Jennifer Wheeler, M.S. and Mindy Bough, CVT—August 24, 2007
Thank you to everyone who participated in our live chat with ASPCA nutrition experts Jennifer Wheeler, M.S. and Mindy Bough, CVT. Below is the transcript of the discussion—read on to see the advice they offered on the dry/wet food debate, proper diets for doggie diabetes, homemade pet food and more.
I have two small dogs, a min pin and a min pin mix, who are fed twice a day and have sensitive stomachs. They were on Natural Balance until the recall. We switched to Wellness, but I was wondering about feeding them a homemade diet and how to go about it.
Very good question, Mary! There are homemade pet food recipes available for pets with health conditions like the one you mentioned. Your veterinarian most likely has the textbook Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. This book has a recipe for a homemade diet for dogs with gastrointestinal issues. Talk with your veterinarian about this recipe and whether or not it’s appropriate for your dogs.
In addition, you may consider consulting http://www.petdiets.com/—an online service that will, for a fee, provide diet consultation and a recipe for your dogs.
When using a homemade recipe, be sure to follow the instructions exactly. Make sure you don’t omit or substitute ingredients unless the recipe or your veterinarian specifically states to do so. When using a homemade diet it’s also important to have your pets' nutritional status evaluated regularly by your veterinarian.
I want to switch my two-year-old guinea pig to better food. She currently eats a brand with a lot of artificial coloring and stuff in it that I don't like. I like the idea of having lots of different little treats in the food besides just pellets, and my guinea pig likes it too, but I’d like something healthier.
We recommend that high-quality commercial diets make up the bulk of your guinea pig's diet. These are nutritionally complete and can be found at pet supply stores. Guinea pigs can also be given small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. You can learn more about guinea pig diets here:
I have a 14-year-old female cat who has become blocked several times within the past few months. We’ve had to take her in to be sedated multiple times for enemas. We were told to switch her to an all-wet diet, preferably a hairball formula, which we have done. She’s also on many other meds, including Lactulose, Cissapride and Metamucil daily. Is there any other food, feeding regimen or schedule you can suggest to help keep her system moving? Thanks.
This can be a challenging situation, Khristi. I see that you’re working with your veterinarian and have been trying some appropriate strategies to help your cat with her digestive problems.
Increasing her water intake is important, along with feeding her higher levels of insoluble fiber. You may want to talk with your veterinarian about trying a homemade diet if over time your current strategies are not working well. With chronic constipation, multiple enemas are often required.
Working with your veterinarian is extremely important, as he or she knows your cat's health history and status. Please keep in regular touch with your veterinarian to learn about the best options for your cat.
Hi there! I admit it—I feed my two cats a store-brand wet food. I'd love to be a great cat mom and get them the healthy scientific diets, but I just can't afford it. I do make myself feel better by supplementing with Iams dry food. Is this okay? Is it really such a big deal to feed cats the store brands? Thanks! (My cats are both 1 year old with no health problems).
If your veterinarian feels your cats are healthy, a change in diet may not be necessary. However, when it comes to pet foods, the old adage, "you get what you pay for," holds true. We generally recommend high quality pet foods because they contain high-quality ingredients. Although you do normally pay a higher price per bag of food with these brands, some brands may end up more economical than the store brands. Because high-quality brands contain high-quality ingredients, the nutrition is more available to your cats' digestive systems. Your cats' systems absorb more nutrients and lose less nutrition through their stools. Therefore, you end up feeding them less food per serving because your pets receive more nutrition per serving, and you end up buying food less often.
I’m wondering if anyone feeds the brand Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul to their cats. My cats seem to love it and have fewer bouts of throwing up when it’s fed to them. They were raised on Science Diet, but it seems to make them throw up more often. I’ve had no problems with the Chicken Soup food. I'd like to hear any input.
At the ASPCA Pet Nutrition and Science Advisory Service, we have not heard any reports of concerns about Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul pet foods. If you and your veterinarian feel that your cats are in good nutritional condition on this food, there is likely no reason to make a change.
Hi, I have a small 10-pound Chihuahua mix who has a constant itch. She scratches and bites herself to the raw! She’s very finicky and I wonder if the “filet mignon” flavored food I feed her could be the reason she’s so itchy. I went to the vet two months ago. She got a cortisone shot and the vet sold me a cortisone shampoo, but the itch keeps on coming back and I wonder if it could have anything to do with the food I feed her. Can you please advise? Thank you.
