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Pet Nutrition 102

A follow-up to Pet Food Nutrition 101, this article discusses specific dietary features for specific groups and even for individual breeds of dogs and cats.

Large and giant breed dogs, such as Mastiffs, Great Danes, and German Shepherds (to name a few) should be fed with several factors in mind. One is the risk of bloat for these dogs. There are no known ingredients linked to cases of bloat, except for one. Even in this case, very specific circumstances surround the link between bloat and citric acid. Some pet foods contain citric acid as a preservative. The only time this ingredient is problematic is when the food is fed soaked in water. When fed dry, there is not a correlation between citric acid and increased incidence of bloat episodes.

Your large or giant breed dog does not need to be fed a protein-restricted diet. This is a common misconception that can actually be harmful. Feeding a diet that contains adequate protein levels helps your dog maintain a lean body mass for ideal health and condition. Feeding quality protein sources in moderate levels, 20-28% is ideal. Fat levels should be low to moderate (8-14%), also to help these large dogs maintain a healthy body condition and lean body mass. This may vary based on activity level and age of your specific pet, ask your veterinarian.

Added nutrients such as glucosamine and chondroitin, L-carnitine, taurine, and antioxidants may be beneficial to your big dog’s health. Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring substances that are found in healthy joints. When a joint is damaged or inflamed, glucosamine and chondroitin have additional activity in the joints to protect the cartilage. Feeding a diet that contains added levels of these nutrients may protect the vulnerable joints of large and giant breed dogs.

L-carnitine and taurine are two nutrients that are relatively new on the dog food scene. L-carnitine is a vitamin-like nutrient and taurine is an amino acid. Both are useful for maintaining proper heart muscle function. In some cases of dilated cardiomyopathy, taurine and L-carnitine may be used as a treatment. This disease is more common in large and giant breeds, particularly Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, and Great Danes.

We all know about antioxidants for our own health and the same applies for our dogs. Most of also know that antioxidants help protect the cells from normal aging changes. As we age, our rate of cell damage and death increases. This can partially be blocked by the usage of antioxidants. Because large and giant breed dogs age more rapidly than smaller dogs, they may benefit from early and higher levels of supplementation of antioxidants. Vitamin E and selenium are two of the most common antioxidants being bolstered in pet foods.

Schnauzers are susceptible to pancreatitis, much more than other breeds of dogs. Pancreatitis simply means inflammation of the pancreas. It is not necessarily caused by an infection, and usually is not. Pancreatitis is often triggered by the feeding of a high fat meal or something that the dog is not accustomed to. Schnauzers, however, may suffer from pancreatitis without an obvious trigger. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Veterinary attention is critical, this disease can be life-threatening. Feeding a lower fat diet may be helpful in preventing pancreatitis and any dog that has suffered from pancreatitis should be fed a low fat diet.

Boxers are known for their high incidence of various types of cancer, or neoplasia. Although we don't know of a cancer prevention diet, it may be helpful to feed a diet that is high in antioxidants and contains added omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are used in many cancer treatment programs and may have some protective effects.

Toy breed dogs and some small breed dogs have terrible trouble maintaining good dental health. This is due in part to the conformation of the mouth and teeth and in part to the thought that these tiny dogs simply can’t chew a dry kibble dog food. Encouraging these tiny dogs to chew up their kibble will help scrape the surface of the teeth, removing plaque before it can become tartar. There are plenty of small enough dog foods out there that even the tiniest of dogs should be able to chew and swallow appropriately.

Bedlington Terriers are a relatively uncommon breed, but suffer at a very high frequency from copper storage disease. This genetic disease causes an abnormal build-up of copper within the liver. All diets contain copper, in excess of the level that these dogs can eliminate it. Diet will have very little effect on this disease.

Many small breeds have a higher incidence of mitral valve heart disease, especially as they get older. This disease eventually progresses to cardiac insufficiency and failure. There are not any dietary guidelines for preventing the disease, but restricting the sodium intake once congestive heart failure has developed will help make the treatments more effective.

There are not too many diet responsive diseases in cats that are specific to individual breeds, but there are some worth mentioning. Persian and Himalayan cats are more likely to form calcium oxalate stones than other breeds of cats. Dietary prevention of these stones is accomplished by feeding a diet with moderate calcium and magnesium content and by alkalinizing the urine. However, most adult cat formulas are formulated to acidify the urine. Kitten formulas are not acidified, and may be a good option for your Persian cat. Persian cats are also more likely to suffer from a genetic disease called polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. Diet will not prevent this disease, but feeding a high quality prescription diet for kidney health may be recommended for these cats.

Hairballs affect many cats. Longhaired cats are more likely to suffer from chronic hairball disease, but any cat can suffer from this disease. When cats groom, some of the hair is removed and swallowed. The hair stays in the esophagus or in the stomach and causes irritation, until it is vomited back up. Fiber ingredients can greatly decrease the incidences of hairballs. Insoluble fiber ingredients like powdered cellulose, bind the hair in the stomach and pull it through the intestinal tract. The hair is passed out in the stools, and is not vomited up.

FLUTD, or feline lower urinary tract disease, is a common problem affecting many cats of all breeds. This disease has many factors that contribute to it. Stress in the environment, including any changes, often induces the disease in susceptible cats. Diet changes are one of the physical stress events that can instigate the disease. Feeding a diet that keeps the urine pH moderately acidic and has controlled magnesium content will be helpful, but not wholly preventative. Offering multiple water sources, including fountains and maybe even canned food will help even more. Maintaining an environment that is as low-stress as possible will benefit the susceptible cat. Breed specific nutrition is not a common concept, as some dogs or cats of all breeds need diets to address certain medical or health conditions. However, working with your veterinarian will help you select the most wholesome diet for your pet’s lifelong health and wellness.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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