How to ensure your pet is getting the right nutrition
Here are some top tips to help you choose a diet that ensures your pet is getting the right nutrition.
With so many diets available either off the shelf or online, it can be difficult to decide which is the best one for your pet. But, whatever your dog's or cat’s individual needs, and whatever your budget, there will almost certainly be the right diet available.
The signs that your pet is eating a suitable diet include:
- a healthy body condition score (BCS) and weight.
- good energy levels.
- inoffensive breath (provided their gums and teeth are healthy - check with your vet if your pet has smelly breath).
- a shiny, clean-feeling coat free of skin flakes.
- bright, clear eyes.
- when your pet goes to the toilet, it should be firm, without mucus or blood, and there shouldn’t be a rumbling tummy or flatulence.
Your vet team will be happy to support you with feeding your pet the most appropriate diet, checking their body condition score, and troubleshooting if you have any concerns about your pet’s health, nutrition or diet.
Good pet food doesn’t have to be expensive
There is a variety of high-quality complete pet foods out there at a range of different prices and we know that feeding the best quality pet food is important to you, so if you would like advice on which food to choose, speak to your veterinary team or book a free Pets at Home nutrition consultation. We can help you find a good quality pet food at a price that is affordable; helping you to save money while maintaining your pet’s health.
5 ways to ensure your pet is getting the right nutrition
Feed the right diet for your pet’s age
Many diets we feed our dogs are called “life-stage” diets. These have been designed to meet the nutritional needs of a pet for their age and activity level: as a puppy or kitten grows through adolescence to adulthood, and then into their senior years, their nutritional requirements change and they will benefit from being fed a food appropriate to their life-stage.
Feed the right diet for your pet’s breed
The nutritional requirements of different sizes, shapes and breeds of dogs will vary: for example, a Chihuahua will require a different diet to a Great Dane, not just a different amount. As a result, there are now foods available to meet these breed-specific nutritional needs.
Feed the right diet for your pet’s lifestyle
Different lifestyles and activity levels have different energy requirements, and there are nutritionally balanced diets available to help your pet maintain a healthy weight and body condition score (BCS) based on their lifestyle and activity levels.
Find out more about body condition scoring
It has been shown that diseases such as diabetes, osteoarthritis and even cancer, could be linked to obesity, so it’s important that you ensure your pet doesn’t become overweight.
For example, if your cat lives indoors, they’re likely to burn fewer calories than a cat who is out all day patrolling their territory. Choosing a diet specifically designed for an indoor lifestyle will help keep them at a healthy weight. Some indoor cat diets also include ingredients to help reduce hairball formation; and others are formulated to help reduce the development of stones in the urinary tract of susceptible cats.
Similarly, dogs who only take gentle exercise or who gain weight easily might be more suited to a ‘light’ diet. Many pet food manufacturers make light recipes - easy ways to manage calorie intake and maintain a balanced diet in a less active pet without them feeling hungry.
Diets designed for working dogs are exactly that: they’re made for dogs with a very active lifestyle who need to eat a balanced, high-calorie diet to maintain their weight and energy levels. Sporting and agility dogs, police and military dogs, guide dogs, working farm dogs, and very active pet dogs who are out running all day could all fall into this category. However, not all individuals from working breeds will require a working-dog food, it really depends on their activity levels.
There are also diets that have been specifically formulated for neutered animals who have a tendency to gain weight.
To remain healthy and with enough energy for daily activities, it’s important to give your pet the right amount of nutritionally balanced food for their size and lifestyle. Start by looking at the packaging to determine the recommended amount for your pet. The amount is usually based on your pet’s weight and is generally given in grams per day for dry food, or pouches/tins per day for wet food. Your vet team will be able to help you weigh your pet.
Monitor your pet’s weight and BCS every week and adjust the amount up or down by 10-15% until they are maintaining a normal weight. Continue to monitor every week, even when they are maintaining a normal BCS and weight.
If your pet is overweight or underweight it’s best to seek the advice of your vet or nurse before making changes to their diet: for weight loss, simply reducing the volume of food they receive could result in them receiving inadequate levels of some nutrients, and might mean the pet is constantly hungry.
Strict rules govern what information must be shown on pet food packaging in the UK. The ingredients in the diet will be listed and there will also be a breakdown of the nutrients provided. A good rule of thumb is to compare a few diets to get an idea about how the ingredients and nutrients vary.
If there’s a big difference in price between similar looking diets, check the ingredient list for clues about why this might be: the cost of ingredients will affect the final price of the food. For example, diets with a high percentage of an expensive protein source are likely to cost you more than diets containing a lower percentage of the same ingredient.
It should be mentioned that less expensive ingredients do not necessarily mean a lower quality diet.
It's important to know if your pet food is complete or complementary.
If your dog or cat is on a complete diet, they’ll be receiving all the nutrients they need, provided they’re being given the recommended amount of food.
Whereas a complementary diet, such as dog biscuits or mixer, is designed to be fed with other food such as a wet or moist diet. Together they create a complete diet.
Treats can be used as rewards during training and are a great way to show your pet you love them. However, too many edible treats can unbalance your pet’s diet and can supply unwanted calories. Ideally, use treats as part of your pet’s daily food allowance. Most commercially prepared pet treats have feeding recommendations on the packaging, but if you’re using home-made food rewards, such as tiny pieces of cheese or cooked meat, be sensible with the amount you give and keep a close eye on your pet’s waistline.
If more than one person feeds your cat or dog, make sure everyone knows how much food and how many treats to give each day. It’s easy for a pet to eat lots of extras in a day if everyone in the family gives them a little treat each time they open the fridge!
It’s very difficult to provide a balanced diet for your dog or cat if you feed them a home-prepared raw diet. Commercially prepared raw diets have been carefully formulated to ensure that pets receive a balanced diet, containing all the essential nutrients so, if you want to feed your dog or cat a raw diet, choose a reputable manufacturer.
Raw food is not heat-treated to kill e.g. bacteria, protozoa or worms, and some of these organisms can survive freezing, so strict hygiene when handling raw food is essential.
Pet nutrition FAQ's
Unless your vet has confirmed that your dog or cat has a dietary allergy or intolerance there’s no need to provide foods with restricted ingredients.
For instance, allergies to wheat and gluten are very uncommon in dogs so, unless your dog has a veterinary confirmed allergy to these ingredients, there’s no need to avoid foods containing them.
Given the opportunity, dogs will often eat cat food, but it can be quite rich and might cause a tummy upset. And, although some cats might try dog food, it won’t keep them healthy long-term as it doesn’t contain the high protein levels and essential nutrients specific to our feline friends. In short, cats and dogs should eat a diet specifically designed to meet the needs of their own species.
As your cat's or dog’s nutritional needs change throughout their life the best way to ensure they are receiving the correct nutrients for their age is to provide a life-stage diet. Whether your pet is a growing kitten or puppy, an adolescent or young adult, a pet in their prime of life, or a golden oldie, there are specifically balanced diets available. For advice on the most appropriate life-stage diet for your pet, speak to your vet or nurse, or pop into a store for a free nutrition consultation.
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