Posts Tagged ‘diet’

What rabbits should really eat

For years rabbits were commonly thought of as the ‘easy’ pet, one that was great as a ‘first’ or ‘child’s’ pet. However they’ve never been all that easy to care for at all, it’s just that many of their needs were being overlooked. Thankfully there’s good news! Rabbit owner awareness has come forward leaps and bounds in recent years.


There are a number of care requirements, now far better known to rabbit owners, serving the bunny population very well indeed. One of these is the requirement for an appropriate diet. As with people, dogs, cats, all animals in fact, a good diet underpins both physical and mental wellbeing. Gone are the days when a handful of rabbit muesli and a carrot will suffice, so here’s our guide to a rabbit-friendly healthy menu.

ROUGHAGE

Top of the list is the foodstuff of which they need most, unlimited quantities in fact. By far and away the largest component to your rabbit’s diet should be hay or grass, and we’re talking up to 90%. Not just any old hay will suffice, pinching a slice from the farmer around the corner won’t necessarily do. Those with rabbits must be prepared to become hay experts as there are many on the market. An adult rabbit should be fed what is known as grass hay. Meadow hay and Timothy hay are good examples of this and they tend to contain a balance of fibre and calcium better suited to the mature bunny; the calcium levels are on the lower side and adult rabbits that are fed excess calcium risk kidney and bladder problems. In contrast, young, pregnant or lactating rabbits will do better with calcium-rich legume hay such as clover hay.

There is good reason that roughage should make such a prominent appearance in a rabbit’s diet; you may be surprised to know that a rabbit’s teeth will never stop growing. So in order to keep them in good, short shape and therefore prevent dental problems, the grinding action of chewing hay or grass helps grind their teeth down. The consequences of overgrown teeth can be dire. As the teeth become too long and misshapen, the rabbit struggles to eat, then weight loss and steady starvation can ensue. Roughage also plays a vital role in maintaining gastrointestinal health. A rabbit’s gut must keep gently moving and the fibre in their diet will help it do so.

Gut stasis (when the gut ceases to work properly) is a painful and life-threatening problem which must be treated as an emergency, signified by lethargy, anorexia, sometimes hiding, and a lack of faecal pellets. It’s important to phone for veterinary advice immediately if you notice these signs.

RABBIT PELLETS

The next component of a rabbit’s diet should be a commercially prepared rabbit pellet. Mixed flakes or muesli type food should be avoided due to the ability for rabbits to selective feed. By this we mean they have a tendency to pick out the tasty bits and leave the rest, something we all know a bit about if we’re honest. It’s like giving a young child the choice between some broccoli and some sweeties, we shouldn’t be surprised that the broccoli remains untouched. As with all commercial diets, follow feeding directions for the individual brand, although one general rule of thumb for many diets is to feed one full egg cup of pellets per kilogram of body weight.

FRESH FRUIT AND VEG

Fresh fruit and veg is next on the menu. Take care with fruit as the sugar content is high and can cause obesity. See fruit as more of a treat and concentrate on fibre-full leafy greens as a daily option instead. Why not mix it up to keep their interest? Vegetables that are suitable for bunnies include asparagus, broccoli, tomato, spinach, radish and cabbage, as well as herbs like basil, parsley and coriander amongst many others. Avocados contain a substance called persin which is highly toxic to rabbits and therefore should never be fed. Whilst treats are available to buy, keeping bunnies in healthy, lean condition is important, so don’t underestimate the worth of alternating fresh fruit and veg instead. A handful (adult-sized) of veg each day is plenty and it’s important to introduce new foods to their diet slowly to avoid stomach upset.

CHECK THEIR WEIGHT

Getting a rabbit’s diet right will pay dividends to their health and wellbeing. Obesity in the rabbit population is sometimes overlooked, not least because it can be difficult to determine what the perfect bunny body should look like in the first place. Please ask us if you’re concerned about your rabbit’s weight (whether under or overweight) so that we can advise. Obesity should be avoided for a whole host of reasons many of which we humans can empathise with. From exercise intolerance to additional pressure on joints (especially in the aged bunny who might suffer with arthritis), obesity can also lead to diseases like diabetes.

There is one rather more sinister problem too – rabbits carrying extra weight can’t easily clean themselves, so they are less likely to keep their rear end in check. What’s more, the extra weight is also likely cause their behind to drag through faeces and urine. A dirty bottom will encourage flies (particularly during the summer months) to lay their eggs within your rabbits fur. These eggs develop into maggots which literally use your rabbit as a food source. A painful and sometimes heartbreaking condition, definitely one that’s best to be avoided.


