Older adults love their pets, and an increasing number of seniors are pet owners. While a decade ago just 34 percent of those age 70 and over had a pet, this number rose to 40 percent in a recent report
on pet ownership trends in the U.S. With so much changing information around pet care and the increasing tendency to treat our four-legged companions as family, it’s worth taking a look at what experts say about optimal feeding.
Dog and Cat Nutrition
We all want to feed our pets well, but sometimes the limited budgets of seniors can get in the way. Another common barrier is confusion regarding exactly what a good diet contains. There are so many confusing ingredients in pet food that it’s impossible to tell which is better than another. And how is it possible to know if your pet has an allergy?
Take an old leather belt, some used motor oil and a portion of sawdust. Grind them up, mix them together and let them dry. Send the result to a food testing laboratory for an analysis. It will be rejected, right? Wrong. This uninviting mix contains:
- 32 percent protein
- 18 percent fat
- 3 percent fiber
That’s comparable to the ratios listed on the bags of many pet foods. Leather contains protein, motor oil is a source of fat and the sawdust provides fiber. That illustrates how important it is to find the source of all those ingredients in your pet’s food. While we don’t know of any food that uses those ingredients, there is a big difference in sources that sound like similar products.
The very first thing to look for on a pet food label is the statement that the food it contains is “complete and balanced.” This is not meaningless jargon, but guarantees the food follows strict dietary requirements dictated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The food must contain all necessary nutrients in the guaranteed analysis, which lists minimum amounts of crude protein and fat, as well as maximum percentages of water and crude fiber. You can always call a specific company to ask about the food it makes. Here’s a list of questions
to ask company representatives. The list, from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, contains a lot of helpful information on what answers you might expect.
Meat is a surprisingly confusing ingredient. Many dogs are allergic to beef. Whole meats have a high percentage of water weight, meaning that the percentage of meat can appear lower after processing. Meat meal may not sound very appetizing, but it contains no water to alter the calculation.
Take a look at the product name. You might think that “Beef,” “Beef Dinner” and “Beef Flavor” are roughly equivalent, but you’d be mistaken. If the name says “beef,” that ingredient must make up at least 70 percent of the product. Move to “beef entree,” “beef dinner” or “beef platter,” though, and the requirement is for a mere 10 percent of beef in the offering. If it says “with beef,” then beef may be as little as three percent of the total, and “beef flavor” only needs to be enough to make the product taste beefy. The same holds true for any other protein.
Cat owners should be aware that their pets are what is known as “obligate carnivores” because they must eat meat to live. They have lost the ability to make certain amino acids and vitamins in their bodies like herbivores and omnivores do. Even their digestive tracts are quite short compared to other mammals. Raw meat is highly digestible.
In fact, meat is highly digestible for dogs, too. It can be broken down into small particles and transported in the bloodstream quicker than other sources.
Protein requirements of pets can vary according to the stage of life and species. Cats need more protein than dogs do. Growing puppies and kittens need more than adults. Generally, adult dogs need a minimum of 18 percent, and adult cats require at least 26 percent protein, according to AAFCO. Higher levels may be needed for very active animals, or those which are ill.
The ingredient list that is mandatory on every cat or dog food label can do more to confuse owners than clarify matters. Fortunately, Skaer Veterinary Clinic offers this exhaustive list of pet food ingredients
with descriptions for every entry. Consult it to learn about everything from animal digest to yucca schidegera.