As pet owners, we all love our pets like members of our own families. They’re always there for us when we need them, and they’ve helped us get through good days and bad days alike. Our houses and apartments wouldn’t be the same without them.
Because we care so much about our pets, we all try to do everything in our power to take good care of them. We keep them clean, make sure they get plenty of exercise, tidy up after them and take them to the vet when they get sick. Every pet owner knows that one of the most important things we can do to take care of our pets is to make sure that they’re eating properly.
Establishing healthy eating habits for your four-legged friends is crucial to their well-being. It helps improve their quality of life, helps them from developing health complications and even helps them live longer. Conversely, the consequences of giving foods to animals that aren’t safe for them could be dire, and it’s certainly not something to play around with at random.
Of course, this concept isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Some pets have unique needs. Older pets have different needs than younger ones and an overweight pet will have different needs than an underweight one.
It doesn’t help that we seem to be bombarded every day with advertisements about what is best to feed your pet and what is bad for them. Your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers probably all have pet advice to give, and while some of it sounds safe, some of it may be questionable.
With all this information and misinformation circulating, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. So, we’ve put together a definitive guide on how to feed your pets — specifically, cats and dogs. By the end of this guide, we hope to have answered any and all questions you have on the subject.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Which Foods Are Safe for Cats?
Cat food is obviously the safest option to feed to your cat. It’s been specifically designed to meet all of a cat’s nutritional and dietary needs. But with so many brands of cat food in any store, it can sometimes be overwhelming and difficult to select the best one.
One tip is to look at the label of a package of cat food. If there’s an official notice from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), then you can be confident the food is healthy and balanced for your cat’s nutritional needs.
It’s certainly possible to make your own cat food at home, but it’s important to only do this under the guidance of a vet or another professional who is very well informed about cat nutrition. Because cats are so small, even small nutritional imbalances can have significant negative consequences.
What about other foods? Let’s take a look at some human foods that are safe to feed your cat.
- Meats: Cats are meat eaters, first and foremost. They can safely eat cooked chicken, turkey, beef and other common meat. Be careful to avoid giving them raw or spoiled meat, however. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your cat.
- Whole Grains: This includes grains like oats, corn, brown rice, wheat berries and barley, although you might want to try mashing them first. Make sure these grains are fully cooked so they don’t give your cat indigestion.
- Fish: Cats love to eat fish, and it’s really good for them as well. Most canned or cooked fish is fine, although you never want to feed your cat raw fish.
- Eggs: You certainly don’t want to feed raw eggs to your cat, but as long as they’re cooked properly, eggs are a great source of protein.
- Vegetables: Not every cat is going to be interested in eating veggies, but they’re still a great way to provide vitamins and fiber. If you want to get your cat to eat veggies, you might have to slip them in with other foods to hide them.
- Cheese: Cheese is fine for your cat to eat, but you don’t want to overdo it. Cats’ stomachs don’t handle dairy extremely well, so you’ll want to keep the cheese to a minimum.
Which Foods Are Harmful to Cats?
- Chocolate: Ingesting chocolate is very dangerous for cats, potentially causing heart problems and seizures.
- Macadamia Nuts: These can cause stomach problems if ingested in large amounts.
- Grapes or Raisins: These have the potential to lead to kidney failure in cats.
- Bread Dough: The raw ingredients in bread dough are dangerous for cats to ingest.
- Onions or Garlic: These are known to cause digestive problems, as well as anemia if ingested in large quantities.
- Alcohol: This can cause detrimental liver and brain damage.
- Caffeine: Drinks containing caffeine are known to cause heart palpitations and muscle tremors.
- Artificial Sweeteners such as Xylitol: This sweetener is found in most candies and is toxic to cats.
The foods listed above are foods that you absolutely must avoid giving your cat. They are toxic to cats and will almost certainly cause problems.
Still, this list of foods that are absolute no-nos is much smaller than you might think.
The truth is that many of the foods often included on these lists are actually alright for your cat as long as they’re only consumed in small amounts. They will only become toxic if they’re consumed in medium or large amounts. If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not a food is safe, the best course of action is to either look it up or avoid it all together. When it comes to your cat’s health, you can never be too careful. It’s far better to be safe than to be sorry.
How Will My Cat’s Diet Change as They Get Older?
It’s important to begin instilling healthy eating habits in a cat from an early age. Kittens especially are often inclined to eat anything they can get their paws on. This inclination results in obese kittens that are more likely to remain obese the rest of their lives. To prevent obesity in your cat, carefully regulate their calorie intake and provide regular meal times for them.
