Pet Nutrition

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Nutritional Counseling 
in Jacksonville, FL

If your adult dog or cat is healthy, you probably have selected a pet food based simply on whether or not your pet will eat it. Cost might also play a factor in your decision. However, not all pet foods are equal. And feeding the right amount is not as simple as following the directions on the package. (They’re just guidelines.) Choosing an appropriate diet can set your pet on a path of lifelong good nutrition and help prevent many problems, including allergies, nutritional deficiencies, skin and coat disorders and obesity.

 

Nutritional requirements for dogs and cats vary depending on a variety of factors, including age, breed and health. For instance, senior pets have significantly different requirements than puppies or kittens, and animals with diabetes, kidney disease, and other health conditions can benefit from special diets.

Our veterinarians, Dr. Mars and Dr. Green, can help you make informed decisions about your pet’s diet. We can counsel you on which foods are the best choices based on your pet’s needs and your financial considerations, how much to feed, and even how to decode pet food labels. We can create a nutrition plan specifically for your pet, and we’re also happy to work with owners to help their overweight pets get down to a healthy weight.

Contact us or make an appointment to set up a personalized nutrition consultation for you and your pet.

The right food can make a big difference in your pet’s health. That’s why we offer a wide variety of specialty and therapeutic diets for all life stages and disease conditions. We also carry special supplements for general wellness and for acute and chronic disease conditions.

 

Home Cooked Diets for Pets

It is very difficult to provide a complete and balanced diet for dogs, even with a mix of meat, veggies, grains, etc., that will provide all of the nutrients and minerals in the proper proportions to promote health and prevent diseases.

There are two options that we recommend for owners who have picky dogs and/or want to provide fresh food for their pets.

Balance It: First is BalanceIt.com, which was founded by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. For this site, you input the kind of ingredients you are feeding and it will populate a couple of different options for the specific recipes with their proper proportions and the additional supplement of the vitamins and minerals that are missing from that diet. You can then order this supplement that is specific to your dog's diet.

Just Food For Dogs: A second option is JustFoodForDogs.com. This company also employs board-certified veterinary nutritionists, as well as veterinary dentists, cardiologists, and others, and has pre-formulated diets that come to you already properly nutritionally balanced. There are many fresh pet food companies popping up, but they are not doing the research showing the safety of their diets that Just Food For Dogs does, and they aren't employing these board-certified veterinary specialists, so we cannot ensure that they are complete and balanced, when we know JFFD is. JFFD also has its own line of specific recipes paired with their specific supplements for those interested in cooking at home, similar to BalanceIt, but BalanceIt has more recipe options available.

 

Best Diet Recommendations

We’d be happy to recommend a diet for your pet. Veterinary consultation is required for our prescription diet foods and our supplements. 

Did you know?

Dogs are not wolves and cats are not lions, and in the wild these animals don't live very long anyway, so diets claiming to mimic these wild diets are not helpful for your pet.

As your veterinary team members with your pet's health top of our concern, we recommend Purina, Royal Canin, Hill's/Science Diet, and Iams/Eukanuba. These companies perform extensive research, employ board-certified veterinary nutritionists, and follow the guidelines from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association to ensure the healthiest and safest foods for pets.

Other companies spend more money on marketing but don't have any research to show that their diets are safe and that pets are actually absorbing the nutrients from their diet. Remember, dogs are not wolves and cats are not lions, and in the wild these animals don't live very long anyway, so diets claiming to mimic these wild diets are not helpful for your pet.

There has recently been a rise in diet-associated heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, DCM) that occurs when dogs are fed these diets that are not researched and formulated by veterinary nutritionists. More information about this link between nutrition and heart disease can be found at dcmdogfood.com. This kind of heart disease is often not detected until signs are very severe, but when caught early, switching to a recommended brand such as Purina, Royal Canin, Hills/Science Diet, and Iams/Eukanuba improved heart function. Until this association is better understood, for your pet's safety, we recommend against feeding any brands other than Purina, Royal Canin, Hills/Science Diet, and Iams/Eukanuba.

If you have concerns for this heart disease, our comprehensive screening panel includes a blood test that can indicate whether this disease is currently affecting your pet, though a normal test result would not rule out future issues if your pet stays on one of the non-recommended brands.

