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Veterinarian Susan Nelson is urging pet owners to read nutrition labels on pet-food packages.
As with the foods we eat, pet-food products often list the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber per cup of food or per treat.
"In the past, we didn't know how many calories were in various treats," says Dr. Nelson, an assistant professor of clinical sciences at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Now, that's becoming more available…because more pets are becoming obese and their owners are asking for that information.”
Logging foot intake is important if your pet is overweight.
“It's probably not necessary if you have a pet that is of normal weight," Dr. Nelson says. “If it starts to get pudgy, you need to take a look at how much exercise it is getting, how much food you are feeding it and how many treats you're giving it.
“Generally, I tell people that unless your pet is overweight, go with the guidelines on the food bag," she adds. “If the pet is a little overweight, you should feed it for its ideal weight and not for its current weight."
To compare different brands' nutritional info, look at their dry-matter content. Often, this is not listed on the bag, so you may have to research it online or call the company.
"What most bags list is the nutritional analysis that is formulated on an as-fed basis," Dr. Nelson says. “To truly compare the nutrient content of foods, you have to look at the dry-matter basis, which takes out water content."
Always base food choices on your pet’s life stage.
"If your pet is pregnant, a puppy or kitten, has special health conditions or is a senior, there are foods formulated that best meet the nutritional demands,” Dr. Nelson says.
If the pet is extremely overweight, it may need diet food, along with other recommendations. Diet pet foods are lower in calories, nutritionally complete and often contain extra fiber, which helps your pet feel full. Don’t feed your pet less of its regular food, as it may not meet nutrition requirements.
Some dog and cat breeds have the opposite problem: high metabolisms and difficulty in maintain a normal weight. Talk to your vet about pet food with a higher fat content and more calories per serving.
As for treats, make sure they account for no more than 10% of your pet’s calories, Dr. Nelson says.
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