Here are some very basic feeding guidelines for dogs and cats. Always consult your veterinarian if you want to feed specific non-commercial diets.
- Once you’ve found the right brand of (dry kibble) pet food, rotate through the various flavors or protein sources every three to four months to avoid deficiencies or excesses of ingredients which may be problematic for your animal. Additionally, most pets appreciate the variety, and it makes it easier to change their food if your vet prescribes a special diet.
- When changing dry foods, mix 1/4 of the new food with 3/4 of the old food, and increase the new food a little each day. Some finicky animals – especially cats – may need a more gradual change over two or more weeks. Never let a cat skip more than one or two meals; return to the old food if necessary.
- With any new food or supplement, watch for subtle changes in your pet’s skin and coat, appetite, energy level, mood, itchiness, body weight, and the size and consistency of stools. If negative changes occur, try a different food. If the change persists, consult your veterinarian.
- If your animal companion is on a prescription diet, check with your veterinarian periodically (at least every 6 months) to make sure the diet is still correct. Many conditions resolve over time, and a diet that was needed for a younger animal may be inappropriate when she is older. And vets are busy – they probably won’t think to review past feeding recommendations unless they’re specifically asked.
- Unless specifically instructed by your vet, feed two meals per day rather than leaving food out all the time. Never leave the food down for more than 30 minutes. If your pet won’t eat during that period take the food up and do not re-introduce it until the next feeding. Even old dogs will learn that they need to eat when the food is down or they don’t eat. It puts them on a regular schedule, which is much healthier both physically and mentally. And, it helps to prevent over-feeding and obesity.
- For best results, you can supplement your commercial pet food with other foods, such as organic meats and steamed, pureed or finely grated vegetables (most cannot be very well digested by carnivores raw). Cats should receive minimal carbohydrates in the diet because they are true carnivores. Plant products tend to raise urine pH and may predispose cats to urinary tract disease. If you are supplementing more than 15-20% of the diet, however, you will need to consult one of the many available books or websites for information on balancing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
- Other helpful supplements that are especially important when feeding commercial food include probiotics such as acidophilus, digestive enzymes, and the antioxidant vitamins E (alpha tocopherol) and C (either Ester C, calcium ascorbate, or sodium ascorbate).
Your veterinarian only sees your companion once a year. Since you are with her every day, it is essential that you monitor her general health and how she is responding to the food she’s eating. Changes in appetite, coat quality, weight, stool, urine, or water consumption may signal a problem with the food, or a more serious medical problem. Report these or any other unusual changes or behaviors to your veterinarian.