Pet Food, Part 2: Feeding Pets
Last blog I talked about pet food in general, our goals are to feed our pets a safe and balanced diet. But, I always get the question, “How much?” I wish the answer was as simple as follow the guidelines on the bag; unfortunately that is not the case. There are so many unique circumstances for each pet, which all contribute to equation: age, size, activity, gender. So how could there be a “one-size-fits-all” answer?
The first determination is the age of the pet. Pets that are less than six months old need twice the calories, a third more protein, twice the vitamins and minerals than adults. Fortunately, pet foods come in juvenile choices. Puppies and kittens have this tremendous metabolic need because of daily activities and growing phases. It is very common for puppies to eat 2-3 times a day and kittens all day. So how much do we feed puppies and kittens? All they want! Slowly increase the amounts with each meal if they are tearing through the meal in seconds. As they get older approaching 6-9 months of age, you might see a skipped meal occasionally. It is not due to boredom. Pets eat when they are hungry, and don’t eat when they are not. At this time there is less growing, therefore, less metabolic need, therefore, less appetite.
Adult pets usually require diets that fulfill the daily needs of living. So, we chose an adult food that is less intense than juvenile diets. Most adult pets will only eat if they are hungry. Therefore, an occasional missed meal may be common. However that theory goes out the window with special circumstances. Multiple pets create competitive eating and hoarding. Hunger is not the driving force for this behavior. The owner must feed separate, don’t leave bowls down for free access, and serve measured portions. Measured portions can be adjusted to maintain optimum weight. Another circumstance, some pets like to eat. They are always hungry and never satisfied. Use measured amounts to maintain optimum weight.
Senior pets, usually between seven and ten years of age, have their unique needs. Senior pets are usually less active, therefore, need fewer calories. Because of the inactivity, they need more fiber to help with bowel elimination. Healing and immune system are not working as well, so most senior diets increase vitamins and minerals. Kidney function can start to falter, so less salt and protein are usually incorporated in senior diets. Some diets may add joint supplements like glucosamine and chondrotin. The surprising point is how little senior pets need to eat to maintain optimum health and weight.
Another consideration is activity of the pet. Most pets adapt to the life style of the owner. Running, hunting, Iditarod dog sled racing, sleeping, and lounging all require different amounts of calories. As mentioned above, most dogs eat when hungry. An active pet will have a bigger need requiring more calories, therefore eat more food. FYI, the food source that has the most calories is fats. Long chain fatty acids have more carbon/hydrogen bonds than the six carbon sugar. The mushers use concentrated fats to fuel their sled dogs. Protein is a horrible energy source because the amino acid is broken down into sugar and ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to the body and is converted to urea and excreted out the kidney.
Gender usually does not play an important part, unless the female is pregnant. Then she has a huge metabolic demand called embryos and babies. There is a lot of growing that will take place over the 16 weeks from conception to weaning all at the expense of the mother. We usually recommend feeding the mother juvenile food starting mid-pregnancy and continue through lactation. Even then, she will lose weight and have a dull hair coat once all the puppies have gone.
The goal when feeding is optimum health and weight. Whatever amount of food it takes to accomplish that outcome is the right amount for your pet. And I promise you it will be different from: the bag instructions, your Aunt’s pet’s eating style, and the recommendations of the clerk at the pet store.
My next blog on food will be: Special Circumstances