I originally wrote this post in February 2011:

Watching what food we put into our own bodies is hard enough. Ensuring our pets get a healthy diet can be downright mind-numbing. Standards for pet nutrition and food labeling are not as strict as those for human food. Understanding what is essential for your best buddy and how to provide it will result in a healthy pet. Pet feeding is a complicated topic, so we’ll break it down into three parts. This month we examine the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. In March, we’ll decode pet food labels. Alternative types of diets will be the subject of our April column.

What is a healthy weight?

Your pet’s age and activity level will have a bearing on how much and what formulation of food you feed him. Feeding guidelines on pet food packaging are more generous than most dogs and cats need. Start at the low end of the guideline for your pet and monitor him closely. You should be able to feel the definition of your pet’s ribs without excess fat and see a well-defined “waist” as you look at your pet from above. Measure your pet’s daily portion to maintain that healthy weight. And don’t forget to take treats into consideration. Treats can add a lot of calories to your pet’s diet, so compensate at meal time when giving treats during training.

Feeding your pet at established times, rather than free-feeding throughout the day, helps you monitor if your pet is eating normally or if his appetite has suddenly changed. Sudden changes in food and water consumption can be warning signs of illness and should be reported to your veterinarian immediately.

What is a balanced diet?

Cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs, but there are common building blocks. To start with, both dogs and cats always need clean, fresh water. The other elements of a healthy diet include:

Proteins. Dogs and cats both need a lot of protein in their diets. Cats need relatively more animal proteins than dogs, however. Proteins are critical to nearly every one of your pet’s physiological systems: muscles, organs, bones, blood, hair, nails and immune system. The best sources of protein for your pet’s diet are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and grains.

Fats. Fats in foods are the most concentrated source of energy for dogs and cats and contribute to healthy tissues such as skin, coat and brain. Healthy fats can come from lean meats and certain oils.

Carbohydrates. For dogs, carbohydrates are a major source of energy and they can tolerate three times the amount of carbohydrates than cats. Cats don’t make a lot of an enzyme that digests carbohydrates and if they get too much, it causes diarrhea.

Vitamins and minerals. Neither dogs nor cats are able to make most of the vitamins and minerals so essential to their well-being. They have to come from food. What dogs and cats need differs somewhat, but commercially prepared pet foods provide these essential nutrients. Supplementing vitamins and minerals beyond what is provided in your pet’s food is a subject for discussion with your veterinarian.

Fatty acids. Some fatty acids are classified as essential for dogs and cats, meaning they cannot be synthesized within the animal’s body and must come from food. Dogs and cats require different fatty acids, but they are critical to healthy circulatory, reproductive and immune systems.

Of course these are general nutritional building blocks. Diets may need to change if your pet develops allergies to food. Some diseases require therapeutic diets. Life stage is another consideration for your pet’s nutritional needs. Senior dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, and pregnant and lactating pets may need different formulations of these nutrients.

A balanced diet goes a long way to helping you and your dog or cat enjoy a long healthy life together.


Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2011, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC