ASK THE VETS: Food can be tailored to your pet’s specific nutritional needs – Culpeper Star-Exponent

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Dr. Betty Myers, Dr. Rachel Dodson, Dr. Hunter Hamblen and Dr. Michael J. Watts

From left, Dr. Betty Myers, Dr. Rachel Dodson and Dr. Hunter Hamblen pose with Dr. Michael J. Watts. The foursome is the vet staff of Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care in Amissville.

THIS is the final installment of a three-week series on companion animal nutrition.

I notice that nowadays pet food bags are more and more specific to the type of pet. Why does an indoor cat have a different kind of food than any other cat? Why does a small dog need different food from a large dog? Aren’t dogs just dogs and cats just cats?

Two weeks ago, this column discussed basic items to look for on a pet food label. We eliminated foods that do not have a manufacturer name or do not use the words “animal feeding tests” in their AAFCO statements. That still leaves us with quite a wide variety.

Last week’s column mentioned the decades of nutrition advancements that have been made by university researchers and major pet food companies around the world. That research helps to refine pet food in ways that help four-legged family members lead longer, healthier lives.

In recent years, the science has gotten so advanced that diets are being manufactured for very specific populations. These are not just marketing gimmicks. These diets really help you and your veterinarian meet your pet’s individual nutritional needs in ways that have been documented to improve both quantity and quality of life.

Special therapeutic diets have been demonstrated to as much as double a patient’s life expectancy after diagnosis with serious diseases, including renal failure and cancer. Some cats form bladder stones when their urine is too acidic. Some form stones when their urine is not acidic enough.

There are special diets that can acidify or de-acidify the urine and prevent the specific types of stones. Symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction, a similar disease to Alzheimer’s, can now be successfully treated in most patients through a specially designed dog food.

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Customized nutrition is not just for sick dogs and cats anymore. A dramatic improvement of intelligence and ease of training in puppies was recently linked to feeding high levels of DHA, an essential fatty acid, during a critical time of brain development. Symptoms of joint diseases, including hip dysplasia, can be dramatically reduced, or even eliminated, if large breed dogs are fed appropriate amounts of food with very specific calcium and phosphorous ratios. Healthy skin, regular stool, athletic performance, hairball prevention, lean body mass, and many other specialized needs can be affected by proper nutrition.

Each and every pet is different in breed, age, activity level, lifestyle, and medical history. For this reason, customized diets should be used in consultation with your veterinarian. While you will find many label claims at the grocery store or pet shop, be sure to check with your veterinarian before making changes to your pet’s meals.

How much should I feed my pet?

The simple answer is just enough to maintain an ideal body condition. Ideal condition means that while you cannot see the ribs, you should be able to feel them without pushing through much fat covering. You should also see a waistline when viewing your pet from above and a tuck of the belly between the chest and rear legs when viewed from the side.

You should start by carefully measuring according to the recommendations on the bag, and adjust up or down to fit your pet’s needs. Most pets should be fed twice daily. In certain cases more frequent feeding or free choice feeding may be recommended by your veterinarian. Also be careful to limit treats to less than ten percent of total calories.

Obesity is the most common serious medical condition for pets. Increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, tumors, arthritis, pancreatic disease, and other serious medical problems have all been linked to pets being overweight.

Pay close attention to your pet’s body condition, because feeding too much reduces average life span by about two years! In addition to literally adding years to your pet’s life, proper nutrition can significantly reduce the risk of suffering from painful or debilitating diseases.

At each visit to the veterinarian, ask for your pet’s body condition score. The score is like an objective weight report card that can help you to be sure you are feeding your pet right.

Dr. Michael J. Watts operates Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care in Amissville.