Those who have pets know that correct and age-appropriate nutrition should always be on top of one’s mind. What is the right diet for your dog or cat? What is the best brand of pet food to choose? Is rice an appropriate diet for a cat or a dog? How often do you feed your animals, how much and what are the essential ingredients in their diet? The list of questions goes on and the “expert” opinions out there are so many and so confusing and so conflicting that it is often difficult and almost impossible to make the right choice.
Some time ago, I was one of the confused pet owners with many questions and relatively little understanding. Luckily, as I have started rescuing animals over eight years ago – the right diet became a number one question on my list; I started actively seeking for answers everywhere. What I have learned both shocked me and changed my approach on how I fed my pets; essentially, the more I learned, the more I realised that current mainstream approach to pet diets is often species inappropriate, lacking in balanced nutrition and can even be harmful.
During my search, few things changed my perspectives on pet diet: one was a film called ‘Pet Fooled’ – a documentary that traces the history of the development of current trends in pet nutrition. I highly recommend everyone to watch this documentary available on Netflix – it’s informative, entertaining, easy to watch and offers an in-depth view into the multibillion dollar industry, by two globally-respected veterinarians. It shows how, contrary to our belief, the unregulated pet food industry really is, how it has developed and its negative impact on animals’ health.
One of the veterinarians who ‘stars’ in the documentary is Dr Karen Becker, a US-based holistic and integrative veterinarian and an animal advocate. Her goal, as she says herself, is “to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets.” Her advice on pet behaviour, illness prevention and overall pet wellness is incredible. I have followed her for many years now on her blog, Facebook and other online platforms. Following her dietary advice, I can see a huge difference in my animals’ health, even those I rescue off the street in the most horrifying health conditions.
According to Dr Becker, “a balanced”, homemade diet is the best food you can feed your dog or cat. It is very important that it is nutritionally balanced. For instance, just offering your dog a chicken breast with some carrots, day in and day out is not nutritionally balanced diet. There are many recipes she offers on her Facebook and you can also find fantastic simple easily made and unexpansive recipes in her cookbook ‘Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats’.
Dr Becker says that well-balanced homemade food is the best option because you are in complete control of the quality of ingredients in your pet’s diet. Although she is a huge advocate of raw diets – “the food is unadulterated and still contains all the enzymes and nutrients that are typically destroyed during cooking or other types of processing” – I would steer away from that in Cambodia, given that the meat and fish industries are highly unregulated and often ridden with parasites.
Another huge misconception is that dogs should never ever change their kibble brand and eat the same dry food for the rest of their life. Again, given the huge body of literature and research, this idea is driven into the mainstream by clever marketing campaigns of pet food companies. While there are “do’s and don’ts” for dietary needs of your pets, it is highly recommended that you offer your pet nutritional variety and the kibble should never be the only source of the nutrition for your pet.
Few things to remember particularly for cat owners: cats are obligate carnivores and it simply means that cats rely on animal protein to sustain themselves. In other words they are strict meat-eaters. Emphasising the fact that cats are obligate carnivores means that they are different than many other meat-eating predators. According to the Feline Nutrition Foundation, “obligate” means “by necessity”. The dictionary definition is: 1. Restricted to one particularly characteristic mode of life. 2. Biologically essential for survival. Cats must eat meat – it is an absolute biological necessity. One of the defining characteristics of an obligate carnivore is a requirement for a high amount of animal protein in the diet. Cats meet their blood glucose requirements from gluconeogenesis, using protein, rather than from the breakdown of carbohydrates in their diet. They are so dependent on protein that if their diet is lacking an adequate amount to supply their energy needs, they will break down their own body muscle a
So what does that mean for your cat? Do you continue with kibbles? What type? And what should you add or remove from your cat’s diet. Few things I must say:
1. No cat will be healthy and will live long if their main diet relies only on dry commercial kibble.
2. You must offer your cat freshly cooked fish and meat (in Cambodia given the parasites in meat and unregulated meat industry, I suggest that all meat is cooked)
3. If you are strict vegetarian or vegan and cannot ethically handle meat – do not get a cat. You will absolutely have to feed them freshly made meat diet and those cats that I have seen who were kept on vegetarian diets are sick, malnourished and essentially tortured at the hands of owners, who impose their diets on the animals.
4. In Cambodia, making sure your cat is eating well balanced diet is not difficult. Markets are full of freshly caught fish, chicken and beef. Boil it and offer it to your cat with some broth. You can also use human grade canned food – sardines, salmon, etc. in water. When I say “human grade” I mean you should be able to also safely eat it. The canned cat food often looks like pure mean, but look at the ingredients and its all mix of derivatives and artificial colours. So, keep it simple and fresh.
5. Remember, although tuna sounds like a “go to” food, it is not something to feed your cat as a main diet or regularly. First, cats quickly become “tuna junkies” and would refuse all other food. But, tuna contains high amounts of mercury and can be toxic if offered in large amounts.
6. Unlike dogs, cats like to nibble small amounts of food throughout the day. For most of us, who are busy professionals, I suggest the following diet schedule: your cats should get their pure meat/fish breakfast and dinner and leave the best grain free kibbles for them during the day as “nibbles” while you are away.
7. When you choose the right kibble make sure there is as little grain as possible, and no additives, artificial colours and preservatives in the food. Grain-free higher-grade kibble is the way to go, if you can afford it. If not, limit the amount of commercial kibble for your cat, so the fresh meat/fish is proportionally much higher on their daily diet than kibble (at least 70-30).
Finally, here are the top five requirements for your pet’s nutrition:
1. High protein content (unless there are serious underlining health conditions)
2. High moisture content (70 percent moisture)
3. Low starch
4. Nutritionally balanced
5. Species appropriate
Remember, having a pet is not rocket science, but it does require a good dose of common sense. If you stumble along the way, there are many resources you can get help from. Nutrition is the basis of health, happiness and longevity of your pet. If you spend time to ensure your pet’s diet has all the appropriate ingredients, you will limit your visits to the vet, save tons of money and you will see your pet thriving for many years to come.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311