What are some focal points of sick-animal nutrition?
Buffington: This is such a broad topic — it depends on what role nutrition is playing. There's the Circle of Nutrition illustration put
forth by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. It depicts an animal with an arrow connecting to diet and another arrow
connecting to an owner's hands. For sick animals, you want to determine where the problem is. Is it in the animal, diet, relationship
between client and owner? Focus on the source of the problem. Recognize that any time we alter one part of that circle, everything
else may change, so we have to continually reevaluate our decisions based on outcomes.
Switching gears, what are the most important ways to handle a sick animal's nutritional needs?
Buffington: If someone wants to introduce a therapeutic diet, it never should be introduced in the hospital. If an animal associates a
particular diet with being sick, the animal may never eat it again. The animal should be offered its favorite foods when in
the hospital. Then, when the animal gets home and is feeling better, that's when you can try to introduce a new diet. You
introduce it in the comfort and safety of the patient's own home during recovery to increase the chances of acceptance.
Are there any must-follow requirements with regard to sick-animal nutrition?
Buffington: Find out the favorite foods of the animal. If an animal stops eating, what I want to know is, will it not eat anything, or
does it not like the therapeutic food but still likes its favorite foods? An important thing to sort out in a chronically
ill patient is whether the animal has gotten fatigued on a therapeutic food or whether the disease may be progressing.
It might be that the patient doesn't want to eat the diet but is otherwise fine, in which case I think the patient may be
"tired" of the diet. If the animal is not eating, shows no interest in its favorite foods and is moping around, then I want
to see the animal to be sure the disease hasn't progressed.
Are there any other key concepts to consider with regard to sick-animal nutrition?
Buffington: Honestly, I don't think nutrition is magic. Nutrition is important and useful, but it is more important to me that the animal
eat a little of a less-than-perfect diet than to eat none of a "perfect" diet.
I introduce diet therapy somewhat slower than some of my colleagues. We often see animals in late stages of disease. Frankly,
diet doesn't have much to offer at this point, except quality of life between the owner and animal, so I try to maximize the
quality of the time left in the relationship.
C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio
Ms. Skernivitz is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio.