We asked our medical staff “If you only had a few seconds to relay advice to our clients about keeping their pet healthy, what would you tell them?” The number one answer: the importance of proper nutrition and weight management. Just like in humans, what your pet eats every day can significantly impact their health and quality of life. In 2018 pet food spending was in excess of $32 billion. Driving that spending are owners viewing their pets more like family and being more conscientious about how they feed their pets. To complicate matters, the internet has tons of information for owners but some of that information is just…well bad (vegan cat diets come to mind). We’ll try to sift through some of the hype to help you make a better informed choice.

Therapeutic Diets

Some pets need to eat specially formulated food in order to address a chronic health condition such as kidney disease, diabetes or pancreatitis. These foods are only available by prescription. Our hospital has chosen Hill’s Prescription Diet to partner with because of their mission and commitment to nutrition and quality. Developing therapeutic diets requires scientific research done over decades with teams of veterinarians, PhD nutritionists and food scientists. Therapeutic diets have all passed feeding trials where their therapeutic value has been demonstrated, studied and documented. If your veterinarian has prescribed a specific type of food, it’s imperative to the health of your pet that he or she remains on that diet and nothing else! It happens more times than we would like that a pet with a chronic condition comes to us with an owner saying “I feed him that food you prescribed but I don’t think it’s working!” only to find out that Fido has also been getting table scraps or treats outside of the doctors orders. Your pet will be healthier and you’ll save money by sticking to the vets recommendations. Even pets who don’t suffer from a chronic illness may benefit from a therapeutic diet. Hill’s has formulas for geriatric pets, weight management and dental disease. Be sure to talk with your vet about whether one of these specialty diets is right for your pet.

Good Food Is On The Label

Pets not on a special food will still benefit from being fed a diet formulated for optimal health and wellness. To make the right choice, it’s important to read the label. First look for a statement of quality standard such as “meets the nutritional standards set forth by The Association of American Feed Control Office (AAFCO)”. Next, you want to look for a high quality source of lean protein such as poultry or fish and heart-health grains. Whole ingredients and byproducts are not indicative of “good” or “bad”. In fact, using byproducts is a sustainable practice and limits the producers impact on the human food chain. Byproducts can also be used in specially formulated food where a specific enzyme or protein has been isolated for it’s nutritional value while leaving out enzymes or proteins that can inflame chronic illnesses such allergies. Cornmeal is often used as a binder, has high nutritional value and is easily digestible contrary to commercial claims that suggest otherwise. Dogs are indiscriminate omnivores and should consume a diet that has a balance of protein, fiber and fat. Cats require a diet that includes animal proteins (sorry, no vegan cats!). Puppies & kittens, until about 1 year of age, need higher protein and fat content, so look for food labeled for this life stage. Senior pets tend to slow down and need foods higher in fiber to help keep them feeling full without putting on unwanted weight when it can impact mobility and be especially tricky to get off. Often, we are really good about keeping track of how much and how often our pets are fed but we forget to consider treats (and yes, pup cups and table scraps count). If your dog is carrying around some extra pounds consider green beans or blueberries as treats!

Good Food versus Good Marketing

In July of 2018 the FDA announced it was investigating a link between dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and grain-free foods. DCM is a genetic condition that affects the muscles of the heart. There are certain breeds who have a higher predisposition: Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, and Saint Bernards. While DCM is less common in medium and small breeds, English and American Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed to this condition. Of 524 reported cases, including breeds typically not predisposed to DCM, more than 90% were being fed a grain-free diet. Suddenly labrador retrievers, widely considered to be a healthy breed, were being referred to veterinary cardiologists. As veterinarians and the FDA research this startling new trend it’s become clear we must emphasize the importance of scientific research and data when it comes to claims being made by pet food producers. Remember that $32 billion in pet food dollars up for grabs? Some indiscriminate marketers have come up with very clever ways to advertise their food to make you think buying their brand is better for your pet. Don’t be misled; grain-free, organic, whole ingredient, even raw is not necessarily healthier. Your shih-tzu is not a wolf. Your domestic shorthair is not a lion. They have very different nutritional needs from that of their evolutionary predecessors. The litmus test for whether or not a food is healthy is a feeding trial. If the brand you buy hasn’t put their claims to the test, put it back on the shelf. If you still have questions about what and how much you should be feeding your pet, call us! We’d be happy to make recommendations and answer any question you might have.

Have questions?

The team at Oakbrook Animal Hospital is here to help!