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Ontario Veterinary Medical Association

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You are what you eat, and the same is true for your pet


Nutrition is one of the most important factors when it comes to maintaining optimal health for your pet. Like humans, animals can’t survive on diet that’s high in fat, sugars, salt and preservatives. So, how do you choose the best diet for your pet?

Dr. Christine Coghlan is a veterinarian and practice owner at Preston Animal Clinic in Cambridge, Ont. She understands the stress people face when trying to make the best choices for their pet’s health. She says a high-quality diet can have a big impact on an animal’s health.

“Improving nutrition has prolonged many of my patient’s lives,” she says. “For example, animals afflicted with kidney problems have seen an improvement in their conditions and overall quality of life through a more balanced, nutritious diet plan.”

Dr. Coghlan recommends a high-quality pet food specifically formulated for your animal, keeping your pet’s age in mind. Like people, animals require very different nutrients at different life stages—think of a baby’s diet versus a grown adult’s diet.

To ensure you’re providing the highest quality food for your pet, she advises pet owners to choose a veterinary line of food. These brands are produced by companies that have research facilities, conduct rigorous diet trials, and the food is formulated by veterinary nutritionists. While there are many reputable brands consumers can choose from, the Royal Canin, Hills Science Diet and the Purina Pro Plan brands are a few of her favourites.

The trend toward less processed foods has become more popular the human world, and it’s also reflected in the world of animal diets. Raw diets have become a popular alternative to kibble, but Dr. Coghlan says this is a result of misinformation about formulated dog foods.

“I would strongly recommend against raw meat for dogs,” she says. “There are no scientific studies that show this is better. It exposes pets to bacteria and raw diets often aren’t nutritionally balanced.”

Much of the stigma surrounding formulated dog food comes from confusion about by-products and corn, both of which are present in basic and premium kibbles.

Corn contains essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein and antioxidants, which provides nutritional value to pets. Premium pet food companies use high-grade corn. Wheats and grains fit into the same category and are excellent sources of carbohydrates, which are essential for maintaining energy.  

Another misconception is that by-products (anything left over when another product or ingredient is made) are an unhealthy pet food filler. But pet foods with by-products (liver, kidney, spleen, etc.) contain anywhere from 60 to 70 per cent protein, which is an important part of a pet’s diet.

With these myths debunked, it’s easier for pet parents to assess their pet’s nutritional needs and choose the food that best suits their animal’s requirements. Veterinarians can also provide advice and offer nutritional counselling.

For people, opting for healthy, nutrient-rich foods improves our quality of life whether it’s preventing conditions like heart disease and diabetes or increasing overall energy. The same is true for our pets.

“I don’t understand the whole movement to emulate what wild animals eat,” says Dr. Coghlan. “Wild animals only live to three or four years of age. Our pets are living longer than they ever have, and this is because of better parasite control, better veterinary care and, bottom line, better nutrition.”

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