Feed your pet like a Vet
Choosing the right diet for your pet can be challenging! Pet nutrition is a complex subject, and the varieties of pet food available has grown significantly in the past few years.
Pets are members of our families, and pet food companies have started to realize that pet owners want to feed them like a family member. What this has created is a massive variety of pet foods, some of which have great marketing, but little nutritional value. Plus if you talk to five different people, you will get five different opinions of how your should be feeding your pet.
We're here to help you out with some advice from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), our own staff at Dragon Lake Veterinary Hospital, and the Royal Canin Canada Company.
With the help of the WSAVA, I've put together a list of helpful questions to ask pet food companies.
- Does the brand employ a nutritionist?
- Who formulates the food?
- What is their quality control process for both ingredients and the finished product?
- Is there a nutrition adequacy statement on the label? Pet foods intended to be fed as a complete diet should be labelled as such. Others may be labelled as short-term, intermittent, or complimentary - these should account for no more than 10% of the total diet, unless directed otherwise by a veterinarian.
- Is it indicated for a specific life-stage? There are different nutritional needs for growth, reproduction, and adult life stages. Diets labelled for “all life stages” are formulated for reproduction and growth, and therefore may not be suitable for house-bound, spayed/neutered pets.
- How many calories pet gram or serving? Shockingly, this information may not be available on the bag label. It is currently only a requirement in the US. With the rising rates of pet obesity, this is important information. Many pet owners simply follow the recommended feeding amounts on the bag, or free-feed, and have little idea of their pet’s actual caloric intake. See the charts below for reference.
- Is there contact information for the company on the bag? A phone or email should be readily available for consumer questions.
- Who actually makes the food? Some companies make their own food (“made by…”), but some may use a third party manufacturer (“made for…”, “distributed by…”)
Some of this information may be challenging to find on your own, and you may need to contact the company. Dragon Lake Veterinary Hospital carries mostly Royal Canin in the clinic, and they have provided a statement with their answers to these questions for customer convenience.
The internet can be a great resource; but how can you know what information to trust?
The internet is such a wonderful resource for information! The downside is there is no rule about what can and can’t be posted online as factual. It is up to the information consumer to use critical thinking and decide for themselves what to believe. Here are some things you can look for to help determine if the online information is credible:
- Look at the author of the article. Many articles online are actually written by veterinarians, but beware of authors claiming to be a certified nutritionist without listing credentials. A pet nutritionist can be certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) or the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN), but this does not prevent others from calling themselves certified nutritionists.
- Check for citations. Many publications on the internet offer no citations for sources where they have derived information. Therefore that stated fact, statistic, etc could have come from anywhere! Furthermore, if something does cite a study, go and take a look at it! Most of the time online you can simply click a link that will take you to the source of the citation. You don’t have to read the whole study, often a glance at the abstract can give you a good idea of what the study is about, and if it is credible.
- How current is the information? Since new research is constantly being conducted, old articles may contain outdated information quickly. On the other hand, very new information may not yet be thoroughly reviewed. Always use your own judgement.
- Be critical of personal anecdotes. It is so easy to curate any list of stories to support one’s own narrative. If you consider all the people in the world with pets, I’m sure an author could find a large enough number who’ve had opposite experiences with a product to sway an audience to either side. There are just too many variables that factor into someone’s experience that are not taken into account in a brief quote for a blog post.
- Discuss it with your veterinarian! Your vet has years of education and experience in the field. Discuss an article you’ve read online with him/her to get a professional take on it.
For more information, visit the WSAVA.
Now that we've chosen what to feed, how do we know how much to feed?
Reading the bag instructions is just not good enough. The amounts recommended on the bag of food you buy at the pet store or even from the vet should be treated as a starting point for your pet’s nutritional needs. Think about two humans who are roughly the same weight. Their nutritional needs might vary drastically depending on their build, lifestyle, and natural body chemistry. Pets are no different, some pets may be more active than others, some may have a higher metabolism, it’s all variable. That’s why it’s important to communicate with your vet regularly about your pet’s nutrition. It’s easy for small changes in weight or muscle mass to go unnoticed at home - especially if you have an animal of the high-fluffiness variety.
Body condition scoring can help you stay on track with your pet's diet. It is also something you can practice at home!
There are four main areas to check: the ribs, pelvis, waist, and abdomen. To check the ribs, you can use your own hand as a guide! First, make a fist and run your other hand along your knuckles. This mimics the feeling of the ribs in an underweight animal. Next, flatten your hand and run your other hand along your flat knuckles. This would be how the ribs would feel for an animal in ideal body condition. Next, turn your hand over and run your fingers over your knuckles from the palm side of your hand. This is about how the ribs would feel in an overweight animal. This is of course just a guideline, everyone’s hands will feel a little different.
The pelvis should be felt minimally under a layer of fat, but should not be prominent or protruding. To check for a waist, look at your pet from above. They should be in a natural standing position and should have an hourglass like shape, with an indentation at the waist. When viewed from the side, the abdomen should have a slight “tuck” going from the sternum to the groin.
Body condition scoring is a good tool you can use at home to help you determine where your pet is at. Then, if you suspect there may be a problem, you can book an appointment with your vet. There are many reasons a pet may gain or lose weight other than simply food related reasons, so it is important to have a veterinary exam if there has been a weight change.
Copyright. Ginger Langan. All rights reserved.