Some scratching is normal in dogs, Denise. However, excessive scratching may be the result of external parasites (e.g. fleas or mites), fungal infection, nutritional imbalances, an allergy to something in the environment (indoors or out) or to the dog's diet. I would recommend a return trip to the veterinarian. Your vet will be able to perform a thorough examination and tests to determine the root of your dog's itchy skin.
In addition, nutrition can play a role in skin and coat health. A product with the right ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids can make a difference. Also, regular brushing can help eliminate excess hair and dandruff. When baths are given, it’s also important to rinse thoroughly as excess shampoo left on the skin can cause dryness, dandruff and irritation.
What do y’all think about Wal-Mart brand pet food?
Another really good question! We are generally very cautious about recommending store brands or generic brands. We know there are differences in quality among brands of pet food. Since the quality of the food directly affects pets' health and longevity, we want to be sure we’re providing the best foods possible for our pets. Well-known pet food products available through your veterinarian, or that your veterinarian has recommended, generally have sound research behind them. I’m most confident recommending these types of products.
That said, I’m sure there are many pets who are doing fine on Wal-Mart pet foods. Choosing a pet food is really an individual decision.
My vet has recommended a healthier brand of pet food for my cat to help manage his weight, but he’s gotten picky and refuses to touch it. What do I do?
Transitions to new foods should be made gradually over the course of five to seven days, because cats' digestive systems are sensitive. A swift diet change can cause digestive upset. Also, a more gradual diet change can give your kitty time to adjust to the new diet. If you still have some of the old diet, you may consider mixing the two together in order to give your cat time to adjust. However, if he still doesn’t prefer the diet you’ve chosen, you may consider a different, high-quality "light" pet food. If you’re currently feeding him dry food, you may consider trying a wet version of the same light diet, as wet diets can be more palatable to cats. If simply switching to the wet diet doesn’t work, you may consider heating up the food or adding a small amount of a low-sodium broth to the diet to increase its palatability. —Jennifer W.
I'd like to know why my shih tzu takes kibbles out of his bowl, puts them on the floor and eats them from there instead of just eating directly from the bowl. Thanks for your time.
Pets are individuals, and many will have different feeding preferences, Lisandra. As long as your dog is eating well and your veterinarian believes he’s healthy, I wouldn’t be concerned that he takes a few kibbles from his bowl, drops them on the floor and eats them from there. However, if you would like to learn more about your dog's feeding behavior, you could contact a professional animal behaviorist.
I just adopted Brandy, a one-year-old female papillon/Chihuahua mix who weighs about six pounds. Brandy will not eat dry food. I even switched to "small breed" dry, but nothing helps. She has very loose feces on only wet food. Have you any suggestions? Also, how much should I feed her?
Congratulations on the adoption of your new dog, Carol! How wonderful for both you and Brandy. I have a four-year-old Chihuahua. She’s not picky, but I know being picky is not uncommon for these small breeds.
From a nutritional standpoint, it’s not necessary for Brandy to eat dry food. If you use a high-quality canned or pouch food, all of her nutritional requirements should be met. You may consider transitioning her to a different high-quality brand of wet food to see if her stools firm up. If you would really like Brandy to eat some dry food, too, I have a couple of suggestions.
First, try mixing a little dry in with the wet. This works for some dogs, but others will just pick around the dry pieces. A strategy that goes along with this involves a very gradual introduction to dry food. You may start by adding just a couple of pieces in with the wet food on the first day and over a number of weeks you can increase the number of pieces of dry food and reduce the amount of wet food. Dry food can also be offered as "treat" food and be fed by hand.
There are some products available to enhance the flavor of dry foods. One such product is Iams Savory Sauce. This sauce can be added to dry food to improve the taste. No matter which type of food you end up with, I hope that you’ll pay special attention to your little dog's dental health. Regular dental care can really improve Brandy's quality of life.
Is it advisable to give an older cat, especially a female, calcium supplements?
If you’re feeding your cat a high-quality, nutritionally complete diet formulated for her life stage, Carol, supplementing her diet is generally not necessary unless recommended by your veterinarian. However, if you’re concerned about your pet's health status, I would recommend a visit to the veterinarian to have your cat examined.