So that’s our guide to get you started. We’d love the opportunity to tell you more about how best to care for your rabbits or answer any specific questions you may have.

Can diet really affect my pets health?

Your pet’s diet has a big impact on their health and wellbeing. The wrong diet could lead to your pet developing health issues such as obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, allergies or dental problems — so getting it right is crucial!


DOGS

  • It’s important to feed your dog a complete, balanced, high-quality diet. High-quality commercial dog food will contain all the right nutrients and vitamins, and in the right amounts. The best way to recognise a decent quality diet is to take a look at the list of ingredients. The first item should be an animal protein e.g. chicken or pork. If the item is, for example, chicken ‘derivative’ or ‘meal’ this tends to imply a lower-quality diet. Avoid any diets where the kibble is a range of bright colours which means there are likely to be added colourants and additives. These are added to make the food look more appealing to you, whilst your dog doesn’t care what colour his food is!
  • It’s also key to feed a diet appropriate to life stage and age of your pet. As you can probably imagine, a Great Dane puppy has a completely different calorific and growth requirement compared to say, an elderly Chihuahua. You should feed a good quality puppy or junior food up to the age of about 1 year (sometimes longer for large breed dogs – usually to about 15-18 months), then gradually switch to an adult diet, then to a senior food from the age of 8.
  • If you have a large breed dog, then you should feed your dog a diet specially formulated for large breeds. This is because joint problems tend to be more common in larger dogs, so these diets contain additional joint supplements to support bone and joint health. Small breed dogs can be more prone to dental disease so generally diets suited to smaller breed dogs have a smaller kibble size and contain supplements to reduce tartar build-up (which can lead to dental disease).
  • Once your dog has been spayed or castrated, it’s a good idea to feed a neutered diet. These diets are calorie restricted to help prevent post neutering weight gain. It’s vital to maintain a healthy weight and body condition score (BCS) – extra weight puts your pet at health risks including diabetes, arthritis and heart problems. If your pet is a little on the porky side and is already carrying a few extra pounds, then special prescription weight loss diets are available.

CATS

  • Cats are obligate carnivores, so it’s important that they are dependent on their diet containing meat to thrive and survive. In a similar way to dogs, they should be fed a life stage-specific diet based on their age.
  • Most adult cats are lactose intolerant (they lack the main enzyme required to digest lactose in milk) so it’s best to not feed your cat milk.
  • Prescription diets are available for certain health concerns including – kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, arthritis, overactive thyroid (cat), skin problems, urinary problems and cystitis, obesity and many more.

RABBITS

  • The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be hay (fibre) or dark green leafy vegetables – a minimum of 80%. This should ideally mimic what a rabbit would eat in the wild. A small amount of dry concentrate food can be offered, usually about 1 tablespoon per rabbit.
  • It’s important to feed a complete pellet concentrate, as muesli mixes promote selective feeding and can lead to dental problems. Diet is particularly important for rabbits to wear down their teeth, which continuously grow. Feeding an unsuitable diet can lead to overgrown teeth, weight problems, fly strike and lack of grooming.

If you require further advice please contact to your local Goddard vet who can share details on what’s best for your pet.

What Should I Feed My Cat?

Understanding what you should feed your cat is important as a good diet generally tends to promote and maintain good health. A cats metabolism is so heavily specialised in obtaining nutrition from meat, it’s important to choose the correct diet. Most cats are notoriously fussy — so getting a healthy and suitable diet into them (that they will enjoy) isn’t always as easy as it seems… and this might explain the sheer range of diets currently available on the market!


Cat nutrition 101

Cats have evolved as obligate carnivores, meaning that they need certain nutrients only found in animal tissues to survive. In particular, key nutrients that cats need include:

  • High levels of protein in the diet (as much as 30-40% higher than a dog).
  • Specific proteins, e.g. taurine and arginine. A taurine-deficient diet leads to blindness, heart disease, and a weakened immune system, while feeding a single meal deficient in arginine can lead to liver failure and seizures.
  • Certain vitamins that they cannot make themselves, e.g. vitamin A (needed for vision).

In general, the best meal for a cat is a meat-based one, although using appropriate cereals and oils (as in many commercial diets) to balance the calorie provision is perfectly acceptable. Cats cannot thrive on a vegetarian, or survive on a vegan, diet without synthetic supplements.

So, with this vast array of options – where do we start? It can be a daunting decision. However, to make it easier, we’ve selected certain key features to consider below.

What should I feed my cat?

How old is your cat?

