Be honest and raise your hand if diet and exercise are on your list of New Year's resolutions. Many of us use this time of year to promise ourselves a better lifestyle for 2013. We might do the same for our pets.
Some experts suggest that 50 percent of pets are too heavy. Discussion of weight and diet are considered to be a vital assessment that should be discussed with a veterinarian at every annual physical.
Research has shown that a dog at the proper weight will live two years longer on average than a similar overweight pet. Cats are also prone to obesity problems. Keeping a pet at the proper weight takes some research and commitment. Just like people, pets often are fed too much and have too many treats.
One of the major issues with pet food is that the calorie content per cup is not required on the label. Coupled with the consumption of excessive table food and treats, it is easy to see why our pets resemble ourselves. One of the first problems to solve is how many cups of food the pet is eating daily and the caloric density of that food.
Veterinarians will have a reference book for some of the major food manufacturers, but a call to the company might be necessary to get the calories per cup. The ability to compare the calories from one brand to another is critical. Additionally, a slice of bread or cheese might not seem like a big deal, but it can easily increase the excess calories a dog eats daily.
For the record, I want to state that most food manufacturers produce a quality product and meet the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Pets today live longer and healthier lives in part due to better nutrition. When I first started practice, we frequently prescribed fatty acid supplements to help poor hair coats. That is rarely needed today. Thirty years ago, bladder stones were quite common in pets, but due to nutritional advancements we see urinary stones much less frequently.
In an effort to provide quality food, a few pet food producers will also do trials on their products. Feeding trials are expensive but help to assure owners that a single source of nutrition is a healthy diet. Look very closely at the label of what you feed your pet and see if it is formulated to the AAFCO guidelines or if it is tested by food trials.
I recently toured the production facility at Hills (Science Diet) and was amazed at the quality control and cleanliness of the facility. I had previously been at the Purina plant and was equally impressed. In addition to the production facility, the research and feeding trial environment was extensive and spotless. The dogs and cats are cared for in facilities that rival any home environment. The animals get plenty of exercise and human companionship. In addition to the other mentioned companies, Iams also does feeding trials on its pet food.
Food recalls are common now. Recently, organic peanut butter, pork, chicken, beef, celery, lettuce, milk, eggs and pet foods have made the news. Unfortunately, pet food recalls have convinced some pet owners to make their own food for their dogs and cats.
Some of these homemade diets use raw meat despite warnings from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. Although pets can tolerate raw food, the potential to spread food poisoning bacteria to people is frightening. I have talked to pet owners committed to feeding raw food that had little concern about the exposure of their children or the public to this unsanitary practice.
Cancer is the most common cause of death in dogs over 2 years of age and may reach 50 percent in breeds such as the golden retriever. I fear some pet owners are trying to tilt the statistics in their favor by making their own pet food. In my opinion, we are seeing more cancer in pets because they are living longer and other causes of pet loss are being prevented with better care.
In a recently published article in the American Veterinary Medical Association Journal, the conclusion was that "recipes of home--prepared diets intended for dogs with cancer are invariably nutritionally inadequate." Commercial diets are universally better balanced than homemade diets.
When choosing a pet food, I suggest clients purchase the higher-end brands if they can afford them. Most of the higher-end products are meat-based with less cereal product. Try to avoid artificial flavor and coloring in the food.
However, consider that many expensive diets are super diets with high levels of nutrition for the very active pet. Lower-calorie options or a restricted amount might be needed to avoid obesity in pets.
For now, do an honest assessment of your pet's body condition with the help of your veterinarian. It may be necessary to change diets or restrict the amount of food or treats. Always consider adding some exercise like play for cats or walking your dogs to keep them trim. Both you and your pet may benefit from a good diet and exercise program.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His column appears biweekly. The intent of this column is to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.