Many pet owners equate food with love. While that is a natural impulse, the results may not always be good for pets. For some owners, that means giving their beloved animals too many treats, too much food at mealtimes, or calorie-rich table scraps—or all of the above. Other pet owners scour the Internet, brochures, and other literature for the latest trends in pet food. Most veterinarians, however, believe animals would be best served by pet owners bringing nutrition questions to the veterinary hospital.
Body Condition Scoring Chart: A chart with numerical ratings that range from emaciated to obese and is denoted with pictures and text-based descriptions.
Muscle Condition Scoring Chart: A chart veterinary professionals can use to evaluate muscle mass by palpation.
Talking with the veterinary team about pet nutrition at annual preventive care exams is the first step. A veterinarian can check the animal’s body and muscle condition scores (see sidebar for definitions), ask lifestyle questions, conduct a thorough exam, and then recommend an appropriate diet and quantity as a result. “It’s not just choosing the right food, it’s feeding the food correctly,” says board-certified veterinary nutritionist Julie Churchill, DVM, PhD, DACVN. Moreover, pet owners should speak with veterinary professionals about nutrition whenever their companion animals undergo lifestyle or health changes, says Dr. Churchill (see sidebar). Additionally, Dr. Churchill says, “If something goes awry and the pet becomes overweight, then the pet owner should definitely talk to the veterinarian.” However, she would prefer to see veterinary teams and pet owners focus on prevention as opposed to weight management. Finally, when pet owners have questions about new products or theories regarding nutrition, they should talk with their veterinarians. “There’s so much marketing information that creates anxiety about what to feed your pet,” says Dr. Churchill. “I would love to direct pet owners back to their veterinary teams when they have questions. A lot of product marketing creates senseless worry and unnecessary or even less optimal diet changes.”
There are particular times in your pet’s life when you should talk with a veterinary professional about your pet’s nutrition, some of which are listed below. But you should call or visit the veterinary hospital anytime you have a question about nutrition.
- After acquiring a new puppy or kitten
- At the time of spay or neuter
- Before the animal would be used for breeding
- When big seasonal changes occur
- Whenever there is a change in activity level (e.g., hunting season for hunting dogs)
- Whenever a health change occurs
Much can be done at home, aside from following dietary recommendations, Dr. Churchill says. For instance, veterinary professionals can teach pet owners how to assess their pets’ body condition score. “Over 50 percent of the pet population is overweight, so it’s learning what healthy looks like,” she asserts. Owners can then visually check their pets’ weight on a monthly basis, say when they give heartworm medication or other monthly medications. It’s also easy to set alerts in apps or electronic calendars for reoccurring events. Of course, as stated above, pet owners will want to speak with their veterinarians if they see changes in their pets’ weight.
Feeding your pet a nutritious diet is one of the best ways to love and care for your pet—and veterinary professionals are the first people to turn to for help understanding what proper nutrition means.
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