Kittens need lots of calories to grow, and plenty of fresh water. Until they are 4 months old, we recommend feeding at least two meals a day, giving as much as the animal will consume in a ten to fifteen minute feeding. Since cats tend to be grazers, it is ok to leave food out all of the time while they're kittens, and gradually get him or her accustomed to one to two meals a day after six months of age.
Cats choose their food based on a "mouth feel" - the size and shape of the nugget, and how it feels in their mouth when they chew or swallow it. They may get fixated on one size or shape of nugget and refuse to eat anything else. It's a good idea to offer different types of foods several times during a kitten's first year of life so that they get accustomed to a variety of shapes and textures, as well as both canned and dry foods. That way, if a special diet is needed later in life, the cat is less likely to refuse to eat the new food.
Older cats lose some of their senses of taste and smell as they age, and often become more finicky. Unfortunately, they are also more prone to dietary upset from too much variety in the foods they eat. Some pets with diseases such as heart or kidney problems will require specific prescription diets as a part of their medical treatment.
Vitamins and fatty acids can help to revive the look of a dull coat, and fiber helps to avoid constipation problems. Supplements such as glucosamine can help with arthritis and kidney disease. The fact that a bag of food says it "contains glucosamine" does not mean that the food has enough of it to have a beneficial or therapeutic effect. Ask your veterinarian about supplements that can make your pet more comfortable in their older age. Feed the highest quality food you can afford, premium pet foods are much more digestible and result in a healthier pet with less stool volume. Make sure older pets don't have to compete with younger pets for food. They may need to be fed separately to ensure the senior is getting their fair share.
Puppies need lots of calories to grow, and plenty of fresh water. Puppies are much easier to housebreak if you feed them at set times every day. They will then have regular, predictable potty times as well. Until they are four months old, we recommend feeding at least three meals a day. Once they are four months old, you can cut back to two meals per day. At six months of age, you can reduce that to one meal per day if desired. We recommend delaying a little longer in large breeds, which may still be growing rapidly when they are six months old.
The most important daily contribution you will make to your pet's health is his or her diet, so choose wisely. A dry food is best for your pet's teeth and gums, so the majority of your puppy's nutritional needs should be met with a good crunch. Dogs are color blind, so the color of a food is insignificant. They also don't care if it looks like beef stew or little pork chops!
If your pet is otherwise healthy but just getting up there in years, now is the time to switch to a diet made especially for senior pets. Changes occur over time in metabolism and in the function of the intestinal tract. Diets for your older dog should have limited or controlled amounts of sodium, phosphorus, protein, and fat.
Many older animals require specific prescription diets to help manage problems. There are also dietary supplements which can augment the treatment of specific conditions. Vitamin supplements help keep the skin and coat healthy. Fatty acid supplements help to decrease chronic inflammation, which is found in such medical conditions as arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. Supplements such as glucosamine help with arthritis and kidney disease, though the fact that a bag of food says it "contains glucosamine" does not mean that the food has enough of it to have a beneficial or therapeutic effect. Ask your veterinarian about supplements that can make your pet more comfortable in their older age.
Feed the highest quality food you can afford, premium pet foods are formulated with more fiber, but less sodium and fat, than foods made for younger dogs. Read labels carefully. Also, be sure that your pet's teeth are taken care of so it is comfortable for him or her to eat. DO NOT feed table scraps. They can cause digestive upset, especially in geriatric animals.
HOW TO CHOOSE A PET FOOD
When deciding on a pet food, where the ingredients came from and how they were processed makes as much difference as what the ingredients are. Therefore, it's best to trust your veterinarian for advice on which companies are reputable and which products make the most sense for your pet. Your pet will usually do best if you pick one complete food that is appropriate for their age and activity level, and stick with it. As a pet ages, gains weight, or develops health problems, their needs may change.
Cheap foods use cheap ingredients and are not well digested. Keep in mind, though, that a fancy pet store brand is not necessarily better - it may just have a higher price and a fancier brochure. Some foods have excesses or deficiencies in vital nutrients, which can harm your pet.
Raw and homemade diets are popular, but it is extremely difficult to meet a pet's nutritional needs with home cooking, and raw diets can lead to disease. Also be aware that "natural" does not necessarily mean better, so be wary of hype and advertising.
Switching foods often can lead to digestive upset. If you do need to change from one product to another, do so gradually by mixing the two diets together for a few days. This will help prevent diarrhea from a too sudden change in food. The exception to this rule is with kittens (see "kitten" nutrition section).
To find a high-quality food that is right for your pet, we recommend using dogfoodadvisor.com, as it rates the food on a scale of 1 to 10, easily letting you know what is high-quality and what isn't. Here at Bay East Animal Hospital, we recommend the brands of Merrick, Taste of the Wild, and Blue Buffalo because of their consistent high quality. Premium foods contain superior nutrition over grocery store brands. They are extensively tested and meet rigid standards with no ingredient substitutions. The finest pet foods are formulated with controlled levels of key nutrients like fat, protein, phosphorus, and magnesium to help reduce the risk of such problems as obesity and kidney disease.
That is why, even though grocery store brands provide adequate nutrition for many pets, we still recommend that you feed your pet the best you can buy. Not only are you getting better nutrition for your pet, but the daily cost to you is often not any greater than if you were feeding a cheaper brand. Better foods may cost more per bag, but the superior nutrition and better digestibility of these foods means you feed less per day, you clean up fewer stools later, and your veterinary bills for nutritionally related diseases will be less as well.
Treats are rarely "complete and balanced", and are often loaded with salt, fat, artificial colorings and preservatives - basically junk food for animals. For example, pig ears contain 800 calories, almost all from fat! Stick with a crunchy biscuit type of treat to give in moderation to your cat or dog.
Always read labels before you buy - especially for rawhides. Stay away from brands not made in the USA. Foreign manufacturers are allowed to use formalin as a preservative in these chews, which is harmful to pets. As far as "dental" treats go, some generic brands help to slow the build up of tartar, but they cannot remove tartar once it is present.
- Alcoholic beverages
- Coffee (all forms)
- Fatty foods
- Garlic & garlic powder
- Macadamia nuts
- Moldy/spoiled foods
- Onions & onion powder
- Raw yeast dough
- Tea leaves
- Xylitol (gum, candies or other foods sweetened with Xylitol)