Veterinary Insight: Cats and Dogs: Diet

Alt: What your friends won't tell you about owning a cat or dog.

This is just a thought I've had, a little bit of extra education for the pet owners among you. One of the things that I first noticed working at a veterinarians is just how little the average person knew about their pets, myself included. In an attempt to remedy some of that, while consolidating my own knowledge, I'm going to write a series of posts regarding the care of our fuzzy companions. Sure, reptiles are fun, but every so often I need to admit that not everyone is interested in them.

To kick off this set I'm going to present you with a bit of knowledge relating to those most constant companions: cats and dogs.

I can sense the more enlightened among you screaming in a rage of the difference between cats and dogs, but their care is similar enough, so leave off it.

Cats and dogs have been with us for an awfully long time. I don't know how long (and I'm too lazy to look it up!), but it's easily counted in the thousands of years. Over this time they've gone through some pretty dramatic changes from their wild kin, and have been put through all levels of both care and dismissal possible. The level we currently hold them at is -for most- living decorations, while there are a number of people who consider them companions or friends. I myself think of my cat as the annoying roommate who mooches food, is high all the time, makes you laugh, and shits on the floor.

The status of being little more than a yipping or yowling decoration unfortunately tends to translate into a lack of consideration for both species. They are fed garbage, let loose to wander, and disciplined for natural behaviours. Veterinary costs are scoffed at, after all, these are only animals. I'll be addressing that in an Ethics post.

Diet is generally the first failing of most pet owners. Cats and Dogs are fed grocery or pet store diets because the owners don't know any better, and when you know no better, cheaper is best. The same goes for "Organic" and "All Natural" diets that can be bought for the same price as the top-list veterinary diets.

There are two common failings with store-brand pet foods, the first is Nutrition. These foods tend to be made with the cheapest available castings from slaughterhouses, coupled with cheap vegetable filler. As there are no guidelines in North America currently as to what goes in to pet food, there is a huge potential for companies to dump otherwise waste products into pet foods. These store brands typically do not have any sort of testing behind their foods, so their make-up is mostly a guessing game. The second downside is filler. Cat and dog foods made on the cheap are full of non-digestible fibrous material such as corn. A certain amount of fibre is necessary, of course, but brands such as ol' roy are so chock full of this that they lack even more severely in nutrition.
Organic and all natural diets try to offset the second, but are always at the potential to fall prey to the first.

The best way to give a pet proper nutrition: Knowledge and home-cooked diets. Unfortunately we are not all nutritionists, nor do most of us possess the patience to spend an hour every few weeks preparing meals for our cats or dogs. This also has the downside of leaving the animals prone to dental disease, so home cooked meals for pets should be accompanied by daily brushing and dental treats.

While speaking of home prepared meals: Raw food diets. Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF, yes, it is their own accronym). These are simply not suitable for dogs today. Yes, they possess the ability to digest raw foods, but with raw foods comes too much risk from parasites and bacteria. Slap raw food proponents with reality. Slap them hard. The only way to ensure your animal is not ingesting bacteria or parasites is to cook their bloody food. I don't like raw.

Coming down from raw food ridiculousness, now is the time to address veterinary diets.

There are two brands we recommend at our clinic. We recommend these companies because they have done studies on the long-term affects of their pet food. Studies by the majority of pet food suppliers encompass an average of a few weeks, while more reliable brands study animals on their formulations for months. This is why these companies are able to provide us with diets specifically targeting your dog's mobility issues, or urine crystals, or indigestion. Both of these brands have prescription diets as well as diets you can find in most pet stores. Look for Science Diet or Royal Canin.

Brands aside, kibbles are the most important meal for your dogs. Specifically, a dental diet will help keep their mouths clean; a clean mouth means no costly dental procedures, and more importantly no pain for your pup. Oh, and doggie-breath is mostly a thing of the past. Wet food doesn't have much of an added benefit for dogs. Cats, on the other hand, should always be provided with a good mix of both. Like dogs, dry kibbles, especially dental diets, will help keep the teeth and gums healthy. Unlike dogs, cats are prone to drinking too little water, and a wet food offered daily can help keep them hydrated.

Why the emphasis on dental diets? Most kibbles have some amount of mechanical cleaning action when the pet eats them. The crunchy bits scrape the teeth of some plaque. Dental diets are made with a larger kibble size, filled by nice digestible long fibre. When the kibble is bitten, the teeth have a tendency to puncture into it, rather than simply splitting it, thus ensuring more contact with the interior and exterior surfaces of the teeth. Even the best dental diet won't fix an already corrupt mouth, but starting your pet on one of these immediately following their pediatric diet, or after an in-clinic dental cleaning can keep their teeth looking pretty.

Brushing... well... of course brushing your pet's teeth is important, but I have to admit I do not brush my cat's teeth. I know of one person who brushes her dog's teeth, and she does it more to annoy him than to keep his mouth sparkly. If you can do this daily, you are a better human than I.

That is where I shall leave this particular topic for today. Go forth! Let those around you bask in your new found knowledge of the dietary needs of your companion animals!

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