Anyone who decides to pay more attention to giving their pet a healthy, balanced diet in the future is not alone in their endeavors. Search for “healthy cat food” in Google, for example, and you’ll get nearly 80,000 hits. Try this with “dog nutrition” and you’ll locate over 320,000 entries. Nonetheless, genuine and alleged experts are not always in agreement about what’s good for cats and dogs. So it’s no surprise that a lot of dog and cat owners find the information out there to be more overwhelming than informative.
A balanced diet is the best basis for a long, happy and healthy life with plenty of energy. But what exactly does healthy nutrition mean for cats and dogs? We’ve put together 7 specialist nutrition tips for cats and dogs.
1. Ready-made food, home-cooked meals or a raw diet?
Even for inexperienced owners, providing your cat or dog with a healthy, balanced diet is not as hard as you might think. One important rule: Give your pet a high-quality feed that is tailored to his age and level of activity. Because cats and dogs need the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals. These requirements are considered very carefully in industrial production, which means that when you use high-quality branded products, you can rest assured that your pet is getting everything his body needs. This is where cat and dog owners who feel that it’s healthier to cook for their pets are faced with quite a challenge. Not only do they have to ensure the ideal combination of ingredients, they also need to be careful that the nutrients are not lost through cooking. Experience shows that home-cooked food often contains too much fat and protein and too few vitamins. Anyone who wants to cook for their cat or dog should therefore be sure to get recipes and instructions from their vet or a nutrition expert.
2. Dry food, wet food or mixed feeding?
Opinion is also divided on the question of whether pets should have dry food, wet food or perhaps a mixture of both. The subject of which feeding regime is correct is discussed quite passionately in a number of forums. The answer is: the one that you and your pet like the most. To find the right food for your cat or dog, you should gear your choice to your four-legged friend’s current requirements and the quality of the product. If you can fulfil both of these factors, then you are sure to have covered your pet’s nutritional requirements. At the end of the day, the question of whether to give your dog dry food, wet food or even a combination of the two is unimportant as long as he gets the vitamins and nutrients he needs for a balanced diet. That said, there are a couple of points to bear in mind. Dry food has the advantage that it is easier to store and can also be used as treats. This is particularly useful for dogs with allergies that can only eat certain types of food. What’s more, dry food is more hygienic, at least in summer, as it doesn’t spoil as quickly as an opened tin of wet food. However, dry food contains hardly any water and should therefore only be given to cats and dogs that drink enough, or else it should be softened in water beforehand. In contrast, wet food is a good way of getting more moisture into the diet of those animals that don’t drink enough. Most animals also prefer the meaty chunks in comparison to dry pellets. If you’re not able to decide, then simply use a mixture of both. In this case, the food is not actually mixed, but is given as wet food in the morning and dry food in the evening to get the benefits of both kinds of food. Regardless of which form of food you decide on, you should keep to this in the long term and only make a change with good reason, and even then only in gradual steps. A sudden change between the types of food is in fact unhealthy and can cause serious digestive problems for the animals, including diarrhea or constipation.
3. The right way to feed your pet
Cats and dogs like routine – at least when it comes to their food. A healthy adult dog should ideally be fed at least twice a day – cats between three and four times a day – and preferably always at the same times of day. Our four-legged friends attune themselves to these times, with the added benefit that they are less likely to beg you for food at any time of the day or night. As for the amount of food, it makes sense to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. However, these will only provide you with typical average values, and your pet’s individual size, his level of activity, daily routine and even the outside temperature will also play a role. For example, an outdoor cat that spends hours roaming around her territory, even in winter, will use up far more energy than a cat who just lounges around on the sofa. To prevent excess body weight or malnutrition, owners should therefore consider the animal’s individual requirements when it comes to their diet. It is always advisable to constantly monitor if the animal noticeably gains or loses weight, and to adjust the amount of food accordingly.