When it comes to aging cats, there aren’t separate food rules. The same rules apply to senior cats that apply to all other cats. The only difference is that there are more things to be aware of. Cats are like humans or any other animal, meaning they’re likely to develop ailments as they age.
Feeding your senior cat simply means being aware of any health complications they may have and adjusting their diet appropriately. It’s a good idea to consult with your vet about your individual cat and their necessary dietary changes. It’s also good to be especially watchful of your senior cat’s weight, as older cats tend to be less active and more sedentary.
What Are the Recommended Portion Sizes for Cats?
Keep in mind that something like portion size is extremely subjective, and it varies immensely from cat to another. It’s no different than with humans. Any two humans will have vastly different food needs and so will cats.
A general rule of thumb that can serve as a starting point is that most cats should consume about 200 calories every day. Another good way to break this down is to remember that a cat ought to eat 24-35 calories per pound that they weigh. Portions will vary depending on your cat’s size, age and activity levels. It’s always a good idea to consult your vet to determine your cat’s individual needs.
It’s important not to overfeed your cat. When a cat becomes overweight from eating too much, this can lead to all kinds of health problems such as diabetes, joint pain and arthritis, heart problems and urinary tract diseases.
The best way to avoid overfeeding is to limit food to specific meal times. Your cat will come to learn when these times are and will come to expect food then. If you leave food out during the day, a cat will often keep eating far more than they ought to.
None of this means that you have to cut out treats from your cat’s diet. Just try to limit them to no more than 5-10% of your cat’s daily calorie intake.
When and How Often Should I Feed My Cat?
When considering the best times to feed a cat, it’s helpful to remember that they are natural hunters. If your cat was living alone in the wild, they would be hunting to collect their main meals, which means they would naturally eat during the time of day when hunting would be the best.
For cats, this prime hunting time of day seems to be around the dawn and the dusk hour. As a cat owner, try using these times as guidelines for when to feed your cat. Obviously, it might not be practical to feed your cat every morning at the crack of dawn. But in general, one meal in the morning and one in the evening can be used as a general rule and has worked with many cat owners.
Which Foods Are Safe for Dogs?
Everyone wants to spoil their dog with treats and scraps from the table, and while plenty of foods are perfectly safe for dogs, others can be very toxic. If you’re ever unsure, it’s best to ask your vet, look it up or else just avoid the food entirely to be safe.
No matter how safe human food is for dogs, it’s still best to stick to dog food for a dog’s main meals and to only use human food as an occasional extra treat – if at all.
- Peanut Butter: This is not only safe for dogs to eat, but it’s also a terrific source of protein. In fact, if you’re ever trying to get your dog to eat something they don’t want to, adding a spoonful of peanut butter will often do the trick. Note: Please make sure that you are not giving your dog sugar-free or low-calorie peanut butter as those varieties often contain Xylitol, which is harmful to animals.
- Yogurt: Another good source of protein, although you’ll want to be sure to avoid the varieties that are high in sugar and preservatives.
- Lean Meats: Some examples are beef, turkey and chicken, just make sure they’re fully cooked and that small bones have been removed. Most of these are found in your dog’s food anyway and are filled with nutrients that are healthy for your dog.
- Salmon: Salmon contains plenty of good proteins, as well as lots of Omega-3 fatty acids that are great for your dog’s health and coat.
- Pumpkins and Sweet Potatoes: These vegetables have lots of great nutrients that help keep your dog healthy.
- Rice or Pasta: These types of food help give your dog lots of energy, although you should be careful to avoid any fatty sauces that might be on the pasta.
- Apples: Most dogs love apples, which also happen to be great sources of vitamins A and C.
- Green Beans, Peas and Baby Carrots: These are great low-calorie ways to give your dog the nutrients they need.
- Eggs: You definitely don’t want your dog to eat these raw, but when cooked, eggs can be a great source of protein.
- Oatmeal: This is especially good for senior dogs, as it’s been shown to help with bowel problems common in some older dogs.
What Foods Are Harmful to Dogs?
- Chocolate or cocoa: This is an absolute no-no! Even one bite could cause your dog to experience diarrhea or vomiting. More serious complications could follow and potentially even lead to death.
- Grape: These can cause permanent kidney failure, and are especially dangerous for dogs that are older or already sick.
- Avocados: These are also known to induce vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.
- Onions and Garlic: These foods could cause intestinal problems and damage to the red blood cells.
- Macadamia Nuts: These are extremely toxic to dogs and cause vomiting, inability to walk, or damage to the nervous system.
