Questions about nutrition for dogs and cats? This expert Q&A will help you find some answers!
The premiumization of pet food has caused an explosion of choice for consumers. It has also created a general sense of bewilderment when it comes to choosing what’s right for your dog or cat. We reached out to Dr. Micah Kohles from Oxbow Animal Health to provide us with clarity on some key nutritional points.
Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to canine and feline nutrition. Each animal is an individual and his diet should follow what works best for him. As always, confer with your veterinarian before making any sudden changes.
Q: “How do I build a nutritional program for my dog or cat?”
A: It starts with remembering that each animal is an individual. His nutrition program should be specific to his needs, and include factors such as age, breed, activity level, home environment, health status, weight, body type, etc. These factors will also affect the type and quantity of food, as well as how and when it is offered. Treats should be considered as well. The more specific and individual a feeding program is, the more likely you are to successfully support the animal nutritionally.
Q: “How can I decide what’s right for my animal when it comes to nutrition?”
A: Start by considering the true, natural nutritional needs of your dog or cat. What would he be eating if he was living ferally or in his natural setting? Beyond that, how far has your animal evolved beyond his ancestors? This is often a stretch for people, but understanding that cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores means knowing that they have different nutritional needs — and these should be considered when deciding which food is appropriate. Many people are making decisions based on incomplete information, and falling for misleading or incomplete marketing tactics and claims.
Q: “Should I give my dog or cat probiotics?”
A: People are becoming more aware of the vast benefits of a healthy microbiome — everything from better digestive health to psychological well-being to immune health, and more is being discovered every day. What I would caution against is trying to interfere too much with the natural microbiome, unless a true need presents itself. Using incorrect and inappropriate probiotics is risky because it can add detrimental or non-native microbes to the microbiome.
Q: “Would you recommend including microalgae in my animal’s diet?”
A: I am a proponent of microalgae products when they’re used in the correct amounts as part of a bigger formula. It is essential, though, that any marketing and nutritional claims associated with these products are validated. Just like any new potential ingredient, you need to strip away the marketing buzz and truly focus on what the ingredients bring to the formula from a nutritional perspective. Plant-based algae meals are a unique way to provide protein, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, fiber and other useful nutrients to a final product. I think part of the buzz with microalgae is that it is a novel ingredient that provides Omega fatty acids — not that it has any kind of magical nutritional value. Quality and quantity are the keys to how microalgae is integrated with other ingredients to deliver a final nutritional formula to the animal.
Q: “I’ve been thinking of switching my animal towards a plant-based or vegetarian diet. What are the pros and cons?”
A: The potential cons of these diets far outweigh the theoretical benefits. These diets on their own cannot provide complete and balanced nutrition for either dogs or cats and will eventually lead to nutritional issues. Vast amounts of variety and supplementation need to coincide with vegan/vegetarian diets to even bring them close to being nutritionally complete and balanced, and most people aren’t knowledgeable enough to do this. Both dogs and cats evolved on diets high in meat/animal proteins, and meatless diets do not align with this history.
Dr. Kohles will be speaking live at SuperZoo in 2021. To register, visit superzoo.org/register.
Dr. Micah Kohles received his DVM from Kansas State University in 2001 and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2010. He practiced in Colorado for two years before returning to the Nebraska Animal Medical Center and Lincoln Children’s Zoo. In 2006, he joined Oxbow Animal Health as Director of Veterinary Science & Outreach. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Nebraska and has worked with multiple zoological Institutions.