Monday, March 18, 2019

What Should I Feed My Dog?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku, DVM

This is not a simple question, but one we often get, and struggle with just as our clients do.  As veterinarians, we should know more than the average person about how to feed your new puppy, or your mature dog, but that also makes it difficult because there is a lot of information to process in this question!

While ingredient lists are often the first place a consumer will look to assess a diet, it is not the last place one should look.  Ingredient lists can be misleading when we try to oversimplify what they are telling us.  Here is a “glossary” of terms used in the pet food industry:

There are several factors that must go in to deciding which diet is best to feed.  And the choices are plentiful.  Like us, the same diet is rarely the best diet for ALL dogs, but at the same time, there are guidelines that will help you figure out where to start, and it is highly possible that your dog will do well on a diet that the majority of dogs will do well on, statistically speaking.

Factors that I consider critical to the decision are nutritional support [e.g. does the diet meet minimum standards for nutrition established by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials)] which is an association of local, state and federal agencies that regulate animal feed sales and content.  It is a minimum standard that all diets should satisfy and ”AAFCO Approved” should be part of the label somewhere.  In the past, when generic dog food was first introduced on the market, these standards were not met and deficiencies surfaced causing serious health problems.  This should be the minimum you should ask of your diet.

Beyond the minimum nutritional value, the considerations become more subjective, assuming your pet does not have a specific medical condition dictating a “low fat” or "limited ingredient” diet for example.  For most of us, we are looking for a diet that is humanely produced, has some evidence based research that it will keep our dogs healthy, help them to have normal stools and a nice healthy coat, keep their teeth and bones strong and healthy, one that they will enjoy eating, and we will find convenient to buy and feed, at a reasonable price.  No small order! 

For some it is also important to avoid a lot of additives and preservatives, but there are trade offs to having commercially produced foods without adequate preservation.  With this comes a higher risk of spoilage which can drive up expense associated with how it is handled in manufacturing and delivery, storage, etc.  Raw diets in particular have the added risk of bacterial contamination that can be harmful not only for your dog, but for sensitive family members as well. 

A lot of diets now include supplements like glucosamine for joint health, or increased protein which we often associate as higher quality calories, or “natural” sourced ingredients, or more omega 3’s.  Many of these sound beneficial, and I won’t say they aren’t, but sometimes the marketing is more powerful than the evidence.  In the case of glucosamine, for instance, there is typically not sufficient concentrations to be helpful. Evidence based efficacy, such as actual feeding trials for dogs to prove any benefit, may be lacking altogether.  Often the value of an ingredient is inferred because people have heard that it could be helpful for themselves,  or there was one study that showed possible benefit in another species (like mice or humans) but not dogs.  One has to be a little cautious of this type of data.  “Grain free” is another popular marketing label that has recently been shown to potentially lead to heart disease in some dogs. 

Often larger, more established companies have the advantage of having the resources to do feeding trials and nutrition research. They utilize sophisticated scientific analysis as well as expertise from PhD nutritionists, food science experts, microbiologists and animal science research to help formulate diets that are designed to be nutritionally appropriate, palatable to most animals who are fed it, and convenient for consumers to use.   While there are a host of smaller, boutique companies that also make pet food, many of them do not have the resources to perform feeding trials over many years, or have laboratories that can help with quality control and nutritional analysis.  They will often rely on research performed by or funded by other companies in order to meet the AAFCO minimum standards and have a starting place from which to make other adjustments.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but just important to recognize. 
Finally there are many who feed home cooked meals to their pets.  While this may feel healthier to some than feeding processed kibble, it is not easy to meet all requirements in today’s world from grocery store ingredients.  UC Davis has a wonderful nutrition department that will help you formulate a balanced diet for your pet, but recipes can be expensive (on the order of $225/recipe) to have formulated.  Beyond that, it is difficult to create a balanced diet, despite the fact that there are published recipes online… As we all know, putting it out there is easy.  Taking responsibility for your pet’s well being is not as easy.