- Alcohol: This is very dangerous to give a dog, causing symptoms ranging from vomiting to possible death.
- Dairy: In very small amounts, dairy may not harm your dog. But their bodies aren’t equipped to process lactose the way humans are, and it could become harmful in medium or large amounts.
- Coffee or other caffeinated beverages: This could cause heart palpitations or other problems, even if the dog only had a small sip.
- Gum: The artificial sweetener found in gum and many candies, Xylitol, is toxic to dogs. Furthermore, a dog’s body can’t process the gum and the sticky substance can clog up the dog’s digestive system and even cause death.
How Will My Dog’s Diet Change as They Get Older?
A puppy’s diet will differ from an adult dog largely in respect to how often they eat. Puppies need to eat about four times a day, which means that their daily calorie intake needs to be divided carefully into four portions, not that their food intake needs to be greater.
With older dogs, they don’t usually need to eat special foods unless they’ve developed health complications that demand it. Dogs, like humans, become more prone to complications as they get older, which makes them more likely to have dietary restrictions. However, if your dog is healthy, there’s no need to change what they’re eating.
It is important, however, to monitor how much they’re eating. Since older dogs are more sedentary, they don’t burn as many calories as a younger dog. This change means that they probably don’t need as much food every day. If your dog is becoming less active with age, it’s a good idea to cut back on their food to prevent them from becoming obese and developing the health problems that usually accompany obesity.
What Are the Recommended Portion Sizes for Dogs?
It’s important to feed your dog the right amount since too little can easily result in nutritional imbalance or deficiency and too much can result in obesity, which leads to a whole host of problems in its own right. Just a few of the problems that come with obesity include congestive heart failure, skin disorders, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even some types of cancer.
However, just like with people, there is no simple one-size-fits-all answer to how much your dog should be eating. The amount of food your dog needs depends on their size, age, weight and activity level.
A few guidelines exist and can help you determine your dog’s appropriate portion size. Most dog food packages will have a table on the side that can act as a guide. It’s important not to treat this as gospel — feel free to fine-tune to your dog’s needs. If you are feeding the recommended amount and your dog is losing weight, don’t hesitate to feed a little extra, and vice versa.
Treats are fine to give your dog but try not to let them make up more than 5-10% of your dog’s daily food intake. If you are unsure how much or what kinds of food you should be feeding your dog, please contact your local veterinarian and they will be able to provide recommendations.
When and How Often Should I Feed My Dog?
It’s important to establish regular mealtimes for your dog so they know when to expect food. A regular meal schedule will help keep your dog healthy and prevent obesity. While occasional snacks are fine, consistency is important, and it’s best to keep your dog’s meals to roughly the same time every day.
A good way to train a dog to learn his mealtime is to put the bowl of food out and remove it again after 10-20 minutes, depending on how fast your dog usually eats. By doing this, your dog will learn that these are the times when food is available.
If the bowl is left out all day, your dog may simply “graze” over the course of the day, which makes it difficult to control portion sizes. It also may make it difficult to tell if a dog is skipping meals, which can be a sign that something is wrong. Besides affecting your dog’s eating schedule, leaving a bowl of food out may attract unwanted pests and bugs.
Most dogs need two meals a day, with the exception of puppies who usually need more. It’s best to avoid making meal times too close to your dog’s exercise times. You don’t want to feed your dog before exercising him since no one wants to exercise with their whole dinner in their tummy. You should also avoid feeding him immediately after exercising because doing this can lead to stomach problems and cause your dog to have a hard time digesting food properly.
A good guide to follow is to feed your dog no sooner than one hour after exercising, and about four hours before exercising. It’s a good idea to exercise your dog, allow for an hour of relaxation, and then serve dinner.
Need More Advice?
Some of this advice, such as the rules about foods pets shouldn’t eat, is very definitive and should not be experimented with. Other advice, such as the rules about feeding times and portion sizes, can vary from pet to pet.
Even though they’re good guidelines that work for most pets, it’s important to remember that every dog and cat is unique. Some pets are very special cases where these rules don’t quite apply.
By following these tips and guidelines, you can help your pet live a long, happy and healthy life. You’re also sure to save money on vet bills as your pets avoid developing complications caused by improper care. Of course, it’s always a good idea to take your pet to the vet for regular checkups, but you help can avoid emergency visits by following these suggestions.
If you’re looking to take your pet for a regular wellness check or if your pet has accidentally ingested a harmful substance in the Bradenton, Sarasota, or Lakewood Ranch areas, please call the University Animal Clinic at 941-355-7707, and we will be happy to help! You can also get in touch with us using our online contact form.