Category Archives: Feeding & Diet

New Kitten Primer

Have you just adopted your first kitten, or maybe this is just the first cat you’ve had in a long time? There’s a lot to plan for and educate yourself about, and this article will guide you through it.

Where to Find a Kitten

Haven’t got your new kitty yet? Shelters and private rescue groups are bursting with kittens in the spring and summer. Check out petfinder.com for a start, or check out our page of local rescue and adoption groups. Ask the rescue group if their cats have been checked out by a veterinarian and vaccinated prior to adoption.

Considering a breeder? Make sure your breeder of choice has the breed’s (and each kitten’s) best interests in mind. A truly reputable breeder is likely to breed only a few litters per year, often restricts themselves to just one or two specific breeds overall, and will screen their adult cats for signs of breed-related conditions such as cardiac diseases, ocular diseases, and others. Optimally, a kitten would remain with its mother and littermates until it was 8-12 weeks old.

Diet

Kittens under one year of age should be fed a diet labeled for kittens or for “all life stages.” Kittens establish their lifelong food preferences when they are young, so if you plan on feeding both canned and dry food to your adult cat, you should offer both to a kitten as well. You may be interested in reading our blog post on feline nutrition for an extensive discussion of the dietary needs of cats.

Vaccinations

Your new kitten may come to you after he has had his first round of vaccines, but is likely to need at least a few additional vaccinations. Some are considered “core” or required by law, while others are lifestyle-dependent or optional. Here are the vaccines we consider for each new kitten:

  • Rabies – This is a core vaccination, and required by law. A kitten is old enough to receive this vaccine when they are 12 weeks of age.
  • Distemper & Respiratory Virus combination – This is a core vaccination, administered once every 3-4 weeks until a kitten is 16 weeks old. Distemper (also called Feline Panleukopenia) is a highly contagious and potentially deadly viral disease. Affected cats will become lethargic and lose their appetite. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are frequently seen, but some cats die suddenly with few clinical signs. The virus is shed in the feces of affected cats, and can survive for months to years in a household or outdoor environment. The virus is resistant to many disinfectants. You can see why vaccination is so important!! Thanks to vaccines, this is now considered an uncommon disease.  Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are responsible for 80-90 percent of infectious feline upper respiratory infections. Sneezing, runny eyes, runny nose, and fever are the usual symptoms. Many kittens are exposed to one or both of these respiratory viruses before they are old enough to be vaccinated. Vaccination can still reduce severity of disease and help prevent future flare-ups.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus – As the name suggests, this is a virus than can cause leukemia. This virus is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. This vaccine is recommended only for cats who will be spending time outdoors, or who live with another cat who goes outdoors and/or is already known to have Feline Leukemia Virus.

Deworming

Your new kitten may have already been given a dewormer by the breeder or rescue group, but repeat treatments with a dewormer and/or testing a stool sample to check for parasites is recommended.

External Parasite Preventatives

Yes, cats can get heartworm too! Prevention of heartworm disease via a product such as Heartgard, Revolution, Advantage Multi, or others is strongly recommended. These therapies may exist as a soft-chew, pill, or topical drop.

Prevention of fleas is especially important for cats who go outdoors, or live with another pet who goes outdoors and may bring “hitchhikers” home with them. It is much easier to prevent a flea infestation from occurring than to resolve one that is already going on in your household. Fleas can cause anemia if they are present in large numbers, and ingestion of a single flea can introduce tapeworms to a cat’s intestine.

Prevention of ticks may be important for cats who spend a fair amount of time outdoors. Fortunately, cats do not commonly seem to become ill from tickborne diseases. Please note that most flea/tick products designed for use on dogs can be highly toxic to cats. Only a few cat-safe tick preventatives exist (we would recommend Revolution, Frontline, or the Seresto collar).

Visit our blog article on flea control for a discussion and comparison of several different flea and/or tick preventative products.

Pet Insurance

Whether you decide pet insurance is the right choice to help protect your new kitten, or if you would prefer to save up your own emergency fund, it is simply important to have a plan in case of an emergency medical expense. There is a complete discussion and comparison of pet insurance providers on our blog, too.