So, at the end of the day, what should you feed your dog??  There is no one answer!  How food is sourced in todays society will definitely affect your choice.  I try to look for a middle ground.  I like the convenience of feeding kibble and I think my dog’s stool is more formed and consistent on kibble.  I like that a trusted company has done feeding trials and has some scientific based evidence that I will be meeting her nutritional needs as a canine. But I confess,  I also prepare organic bone broth and sometimes add a little extra organically humanely raised meat  topper to her prepared food to increase her appetite, and complement her prepared diet.  When I cook for her I add a little black pepper to aid with digestion, celery to help her appetite, turmeric for her arthritis, and lots of love.  All in small amounts., except for the love of course.  I don’t worry about whether the bag says chicken meal or pork by products because as the glossary explains, that just means there is liver and intestines and not just “meat” which is actually more nutritious.  As one nutritionist pointed out, in many countries these are actually what humans also value and consume.  While  theoretically it could include feathers or other “by-products”, these aren’t intended ingredients because there isn’t nutritional value in them, and if you read the glossary, they are intentionally and mandated to be excluded.  If bone meal is her source of calcium that is no worse nor better than ground calcium carbonate from sea shells to me.  If there are preservatives to help her kibble remain fresh and prevent spoilage, I accept that as I often do in my own diet in order to avoid gastrointestinal upset.  Do I want her to live forever, you bet!!

I do encourage you to look at what you are feeding, read the labels and understand their limitations as well, evaluate your dog’s response to your choice and if necessary, change and re-evaluate again.  But do so gradually, with consideration, and with the help of your veterinarian.  We may not know everything, but we have studied this issue at length, and will try to bring perspective and guidance to our answers.  Because we want your dog to live forever too!  :)

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

What is a Bland Diet?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku (with some collaboration from RVT Katie & Vet Assistant Danielle)

If you’ve had a pet that has been feeling ill, having stomach problems or diarrhea, there’s a good chance you’ve heard your Veterinarian say, “We are going to start your pet on a bland diet.”
But why is that?  And what exactly is that diet?

“A bland diet allows the pet’s GI tract to recover by being easy to digest.  We usually recommend feeding a bland diet until the pet returns back to normal (i.e., if the pet is having diarrhea, the stools return to normal).” 
                                        –Katie, Registered Veterinary Technician

At our hospital, we have several bland diet options.  The first being prescription diet brands formulated for GI upsets.  There are several veterinary diet brands that have special gastro-intestinal options, for example:

  • Hill’s Prescription Diet I/D
  • Royal Canin’s Prescription Diet GI Low Fat or GI Fiber Response
  • Purina’s Prescription Diet EN

These specialty foods are only available through your Veterinarian.

You can also make your own homemade bland diet using a combination of easy to digest protein and carbohydrate sources for dogs:
  • Baked or boiled skinless deboned chicken breast with no seasonings (salt, pepper, paprika, etc.). 
  • Cooked white rice with no butter, salt, pepper or other seasonings. 
  • Low fat cottage cheese (in lieu of chicken).

Brown rice is not usually recommended with GI upset because it has different fiber content compared to white rice.  This can make it harder for pets to easily digest brown rice. Sometimes we will suggest boiled potato or pasta as a variation for the cooked white rice, but it depends on the pet’s condition and diet history. 

Each pet is different and so it varies when it comes to how much to feed, how often, and for how long.  Generally, small amounts of the bland diet is offered throughout the day (for example: 1 tablespoon every couple of hours) and gradually increased until the pet is fed a normal amount of food (for example: a small 10 lb. dog could get 3 tablespoons of boiled chicken and rice fed three times a day). If your pet is vomiting, you will want to limit water intake to small amounts at a time as well, but offer if frequently enough to satisfy your pet’s hydration needs.  Hopefully, a few days later, once your pet is feeling better, it’s time to gradually mix the bland diet with the pet’s regular diet.

For smaller dogs and/or cats, we will sometimes suggest all meat chicken or turkey baby food, or a prescription diet like Hill’s a/d. Because cats are more strict carnivores, we usually will not add a carbohydrate.  But for most dogs, we will tend to balance the protein and carbohydrate ratio 1:1 during this period. 

