Fri, Nov. 15

Pets: They are what they eat!



In January I wrote about the startling fact that 50-55 percent of pet dogs and cats are overweight or obese, this month I am talking more about nutrition but also for other species.

As I mentioned in that article pet food industry is BIG business, and having a food that is well received and eaten eagerly can be the focus instead of what is nutritionally sound for the animals it is produced for.

Take for example birds in captivity versus the wild. Out in the wild seed is only available maybe a quarter of the year. For the rest of the year they have to find another source of nourishment.

Fresh vegetables, fruits, leaves, other parts of plants may be consumed. For those that eat insects and smaller critters these too aren’t available year round. It stands to reason that birds cannot survive without eating a variety of foods. Seeds alone are deficient in minerals such as calcium, and high in fats and phosphorus. Luckily for bird owners there has been research into what each particular variety of avians need for optimal health, and many lines of pellets have been developed to meet these needs.

Guinea pigs and rabbits also have specific nutritional needs. The guinea pig is unique along with primates/humans in that they do not produce their own vitamin C.

The guinea pig is a pet that can develop Scurvy just like humans without supplementing the diet with either the vitamin or fresh fruits and vegetables high in this vitamin. The rabbit, while they produce Vitamin C, also have specific fiber and Vitamin B needs. For this reason the pellets produced commercially for these pets CANNOT be interchanged.

Ricketts is another disease of deficiency or abnormal ratio of calcium and phosphorus. This disease has been seen in the past in it is commonly seen in reptiles and sometimes young mammals. Lizards (including iguanas) turtles and tortoises fall victim of this devastating disease.

Rapidly growing, young reptiles fed crickets and mealworms are receiving large amounts of carbohydrates and NO calcium. This causes metabolic bone disease where the body steals calcium from the bone for survival and instead replaces bone with fibrous tissue.

One of the worst cases of this I have seen was a juvenile iguana with paralysis because the bones of the spine collapsed. Another was a box turtle fed only worms and lettuce, his shell was soft, and his legs had no real bone tissue.

In recent years I have only seen this once in a mammal, a kitten, fed meat and broccoli which did not have near enough calcium. She had rubbery bones in the legs and constant pain with any movement. (In her case, once placed on a kitten growth food she had almost a full recovery; unfortuanely the other two cases died.)

Usually in dogs and cats we see a problem of excess rather than deficiency. Since the beginning of the year we have a new tool to help with weight loss in the chubby pet.

One of the problems most owners have is that our indoor pets have been conditioned to beg for food...even if they really are not hungry. Or in some cases, the pets have been ‘trained’ that if they hold out long enough, their owners will give in and give them something they like better!

Our pets have the same changes in metabolism that many humans do ... it SLOWS with age. Hill’s actually unveiled a new product this January that is aimed at weight loss through increasing the animals metabolism through the food.

Because pets with inefficient energy metabolism will not necessarily respond to only decreasing the calories they have implemented a new idea to counteract this effect.

With their new diet the idea is to regulate appetite and burn fat by adding L-carnitine, avoiding ‘starvation’ affects of severely limiting food intake and addressing the true body type by accurate measurements other than just body weight.

While maybe new in our hands as a veterinary community, the research performed by Hill’s is substantial. We are looking forward to utilizing this food as yet another means to maintain the health and longevity of our patients.

Another note for those of us with tubby cats...they can have more profound medical side effects than just arthritis and breathing problems. Cats (dogs too!) can develop diabetes mellitis and require lifetime of insulin injections to return to ‘normal’.

Nutrition is a hot topic in the pet food industry. You as a consumer and loving pet owner many times are bombarded with ‘new’or ‘natural’ foods,may have questions about what is the best to feed a particular pet. Personally what I find is that the easiest and the best foods are the ones that are tried and true for years...for this I trust companies that have done their own research.

Sometimes designer foods sound good, yet in the day to day analysis they don’t fare as well. What I recommend is ask questions, especially if you have an unusual pet, be willing to look at different sources, and in THIS case, definitely trust your veterinarian to guide you either to the right food or the right source for suggestions!

If you do have questions or concerns about your pets’ diet, please give us a call, let us know what we can do to help you! (928-284-2840).

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