Pets have individualized diets, and changes can be messy

Sitting quietly watching the rain drops splattering on the window, I heard the involuntary retching of my little feline friend, yet again.

I knew I should not have changed her diet, and questioned my reasoning for doing so. I had received a damaged bag of cat food in my last pet food order and, knowing I could not sell it, decided to bring it home to feed my own cats.

Although it is a high quality food, I was amazed at how quickly her system revolted.

Cleaning up the third mound of undigested food off the rug, I realized the importance of understanding the unique requirements of each animal’s digestive system.

This particular cat has been my companion for more than eight years. She was approximately 2 years old when she joined our family. Her previous owner was moving and unable to keep her.

She was a petite feline, and I began feeding her a high quality food that listed chicken, turkey and brown rice as the top three ingredients. She did quite well on that diet for a long time, occasionally depositing undigested food on the floor, but I attributed that to hair balls as she is a long haired cat.

It wasn’t long, however, before she began to gain some weight, then gained a lot of weight! Her bright, green eyes illuminated her tiny head while her torso resembled a large black bowling ball.

She was incredibly lazy and spent most of her day lounging in available sun rays coming through the windows.

When grain-free diets hit the markets several years ago, I decided to change her diet to determine if the grains were contributing to her obesity.

The result was remarkable. Within a few weeks she began losing weight and her energy level increased. Her coat, which previously was coarse and dull became soft and silky.

Within six weeks, she had lost her bowling ball form and her activity level skyrocketed. She ripped around the house playing with cat nip toys and stuffed mice, performing acrobatics resembling those of a young kitten.

So back to the damaged bag of cat food I recently brought home. It contains brown rice. Within 24 hours of feeding her that food, her system rejected the change.

Needless to say, I put her back on a grain-free diet, and she is back to her zippy self.

For years, pet food manufactures have added grains to their formulas because they are an economical source of nutrients and readily available.

The grain-free pet food trend began several years ago when companies began studying the dietary habits of dogs’ and cats’ wild ancestors.

Wolves, wild dogs and cats are obligate carnivores and eat mostly meat, obtaining grains solely through the stomach of their prey. Some pet food companies determined that grain-free food is closer to a natural diet for dogs and cats.

While some pets digest grains with no complications, others develop medical issues. Grain intolerance can cause vomiting, bloating and other types of digestive issues and can aggravate allergies and skin disorders.

Typically, most grain-free products contain a higher protein content and do not contain fillers such as corn, wheat or soy. These three ingredients are the most common culprits for digestive and allergy issues in pets.

Although the cost of grain-free products is often higher than those containing grains, pets generally will eat less because they are consuming higher protein.

Grain free products are not necessarily the best diet for your pet. Many animals consume grains with no difficulties and live long, healthy lives.

But every animal is individual and dietary needs reflect that. As their caretaker, watch for signs that may reveal a necessary change in diet and consult with your veterinarian or pet nutritionist.

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years and is the owner of Ah, Natural! Ltd. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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