As you are probably already well aware, pets will usually be very glad to share your food with you. Providing that this isn’t their main source of food, you may feel it is perfectly safe to share little tidbits with them from time to time, especially since it appears to make them so very happy. However, the truth is that even these small tidbits of human food, given on rare occasions, can throw off your pet’s nutritional balance, and can possibly lead to a variety of health problems.
Understanding Your Pet’s Unique Nutritional Needs
The most important thing to bear in mind when considering your pet’s unique nutritional needs is that they are not human. Though this may elicit an “Of course I know that!” the point is that feeding them even small amounts of human food on rare occasions implies a lack of understanding on this point. To put it another way, your pet’s physiology is entirely different from your own. This means that foods and snacks that may have no ill effect on you could very well have a detrimental effect on your pet’s health. Currently, more than a third of the dogs in America over a year old are overweight, and roughly a quarter of the cats in America are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, these pets are not very good at all in the area of disciplining themselves or making the best food choices, so they rely on their owners to do so on their behalf. This begins with understanding their unique nutritional needs.
When it comes to the unique nutritional needs of cats, here are some basic things to keep in mind:
Like their big-cat cousins, domestic cats need twice the amount of protein that humans or dogs do. While humans can get protein from meat, beans, legumes or even dairy sources, good cat protein comes from meat or fish. This is largely due to the fact that cats need to eat animal protein in order to get all necessary amino acids, including taurine–which is only available to them through animal protein. Taurine is particularly important because cats can’t make it from other amino acids but they need it for normal heart, eye, and reproductive functioning. Meat also provides cats with vitamin A, which they’re unable to convert from beta-carotene.
Along with a high-meat content, a cat’s diet also needs to contain good fats. This can help them to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E. Unfortunately, some cats really love the taste of fat, and will gladly continue to eat fatty foods if given the opportunity. This is why portion control feeding is so very important, as obese cats can suffer from many of the same health issues that overweight humans suffer from–including diabetes and arthritis.
Like the human body, a cat’s body is roughly sixty to seventy percent water. However, they have a very low thirst drive and are unlikely to drink water that they feel is dirty. Considering that most cats also eat dry foods that contain very little water content, they can easily become dehydrated and suffer from serious urinary tract issues. This means they need access to plenty of clean, fresh water.
When it comes to the unique nutritional needs of dogs, here are some basic things to keep in mind:
Like humans, dogs need about eighteen percent of their diet to be made up of protein. The animal protein obtained from meat and fish can provide dogs with what they need, but unlike cats, they can also eat and enjoy some vegetables. However, dog health care experts don’t recommend putting dogs on vegetarian diets, unless you absolutely ensure they receive all the amino acids they need to maintain good health.
Healthy fats are important to help dogs keep their coat, skin, nose and paw pads healthy. They can also be a terrific energy source for dogs. Like cats, though, dogs have little discipline when it comes to portion control, and will gladly eat far more fat than they actually need or is good for them. They may gladly scarf down the kitty food, since it contains more fat, protein, and calories per mouthful than dog food, so if you have both a dog and a cat you will want to keep them away from one another during feeding time, and remove any leftover food from the bowls after they are finished. Obesity in dogs can increase their risk of developing a degenerative joint disease and chronic pain, so it is well worth the effort to ensure your dog remains at a proper weight.
If you are unsure about what diet is best for your pet’s specific needs, you can always check with your veterinarian. They will be able to take into account your pet’s age, weight, activity levels and overall health condition before determining what diet will most contribute to a long, healthy and active life.