2001-Fri Mar 22 13:02:07 EDT 2019
Vetstreet. All rights reserved. Powered by Brightspot.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
While many pet owners believe that good nutrition for their pet is all about diet, the topic is actually much broader than that. As a veterinary nutritionist, I know that optimal nutrition comprises complex interactions between the animal that eats the diet, the diet itself, how the diet is fed and the surroundings in which the diet is eaten. All these elements combined affect a pet’s relationship with his food.
Eating is an essential, evolutionarily conserved drive — meaning that, over time, animals that had a strong enough drive to eat were generally the ones that did not become food themselves for other animals. So, it is no surprise that animals will work for food and find eating to be a pleasurable — and rewarding — experience. Throughout evolution, food was a limited resource, so the drive to eat is stronger than the drive to stop eating. Additionally, eating may soothe anxious pets; their food comforts them and reduces their concern over potential loss of food sources.
Many pets in our practice are confined to someone’s home, so they are completely dependent on the mercy of their owners for all their physiological and behavioral needs, including food and water, elimination and the mental and physical stimulation needed to thrive. In this way, they are somewhat akin to zoo animals and may benefit from some of the enrichment efforts used in zoos. Domesticity (captivity) seems to affect pet cats even more than it does dogs. For example, while some owners may describe their cats as finicky or picky eaters, their cats may actually be feeling threatened by their environment and prefer familiar (i.e., comfort) foods.Viewed from this perspective, finicky eating may be more a sign of a larger problem (poor welfare), rather than an issue with diet.
Early life experiences also affect pets’ relationships with food. For example, research in multiple species has shown that the offspring of mothers that do not receive enough food during pregnancy can be predisposed to obesity later in life. In some mothers, this association seems to result from signals transmitted to the fetus when she has experienced food restriction during pregnancy. Studies also suggest that, after the experience, effective environmental enrichment for the offspring may help reduce the risk of obesity and other health problems later in life.
Pets choose the foods they eat largely based on smell, taste and mouth feel. Pets, particularly confined ones, are also greatly affected by their surroundings. What this means from a nutritional perspective is that it is helpful to offer new foods as a choice at meal time. New foods should be in a separate container next to the usual food and offered on a day when the owner can observe what happens. If the pet refuses the new food, it may be for a variety of reasons, including anything from distaste to an impoverished environment that lacks enrichment.
In fact, some of the current enthusiasm for unconventional foods such as ancestral, homemade and raw diets seems more related to factors other than nutritional content. People often seem to turn to such diets in an effort to tempt what they believe is a finicky eater, but in reality, the diet may not be the problem — although it may become a problem if not properly formulated.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Bartonella is a type bacteria that can be transmitted to cats, dogs and humans from exposure to infected fleas and…
Want to give your pup yummy, low-calorie treats? We’ve got the skinny on which foods are OK to feed him.
Not sure about food puzzles? Our veterinarian reveals why the payoff for your pet is well worth any extra work.
With these simple dental care tips, you can help keep your canine’s adorable smile shiny and healthy for life.
The friendly and inquisitive LaPerm has an easy-care coat that comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.