The dos and don’ts of pet nutrition
Sure, cats and dogs, often either bored or entranced by the odd smells of common household items, have been known to ingest anything from underwear to hearing aids (yikes!). And while it may be difficult to steer them away from these harmful products, we certainly can control which edible products we do feed them. But not all foods make the cut. We recently spoke with Michele Dixon, health and nutrition specialist with Petcurean, to shed some light on common misconceptions regarding what is safe for pets to eat. Here’s our insightful one-on-one below.
Many of us often feed our cats and dogs food from the dinner table without giving it a second thought. But what are the possible health implications of the commonplace practice of feeding our pets foods that we humans normally consume?
“If you were to feed something that is balanced, that would be fine. But what often happens is that people feed their dogs—and sometimes cats—the leftovers that are on the plate. Usually, what the leftovers consists of are your gravies, and your fats, and things that don’t offer a lot of nutritional value. There might be a bit of a potato, or a pea on there, but certainly any of the proteins coming from meat aren’t left on there. Quite often, people will leave cooked bones on the plate, so of course, that isn’t good.”
“The other part of that is that it encourages—through the palatability, because it tastes so good—the animal to eat more than they might normally eat. Obesity is probably one of the biggest things veterinarians are dealing with now, and it’s basically killing your dog with kindness. You think you’re doing a good thing, but overall, it isn’t a good thing.”
You spoke of cooked bones, and how detrimental they are to pets, particularly dogs. Could you expand on that?
“Cooked bones can result in broken teeth, cut lips and gums, as well as intestinal perforations. Broken teeth are probably the one [problem] veterinarians see quite a bit, especially with dogs that are aggressive chewers. Strong-mouthed dogs, when chewing on a cooked bone, can actually fracture their teeth.”
Besides cooked bones, what other foods should pet owners refrain from feeding their cats and dogs, and why?
“Onions, grapes, chocolate, and macadamia nuts. They’re all considered poisonous. There’s also fat trimmings. Although they’re not poisonous, they don’t offer a lot of nutritional benefit, and particularly with smaller dogs, it can result in pancreatitis.”
“Historically, [feeding pets food from the table] is what we did. And I also think the interaction between the pet and the human is a ritual. The dog will sit by the table, and want it, and the action of putting the plate on the floor, and watching the dog come over; it creates a lot of joyful moments for people, and certainly for their pets as well. But joyful moments aside, it’s a very short-term reward versus the long-term health of the dog. You can shorten the lifespan by anywhere from 3 to 4 years in a larger breed dog.”
Are there foods that are actually beneficial to them and what specific benefits can pets gain from them?
“Blueberries, chick peas, papaya, spinach, and raw carrots. Anything that’s a fruit or vegetable. Try to stay away from something starchy But anything that you might have on your diet, staying away from the starchy type of things, they’re usually all good to have, provided they’re not on the “don’t feed” list.”
“Fruits and vegetables particularly add antioxidant[s]. Some of them help with digestion. They have fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Basically, they provide the same benefits as they do for people.”
Now, human food aside, what should a pet owner look for when purchasing food specifically tailored for pets?
“For me, when I’m choosing, I want to look at the ingredient panel first, and look for a meat first, or some sort of species-specific meal, like a chicken meal or turkey meal. And then, I like to see a variety of different types of ingredients: some vegetables, smaller starchy portions, some prebiotics and probiotics, which you see in people food.”
“That aside, then I would want to know who’s manufacturing the food, and what safeguards they have in place. So, I’d go on to that company’s website and look and see how they assure product safety, how long they’ve been around, whether they can answer your questions, and things like that.”
When feeding pets, in what quantity should permissible human food, as well as pet food, be given to pets to ensure optimal health and avoid the risk of obesity?
“Another big contributor to obesity that people don’t realize, when the back of a bag says ‘feeding guidelines’, that’s the place to start, and then you have to adjust according to activity level and weight of the dog. If your dog or cat starts to get a little bit of an increase in weight, then you simply reduce the amount of food. That’s the way to make sure you’re not creating obesity.”
“Then, if you want to add ingredients over and above, 20-25% of the diet would be in fresh vegetables, but they do have to be partially cooked, somewhat steamed in order for them to be digested. But again, you want to stay away from the starchy kind, and the gravies, and sauces.”
Pumpkin is a really good food for pets. What is it about pumpkin that is so nutritious?
“Primarily, we look at it as a digestion enhancer because you can use it in a couple of different ways. It works great—and it works the same way in people, too—if you have diarrhea or looser stool, it will wick the moisture away. It also provides motility; it helps move things along the digestive tract, as well. It’s one of those multi-dimensional fibre sources.”
Are there any pumpkin-based products or recipes that you would recommend?
“All of Petcurean’s foods contain pumpkin in them. You can buy dehydrated pumpkin or squash treats. There [are] quite a few products on the market that use pumpkin. I think there’s even a dog or cat pumpkin [treat] that you can open the tin, and feed it just like that.”
“In our Now Fresh [product line], because the focus is on fresh, we use a lot of ingredients that are similar to pumpkin. So, we’ve got pumpkin for digestion, cranberries for urinary tract health, antioxidants like Beta-carotene, some of our other brands are using quinoa and lentil. So we’re using ingredients that serve more than one purpose in the dog and cat food.”