Bayleaf’s Guide to Pet Nutrition

Pet nutrition is a constant topic at Bayleaf. What is the best food for my pet? How much should I feed? What about ‘raw’ diets, grain free diets, hypoallergenic diets, high protein diets…?

I will start with some basic nutrition concepts in this article and expand on the topic in future articles. First, pets should be fed an appropriate amount of a well balanced diet. There are many excellent pet foods available. I personally recommend the Science Diet brand. We currently have two Chihuahua’s that are 14 and 15 years old and have been very healthy. Their diet has consisted entirely of Science Diet dry kibble. Our last cat was on Science Diet food and lived to be nearly 19 years old. We also had a Standard Poodle that lived to be 16.5 years on Science Diet. No individual brand or diet is perfect for every pet and I advise all of my clients to find a food that their pet finds palatable and produces a well formed stool (which infers good digestibility and assimilation of nutrients). Over time, owners should assess coat and skin quality and weight. Slight nutritional deficiencies may show up in the form of dry flaky skin and/or a dull thin coat. Less commonly, pets may develop food allergies that may manifest as intermittent vomiting and diarrhea or chronic itchy skin.

For puppies and kittens, I always start out with puppy/kitten food. These foods are higher in protein and fat and are designed to support the rapid growth and high rate of metabolism typical of this life stage. Owners seem to remember the old Purina advertisement recommending “Puppy Chow for a full year”. I rarely recommend keeping pets on puppy/kitten food for a full year. The rapid growth phase is over for most pets around six months of age. This is also the time that many pets are spayed or neutered and nutritionists have shown that caloric requirements are reduced by 25% when pets are spayed/neutered. I recommend switching most pets to an adult food around six months. Switching to an adult maintenance diet will help adjust the calories, but most pets will need a slight reduction in the amount of food fed, as well. There is no magic formula.

Every pet is different. The best approach is to feed set meals and quantities and monitor your pet’s weight closely. We can help you determine if your pet is at the ideal weight. Avoiding pet obesity is extremely important. Keeping pets at a healthy lean body weight is one of the most important ways to help your pet live a healthier and longer life.
Feeding a measured quantity of food twice daily is the best approach for most pets. Small adjustments in the quantity fed can keep the weight constant. It is surprising to many pet owners that their fully grown pet is often eating far less food than during the first 6-9 months of life. A puppy eating 4-5 cups per day, may maintain a healthy adult weight on as little as 2 cups per day. We see many pet owners fail to make the necessary adjustments. Pets are often presented to us at 2 and 3years of age with significant obesity. While, we can get these pets back to a healthy weight, it is far better to avoid the excess weight gain in the first place.

When choosing a food, look for the AAFCO label. AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) has worked for many years to develop minimum standards for pet food to ensure that pets will not become nutritionally deficient. While an AAFCO label does not guarantee a high quality diet, the lack of an AAFCO label almost always represents a food to avoid. Any food purchased from a major pet food manufacturer, will have the AAFCO label. The only exception, are “prescription” diets designed to treat specific medical conditions. At Bayleaf, we carry a comprehensive line of these prescription diets.
When choosing a pet food, start with a manufacturer with a proven track record. Avoid fad diets. There are many new pet foods on the market. Some are excellent, but many are questionable. A lot of misleading claims are made to sell clients on these new foods. I will address and clarify many of these issues in future articles.

There has been a growing demand by the public for foods labeled as natural, holistic, or organic, but some of these terms are undefined and there are no studies that have shown any benefit to animals fed such diets. Natural diets indicate only that there are no chemically synthesized ingredients. The term ‘holistic’ has not been defined by AAFCO and so manufacturers can apply this label whenever they desire, irrespective of the ingredients. Organic ingredients can be labeled as such but some organic foods contain ingredients that are not organic.

If you have any questions regarding a pet food you are considering, please call us at Bayleaf Veterinary Hospital, 919-848-1926, or use the website form to contact us with your question(s).

Craig Wilson, D.V.M.
Bayleaf Veterinary Hospital
Raleigh, NC