Nutrition – food for thought ?
Nutrition is a very broad subject with many aspects and many differing opinions. In the small animal sector the major debate currently is about feeding raw food versus feeding pelleted dog or cat food.
In my opinion both have a place but should be applied to the right animal at the right time taking into account the nature of the animal, its life stage (puppy or geriatric), any special needs due to diseases as well as fitting into the busy life of the owner.
Different commercial diets have been designed taking into account the species, breed, life stage and purpose of the animal as well addressing special dietary needs due to disease processes.
Generally there are 3 diets;
- the one we feed
- the one that is actually eaten
- and the one that is absorbed by the body.
The one we feed is the easy one, simply put that is what we give to the animal. The second diet, the one that is actually eaten often differs from what we feed. For example in ruminants on home mixed rations the mineral mix often is fine, sinks to the bottom and is not eaten.
Dogs and cats often manage to supplement what we feed them from other sources. Cats often go and eat at the neighbours as well as at home and catch insects, mice, rats and birds to supplement their diet.
Dogs tend to pick up things as they go for a walk, sometimes supplementing their intestinal flora with that eliminated by other animals like herbivores or birds.
The third diet, what is absorbed by the body, is the one that is difficult to assess without laboratory testing. Many minerals are not always bioavailable, meaning that although they are in the food, they are not in a form that the body will absorb them.
Minerals also interact and bind to each other and some inhibit the absorption of others. The same happens with proteins and amino acids. Some nutrients are dependent on others for absorption. For example turmeric is often supplemented to the diet for arthritic pets. It has been shown that the absorption of turmeric is not that great, unless given with a fatty meal which then again can lead to other challenges.
What I do is look at the diet that is being fed and how it is being fed in relation to the disease process in the animal, and if necessary advise changes to encourage healing.
In dogs and cats there is a big debate of feeding raw food or nuggets. In my opinion there is a time and place for both- once again it depends on the individual animal and situation.
Chinese Medicine recognizes different flavours and thermal properties in different foods. Think of how your body reacts differently when eating a hot curry compared to biting into a sour lemon. We also tend to eat differently in summer and winter. In the same manner different diseases are classified as hot or cold, hence the term “catching a cold”. The diet can be adjusted to balance the disease condition.
In pasture animals like horses and stock, I believe that variety is the spice of life and having a good quality pasture with different herbs and grasses is essential. Different plants concentrate different minerals and hence having a wide variety of plants helps the animal access what it needs. Soil testing is also important to ensure the soil has the optimal composition.Encouraging plants with deep root systems is very important in my opinion. The stronger the root system, the stronger the plants and the better the pasture will adapt in difficult times. If you observe your pasture you will see that different plants predominate at different times of the year to balance the season and soil conditions.
Generally the body knows what it needs. With small animals it is good to observe what they do. You may notice that one pet always comes to the kitchen when you are preparing fish, but not when preparing chicken. This may give an indication of what is best for them.