What is the big deal about Nutrition?

Understanding what to feed your dog or cat

Dr. Masuma Barrett

Dr. Masuma Barrett’s: Conversation about Nutrition

Choosing the proper diet for your dog or cat

Over the last 80 years, we have been taught “cats eat cat food, dogs eat dog food and milk comes from a carton…”  Clearly that is not true.  Milk does not come from a carton…

In fact, what is the difference between dog and cat food?  For that you have to know how dog and cat foods are made.  Clearly a lion (relative of the cat) would not look the other way if a deer walked by and a wolf (relative of the dog) would not shy away from a gazelle.  Dog and cat food (dry and canned) start with real food.  The quality of that food depends on the manufacturer.

The manufacturing process involves cooking the food at high heats for lengthy periods of time.  This process destroys any harmful bacteria but subsequently also destroys most of the nutrients.   To compensate for this, nutrients are then added back into the food using a scientific formula.

Nutritional Needs of Cats vs Dogs :

There are 22 amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein.  Protein is essential for life, essential for all aspects of growth and development and important for a healthy immune system.  Animals can manufacture many of these amino acids in their liver, but some must be obtained in the diet—these are called “essential.”

For example :  In humans and dogs, taurine is not essential, but in cats, it is.   Taurine, in cats is important for heart muscle function, reproduction, vision, and digestion.  Taurine is found primarily in muscle meat, and is completely absent in cereal grains. The lack of taurine in a cat’s diet may cause serious eye and heart diseases to develop.  Therefore, taurine is added to cat food because cat’s must have this nutrient in true form.    Dogs however, have the necessary enzymes to make taurine from other amino acids in their diet.  

Protein requirements vary from species to species and can vary greatly during rapid growth stages and for elderly animals with compromised kidneys.   As a rule of thumb, cat foods generally contain a higher percentage of proteins.   Other than that, there is nothing different about dog food vs cat food.   Even the best dry food is like having a multi-vitamin on a well-balanced cracker.

Dietary Options :

Dry or wet food, depending on the quality, can be reasonable.  They are convenient, readily available and familiar to us. 

A step towards a more natural diet is fresh food- whether it is frozen and packaged, dehydrated and packaged or made at home.

Finally there is raw food. Raw food is just that, raw…however it may be purchased frozen and packaged or dehydrated and packaged.   I would not suggest making home-made-raw-food, at least at the start.

None of these options have to be done exclusively, you can mix and match- dry and cooked, dry and dehydrated products.  There is even a commercial food available that mixes the raw and the dry together in a bag.  If you are interested in home cooking exclusively, then it is important to talk to your veterinarian on what supplements to add and making sure the food you are providing is balanced.  

Remember :

We are the only source of food for our pets, they are not able to vary their diet as they would in nature.  So we must be the guardians of a well balanced diet.  This is why dog and cat food was created.  But I believe we lost sight of balancing convenience with what is healthy. 

In recent years, there has been an explosion of good options available…options that don’t have to compromise convenience or healthy ingredients.  There are also options on how to make sure your home cooked diet is completely balanced.  Choose a food that supports your pet’s natural dietary needs which is mostly proteins and fat, and only some “species appropriate” carbohydrates. 

Please talk to your veterinarian before making any food changes.  And please remember, you have to be very careful when changing your cat’s food.  They can be very picky and stop eating, which will make them very sick.

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