Microchip Identification

A microchip is the only completely secure and permanent way to identify your pet if they ever get lost. A microchip with a unique ID number is implanted under the skin, usually around the shoulders. It hurts a bit more than a vaccine, so while it can be done at any time, it is generally preferred to place a microchip while a pet is already under anesthesia for a spay or neuter. If your pet is found and scanned for a chip, the ID number will link them to your veterinarian, your home address, and any other information you register with the chip company.

Spaying and Neutering

Rescue kittens are sometimes already spayed or neutered before they are adopted, but in other cases we can plan for the ideal time to spay or neuter a pet. In general, it is best to wait until a cat is done growing to spay or neuter them; this may be from 5 to 8 months of age.

Why do we decide to spay or neuter? In addition to population control and reducing behaviors such as roaming off, urine-marking, and/or getting into fights with other cats, there are a handful of disease conditions that can be reduced or eliminated by spaying or neutering. Spaying reduces the incidence of mammary cancer later in life. It eliminates the chance of cancers of the reproductive tract, as well as the development of pyometra (an infection of the uterus). While infection or cancer of the male reproductive tract is not common in cats, neutering further reduces or eliminates this risk.

Socialization

“Socialization” doesn’t just mean social interaction with other pets. Help your kitten become accustomed to the things that will become daily life experiences: meeting new people, interacting with children, having their teeth brushed, having their nails clipped, learning not to be afraid of the vacuum cleaner, etc. And start early!! Kittens are most impressionable between 2 and 14 weeks of age.

Kittens can be a lot of trouble! Make sure your new kitten has opportunities to learn appropriate ways of burning off all that energy. Ideally, you should provide access to all of the following:

  1.  At least one more litter box than the number of cats in the home. For example, a household with two cats should have three litter boxes. This will help reduce the chances of inappropriate urination/defecation, and may help ease conflicts between cats.
  2. An appropriately sturdy, tall, and textured scratching post, to encourage appropriate scratching behavior and keep your furniture safe.
  3.  Opportunities to rest or hide in a few different places around the home, especially high-up vantage points, such as on top of a bookshelf. This helps cats feel secure in their surroundings, especially in a household with other pets.
  4. Toys that emulate hunting behavior, such as small objects that squeak, chirp, crinkle, and can be batted around. Some cats also enjoy feather “fishing pole” type toys, or laser pointers (but be careful about their eyes).

Safety Considerations

As an emergency hospital, we know all about the trouble that’s out there for a kitten to get into! Here are a few items to keep in mind when kitten-proofing your home:

  • Human medications: While some human medications are safe for cats at an appropriate dose, others can be quite toxic. Never let your pet have access to painkillers (even over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, Aleve, etc.), sleep aids, steroid pills or creams, or any human prescription medication.
  • Toxic foods and risky toys: Fortunately, cats seem to get into less trouble than dogs when it comes to eating things they shouldn’t. Keep chocolate, alcoholic beverages, sugar-free gum, onions, garlic, and anything especially greasy or fatty away from your cat. Cats may try to play with hair ties, pieces of string, etc., but be careful they do not try to swallow any of these playthings.
  • Interactions with other pets: Your other furry family members might not be as excited as you are about a new kitten! Make sure your pets’ interactions are closely supervised until you are sure they are getting along well together.
  • As mentioned earlier, many flea/tick products designed for use on dogs are quite toxic to cats. Read the product’s packaging, always use flea/tick products according to the label instructions, and if you’re not sure, call your vet.

Good luck with your new kitten and we’ll see you at your next visit!!

 

New Kitten Primer

Holistic Veterinary Medicine

In recent years, pet owners and veterinarians have taken a greater interest in a holistic approach to health care. By definition, a holistic health exam should include discussion of all aspects of the pet’s lifestyle: Their medical history, diet, activity level, and their social interactions with humans and other pets are all taken into zoey2consideration. A holistic approach to medical care may incorporate both traditional diagnostics and therapeutics, such as prescription diets, medications, and dental care, as well as complementary and alternative modalities, such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, massage therapy and more.

The scope of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine is vast, and not all modalities are believed to be equal in their efficacy. In some cases, research has been conducted to fully understand how or why a given therapy works. In other cases, the effect a therapy is supposed to have is largely unsupported conjecture (and in some cases it may just be a sales gimmick!). This article is meant to help you understand which therapies we believe are helpful.

Acupuncture and Acutherapy

  • Traditional Chinese medicine, as it has applied to human health for centuries, is used as a basis for veterinary acupuncture.
  • Specific points on the body are examined and stimulated by use of acupuncture needles. Additional means of stimulation can include pressure, moxibustion (application of a heated substance), injections of saline or B-vitamins at specific points, low-level laser therapy, magnets, and more.
  • Acupuncture and related therapies are accepted as an effective mode of therapy in human medicine, and they are widely believed to be effective in animals as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture and acutherapy as an accepted and “fully integrated” approach to therapy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in traditional Chinese medicine and the use of acupuncture outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform acupuncture, low-level laser therapy, or related practices.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is formally trained in veterinary acupuncture. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy. You may search for an acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner local to you at www.tcvm.com.

Veterinary Chiropractic

  • The scope of veterinary chiropractic includes the evaluation, manipulation, and adjustment of specific joints. It does NOT include prescribed medication or supplements, surgery, or injections, and it cannot be considered a replacement for standard veterinary care.
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary chiropractic can be beneficial, but formal research is limited.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary chiropractic outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform chiropractic medicine.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is currently pursuing training in veterinary chiropractic. You may search for a certified veterinary chiropractic practitioner at animalchiropractic.org.

Veterinary Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy

  • laser1Veterinary physical therapy is the use of noninvasive techniques, such as low-level lasers (see photo to right), electrical sources, magnetic fields, and ultrasound; rehabilitative exercises; hydrotherapy; and applications of heat and cold for the rehabilitation of injures.
  • Veterinary massage therapy includes only the use of a person’s hands and body to massage soft tissues.
  • Physical therapy and massage therapy techniques may be performed by a veterinary technician under the supervision  or referral of a licensed veterinarian who is providing concurrent medical care.
  • Many veterinarians, particularly those who perform orthopedic surgeries, will make recommendations for physical rehabilitation and can instruct a pet owner in basic protocols and techniques.
  • Physical rehabilitation techniques are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.
  • Local to Bolton Vet, formal physical therapy programs include Wizard of Paws in Colchester CT and Pieper Memorial’s physical therapy department in Middletown, CT. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy.

Veterinary Homeopathy

  • Veterinary homeopathy incorporates an interesting strategy: Tiny amounts of substances that are capable of causing clinical signs in healthy animals are administered to sick/injured animals with those same clinical signs. The therapy is believed to work because the doses administered are extremely dilute. They may work via “reminding” the body of the clinical signs present, thereby prompting recovery.
  • The human and veterinary medical communities’ understanding of how homeopathy may work is not complete. It is among the less scientifically-supported modalities.
  • Many pet owners are not aware that HOMEOPATHIC medicine is not the same as HERBAL medicine (see below for more on herbal medicine…)
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary homeopathy can be beneficial, but formal research is very limited.
  • Since some of these substances may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary homeopathy be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary homeopathy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary homeopathy outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is formally trained in veterinary homeopathy. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Homeopath local to you at theavh.org.

Veterinary Herbal/Botanical Medicine

  • spring9Veterinary botanical medicine is the use of plants and plant derivatives as therapeutic agents.
  • There are many examples of the use of herbal/botanical products in veterinary medicine. Some are believed to be more effective than others:
    • Citronella oil (an extract of lemongrass) is widely recognized as a mild insect repellant.
    • Cranberry extract is frequently used to prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in humans and animals, and its mechanism of action is well-studied and understood.
    • Supplements containing Milk Thistle are generally considered a standard of care in the treatment of some types of liver disease.
    • Buyer (or Googler) beware, there are also many herbal products and “natural” supplements that are quite costly, yet not necessarily effective. Supplements are not FDA-regulated, so there is no guarantee a product that is sold actually contains what is on the label (!!). Your veterinarian can recommend trusted brand-name supplements.
  • Since some of these botanicals may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary botanical medicine be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary botanical medicine.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary botanical/herbal medicine outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Herbalist at www.vbma.org.

