The elements of a healthy lifestyle are no secret; they consist of a balance of proper nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being. That’s true for humans and it certainly applies to our pets. Pet foods are formulated for the various stages of your pet’s life and management of various medical conditions. Proper nutrition through a lifetime provides many benefits to your cat or dog:
- Weight and disease management
- Good muscle tone
- A strong immune system
- Ease of digestion
- A healthy skin and coat
Stages of pet nutrition
Nutritional needs change during your pet’s life due to growth and development, the aging process, and management of various medical conditions. The breed, size, energy level and environment of your pet are also factors in determining proper nutritional needs such as calorie intake and frequency of feeding.
The best way to determine the nutritional needs of your pet is to talk with your veterinarian. Regular exams are important in preventing and managing medical conditions and help determine if a nutritional counseling program would be beneficial. Pets in the later years of the adult stage and those in their senior years, or those with a medical condition should, at the minimum, have biannual examinations.
“There is an obesity crisis in adult pets, with excessive calorie intake being one facet of problem. Proper nutrition and annual exams are vital in preventing obesity. Food quality and nutrient content influence weight gain. Some pet foods are loaded with cheaper carbohydrates. Lower quality carbs are no better for our pets than they are for us. This is why considering nutrition and quality foods from the start are important,” said Dr. Laura Weis, veterinarian and owner of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital in Doylestown, PA
There are three stages of pet nutrition with basic needs and recommendations
Puppy/Kitten: Birth to Year 1
- Start with a high-quality food to promote healthy growth and development. Ask your veterinarian about the brand and food they recommend for your new pet.
- Kittens require a high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Canned food is best for cats so it’s ideal to introduce your kitten to wet foods.
- Puppies need specially-formulated food, based on the breed and size, which includes essential omega-3 fatty acids to foster proper growth and development.
Adult: Years 1-7
- Cats still need a high-protein, high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet but far fewer calories than kittens. A diet of mostly wet canned food is recommended to prevent chronic dehydration. For indoor cats, a focus on obesity prevention is necessary.
- Adult nutrition for dogs should be based on lifestyle and eating habits. Chose a food that provides a balanced diet of protein and nutrients to maintain proper development and wellness.
- Dry food contains more nutrients per bite and wet, canned food contains more moisture. The dental or medical wellness of your dog may determine the balance of dry or wet food in a diet.
Senior: Years 7+ (small breeds as late as 10 years and large breeds as early as 6 years)
- For senior cats, there needs to be particular attention to diet during this life stage to prevent or address health issues such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and especially obesity.
- For senior dogs, diet should also focus on disease prevention and addressing specific health and medical needs. Older dogs can suffer from heart or liver disease, kidney failure, diabetes, obesity as well as arthritis and joint pain.
- Older pets should be examined by a veterinarian at least twice a year and possibly more often if your pet has health and related dietary issues that need to be monitored.
- Always seek medical attention if you notice a change in your pet’s eating habits.
- Many senior diets for dogs include high-quality sources of protein to maintain muscle mass.
- There are foods that include glucosamine and chondroitin to help with joint wellness. Never give your dog supplements without the direction of your veterinarian.
The obesity crisis affects over 80 million dogs and cats
According to a 2011 nationwide survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 55% of cats and 53% of dogs were clinically obese or overweight. The health effects associated with obesity are a top concern for pets today.
- Obesity can shorten the lifespan of your pet.
- Obese pets are more likely to experience heart and liver disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis and chronic joint pain.
Talk to your veterinarian about body condition score ranges and nutritional counseling to ensure the proper diet and activity levels are designed specifically for your pet to prevent or manage obesity and the negative affect on health associated with obesity.
“The first step toward reversing pet obesity is helping pet parents recognize how pets at a healthy weight should look. The Body Condition Score chart helps our veterinarians communicate that information,” said Dr. Weis.
The Body Condition Score chart provides an overall view of the range of body types from very thin to obese. The chart gives pet owners a starting point for discussing nutrition and wellness with their veterinarian who can explain your pet’s score and design an action plan.
According to Dr. Weis, you should be able to feel, but not see your pet’s ribs easily. Your pet should have a trim and tucked abdomen and a definite waistline when viewed from above.
Diet and exercise, a healthy combination
A proper diet can help regulate weight and manage other medical problems, but exercise is essential for overall wellness.
- Take your dog for a walk on a leash for at least 15 minutes a day—and you’ll enjoy the benefits too! For indoor cats, providing enough physical activity throughout the day is more challenging.
- Adopting a playmate for your cat is one option; otherwise, offer your cat a range of toys to chase or towers to climb.
“Starting your pet on the path to fitness should be a gentle process, especially if your dog or cat is overweight. It’s important to have a veterinarian rule out any underlying health issues or physical limitations before starting an exercise plan,” Dr. Weis added.
Quality of food and quantity of care
Choosing quality pet foods for your dog or cat during each nutritional stage is the first step in giving your pet a long, healthy life. However, diet alone cannot guarantee longevity. Physical exercise, emotional well-being and regular veterinary exams are vital to an overall health plan. Preventing obesity goes a long way in thwarting the types of diseases and medical conditions which impact the quality and length of your pet’s life. Work closely with your pet’s veterinarian to learn more about the benefits of proper nutrition, exercise and ideal body condition.