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How to keep your pet healthy with their diet

  • 17, Jan 2022
  • Read time: 5 mins

Just like humans, it’s important that your pet has a balanced diet to help them lead a long and healthy life. Our vets have shared why your pet's diet matters, helpful feeding tips and the potential impact of being overweight.

Dog carrying a feeding bowl.

Why does my pet’s diet matter?

Having an unhealthy diet can cause your pet to become overweight. This can impact a variety of body systems in your pet, and can result in numerous health issues that could impact the long term survival of your pet.

Conditions that are often exacerbated by, or result from, being overweight can include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Arthritis
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes 

You can do all you can to keep your dog in optimal heath through their diet, but sometimes they do get ill. The good news is, there are simple ways you can spot subtle changes in their heath by carrying out regular 5 minute heath checks on your dog at home.

Is my pet overweight?

Every dog and cat is different and there are specific weight ranges for each breed. For an accurate understanding of your pet’s weight, your vet can weigh them for you at a check-up. Your vet will be able to tell you what the healthy weight is for your breed of dog or cat, and whether they are overweight.

Dog body condition score
  • Look at your pet from the side – you’re checking to see if their tummy is tucked up from their chest and not level with or hanging below the chest
  • Look at your pet from above – you’re checking to see if your pet has a tucked in waist without their hipbones protruding too much
  • Feel your pet’s sides for the ribs – if you can’t feel your pet’s rib cages, they may be overweight. This is a useful step for dogs and cats with thicker or fluffier fur, as their fur can often conceal their true weight
  • Feel your pet's spine – if you can't feel your pet's backbone, they may be overweight. Usually, their backbone should be able to be felt under a thin layer of fat.

Some dog breeds are more prone to being overweight than others, so being watchful with their diet is important. This includes:

  • Pugs
  • Bulldogs
  • Beagles
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • Basset Hounds.

If you’re worried about your pet's weight, your vet can offer specific help and support for their specific breed.

What should I feed my dog?

Chat with your vet to find out which type of food is best suited for your dog’s individual needs.

There is a variety of choice out there, including wet and dry food, depending on the age, breed and health of your dog.

Our vets say that a balanced diet for a dog includes protein, fat, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals. This is important for larger breed puppies, such as German Shepherds, to help them grow at a controlled rate to prevent joint problems.

Another tip from our vet is to avoid raw food and bones where possible. They come with their own set of problems, including food poisoning bacteria, damaged teeth and digestive problems. They can also lack in those all-important vitamins and minerals that your dog needs.

What should I feed my cat?

Your vet will be able to tell you what food best suits your cat. Like dogs, there is a variety of options to choose from, including both wet and dry foods. 

As a general rule of thumb, try and feed your cat a complete diet - this means they will get all the nutrients they need. Also, try and look for food that is part of the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturer's Association) as they meet extra quality standards. 

Our vets team recommend that you should keep an eye out for cat food that contains taurine. It's an essential amino acid in cats and is only found in meat proteins. Dog food lacks taurine, so if you run out of cat food, don't be tempted to replace it with dog food if you have more than one pet.

Much like dogs, your cat may enjoy treats alongside their meals. Be sure to factor the amount of treats they're having into their daily food allowance to ensure they're not eating too much. 

Also, if you wish to give your cat a saucer of milk, be sure to choose a cat specific milk. Cow's milk contains lactose, which can actually be hard for cats to digest, and is high in fat.

How much should I feed my pet?

As with the type of food to feed your dog or cat, the amount is dependent on their breed, age, general health and lifestyle.

When you’ve found the right food for your pet, there will be guidelines on the packet as a good starting point.

If you’re not sure, don’t try and guess as this might mean you over or underfeed your pet. Call your vet and they can help you. 

How often does my pet need feeding?

Weigh out the daily food amount your dog or cat needs and split it out into many meals. You could split them into two or more, depending on how active your pet is and if they have any medical conditions.

Puppies and kittens will usually need feeding more frequently, and will tend to have 3-4 meals per day at first. As they get older, the amount of meals they need will drop to 1 or 2 meals a day. This all depends on their breed, size and other factors which your vet will be able to advise.

If your pet always seems to be hungry, remember that this is common. Try not to over feed them with treats between their normal daily meals. However, if you notice your pet is always hungry despite eating lots of food, seek veterinary advice.

Can I feed my pet human food?

Our vets recommend that you avoid feeding your dog or cat human food where possible, as it can cause health and behavioural issues.

Not only are some foods poisonous, but human food is often higher in calories. Eating it can cause stomach problems and obesity. Food that can be toxic to your pet include:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Corn on the cob
  • Avocado
  • Artificial sweetener (xylitol)
  • Cooked bones
  • Grapes and raisins.

Alongside health issues, your pet's behaviour could change. They might refuse to eat their food or misbehave when you are eating.

How does this impact my insurance?

If your pet develops a health condition because of a poor diet, they may need more visits to the vet. This can impact your insurance if they develop an ongoing condition and you need to claim for the costs.

MORE THAN pet insurance customers have a variety of cover to choose from for perfect pet protection. Our customers also have access to vetfone, a freephone advice line available day or night for expert veterinary advice.

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