Owners should note nutrient data on pet food
There are several guidelines to follow when feeding a pet to ensure that it maintains good health, says Dr. Susan Nelson, veterinarian and assistant professor of clinical sciences at KSU.
Just like human food packages, many cat and dog food packages now contain nutritional information for cat and dog treats, Nelson says.
"In the past, we didn't know how many calories were in various treats. Now that's becoming more available because more pets are becoming obese and their owners are asking for that information," Nelson explains. "Pets are overeating and underexercising, and they're eating too many high-fat foods and treats."
Overweight and obese pets not only benefit from improvements in pet-food quality, but also from the increased calorie content caused by the higher fat content of many premium diets. But does that call for owners to start counting calories for their pets? "It's important to count calories if the pet is overweight, but it's probably not necessary if you have a pet that is of normal weight," Nelson said. "If it starts to get pudgy, you need to take a look at how much exercise it is getting, how much food you are feeding it, and how many treats you're giving it."
Calories from treats should be no more than 10 percent of a pet's diet, Nelson says. If owners want to count their pet's calories, veterinarians can make diet calculations. The overall recommendation for the amount of food to feed a pet is based on several factors, including the type of food, the pet's metabolism and how much exercise it gets.
Those who want to compare different pet food brands' nutritional information should look at the nutritional content calculations based on the dry-matter content, Nelson says. Often, this is not listed on the bag, so it might be necessary to look online or call the company.
"What most bags list is the nutritional analysis that is formulated on an as-fed basis," Nelson explains. "To truly compare the nutrient content of foods, you have to look at the dry matter basis, which takes out water content."
Usually it's best to start by following the feeding guidelines on the bag, she says, adding that people shouldn't assume that feeding one cup of one diet is the same as feeding one cup of another, because pet foods can vary greatly in calories. She also suggests using a standard 8-ounce measuring cup for dry food.
There are breeds of dogs and cats that have high metabolisms and have trouble putting on weight, Nelson says. For these pets, there are foods with higher fat content that provides more calories. If the pet is extremely overweight, it might need diet food along with other recommendations. These foods are lower in calories, nutritionally complete and often contain extra fiber, which helps make the animal feel full. Conversely, Nelson says, if one feeds the animal much less of its regular food, the pet won't get enough of essential nutrients.
Many people don't realize how many calories they're feeding pets because they don't account for table scraps or treats, Nelson says. These hidden calories can add up significantly over the day and be the main contributor to obesity. Putting a pet on a diet requires attention and effort from the whole family, she says.