Nutraceutical Medicine

  • Nutraceutical medicine is the use of micronutrients, macronutrients, and other nutritional supplements as therapeutic agents.
  • Research in this field is ongoing. There are many examples of the use of specialized nutrition or neutriceutical products in veterinary medicine. Some are believed to be more effective than others:
    • There is a great abundance of carefully formulated prescription dog and cat diets to treat or help control a wide variety of diseases, including allergies, obesity, joint pain, kidney failure, and liver disease.
    • Glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized as a dietary supplements for joint support and prevention of arthritis
    • St. John’s Wort is believed to have analgesic (pain-relieving) and anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties; yet at an excessive dose, this plant extract can be toxic, potentially causing skin ulceration and dermatitis.
    • Some skin conditions are responsive to zinc supplementation, however, excessive dietary zinc can also be quite toxic.
  • Nutrition and veterinary neutraceutical medicine are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.

References & Further Reading:

AVMA Guidelines for Complementary & Alternative Veterinary Medicine

 

Holistic Vet Care – View/Print as PDF

 

Allergies in Pets

leia1Do your pets have trouble with itchy skin? Ever noticed your dog chewing at his feet? How about infected ears or inflamed skin, or even diarrhea? These can all be manifestations of allergies in dogs and cats. Allergies in pets are a common problem, and it can be complicated and frustrating to figure out what works. The very first tool you need to fix your pet’s allergies is a good understanding of the problem. Let’s begin…

Food or Environment?

There are two main categories of allergies. An animal (or person) may be allergic to food, or to environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites, or mold. Certainly they may be allergic to items from both categories, but we are often able to narrow it down to just one. In the northeast, among dogs with clinical signs of allergies, about 85% have environmental allergies and only 15% have food allergies. Food allergies are much more common in cats at about 40-50%.

Diagnosing & Treating Food Allergies

Determining if an animal has a food allergy is more complicated than many owners expect. “But I changed his diet, it didn’t help!” many owners exclaim. If you changed the brand of food but both types included chicken as an ingredient, and your dog happens to be allergic to chicken, of course it didn’t help. You’d have no way of knowing that chicken was the problem food, either! The way to find out which ingredients are the problem is by doing a food trial. While blood tests for allergies exist, the blood test results for food allergies are generally not very accurate. Demonstrating that a specific ingredient is a problem by excluding it from the diet and looking for an improvement in allergy symptoms. If the food is then reintroduced, symptoms will return.

Food allergies are to a specific protein ingredient in the food: chicken, beef, lamb, fish, egg, whey, rice, soy, wheat, corn, barley, etc. (notice it is not just the grains we are blaming!). No need to worry about the vitamin and mineral supplements (with names like “calcium iodate” or “niacin”) that also appear on the ingredient list – they are not at fault.

Here are the steps to follow for a successful food trial with results that can be trusted:puppy1

1. Find a new diet that does not include ANY of the same major ingredients as what you are currently feeding, or have fed in the past. This requires you to read the whole ingredient list on the back of the bags, not just the description of the diet on the front of the bag (a diet called “Lamb and Rice Sensitive Skin” surely includes many more ingredients than just lamb and rice). You may be able to find a kibble that works, or you may have an easier time preparing a home-cooked limited ingredient diet. This can get complicated, we know, and we don’t expect you to figure it out on your own. If you’re uncertain of how to proceed, don’t guess – talk to your veterinarian.

2. Eliminate any other foods you are currently feeding, as these may also contain the allergen at fault. This means NO TREATS, NO TABLE FOOD, no rawhides or marrow bones, and no flavored medications (such as Heartgard or Rimadyl). “No treats!? But Barkley will be so sad!!” Barkley will also be sad if we don’t get his allergies under control… But fortunately, if you follow the same rules for choosing a new diet, you can find an appropriate treat to offer. For example, if Barley’s previous diet did not include duck as an ingredient, you can safely use a freeze-dried duck liver treat. If he has never had carrots before, you can offer this as a treat. Several of the limited-ingredient diets aimed at allergy management also make a treat to “match” the diet, so this may be an option as well. And for the flavored medications that must be excluded, your veterinarian can help you find safe alternatives to use during the food trial.

3. Continue this new limited-ingredient diet for 8 weeks, and watch for an improvement. If you do not see an improvement and are certain you did everything right, the problem is not a food allergy. It’s as simple as that.

