In recent years, researchers have been able to explain why humans bond so strongly to their pets, and they have also discovered that the relationship between humans and animals is often beneficial to human health. It is not surprising that the strong emotional attachment that people feel for their pets is coupled with a concern for providing them with the best in health care and nutrition. Advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in vaccination programs that protect dogs and cats from many life-threatening diseases and in medical procedures that contribute to lengthened lifespans. Likewise, progress in the field of nutrition has generated an improved understanding of canine and feline dietetics and led to the development of well-balanced pet foods that contribute to long-term health and aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
Today’s competitive market contains a vast array of foods, snacks, and nutritional supplements for dogs and cats. These products are sold in grocery stores, feed stores, pet shops, and veterinary hospitals. Products vary significantly in nutrient composition, availability, digestibility, palatability, physical form, flavor, and texture. Some foods are formulated to provide adequate nutrition throughout a pet’s lifespan, while other foods have been marketed specifically for a particular stage of life or a specific disease state. This large selection of commercial products, combined with the periodic propagation of popular nutritional fads an fallacies, has resulted in much confusion among pet owners and companion animal professionals regarding the nutritional care of dogs and cats.
A basic understanding of the fundamental basics of nutrition is a necessary prerequisite for evaluating pet foods and making decisions about a pet’s nutritional status. The term nutrition refers to the study of food and the nutrients and other components that it contains. This includes an examination of the actions of specific nutrients, their interactions with each other, and their balance within a diet. In addition, the science of nutrition includes an examination of the way in which an animal ingests, digests, absorbs, and use nutrients. Energy, water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals are examined in detail. An examination of the normal digestive and absorptive processes in dogs and cats is also provided.
Subsequent sections address the specific nutrient requirements of dogs and cats, the types and compositions of pet foods, feeding management throughout the life cycle, feeding problems, and the management of nutritionally-responsive diseases. Information contained in this section will enable pet owners, students and companion animal professionals to make informed decisions about the diets and nutritional health of dogs and cats throughout all stages of life.