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Nutrition and Weight Control

Dogs Nutrition

Puppies

The amount of food puppies require changes during growth and depends on the puppy’s age, breed, gender, activity, temperament, environment and metabolism. Puppies need more energy, protein, calcium and phosphorous than adult dogs (in relation to their bodyweight). Growing puppies need twice as much dietary energy per kilo as adults; their energy need is greatest just after birth.

Protein is needed for growth and development; puppies should be fed a diet that contains at least 22% protein. Calcium is also important, but supplementing the diet with treats and milk will result in an excess of calcium in the body which can lead to developmental skeletal disease. It is important not to feed a high calorie diet as puppies that become overweight will have an increased number of fat cells and will be pre-disposed to obesity for the rest of their lives.

Feeding techniques

  • Free-choice feeding – Providing food all day long allows the puppy to feed as and when it wants to. This can help combat boredom, however it can encourage overeating.
  • Time-limited feeding – Food is available for a set amount of time two to three times a day. This leads to a reduced intake in most breeds of dog. It is important to measure the amount of food consumed so that they do not over or under feed. Three 10-15 minute feeding sessions are normally recommended for the first month after weaning. After this two meals per day are adequate.
  • Food-limited feeding – This method maintains optimum growth rate and body condition. A measured amount of food is given based on the energy requirements (as indicated by the food manufacturer). Large and giant breeds of dog need to have the amount of food adjusted more frequently than smaller breeds.

In general, a measured amount of food should be fed to control bodyweight and growth rate. Feed 2-4 meals per day to begin with and decrease to two meals per day once they are six months old. When introducing new foods blend them in gradually over 4-7 days to prevent stomach upsets. During the growth phase the amount of food given should be adjusted every two weeks.

Small and medium sized breeds reach 50% of their adult weight by around 4 months old, compared to 5 months for large breeds. Small breeds of dog can reach adulthood by 8 months old, large breeds can take 2 years.

Weaning starts at 3-4 weeks old and should be complete by 6-8 weeks old. Dry puppy food can be soaked in water or milk formula, gradually adding less water until they are weaned onto dry food.

Adult dogs

Small breeds can have adult food gradually introduced from 8-10 months of age, split into two meals. Medium sized breeds can have adult food from one year old; large breeds from 15 months and giant breeds from 18-24 months.

Mature dogs

Small dogs can have mature/senior food from 8 years old; medium sized breeds from 7 years and large breeds from 5 years.

The nutritional requirements of mature dogs are based on examination of physical body condition and medical history. Protein levels must be controlled. Excess protein is broken down by the liver and excreted by the kidneys, and as mature dogs are more likely to have some degree of liver or kidney disease, this excess protein will put unnecessary strain on these organs. Diets containing 18-20% protein are recommended.

Sodium levels should be between 0.2-0.35%. Increased sodium in food can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Cats nutrition

Kittens

Weaning starts at 4-5 weeks of age and should be complete by 7-8 weeks. Kitten weaning diet can be mixed with milk formula or water and eventually given dry. This can be fed up to four months old (variable – according to manufacturer’s guidelines). Growth food containing high levels of good quality protein can be fed until they are neutered (or until 12 months old). High energy food is needed during this growth phase. Milk should not be given as lactose can cause diarrhoea.

Home-made all meat diets and those containing lots of liver should be avoided as they can cause mineral imbalance and lead to weak bones. It is important to weigh out the correct amount of food required; this can be split into set meals or be left down all day for the kitten to eat as and when they want to.

Adult cats

Adults require less protein and fat. Most cats are fully grown by the time they are one year old. Royal Canin diets are divided into “neutered” and “un-neutered”; once neutered, cats require fewer calories.

Mature and senior cats

Most mature or senior foods can be fed from 7 years of age. As with dogs, older cats require less protein as the conversion of protein to energy becomes less efficient, which can lead to muscle wastage and weight loss. Diets containing 30-40% good quality protein are recommended. Calcium levels should be controlled to reduce bladder stones and crystals. Phosphate levels are reduced as kidney disease is common in older cats and phosphorous is excreted via the kidneys. Diets should contain around 0.7% phosphorous.

Royal Canin have changed their senior and mature ranges. There are now low calorie options and options for cats showing signs of arthritis or those that have been diagnosed with medical diseases (such as kidney disease). The new “senior consult” range replaces the mature and senior ranges.

Weight Control

Obesity

Obesity is a growing problem among cats and dogs. Some breeds are more prone to becoming overweight than others and indoor cats are more at risk as they tend to exercise less. There are many health problems associated with obesity including heart problems, exercise intolerance, arthritis and joint problems, diabetes, liver disease, urinary problems, increased blood pressure and breathing problems. Overweight animals also find it more difficult to groom themselves and their coat can become matted.

Neutered dogs and cats require fewer calories, so in order to prevent obesity the amount of food given should be reduced by 15-30% on average. Where possible, low fat or light diets should be given.

