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Feeding your Pet

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Pet nutrition has come a long way since the days when the cat or dog would be thrown a bit of meat to chew on, along with the odd bone. If you think of wild carnivores - wolves, lions etc. you realise that its not just the muscle meat of their victims that they eat, but also bone, skin, stomach contents etc. Meat alone is not a balanced diet for a cat or dog, and imbalanced diets are directly and indirectly responsible for a number of disease conditions that are certainly avoidable with good nutrition.

So what makes a good diet? This changes depending on the age of the animal. For instance, a young animal needs just the right balance of nutrients, minerals and vitamins to ensure that its bones and joints develop properly, and this will not happen if it is fed an adult diet. Likewise an older animal has a lower metabolic rate and a lesser ability to cope with a high protein diet. Research by the more reputable pet food companies has resulted in the development of some excellent products that are appropriate to the various stages of your pet's life.

BUT, feeding guides on canned and dry food should be treated as guides only. Your vet will help you devise a growth rate chart for a young animal, or give you the ideal maintenance weight for an adult. A regular weight check will then tell you if you're over or under feeding. Keeping a weight chart will also reassure those people who have animals that constantly pester them for food. Provided the animal has been regularly wormed, this is often more a behavioural problem than anything else, and can be due to boredom. Avoid giving in to constant demands for food! This will only make it worse. Instead, provide more stimulation for your pet. Play with it, groom it, take it for a walk. Using food as a reward is another incentive for pets to constantly seek food. Once again, try and use non-food rewards - cuddles and games.

Remember that the health of your pet's teeth and gums depends to a large extent on what they eat. The importance of chewing cannot be over emphasised, and bones are particularly helpful in this regard. Raw chicken necks, oxtail and brisket all provide good chewing. A few dogs however will get constipated at the mere sniff of a bone, so keep a close watch if you are introducing bones for the first time.

The digestive systems of your kittens can be particularly delicate. The following pointers should help you avoid problems:

  • Kittens are very susceptible to sudden changes in diet so ensure that any changes are gradual.
  • Many kittens are allergic to lactose in milk, causing diarrhoea - once weaned, and fed a balanced diet, kittens should not need milk, though there is no harm in feeding it to those which can handle it.
  • Calcium deficiency can cause digestive upsets - this is usually only a problem in those animals being fed a diet with too much meat content.
  • A high degree of digestibility is important so that kittens can readily absorb the nutrients, so it's important that food is fresh and of good quality.
  • Regular worming starting from as early as a few weeks of age is essential for a healthy digestive system.
  • Attention to hygiene, eg frequent cleaning out of dirt trays, will prevent the spread of such diseases as coccidiosis, a major cause of diarrhoea in kittens.
  • Persistent digestive problems should be checked by your vet, because kittens can quickly become dehydrated if diarrhoea is allowed to continue. Your kitten may need medication and a special diet to help it recover. 

It is much more difficult to get the balance exactly right with home diets, but here are a couple of examples, more specifically for dogs:Home Growth Diet (for young animals)

  • Cooked Brown Rice 3/4 cup
  • Meat 2/3 cup
  • Liver 1.8 cup
  • Bonemeal 2 tsp
  • Corn Oil 2 tsp
  • Salt 1/2 tsp

Home Maintenance Diet

  • Cooked Brown Rice 1-1/2 cups
  • Meat 1/3 cup
  •  Liver 1.8 cup
  • Bonemeal 3 tsp
  • Corn Oil 2 tsp
  • Iodised Salt (optional) 1/2 tsp

The water content of this food is similar to canned food so amounts fed are comparable.