Feeding your dog and cat
At Hillside Veterinary Centre we strongly believe that ensuring the right nutrition is vitally important to the health and wellbeing of your pet throughout their lifetime.
Advances in veterinary medicine, modern vaccines and major improvements in pet nutrition are three of the main reasons that the life expectancy of pets today is greater than ever. One of the biggest advances in pet nutrition is the development of life-stage diets. All dogs and cats need a balanced diet to remain fit and well, but they also require differing levels of nutrients at different stages of their lives. Because of this, life stage diets have been developed, which aim to precisely tailor levels of energy, protein and other nutrients depending on the age and breed of your pet.
Puppies and kittens
The first few months are vital for your puppy or kitten’s lifelong health. They require a balanced diet with higher levels of energy and protein to fuel all that growth. They need specific fatty acids to help brain development, along with the right fatty acids and minerals to support bone, joint and tooth development.
Laying the right foundations now is vital for the lifelong health of your pet.
Adult dogs and cats
Having finished their major growth phase, although a balanced diet is still vital, dogs and cats do not need the extra nutrients required by growing pups and kittens. Obesity can be a problem, especially in less active or neutered pets and so a quality pet food manufacturer should provide a lower energy alternative (still maintaining the correct level of essential nutrients).
Large or giant breed dogs
Large or giant breed dogs have very specific dietary requirements as do puppies, to ensure healthy bone and joint development. As such, Hillside recommends that they too should be fed a diet specifically designed for larger breed dogs. We can discuss specific requirements with you.
Older dogs and cats
In old age, our pet’s dietary needs change yet again. This can be due to changes in metabolism and exercise, as well as the changing nutritional needs of an aging body. Internal organs such as the liver and kidneys work less efficiently and so it is important to feed a diet which reduces the work burden on these organs, as well as supporting their function.
Feeding the correct, high quality life stage diet for your pet’s age can make a real difference to their long term health. At Hillside Vets we therefore recommend the feeding of a high quality complete diet, suitable for the size and life stage of your pet.
At Hillside Veterinary Centre, we supply and recommend Hill’s Vet Essentials diet.
Hill’s Vets Essentials diet is a high quality diet, specially formulated to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Hill’s breakthroughs in pet nutrition are unmatched in the pet food industry and they have built their business and reputation on always practicing the highest ethical standards.
At Hillside, we also stock a range of diets specially formulated for weight loss or for pets with specific nutritional needs due to illness or disease.
We are happy to provide full nutritional advice for your pet for their lifetime - please book an appointment and come and have a chat with one of our nurses to discuss this in more detail.
Bones and Raw Food Diet (BARF)
Is it the healthiest choice for dogs?
Fresh wholesome foods sound like a wonderful thing to feed our pets, and many dogs appear to do well on these diets, but are there hidden risks? If feeding bones and raw foods is your choice for feeding your dog, you should be aware of the potential problems as well as the benefits of these diets.
What are the benefits of a bones and raw food diet?
You are in control of the ingredients fed to your dog so there are unlikely to be preservatives or additives – this is provided you feed organic foods. Some people enjoy preparing foods for their pets and find this a rewarding part of their bond with their pet.
You should be aware that there are a lot of false scare stories about the ingredients of commercial pet foods. They may contain offal, or the guts of animals (although this is what animals in the wild will eat anyway). They do contain antioxidant preservatives to prevent them from becoming rancid. Some of the cheaper commercial foods contain textured vegetable proteins that appear to be meat, but are not, and colourings to make them appear more appealing. These are the same colourings added to processed human foods and must generally be considered safe. The better quality complete foods are a uniform kibble without colour additives, made from the highest grade meat.
Is it a balanced diet?
The feeding programme for some raw food diets aims to balance the diet out over a few weeks, rather than for each meal. This is similar to the way many of us feed ourselves and our families, and with the right blend of ingredients this can work. However, on analysis, many homemade diet recipes and programmes are not balanced for the essential nutrients.
