Why is good nutrition important for my pet?

Good nutrition is important for your pet for many reasons. Ensuring that your animal companions follow a proper and balanced diet is essential for their overall health, quality of life, and longevity and can be instrumental in helping in boosting their immune system and in preventing chronic disease. Nutritional deficiencies/excesses can lead to severe health problems like allergies, heart disease, kidney disease, and other organ dysfunction.

Good pet food will provide complete and balanced nutrition for your pet. It provides the proper mixture of minerals and nutrients to support them. Adding other foods, people food, excessive amounts of treats, or vitamins to a high-quality diet is not necessary and may be detrimental. Adding supplements to a poor diet will not make it a good diet – you cannot add supplements to achieve the proper balance of nutrients.

At BBVSH, we see pets when they need specialty care due to issues often caused by chronic disease. We know more than most the significance of nutrition in the prevention of these diseases, and therefore in preventing a costly trip to the hospital.

Benefits of Good Nutrition

Ensuring proper nutrition for your pet will improve their overall health. Indeed, without healthy and balanced nutrition, your pet may lag in performing daily activities and remaining energetic, active and healthy.
Good pet nutrition offers four main benefits:

  • Boost for skin and fur health: Pets need the right balance of fatty acids to ensure their skin and fur is healthy. If these nutrients are not provided, your pet’s skin can become dry, resulting in a coat that falls out, splits, or breaks. Fatty acids will help prevent skin problems, reduce irritation and fight inflammation.
  • Improved muscle tone and overall body condition: Protein is one of the essential nutrients that your pet needs for building organs, muscles, hair, skin, and other tissues. Your pet’s cells are made of proteins, so they need more proteins to repair damaged cells or create new ones. Ensuring a proper intake of proteins is even more important when your pet is young, growing, or pregnant.
  • Disease prevention and immune system support: Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients in your pet’s diet as they are important for preventing diseases and supporting your pet’s immune system. While many vitamins help reduce damage done to cells of the body, minerals promote the healthy function of the immune system.
  • Proper digestion: The carbohydrates in your furry friend’s food are the nutrient that aids proper digestion by supplying the fibre that helps with both digestion and elimination. A food that is easy to digest is important, ensuring your pet can easily use all the essential nutrients found in the food.

Good Nutrition in Dogs & Cats

Cats and dogs have specific and distinct nutritional needs, which vary by life stage, physical and mental health, and level of activity. Although cats and dogs belong to the same Carnivora order, the dog’s feeding behaviour is omnivorous, while the cat is a true carnivore. So, cats must have certain nutrients in their diet that are only found in animal-based ingredients.
In a nutshell, the different food needs for cats and dogs can be summarized as such:

  1. Dietary proteins: both cats and dogs need proteins for energy, growth and repair of the body. However, cats require a higher amount than dogs during both growing and adult stages. Cats are also less able to down-regulate their rate of protein breakdown when fed a diet low in protein. So make sure to check that proteins are present in high levels in your cat’s pet food before buying it!
  2. Taurine: this is an amino acid that is distributed throughout most body tissues. While cats must eat preformed taurine from animal-based ingredients, dogs can produce enough taurine from other amino acids to meet their nutritional health needs.
  3. Vitamin A and B3: both cats and dogs need these vitamins for a healthy vision and healthy skin. Cats can only eat preformed Vitamin A from animal-based ingredients while dogs can also obtain it from plant-based ingredients. For Vitamin B3, cats can only obtain it by eating the preformed vitamin.
  4. Fatty acid: this is essential for energy production, and cats can only obtain fatty acid, from animal-based ingredients while dogs can obtain it from both animal- and plant-based ingredients.

The Role of Nutrition in Preventing and Managing Chronic Pet Diseases

Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in preventing and managing chronic pet diseases. As responsible pet owners, it is essential to recognize the profound impact of diet on overall health, ensuring our companions lead long and happy lives.

