Feeding your pets is simple, right? You just throw some dry kibble in a bowl and call it a day. Not so fast – pets, like people, have specific dietary and nutritional needs, and it’s up to you to make sure they get the right food, in the right quantities, and that they don’t get their paws on anything that’s bad for them.
If you’re not careful with feeding, your pet could become overweight, suffer from nutritional deficiencies, or even become sick from eating the wrong thing. But pets, like people, are individuals, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to deciding how much and what kind of food your pet needs, or how often to schedule mealtimes.
Meet Your Pet’s Nutritional Needs
Some pet owners eschew commercial foods in order to feed their pets a home-cooked diet. If you’re going to do this, do your research. Pets have unique nutritional needs, so you have to be extra careful that the food you’re preparing is nutritionally complete for your pets. Cats, in particular, have unique nutritional needs, requiring high levels of protein, amino acids like taurine, and vitamins like niacin. It’s a good idea to talk to your vet before you decide to start making your own pet food.
It’s much easier to buy commercial pet foods. Because of recent recalls of pet food made in China, new legislation has been passed to guarantee the safety of pet foods sold in the United States. So you don’t have to worry too much about the safety or quality of pet foods bought in the store. However, pets, especially cats, need more meat in their diets and do best with a high-protein, grain-free food. If you can’t afford the fancy stuff, look for a pet food in which the first ingredient listed is some form of meat. These foods have the most meat and the least filler.
If you have cats, make sure they’re getting enough liquids in their diet. As predators, cats have evolved to get much of their moisture from the blood and body fluids of their prey, so feeding them a wet food meal every day, or just mixing water with their kibble, can keep them hydrated and prevent kidney problems. Add a cat fountain to encourage your cat to drink more water – cats prefer to drink clean, running water.
Measure and Schedule
Rare is the pet that can be trusted to free-feed without overeating. Free feeding, or leaving out a bowl of kibble for your pet to snack on throughout the day, is the easiest way to feed your pet, but many pets, like many people, struggle with knowing when to stop. Measure your pet’s food and schedule mealtimes – even indoor/outdoor cats will learn to come in the house when it’s dinner time.
Not sure how much to feed? Don’t trust the chart on the back of the pet food bag. Talk to your vet instead. He or she will be able to give you a more accurate idea of your pet’s calorie needs.
Adjust Food Amounts to Your Pet’s Metabolism and Activity Level
Like people, pets are individuals with different metabolic rates. Your pet may need more or fewer calories, depending on how active he or she is, his or her age, and his or her individual baseline metabolic rate. You might have a fat cat that eats very little or a skinny cat that’s obsessed with food. You might have a dog that accompanies you on your five-mile jog every morning, and needs more kibble to compensate, or you might have a dog that lays around all day and just needs the minimum amount of food.
Keep an eye on your pet’s body condition and learn to tell if they’re too fat or too skinny. In addition to body shape, other tells that your pet may need more or less food include breathlessness with activity or tiring easily (if overweight) and extreme food motivation (if underweight). Work with your vet to make sure your pet is getting the right amount of food to maintain a healthy body weight.
Feed by Life Stage
Pets’ nutritional and caloric needs vary depending on their life stage. A puppy or kitten will need far more calories each day than an adult animal, because they’re still growing. A senior pet will have a slower metabolism and could benefit from a food formulated for senior animals. Consider your pet’s life stage when choosing the type and amount of food.
Skip the People Food
People food contains a lot of calories, so with the exception of raw meat for cats, it’s really not that good for your pets. Besides, feeding pets from the table encourages bad behaviors, like begging. Not to mention, plenty of people foods could make your pet sick. Avoid giving your pet people food, and educate yourself on which people foods could harm your pet, so you can take swift action should they consume any.
Feeding your pet properly is more complicated than it may first appear, but it’s your responsibility as a pet owner to provide your pet with a nutritious, safe diet. When you give your pet the right amounts of the right foods, he or she will stay healthier longer, and that means more precious years to spend together.