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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quick Thoughts On Pet Nutrition

I don't know if I have admitted it on here yet, but for a little over a year, we have been a Golden Retriever family. Our Golden (named "Baron") is really Kathy's dog, and she is his "person," but he is happy to include me in his activities when Kathy is not paying attention to him.

Anyway, as I was roughhousing with Baron this morning, I realized that he is really a very lean and muscular dog...and I am happy about that. In fact, he is pretty different from many of the large-breed dogs I see in my practice. Like people in America, our dogs are fatter than ever.

Now I know we are all tired of hearing about the health risks associated with obesity in people and in pets, so I'll keep this short and to the point. The most common reason large-breed dogs are euthanized at my practice is because of crippling arthritis, which is usually complicated (or caused) by obesity. Purina did an eye-opening study a few years ago in which two groups of Labrador Retrievers were free-fed, or fed limited quantities their entire lives. The average dog in the free-fed group lived eighteen months less than the average dog in the limited-quantity group. This means that lean Labradors live about 12% longer!

It is reasonable to extrapolate this information to all large breeds. I know that Kathy would do anything to get an extra 18 months of health for Baron. So our 80-pound dog gets 3 and 1/2 measuring cups of food per day, and a cracker-sized treat at night. The rule of thumb for feeding adult dogs is 1/2 cup of dog food per 20 pounds of dog twice a day. For puppies, it's 1/2 cup of puppy food per 10 pounds given twice a day. I have learned the hard way not to estimate the volume of food you're giving -- get an actual measuring cup to scoop the food!

A couple of quick notes on cat nutrition would be approriate here. Recently-published data shows that most cat food label directions will result in over-feeding cats. This data recommends (as do I) feeding adult cats 30% less than the label says. Additionally, we now know that there are a number of feline diseases which can be effectively treated by giving canned veterinary diets. Therefore, I recommend supplementing dry kitten or cat food with a teaspoon (or less) of canned food several times a week, just so these cats will learn to eat canned food in case it ever becomes necessary later in life.

I get asked a lot about raw-meat diets lately, and there is some debate about canned vs dry food in cats, so those will be topics of a future blog. I know, I know...my future blogs tend to be waaaay in the future. I will try to do better!