Animal Health Center  >  All Things Animal  >  Nutrition
NJ Veterinary Medical Association
390 Amwell Road, Suite 402
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Phone:  908-281-0918
Fax:  908-450-1286

Feeding your pet the proper diet is an important component of being a pet owner. Learn nutrition essentials, important information on food allergies, and about special diets to aid in treating diseases.

Dear Veterinarian:
My veterinarian thinks my dog “Lily” may have a food allergy. She is a 1 year old Boston Terrier. She is itchy all the time, and her skin is a mess. He is treating her with something for the itching and an antibiotic for the infection, but now he wants me to use a special prescription diet. She has had many kinds of food since I got her, but this problem is fairly new (about 6 weeks straight). I heard lamb and rice food is good for their skin, so I tried that and it didn't help. How could she be allergic? And why do I have to get a prescription food?

Dear Pet Owner:
Dogs can develop allergies to foods they have eaten for a long time. The allergy is usually to a protein in the food. There are no magical foods available over the counter that can help this problem. Many clients feel there is something special about lamb and rice diets, but there isn't. When veterinarians are trying to determine if a pet has a food allergy, they will take away any foods the pet has ever eaten and instead put them on a diet that has a protein in it that is new to the animal. The animal will not be allergic to the new protein right away because their immune system has not had a chance to develop a response to it. Years ago, we used lamb as a novel protein source because most dogs and cats had never eaten lamb. Now that is available over the counter, we have had to go to protein sources that are available as prescription diets. They may include protein from duck, rabbit, fish (for dogs), and even kangaroo! These diets also have the advantage of a constant carbohydrate source and formula. Also, the newest additions to dietary management of food allergy are diets with “hydrolyzed” proteins. The protein molecules are on such small sizes that the dog's immune system does not recognize them as foreign and does not start an allergic reaction. The special diet is used for 8 to 12 weeks, usually. If your dog becomes normal at that point, she probably does have a food allergy. She can then be challenged by feeding her prior food, and will usually develop a reaction within a couple of weeks. That really proves the allergy. Your dog will then have to be maintained on a diet that has components that do not trigger her food allergy, from then on.

Definitively diagnosing a food allergy is a good thing because then Lily probably won't need to take medicine all the time. You can just feed her the proper food and she should do well.


Dear Veterinarian:
I usually feed my Rottweiler, Onyx, once a day but now wonder if it is better to feed two or three smaller meals throughout the day. What do you think?

Dear Pet Owner:
The main reason to feed a dog a meal twice a day or even three times a day is to provide a more even blood sugar level throughout the day. When your dog eats, food gets digested into basic components (amino acids, triglycerides, glucose, etc.). This occurs within a few hours after eating. These available nutrients are used immediately to provide the body with energy. After a few hours the amino acids, fats and glucose are converted mostly to either proteins or stored as fats. By feeding your dog 2 or 3 meals per day, this allows him/her to have an easily convertible energy source.

Another reason to feed at least twice a day is so that your dog does not have to expand his stomach with the entire day's ration at once. He will be more comfortable, and some veterinarians believe that smaller meals and avoiding intense exercise right after eating may help prevent bloating.

Also, your dog may tend to beg less for treats if he has an even feeling of a satisfied appetite throughout the day.

However, you must be cautious not to overfeed your dog because they can gain weight easily. You must adjust the amount per day and divide it for each feeding. Do not feed more.

That being said, many dogs do fine on once daily feedings, and some dogs will occasionally skip a day's food and do well. Discuss the best feeding plan for your dog at his next regular veterinary visit. His doctor will help you decide what's best in your individual situation.


Dear Veterinarian:
I don't think my Labrador, Skippy, looks overweight but my veterinarian says he needs to lose 10 pounds. Can extra weight be bad for a dog just like it is for a human?

Dear Pet Owner:
Researchers recently found that overweight dogs exhibited more visible signs of aging, such as graying muzzles, impaired gait and reduced activity. Obese pets are more prone to certain health conditions including lameness, diabetes mellitus, and skin problems.

Even more compelling are the results of a 14-year study conducted at the Nestlé Purina Pet Care Center that followed forty-eight Labrador retrievers for their entire lives. This study showed that lean-fed dogs, who received 25 percent less food than their littermates in a control group, lived an average of 15 percent (1.8 years) longer than control dogs. In addition to living longer, the leaner dogs lived healthier lives as well. The age at which 50 percent of the dogs required treatment for a chronic condition such as osteoarthritis was 12 years among lean-fed dogs and 9.9 years for the control group.

So, follow your veterinarian's advice and help your pet shed those extra pounds. He can show you how to determine your pet's body condition, set a goal for weight loss, suggest appropriate amounts to feed, and provide useful tips for getting your pet to burn more calories. Weight loss takes time and commitment from the entire family. Remember, the goal is to get your pet on track for a longer healthier life.


Dear Veterinarian:
I saw on the internet that it is better to feed my dogs and cats uncooked meats and vegetables instead of store-bought food. How do I do this?

Dear Pet Owner:
It's true that wild cats and dogs survive by hunting and scrounging meals that have not been cooked, but that is not necessarily the healthiest source of nutrition. Raw meat and organs supply protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, but can also transmit dangerous parasites and bacterial. Cooking kills germs and unless you are prepared to supply your pampered pooch or pussycat with a fresh whole animal snack you are depriving them of nutrients that ingesting the entire creature provides. It's hard to provide a balanced home-prepared diet, no matter what the ingredients.

Your family pet will almost certainly outlive its outdoor contemporary in part because you feed a scientifically formulated commercial diet. Most dogs and cats will thrive eating brands available at your supermarket or pet store. Your main responsibility is to make sure your feline friend or canine companion eats the proper amount of food to maintain a healthy weight. Reduced-calorie and high-energy canned and dry foods have been developed to address this need. Just add water and enjoy your pet!

Some animals have special dietary needs. In the wild, these creatures would be sickly or dead. Especially as they get older, dogs and cats may develop liver disease, kidney problems, diabetes, allergies or digestive problems. When your veterinarian diagnoses one these conditions, special diets can be prescribed to help your pet live a longer happier life.

The pet food industry has been working for more than fifty years to develop the perfect tasty balanced diet. Along with improved veterinary care, cats and dogs are living longer than ever. A strictly raw food diet may seem natural and healthy, but it is loaded with risks and is a step backward in modern pet care.

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