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AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

We all want our pets to be happy and healthy, and proper nutrition plays a huge part in that. Good nutrition enhances pets’ quality – and quantity – of life by helping prevent diet-associated diseases; as well as helping Fido and Tabby respond to disease and injury. To help veterinarians and their teams advise patients about the importance of nutrition and how to feed their pets, in 2010 the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) developed the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

The circle of nutrition

Every cat or dog has unique nutrition needs because of variations in size, breed, age, physical activity and environment. That’s one reason why it’s important to discuss the best way to feed your dog or cat with your veterinarian. They’ll want to know the various factors that comprise the “Circle of Nutrition” – factors specific to your pet (such as age, activity, and any allergies or diseases); the diet (including medicine, or eating contaminated or spoiled food); and feeding management/environmental factors (including frequency, timing, location and method of feeding, as well as use of treats, over- or under-feeding, or competitive eating). By discussing all of the elements that affect your dog or cat’s nutrition on a regular basis with your veterinarian, you can be sure that your pet is eating right throughout all of their life stages.

Body condition score (BCS)

Obesity is one of the biggest health issues affecting our pets. From heart disease to joint issues, obese animals face a slew of potential problems, and obviously proper nutritional management is a major component in obesity treatment and prevention. Talk to your veterinarian about evaluating your pets’ body fat with a Body Condition Score (BCS). There are different numerical scorings, but ideally, your pet will be well proportioned, with its waist observed behind its ribs when viewed from above, palpable ribs (noticeable/easily touched) with a slight fat covering, and minimal fat on its abdomen. When viewed from the side, pets should have a “tucked up” abdomen (i.e., no belly). View a body condition scoring chart for dogs and cats.

Feeding management and environmental factors

Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight knows that diet and exercise go hand in hand. Your pet’s physical activity directly affects how much they’ll need to eat, so discuss with your veterinarian the type of activity your pet does, including leash walks, time in the backyard, off-leash, and how often these activities occur. Studies have shown that environment has a direct impact on nutrition, such as indoor confinement and physical inactivity. Food-dispensing toys can help enrich the welfare of indoor pets, as well as increasing play activities. If you have several pets that compete for food, feed them simultaneously in separate areas of your home to reduce conflict. You may also want to ask your veterinarian about an appropriate food-measuring device, like an 8-oz. measuring cup, to be sure you’re feeding your pet the right amount of food. Consider all food (meals) and treats in their daily requirements, and if you have a furry pet weigh them regularly as it is sometimes hard to tell if they have gained weight.

Home monitoring

No one knows better than you exactly what your pets are eating and how they are behaving at home. Adult pets in good physical condition should be reassessed regularly, and pregnant, senior and growing animals need even more frequent monitoring. If any changes in their appearance or behavior occur, or if they have symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, see your veterinarian immediately.
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