Feeding Your Pet a Balanced Diet: The Basics
Along with regular exercise and veterinary care, a healthy diet is perhaps the best way you can contribute to your Pet's prolonged good health. But what makes a healthy diet and how can you tell if what you are feeding your Pet is indeed healthy? Knowing the basic nutrients your Pet needs is a good start.
Your Pet's basic nutrient needs
- Water is the most essential nutrient in any diet. Your Pet's body is made up of approximately 70 percent water and will quickly perish without it. Make sure you allow your Pet access to fresh, clean water at all times.
- Carbohydrates supply energy and come from sugars, starch, and fiber from plant sources. Carbohydrates help energize the brain and muscles, making your Pet bright and active.
- Fats also supply energy and in the right amounts help build strong cells and promote nutrient absorption. But too much fat can lead to such obesity-related health problems as diabetes, heart disease, and canine osteoarthritis.
- Proteins are required for a healthy coat, skin, and nails. Your Pet's body uses the amino acids in proteins to make enzymes and hormones in the blood stream and to maintain a healthy immune system. Proteins can come from plant and meat sources, but cats and dogs need a high-quality animal protein. For example, cats with a deficiency in taurine (a meat amino acid) can develop heart disease and blindness.
- Vitamins and minerals help regulate many body systems. For example, your Pet needs the minerals calcium and phosphorous for strong bones. Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E and C help boost your Pet's immune system during times of stress.
Many diseases result from a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, and in those cases veterinarians often prescribe supplements for sick Pets. For example, doctors may use vitamin B to improve appetite, and zinc and vitamin E for certain skin diseases. Ask your doctor to recommend the best supplement for your Pet's needs.
Now that you understand the nutrient needs of your Pet, making sure what you're feeding your pet healthy diet is the next key piece to your Pet's overall health.
Keys to a Balanced Diet
- Feed premium Pet foods. These foods offer high-quality ingredients, are made by companies known for nutrition research, and show a solid track record of quality and palatability. Feeding generic Pet foods may lead to obesity, irregular bowel movements, or excess intestinal gas.
- Make sure the food is fresh. When you purchase Pet food, check for freshness. Shop by need and purchase only the amount necessary for your Pet. Don't buy a forty-pound bag of food for your Chihuahua! Store Pet food in a cool, dry place and keep it tightly closed. Discard uneaten food and always place fresh food in a clean bowl. In general, hard food (or "kibble") is preferred for maintaining the teeth and minimizing tartar build-up. Soft, canned food tends to be more palatable and can be stored longer.
- Feed the right amount. Ask your doctor or check the label for how much to feed according to your Pet's ideal weight. Habits to avoid: Feeding Pets as much as they want or feeding a large amount at one time. Doing so can lead to obesity, gastrointestinal upset, or even bloat--a life-threatening condition.
- Maintain a daily routine. A regular schedule will help your Pet keep normal elimination habits--and avoid indoor accidents. Younger Pets need to be fed more frequently, as they are usually more energetic and burn more calories. Small puppies and very active dogs can suffer life-threatening decreases in blood sugar if they're not fed frequently enough. Your veterinarian can help you develop a feeding regimen for your Pet.
- Avoid "people" food. Your Pet's digestive system is simpler than yours and can be easily upset by changes. Feeding table scraps can cause stomach upset or even a life-threatening pancreatitis. It also can lead to frequent begging, a behavior you may tire of quickly.
Life Cycle Feeding
Pets' nutritional requirements change as they age. Puppies need puppy food because it is higher in energy and protein, but feeding it to an adult dog can lead to obesity. Likewise, older Pets need diets restricted in fat and supplemented with fiber for their optimum health. Ask your veterinarian to help you choose the best food for your Pet's age.
Your veterinarian should be specially trained in Pet nutrition and able to answer questions about your Pet