How to give your pet a healthy diet

Just like humans, pets need a balanced diet to live a full, healthy life. But what does that look like? Should they eat table food? How many treats? And what’s all this about grain-free foods. Today on the blog, our veterinarians answer your most frequently asked questions.

You asked:

What should I look for when choosing a pet food?

Most commercial dog foods are safe and balanced. There is an AAFCO statement that you should look for on your bag.

What is an AAFCO statement?

The AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy or purpose also called a nutrition claim is a statement that indicates the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage, such as growth, reproduction, adult maintenance or a combination of these, or if the food does not meet the complete and balanced requirements than it is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only. Under AAFCO regulations, this statement must be substantiated by the state and the pet food manufacturer.  If the bag has this it has been tested and is safe to feed your pet. There is more information on the AAFCO website.

How often should I feed my pet?

That is completely up to the owner but the normal is twice a day. This spreads the calories out and also helps your dog control their hunger. Some dogs will vomit if the dog does not have food in its stomach for a long period of time.

Can they eat the same thing every day?

Yes, the consistency of the dog food will often help the intestinal tract stay regular. Change can often cause diarrhea or upset stomach as they just are not “used” to the new food

How many treats are too many treats?

Treats are fine as long as your dog is getting a well- balanced diet and is not overweight. The real issue we see is that most dogs DO NOT need the extra calories and treats promote obesity. I tell people in the rooms it’s like you eating 3 full meals a day and then adding a few Snickers bars on top of that. It would not be a surprise if that person struggled with keeping his or her weight in check.

Are table scraps OK?

I would answer this the same way as with the treats. Table food is loaded with calories. Some examples of this is if you give a 20 pound dog 1 small oatmeal cookie, that is like a person eating 1 hamburger or 1 entire chocolate bar. One slice of cheddar cheese is like 2 ½ hamburgers or 1 ½ chocolate bars. One hot dog is 2 hamburgers. Can you imagine if you ate 3 extra hamburgers a day? I often hear owners say they just give one of something to their pet. Those pets often struggle with weight issues.

My pet eats so fast! What can I do?

When dogs eat their food fast they often gulp air, which can cause upset stomach and they can vomit. If this is not the case there is nothing wrong with eating fast. If it is an issue, there are dog bowels designed to slow the eating down. The other thing I have seen are the automatic feeders that feed only a very small amount several times a day so there just isn’t a lot of food in one sitting.

My pet is pudgy. Does he need to go on a diet?

Yes. Being overweight and obese can cause many health issues in animals just like people. We can help you get a diet  plan together that works for you and the pet.

My pet keeps eating grass. What does this mean?

A lot of time it means they like the taste of grass. If they are eating it when they feel normal then they just like it. If they eat it when they have an upset stomach a lot of times it will cause them to vomit, which may make then feel better. Grass is not bad for your dog or cat, but if it causes vomiting then I would limit this activity.

Is a grain-free diet healthy?

The only real reason to feed a grain-free diet is if there is a grain allergy. Most of the time the allergies that pets have are to the protein in the diet more then the carbohydrate. Grains have gotten a bad wrap in dog food and there is no real reason for that. Cat food, however, should be very high in protein and lower carbohydrate diets seem to work better for them.

Wet food, dry food, freeze-dried food. Is one option better than the rest?

I don’t think there is a better or worse option. A lot of these decisions are due to what we like or are attracted to. If they are nutritionally balanced then they are good for your pet. A lot of times it comes down to our budget and what we want to feed them. Like I have told many clients in the rooms, I have traveled overseas a lot and I have never seen an animal in America with food in the bowl die of starvation.