As we grow up from infants into toddlers into children into teenagers and into adults, our nutritional needs change. And of course, as we age, they change again. This situation in cats is exactly the same. Kittens typically need high calorie and high protein diets, with specific minerals such as calcium, for growth – more than at any other age. Adolescent active cats need more calories than adults; whereas older cats often benefit from limiting the amount of dietary protein to protect their kidneys. That’s not to say you need to buy a new food every six months or so (well, except for keeping up with those fast-growing kittens!), but that you need to be aware that your cat’s dietary needs will change.

What kind of lifestyle does your cat have?

Is your cat out and about, hunting and playing outdoors? Or are they more of a sofa-surfer? The more time they spend outside, the more calories they’re likely to require. HOWEVER, also ask yourself are they being fed anywhere else? Some cats have a great knack for persuading neighbours that they’re a poor starved stray, and may work their way from house
to house getting a fresh meal at each one… so keep a close eye on their waistline!

Does your cat have any dietary sensitivities?

While food allergies aren’t that common in cats, they do occasionally occur, so it’s worth being aware of what the protein source in their diet is.

Is there anyway your diet may be able to support and manage an existing issue for your cat?

Many health conditions have been proven to respond to certain balances of nutrients in diet – in particular, cystitis, and many bladder stones can even be dissolved by feeding the correct diet; cats with kidney disease will also benefit from a specialist renal diet that contains lower levels of high-quality protein, low phosphate, and altered salt balances. These specific food formulations are called “prescription diets”, and are available through us
(please don’t feed a prescription diet except on veterinary advice though!).
There are also diets available with specific nutrients (e.g. tryptophan) to help manage things like stress and anxiety.

Is the diet you are considering labelled a complete diet or a complementary diet?

A complete diet does what it says on the tin… it contains all the nutrients your cat needs, in the correct ratios. A complementary diet does not, and needs to be combined with another type of food to give a balanced meal. In general, most manufacturers provide complementary biscuit and wet diets, that you mix together. The problem with a complementary diet is that it assumes the cat will like both parts equally… which isn’t always the case!


Remember that your cat is an individual with their own unique requirements. No-one is better placed to know what they need than you and your vet — who both knows your cat as an individual. So, if it all seems a bit too much, and you’re not sure what the best option is — talk to one of our team! We can carry out an individual nutritional assessment for your cat and determine what their exact needs are, and then work together to find the best diet for them.

What should I feed my dog?

There are a couple of age old mantras such as “you are what you eat” and “food is medicine”,  both used to deliver the message that our nutrition and our diet, has a major impact on our health. It’s the same story for our pets — so what should I feed my dog we hear you say? 


HOW OLD IS YOUR DOG?

Human infants and toddlers have different dietary needs to the likes of teenagers and OAPS as they are at different stages of their lives — it’s the same for dogs. A young puppy needs lots of energy, protein and calcium for growth of muscle, tissue and bone. An older dog, perhaps starting to slow down, needs rather fewer calories.

WHAT BREED IS YOUR DOG?

The difference in size and shape of the jaw may mean that different sizes or shapes of kibble are more easier to chew — this is particularly true of smaller short-nosed dogs, who can really struggle with some sizes of kibbles.

Endurance dog breeds such as Collies are “always on the go” whereas smaller and toy breeds (such as Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas) tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle — which can dramatically impact on their calorie requirements.

HOW BIG IS YOUR DOG?

The adult body size of your dog can affect their growth rate, and their dietary needs, when they are younger. But alongside this, several scientific studies have found evidence which suggests that food moves relatively more quickly through a smaller sized dog, than through a large sized dog, meaning more frequent meals may be needed, or a diet with a different fibre content.

WHAT KIND OF LIFESTYLE DOES YOUR DOG HAVE?

Top performing human athletes require very different diets from your normal office worker — in the dog world a good equivalent example would be the Labrador Retriever. A working Labrador will have different needs to a couch cuddling Lab. Remember, too, that where they live is important! A dog who lives in a kennel probably needs more calories than one who sleeps indoors by the fire, for example.

What should I feed my dog?

DOES YOUR DOG HAVE ANY DIETARY SENSITIVITIES?

Some dogs can suffer from allergies and intolerances to certain components of a diet, causing itchy skin or upset tummies for example. Understanding your dogs specific needs, things to avoid, and even methods by which diets are made, all helps to select the right diet.

DOES YOUR DOG HAVE ANY MEDICAL NEEDS?

Some diets are “prescription diets” which have scientific proof demonstrating that they help to control or prevent health issues such as bladder stones, kidney problems or liver issues. Other diets are formulated to include nutrients which may help manage things like arthritis.

COMPLETE DIET OR COMPLEMENTARY DIET?