A nutritional study of the bones and raw food diet (the BARF diet) published in 2001 showed the diet to be deficient in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and excessively high in vitamin D. Another study of homemade diets showed that even combining three recipes over a week resulted in deficiencies, so varying the foods may not balance out the deficiencies. Some adult dogs may cope with some of these calcium and phosphorus imbalances, but they can seriously affect the strength of the bones of growing dogs. The zinc deficiencies can cause skin disorders.
It’s natural, but is it safe?
Very special hygienic measures must be taken when handling and preparing raw foods for your dog. Several studies looking at bacterial contamination of raw foods and shedding of bacteria in the faeces of dogs fed raw foods have shown that 20-35% of raw poultry and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for Salmonella, and 30% of stool samples from these dogs were also positive for Salmonella. Raw food diets have also tested positive for E. coli and Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal upset). Otherwise healthy dogs may be able to cope with ingestion of these bacteria, but very young, old, or immunocompromised dogs may not be able to do so. Furthermore the faeces contaminate the environment with these bacteria.
Parasites that may be present in raw meat in include Toxoplasma gondii, Sarcocystis, Neospora caninum, Toxocara canis (round worms), Taenia and Echinococcus (tape worms).
When handling raw foods, either in preparation for human consumption or your dog, the cook must be scrupulous in hygiene, washing all surfaces and hands before touching anything or anyone else. Small children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised (e.g. anyone ill or on immunosuppressive medications) should not be handling raw meat.
Some advocates of feeding raw meat and bones claim that the bones are beneficial for oral and dental health. Studies in wild dogs found that 41% had evidence of periodontal disease, although only 2% had dental tartar, so while the teeth may appear cleaner, the gums are not necessarily healthier. There is also a risk of fracturing teeth on bones.
Are raw bones safe?
Raw bones are usually added to the diet as a calcium source and for dental health. Chewing on a large meaty bone can be a great source of joy for some dogs, and if it is large enough that it cannot be chewed up is generally considered safe.
However, analysis of the BARF diet has not confirmed that feeding bones is an adequate source of calcium.
One of the major risks is that of bones becoming stuck in the oesophagus, stomach or intestines, which can prove fatal.
Some believe that feeding raw bones is safer than feeding cooked bones but there have been no objective studies on this. Bones that become stuck in the stomach, or more likely in the intestine, may perforate the gut, causing a life-threatening peritonitis or abdominal infection. If a bone becomes stuck in the intestine, your dog will require surgery - sometimes a segment of the intestine may need to be removed if it has been damaged by the bone. A bone stuck in the oesophagus is an emergency and may even require an urgent appointment with a specialist vet to remove it. This can be a fatal condition and the longer it is stuck the worse the prognosis.
If you chose to feed the BARF diet or any other diet involving raw foods, at Hillside Vets we highly recommend that very special hygienic care is used in handling the food and your dog’s faeces.
- It is essential to de-worm your dog regularly. You should also inform your vet what diet you are feeding so that if your dog develops gastrointestinal disorders they will know to look for the bacteria and parasites as mentioned above.
- Ideally, the diet should be balanced by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary. Please feel free to make an appointment with one of our nurses to discuss this in more detail.
- If you feed bones, either raw or cooked, that can be swallowed by your dog, you are running the risk of oesophageal or gastrointestinal obstructions as well as the possibility of fractured teeth. It may be possible to chop or grind the bone up small enough (e.g. less than 0.5 cm) so that they are less likely to get stuck. Alternatively, consider consulting a veterinary nutritionist to determine the amount of calcium (and other nutrients) to add to your dog’s diet and skip the bones.
For many people with families or busy lives, feeding a raw diet is just not practical. Choose a good quality, top of the range commercial diet and you will be feeding your dog a well-balanced meal with everything they need in it. At Hillside Vets we recommend Hill’s Vet Essentials - their large kibble have added dental benefit to help keep the teeth clean.
Produced from an article by Dr Marge Chandler, a Consultant in Small Animal Nutrition and an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Edinburgh. One of only two qualified veterinary nutritionists in the UK.
Disclaimer: Hillside Vets’ website is intended to be used only as a guide and information resource, not as an alternative to a veterinary consultation and advice. Nothing contained in this website should be construed as medical advice or diagnosis. For specific healthcare advice please discuss the particular symptoms and circumstances of your pet with your vet.
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