For pets and their owners, the universal language of love is often spoken with food. A scrambled egg on top of kibble. A bite of your turkey sandwich. These are all ways we tell our pets we love them. And our pets dance on the kitchen floor to show us their love in return.
Harmless fun, right? Well, not always. See if you’re making any of these pet feeding mistakes.
The bottomless bowl. Most pets aren’t known for having self-control. If you leave food out all day, every day, it can lead to overweight pets, although cats are better at self-regulating than dogs. Pets will often eat out of boredom, even if they’re not really hungry. And it’s not just a matter of growing too fat for their collars — obesity can lead to diabetes, joint damage, heart disease and other health problems in pets.
The homemade diet. It sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it? But unless it’s been formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, a home-cooked diet can lack the right balance of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for your pet. And pets with special nutritional needs, such as pregnant or nursing animals, puppies or kittens can develop serious health problems if they’re not fed a nutritionally balanced diet for their life stage.
The vegetarian diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need dietary meat to live. Dogs are able to produce certain amino acids such as taurine and arginine, some of the building blocks of protein, and therefore can be healthy with a meat-free diet. Cats, however, lack the enzymes to do so and need a meat source in their diets to obtain these required nutrients. That said, cats shouldn’t be fed a diet of meat alone. They also need carbohydrates and other nutritional ingredients for a balanced diet.
The dairy fallacy. Everyone knows cats love nothing better than to lick a bowl of cream, right? Not exactly. Most cats are lactose intolerant and dairy products can actually lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
The “I can’t resist those brown eyes” diet. Who can blame you? But feeding your pet table scraps and treats throughout the day can lead to digestive problems, weight gain and begging, which started the cycle in the first place. Remember: what’s on your plate isn’t always safe for your pet. Foods like grapes, raisins, chocolate and onions can be toxic for pets. If you really want to give human food as treats, opt for safe, low-calorie options such as raw apples or carrots. Treats should also account for no more than 10 percent of pet’s total daily calorie intake so you can make sure they get the full nutrition from their regular food.
The real-bone treat. Real bones from the butcher can harbor bacteria such as Salmonella that can sicken pets and people. Bones are also often harder than your dog’s teeth, and chewing on them can result in tooth fractures. Splintered bones, if swallowed, can cause damage to the digestive system that requires emergency surgery.
The follow-the-label diet. Just like people, adult pets have different activity and metabolism levels. That’s why the feeding recommendations on food packages could be too much, or too little, for some pets. It’s best to consult your veterinarian about the right food and amount for your pet. You can also check out the Pet Nutrition Alliance calorie calculator to determine exact calorie counts for your pets. Then, watch for changes in your pet’s body condition score so you can tell if your dog or cat needs to back away from the food bowl.
The single bowl approach. Having multiple pets share one food bowl is asking for trouble. Some pets may be food aggressive, resulting in that pet hogging all the food while the other one is forced into a hunger strike. Plus, changes in appetite can be a sign of a health problem, so it’s important for you to know just how much each of your pets is eating.
If you have any questions about your pet’s diet, always ask your veterinarian. They can help determine the right food — and the right amount — to keep your pet healthy and happy.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.