Most passing gastrointestinal problems (e.g. vomiting or diarrhea) that will respond to a bland diet change should resolve within 24-48 hours.  If your pet’s issue continue for longer, your pet is very lethargic, painful, febrile or dehydrated, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Also, persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration quickly, especially if your pet is not holding down water, and you will need to seek veterinary care more urgently.  Monitor stools and urination to be sure they are still happening and notify your veterinarian if they are absent.   And finally, if this is a chronic issue for your pet, while a bland diet may be helpful, you will likely need to determine the underlying cause with your veterinarian to ensure a longer term solution and proper nutrition in the long run.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Is Your Cat Nervous?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku

Anxiety in cats is not uncommon.  In nature, the instinct to be stealthy and able to react quickly is an advantage.  In domestic life, sometimes this can be a disadvantage.  Anxiety over changes in season, routine, dietary choices, litter preferences, and even sudden movements can make our kitty companions seem a bit jumpy sometimes. 

For the most part, cats can adjust their sensitivity to our lives by hiding and basically avoiding the “negative stimulus.”  When avoidance is not enough, some cats will express their anxiety in other ways.  Elimination issues are probably one of the most common ways that cats will express anxiety in the home, or perhaps it is the most noticeable as urinating on the rug or the toaster.  This will surely get our attention!
Just like with us, stress can actually create physiological responses in the body that alert us to a problem.  This can be increased acid production in the stomach, even to the point of creating inflammation and pain in the gut, vomiting or diarrhea.  Stress in cats in particular can cause inflammation in the bladder wall that can lead to something termed Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder (or “FLUTD”).  This inflammation can lead to increased urination and urgency or straining, often resulting in blood in the urine, and behavioral concerns that typically involve urinating outside the box, somewhere. 

Since our feline friends are not always as communicative as other species, subtle signs of stress can go undetected by their human companions until they reach a level of creating physical signs.  For example, Autumn is a common time for urinary problems to occur when indoor/outdoor cats feel the change in temperature and start to spend more time indoors.  Being indoors, they may have to adjust to litter boxes again. Cats may hold their urine longer because litter has a deodorizer in it they don’t like, or possibly another cat has also just used the litter box.  Because male cats in particular have a small urethra, they are often the ones that have the worst time with stress as the urethra also starts to swell, resulting in urine sediment or red blood cells (if there is accompanying bleeding due to inflammation) to have trouble passing.  This can cause the urethra to become plugged, not allowing urine to be eliminated, what is commonly referred to as a “blocked cat” and can result in an emergency situation.  If waste cannot be eliminated, the toxins will build up in the body, and the bladder could fill to the point of near rupture; the cat can become quite depressed and even unresponsive in a matter of hours.  This is an emergency situation and one needs to seek help as soon as possible or it can actually lead to death. 

Less critical but still very important stress responses can create chronic vomiting, diarrhea, or immunosuppression just like we experience.  Sometimes cats are forgiven for vomiting because we are expecting them to have hairballs.  But if you are consistently seeing vomit without hair, there is a clue that they may be vomiting for other reasons.
(Click here to read about cat hairballs:

If you think your cat is experiencing excessive stress, here are a few things you can try to help reduce stress for him or her:

  • Feliway is a spray or plug in diffuser with a pheromone that helps to calm cats.  It actually works pretty well.  (Feliway Website:
  • Often, knowing what the trigger is, helps us to know how best to counteract the stressor.  Occasionally, we also use oral medication to help with anxiety.  Once you recognize stress in your pet, it is often not too difficult to address their issues and it may help to avoid more serious health consequences later. 
Cats are sensitive but not always as obvious about their needs. As their human friends, it helps to be attentive to their clues.  Often they are subtle, until they aren’t! 😉

Thursday, December 06, 2018

It’s Time for a Snow Day!

The white, fluffy fresh powder in the mountains entices us to get ready for a fun snow day!  As we pack our cars with our sleds, winter sporting gear, and cold weather coats, our furry friends are wondering if they are coming along for the ride too.  For many pets, it’s a lot of fun running on snow-packed fields and catching snowballs flying through the air!  But before you start up the car and head towards the snowy mountains, here are some tips for your fun snow day adventure!
According to the AVMA’s (American Veterinary Medical Association) website, these reminders are helpful when planning your next snow day adventure!
Winter wellness: Has your pet had his/her preventive care exam (wellness exam) yet? Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it's as good a time as any to get him/her checked out to make sure (s)he is ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather.
Know the limits: Just like people, pets' cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet's tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly. You will probably need to shorten your dog's walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing's disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet's temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.
Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it's deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
Check the paws: Check your dog's paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of ice ball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog's toes.
Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog's feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
Wipe down: During walks, your dog's feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet's feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
Collar and chip: Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it's critical that you keep the registration up to date.
Avoid ice: When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You don't know if the ice will support your dog's weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice it could be deadly. And if this happens and you instinctively try to save your dog, both of your lives could be in jeopardy.
Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Be prepared: Cold weather also brings the risks of severe winter weather, blizzards and power outages. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit, and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventives) on hand to get through at least 5 days.
Feed well: Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter. Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don't make it worth doing. Watch your pet's body condition and keep them in the healthy range. Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm – talk to your veterinarian about your pet's nutritional needs during cold weather.