4. Continue the limited-ingredient diet, or try adding in other ingredients one at a time and watch for a reaction. You can continue the limited-ingredient diet forever if it is practical to do. If you are using a home-cooked diet, though, you will need to make sure it is nutritionally complete before we decide to continue it forever – your veterinarian may suggest you contact a university nutrition service to get it exactly right.

lavender2Diagnosing & Treating Environmental Allergies

When symptoms vary by season, environmental allergies are more likely at fault. Sometimes it is important to determine exactly what in a pet’s environment they are allergic to, while at other times it is not going to change the treatment chosen. For example, you can potentially control allergies to any sort of pollen or mold just by giving a daily antihistamine. On the other hand, if the dog’s allergies are caused by flea bites, the fleas must be found and eliminated to solve the problem. Here are the general steps we take to treat environmental allergies WITHOUT a specific diagnosis.

1. Remove the allergen, if possible. Check for fleas, and if found, get rid of them for good. Is pollen the problem? Giving your pet a bath regularly (perhaps weekly) during allergy season will physically remove it from their fur. Any shampoo will clean away allergens, but your pet may benefit even more from a medicated shampoo that also treats yeast or bacteria causing irritation to the skin.

2. Address any infection of the skin that has developed as a result of allergies. Ear infections and skin that has developed “hot spots” or has become raw, inflamed, and infected from scratching need to be addressed, usually with an oral antibiotic and a steroid. It is ideal to avoid using a steroid long-term, but your pet may need to rely on one for a brief period of time to reduce severe inflammation.

3. Try giving a daily antihistamine and/or fish oil supplement. Antihistamines work best when they are given daily as a PREVENTATIVE, rather than as a response to an allergy flare-up. Allergy medications sold for human use (such as Benadryl or Zyrtec) are generally safe for pets, but please talk to your vet about the most effective types and appropriate dose for your pet. Some can be given once daily, others require higher or more frequent doses for pets than people. NEVER give an antihistamine that also contains a decongestant or anti-inflammatory ingredient to your pet. Generics, however, are less expensive and no less effective than the corresponding brand name drug. Fish oil has the potential to reduce inflammation and moisturize the skin, but remember, if fish is on your pet’s list of foods to avoid, a fish oil supplement is not an option.

4. Consider an immune-modulating medication. In some cases, allergies are so problematic for an animal that your vet must consider a drug using a drug that alters how the immune system works. Granted, the immune system is important to prevent infectious disease and we’d rather not mess with it! Fortunately, newer drugs are better targeted to controlling allergies while leaving other aspects of immune function nearer to normal. Your vet may discuss these types of drugs with you if the need arises.

5. Consider allergy testing and immunotherapy (allergy shots). This is the most advanced and most specific tool we have against allergies in pets. It gives us the opportunity to “re-teach” the immune system to ignore allergens while leaving its disease-fighting function completely intact. Remember, allergy testing is useful against environmental allergies, NOT food allergies. We hope you’ll consider this approach as your best option for a pet with severe environmental allergies that cannot be adequately controlled by antihistamines or reducing allergen exposure.

Allergies in pets are a complex problem, and regardless of the cause, it can take some persistence to find the best solution. This article is meant to set you off on the right path, and your veterinarian is ready to guide you along the way.

Allergies in Pets – View/Print as PDF

Feline Nutrition: The “Carnivore Connection”

Have you ever considered the differences between dog food and cat food? Or the differences between what our pet’s ancestors would have eaten, and what we feed them today? There is no species to whom this matters more than our feline friends. Both dogs and cats prefer to eat predominantly meat, but a cat’s physiology is quite different than a dog’s. Cats are considered “obligate carnivores,” meaning they would rely almost exclusively on eating prey, not plants, in their evolutionary setting. Dogs, by contrast, are more omnivorous, and can more readily use both plant and animals sources of nutrition. Cats’ evolutionary past sets them apart in a variety of ways, and this has important consequences for what we should feed them today.

