Nutrition is an important part of life, from the very beginning to the very end. When a pet is sick, though, nutrition suddenly becomes all the more important. We know that people have very personal views on their pet and what they are fed. The following pages contain some general information on pet nutrition. The most important thing, though, is that your pet is eating, whether it’s grocery store pet food, premium pet food, or a homemade diet. Food provides your pet with nutrients, and if they are not eating, no matter how good or healthy it is for them, they will not get the nutrients they need. To help navigate the complex world that is pet nutrition, we have summarized some of the basics for you. Please use this information to make choices about what your pet eats, and feel free to talk to the staff or doctors if you have questions or would like more information. This is by no means an inclusive list and there is always new information coming out in regards to pets and their nutritional health.
What makes up food and in what proportions is important. Too much or not enough of something can have detrimental effects to your pet’s health. All commercial pet foods have to follow certain regulations on what is put into their food. When feeding an appropriate commercial diet, deficiencies are rare. The two most common concerns when feeding a commercial diet are allergies/intolerance to specific ingredients and too much of an ingredient (usually fats or protein). If your pet has a food allergy, or you suspect one, you can work with your regular veterinarian or a dermatologist to determine which food is best for your pet.
The following list is some guidelines you can use when evaluating your pet’s food. Remember, the most important thing is that your pet eats. So even if you have to offer food you wouldn’t normally feed them, if they will eat it, consider it a win.
Things to consider when evaluating commercial diets:
- Keep protein to healthy levels (no more than 30% for dogs and 40% for cats).
- Choose diets with whole foods used as ingredients: e.g. lamb, duck, chicken meal (whole muscle), peas, rice, barley, etc.
- No raw meats, bones, or other uncooked animal products. Freeze-dried meat usually isn’t cooked prior. Use caution when feeding these items.
- If your pet is severely underweight, puppy/kitten food or food for active adults is an option. Also, you can feed an “all life stage” food at the puppy/kitten recommendation
- If your pet is overweight, talk to your doctor to see if a weight loss plan would be beneficial. Recent studies for cancer patients show that some extra weight can give a pet a positive prognostic factor, however, if your pet has any concurrent issues (like arthritis or diabetes) weight loss with body conditioning may still be recommended.
Home-cooked and safe ‘people food’ options
- Protein options
- Cooked chicken breast or lean deli meats
- Extra lean ground beef or turkey with fat rinsed off after cooking
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Stage 1 meat baby food
- Egg whites (an occasional yolk is ok, but most should be removed)
- Carbohydrate options
- Cooked white rice, brown rice, or rolled oats
- Mashed regular or sweet potatoes (no butter or cream!)
- Vegetables and fruits that are safe for animals. Some options include:
- Carrots, green beans, zucchini, peas, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, or tomatoes
- Apples, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or bananas
- Any of the above options can be combined to create a home-cooked diet.
- Chicken and rice is a great easy-to-digest diet for sensitive or upset tummies. The end product should be around 30% protein and 70% carbohydrates.
- Home-cooked diets can be combined with commercial diets to make a more balanced meal for your pet or to encourage them to eat their regular food.
- If you are planning to feed a home-cooked diet long term, we recommend consulting a veterinary nutritionist so that a complete and balanced diet can be formulated specifically for your pet. This will avoid long term issues with deficiencies or toxicities.
Food and medications
For most pets, food and treats are the easiest way to get them to take necessary medications. While this is a great option, some care must also be taken. Many pets are ‘too smart for their own good’ and learn that medication is hidden inside food items. This not only makes medicating your pet difficult, but some pets will even go off their food entirely for fear of there being medications inside.
To try to avoid food aversion due to medications, we suggest the following:
- Select a few items that are only used to give medications and avoid using any of the foods your pet eats normally.
- Give multiple treats at a time. Start with small empty treats and once your pet is eating them readily, slip in the treats with medications followed by more empty treats.
- Use treats that have strong flavors and smells (this helps to hide the bitter or odd smell/taste of medications).
- The following items are good to use in small amounts. Use with caution as many of these are high in fat that can upset some pet’s tummies if they are given too much.
- Pill pockets (there are many flavors available)
- Cheese, cream cheese, or cheese products like cheese-wiz
- Lunch meat roll-ups (only if you don’t use as a regular food item)
- Bread squished around a pill
- Peanut butter or pill-sized PB sandwiches
- Vienna sausages or hot dogs pieces (if not used as regular food)
- Butter- this works well when you need to pill your pet but find that it sticks in their throat and they spit it out
- Powders can be mixed with a spoonful or two of either baby food or canned food. Just make sure that it is a small enough quantity that they eat it all in one sitting.
Raw Meat Diets
Raw meat diets have been surrounded by an intense and emotional controversy. Most of the evidence in favor of raw meat diets is based on personal anecdotes from those that have fed their pets this diet. Unfortunately, there are no peer-reviewed studies that show there is a nutritional benefit to feeding raw meat diets to animals.
While there have been no peer-reviewed studies specifically done on the feeding of raw meat diets, there are substantial studies showing bacterial contamination in all commercial raw meat diets and most home-prepared raw meat diets. There have also been studies showing that pets fed raw meat diets are not only more likely to get sick from pathogenic bacteria, such salmonella and E. coli, but the humans that interact with these pets get sick as well, even if their pet isn’t showing any symptoms. This risk is increased when combined with immunosuppression on both the human and animal side. The young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are at highest risks for these infections. Even if caught early and treated, infections from these bacteria can be deadly.
Our recommendation is that pets not be fed a raw meat diet. If your pet is currently eating a raw meat diet, please make sure to inform our staff so appropriate precautions can be taken to ensure all the pets and staff here remain safe. If your pet is going to be receiving therapy that will further compromise their immune system, we ask that you either switch to a commercial diet or cook your pet’s food thoroughly for the duration of their treatment. It is also advisable to do the same for any other pets in the household as they can act as carriers for the bacteria.
If you have any questions about raw meat diets, or want more in depth information about the risks, please feel free to talk to our oncologists.
Below are a few recommended starting points if you are looking for information on the web about nutrition. These sites include additional resources for formulating a diet for your pet. If you have any questions, please talk to your doctor or a staff member.
This group is part of the society that certifies veterinarians and technicians in animal nutrition. Their website has information for both veterinary staff and pet owners.
This is a professional group for veterinary staff and other animal care professionals that work with the common goal of improving animal nutrition. They have several links to others websites and groups that can help with dietary information for your pet.
This a professional group that provides information to local, state, and federal agencies that are in charge of the regulation, sale, and distribution of all animal foods. They created recommended guidelines and regulations to ensure the quality and safety of all animal diets.