Nutrition for Pets

Your kitty probably loves a lot of the same foods you do and is happy to eat a small square of cheese when offered. Your dog may relish just about anything you’re willing to share. It’s so easy to please our pets with food — but is it good nutrition?

Pet nutrition needs are not the same as ours, but many of us are clueless about what exactly they are. This primer on dog and cat nutrition will fill you in on what your pet needs to stay healthy and fit.

Consider these facts:

Small, low-activity dogs need only about 185 to 370 calories daily, while a large pooch between 67 to 88 pounds may need between 1,000 to 2,000 calories, depending on activity level and gender. Yet many of our dogs get far more food than they need. More than one-third of U.S. dogs over 1 year old are overweight.

A healthy 10-pound kitty needs just 220 to 350 calories a day — about the number in a few ounces of cheese. No wonder the weight stats are about as bad for cats as dogs. At least one-quarter of U.S. felines are considered overweight or obese.

Here’s how vet experts break down the nutrition needs for dogs and cats to stay lean and healthy.
Next time you look at your cat snoozing in a sunbeam, think tiger. Pound for pound, cats need twice the protein humans and dogs do. And the building blocks of good cat nutrition can be summarized in one word: Meat.

About 17% to 21% of adult human calories should come from protein. We can get it from meat, but also through beans, legumes, and dairy sources. Cats need double that amount of protein for good nutrition and it must come from meat or fish.

Why? Cats are “obligate carnivores,” which means they need to eat animal protein to obtain all the amino acids they need in their diet, according to Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, a veterinarian with a special interest in felines. The vital amino acid cats can’t get from any source other than animal protein is taurine.

Taurine is critical for a cat’s normal heart, eye, and reproductive function, but cats can’t make it from other amino acids, as most mammals can. A meat-rich diet not only provides cats the taurine they need. It also gives them vitamin A — a nutrient they’re unable to convert from beta-carotene, says Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, professor of medicine and nutrition in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee.

Pets and Nutrition: Feline Fat Facts

Fats are a good energy source for cats. In the wild, cats consume about one-third of their calories as fat. Fats not only taste good, but they also help cats get the fatty acids they need and aid in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, and E.

The problem is that some cats enjoy the taste of fat too much – just like some people. If you find that kitty is digging into her food bowl too often or you’re sharing tidbits of people food with her, be careful. Obese cats can suffer many of the health problems people face, including diabetes and arthritis.

Carbohydrates and Cat Nutrition

Domestic cats fed on commercial dry cat food may get up to 40% of their calories from carbs. Yet cats “do not need them in the percentages that are found in the majority of processed dry foods,” McGeorge tells WebMD. In fact, there is no minimum recommended requirement of carbohydrates for cats, and too many carbs can be a prime reason domesticated cats put on pounds.
Water Is Vital to Cat Nutrition

Cats, people, and dogs are all made up of about 60% to 70% water. But unlike their canine and human friends, cats evolved with a low thirst drive, probably a legacy of their desert-dwelling ancestors.

Add a cat’s low thirst drive to a diet rich in dry foods — which contain only 5% to 10% water — and it’s clear cats can run the risk of dehydration. This may lead to serious urinary tract problems. Although a diet that includes wet cat food (about 78% water) helps, you should always have multiple sources of fresh, clean water available for your cat.
Fat Cats and Feline Fitness

If you can’t feel kitty’s ribs without pressing or if he doesn’t have a visible waist, chances are good that your cat is a bit overweight. Fortunately, cats love exercise, as anyone who’s experienced an ankle attack knows. Your job? Provide enriching play for both of you.

Because cats are geared toward short bursts of intense activity, get out the laser pointer, feathered toy, or string and play for five or 10 minutes several times a day (less at first if your feline friend is unfit). Always play it safe and let your vet know your fitness plans for your Fluffy. And don’t forget, even a svelte kitty needs exercise and the bonding attention playtime provides.
Dogs: How Meat Helps Meet Dog Nutrition Needs

Dogs love many of the same foods we do. But if you think your precious pooch as a hairy little human, think again. Although your canine companion needs protein and good fats, he may need far fewer carbohydrates than you think.

Protein should make up about 18% of your dog’s diet, as it should for you. Animal protein from meat and fish offers the balanced protein dogs need. Unlike cats, dogs also eat — and enjoy – some vegetables, too.

Does this mean your dog could be vegetarian? The pros generally don’t recommend it unless you feed your dog an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) compliant diet. This ensures that all the essential amino acids are included. (Check the dog food label for the AAFCO designation.) If you feed your dog a homemade plant-based diet, you may need to supplement it to provide all the amino acids vital to good canine health.

Carbohydrates and Cat Nutrition

Domestic cats fed on commercial dry cat food may get up to 40% of their calories from carbs. Yet cats “do not need them in the percentages that are found in the majority of processed dry foods,” McGeorge tells WebMD. In fact, there is no minimum recommended requirement of carbohydrates for cats, and too many carbs can be a prime reason domesticated cats put on pounds.
Water Is Vital to Cat Nutrition

Cats, people, and dogs are all made up of about 60% to 70% water. But unlike their canine and human friends, cats evolved with a low thirst drive, probably a legacy of their desert-dwelling ancestors.

Add a cat’s low thirst drive to a diet rich in dry foods — which contain only 5% to 10% water — and it’s clear cats can run the risk of dehydration. This may lead to serious urinary tract problems. Although a diet that includes wet cat food (about 78% water) helps, you should always have multiple sources of fresh, clean water available for your cat.
Fat Cats and Feline Fitness

If you can’t feel kitty’s ribs without pressing or if he doesn’t have a visible waist, chances are good that your cat is a bit overweight. Fortunately, cats love exercise, as anyone who’s experienced an ankle attack knows. Your job? Provide enriching play for both of you.

Because cats are geared toward short bursts of intense activity, get out the laser pointer, feathered toy, or string and play for five or 10 minutes several times a day (less at first if your feline friend is unfit). Always play it safe and let your vet know your fitness plans for your Fluffy. And don’t forget, even a svelte kitty needs exercise and the bonding attention playtime provides.
Dogs: How Meat Helps Meet Dog Nutrition Needs

Dogs love many of the same foods we do. But if you think your precious pooch as a hairy little human, think again. Although your canine companion needs protein and good fats, he may need far fewer carbohydrates than you think.

Protein should make up about 18% of your dog’s diet, as it should for you. Animal protein from meat and fish offers the balanced protein dogs need. Unlike cats, dogs also eat — and enjoy – some vegetables, too.

Does this mean your dog could be vegetarian? The pros generally don’t recommend it unless you feed your dog an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) compliant diet. This ensures that all the essential amino acids are included. (Check the dog food label for the AAFCO designation.) If you feed your dog a homemade plant-based diet, you may need to supplement it to provide all the amino acids vital to good canine health.

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