The conventional wisdom seems ubiquitous: dry food is better for cats than the wet, canned stuff. This advice seems dubious to me. I grew up in Russia where we were more concerned with obtaining human food than providing the best pet formula for our house cats. So I fed my kitty pieces of cooked and/or raw chicken, meat and fish—scraps from the chopping block and the dinner table. She lived a long and happy life eating protein intended for human consumption, and so, it seems, have most cats over the evolution of the species. They did not evolve eating dry cereal—cats are carnivores who thrive on flesh.
So imagine my initial culture shock when I found that in America, cats eat what looks—to the untrained eye—like breakfast cereal! How can this be better than raw supermarket meats or even the wet canned stuff that actually looks like it came from a real, once-living, carbon-based life form? It seems to defy feline evolution...
There is some discussion in the pet nutrition community as to what is better nutritionally for cats—high-protein foods, wet foods or dry foods. A study has been done with diabetic cats, for example. The study indicated that higher protein diets can be beneficial. The pet food industry responded, and there are now high protein/low carbohydrate diets available for cats.
More research needs to be done, but for the moment we know that, in general, cats are living long, healthy lives; this indicates to me that we’ve gotten many things right in regards to feline nutrition. That said, I am sure we have much to learn. Certainly the nutritional approach for cats in this country is changing.
One of my two cats, Eponine, has been on a prescription diet for the last two years since she recovered from a urinary tract infection. I have also been feeding my other cat, Cosette, the same diet. Both cats seem fine with it. Will this be their requirement for the remainder of their lives, or could I try other cat foods?
It is possible that your cat will need to be on this diet for the remainder of her life, Carol. However, because your veterinarian knows your cat and her history, I would recommend working with him/her to determine a proper diet.
What is the best cat food to feed my pets? I recently switched from Iams due to its animal testing, and now I feed them Hill's Science Diet.
It’s important to look for a quality product that’s formulated for the age and activity levels of your cats. There are a number of high-quality products to choose from. We generally recommend the top level brands—when it comes to pet food, you generally get what you pay for. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations for your cats.
It is important to keep your veterinarian or veterinary technician involved in your pets' nutrition. During your next visit, be sure to mention the type of food you’re using and ask if there are any nutritional concerns with your cats.
In regards to your concerns about Iams, pet food choices are very personal and I respect your concerns about animal testing. You may not realize that a lot has changed in recent years. The ASPCA has been working with Iams and currently believes that animal welfare is a high priority to the Iams Company. You can find more information at http://www.iamstruth.com/.
I’ve been feeding my cats a commercial store brand and they seem to like it. I noticed that one of my cats tends to "throw up" once in a while (maybe three times a month). I brought Oreo to my vet and he ruled out any problems. He suggested Laxatone, a hairball product, and Oreo is doing better, but occasionally he still throws up. Is there something, maybe more natural, that you can suggest feeding him? Oreo tends to be the type of cat who lets his three siblings eat before he goes for the canned food.
Because there can be many causes for vomiting other than hairballs, you may consider another trip to the veterinarian. If your veterinarian is confident that your Oreo's vomiting is not problematic, then it’s possible that this is something that may be ongoing for him. Laxatone can help hairballs pass more easily; however, cats on Laxatone may still vomit hairballs occasionally. If you notice any changes in his health, appetite or activity level, or if the vomiting increases in frequency, please visit your veterinarian right away. Also, there are diets available for cats with sensitive stomachs. You may consider discussing a transition to this type of diet with your veterinarian. —Jennifer W.
Thanks. I didn’t even realize it could be a sensitive stomach. I’ll check with my vet again.
I read recently that dry food is not good for cats, but I have always fed my cat dry food. Which brand of can/pouch cat food is best to give to my cat? Please help! I just want her to lose three pounds, and I want to try to get rid of the possibility of her ever getting diabetes.
Certainly the nutritional approach for cats in this country is changing, Ashley. Since high-quality canned/pouched cat foods are nutritionally complete, it’s certainly reasonable to go with a wet food diet for your cat. Some nutritional experts do still advocate high-quality dry foods. I recommend you further discuss your cat's specific needs with your veterinarian. —Mindy B.