When it comes to nutrition, there’s always something new on the horizon. Whether it’s the latest diet craze or newest super food, the “right” way to feed yourself and your family can feel like a moving target. Given that trends from the world of human cuisine can influence what we feed our pets, staying on top of all the choices can be harder than ever before.
You want the best for your animals—foods made with wholesome products in a safe and clean environment. You want to be sure that the food you provide is free from harmful ingredients and that it hasn’t been tainted in any way. This can leave us open to trying anything that seems like it might be new and special—somehow better than what we were doing before. With so many things to consider, what’s a responsible pet owner to do?
According to Dr. Chip Coombs, Pets Plus Us Chief Veterinary Officer, “Unless there is a specific medical reason to reconsider your pet’s present diet; if you’re feeding a high quality diet and your pet seems healthy and happy, there may be no need to make a change. However, if there is a chronic illness or your pet is non-responsive to a current therapeutic regime, then reevaluating the diet makes sense.”
Your pets depend on you to make the best decisions for them and ultimately, the choice is up to you. If you’re considering pursuing one of the latest cat or dog nutrition trends, be an informed consumer. Read labels, do some research, and consult with your veterinarian. To help you get started, we’ve explored a few of the popular trends below.
DHA Pet Food for Puppies and Kittens
DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic Acid. It’s a fatty acid that’s essential for proper development of the brain and nervous system in all mammals, including dogs and cats. DHA occurs naturally in a mother’s milk and is also available in foods such as certain fish, eggs and organ meat.
While a fetus is developing, it gets all the DHA it needs from its mother. Once it is born, it continues to get DHA from her through nursing. Those who recommend DHA say that puppies and kittens get a better start if the mother is fed DHA formula pet food during the pregnancy right through until weaning. Then the young dog or cat should have DHA supplemented food until it’s time to switch to adult food (the timing will depend on breed).
• Shiny coat, healthy teeth and gums
• Helps avoid skin allergies
• Stronger brain and nervous system development may lead to a higher capacity to be trained and socialized
• Less destructive behaviour
Things to Consider:
While there is plenty of information available about the health claims of DHA, there isn’t a lot out there about potential drawbacks or concerns. Check with your vet before investing in a specialty food that may or may not be right for your pet.
You’ve probably seen all kinds of food at the grocery store that is supplemented with Omega 3s, from eggs and milk to bread and yogurt. This recent trend in people food has actually been available in pet foods for quite some time with most major manufacturers adding the essential fatty acid to their formulas.
• The major benefit of Omega 3 fatty acid is its anti-inflammatory properties. This affects many major systems in the body, including cardiac health
• Better coat and skin condition
• Reduces joint pain and stiffness
• Important for brain function, including memory and behaviour
Things to Consider:
• Not all Omega 3 is the same. Some comes from vegetable sources, like flaxseed or linseed. It can also come from marine sources, like fish or krill. So far, research says that it’s the marine-sourced Omega 3 that dogs and cats need, since their bodies aren’t able to process vegetable sources as easily.
• Although not very common, pets who are allergic to fish may have serious reactions to fish oil or supplements made from fish.
The Raw Food Diet
The raw food diet is exactly what it sounds like—uncooked, unprocessed food for dogs and cats. Typically, it consists of raw meat, bones, fruits and vegetables. The idea behind it is that the closer the food source is to what a pet’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild, the better it will be for your cat or dog.
The idea of raw pet food isn’t new—Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst first proposed it in 1999. He called it the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, also called the BARF diet (unfortunate name, we know.) Not only does Dr. Billinghurst claim that raw is better, but that feeding dogs and cats food they would never have eaten in the wild—such as wheat—is actually detrimental to their overall health.
Proponents of a raw food diet claim that it provides their pets with higher energy levels, healthier skin and nails, and a shinier coat. However, although it could be helpful in some circumstances, the use of raw diets is not without potential problems.
Things to Consider:
• Bacteria from the raw meat can pose a threat to your pet’s health—and yours
• Rarely are there assurances that the diet is balanced
• Raw food doesn’t keep as well as dry or canned, even when frozen
• Food handling safety is extremely important with raw food
• Bones can choke your pet, break teeth or cause punctures to the stomach or intestines
If you want to avoid using a commercial pet food and want to prepare your pet’s food yourself, talk to your veterinarian who can give you a safe, balanced recipe to follow. It can be a lot of work, but if you freeze meal size portions and do the preparation once a week, it can be manageable.
The Bottom Line
If you want to change your pet’s diet, go slowly and speak with your veterinarian or clinic staff to get their opinion based on your pet’s current health. Dr. Chip recommends any diet change should be done slowly over about a week, gradually increasing portions of the new food with the old until you are able to switch over altogether. This will reduce the chance of stomach upset and diarrhea and make it more likely that your pet will accept the new food.
Use good food safety practices. Even if you’re already careful about keeping your pet’s meal area and bowls clean, it’s going to be even more important if you switch to a raw diet or prepare the food yourself.
Remember, you know your pet best. It’s normal for animals to be picky at first if you change their diet, but if your cat or dog is showing changes in behaviour or ongoing digestive problems, it would be worthwhile to check in again with your veterinarian for further recommendations.