Nutrition: 1, the act or process of nourishing or being nourished. 2. the process by which animals and plants take in and utilize food material. (Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary). Nutrients are the fuels in foods that provide energy, drive growth and repair damage. Dogs and cats have daily nutrient requirements which are necessary for sustaining life. To provide those essential nutrients, appropriate ingredients are selected according to their composition and the availability of the nutrients.
When ingested, ingredients are broken down into simple nutrients that are easily absorbed by the animal. This is the digestion process. Digestibility reflects the amount of nutrients digested and absorbed by the animal to cover nutritional requirements. A balanced diet occurs when nutrients provided equals nutrients required. Just as important as the nutrients themselves is the balance of those nutrients for the age and condition of the pet.
AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and their statement on the label means that the pet food is nutritionally complete and balanced. But it does not insure that it is the proper balance for your particular dog or cat. During your pet's annual visit to the veterinarian, any special nutritional needs can be addressed.
The six essential basic nutrients which are needed to insure good health are: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
"Protein is used to heal wounds, provide muscle strength and mass, help maintain normal nerve and muscle function and to make cells. It does all this by forming enzymes that metabolize food into energy and hormones that regulate various body functions," according to Joe Bartges, DVM, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Too little protein causes poor growth, weight loss, dull coat, muscular wasting and even death. When evaluating protein in the diet, the balance of the amino acids is what determines quality. Poultry, meat, fish and dairy products contain higher quality protein than plant and grain protein because the amino acid balance is better.
Fat is the primary source of energy. It adds to the palatability of the food and is necessary for a healthy skin and coat. Too little fat causes many problems including dry skin and dull coat and inadequate growth. Too much fat is energy that your dog stores rather than uses and therefore leads to obesity. Obesity leads to diabetes, pancreatitis, hip dysplasia and kidney disease.
Carbohydrates are made up of sugar, starches and dietary fiber such as that found in grains and vegetables. Carbohydrates provide energy and aid in glucose production. Sugar and starches are readily digestible for quick energy or are stored for later use during periods of exercise or extreme cold weather. Fiber helps food move through the intestinal tract.
Vitamins and minerals contribute to many processes including metabolic functions, energy production, electrolyte balance and fluid balance, says Andrea Fascetti, professor of nutrition a the University of California, Davis. Insufficient vitamins and minerals can cause impaired organ function, fatigue, muscular weakness, poor growth, dry skin, hair loss, an impaired immune system and poor skeletal formation. However, too many vitamins and minerals can cause many problems including skeletal abnormalities, kidney damage, liver damage, weight loss, anemia and poor appetite.
Water is an essential nutrient. Water makes up about 60 % of an adult dog and the percentage is even higher in puppies. Death occurs more quickly due to insufficient water than with nutritional deficiencies.
When looking for a good pet food, you cannot rely solely on the ingredient panel and guaranteed analysis printed on the label as they do not guarantee the actual nutritional quality of the food. The balance of the ingredients and the availability of the nutrients are crucial as are the quality of the ingredients.ou can take four old pairs of leather shoes, 1 gallon of used crankcase oil, 1 pail of crushed coal and 68 lbs of water and come up with a guaranteed analysis as listed on many pet food labels and meets the National Research Council nutrient recommendations for protein, fat, fiber, ash and moisture. Obviously there is no nutritional value in that mix.
Quality and balance of ingredients, availability of nutrients and proper testing of the final product are essential in making a high quality pet food. Premium pet food companies have kennels where pet food is constantly being tested during various life stages. You get what you pay for in pet food.
Sources for this column include: Body Builders by Marcia King - Dog Fancy Magazine, July 2004, The Truth about Pet Food Labels, by Science Diet Pet Food Company and General Principles of Canine Nutrition by Royal Canin Pet Food Company.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.