Thursday 27 October 2016

Tips for keeping your pet in tip top shape

Published 10/08/2016 | 11:19

The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ applies just as much to your dog or cat as it does to you.

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Lee Danks, Royal Canin Veterinary Scientific Support Manager, and Vikki Anderson, Royal Canin Training Manager, speak about the importance of a tailored diet for your pet

“One of our primary responsibilities as a pet owner is to fulfil our dog or cat’s dietary requirements,” says Lee, “and this means the provision of an adequate, suitable diet. Where dogs and cats are 100 per cent dependent on us to make this decision for them, we should understand how to make it the right one.”

“We have to remind owners that dogs are not small people and cats are not small dogs so, naturally, a diet must always be specific to the species – it must always meet their needs,” continues Vikki. “Within today’s marketplace, we have the option to feed a complete diet – the right balance of protein, vitamins and minerals found in both wet or dry food – or to feed them a diet which is complementary, which means it must be fed alongside another diet to make a complete diet. It’s really important that as owners, we choose a diet that is complete and tailored for the pet, so we can be sure we are giving them absolutely everything they need to live well on a day-to-day basis.”

A tailored plan

Tailoring a diet to your pet’s individual needs means taking into account their particular sensitivities, age, lifestyle, size and even their breed. A Labrador puppy will have different needs to a Yorkshire Terrier puppy and these needs will change significantly over the years. A 10-year-old’s needs are very different to a 4-month-old’s.

“Royal Canin always goes that step further in knowing what each individual needs as far as nutritional profile,” explains Lee. “Consider lifestyle – an indoor dog is not going to be fed, or shouldn’t be fed, the same as a working, outdoor dog. Consider sensitivities – if you are trying to improve your pet’s dental hygiene, you may consider a dry diet, which provides balanced nutrition for both dental and complete health.

“One of the most important considerations is breed, from being aware of your pet’s physicality, to potential health requirements they may have. This means looking at the structure and shape of their jaw and how they chew on their kibble; or looking towards how we can feed them in the long-term for health benefits, rather than only feeding them to make them feel less hungry in the here and now.”

Vikki agrees: “Particularly with dogs, we have so many breeds and the variation in size alone really does make a huge impact on what they need nutritionally. It goes far beyond it simply being the size of the bag or the size of the kibble within that bag – we know fundamentally that the size of that dog will impact everything from their rate of growth and aging to their digestive capacity and energy requirement. Kilo-for-kilo, small dogs need more energy than a larger dog. So, taking into account the dog’s size is a key factor you should look at to provide an optimal diet.”


Vikki and Lee explain that it’s important to be aware of any sensitivities your pet may have towards some types of food; however, they both agree that owners should avoid automatically diagnosing this as a ‘food allergy’.

“When it comes to a true food allergy, a vet really should be involved in the diagnosis,” explains Lee. “You may do an elimination diet trial, simply put this means excluding all potential allergens. For example, if you think your cat is allergic to dairy, remove every trace of dairy products in their bowl for a minimum of six weeks or up to 10 to 12 weeks. Only after eliminating that potential allergen and re-challenging the body with it and seeing a recurrence of signs, do we have that diagnosis. Allergy is really quite complex to confirm and we should keep in mind that what we might often be describing may be just a gastric upset.”

Vikki continues: “We also have to bear in mind that when we have a pet with a mild case of dandruff, bowel problems or an itch, the owner will often automatically blame diet and will use the term of food allergy. Food can be involved but it’s rarely a specific ingredient as such. It’s much more likely that we should be looking at the quality of the food we are feeding them: Is the quality of the food at a high level? Is it as digestible as it could be and is it providing all the nutrients that the cat or dog needs, such as providing the animal with enough omega fatty acids for their skin and coat? Simply reviewing the type and the quality of the diet that your pet is on can have a significant improvement to its wellbeing.”

Quality matters

Does this mean we should always check food labels?

“Reading your pet food label is one of the best ways to determine the quality of the food you are feeding,” says Lee. “While it’s good to understand and be conscientious about labels, beware of becoming obsessed, as some might about human foods. It’s quite easy to become fixated with ingredients and avoid wheat for example and that can lead to dangerous territory in the fact that when moving from one food to another or embarking on an unbalanced ration, you might be excluding essential nutrients. One of our philosophies is to think about precise nutrition rather than becoming fixated with ingredients – realise that our dogs and our cats have digestive systems which absorb and recognise nutrients. A dog’s digestive system doesn’t know it needs beef, but it does respond to protein. When it comes to food labels, concentrate on the guaranteed analysis of protein, fat, fibre, moisture and other essential nutrients.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask any questions you have of the manufacturer.

“On entry, every raw material is physically and chemically analysed by specialists working at our Royal Canin production facilities. Throughout the process, there are many critical control points and safety checks along the way to ensure there is absolutely no risk to product quality and the health of the animals we feed. When we do get to the point of a complete or finished product, samples are also taken aside for full traceability and put in storage so we can rest assured that what we say on the packet is actually in the packet and fulfils the nutritional profile which we have promised.”

5 tips for pet weight management

Nutrition requirements aren’t the only factor you should pay attention to when it comes to feeding your pet – how much you feed is also important. It’s estimated that almost half of all dogs and cats in Ireland are overweight or obese. Here are some tips to help your pooch avoid piling on the pounds!

1.   Energy awareness

Obesity is most commonly caused by an imbalance between the energy intake and its usage i.e. your pet eating more than they can possibly expend. “Relate your pet’s current body condition score and their weight to how much you are feeding them,” advises Lee. Your vet can help you in taking these measures which involves assessing their body composition.

2.   Weigh up your options

“When feeding your pet, all owners should weigh out their cat or dog’s food,” says Vikki. “Sometimes, we tend to view food by volume, rather than actually measuring it. Use measuring cups at the very least, weighing scales if your pet is carrying more weight than they should be.”

3.   Exercise

Take your dog for more frequent or longer walks. Dogs’ exercise needs vary according to the breed you have, but every dog should enjoy at least one walk a day. Get your cat moving by playing with an interactive toy.

4.   Treat time

“Treats are a part of the pet-owner bond,” says Vikki, “and there’s definitely a place for them but all in moderation. Keep treats within 10 per cent of the daily calorie allowance, then they’re not necessarily going to have a negative impact. When you start exceeding that, not only are you giving an excess of calories which can lead to weight gain, but remember treats aren’t complete, so they’re not going to give them the vital nutrients they need. Never replace your daily complete food with treats and titbits.”

5.   Talk about it

If you feel your pet is obese, talk to your local vet. There may be an underlying medical problem which could be contributing to your pet’s excessive weight. If not, then discuss a safe and effective weight reduction plan.

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