Pet nutrition is a hot topic in pet-owner circles and how you feed your pet effects much more than your animal's weight. Poor pet nutrition can have an impact on your pet's skin, coat, joint health and even behaviour. We all want to do the best for the pets in our lives and managing what we feed them is key to ensuring their wellbeing. The challenge is, pets can't talk so we have to rely on other ways of recognising when their nutrition is off-base. Here are my top five tell-tale signs your pet is not getting the correct nutrition, and the changes you should expect to see when the animal is benefitting from a healthy diet.
- Skin and coat condition: The coat is probably the most commonly examined feature of a dog or cat in reference to its general health. Owners readily notice changes in the coat which can include dry and flaky dandruff, a lacklustre or dull looking coat, redness of the skin, and ultimately itching and allergies. With proper nutrition, the coat should be lustrous and shiny, free of any flax or dandruff, and with a markedly improved general body odour.
Image courtesy of School of Vet Science & Medicine, Nottingham.
- Halitosis: Many pet owners believe that 'doggy breath' is normal for all dogs and cats. This is actually far from the truth because halitosis (bad breath) is a conclusive sign of poor oral hygiene. Plaque and tartar will build up on the teeth, leading to gingivitis (red inflamed gums), which harbours literally millions of bacteria. Left untreated this type of oral condition will further progress into reabsorption of bone and loss of teeth. The bacteria living in the plaque and tartar can also spread into the bloodstream and seed infections into other organs, such as the kidney and the heart.
- Faecal output: Another area where pet owners can maintain vigilance on the animal’s health is faecal output. A healthy dog eating an appropriate diet should have well-formed and firm faeces, and the dog should pass these faeces without significant effort. Generally if the dog’s fed once daily they will tend to empty their bowels once-a-day. Signs of poor pet nutrition will eventuate in sloppy or wet faeces, occasional showing signs of mucous, and blood. Dogs that have persistent sloppy faeces will also have chronic anal gland problems, and are likely to be seen 'scooting' on their bottom or licking and chewing in the general area of the tail base.
- Monitoring urine output: Very helpful when managing dogs or cats with chronic disease. Generally urine tests are done in combination with other blood tests. With urinary tract problems (and UTIs) we see a significantly higher presentation of dogs and cats that eat predominantly dry food. Checking the PH of your pet’s urine is a good indicator of how their diet is effecting them. A dog or cat eating an appropriate diet containing high levels of red meat will have significantly acidic urine, the PH somewhere between four and six. Dogs that are eating poor quality food which is high in carbohydrate and vegetable matter and lower in meat protein, will tend to have either a neutral pH or even slightly alkaline. In the alkaline environment crystals and stones will form, and bacterial population of the bladder wall can result in bleeding/blood in the urine, painful urination, and significantly increased frequency of urination. Older dogs and cats being treated for chronic kidney failure will generally have significantly high first and fluid intake, which is the natural process of dialysis.
- Wet nose and wagging tail: These have always been good indicators of internal health. The dog’s nose should be permanently moist. If an animal has a persistent high fever the nose will quickly become dry, indicating that something is wrong. With chronic kidney failure fluid intake does not always compensate for fluid loss by the urine leaving the sufferer just slightly dehydrated, which again will show up as a dry nose. Significant zinc deficiency in the diet will also lead to chronic changes in the nasal pad which tends to cause significant scaling and increased crust in the nasal area.
Image courtesy of Israel Sand Avals - Flickr.
As with any veterinary problem, if you suspect your pet is suffering the effects of poor pet nutrition the first step is to consult your vet. If you have a specific question on your pet's nutrition, I take part in regular Q&A sessions on the My Pet Warehouse Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mypetwarehouse) and encourage you to stop by the page to post your query.
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons) is a qualified veterinarian and the founder of Vets All Natural. He has developed this range of foods and supplements purely from his desire to heal more, and a wider range of animals than those seen in his clinic everyday.