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.”

Nutritional touch-points
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. 

Photo credit: iStock images


Comments (5) -

Jennifer Nolan
Jennifer NolanUnited States
7/26/2014 8:09:37 AM #

I would say following ur vets advise for food would be great but every vet seems to push science diet on u which if u research is a horrible choice. I was told a while back that alot of vets are giving kickbacks to promote science diet. So who do u trust?

DinoUnited States
7/31/2014 5:36:16 AM #

Hills helps put Vets through school with grants. They make sure that they have the Vet on their side before they can even practice. I agree that it is not very good food. My dog has been on ID for a year and has been having weekly bouts of colitis since March. Have had her checked, dewormed, multiple stool samples, nothing. When I ask if there has been any change to the food Vets always say that they know of none. Can't be true as there are complaints all over the Consumer Affairs website since February, 2014.

I need to find a solution.  I can't keep giving my dog Flagyl once a week or going in for Vet visit twice a month that accomplishes nothing.

YoLanda Hargraves
YoLanda HargravesUnited States
7/31/2014 12:18:26 PM #

Sent on behalf of Tully Mars:
I love Dr. Branch and the staff at Oporto Animal Clinic.  I just hate getting weighed. Frown
I will continue to be a great dog and will try and not eat Mattie and Mollie's food when momma isn't watching.

Charleen Fiorentino
Charleen FiorentinoUnited States
7/31/2014 4:25:22 PM #

YES!  I agree with you Dino.  Why are most of the vets recommending the Hills food?  I do not believe that this food is the best for my fur baby.  Why is this such a difficult thing.  All I want is a great food for my beloved pet and one that I can count on to provide the best nutrition.  Vets should recognize this and stand up to these big food producers and challenge them to step up to the plate.  No more trying to imply that the big food producers are so concerned with our pets welfare.  If were, it would not take them so long to make a food that is wholesome and good for our pets.  It has gone on long enough.  If the Vets love our pets the way they they want us to believe, they would join forces and protest and make this change happen.  OK, I am done ranting and raving for now, but I know that there must be others like me that say, enough is enough.  Please comment for or against.  

cheryl kowalski
cheryl kowalskiUnited States
8/3/2014 8:07:54 PM #

Yes, I agree, I see Science Diet all over my Vets office. I think the only good choice are the higher priced foods that list all meat instead of the corn and other fillers. I personally cook lean meat no fat and give that to my dog since I really don't trust big market "name" brands anymore. Really have to read labels to decide from.

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