Question: Dr. Ku, some dogs are so furry, do they really need jackets or booties to protect them when they are outside playing in snow?
Answer: "It really depends on how long they are going to be outside and how acclimated they are to the colder temperatures.  If they normally spend their time inside at 70 degrees or so by the fire and then you suddenly spend 6 hours in the snow, they will be cold!  If you are planning a trip to the snow, it’s a good idea to start spending more time outside in colder temperatures here in the Valley for a week or so before your trip.  Most dogs with enough fur do not need a coat or jacket unless you plan to be out for more than a few hours, but if the coat is thin, even though it may be long (like a Yorkshire Terrier, for example), they may still need a coat.  Small breed dogs in general tend to be a little more sensitive to temperature changes, and their feet are also more prone to frostbite and pain from the snow.  Even furry big dogs (like Huskies) can have cuts or cold toes from the snow if they aren’t used to walking in snow.  Monitor all dog’s feet closely when they are playing or walking in snow, even for what may seem like a short trek.  While we have on socks and boots usually, we forget what it may feel like to go barefoot in the snow, and they may be having so much fun, our pooches may not notice either! 😉 " -Dr. Gloria Ku    HAPPY TRAVELS!

Friday, November 09, 2018

Emergency Kit Ideas for Your Family & Pets

Is your family ready for emergencies or evacuations?  If you have to leave your home in a hurry, do you know what to grab at the last minute?  Everywhere around the world, many people have had to make these decisions when Mother Nature threatens their family and pets.  You never know when an emergency will happen.  However, if it’s possible to take preparations beforehand, here are some helpful lists of things to consider for your families’ (human & pets) emergency kit(s).

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) recommends you pack:

Basic electronics
Pack an extra phone charger in case you’re fortunate enough to have electricity, and a portable battery pack in case you’re not. Also stash a long-lasting LED flashlight. Pack a small hand-cranked or battery-operated AM/FM radio (with extra batteries).
Personal needs
While getting ready for a typical day, list every toiletry you use, then buy a travel-size version of each. Pack backup eyeglasses, as well as a first-aid kit, baby wipes and a multipurpose tool with a knife and can opener.
Pack a few days’ worth. Include layers you can add or remove, plus lightweight rain gear and waterproof boots.
Your meds
Pack about three days’ worth of each of your prescriptions, which should last until you can get to a pharmacy that’s open. If you need larger items, such as an oxygen tank, make sure you have a portable version.
The perfect bag
Think small and portable. A backpack is ideal, but a lightweight suitcase with wheels will also do. Just remember, you may literally be running with it.
Fill a zip-top waterproof bag with photocopies of your birth certificate; driver’s license; Social Security and Medicare cards; power of attorney and will; any marriage, adoption or naturalization certificates; proof of address; insurance, medical and immunization records; and information about your credit and ATM cards.
Food and drink
Bottled water is essential. Granola or energy bars are great because they are small and filling, and they come in a variety of flavors.
In addition to enough money for a few days, include small bills and a roll of quarters. If you need to buy something out of a vending machine, you don’t want to start asking equally desperate strangers for change.

