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Vet Talks: How to pick the best diet for your new pet?

Posted 2020-05-18

Unlike popular opinion, the best diet for your new friend will not be one that’s popular with other dogs and cats around you, but it will be one that’s picked according to your pet’s age, health condition, breed, weight etc.

A puppy will need a diet with slightly high levels of protein, this will give your little one a lot of energy for growing healthy. On the other hand, if you adopt a senior pet, the pet will need a diet that is slightly low in proteins, to protect the kidneys.

When we bring a new pet home, we are really excited to introduce them to lots of yummy treats from the pet store and the food that your veterinarian recommended. But remember not to change your pet’s diet right away. Ask the shelter or the previous owner what your pet has been eating and bring some of it along. Introduce your pet to the new diet slowly, transitioning her/him into it by introducing a little more of it each day.

multiple kittens eating

Their body needs time to recognize the new ingredients offered. They can have diarrhea, vomiting or allergic reactions or they might not like the new diet right way. The transition time will depend on the diet chosen and the animal as well. It can vary from a few days to a month.

There are so many options out there when it comes to cat and dog food. I have heard that each year more and more grocery aisles are getting added to cater to our pets food needs. How will you decide which one to pick for your new rescue? Start with consulting your veterinarian. As a veterinarian and pet parent myself, I would like to give you some idea of everything that’s out there.

Dry Food/Kibble or Wet Food/Canned

The difference between dry dog food and wet food is the percentage of water content in these formulations. For example, dry kibble tends to have moisture content of between 6 to 10%, semi-moist foods between 15 to 30 %, and wet foods around 75%.

Dry food is convenient to handle and store, has a longer shelf life and there is lots of variety in the market. Considering the amount consumed, it is also more economical. In addition, during the meal it helps clean their teeth, avoiding the accumulation of tartar.

The disadvantage is that for some cats or dogs it may not be as attractive. Pets with diseases that affect their sense of smell may show no interest in dry food. It is also not ideal for older pets, or pets with some tooth loss.

cat canned food

The great advantage of wet food is its palatability. That is, the taste and texture are much more inviting, encouraging the pet to eat the entire portion at the same time. As a result wet food will not be exposed in the feeder or bowls all day, reducing the risk of contamination.  Another huge plus is that the pet will ingest more water! Water is helpful for the urinary tract as it can decrease the formation of urinary calculi.

You might want to consider combining both together in the same meal or divide meals between them.  If you are travelling you might not be able to carry wet food or leave a wet food dispenser with the sitter. If your pet is old you might not want to give your toothless pet dry crunchy kibble. Introducing wet food to a picky senior pet will be quite a struggle. That’s why it’s important to get your pet to like both kinds from the start.

Vegan Pet Food

Dogs and cats are carnivorous/omnivorous, and their anatomical characteristics exhibit their dietary needs. Just think about the physical characteristics of cats and dogs:

– Sensory organs designed to locate prey
– Musculoskeletal system adapted to capture
– Pointed teeth for tearing tissues
– Short gastrointestinal tract with digestive enzymes
– Different microbial population than herbivores

When a carnivore eats a vegan diet, just as when an herbivore eats a meat diet, health problems are inevitable. Carnivores that receive only vegetarian diets do not usually live long and healthy lives. They may develop lifelong degenerative medical conditions.

Protein deficient pets  can go into catabolism – they use the protein in their muscles to generate energy, which can lead them to a severe state of malnutrition.

Not enough meat in their diets can also lead to taurine deficiency. While most cat foods account for the necessary taurine levels, many pet owners are unaware that some dog breeds, such as large breeds and cockers, also need taurine in their diet. These breeds are prone to developing dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious disorder in which the heart muscle loses its contraction force to pump blood.

Some pet experts agree that though dogs might survive on a vegan diet, they also agree that dogs will not thrive on a vegan diet. Cats, being obligatory carnivores, will not be able to survive on a vegan diet. This type of diet requires extra attention to make it wholesome and balanced.

Dehydrated and Freeze-dried Pet Food

Dehydrated pet food is made by removing all moisture using a drying process. The dehydration process makes the ingredients lose some nutrients. However, the freeze-dried process is different from the dehydration process, though it also removes moisture from the food, in freeze-drying the food is frozen and then the surrounding air pressure is lowered to encourage the moisture in the food to evaporate. Freeze-drying causes less damage to the food but there can be some other effects.

dog eating from bowl

Both types of foods are easy to feed. They are lightweight and take little space. There still isn’t enough research done on these foods, so I would recommend that pet owners ensure these foods are balanced for their pet’s needs and complimented with some wet snacks.

Grain-free Pet Food

Grain-free dog foods basically contain meat-based ingredients like fish, chicken, lamb, beef, and turkey, along with carbohydrates from non-grain foods like vegetables. This diet can be recommended to pets with food intolerances to certain types of grains.

dog with empty bowl

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is investigating a link between grain-free dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy. In all cases being investigated, the dogs ate grain-free dog food for months to years.

Most veterinarians would agree that unless the pet is allergic to grains, there is no reason why grains should be avoided as an ingredient. They are good for the heart, they add fibre and digestion support to the bowl and they also help provide energy.

Raw Food and Cooked Diet

A Raw diet tries to mimic the diet of wild dogs and cats as closely as possible. The concept is that such a “natural” diet must be better for pets than processed food. However, the pets that live in our homes are no longer like their wild cousins.

A raw food diet may seem to be more natural, but it increases the risk of bacterial infection and malnutrition, especially in pets that are fighting a serious disease. This diet may be suitable for some pets, however, it cannot be applied as a rule of thumb for all pets. There is also the risk of parasite transmission – for the pets and the others who share space with them. If you are determined to feed your pet a raw diet, then consider getting advice from an expert veterinarian nutritionist!

Dog looking for food

Cooked diet is considered safer than raw, and can be offered safely even to pets with compromised immunity. Cooked diet is easy to digest and directly protects the health of the kidneys and urinary tract of the animal. Therefore, some pet owners can observe that upon starting their pets on home-cooked diets, the pet no longer needs to drink so much water throughout the day and in some cases the pee becomes brighter. That said, a cooked diet too needs to be balanced and supplemented for your pet’s particular needs.

In comparison to raw diet, cooked diet is a bit more laborious. You need to cook vegetables, carbohydrates, meats, eggs, fish and organ meat. But all this cooking does make the food more palatable.

I hope my knowledge and experience can help you pick the best diet for your pet. If you are looking for more guidance then you can always reach out to our Pet Experts.

Just before I wrap up this article, I would like to mention that while you are figuring the diet out, your pet may be missing out on nutrients and minerals. To fill those dietary gaps, please consider starting her on a herbal multivitamin like NHV’s Multi Essentials. It can help stimulate the metabolism, reduce fatigue and enhance nutrient absorption.

Whatever you are feeding your pet, pay special attention to dental health and weight management.


Dr. Amanda Nascimento, DVM, MVSc., PhD completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. 

You can book a consult with Dr. Amanda here or get a customized diet plan , specially formulated for your pet’s needs.

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