Large & Giant Breeds: Giant breeds such as Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and giant schnauzers have unique dietary requirements. Very few commercial puppy foods offer the ideal mix of calcium, energy, and protein levels that these breeds need. We can provide you with feeding recommendations that will encourage your dog’s optimum growth potential without causing developmental problems. During your exam, our veterinarians will discuss the ideal food for your dog. Please contact us if you have any concerns regarding your dog’s nutrition or if you would simply like to discuss this topic with us.

Kittens and Puppies: It’s easy to get confused or overwhelmed by all the pet foods on the market. We can help you weed through the choices and find a puppy or kitten food that will meet your growing pet’s specific nutritional needs. Feel free to ask us for a food recommendation or to contact us with any nutrition questions or concerns you might have. We’re happy to help!

Treats: Are you trying to help your pet lose weight, but you’d still like to give him or her a treat occasionally? Ask about our special lower-calorie treats, which you can give your pet without any guilt. If your pet is at risk for dental disease, we have diets, chews, and treats that can help keep his or her gums and teeth healthier by controlling plaque and tartar.

 

Pet Food

Did you know?

AAFCO (Association of Animal Feed Control Officials) does not approve or regulate pet foods. They have established guidelines for the minimal nutrition values required in pet food for certain species or life stages, but just because a pet food meets these minimal levels does not mean they provide optimal nutrition for your pet. This is why food that is formulated without a board-certified veterinary nutritionist may not provide adequate nutrition.

Our job as your veterinarians is to make sure you pick a diet that is going to provide your pet with the nutrients they need as well as ensure that you aren’t misled by marketing or the misinformation on the Internet. You want a pet food company that has control over all aspects of their product, including research, development, and manufacturing.

Some questions you might want to ask about your pet food manufacturer are:

  • Do they manufacture their food in-house?

  • Do they employ board-certified veterinary nutritionist(s)?

  • Do they publish nutritional research in peer-reviewed vet journals?

  • Do they actually feed their food via Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trials?

  • What are their quality control measures?

  • Can they provide a complete nutritional analysis of their product?

 

One of the first and most basic things to consider is feeding a diet appropriate for the life stage of your pet. Commercial diets must state on the label whether they are adequate for a particular life stage and have undergone feeding trials for that stage. For example, a puppy needs to eat a diet appropriate for growth whereas an adult dog should not eat a diet for growth because it could cause them to become overweight.

Talk to our veterinary team about your nutrition questions. If you think your pet is showing signs of illness related to his or her pet food, call your veterinarian.

What do some of the pet food terms mean?

Meat: muscle tissue that does not contain fat or skin. Meat by-product is the organs of the animal (aka gizzards, heart, liver, and kidneys) and is nutritious food.

Meat Meal: the product that results from cooking mammal tissue to destroy bacteria and removing water and fat so that what’s left is mostly protein and minerals.

Digests: materials treated with heat, enzymes, and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Often, digests, broths, whey, and stocks are used to flavor pet foods. If an ingredient is in the name of the food (such as Salmon Dog Food), then at least 95% of that product should be that ingredient (and listed as the first ingredient on the label). If a pet food name contains the words “entrée” or “dinner” or “formula” (for example Beef Dinner for Dogs), then only 25% of that product needs to be that ingredient, and it likely will be the 3rd or 4th ingredient on the ingredient label. The word “with” means that only 3% of that ingredient needs to be in the product (for example Cat food with Tuna).

  • If an ingredient is used in the name of the pet food, such as “Salmon Dog Food,” at least 95% of the product must be that ingredient. It should be the first ingredient that appears on the label’s ingredient list.

  • If it’s not an ingredient of animal origin, it doesn’t count. Products such as “Lamb and Rice Dog Food” must still contain at least 95% lamb.

  • The use of the word “flavored” in pet food means very little. As in, a pet food named “Chicken Flavored Cat Food,” only must have chicken “detectable” in the product. No specific percentage.

Natural: usually assumed to mean a lack of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, but it might not contain different ingredients or higher quality ingredients compared to a diet not labeled as natural. Unlike human foods that are labeled “organic,” there are no rules governing how the word “organic” is used on pet food labels (i.e., what portion of the food is really organic and how organic is defined). Similarly, terms such as “holistic” or “human grade” are unregulated and provide no practical value in assessing the nutrition of that food.