Dietary advice for cats and dogs

Nutrition is just as important for our four-legged friends as it is for us humans. We have to be vigilant in ensuring that we don’t feed our pets unsuitable or unhealthy food: they need a balanced diet to ensure a long and healthy life.

The habit of feeding pets home-cooked food is growing in popularity, but it has its plusses and minuses. The most important thing to remember is that dogs and cats are naturally carnivores, which means their daily protein intake is much higher than ours: so we can’t expect them to survive on our typical diet! Also, salt in large quantities can be extremely harmful to animals, so it’s important to avoid over-salting if cooking for your pet.

Store bought or home cooked?

If you have decided to undertake the mission of preparing your pet’s food at home, it’s important that you take some time to look up what exactly is needed in your pet’s diet. You have to ensure that your pet gets all the nutrients it needs, and that you don’t overdo it in the wrong food group, which could cause serious problems (hypervitaminosis A, hypervitaminosis D).

Cats also require a varied diet, based mainly on meat. One of the most important amino acids for cats is Taurine which is found only in meat – a lack of this in a cat’s diet could cause cardiac dysfunction, blindness, etc. Other essential nutrients in a cat’s diet: arginine (very important for dogs too), arachidonic acid, niacin, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E.  Also don’t forget to provide the right amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.  So as you can see, taking on the task of being your pet’s personal cook is not as simple as it sounds. Our pets have very specific dietary needs, just like us, and you wouldn’t want to risk endangering them with the wrong food.

Are all pet foods created equal?

Which is not to say that buying ready-made pet food doesn’t require research. It’s important to always check the ingredients before buying, and to read up on what’s essential and what’s not.  For example, ‘ash’ is often included in the ingredient list of pet foods. This refers to the inorganic component of the food, and it shouldn’t make up more than 6,5%-7% of dry foods and 1%-2% of wet food. The lower the amount of ash, the higher the quality of the food.

Specifically regarding meat in packaged pet foods, there are a few things to keep an eye open for while perusing the labels. The amount of meat included in pet food changes changes depending on the brand.

  • The products that have the word ‘flavour’ or ‘aroma’ in their name contain under 4% of meat;
  • Wwhen the product name declares ‘with meat’ it should contain over 4% of meat;
  • When the name contains ‘rich in meat’ or ‘extra meat’ the percentage of meat is between 14% and 25%. – Anything above that and the product takes on the name of the meat it’s made up of.

In dry foods, sometimes meat flour or fish flour are included. These sometime contain offal and discarded meat so a better option is dehydrated meat.

Different feeds for different breeds

An animal’s breed is an important factor in choosing their diet. Certain dog breeds, such as labradors, dachshunds, beagles, King Charles Spaniels tend to put on weight quite easily; whereas others like Great Danes, whippets, greyhounds, bull terriers, and Dobermans usually stay skinny. So feed your dog accordingly, you don’t want your pet to end up overweight! Another important factor is the dog’s energy. A hyperactive dog who loves running and playing can eat a lot of food and then burn it off during a day’s outing, but a lethargic, slow dog who loves to lounge around the house with its family will have to eat a little less to avoid obesity.

What else can you take into account when choosing the perfect food for your pet? Their health and their mental state. This is very important as they could have specific shortcomings or needs due to their conditions. If your dog is not eating much they might be down in the dumps or maybe there might be a more serious condition to look into.

Feeding dogs of all sizes

A dog’s life, just like a human’s, is divided into childhood, adulthood and old age. When they are very young, a balanced diet is especially important, as it will lay the foundation for a strong and healthy body; so the food you chose for them at a young age must be complete and rich.

A high protein content and an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals are essential for the development of bones and joints. This is especially an issue with large dogs, since their growth period is much longer (about 18-20 months of age) compared to small dogs (10-12 months of age); also, due to their more considerable weight, large dogs tend to have problems with their skeletal structure and joints. That’s why food products rich in calcium and vitamins are perfect for large dogs while they’re growing; calcium, vitamins, and especially glucosamine and chondroitin will keep your dog’s joints in perfect working order.

