In the months since the pet food scare, more owners are cooking food or sharing food with their pets. What many people don't realize is that an improper diet can trigger significant health problems for their cherished companions. This is a concern for both dogs and cats.
One of the biggest problems is providing the correct balance of nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals. Errors here can lead to problems with bones or organs, and other health issues.
"It is very difficult to consistently provide the same level of nutrients when preparing food in small amounts," said Dr. Cecilia Villaverde, a nutritionist at University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. "Even when a prescription recipe is professionally formulated for a pet, clients will often substitute one ingredient for another as they run out of items."
There is a Web site, www.balanceit.com, that will help you balance your companion's nutritional requirements.
Weight is another concern. When people share food with their pets, it is more likely to contain excessive calories. Obesity is a serious health risk as it affects animals' joints and vital organs. An animal with an ideal body condition will have an abdomen that slopes upward; the ribs shouldn't be visible but can be felt with gentle pressure.
Because cooked food is usually soft, it doesn't provide much chewing. This means that plaque and tartar can build up more readily on the dog's or cat's teeth. In most cases, this can be managed with a good oral hygiene program. Even when dental treats are used, it is still best to brush your pet's teeth frequently.
When people share food with their companions, it tends to be spicier and higher in fat than commercial pet food. This can lead to such serious issues as pancreatitis, liver disease, intestinal ulceration and more. Typical signs of trouble include vomiting, diarrhea or blood in the stool. Treatment ranges from oral medication to hospitalization on IVs.
Your veterinarian can advise you based on your companion's specialized health and dietary needs. Most dogs are able to digest plain vegetables and fruit. Plain bread, pasta, crackers, popcorn and boiled chicken without the skin are usually well received. Don't feed your companion grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate or macadamia nuts.
Julie Damron is a veterinarian at Sierra Veterinary Clinic in Stockton. Read all her columns at recordnet.com. Contact her at .