Nutrition is rapidly gaining popular interest, and food companies are under pressure to increase the quality of their ingredients. The pet-food industry alone has annual sales over one billion dollars, and, like human food, a company’s sales pitch makes rational selection and comparison difficult for the consumer. In general, the pet-food companies do a good job informing consumers about nutritional balance. The problem is that nutrition information is based on the minimum daily requirements. The nutritional values are set so that symptoms of nutritional deficiencies are not evident, and the values therefore have very little to do with optimal health.
Recent studies show that, contrary to popular belief, older animals need more protein than younger ones. Most older dogs can increase lean body mass and replace their protein reserves, especially skeletal muscle, if fed at least a 32% protein diet. Adults can get by with 25-27% protein, and puppies need 28-30% protein. These differences in life stages hold true in cats, but since they have naturally high protein requirements, cats require about 5% more protein per life stage than dogs. These numbers are the new minimums, and while it may be difficult to find foods with these levels of protein, companies will soon start increasing the protein levels in their foods to match these studies.
As nutritional research improves, so does our ability to better feed our pets. The normal consumer’s food selection is typically based on the number of quality ingredients and the lack of allergenic ingredients. We expect that the fat content, protein content, carbohydrate content, vitamins, and minerals are all accurate, but we must remember that these values are minimum requirements. And overall, the best food for a pet is the food that agrees with the pet’s individual makeup.
Dr. Thomas Jakob is a veterinarian at Cottonwood Veterinary Hospital in Bozeman.