PET TALK: Feeding your pets: How I feed

By Dr. Daniel Eubanks
   This is the first of a three-part series about feeding pets. This article describes how to feed. Next month will discuss what to feed and finally how much to feed.
   During the six years in which I have been writing this column, I have intentionally avoided the topic of feeding pets. No other aspect of pet ownership prompts as much controversy, diversity of opinion and even emotional reaction as pet food. Discussing pet foods is almost as volatile as trespassing politics or religion!
   Yet it is a very important topic, and frankly, I’m running out of material!
   So at the risk of ruffling feathers or raising eyebrows, I am willing to accept the challenge. I will present some facts and some opinions based on my education and experience. But much of this subject is personal preference. You may employ what I’m about to present or discard it as poppy cock (another term for cow plop!) Either way, I’m not offended.
   Our primary obligations as responsible pet owners are to provide food, shelter, medical care and companionship. So 25 percent of our responsibility is providing sustenance. Questions regarding feeding and nutrition comprise much of my clients’ concerns.
   There are three properties of pet food that must be considered: nutritive value, palatability and affordability.
   Rule 1 – Select a good quality, brand name pet food. Remember our domestic dog and cats depend on what we provide as their sole source of nutrition, so we had better get it right. True, indoor-outdoor cats and dogs can supplement their diet by hunting, foraging, begging and stealing. But for the most part, what we feed them is what they get.
   Brand-name companies with a reputation to protect are therefore reliable. Purina, for example, has been in the business of research, determining nutrient requirements and setting standards in the animal food industry for many decades.
   Generic foods should be avoided for all of the opposite reasons to the above. We humans can consume an occasional package of generic frozen peas, even if it happens to have no nutritive value whatsoever, with no apparent consequences. We eat such a diversity of products that it all works out in the wash. Pet food, however, must be dependably nutritionally complete and balanced as a stand-alone product. This is because for the most part this is all the animal consumes.
   Rule 2 – Select a food that they’ll eat. This is purely trial and error. But don’t let the marketing people play with your senses. Packaged dog food dressed up as red dye #3 stewing beef cubes with white marbled fat streaks is purely an appeal to the shopper, not to the dog. Remember, dogs are color blind. All they care about is does it smell good and taste good.
   A comment about the “my pet won’t eat it” syndrome is in order here. Cats are the most finicky, and they’re a real challenge. Something they love today they’ll hate tomorrow. Dogs don’t qualify as having comparable “discriminating tastes,” considering their propensity for coprophagia.
   Acquiesce to your pet’s taste preferences to a point, but don’t feel obliged to go overboard. Consider this hypothetical experiment (but don’t try it). I contend that if you put any healthy dog in a room with an unopened 50- pound bag of plain dog chow and go away for two weeks, when you return the bag will have been opened and half its content consumed.
   Now, on the topic of “table foods.” I personally consider my pets as my pals, and I prefer to see them looking forward to mealtime and enjoying their food. Dog chow is rather like a cereal bowl full of bran flakes – it tastes much better with milk and strawberries. Reasonable amounts of most table foods added to the meal, as Emeril says, “really kicks it up a notch!” Meat, vegetables and starches, in small amounts, are well tolerated and very much appreciated by most dogs. Waffles, grits and eggs, mac-’n-cheese, pasta, gravy – they’re all fair game, and the list goes on.
   Is this stuff bad for your pet? No. Will it spoil them? Not if done discretely. Besides, I indulge my kids, why shouldn’t I spoil my pets. Will it improve the palatability and thus enhance the companion animal bond? You betcha!
   Free feeding means providing free access to dry food. Puppies’ and kittens’ nutritive requirements for growth and activity do well with this method. Adult dogs and most adult cats, however, will abuse this freedom and obesity will be the result.
   I recommend feeding finite, specific meals at regular times of the day. This improves digestion and regulates consumption and elimination. Kittens and puppies should be fed three meals per day until 4 months of age.
   For adult dogs, I provide two meals per day. This consists of quality dog chow with some canned food thoroughly mixed in. Some left-over table food is permissible here also. The key is to mix everything together well so the entire meal is rather homogeneous. This ensures eating the balanced mixture without picking out the “strawberries.”
   My adult cats are fed a small amount of canned food twice daily with dry cat chow available as free feed. If, however, overconsumption of the chow becomes an issue, then ration the dry food and provide only a limited amount during the day.
   Next month we’ll tackle the dicey topic of utilizing a pet food’s ingredients as the criterion for selecting a brand.