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Feeding Your Pet



One of the most commonly asked questions is: How much do I feed my pet, and what type of food? Nutrition is not as simple as one is usually led to believe. There is a balance of the fats, protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals and water which need to be considered. Fortunately, great strides have been made in the pet food industry in the last few decades, and most food is “nutritionally complete” per the recommended standards. Yet there are variations within this system that need consideration.

     Every animal’s nutritional needs are different. Some animals, like herbivores and ruminants (rabbits, poultry and livestock) can manufacture their own protein and vitamins through their complicated digestive system if the right nutrients are provided. Other animals, like carnivores (dogs and cats) do not have the ability to manufacture all their requirements. Most animals can manufacture their own vitamin C, except man, monkeys, a few fish species and guinea pigs. Guinea Pigs must have Vitamin C added to their diets, preferably in the water, as the shelf life for Vitamin C in the food is 3 months. Onions are toxic to cats and horses, chocolate, grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, even avocados and garlic are toxic to animals. The artificial sweetener, xylitol, is also toxic to pets. Cats are not as efficient in their utilization of protein and require a higher amount in their diet. Cats also require more fat and some B vitamins. A cat or ferret requires twice as much protein as a dog and should not be fed dog food. A cat eating mostly dog food can develop blindness and heart problems (cardiomyopathy) due to the lower protein. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids, and it is the amino acid called taurine that cats need to have to prevent the blindness and cardiomyopathy. Most major brand cat foods now have taurine added to avoid these problems.

     Twenty two different amino acids make up the building blocks of proteins. Eight to ten of these amino acids are definitely needed in the diet of the dog or cat; a cat requires 2 more essential amino acids that a dog. The other 12?14 amino acids can be manufactured in the animal’s body. The percentage of these essential amino acids is called the biological value (B.V.) of protein. For animals, eggs have a B.V. of 94%, beef and red meat are 74%, whole corn is 59% and gelatin has a 0 value. This states that it essentially requires over 27% more beef protein for a similar diet made of egg to achieve the required levels of the essential amino acids (or that an animal on a protein source of gelatin only cannot survive). A vegetable protein based diet, such as only corn, would then require twice the protein level to meet the body’s requirement for essential amino acids (compared to only eggs as a source of protein). Very few commercial diets contain egg or egg white as an ingredient, yet there are a couple of dry diet brands that contain eggs. The grain free diets are not as healthy as advertised since the excess protein and fat can be more of a concern; animals in the wild do not live as long as our pets on a complete diet. Raw meat diets have a much higher potential to cause Salmonella, E. Coli and other food poisonings in your pet and also your family if you feed such a diet to your pet. We have more information on feeding trials if requested. Our website has a link to the FDA site for pet food recalls. The premium pet food manufacturers mix a variety of proteins to achieve the nutritional needs for each species of animals. Read the pet food label or ask your veterinarian about nutrition. So why not just feed extra protein? Extra protein is not stored, and it is only “broken down” for use as energy or making fat in the body. This breakdown process requires the kidneys and liver to work harder, which can be detrimental to older animals. If this sounds complicated, then to try to understand the percentage of the protein in the analyzed food versus the protein that is absorbed or digested (Biological Availability). All of these variabilities can make even nutritionists shake their heads. And what about the 20 different minerals, the dozen or so vitamins and some fatty acids (fats) that are also essential? Feeding uncooked eggs can cause a thiamine deficiency, yet the thiaminase enzyme is inactivated by cooking. Complex interactions affect the digestibility of vitamins, minerals and other nutritional components.

     The best food for a dog is dog food and cat food for a cat. If cats are fed human canned tuna, versus the canned tuna labeled for cats, the cat will develop a steatitis of the fat due to a Vitamin E deficiency. We recommend a good quality name brand food. We don’t recommend the cheaper generic?type foods. For most pets we prefer the dry foods with no water added. This is not only the most economical and the most convenient, but the hardness or abrasiveness of the food helps keep teeth clean and gums healthier. “Dirty teeth” can lead to heart and kidney problems. One minor drawback for dry food is the inability to provide enough fat for the few animals that develop dry skin on the regular food.   Adding oil, cooked eggs, fat or the essential fatty acid supplements will help alleviate this minor problem, but no more than 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or grease per cup of food should be given. A maximum daily amount is 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or 1 teaspoon animal fat per 25# body weight of animal. Start slowly in the amount of oil or grease you add to the food, with a 2?3 week period until you are at the desired amount.   Too much fat in a diet can lead to obesity, digestive problems and pancreas problems. Most pets do not need the extra fat. If you are adding the fat for dry skin problems, we have vitamin/mineral/essential fatty acid products that are healthier for the animal.

