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Posted on 09-08-2015

"What does your pet eat?”

If you have been to the veterinarian lately, you have probably been asked this question. In fact, as veterinarians, we strive to ask this question every single visit. Although you might feel like we are putting you on the spot if you can’t remember what the brown and blue bag is or how much you feed, we swear that our reasons for asking are purely in the interest of keeping your pet healthy! The most common non-accidental causes of death in pets are cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease; good nutrition can prevent two of these!

Did you know that a pet’s nutritional needs change as he/she ages? In fact, there is an entire organization called AAFCO (the American Association of Feed Control Officials) whose purpose is to determine what a pet’s needs are based on his/her age (called a life stage) and then whether a food meets these needs. AAFCO identifies four life stages based on caloric need: growth (or puppy/kitten), adult (sometimes called maintenance), gestation/lactation (a pregnant or nursing pet), and "all life stages". However, don’t let the all life stages label trick you; this food is actually designed to meet the caloric needs of a growing cat or dog, meaning it has way too many calories for an adult. In addition to these categories, there is a fifth (yet not officially recognized) life stage called senior or mature; this is designed to be fed to pets over seven years old.

So, you are now likely thinking, this is all well and good, but why does this matter? Like we mentioned above, your pets nutritional needs change as your pets age changes. Additionally, for you dog owners, your dog’s needs vary based on your dog’s breed. For example, did you know that a large breed puppy (characterized as expected to be over fifty five pounds when fully grown) can develop permanent bone deformities and are more likely to suffer from growing pains if fed an all-breed puppy food? This is because large breeds actually need puppy food that has restricted calories and calcium so that their bones grow taller and wider at the same time. In general, puppy and kitten foods (and all life stages food) have twenty two percent more protein and sixty percent more fat than adult foods. Therefore, an adult pet eating puppy or kitten food is at increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and kidney disease. This is why we insist that your adult pet and puppy cannot share the same food! As pets age, their calorie (fat) and protein needs decrease further and are at their lowest once they become seniors (over age seven). At this point, they should be eating mature or senior food for lower protein, which reduces their risk of kidney disease, and lower calories to reduce their risk of obesity-related diseases.

We understand how frustrating it is for owners with multiple pets to have to buy different foods, but we only insist because we want to keep your pets as healthy as possible and minimize their risk of disease. We hope that maybe spending a little bit more on appropriate life-staged foods for each pet in your household will pay off in terms of less disease-related veterinary bills.

So, now that we have talked about life stages, how do you know what a good food is? In general, good quality foods have quality ingredients - and do not have colored pieces. Colored pieces indicate dyes and food coloring, both of which can cause problems for your pet. Secondly, food should be for a life stage and size. You can also look for the AAFCO feeding statement on the bag. This is a sentence that identifies the life stage of the food based on the nutrient guidelines set forth by AAFCO. If there is no AAFCO feeding statement, put the bag or can back! Finally, price does matter. For dogs price should be, at minimum, $1 per pound - and they really only need dry food. If you feel that your dog REALLY needs wet food, it should only be 1 or 2 teaspoons – just enough to enhance flavor. Cats should have both wet and dry, with the dry, at minimum, costing $2 per pound. Cats absolutely need wet food daily, so try to stay within the same brand of food.

We strongly believe in good nutrition for every pet! Unfortunately, there are way too many foods out there for us to be familiar with each and every one. However, we are always more than happy to review a food and offer our professional opinions when asked. We are always just a phone call or e-mail away!

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