What Wild Cats Eat and Why It Matters

brianacat11A wild cat’s prey would be predominantly rodents and small birds. These are food sources high in protein, with moderate levels of fat, and very little carbohydrates. Cats require two to three times more protein than omnivores, and a kitten’s requirement is even higher. Protein and fat are used as a source of energy, to synthesize new proteins, rebuild cells, and carry out all of a cat’s normal biochemical functions. If a dog is fed a diet low in animal protein, it isn’t a critical problem; dogs, humans, and other omnivorous species can synthesize the proteins they need from plant sources and their metabolism can adapt to what is available. Cats are not able to do this, and illness will result from a severe or long-standing deficiency. It isn’t just the lack of protein that presents a problem; an overabundance of carbohydrates may contribute to obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis, urinary tract disease, liver disease, and skin conditions.

Cats’ unique nutritional needs do not end with protein. They also have a greater need for a variety of B vitamins, as well as vitamins A and D. Healthy cats rarely run into trouble with this, but a deficiency can develop quickly if a cat stops eating.

Prey is also a major source of water for wild carnivores. Cats are evolutionarily a desert species, and as a result they do not readily feel thirsty when they are becoming dehydrated. Research has demonstrated that a cat eating kibble takes in 50% less water in the course of a day than a cat who eats canned food. Cats eating predominantly kibble may spend a significant portion of their lives dehydrated, constantly putting a strain on their kidneys.

So, What Should We Feed?

Pet food companies might have you believe that a “grain-free” diet is a “carb-free” diet. This is not the case. Carbohydrates are still present in all kibble diets, and in many canned diets too. A carbohydrate is necessary to form a kibble (think about it – trying to make kibble without a carbohydrate source is like trying to make pancakes with only eggs, milk, and oil). So how does the pet food manufacturer manage this? An alternate carbohydrate source such as potato flour will be used. It’s not a grain, but it’s still a carbohydrate! So we acknowledge that a carbohydrate source will ALWAYS appear somewhere on a dry food ingredient list, but a canned diet can be made truly carb-free.

zoey2Will your cat eat canned food? If so, great, even if you find it convenient to still offer kibble at another meal. You can mix additional water in with her canned food to make it “soupy” and increase her water intake further. Look on the ingredient list for animal-sourced proteins as the first few ingredients: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, whey, etc. Do you see something like “poultry by-product” on the label? Fear not – it may not be the wrong choice. “By-product” earned its unpalatable-sounding name because it consists of parts of animals not typically used as human food, such as organ meat (liver, kidney, etc), fat tissue, bone, and viscera. Organ meat in particular represents a rich nutrient source, and the small particle size of a finely-ground meal aids in digestion. Do plant sourced ingredients (such as rice, soy protein, wheat gluten, corn starch) feature prominently on a canned food label? They do not need to be there. The lower they are on the ingredient list, the better.

Does your cat prefer kibble? While it can be more challenging to meet a cat’s nutritional and water needs via a kibble-only diet, there is evidence that a dry food contributes less to dental disease than canned food. We can choose a variety of dry food that most closely matches the needs of an obligate carnivore by selecting one that lists animal-sourced proteins as the first two or three ingredients. Encourage your cat to drink plenty of water by providing multiple water bowls in different locations around the house.

mg24The array of pet foods available may seem endless, and there is no single best food to suit every cat. Food allergies, taste preferences, and lifestyles all come into play. If this article leaves you still wondering exactly what to feed your cat, we hope you will talk to your veterinarian about it at your next appointment. You might also be interested in reading further in our blog: we have also written an article called “What Should I Feed My Pet?

Feline Nutrition – View/Print as PDF

 

References and Further Reading:

The information in this article is based upon “The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats,” by Debra L Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM. The original full-text article appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol 221, No. 11, on December 1, 2002, and can also be found at http://www.catinfo.org/docs/DrZoran.pdf.

There is a great deal of additional information at Dr. Zoran’s website, www.catinfo.org.

 

What Should I Feed My Pet?

How do I decide what to feed my dog or cat?pugs_psnd2

Assuming your pet is generally in good health, without any specific dietary sensitivities or food allergies… There is still no simple answer! There are countless options to choose from in a maintenance diet for dogs and cats, and a healthy pet will do reasonably well on almost any of them. That being said, some diets simply meet the basic requirements for nutritional content, while others provide higher-quality protein sources, more “natural” ingredients, supplements to support healthy joints or a shiny coat, fewer preservatives, and so on. It is worth mentioning that any brand – inexpensive or premium – can potentially have a recall.

