Species Appropriate Nutrition
Published: Monday February 20 2017 by Clair Loding
At Wylies we believe in having a holistic, integrated approach to dealing with our patients. By this we mean, not seeing illness or disease as something that occurs and is treated in isolation, but rather that we should have an approach that sees the animal as a whole who exists in an environment and is influenced (positively or negatively) by many things.
An example of this is considering the animal’s diet. Certain diseases can be directly caused or prevented by diet – as an example we can think of an animal that has a specific allergy or intolerance, e.g. gluten intolerance. In such cases it is easy to see the link with diet.
However, many animals suffer from diseases that are not directly caused by their diet, but their recovery and overall health can still be influenced by their diet. The old cliché of “What you put in is what you get out”, springs to mind. However, navigating the minefield that is pet nutrition, can be a very difficult process indeed.
We believe that the correct diet is the foundation of good health.
But how do we choose the correct diet for our pets? Not every pet is the same and their dietary needs may change over time, particularly if they are suffering from a disease/illness whether it was caused by food or not.
So, let’s start at the beginning and assume that we are dealing with a young healthy animal that is free of disease. Obviously their health does not depend on their diet alone, but diet is something that we can control, and as in people, a fresh, balanced diet helps them to grow normally and helps them maintain a healthy immune system.
Although most people see their pets as part of their family, we should remember that cats and dogs are not just hairy children! Cats and dogs are also very different from each other, and their nutritional needs are not the same, and certainly not the same as that of humans.
This is where Species Appropriate Nutrition comes in.
Species appropriate nutrition means a diet that is appropriate for a specific species. In order to thrive, an animal must eat a diet that its species has evolved to eat – a diet that its body is able to consume and digest.
Humans are omnivores – we can eat a mixture of predominantly plant material and some meat and thrive. We have flat molar teeth, adapted to grind plant material down and long intestinal tracts that allow for digestion and fermentation of tough plant cell walls. In contrast to that, dogs are carnivores. They have teeth adapted to catching live prey and pointed molar teeth adapted to cutting meat off bones, rather than for grinding. Have you even noticed the difference between a dog and say a cow, when it comes to eating? Cows spend hours chewing their food, slowly grinding it down on flat molar teeth. Dogs and cats on the other hand don’t chew their food. They may gnaw tough pieces into bite sized morsels, but these are swallowed whole. Most dogs gulp down their entire meal in a matter of seconds. Carnivores also have shorter digestive tracts and predominantly secrete digestive enzymes that break down animal proteins and fats. Their entire digestive tract, from teeth to gut , is adapted to digesting meat.
Although dogs can and do eat some plant material, their anatomy indicates that they are carnivores. This is even more so when we consider cats. Cats are classified as obligate carnivores. This means they must eat meat as a biological necessity to thrive. They require certain nutrients that they cannot make themselves and that they can only get from the meat of other animals. In nature, wild cats eat only meat.
In the same way that a cow would not thrive on a diet of fish and meat, a cat will not thrive on a diet of grass and grain.
Bearing all of the above in mind, we believe that our carnivorous pets should be fed a predominantly carnivorous diet. We also believe this diet should ideally be fresh (not highly processed) although we inevitable have to make certain allowances for our modern lives – we cannot just send our cats and dogs out to go hunting every morning!
The most important principle though remains species appropriate, whether it is fresh and raw, or cooked.
For all of the above reasons, we recommend that if at all possible, dogs and cats be fed a fresh meat based diet.
In the case of dogs, this is typically a diet comprised of fresh meat, ground up raw bone and some organ meat, with or without some fresh vegetables mixed into it.
In the case of cats, we recommend a 100% meat diet.
These diets are available as complete, balanced, frozen diets in a variety of flavours.
In circumstances where it is not possible to feed raw meat diets, we recommend a tinned (cooked) diet that is comprised of the same ingredients as the raw diets.
In our opinion, feeding an animal in a way that is appropriate for its physiology, not only improves health and wellbeing, but also allows animals to display normal feeding behaviour.
If you would like to know more about species appropriate feeding, please contact our surgery and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.