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Thoughts on canine & feline nutrition

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: Clever dog quote from a famous historical figure.
Personal comment: Thoughts on canine & feline nutrition

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

I am once again foregoing the news this week in favor of another rather substantial personal comment. As promised last week following my personal comment about dogs and wolves being very different species that should not be considered the same, and certainly should not be fed the same, this week I turn my attention to canine and feline nutrition. Let me begin by quickly addressing the feeding of a raw meat diet.

In dogs, I already explained last week that having a less acidic gastric pH than their wolf ancestor, dogs do not have a good natural defense against raw meat bacteria and parasites. As such, feeding raw meat carries a high risk of food poisoning in dogs as it does people, some cases of which can be life threatening. Like people, we regularly see cases of raw meat induced food poisoning including salmonella, e. coli, klebsiella, and campylobacter, to name some of the more common ones. And for you raw feeding proponents that think this does not occur because it has not yet happened to your dog? Think again, I have seen it time and again in practice. If your dogs have not gotten sick you have been lucky, and I hope that you do not ever have to face both the expense and emotional toll of your pet getting violently ill, while living with the guilt that your insistence on feeding in a manner that the vast majority of veterinarians recommend against for good reason, was the cause. And if you feed raw because wolves do and you think that dogs should eat the same as a wolf, then I urge you to please watch last week’s episode focused on the many ways the two species are different.

Also, feeding a canine an exclusively protein diet is a poor approach to promoting good health. In order to break down protein into smaller chains that can be properly absorbed by the gut, metabolic reactions must occur that generate ammonia as a primary waste product. Thankfully the liver processes this ammonia and converts it into a less harmful analog called urea, which then gets transported to the kidneys for elimination in the urine. However, feeding an exclusive or disproportionately high level of protein, subsqently puts metabolic stress on the liver and kidneys because of this, while starving the body of other important nutrients that the canine needs, such as carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. You see, dogs are not carnivores that require a diet exclusively of meat, nor even mostly of meat. They are, like people, omnivores, requiring a diet properly balanced in nutrients.

Regarding cats well, like in many other ways, they are different from dogs. For one thing, they ARE carnivores, that is, they can thrive on a diet of pure meat protein, having the physiological adaptations to more efficiently create non-protein nutrients from protein. That said, raw meat is still not good idea for them either. While cats seems to be able to withstand raw meat food poisoning a bit better than dogs, I have still treated a number of confirmed food poisoning cases, the most common of which has seemed to be salmonella.

Now, even though cats can thrive on a pure protein, meat diet, they still seem to do better with some degree of vegetable matter in their food, with some fiber, complex carbohydrates, and antioxidants making invaluable contributions to overall health. So while we still like to feed cats diets that are proportionally heavy in protein, it is advisable to offer some vegetable and fibrous carbohydrate sources as well.

Now the breakdown. Starting with dogs, they do best with the following breakdown of nutrients: 25%-35% protein, 35%-45% carbohydrate, 5%-15% fat, and 5-10% fiber. Cats do best with 35%-45% protein, 25%-35% carbohydrate, 15%-25% fat, and 1%-5% fiber. Cats also cannot manufacture the amino acid taurine, making it an essential additive to all feline foods. Deficiency of taurine can lead to severe cardiac disease in cats.

So what kinds of pet food should you select? I am not here to promote any one brand of food nor am I going to blast any particular brands as tempting as it may be to do so. I will offer this, however: avoid grocery store and superstore brands, as these foods are consistently very bad diets, heavy in fillers and poor quality nutrient sources. And, the companies that make them are sneaky.

They make the food so that the nutrient label matches well with better quality diets, but what they do not tell you is that, while a reputable pet food company may use good quality protein sources such as muscle and organs, a grocery store brand will use hoof, hair, and skin. Both technically protein, but the absorption and utilization will not be the same. While a reputable diet may use quality carbohydrate and fiber sources such as rice and vegetables, a grocery store brand may use fillers like corn and wheat. If you want to feed your pets well, resist the temptation to go down that pet food isle while at the grocery store.

Instead, look for diets that are comprised of whole foods and vegetables, with meat and veggies listed first in the ingredients, with byproducts listed further down the list. Many of these better diets are sold at veterinary clinics and large retail pet stores.

If you can fit it into your budget, consider feeding a diet free of preservatives and fillers. These so called holistic diets are made of whole foods, primarily meats and green veggies, omitting the use of chemical preservatives and highly allergenic grain fillers, such as wheat and corn. Confused about which diet to pick in a sea of options? Ask your vet, as he/she is the best source for pet food recommendations.

Regarding texture, I almost always favor a dry diet versus a canned one primarily for the dental health benefits of dry, crunchy food. Chewing a crunchy diet cleans the teeth and massages the gums, promoting good overall oral health.

For more indepth information about canine and feline nutrition broken down even further into specific life stage, please refer to the nutrition page on our parent site,

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