     Animals, like people, can vary individually in the amount of food required per day. A good average amount is 1/2 to 1 cup dry food for each 10# body weight daily for dogs or cats. A 6 oz. semi moist package = 1 large can = 1.5x 8 oz cups of dry food. A growing animal requires approximately twice as much food in relation to their body weight as an older animal, and should be fed a growth diet. A smaller pet also requires more food in relation to their body weight than larger pets. A 5# animal may require 3/4 cup of food, while a 75# animal may require 3.5x 8 oz. cups of dry food daily. Expect the suggested feeding amount on the label to be 10-20% more than what some patients require. It is better to have the label promote too much than have clients calling the manufacturer about their underweight pets when they are feeding the amount recommended. We advise feeding twice a day. Self feeding encourages obesity. When one allows the animal to run out of food before the 2x a day feeding, that pet will bond more to that owner, be easier to train and also make a much better pet. One should be able to feel the ribs of an animal, but not see them. Animals can be like spouses; they appreciate the “cook” more if they realize where the food comes from. We recommend that you measure the food and allow your pet to run out of food, before feeding again. More than one study has shown that obesity in pets, especially allowing an animal to be overweight when they are young, will reduce their life span more than 25%. If you have multiple pets, or one pet on a special diet, a feeding time 20 minutes a day where the dog or cat can eat all they want is adequate. Feeding a dog with an elevated food and water bowls, or going to a vegetable-based/soy diet will not reduce the incidence of GVT (bloat); in fact elevated bowls may contribute to a higher incidence of “bloat”/GVT. Once a day feeding increases the incidence of GVT. A high fat diet can contribute to GVT and other intestinal problems.

     Are you having trouble choosing from the endless variety of flavors available? Animals are not people, especially in taste. Don’t be fooled by all the marketing techniques. Have you ever seen some of the items dogs eat while out on a walk in the woods???yeech! Odor and taste are only #4 in the preference for dogs in what they enjoy eating. Cats cannot taste sweet things, yet they can taste protein; and the more the food smells, the better a cat likes it (we still recommend dry food).

     As animals age, their diets should be adjusted for a lower salt and protein content. The senior and the “light diets” have less sodium and protein. When an animal achieves an age of 13?15+, we recommend the k/d, NF or Renal MP diets. These diets contain the lowest amount of protein available. The dry food of canine k/d or NF contains only 12% protein. Extra protein in older, adult animals can cause the kidneys and liver to work harder.

            Any pet food that you buy should state that it is Nutritionally Complete and proven in AAFCO feeding trials. Manufactured according to AFFCO requirements do not necessarily indicate the diet is of a good quality. A diet proven in an AAFCO feeding trial is usually much superior to a diet manufactured according to their requirements. Most dry skin problems are related to an inexpensive diet. A good food normally doesn’t require extra minerals and vitamins; in fact too much calcium, phosphorus, Vitamins A, D, E, etc. are detrimental to an animal’s health. The bones and raw food diets (BARF) are not nutritionally complete mixtures. Too many vitamin tablets can do more harm than good. A vitamin?mineral tablet daily as a treat is not harmful, and may be indicated in some animals. If you feed compressed vegetable or grain treats for dental cleaning, these green treats can cause problems if swallowed whole and are round. A concern for owners of cats, especially a male cat, is the problem of Feline Urological Syndrome (F.U.S.) which is related to the individual animal, the mineral magnesium and other factors in their diet. Please ask your veterinarian the next time that you are in if you have never heard of any of the above mentioned problems. Nutrition is related to the long?term health of your animal; “you get what you pay for”.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic





Gastric Volvulus Torsion (GVT)

and Bloat in Dogs


            Bloat is a medical term for when the stomach is distended. Gastric volvulus torsion (GVT) is sometimes called gastric dilation-volvulus (GVD); GVT is when the stomach is dilated and twisted and GVD is when it is dilated; for all practical purposes they are almost the same thing. Usually the stomach twists first, and then the stomach enlarges with gas. In reality it does not matter if the twist or the gas occurs first, as the treatment is the same. Bloat and/or GVT are medical emergencies. In other species bloat has many different causes, usually from an abnormal fermentation process in herbivores. High grain diets do not cause GVT and bloat in dogs or other carnivores. If fat or oil is within the first 4 ingredients, this diet may increase the risk of a susceptible dog to develop bloat yet there are other factors which can predispose a dog to bloat.