Small dogs don’t usually have problems in the skeletal structure or the joints, but they are sometimes delicate in the stomach and intestine. It’s a good idea to feed small dogs several smaller meals a day, rather than one big meal, as their metabolism is much faster than that of larger dogs.

What about kitty kats?

Since kittens have a small build it’s a good idea to feed them small amounts of food several times a day, or else you can leave the food out and they will self-regulate their feeding. Since cats are quite picky, it may happen that they won’t approach dry food the first few times you serve it to them: in this case you can add a little water to make the food softer and more appetizing.

Once your cat grows up you can choose pet food that maintains their diet healthy and balanced. It’s not a good idea to switch foods too much as this can cause stomach problems in your pet.

Avoiding obesity

As we already mentioned, when choosing pet food you have to factor in the kind of lifestyle your pet has. Does your cat live in a flat and not move around much? You should buy foods that are less rich. Clearly pets that spend all their time in a small area are inclined to eat more often.

The tendency to gain weight is also common in animals that have been spayed or neutered, because their metabolism is slower, and often they get spoiled by their owners! We all love our pets but giving them 8 bags of salmon snacks a day because you love them probably isn’t the healthiest idea.

Cats and dogs in seniority

When our pets reach old age they often start to have a few small problems. As far as dogs’ diets go, it’s important to keep up their protein intake to ensure proper working of their metabolism which may slow down in their old age.

In cats, the metabolism doesn’t slow down so fast, but a solid protein intake is equally important to protect their immune system.
Problems in the mouth, such as gingivitis and tartar, are quite common in older animals and can cause painful chewing: a way to prevent these problems is to use dry food or certain toys that are especially made for teeth-cleaning.

It’s very important to avoid weight gain in older animals, as you don’t want to put any strain on delicate organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and joints. If you realize that your pet has put on too much weight and you’re worried about their wellbeing, you can find low-calorie pet foods on the market that have been specifically created to fight obesity and help your pet lose weight, along with a dose of physical exercise.

Allergies are gastro-intestinal problems

Saldy gastro-instetinal tract afflictions are quite common in pets; often they can cause allergies. It’s very important in these cases to talk to a vet who can suggest which kinds of food should be avoided or encouraged for your pet’s specific problem.

Kidney failure in cats

Cats, by their physical nature and thanks to dietary habits, are prone to kidney stones. Usually these are caused by deposits of struvite crystals or calcium oxalate. If your cat is developing kidney stones or urinary tract infections it’s very important to visit a vet: meanwhile, you can choose foods that have a lower protein and mineral content (watch out fot calcium, phosphorus and magnesium especially). Another helpful habit is giving your cat mineral water or filtered water instead of water from the tap.

Diabetic pets

Animals with diabetes are usually subjected to a very strict diet carefully supervised by your vet. To avoid major problems, it’s a good idea to avoid giving in and spoiling your pet with treats that aren’t part of the diet regime, even if they look at your with all the love in the world in their eyes! Usually the diet of diabetic animals has a lower fat content and is rich in fibre and complex carbohydrates.

Choosing cruelty-free when you buy

In addition to choosing a delicious, balanced diet for your pet, it’s important to note that many brands are moving towards more ethical and respectful production methods. Some brands have been recognized as ‘cruelty free’ (such as Trainer Fitness, Forza 10, Crancy Italian Way, Amidog, Shesir) and therefore are not tested on animals. Some brands have developed product lines that are totally vegetarian (Amidog, Trainer Fitness) as well as monoproteic for specific health needs (Trainer Fitness, Forza 10, Amidog).

We hope this first post serves as a nutrition 101 for people with their pets. A lot has changed in the pet food industry since our shop opened its doors back in 1962. During that time we’ve seen pet foods come and go, while relying on those brands that reflect an ethical and cruelty free offering for our clients. ZEIPET is our official showroom of some of our finest accessories, made to order and shipped world-wirde from Florence.

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Get in Touch

If you have a question about your pet that you can’t get the answer to, you can use the following form to get in touch. If we know the answer, we’ll be happy to reply.


2 thoughts on “Dietary advice for cats and dogs

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