From puppy or kitten stages into a pet’s golden years, maintaining proper animal nutrition is an integral part of healthcare. Using a holistic approach to healthcare and relying on preventative measures allows pet parents to avoid problems throughout their animals’ lives. Examining this type of comprehensive approach to animal wellness is crucial to optimizing pet health.
In the National Institutes of Health article, The Effects of Nutrition on the Gastrointestinal Microbiome of Cats and Dogs: Impact on Health and Disease, by Susan M. Wernimont, Jennifer Radosevich, Matthew I. Jackson, Eden Ephraim, Dayakar V. Badri, Jennifer M. MacLeay, Dennis E. Jewell and Jan S. Suchodolski, researchers examined how nutrition can alter the environment of an animal’s gastrointestinal system; thereby either promoting optimum wellness or potentially contributing to poor health.
“The gastrointestinal microbiome of cats and dogs is increasingly recognized as a metabolically active organ inextricably linked to pet health,” the June 2020 report said. “Food serves as a substrate for the GI microbiome of cats and dogs and plays a significant role in defining the composition and metabolism of the GI microbiome. The microbiome, in turn, facilitates the host’s nutrient digestion and the production of postbiotics, which are bacterially derived compounds that can influence pet health.”
When pet parents choose diets for their animals that target specific health issues, many problems—or solutions—often lead back to the types of nutrition, or lack thereof, received through food, vitamin and supplements that are processed through the gastrointestinal system. For Danielle Opetz, MSc, a companion-animal nutritionist at Fromm Family Foods, a healthy gastrointestinal system is central to pet wellness, as the foundation upon which to build with food formulas that include fiber-rich ingredients to aid digestion.
“Proper nutrition is a vital component of pet healthcare,” says Opetz. “As a companion animal nutritionist, I believe everything starts within the gut. A healthy gut leads to a healthy pet because of the strong connection between nutrition and overall well being. This, coupled with plenty of exercise, an adequate sleep routine, and complete and balanced nutrition sets a pet up for total wellness and longevity.”
Through examining the health benefits of wholesome foods and supplements, both consumers and retailers can work together in order to uncover the best approach for each pet’s individual nutritional needs. By focusing on the nutrients found within food formulas and the quality of ingredients, as many pet parents do for their own nutrition, Jeff Riman, founder of King Kanine, explains that many pet-health issues can be avoided.
“We can prevent so much in illness, sickness, disease, inflammation—all these things in our pets, in the same way we can with people,” Riman says. “We have to be really conscious of proper nutrition and proper protein foods that are cooked less so they are not denatured in protein value, with higher amounts of antioxidants, better probiotics for digestion and healthier guts.”
A Healthy Start
At the most-basic, elementary level in veterinary healthcare, pet parents should learn about preventative measures to be aware of their animals’ needs and cognizant of any issues that arise. This approach to healthcare through nutrition should begin with investing in products that provide the specific nutrients that support wellness during different life stages. Dr. Darcia Kostiuk, a veterinarian with Champion Petfoods, notes that while these needs will change throughout an animal’s lifecycle, there is one piece of the wellness puzzle that is consistent during all life stages.
“Nutrient requirements vary depending on life stage; from neonatal to early age to young adult and senior, pet parents should look for food that matches their pet’s life stage,” Kostiuk explains. “Supporting a healthy body weight that errs on the lean side will always aid in preventing common problems that arise later in life, such as decreased joint mobility, osteoarthritis or diabetes mellitus.”
To keep up with their pet’s needs as they age, pet parents can schedule regular veterinary visits for examinations. The information gathered during these visits will allow pet parents to design an effective nutritional program, according to Dr. Bob Goldstein, who founded Earth Animal with his wife Susan.
“A diet and supplement program, which meets the animal’s individual wellness or healing need, is critical in meeting the healing objective of the pet parent,” Goldstein explains. “Veterinarians who practice integratively (holistic and conventional) are the best equipped when it comes to evaluating food and supplement choices. Metabolic and physiological testing can greatly assist in preventing disease.”
Addressing Issues as They Arise
Unfortunately, even pets with the most diligent parents, who schedule regular veterinary appointments and adhere to wholesome nutrition for their animals, may still encounter health issues. These instances could potentially be alleviated through shifting nutritional focus, according to Dr. Gary Cotton, DVM, founder of Dr. Gary’s Best Breed Pet Foods.