These two terms sound very similar but what you may not know is that there is a very important difference. The term “complete diet” is a legally protected term in the EU, and using it means that by law, that diet must contain the required energy and nutrients (vitamins, minerals etc.) in the correct proportions. A complementary diet doesn’t have to meet these requirements.

Feeding a complete diet is essential to provide everything your animal needs. When a diet provides too much of something, it can lead to toxicities. For example, dogs fed too much Vitamin D can ultimately suffer from kidney failure. This is one reason it’s important not to feed too much offal in a raw diet.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SAFE HANDLING AND STORAGE OF THE DIET?

Some diets (especially raw ones) may require you to keep in the fridge or freezer, and may have a specific time period for consumption. Feeding these diets may also mean accepting an increased risk of encountering some bacteria which can be harmful to humans such as E.coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella .

The best way to minimise this risk is to change your usual hygiene practices when preparing a pets meal and when cleaning up faeces, to minimise the exposure of you or your family to the bacteria.


Every dog is an individual with their own specific needs and no-one knows those needs better than you and your vet. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by choice, or just looking for the best diet for your pet,  book an appointment with a member of our team. we can discuss a unique individual nutritional assessment for your pet and then recommend a refined range of diet options available to you.

How can veterinary nurses help with preventative health?

Veterinary nurses play a large role in helping and advising pet owners with the care and well-being of their animals. We are proud of our veterinary nursing team at Goddard Veterinary Group, and the passion they have for the health of your pets. Part of that role includes advising on preventative healthcare – keeping your pets in the best health before problems arise.


Diet

There are so many diets on the market for pets it is really difficult to know where to begin! Our nurses can advise you on the best diets for your pet’s specific breed, age and the recommended feeding amount.

If your pet is overweight and should ideally be fed a smaller amount or given a calorie reduced diet, our nurses will be happy to advise and weigh them. They can further advise on maintaining their weight, when they reach their target.

Preventing obesity in pets can help lengthen their lives and dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and joint pain, among other conditions.

Fleas and worms

Almost every pet will end up with these critters at some point in their lives. Preventing them is much better than having your pet playing host to them. If you suspect your pet has fleas for example, our nurses can take a look at their coats and search for tell-tale signs.

Worms, of course, are a lot more difficult. However, there are symptoms that can point to a worm problem. Goddard’s veterinary nurses can explain the life-cycle of these parasites, and the best ways to avoid having both your pet and your home infested with them.

When it comes to fleas and worms it really is worth preventing them – the cost of treating a skin condition caused by fleas for example, far outweighs the price of flea treatment!

Vaccinations

Although it is our vets that vaccinate your animals, our nurses can give you advice and guidance on the types of diseases that pets can be vaccinated against. No one wants to have a pet with a potentially life-threatening disease, and vaccination can prevent that from happening.

Nails

It is our senior pets that we find can have a problem with their toenails, simply because they won’t tend to wear them down as easily as younger pets. Senior pets are normally less active, often choosing softer ground to walk on, whereas a puppy that tears about on all types of ground will have a pedicure naturally! This is why preventing nails from overgrowing and making your pet uncomfortable is important. Our nurses can check your pet’s toenails and trim them if necessary.

It’s not just dogs either, cats too can have this problem especially if they have gone off using the scratch post. Our nurses will also make sure the dew claws are a comfortable length, in extreme cases these can curl around and dig into the pad, even leading to infection.

Microchipping

As of April 2016 all dogs over age of eight weeks in the UK, are required by law to have a microchip.  These tiny devices, about the size of a grain of rice, can help you and your pet to be reunited if they happen to get lost. A microchip is also a requirement for a pet passport.

No responsible owner would want to lose their pet and our nurses can help advise about microchipping, preventing this from happening. At present there is no law about cats being microchipped, but we strongly advise this is well – in fact almost any animal species could be microchipped!

One thing you may hear our nurses and vets reiterate, is keeping your contact details up to date for the microchip, especially if you move home!

Teeth

Our nurses can give all sorts of advice about preventative health when it comes to your pet’s teeth. From brushing techniques to dental products, they can help advise on keeping your pet’s teeth pearly white. Dental health is very important as poor teeth can affect other parts of the body, including major organs, through infection and toxins in the bloodstream.

Pets even at the age of 4-5 years can start to suffer with dental disease, so it’s very important to get the advice as early as possible on helping to keep their teeth sparkling!

With advice from our team of nurses (and vets) on preventative health, your pets can really benefit. Be sure to ask us if any health aspect of your pet worries you — we’ll be happy to help.


Don’t forget Goddard Veterinary Group’s healthcare plan, ProActive Pets. The scheme provides discounts on your pet’s preventative healthcare, allowing you to spread the cost throughout the year.