NUTRIENTS FOR YOUR PET

Feeding the best diet is important for total holistic health for your pet. By getting your pet on the best diet, some mild conditions (such as allergies) may respond without needing to use other therapies. In the next several months we will explore the seven dietary classifications of nutrients — water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and food additives so you can make an informed choice on your pet’s diet that will encourage growth, promote a healthy coat, and allow proper function of his organs and immune.

Carbohydrates—sugars, starches, and fiber—are excellent sources of energy in pet foods. The body of a pet actually contains only small amounts of unused carbohydrates; carbohydrates in the diet the pet does not need are stored as glycogen and body fat. Plants, however, contain a large amount of carbohydrates and are included in the diets of pets to provide energy or fiber. Natural sugars and starches found in plants are useful for supplying energy and are easily digested by the pet. You should avoid feeding your pet excess sugars, especially man-made sugars that are often added to increase the flavoring of the food. Sugars compete with essential dietary nutrients for digestion and absorption, can contribute to obesity, and may predispose pets to diabetes.

Also avoid excess quantities of poorly digestible carbohydrates (wheat, oats, soybeans) in your pet’s diet as they contribute to excess intestinal gas (flatus). Excess fermentation of poorly digestible carbohydrates may contribute to bloat in dogs. Once digested and absorbed by the pet, one of three things can happen to the sugars and starches: They are immediately used for energy, they are stored as glycogen in the liver (to be used at a future time for energy), or they can be stored as fat. The pet, however, does not digest fiber. Fiber serves as the structural part of the plant; common plant fibers include cellulose and lignin. Including fiber in the diet is important for normal intestinal function. Excess dietary fiber is often used when formulating diets for overweight pets, for pets with certain intestinal problems, and for pets with diabetes to help them control their absorption of sugars and starches from the diet. Fiber is sometimes added to the diet to prevent both diarrhea and constipation. Fiber also helps the animal feel full so he doesn’t overfeed and become obese. Cheaper pet foods often have too much fiber as filler. As a result, pets can become full before consuming the needed nutrients and can exhibit nutritional deficiencies.

While both dogs and cats can digest and absorb carbohydrates, neither has specific dietary requirements for this nutrient form. Cats especially, being true carnivores, do not need carbohydrates in their diets. Cats are able to easily maintain blood glucose levels when fed high protein, low-carbohydrate diets. The sugar transporting system of the cat’s intestinal system does not adapt to varying levels of dietary carbohydrates as cats have low activities of intestinal disacchardiase (sucrose and lactase) enzymes. Cats also only produce about five percent of the pancreatic amylase enzyme (the carbohydrate-digesting enzyme) that dogs produce. Also, unlike dogs, cats do not possess the liver enzyme activity (hepatic glucokinase), which limits their ability to metabolize large amounts of carbohydrates. Many commercial cat foods contain large amounts of carbohydrates (especially corn), which lower the price of the food. (Corn, a grain that supplies carbohydrates and protein, is less expensive than animal meats as a protein source.) These foods should not be fed to cats, who require large amounts of animal protein and minimal amounts of dietary carbohydrates.

Next month we will discuss protein as an essential nutrient for your pet.


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Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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