  1. Obesity and its Consequences – One of the most prevalent chronic diseases in pets is obesity, which can lead to various health issues, including diabetes, joint pain, and heart disease. Preventing obesity starts with providing a balanced diet suitable for your pet’s size, age, and activity level. Regular exercise and playtime are equally important for maintaining a healthy weight and burning excess calories.
  2. Promoting dental health – Dental disease can cause pain, infection, and even organ damage if left untreated. Nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining good oral health. Including crunchy foods and chews in your pet’s diet can help keep their teeth clean and strong. Additionally, regular dental checkups and cleanings are vital for preventing dental issues and ensuring overall well-being.
  3. Managing chronic kidney disease – Chronic kidney disease is a common issue in pets, but it can be effectively managed through proper nutrition. Feeding your pet a diet low in protein and phosphorus can help slow the progression of the disease. Furthermore, specialized diets specifically formulated for renal health can provide the necessary support for optimal kidney function.
  4. Nutritional strategies for cancer prevention and management – Nutrition also plays a significant role in preventing and managing certain types of cancer in pets. A diet high in antioxidants can strengthen the immune system and help combat cancer cells. Additionally, incorporating a low-fat diet into your pet’s routine can reduce the risk of specific cancer types, contributing to their overall well-being.
  5. Preventing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs – One of our resident cardiologists, Dr. Mark Harmon, speaks frequently on the association between diet and heart disease in dogs. “Diets containing peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans have been associated with a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. The presence or absence of grains in the diets does not dictate whether these are safe diets. Although the FDA has stopped collecting data on these cases, the issue is still occurring and is still being seen frequently in our pets in B.C.”, Dr. Mark Harmon says. You can hear Dr. Harmon speak more about this here.
  6. Urinary tract health in cats – Inflammation of the lower urinary tract (also known as FUS, FLUTD, or LUTS) is a very common problem in cats. Signs include straining and crying in the litter box, blood in the urine, and urinating around the house. In some cases, male cats may become “blocked” – completely unable to urinate – a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.
  7. This problem is multi-factorial, although diet plays a significant role. To reduce the chance of urinary tract problems, cat food should yield moderately acidic urine. Very acidic or very alkaline urine can lead to problems. It is important to note that foods that are simply labeled “low ash” or “low mineral” do not necessarily meet the above criteria. Talk to your veterinarian about recommended diets for urinary tract health. Research shows a decreased incidence of occurrence in cats that are fed moist food, have environmental enrichment, and increased water intake.

Some tips on choosing the right food for your pet

1. Life stages

Your pet’s nutritional needs will change throughout their life, not only because of advancing age but also level of activity, lifestyle, and health. Pet foods are generally tailored towards the following life stages:

  • Gestation and lactation (reproduction)
  • Growth (puppy/kitten)
  • Adult maintenance
  • All life stages

If the food is labeled for all life stages or growth, it should also indicate whether the food is appropriate for dogs expected to reach at least 70 pounds (32 kilograms) as adults. All life-stage diets tend to be calorie dense so may not be beneficial for dogs that tend to be overweight.
Note that there are no nutritional standards for senior pet diets, although manufacturers often sell commercial diets marketed for aging pets. Your veterinarian can help you decide if your older dog or cat may benefit from a change in diet.

2. Ingredient labels

The “Guaranteed Analysis” of the contents of a bag of food is a poor indicator of the food’s nutritional value. Although the analysis lists the basic ingredients and their amounts, the quality of an ingredient is as important as the quantity. Low quality ingredients may lack certain nutrients and be hard to digest. Smaller quantities of better-quality ingredients often provide better overall nutrition. In general, the best foods are those made with consistent, high-grade ingredients, by companies with strong research and development programs to back up the food “recipe”.

3. Pet food certification

Several different organizations in Canada and the United States test and certify pet foods to ensure they meet the basic nutritional requirements of a normal animal. For pets with special needs, talk to your veterinarian about foods that provide optimum health.

4. What about raw food diets?

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) finds there is compelling evidence for health risks to pets fed raw meat-based (RMB) pet food products, including raw meat-based diets (RMBD), and to humans who are in contact with such products or in contact with pets that consume them.

  • Numerous studies over the past several decades have demonstrated that raw meat-based (RMB) pet food products, including raw meat-based diets (RMBD) may contain pathogens harmful to animals and people including bacteria, parasites, and antimicrobial resistant organisms.
  • RMBD diets may or may not be balanced with all essential nutrients. Unbalanced diets can impact the well-being, growth, and development of dogs.
  • A number of national and international veterinary associations have cautioned against feeding of RMBD over concerns of risks to human and animal health due to the likely presence of pathogens in the diets.
  • There are limited data supporting clinically relevant beneficial impacts in dogs fed RMBD over appropriate conventional cooked diets.

You can read more about this here.

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