 

So what is the difference between a bag of kibble that costs $15 at the supermarket and a premium brand for $40 at the pet store? Do these differences matter, or are pet owners just being tricked into spending more?

Let’s start with protein quality and digestibility. Any dry or canned food labeled as a complete diet meets the basic standards for protein content, but the sources of protein can vary. Both meat and grains are sources of protein, but in general, higher-quality meat is a superior protein source due to the fact it provides a better amino acid balance.

Read the label of your pet’s food – you may see the words “poultry,” “poultry byproduct,” or “chicken meal.” These terms may sound vague (and have you fearing what “byproduct” might contain), but they have specific meanings:

Meat – The flesh of any species of slaughtered mammal, typically pork, beef, or sheep.

Poultry – The flesh, skin, and bone of domestic poultry; typically chicken, turkey, or duck.

Byproduct – Parts of animals not typically used as human food, such as organ meat (liver, kidney, etc), fat tissue, bone, and viscera.

Meal – Any ingredient that has been ground down to a small particle size (for example, “chicken meal” would mean the flesh, skin, and bone of chicken).

Though the organ meat (liver, kidneys, etc) contained in a “by-product” is not typically part of an American diet, these are excellent nutrient sources and provide high-quality protein. Bone meal is a good source of calcium, but the protein it contains is not readily digested by cats and dogs.

“Whole chicken”  as a first ingredient may give us the impression of a less-processed superior quality diet, but whole chicken used in pet foods is high in fat and may contain 65-70% water! This high volume may earn it the first place in the ingredient list, but leaves it as a small contributor to protein content and is more important as a fat source.

Plants such as corn, soybean, and flaxseed may also be used as protein sources. Their digestibility is equivalent to some animal protein sources, but they are deficient in some of the amino acids required in canine and feline diets, so for this reason we would hope not to see plant-based products as a primary ingredient. If soy accounts for 50% or more of a diet’s protein, loose stool and flatulence may result.

All this information may leave you with more questions than answers about your pet’s food. We invite you to discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian at your next appointment – as we began saying, every pet is an individual with their own needs and preferences – there is no simple answer!

 

What about limited ingredient diets? Grain free? Raw diets?

For pets with special needs (food sensitivities or allergies, for example) a specialized diet may be the key to solving their problems. However, there is a specific way to determine the best diet for a food-allergic dog… just switching brands is not likely to be the answer. Feeding a raw diet is a point of controversy and is not without risks, but if done correctly, it may provide a solution as well. These topics are beyond the scope of this blog post (we’ll write another, we promise), but we hope you’ll talk to your vet about changing your pet’s diet if you are concerned food allergies or sensitivities may be affecting your pet’s health. There is no single solution that works for every animal. 

 

How much should I feed my pet?

No quick answer here either! Most brands of pet food will provide guidelines for how much to feed based upon weight. This amount is frequently an overestimate (after all, they’d like you to buy more of their product!), so you may use this as a starting point, but pay attention to your pet’s weight and adjust accordingly. Feed a measured amount – not “a handful” but a measured cup – so that you will be better able to increase or decrease the amount fed as needed.

 

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Of course your veterinarian can provide guidance on this topic, but in general, your pet should have a “waist” when viewed from above or from the side. Place your hands flat over the sides of her chest… with very gentle pressure, you should be able to easily feel where her ribs are. If finding her ribs requires poking in with your fingertips, or if you can’t feel them at all, she is overweight. Maintaining an appropriate weight contributes to better overall health and even an extended lifespan!

 

Can I feed a home-prepared diet?

Many recipes are available for home-cooking for your pets. However, it is essential to be certain what we choose to feed on our own is nutritionally complete, particularly if the recipe being used is not approved by a veterinarian. Many veterinary teaching hospitals and referral centers offer a nutrition consult service, and can tell you exactly what vitamins and supplements may be necessary to balance any home-cooked diet. Here are links to a few:

Angell Memorial (provides recipes), CornellOhio StateDavis

We hope this article has given you a solid starting point in finding the best possible diet for your pet’s lifelong health. And if you have any lingering questions, look to your vet for the answers!

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