have an absolute need for carbohydrates however, it is a common source of energy used in commercially available diets in the form of whole grains and vegetables. Some carbohydrates are good to have in the diet because they provide sources of soluble and insoluble fiber which are important for colon health.
Fats: Dogs and cats require good fats to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Fats also provide energy. Healthy fats to look for are Omega-6, Omega-3.
Vitamins: Dogs and cats require vitamins A, D, E, K, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, Choline, and B complexes. Fun fact: dogs and cats don’t need vitamin C in their diet because their bodies make it.
Minerals: Dogs and cats require calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine.
No one food fits all when it comes to feeding dogs and cats. The packaging on a bag of pet food will have instructions on how much to feed, however, these recommendations don’t take all the health factors for each pet into consideration. The amount of each nutrient and the amount of food an animal needs will depend on the following factors: age, size, weight, and health considerations.
Puppies and kittens, active adult dogs and cats, and pregnant and lactating dogs and cats, require more nutrients than older, inactive animals. Pets that are obese or have food allergies or other health concerns will need specialized diets. A good quality pet food will contain all the nutrients an animal needs; however, some dogs and cats with specialized diets may need a supplement. When an animal is stressed or sick they may experience an intestinal bacteria imbalance. Probiotics for dogs and cats are natural supplements that support digestion and intestinal health. A veterinarian or animal nutrition specialist can prescribe the appropriate diet and supplements for individual pets.
Want to learn more about the nutritional needs of your pet? Fuzzy veterinarians are highly qualified professionals and can help you make informed decisions about your dog or cat’s dietary needs. Fuzzy members can always contact a Fuzzy veterinarian via in-app 24/7 Live Vet Chat to ask about pet health or nutritional questions.