Reviewing the CDC website (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), they have this list posted on their website for pet disaster kits:
·         Photocopied veterinary records
o    Rabies certificate
o    Vaccinations
o    Medical summary
o    Prescriptions for medications
o    Most recent heartworm test result (dogs)
o    Most recent FeLV/FIV test result (cats)

·         Photocopied registration information (ex: proof of ownership or adoption records)
·         Pet description(s) (ex: breed, sex, color, weight)
·         Recent photographs of each of your pets
·         Waterproof container for documents
·         Microchip information (ex: microchip number, name and number of the microchip company)
·         Your contact information (phone numbers and addresses for your family and friends or relatives you may be staying with)
Water, Food, Medications
·         2-week supply of food for each animal stored in waterproof containers
·         2-week supply of water for each animal
·         Non-spill food and water dishes
·         Manual can opener
·         Feeding instructions for each animal
·         2-week supply of any medications (if applicable)
·         Medication instructions (if applicable)
·         1-month supply of flea, tick, and heartworm preventative
Other Supplies
·         Leash, collar with ID, and harness
·         Litter and litter box (cats)
·         Toys
·         Appropriate-sized pet carrier with bedding, blanket, or towel
·         Pet first aid book and first aid kit
·         Cleaning supplies for accidents (paper towels, plastic bags, disinfectant)

 Visit their link:
for helpful checklists & boarding information documents.



Question:  Dr. Ku, what kind of advice can you give to pet owners about stressful situations such as emergencies and how to help calm the pet?

Answer:  "Staying calm yourself is the best way to help your pet, and yourself.  Remember to breath!  If you have anxiety medication for your pet for thunderstorms or fireworks, these may be helpful for emergency situations and can be given to them for initial transitions especially.  If not, the most important thing you can do is project calm and stability to your pet and trying to avoid as many transitions as possible depending on the situation.  If you have a crate for your pet, put them in it sooner rather than later, and leave them in the car while you pack up your other belongings.  Be sure they have water if it is hot, and clean air to breath (especially in a fire situation) wherever you leave them, and that they will not overheat while unattended.  Just like with young children, our pets take their lead from us.  As their providers, we can help them through any situation best by being level headed and prepared.  And taking few seconds to take a few deep belly breaths will do wonders to calm any situation down.  😉" -Dr. Gloria Ku

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What's So Important About Doing Labwork?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku
Sometimes it feels like we are always being asked to do a blood test or have a urine test and if you have ever had these tests done for your pet, you know that labwork can be expensive.  When our pet is ill, we understand the need to look for abnormalities and markers to help us guide our treatment and assess the severity of the problem.  But when our pet is healthy or feeling fine, is it really necessary?

From a veterinarian’s point of view, the more information we can gather about your pet, the more we understand and can accurately assess their overall health.  Unlike people, your pet will usually only tell you when something bothers them enough not to eat, to cause them to vomit, or urinate on your dining room floor, or limp..

But problems can start before symptoms are obvious. And if detected earlier, very often we can do more to alleviate the problem.  On top of that, our pets age much faster than we do.  By age 3, my young puppy is already equivalent to a 21 year old, and by age 5 she is middle aged at what is equivalent to 35.  By 8 years of age she is equivalent to 56, and by 10 she is 70.

Between the ages of 35-70, people have likely had multiple opportunities to have bloodwork and urine tests done by our physicians to help us evaluate our health.  Ideally, we would like to have a little data to compare back to by the time your pet reaches 10 as well.

What we are looking for are signs of organ disease (e.g. kidney, liver, pancreas, etc.), infections or conditions that may be low grade and undetected because our pet doesn’t exhibit outward symptoms (e.g. urinary tract infections, blood born parasites, bladder stones, etc.) and imbalances that may be developing (electrolyte or mineral imbalances, hormonal imbalances, etc.).  Sometimes we also need to be sure they are healthy enough for anesthesia for routine dental work or to have a growth removed, for instance. 

If you aren’t sure if it is necessary, it is always best to ask how important it is and why.  That is really the only way to know what the risks of not testing are, if any, and whether the benefits are worth the cost.  Each situation is unique and we are happy to help you make the best decisions you can regarding your pet’s care. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

What Should I Feed My New Cat?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku

Over the years, feline dietary recommendations have certainly evolved, and we can expect that to continue.  Although that makes recommendations more difficult to follow, it is the result of continued experience and research.  We now have more data to understand how cats metabolize foods, and what medical conditions can be more readily affected by diet. 

We have always known that cats are more strictly carnivorous as a species, compared to dogs or humans.  There are some essential amino acids that they require from their diet (such as taurine, carnitine and arginine), that they cannot synthesize on their own.  They also differ in their metabolism and utilization of glucose such that they need about twice as much protein than do dogs or humans to meet their energy needs.  Since these metabolic pathways are already in play, extra carbohydrates or sugars are not necessarily utilized in lieu of protein for energy as in other species.  Excess carbohydrates generally will lead to obesity, and sometimes liver or gall bladder disease, pancreatitis and diabetes. 

