Our pets no longer need to worry about hunting for food, just as we no longer need to hunt and gather in the traditional sense. Pet food companies are hard at work filling bags and cans with nutrition for dogs and cats, all while ensuring the containers are appealing and eye catching. However, there is still cause to be concerned about what your pets are eating. We humans can become overweight, sick, or downright useless based on our dietary habits. Unfortunately, the same can be the case for our pets. This is why we need to answer a few major questions about our pets nutrition. What should I feed my pets? How much does my dog or cat need to eat? When should I feed them?
If we are wise, these are the questions we ask, and then we go and find the answers. I’m sure we have all been guilty of consuming something with little to no nutrient value at some point in our lives. Let’s take a look at a donut, for example. A donut with a diameter of 3in has about 200 calories and half of its carbohydrates are pure sugar. Meanwhile, its protein content is very low and it does not have many vitamins and minerals. This is one example of a food that is not nutrient dense. It provides a sufficient amount of calories, but little else from which the body can benefit.
The Balanced Diet
I know you would not feed your furry family member a donut. At least, I hope you would not. We realize that this would not be something good for pets to eat, even though we may have one because of the taste. What then should we feed our pets? Well, much like we humans need to eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients, our pets do as well. We should be consuming enough protein to maintain or build lean muscle. The carbs we eat should come primarily from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables. We should also seek to eat sources of unsaturated fats which can be found in seeds, nuts and plant oils.
What Should I Feed My Pets?
It turns out that our four legged carnivorous friends need a balanced diet as well. They need to be fed adequate amounts of protein, carbs and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals. There are guidelines for feeding pets, just like we have the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If you survey the food package, you may see a statement that reads something like this, “this product has been formulated to meet the nutritional standards of the AAFCO.” However, this may not be comforting at all when considering the AAFCO contains major pet food manufacturers, and seems to use controversial methods of testing.
Read The Label
Just as we should be doing to learn about our own food intake, the best way to find out what’s in your pets food is by reading the label. This may be easier said than done, as manufacturers may use jargon on the labels in hopes of confusing the general public. They may do this to make the ingredients appear more acceptable than they might otherwise be, or to make it seem like there is more or less of one ingredient. You will undoubtedly have to do your own research after viewing the ingredients listed on your pets potential food source.
Meat or bone meal: protein source with water/fat removed than may also contain the heart, esophagus, tongue, or diaphragm.
Meat byproduct: liver, brains, stomach, blood, intestines, or bone.
Fish meal: clean ground tissue of non-decomposed fish.
BHT/BHA: preservatives that keep fats from turning rancid.
Corn gluten meal: remaining residue after bran, germ and starch has been removed.
Soybean meal: byproduct of soybean oil production.
Ethoxyquin: a chemical preservative.
Tocopherols: a natural preservative.
How Much Should I Feed My Pets?
The above list in not exhaustive, but it gives you a general idea of what ingredients you may find on a food label. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want your dog or cat eating the food based on the ingredients. In the very least, you should have a general understanding of what’s in your pets food, as well as your own. Once you have chosen a product that you and your pets are happy with, there’s still the matter of feeding them a proper portion.
In order to maintain our energy balance each day, we humans need to consume calories from proteins, carbs and fats. The same is also true for our pets. Small dogs may require anywhere from 500 – 700 calories per day. Medium sized dogs may need between 600 – 1100 calories. Large dogs may consume 850 – 2500 calories. Of course, this all depends on the size and activity level of your dog. My girl, Abbey, needs nearly 1500 calories per day because she is very active. She hikes once a day (sometimes twice), she weighs 62lbs, and is in the category of large dogs, although there are much larger dogs.
Crunching The Numbers
What your dog needs may be quite different from mine. You should be able to determine how much your pets need by surveying the label, or food package once again. If you are concerned about precise accuracy, you may need to look up a table online to get an exact amount based on size and weight. According to our labels, Abbey needs four cans of wet food per day, or four and a half cups of dry food, or some mixture of each, which is what we generally prefer. If she gains weight or becomes less active (HA!), we simply need to cut out about a half a cup, or so.
We break up the meals into three or four servings each day. I know it’s popular practice for animals to get all of their food in one or two servings, but this seems like way too much at one time. We prefer to bookend her most active time with two servings as this will most likely be the time when she needs the most calories. Since dogs are pack animals, she also prefers to eat when we humans are eating, and so we feed her the other portions during mealtime. This works out great for us, but you and your pets schedule may be completely different.
Find Your Balance
It’s important you know what your pets need, as well as what’s inside the package you feed them. Check your labels, do some research and feed your pets a balanced diet. Your situation will undoubtedly be different from mine, so ask your vet for specifics. Although I am a nutrition coach (for humans), I am not a dietician, or a pet nutrition expert. In the meantime, let us know how you prefer to feed your pets. What type of food do they eat? How much do they eat? Is there anything that they must, or must not have?
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Even though I promote places, or things, and emerge from the woods unharmed, I am not at all responsible for you, your family, your friends, or your pets. You are solely responsible for following in my footsteps and trying things I have described on this site. I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.