2nd Mar 2020 @ 10:57 am

Nowadays, pet food is as likely to come in a sack or a box as it is in a tin. Lanzarote vet Jane Burke offers some valuable information about feeding your favourite animals.

There are few (if any) veterinary consultations that don’t require some consideration of your furry family member’s diet. It is an accurate, if irritating, reminder of the truth of the saying that, ̈You are what you eat. ̈

Diet has a massive impact on the health and longevity of ourselves and our pets. But their requirements are, at the same time, similar and disparate to our own. That’s why an ongoing record of your pet’s body weight is important for diagnosis, dosage of medications, and assessing the animal’s response to treatment or the progress of a disease. A regular weight check that is dated and recorded is extremely valuable to your pet.

The way pets are commonly fed has changed dramatically over the years I have been in practice. It is rare now to see a puppy with rickets from families that are feeding it on table scraps, just as it is now uncommon to see cats with diarrhoea from drinking cows milk or spinal arthritis from being fed daily liver scraps.

I have never had clients who have knowingly underfed their pets but everyday I see animals suffering from excess. However, too much is just as dangerous to their wellbeing as too little.

I do see families who cook for their pets and this can, indeed, provide the best diet at the cheapest cost, PROVIDED it is prepared with knowledge and careful consideration of the different requirements of different species and ages.

Buying tinned cat food or dog food that’s served with carbohydrate-based dog biscuits has now almost entirely been replaced by feeding complete dried food. The hygiene and convenience of dried diets are enormously attractive. And they are significantly cheaper than wet foods of similar quality, containing everything required in the diet for the intended species.

1) Dried food is often a cause of obesity because owners cannot grasp that one spoonful of dried food is equivalent to five spoonfuls of wet food. The correct serving doesn’t look enough. And after it is swallowed your pet won’t feel full for several hours, as this is how long it takes for the dried matter to soak up enough fluid to fill the tummy and become digestible. Until this happens your pet still feels both empty and hungry, and will let you know!

2) Dried food is often left to be eaten ad lib, which in itself will often contribute to clinical obesity, diabetes, premature arthritis and kidney disease. Snacking is the number one cause of type two diabetes.

3) Dried foods are unquestionably involved in FUS – a complex of problems with cats’ waterworks that has only become evident since the use of dried diets.

4) Dried foods are also almost certainly the major culprit in the development of the now commonly-seen thyroid problems in older cats.

5) Expensive dried foods are better than cheaper ones. They’re usually lower in salt with better quality protein and roughage. This is important especially if feeding immature or elderly animals and the difference is more significant when comparing dried food to wet!

You have to remember, all cats are evolved from small desert-living creatures and therefore they thrive on small repetitive meals. They are classed as obligate carnivores, as they absolutely require certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that are only found in the muscles or meat of animals or fish.

Furthermore they rely heavily on proteins, not just as building and repair blocks for their own bodies but also (quite differently from dogs and people) to digest and metabolise into calories to burn for energy. Hence they need more high quality protein and less carbohydrate. Because they evolved to survive in the desert, they do not drink adequately to cope with highly concentrated food, which is why dried foods are implicated in the above serious kidney and bladder diseases.

Your dog may also not drink sufficiently or soon enough for the rehydration of a dried meal, and instead this water will be taken directly out of the bloodstream. This recurring temporary but significant dehydration can damage all the major organs over the years. Furthermore, because dried food takes hours to become rehydrated in the stomach it also causes ulcers from gastric acid concentrations over long periods, and increases the potential for bloat, a condition when the inflating stomach tears away from its support structures and turns through 180 degrees, sealing itself at either end. This means no air out, ever-reducing blood supply in, increasing pressure on the organs and a life-threatening situation in a very few minutes. So one large meal of dried food a day is a no no.

Nevertheless, having tried to outline the many reasons dried food is not a perfect solution, especially for cats ands even more especially if you leave it available ad-lib, I do think it has a valid place in our modern world.

My hospitalised cats are allowed 30% dried food at best. My clients are urged to never feed their cats more than 50% dried food.

In dogs, I think dried food of reasonable quality, fed in at least two well-separated meals a day, is perfectly safe, apart from for the very young and the very old.

I also feel that anyone who thinks their healthy pet requires supplementary vitamins, minerals or other additions, is either mistaken or feeding them a wrong diet.

Please, please look carefully at the contents of your pet treats, as these are often massively high, not just in calories, but in colouring and preservatives, etc.

Finally, I really would like to wish that everyone would consider simple weighing and recording their pets’ weight every month or so; and asking advice about diet and body weight from those who have your pets’ best interests at heart. That’s not Facebook, Dr. Google, dog breeders or pet food retailers!

And never ever forget the luxury and health benefits of providing them with access to fresh clean water in a really clean bowl!