There are many reasons you’ve chosen to feed the way you do, but could you be unknowingly be making mistakes when it comes to your pet’s diet? With a wealth of information online, we try to reconcile and integrate these hints and tips from a variety of sources to try and do the best for our pets, however not all these “tips” are compatible with each other. Many of the mistakes I see pet owners making is simply this, they were told something by a friend or read something online that they should be doing something, and they continue on this merry go round until the end result becomes damaging or potentially dangerous for the pet.
So, today’s blog is all about mistakes you didn’t know you were making with your pet’s food!
Feeding unbalanced diets
I have nothing against home preparing a diet, if you are following a recipe from a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist and are supplementing it appropriately to ensure there are no nutritional gaps. Unfortunately, majority of homemade diets I see people making are not supplemented, not following a fixed recipe, highly variable and substituting ingredients frequently, or even adding potentially poisonous ingredients into them; I recently saw a dog food recipe posted online that had been supposedly given to a client by a vet that contained very large amounts of onion and garlic! These are toxic to dogs, especially in the amounts this recipe was calling for. If you wish to homecook for your pet, please use BalanceIT (along with their associated supplements) or consult with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist. Home cooking is a fantastic option, but absolutely must not be taken lightly; I see many comments being made by people stating they’ve always cooked for themselves and their family, and they don’t have any nutritional deficiencies – that’s great, however this doesn’t take into account that dogs and cats have vastly different nutritional requirements to humans, and do not present with deficiencies and excesses in the same way a human would. This also doesn’t take into account pets OR people who may have malabsorption syndromes and therefore at much higher risks of developing a nutritional imbalance. With 95% of homemade recipes online being deficient in one or more nutrients, home cooking is not a simple solution and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s safe or superior! Trends in human nutrition often spill over into veterinary nutrition, to the dismay of nutritionists – following an increase in humans going gluten free, this then spilt over into vet medicine with the advent of grain free diets. However we now know that this may not be safe or ideal for pets. The latest trend I’ve been seeing, which partly spills into my next nutritional ‘mistake’ is adding things to a complete and balanced pet food such as supplements, ‘superfoods’, or toppers. These things may look appealing to us or because we use these products ourselves, we may think they seem like a healthy option, however they don’t necessarily provide the same benefit to companion animals as they do to humans. I always recommend clients stick to science and evidence based diets first and foremost.
Adding too many toppers and treats
As I briefly mentioned above, adding treats and toppers to a food is growing in popularity, however what is getting lost is the importance of balance! If adding any sort of topper to a complete and balanced diet, if it exceeds 10% of the pet’s entire daily ration, you risk unbalancing the diet. I actually recently saw this occur in practice – a client was feeding a prescription diet, however her pet continued to be suffering symptoms of their condition. Upon some deeper investigation, we realised they were adding toppers, well over the 10% limit which had interacted with the food and lowered it’s effectiveness. As soon as the toppers were removed or reduced, symptoms resolved. This rules applies to all foods, if you are adding too many toppers, not only are you feeding an unbalanced (and potentially dangerous) diet, you are wasting your money feeding a complete and balanced diet. The same can be said for treats – always calculate how many treats your pet is actually allowed per day and make sure to stay within the limit.
Overfeeding or underfeeding
This one is often surprising to pet owners! Did you know, even if you are going by the feeding guide on the food, you could potentially be over or under feeding your pet? These guidelines are just that – a guide. It is always best practice to determine an exact amount your pet needs by calculating their Daily Energy Requirements and comparing this to the calories the food provides, you can use an online calculator (such as the Pet Nutrition Alliance’s Calorie Calculator) and then measure out your pet’s food more accurately either by weighing (which is the most accurate) or using a cup provided by the company making the food (this is important as there is huge variance between cups and particularly if feeding a kibble diet, the size and shape of the food particles varies and alters the cup amounts). As for underfeeding, if you want your pet to lose weight, it’s important not to simply cut back on food as you can actually be underdelivering on their nutritional requirements – instead, switch to a weight loss diet or a lower calorie alternative and again, work out their requirements. You can read more about weight loss here.
Changing diets too frequently
The most common phone call I get from owners is their pet has diarrhea. Often, when I dig a little deeper these pets have had something new added to their diet or their diet has been changed recently without a transition. This goes back to the microbiome – our gut bacteria is shaped both by our genetics and what we eat. When you eat something new, you are altering the gut microbiome by potentially adding a new microbe into the mix or changing the environmental conditions within the gut biome (pH, water or sodium balance, biochemistry, etc). This is most commonly what leads to dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut) which often presents as diarrhea particularly without any other cause or reasoning. For this reason, I always suggest a slow transition (minimum seven days) when switching to a new food, and using a veterinary probiotic (read more here) if dysbiosis does occur. Pets are very sensitive to these changes, especially younger animals, so while having them on a highly variable diet with no stability might seem exciting and different for them, they actually do better on a stable diet with fewer rapid changes. They also don’t have the same level of taste perception that we do, therefore generally don’t get bored of having the same diet every day.
Have you ever made any of these mistakes? I know how difficult it can be to avoid humanizing our pets and wanting to try lots of new things, especially when you hear about a new trend – we naturally want to hop onto it, but it’s important to stick with the science and not be easily swayed by marketing and the latest fashions in nutrition.
What mistakes have you made with your pet’s diet? No judgement! Leave us a comment down below!