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Nutrition for pets

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Proper nutrition is a very important part of your pet's overall health. Fortunately, you are in control of what your pets eat, and you can provide them with high-quality nutrition for every stage of life.

In most cases, a name-brand commercial pet food is the best way to ensure that your pet is receiving a nutritionally balanced diet that is made of high-quality ingredients. Too many extra treats can have a negative effect on your pet's proper balance of calories and nutrients. It's especially important to avoid table scraps, which are typically high in calories but low in nutrition.

Your pet's diet should reflect its age and health. For example, puppies and kittens need more calories, more protein, and more fat than older animals. On the other hand, older animals have different nutritional needs than middle-aged ones. Likewise, pets with specific medical conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, intestinal problems, or allergies, have special dietary needs. Your veterinarian can prescribe the type of diet that is best for your pet in each stage of its life.

A large part of proper nutrition is feeding an appropriate amount. Feeding too much can result in weight problems that, over time, can directly lead or contribute to many medical conditions that can seriously affect your pet's health and quality of life. Your vet can help you determine the amount of food that meets your pet's daily needs.

One thing to keep in mind any time you change your pet's diet is that any dietary change should be done gradually, usually over a week or so. For example, feed three-fourths the old diet and one-fourth the new diet for a few days. Then feed one-half the old diet and one-half the new diet for a few days, followed by three-fourths the new diet and one-fourth the old diet for a few days. After this, you can start feeding 100 percent the new diet. In most cases, this allows your pet's digestive system to adapt to the new food without any digestive upset.

Q&A

What should I feed my pet?

In most cases, a name-brand commercial pet food is the best way to ensure that your pet is receiving a nutritionally balanced diet made of high-quality ingredients.  Keep extra treats (especially table scraps) to a bare minimum, because these can have a negative effect on your pet’s proper balance of calories and nutrients. 


Should my pet get the same diet throughout its life?

Your pet’s diet should change over time as its dietary needs change.  Puppies and kittens should receive a juvenile diet that is higher in calories, protein, and fat than diets for adult pets.  Senior animals and pets with medical conditions likewise have different nutritional needs compared to middle-aged ones. 


Can I switch diets all at once?

All diet changes should be done gradually (usually over a week or two) to allow your pet’s digestive system to adapt without upset.  Begin with three-fourths old diet and one-fourth new diet for a few days, then switch to half and half, followed by three-fourths and one-fourth, followed by 100% new diet. 


How much should I feed my pet?

Your vet can help you decide on the amount of food your pet needs to maintain a healthy weight.  Be especially careful about feeding too much, because weight problems directly or indirectly contribute to many medical conditions that can seriously affect your pet’s health and quality of life. 

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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