            Signs of bloat and/or GVT in dogs are an attempt to vomit, and nothing is coming out except saliva. If food is being vomited up, the stomach is not twisted. Salivation, an enlarged stomach, shock and in general a very sick dog having troubles are some of the signs of GVT. You will know it if this occurs, as your dog will be very sick. Some breeds have a much higher incidence of developing bloat, and the Great Dane owner should be very well aware of the possibility that they have a 1 in 10 chance or less that their dog may bloat or develop GVT. Of the dogs who develop GVT, 1/3 of them will die by either being found dead, euthanized at the time of surgery, or from post operative complications.

            For many years studies have shown that the muscles of the stomach start to spasm for almost no reason. We may be able to stop the bloated stomach from twisting, but most likely the dog will develop a GVT within the next week. There is no way to easily prevent the problem. What we were led to believe in the 1980’s has now been discovered to cause problems. Fast eating, elevated food bowls and a hereditary predisposition will increase the chance the dog can develop GVT. We recommend feeding most all animals 2x a day, and for the large breeds who gulp down their food the feeding amount shall be decrease and the times per day fed increased. If you are concerned then even a more frequent, lesser volume of food per meal can be utilized. One of the old theories was if the dog ate too much at once, then the full stomach causes it to then twist; this is not correct and in fact we rarely find food in the stomach of a dog where we do a GVT surgery. What actually happens is that the full stomach stretches a ligament, and over time this lax ligament allows the stomach to twist easier than a normal “younger” stomach; most GVT patients are over 5 years of age. Feeding once a day can contribute to GVT. Watering down the food does not seem to help prevent GVT, but if the food is of a smaller size kibble this can contribute to developing gastric volvulus-torsion (also called gastric dilatation-volvulus/GVD). A dog that eats a small size kibble can gobble down the food quicker, in comparison. Feeding a small size kibble, especially with the use of elevated food and water bowls has shown to increase the incidence of GVT; one theory is that the elevated food bowls may allow the dog to eat faster. What we knew and told people in the 1970’s was completely reversed in the 1990’s. (Back then nutritionists also said to feed extra calcium and protein to large growing puppies; the opposite is now true and more accurate). If you have a very scared or aggressive dog, this incidence in GVT is also increased in these nervous type dogs.

            We see the gastric dilation-volvulus problems mainly in the large breeds of dogs. Great Danes, rottweiler, German shepherds, standard poodles, Weimaraner, Saint Bernard, Gordon Setters,. Irish setters, basset hounds, Airedale terriers, Irish wolfhounds, borzois, bloodhounds, Akitas, boxers, bull mastiffs and other deep chested, large breed or mixed dogs can develop GVT.   We feel there is a hereditary predisposition, and hopefully some day there will be a DNA test for those dogs predisposed to GVT. We do not recommend breeding dogs which have been diagnosed with GVT, bloat or other related problems; this includes the offspring. There is a prophylactic gastropexy surgery that some rottweilers and Great Dane owners consider for their dogs; this surgery will reduce the GVT. For the one in 1,000 large breed dogs that may develop GVT, and the estimated 10% of the dogs who may benefit from this preventative surgery, we feel the benefits of the surgery are not indicated until definite candidates can be identified. It is true that when we do a GVT surgery, we do tack down the stomach or their will be a 50% chance of reoccurrence in these dogs who are highly prone to GVT. At this time we do not strongly recommend the “tacking procedure” preventatively. If the procedure was performed, and the dog is showing signs of acute abdominal pain, a twisting of the colon or the intestines are still possible.  

            One cannot completely prevent GVT completely. We prefer to educate you instead, to be concerned if you have a severely sick dog which is trying to vomit yet cannot. We cannot overemphasize the methods to help prevent GVT in susceptible dog breeds. You have to trust the newer medical studies since the mid 1990’s than what has been mentioned (or still is) on the Internet can be wrong. (As another example type in “garlic for dogs” and you will find many outlets selling the product and touting the benefits for humans, and then there is the real information that garlic is toxic to dogs and other animals). Feeding the dog using elevated food and water bowls and not going to a vegetable-based/soy diet will not reduce the incidence of GVT (bloat), in fact the elevated feeding bowls will increase the incidence of GVT! As already mentioned a high fat diet with a small size kibble can contribute to GVT and other intestinal problems. Eating quickly can contribute to aerophagia and bloat. Dogs that eat quickly should be fed a smaller meal more frequently.  

The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic