Regardless whether your pet is a chowhound or a finicky eater, providing a balanced, nutritious diet is the best way to help ensure they live a long, healthy life. However, your local pet store has numerous options, making finding the right food for your pet confusing. Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital wants to help by answering some frequently asked questions about pet nutrition.

Question: What nutrients does my pet require?

Answer: All pets require six essential nutrients, which they use to provide energy and maintain overall health, and which contribute to growth and healing. These nutrients include water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.

Q: Can I feed my dog and cat the same diet?

A: No. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they need meat and vegetables to meet their nutritional requirements. In contrast, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on nutrients found only in animal products. When dogs eat cat food too frequently, the nutrient imbalance can lead to gastrointestinal upset, obesity, and pancreatitis. Cats need a higher percentage of protein than found in dog food, as well as other nutrients not found in dog food, including:

  • Arginine — Cats lack the enzyme needed to produce this amino acid, so they must get the nutrient solely from their food. Arginine is involved in removing ammonia from the body, and if this waste product accumulates, your pet can show signs that include weight loss, vomiting, and neurologic signs.
  • Taurine — Cats are also unable to make taurine, another amino acid. If your cat’s diet does not contain sufficient taurine, they can suffer retinal degeneration, causing blindness, and their heart may become enlarged, leading to heart failure.
  • Vitamins — Cats need certain vitamins, such as niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D3, since they cannot make adequate amounts like other animals and humans.

Q: How do I choose an appropriate commercial food for my pet?

A: Commercially prepared pet foods have been developed to provide the correct nutrient balance and meet your pet’s caloric requirements. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are responsible for regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds. Their subcommittees establish the basic minimum nutritional requirements for dogs and cats. All pet foods that carry an AAFCO-approved nutritional guarantee are considered nutritionally complete and balanced. You should also read the ingredient label when choosing a pet food. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing proportional weight, and you should look for foods with a high quality protein as the first ingredient.

Q: How much should I feed my pet?

A: When determining how much to feed your pet, you will need to consider their weight, weight status (i.e., if they need to lose or gain weight), age, activity level, breed, and spay or neuter status. Your pet’s food bag label should provide portion recommendations. Consult this label, and then use a calorie calculator to more accurately determine your pet’s food requirements. Always use measuring cups to portion your pet’s food, to ensure they receive the correct amount.

Q: What is the best feeding schedule for my pet?

A: Most pets benefit from at least twice-a-day feeding, with their daily portion divided into two or more feedings. Feeding schedule options include:

  • Portion control feeding — This approach involves offering your pet’s food portion as a meal, provided in one or more meals daily.
  • Timed feeding — This approach involves offering your pet food for a certain amount of time during the day. For example, place the food in your pet’s bowl and allow them access for 30 minutes, and then remove their food.
  • Free choice feeding — This approach involves leaving food available for your pet at all times. This method should be used only if you feed dry food, since left-out wet food can spoil. Pets who are fed in this way can easily overeat, leading to obesity.

Q: Should I make my pet’s food at home?

A: Making your own pet food can be difficult and time-consuming, and the recipe you use may not have the appropriate quantities and proportions of necessary nutrients. You should typically stick to purchasing nutritionally balanced commercial pet foods, unless our veterinary professionals recommend a home-formulated diet for medical reasons. Then, a recipe developed by a veterinarian certified in animal nutrition will be provided.

Q: Is offering my pet treats harmful?

A: Treats are great training tools when given in moderation, but they should account for only about 5 to 10 percent of your pet’s total calorie intake. Adjust your pet’s meals to account for the extra calories. 

Q: Does my older pet need a special diet?

A: Yes. Senior pets need a special diet to help maintain their health, optimize their body weight, and slow or prevent disease development. Cats and dogs under 50 pounds should be started on a senior formulated diet around 7 years of age, dogs 51 to 90 pounds need a senior diet when they reach 6 years of age, and dogs more than 90 pounds need a senior diet at 5 years of age.

Your pet deserves a nutritious diet, and hopefully this information will help you choose the best food for them. If you have questions concerning your pet’s nutrition, contact our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital, so we can help ensure their diet is nutritionally balanced.