“While certain diseases and health conditions are inevitable, they can be mitigated through nutrition,” Cotton says. “For example, a dog with sensitive skin that is prone to environmental allergies might be helped with a diet rich in fish and omega-3 fatty acids. In my clinic, I would help break the inflammation cycle with medication, then use sources of omega-3 fatty acids to keep the skin healthy thereafter.”
While a pet’s diet is a major component of nutrition, along with exercise, other factors contribute to the effectiveness of high-quality nutritional approaches. These additional components of a holistic approach to wellness can include a peaceful, secure home atmosphere.
“[Just] like humans, pets are exposed to circumstances outside of their control, like their environment or genetics, so the best we can do for them is ensure they have a healthy nutritional foundation,” Kostiuk explains. “Something to consider when thinking about proper nutrition is the amount and quality of protein in a pet’s food, which must be easily digestible, have a robust amino acid profile, and be controlled for minerals like phosphorus, magnesium and calcium.”
Knowledge is Power
As consumers continue to purchase pet food, treats and supplements, and become increasingly educated regarding ingredient sourcing, processing and formula quality, they consider input from knowledgeable veterinarians and their preferred retailers. The role of retailer and veterinarian in an information-heavy world is crucial to decision making for pet parents seeking out the best products for their pet’s nutritional needs. While Riman sees veterinarians and holistic practitioners becoming more vocal about how nutrition can support animal wellness, he also views retailers as important resources for pet parents.
“The retailers that I am dealing with have a lot more understanding of nutrition and how diet relates to a healthy pet,” says Riman. “Especially the boutique type of pet stores that get more intimately involved with their customer. We’re learning so much more about raw feeding and natural feeding that the pet store owners, managers or employees at the retailer seems to have a lot more interest in passing that nutrition on.”
As pet parents pay closer attention to nutrition and healthcare, they are also becoming more discerning regarding ingredient sourcing. With the responsibility pet parents feel to ensure their animals lead fulfilling, healthy lives, these consumers are also identifying ways in which they can shop responsibly.
“We believe the consumers are looking for purposeful companies whose products are sustainably sourced,” says Susan Goldstein. “There is a shift in the consciousness taking place, not just in our industry, but globally. Retailers can help pet parents by honoring the animals’ individual wellness or healing needs in order to select the appropriate foods, supplements and treats. It requires the investment of time knowledge and solution orientation.”
When considering nutritional approaches to include as part of a pet healthcare plan, a lot of focus is often placed on early life stages, as puppies are constantly growing and in need of high nutrient densities, according to Opetz. Recognizing the crucial role that nutrition plays in puppy development is important, but with the high rate of adoptions, the age of adopted animals is often a mystery for many adoptive pet parents. The nutritional needs of adult pets are dependent upon the individual animal, yet Opetz suggests that foods offering balanced nutrition, in addition to added ingredients that focus on specific issues, can afford the most-ideal solution for adults.
“Diets supportive of joint health may feature cartilage or collagen to help provide the body with the building blocks needed for healthy joints, like glucosamine and chondroitin,” Opetz explains. “L-carnitine is an ingredient that may be found in weight loss formulations to help boost metabolism and maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Diets with lower nutrient densities, like those with lower levels of phosphorus and protein, may assist in kidney support.”
In addition to the amount of nutrients an animal receives for the amount of calories it consumes, the weight of an animal must be monitored to ensure wellness during the later adult years. According to Cotton, the changing metabolism of an aging pet necessitates careful monitoring—and perhaps a change regarding the amount of food consumed.
“As pets age and their metabolism slows, it is important to watch body condition and match the calories he or she is consuming with calories burned,” Cotton explains. “I am not saying that you need to move to a senior or low-calorie food, but I am saying that if the animal starts to gain weight, back off the amount you are feeding and be conscientious of the total calories they are consuming each day.”
Overall, as people see the connection between nutrition and healthcare, consumers are considering the wellness of their animals with the same dedication they apply to their own health. Stemming from comparisons consumers make between their own health and that of their animals, interest in pet nutrition will grow among products that rely on responsibly sourced ingredients that comprise well-balanced, nutritional formulas. PB