A few other differences in their metabolism make our human feeding patterns create a slight mismatch in their metabolism.  Domestic cats, while no longer wild, have been domesticated from ancestors who fed on about 8 small prey meals/day.  It takes about 10-15 attempts to catch each prey, so a large part of food consumption centered around the catch as well.  Wild cats are also not as socially interactive around mealtime, whereas people are more likely to want to interact during meals.  Our schedules also lead us to prefer to feed our cats twice a day.  In an effort to meet the demands of a cat looking for 8 small meals, we leave them food all day, which allows them to eat more than they need, without the effort required to capture prey.  And if they want to interact and play (or “hunt”) we mistakenly interpret that as “feed me” and do that instead. 

It is not hard to see why so many domestic cats are overweight.  Commercial foods are relatively easy to feed, but many of our dry diets are not as high in protein as cats need.  In order to create a “dry” food, more carbohydrate needs to be added to keep it “dry” and crunchy.  While this may make feeding more convenient and sometimes help with lowering plaque and tartar accumulation, it deviates from what nature has provided in the past.

We can break down the components of food scientifically.  We can test feed animals to establish minimum nutrient standards for vitamins, minerals, protein, etc. But when a client asks me what to feed their cat, they aren’t asking “what is the minimum I can feed to keep my cat healthy?”  What they really want to know is “what should I feed to keep my cat as healthy as possible for as long as possible?” 

The answer is as variable as when a person asks their doctor “what is the best diet for me?”  The truth is there is no perfect answer.  In general, veterinarians think we have been feeding cats below the optimum protein level for their species, and many diet companies are starting to respond to that.  Many veterinarians are suggesting canned food to compensate for this problem as canned food in general has a higher percentage of protein vs. carbohydrate than dry.  With the exception of kidney disease (which is certainly a concern for many cats as they age), most cats will benefit from a relatively high protein diet.  I would suggest looking for dry food with at least 30-40% protein for most healthy cats, and/or feeding primarily canned food as canned formulations in general will meet this goal.  (The protein percentage listed is somewhat confusing in canned vs. dry food because of the amount of weight associated with water in canned food). 

An average rodent meal is about 30-35 kcal, and the average 10-11 lb. cat needs about 240 kcal/day.  This amounts to about 8 small rodent sized meals, or approximately 10 kibble/meal or about 1/6th of a can/meal, on average.  For individual animals, their activity level can cause that amount to vary.  For example, if your cat sleeps all day, they may actually need less food to maintain their ideal weight. 

While commercial diets may have limitations, the advantages may still outweigh the disadvantages.  Nutritionists are still trying to work out the best balances.  Ingredients can vary based on source and processing.  But the minimum standards are assessed in most commercial diets, and met if they are “AAFCO” approved.  This is important because without meeting even the minimum standards, health issues are more likely to occur.  Home cooked diets or diets formulated by companies that do not get their products evaluated for minimum standards can be deficient and lead to health concerns sooner. 

There are many diets available to choose from and looking at labels can be helpful.  If your pet has a specific health condition, I suggest you consult with your veterinarian.  Hopefully these guidelines will help you in deciding what and how much to feed your new cat!

Meanwhile, here are a few links to examples of feeding/activity toys that may be fun and healthy for your new cat:

For some of you who want more information, the following is a lengthy detailed chart of protein and carbohydrate nutritional composition of a large variety of canned cat foods, put together by a very dedicated feline practitioner, Dr. Lisa Pierson.  While her opinions on feeding may not fit exactly with your own, or your veterinarian’s, philosophy, I include it here for informational purposes as the nutritional content information can be very helpful for individuals who are watching these factors closely.

If you are interested in more information about specific nutritional questions or home cooked recipe formulations, I would suggest the UC Davis VMTH Nutrition Department as a good resource for you through your veterinarian.  They can tailor a diet to your pet’s specific health needs and modify it as time and conditions change through their life. 

Choice and variety are so prevalent down the cat food aisle.  This can be both a blessing and a hardship for us all!  Feel free to consult with your veterinarian further as often opening this door leads to more questions, not less.  But that’s what leads to better information and more appropriate new questions.  Thanks for continuing the journey to happier and healthier kitties!