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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Food

Here's a better way to feed your pet

You want to keep your pet healthy and free of stomach problems, so you feed your dog or cat a premium, natural, organic or fresh food rather than basic pet food. You conclude these foods must be better because they are more pricey.

But, your focus on the pet food itself may be misplaced since 40 percent of dogs and cats still suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea, according to a survey by Nestlé Purina. So a better approach to feeding your dog or cat must include monitoring your pet's eating habits and lifestyle, a leading a veterinary nutritionist says.

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Many dietary problems can be linked to factors such as feeding at irregular intervals, overeating, sudden change in food, munching on too many treats and stress, Nestle Purina veterinarian Grace Long says.
"Many dogs and cats do not tolerate sudden changes in diet." Dr. Long told "A sudden change can upset the normal population of bacteria that live in the intestine, resulting in an imbalance that can lead to diarrhea."

Here's what Dr. Long suggests pet parents do to help keep the digestive tracts of their dogs and cats healthy:
  • Feed and choose a diet from a major food company that conducts extensive research and can maintain superior quality control procedures.
  • If you have to change your pet's diet, do it gradually over five to 10 days. Many pets are unable to tolerate a sudden diet change, especially as they get older.
  • Practice portion control, which is is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Feed your pet a specific amount of food twice a day. Adjust that amount if your pet is too heavy or too thin.
  • Limit treats to no more than 10 percent of the daily calories.
  • Give your pet good treats, such as low calorie snacks. Treats are a fact of life and to eliminate them is not realistic.
  • Avoid people food whenever possible. But if you do give your pet some people food, make it healthy foods such as vegetables, small pieces of lean meat, cooked eggs and fruit.
The survey also found a strong link between gastrointestinal problems and lifestyle. Any kind of stress - bad or good - even tends to upset pets.

Here's what Dr. Long suggests pet parents do to help reduce stress for their dogs and cats:
  • Introduce new household pets or visitors gradually.
  • Before going a on a long trip, get your pet used to travel by going on small trips around town.
  • If you are away from home a lot, spend some quality time with your pet when you are there.
  • If your home is hectic, make sure your pet has a quiet refuge.
The Nestlé Purina survey found that fewer than one in three pet parents fail to seek veterinary help when their dogs and cats are suffering from vomiting, diarrhea and gas. Most pet parents ignore the gastrointestinal troubles until the condition worsens to loss of appetite. At that point, 49 percent of dog owners and 60 percent of cat owners consulted with a veterinarian.

But Dr. Long advises pet parents to contact their veterinarian when their dogs and cats are having digestive problems and not wait until the condition results in loss of appetite. “The truth is, veterinarians only hear about a fraction of the GI incidents that occur,” she said.

“While it’s understandable that owners may choose to ‘wait out’ certain problems if they appear minor, we also know that even short-lived suffering from conditions such as stress diarrhea can be reduced with veterinary intervention.”

Seeking veterinary care is also important because gastrointestinal problems are sometimes symptoms of a more serious underlying health condition, Dr. Long said. "Unfortunately, delaying the veterinary visit when GI issues arise often means the veterinarian is dealing with a much more serious condition by the time the pet is finally seen."


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