Feeding a balanced diet that meets all your pet’s nutritional requirements whilst providing the correct blend of calories for his or her age and lifestyle is one of the most important ways you can help keep your pet happy and healthy. With so much choice on the market, picking products can sometimes seem a daunting task, but at least there is always a brand and a product to suit every budget, as well as pleasing the palate of even the pickiest pet.
We’ve put together a list of things to consider when thinking about your pet’s diet, which should help you choose the food that’s right for you both:
- Do consult the nursing team at your veterinary practice for advice on the correct amount of food to feed your pet. The PDSA estimates that one in three dogs, one in four cats and one in four rabbits in the UK are overweight or obese, and suggests that the proportion of overweight pets will continue to grow. Many practices hold free weight management clinics where the nurses can assess your pet’s weight and recommend a feeding regime that will keep him or her at a healthy weight. Just like us, pets suffer discomfort and can cause irreversible damage to their joints and internal organs by carrying excess weight around.
- Ensure that your pets receive a balanced diet with all the nutrients and minerals required to support a healthy body. Commercial pet foods are usually formulated to be balanced – although they may also contain things that would surprise you! It is possible to feed pets a homemade diet as long as you are attentive to certain necessities, e.g. cats need a certain amount of dietary taurine (an amino acid) which is provided in both vegan and to an extent non-vegan pet food diets as synthetic taurine.
- Your rabbit’s diet must be made up predominantly (around three quarters) of good quality grass or hay, supplemented with leafy greens and pellet food. Most vets agree that muesli-style feed is not appropriate as rabbits will pick out certain bits and leave the more fibrous ones (which are actually more important in ensuring good gut health and maintaining dental condition).
- When switching to a different brand or type of food (from wet to dry for example), always transition your pet across over several days. Start by introducing a small percentage of the new food on day one, and gradually increase the amount whilst reducing the amount of your pet’s previous diet. Swapping to a new food straight away invariably leads to dietary upsets that can cause diarrhoea.
- Always ensure that your pet has unlimited access to fresh drinking water. Those on a dry diet will need to drink more than pets fed predominantly on wet food (which can contain as much as 75% moisture). Check on water bottles and bowls regularly, especially for outside pets during the winter months when these can freeze.
Treats contain calories too, so make sure that you adjust the amount of food given if you regularly top up your pet’s intake with chews or biscuits.
- Choose the right food for your pet’s lifestyle – puppy and kitten foods are formulated to provide a concentrated blend of energy and nutrition required at this key stage of growth. Conversely, older pets will have a lower energy requirement and their immune systems will benefit from additional supplements.
- Provide a variety of tastes and textures for your pet to enjoy, just like us they can become fed up with the same old things day in, day out
- Remember that some human foods are not suitable for your pet
Battling the bulges
The sensitive subject of weight management – it turns out that just like us, your pet can have too much of a good thing!
Broaching the topic of weight can be difficult, and yet with most estimates agreeing that at least a third of UK pets are overweight (2014 PDSA Animal Welfare report) it is essential that we face this growing problem.
We all know that not only can obesity cause serious health and welfare problems in itself, but it can also make existing medical conditions worse. The sad fact is that being significantly overweight can reduce both the length and quality of a pet’s life, increasing the risk of developing a number of serious problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory problems
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain and arthritis
Many carers aren’t clear what the ‘normal’ body shape for a healthy animal is, and it is common for a pet’s weight to creep up over the years as a result of being fed too much or not doing enough exercise. Many veterinary practices offer free weight management clinics, and will be happy to recommend a feeding regime to help your pet shed those surplus pounds, so do take advice from the vets and nurses at your practice.
It’s easy to check whether your pet is carrying excess weight – the RSPCA suggests a simple three-stage visual check for cats and dogs:
- You should be able to see and feel the outline of your pet’s ribs
- Your pet’s waist should be clearly visible when viewed from above
- Your pet’s tummy should be tucked up when seen from the side
There are also some really useful visual guides and charts on the Pet Food Manufacturers Association website, to help you assess how far away from his / her ideal weight your dog, cat, rabbit, bird or guinea pig may be.
If you find that your pet is carrying more weight than is healthy, by simply reducing the quantity of food given and increasing the amount of exercise your pet receives each day you can make positive changes. All commercially produced pet foods have recommended feeding guides printed on the packaging, and more information is available on their websites. Often the amount of food your pet needs to stay happy and healthy is less than you might expect, especially for dry diets; and just like us, most pets will find it difficult to regulate their intake correctly when there is plenty of tasty food available!
So why not spend a few minutes checking your pet over today? By taking early action to correct any gradual weight gain you may be saving him / her from the pain and discomfort of aching joints (and saving yourself from potentially costly veterinary treatment in the process!)
Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support
Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.