Hippocrates is considered the father of Western Medicine and some of his sage advice included ‘Let food be thy medicine’, he couldn’t have been more right. Good nutrition in feeding is the pillar stone of healthy pets and the right diet from the onset can help reduce the risk of problems later down the line.
Members of the Pet food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) take their responsibility of feeding the nation’s pets very seriously. As a result of decades of study of feeding pets in to their nutritional needs, we know that at the basic level cats require 41 essential nutrients in their diet for healthy bodily function, whilst dogs require 37.
The skill of the pet food manufacturer is blending a selection of ingredients to provide the right nutrients healthy pets need, and feeding them in the right proportions. Balanced nutrition is an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. However, owners need to make sure they are not overfeeding their pet as too many calories can lead to them becoming overweight. As with the human population, we have seen an increase in the proportion of overweight pets.
To help owners keep their pet fit and healthy, PFMA shares seven essential steps to feeding your pets:
The Seven Essential Steps For Feeding Healthy Pets
1. Find the Pet Food that is Suitable for your Pet
Ask your veterinary professional for tips and read more on the label or online. The best way to ensure a healthy diet is to feed a complete pet food (or combination of appropriate complementary products) designed for the pet type and their life stage. After that, it comes down to consumer choice and preference and what works best for your pet. Your local vet or vet nurse will be able to give recommendations. You can also do your own research by contacting the manufacturers who will be happy to answer your questions.
Did you know: The term ‘complete’ on a pet food label is a legal definition. It means the product must, by law, contain all the nutrients a pet needs to support its daily life when fed as directed. ‘Complementary’ foods another legal definition) mean that another food must be added for nutritional balance, for example a mixer biscuit or treats.
2. Follow the Feeding Guide on the Packet, as a Starting Point to keep your Pets Healthy
Adjustment may be needed depending on your pet’s age, neuter status, breed and lifestyle. Feeding Guides or Feeding Instructions are always provided on pet food packaging. These guidelines will show how much of that product is required per day. The recommendations are usually based on the pet’s weight, and sometimes take into account their life stage and activity level. Although each individual pet will have their own unique needs, owners should start with feeding the amount recommended on the product label. Below is an example of a dry dog food feeding guideline. For this product, those dogs weighing between 10 to 20 kilograms should be fed between 100–200 grams of this food per day.
3. Weigh Food Portions with Kitchen Scales, until you Know the Right Amount to Feed using a Cup
Estimating by volume can be subject to error. It’s best to measure the food with accurate kitchen scales to know how many grams you are feeding each day. Estimating the amount of food only by volume can be subject to error. However, if you are using a measuring cup, make sure you do it along with a kitchen scale a few times, until you know how much of the cup is filled with the correct amount of food. Once you know how many grams of the product is the right amount for your pet (their weight and body condition remain unchanged) then you can start using the measuring cup only. PFMA has an online Calorie Calculator for adult cats and dogs to estimate how much food your pet needs daily: https://www.pfma.org.uk/dog-calorie-calculator.
However, if your pet starts putting on weight, then you may need to slowly reduce the amount of food until they reach their ideal weight and body condition. This must be done under veterinary supervision.
4. If you Choose to Treat your Pet, do it Occasionally
Adjust meals accordingly to help control calorie intake. Avoid human food and table scraps.
Healthy treats can be a way of bonding with your pet, if done responsibly. If you feed your pet treats and snacks, please note they should not form more than 10% of their calorie intake. This means at least 90% of their calorie contribution should come from their complete pet food, and up to 10% can come from treats. PFMA’s Calorie Calculators help you take into account calorie contribution of your pet’s treats as well as their main meal (currently only available for adult dogs but cats coming soon!). Please add the accompanying green ‘treats’ icon.
5. Keep them Moving!
Ensure an active lifestyle with lots of walks and playtime. This has mutual health benefits for you and your pet. Whether you have a cat, a dog, a small furry animal or a pet bird, there are ways to keep them active and stimulated. Pets such as rabbits, hamsters and birds that are housed in hutches or cages, need plenty of room to express their natural behaviour and have free movement. Environmental enrichment is also important to ensure your pet doesn’t get bored when they are confined. Providing safe toys and moveable objects, for them to play and interact with, will increase your pet’s physical and mental activity.
6. Weigh your Pet Regularly, and Check their Body Condition Using our Fun Pet Size-O-Meters
Ideally, you should be able to feel their ribs with very light finger pressure. Body condition charts are a good way to identify whether or not a pet is overweight, or underweight. But remember this is only a starting point for owners, and need to be confirmed by a veterinary professional. We strongly recommend pet owners monitor their pet’s bodyweight using electronic scales, which are very accurate. Once you know an adult pet is at their ideal weight (confirmed by a vet, using a body condition score chart), you then record this weight and use it as a guide for what the pet should weigh throughout its life. You then monitor body weight regularly (every six months in adulthood, every three months when senior, and at any non-routine vet visit) and act when the weight deviates. For example a 5% change in six months or a 2-3% change in three months must be taken seriously and brought to your vet’s attention. This way, any underlying issues will be picked up quickly. A note to puppy owners: Like most health issues, preventing obesity is much easier than treating it. Once obese, helping pets to lose weight is a struggle. That’s why it is important for puppy owners to familiarise themselves with a healthy growth pattern for their puppies. New owners are strongly advised to start the process of weight and body condition monitoring during growth. Your veterinary professional will be able to tell you more about puppy growth charts.
There may be a health issue, which needs treatment or a special diet. Generally speaking, if you struggle to feel the ribs, spine and hip bones of your dog and cat with very light finger pressure, and they don’t have a visible waist, then they are likely to be overweight or obese. This means they need less calories which could be resolved by feeding less treats or food, or by feeding a ‘light’ diet. Speak to your vet and they will be able to rule out any underlying health issues before adjusting their food.