Free Weight-Watchers Clinics

Nurses run weight clinics where your pet will be weighed and given a body condition score (BCS). The ideal BCS is 3/5, this means that the ribs and spine are not visible but are easy to feel, there is an obvious waist and minimal abdominal fat. If your pet is overweight the nurse will recommend a low calorie diet and calculate the daily amount of food needed based on your pet’s ideal weight and BCS. Treats can be given as part of the daily amount, but must be kept to a minimum and human foods are not allowed as tit-bits. The nurse will arrange to see your pet every 2-4 weeks and the daily amount can be adjusted if required. Once your pet has reached its ideal weight, a suitable maintenance diet will be selected and the amount will be calculated.

The most common diets used for weight loss are Hill’s w/d, r/d and m/d (cats only). Royal Canin obesity management and satiety support are also available.

Why do they need to diet?

As with people, carrying too much weight is a major cause of arthritis, ligament strains, heart failure, bronchitis and liver disease in our pets. Pets living in centrally heated houses are very prone to putting on weight, especially if they have been neutered. Getting rid of that excess flab not only makes them healthier, but also makes them enjoy life much more. The staid pet which seems to have slowed down turns back into a lively friend, full of get up and go!

What can I do?

Pets, like us, burn up a certain number of calories a day. The number they burn up depends on their breed, how much exercise they have and whether you have central heating or not. If you give them more than this number, then they put on weight, if they have less, then they lose weight.

Getting your pet to lose weight is simply a matter of getting the number of calories going into the pet to be less than the number the pet uses.

How?

Firstly by increasing the number of calories the pet needs a day. This can be changed simply by increasing the amount of exercise or reducing the temperature of the central heating! Secondly you can reduce the number of calories going in and there are several methods of doing this.

Using Ordinary Pet Foods

These are usually low in fibre, especially soluble fibre and high in carbohydrates. We need to increase the fibre and decrease the carbohydrates.

This can be done by replacing the biscuits and meal by things such as Ry-Vita, which provides the vitamins and fibre but not the carbohydrates and fat. Unfortunately this often leaves our pet feeling hungry and miserable and so we all find it very difficult to keep up.

Another way is to use one of the specially made diet foods available from pet shops. These are specially made diet foods made by companies such as Wafcol. These are quite good at keeping the weight down once the hard part is done, however it is again very difficult for most people to get their pet's weight down this way.

Using Prescription Diet Foods

In our experience the easist way, both for you and your pet, is to ask us about putting them on a specially made prescription diet that will make them feel full, have all the vitamins and minerals that they need but have very few calories. These are very effective and pets often like them as well! These are prescription diets as they are not suitable for feeding to pregnant animals or pets with certain illnesses and some may not be fed for more than six months without a break. We commonly use one of three sorts of diet food:

Hills r/d Diet comes as both dry and tinned food and is very high in soluble fibre. This means that it is very filling and pets on it will often lose weight quite quickly, however it is quite expensive. The dry diet is much cheaper than the tinned version and so we usually recommend trying it first. If your pet doesn't lose weight on it, then it usually has a basic medical problem, often hormonal.

Royal Canin Obesity diet comes as both dry and tinned food for dogs and dry or pouches for cats. The energy density is reduced by 50% whilst maintaining volume so the animal feels full. It contains chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine to help maintain normal mobility in the stressed joints of obese pets. It has a high protein content to help reduce loss of muscle mass. The dry diet works out cheaper than the tinned. Once the target weight has been achieved the animal can move on to a low calorie maintenance diet.

Hills Metabolic Diets comes as both dry and tinned food and is basically a normal diet with added vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that works with your pet's metabolism to help them loose weight. 88% of pets will lose weight within 2 months and it comes with a money back guarantee if your pet won't eat it!

Treats

It is almost impossible to stop people giving your pet treats, and even the most innocent treat can make the difference between losing weight and staying the same! We would suggest keeping part of the daily ration back and encouraging people to use this as treats.

Is the Diet Working?

Most people need help working out the right number of calories to feed their pet and choosing the right food. Regular weighing and the maintenance of a chart showing just how well you are doing also helps enormously. For those who buy their food through the practice we run a free "Weight-Watchers" clinic for pets and have nurses trained as Nutritional Advisors who will be delighted to help you decide on the right plan for your pet, and then help you monitor how you are doing. All you need to do is ring the Surgery you normally attend and make an appointment.

Conclusion

Carrying too much weight causes major problems. To lose weight we must reduce the number of calories in the diet. This can be done by either reducing the amount of ordinary food given and giving vegetables and bran if necessary or by using a specially designed diet food. Regular weighing is vital to monitor how you are doing, and the help and advice of someone who has a great deal of experience of dieting pets makes it much easier.

Once your pet is down to the target weight changing to the correctly calculated amount of a maintenance diet is vital if the weight is not going to go straight back on again.

 

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