4. When food supplements are worthwhile
There are particular situations when normal feeding isn’t enough. During certain times, such as the moulting season, when animals are recovering from an illness or in particularly stressful situations such as before or after moving house, it is beneficial to add nutritional supplements to your animal’s diet. Even if you choose to feed your dog with home-cooked food, you should enhance their diet with special preparations to avoid potential deficiency symptoms. On top of that, essential fatty acids and B vitamins have proven to be effective for cats and dogs that are prone to skin sensitivities or have lackluster, bristly coats. Fish oils and mussel extracts are often used for arthritis and joint disease to relieve the symptoms and promote good health. And many senior cats and dogs are no longer able to process their food optimally, so they also need a food supplement for support. If you are not sure about whether your pet requires a food supplement, or which one they need, then ask your vet for advice. He can then do a blood test to establish exactly which vitamins and minerals your pet is missing.
5. Vegetables as a side dish
The number of dogs that eat fruit and vegetables as well as meat is higher than you might expect. However, dog owners are wrong to believe that this type of diet is a healthy alternative to nutritional supplements. As dogs are unable to digest cellulose, the nutritional elements will largely go to waste. So although a raw carrot might provide your four-legged friend with a bit of entertainment, he won’t absorb any of the vitamins. In principle, vegetables such as carrots or courgettes need to be cooked so that your dog can digest them. Apples and nectarines are fine for your dog, but please remove the seeds first. Remember, fruit and vegetables should be considered as a snack for your dog and do not constitute a proper meal. Incidentally, cats eat vegetables too, but it’s much rarer.
6. Puppy nutrition made easy
Anyone who has a puppy or a kitten at home has some special needs to meet. For example, you should start by giving your puppy the same food that he had in his previous home so that the relocation doesn’t upset his stomach. A new beginning is stressful enough, so changing his food on top of that would be too much for his little body. You should change over to the new food slowly: Mix his usual food with the new type and gradually increase the ratio of new food to old. You should also be sure to get the junior variety. Kittens also require special food for young animals. This includes lots of high-quality animal protein and is high-energy enough to give them the reserves they need to grow and play. This means that even a small portion will fill up your kitten nicely, which is very important as her stomach is too small to take in large quantities of food. This also applies to puppies. As a result, you should feed your baby pets with mini portions, three to four times a day. With kittens, you can give them a constant supply of dry food so that they can decide for themselves when they want to eat. However this is not advisable for puppies as they tend to eat everything that’s put in front of them. After feeding them, let them rest for a while. That’s true for adult animals too, but is especially important for puppies.
7. Allergy sufferers and sensitive tummies
When cats or dogs scratch a lot, many owners quickly assume that they have a food allergy. In fact, it’s often down to a hypersensitivity to house dust mites or an allergy to flea saliva. But other illnesses can trigger the classic symptoms of an allergy too. So, before you start experimenting with different types of food, take your cat or dog to the vet. If he confirms that your pet does in fact have a food sensitivity, the “cure” is quite simple: from now on you need to select food that does not contain the relevant ingredients. If your cat or dog suffers from flatulence and has a sensitive digestion, opt for food with easily digestible, high-quality proteins. In addition to this, feed them little and often to ease the burden on their digestive system.
As a final piece of advice, remember these six golden rules when it comes to your dog’s nutrition:
1. Tailor your pet’s food to his age, size, level of activity and any intolerances, plus the time of year.
2. Decide on one type of food (dry, wet or mixed) and stick with it.
3. Pay attention to the quality of the food and only buy branded products.
4. When it comes to feeding hours, it’s best to feed your dog twice a day, cats three to four times, and try to keep to the same times.
5. Let your pet relax after eating so that he doesn’t get an upset stomach.
6. Whether it’s summer or winter, you should wash your pet’s bowl thoroughly at least once a week for dry food and once a day for wet food.
Nutrition can have several benefits for your dog’s health. Our Maxi Zoo experts have outlined these benefits in an eBook. Click below to get your free copy of “The Health Benefits Of Nutrition For Your Dog”.