Getting Pet Smart: Food and Exercise Tips for Your New or Seasoned Pet

dog running with ball

Whether you've just gotten a brand new kitten or are the proud parent of a 12-year-old Maltese, who's been your steadfast companion through the emotional roller coaster of life, there are certain things you need to be cognizant of to keep your pet in top form.  Stacey Kilcullen, DVM at Little Silver Animal Hospital, shares her tips on how to help pet parents keep their pet in optimal physical shape so that ultimately, their vet visits will be as brief and painless as possible.

Pick the Right Food
"It's important to check with your vet and make sure you're feeding your pet a high quality diet that's specially formulated for his or her needs," says Dr. Kilcullen. "Many people buy pet food at their local supermarket, thinking it's high quality. It's actually fast food for your pet, and just like it's not good for humans, it's also not good for pets."

Avoid Cheap Food
Dr. Kilcullen suggests that the food you feed your pet can prevent some painful and even fatal illnesses and recommends high quality brands like Science Diet and Eukanuba. 

Cats, especially males, if fed a poor quality diet, can develop crystals in their urine, which can cause their urinary tract to become obstructed and leave them unable to urinate.  In fact, Dr. Kilcullen has personally seen cats, who after having repeat blockages, needed special surgery to fix their urinary tract.  The surgery involves changing the male cat into a female cat, and is quite expensive and can cause discomfort to the cat.  She also suggests adding water to their dry food, which helps them flush out their bladders.

Choose Food that Fits Your Pet's Breed, Lifestyle and Age
When it comes to large breed puppies, for example, Dr. Kilcullen notes that many pet owners make the mistake of feeding them basic puppy food.  Yet they don't need all the calories found in those foods, which will cause them to gain weight more rapidly than their developing bones can handle.  Rather, owners should feed them a large breed puppy formula, which will allow them to grow slower and give their bones the necessary time to develop.

Other feeding issues owners should keep in mind: dogs and cats eight years and older need to be on a senior diet and pregnant dogs and cats should be fed a puppy/kitten formula food, since both need extra calcium and phosphorus.

Monitor Your Pet's Weight
While there's no ideal pet weight, dogs normally gain weight along their rib cages and cats tend to carry extra weight in their stomachs. A good way to check your pet to see if he/she needs to lose weight is by running your hands over its chest. If you can't feel its ribs, your pet needs to go on a diet and get exercise.

Dr. Kilcullen says that owners can lower their pet's weight by feeding them smaller portions of low-fat premium food.  The food should contain an animal-based protein because it helps pets maintain their lean muscle mass while they're losing weight and the nutrient L-carnitine helps turn fat into energy.

Pet obesity can also be counteracted with a daily exercise regimen.  An exercise regimen for dogs can include more frequent and longer walks or even an agility class. Cats should be engaged in some type of indoor exercise activity that will encourage them to jump and chase objects.

Of course Dr. Kilcullen recommends that pet parents check with their vet before beginning any type of weight loss and exercise routine to ensure that their pet's heart is healthy enough to undergo such a regimen.

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Comments (1)
Kerri M.
Really helpful advice, Dr. Kilcullen, coming from another veterinarian and pet owner, it is refreshing to see good information on pet care side by side with good information on family care. I live in an idyllic environment in Seattle where pets are pretty much on par with humans. We take our pets to work ( I work at Trupanion pet insurance) and we have professional dog walkers that make sure that even if the humans don't take potty breaks, they get them!
Thanks for taking time from your busy day to remind us all about how important the basics of nutrition are for our pets who are not able to accompany you to the store to buy their food!

K. Marshall DVM
Posted: April 30, 2013 at 12:43 AM
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