There are a few pets out there who really are low-maintenance. They are completely healthy and have good appetites, but aren't over- or underweight. They aren't very finicky about what they're fed and do well on readily-available, reasonably-priced diets that are easy to manage.
If you're on this page, you probably don't have one of those pets. Read on.
Of course, your veterinary nutritionist uses the phrase "high-maintenance" jokingly. Pets just aren't on autopilot when it comes to their food. Nor should they be, really. Each has some aspect of their life; whether is a medical condition, a life stage, their personality, or their lifestyle that justifies some special consideration when it comes to nutrition.
Some questions that can help you to decide if your pet may benefit from nutritional counseling are:
Can you honestly use the phrase "my pet is a healthy adult"?
Pets who are older, younger, or ill are likely to benefit from a customized nutritional plan. Why?
If your pet has a medical condition, nutrition plays a role in managing it. For some conditions, the role is direct and nutrition is a part of standard treatment (such as in obesity, chronic kidney disease, and hepatic lipidosis, for example), but for others, the role is less obvious. In these cases, nutrition is considered to be a supportive part of treatment. Recovering from surgery, being treated for cancer or infectious diseases, and many others fall into this "nutritional support" category.
If your pet is a puppy or kitten, their rapid growth means not only that they have very specific (and high) energy and nutrient requirements, but also that those needs are changing rapidly. Ensuring that they receive the right amount of the right diet is important, but not always easy. Similarly, pregnant or lactating animals have unique needs.
While it varies, many pets are considered to be "senior" when they reach a certain age. While the differences in nutritional requirements between young and adult animals is fairly predictable, the differences between adults and healthy seniors are more variable, and an individualized assessment and plan can be very important to meeting those specific needs.
That said, even healthy adults stand to benefit from nutritional assessment and a customized nutritional plan.
After reviewing at the chart for either dogs or cats, what is your pet's body condition score?
Be honest with yourself! Then, ask your vet to double check your scoring. Research has shown that pet owners commonly underestimate their pet's score. If your pet's score is less than 4 or greater than 5, he/she would benefit from a weight management plan.
Healthy pets stay healthier for longer when they maintain an ideal weight, and many medical conditions can be improved by correcting weight problems. Puppies and kittens can become overweight too, which can lead to some big health problems early on.
Do you prepare your pet's food yourself? If so, do you use a recipe formulated by a board certified veterinary nutritionist? If so, are you following the recipe exactly?
If the answer to the first question is "yes," then the answer to the other two questions should also be "yes."
Research has shown that most home-prepared diets that were not formulated by a veterinary nutritionist are unbalanced- meaning that they are deficient in some nutrients that are essential for pets. Even if the diet was designed by a board certified veterinary nutritionist, it's common for pet owners to make changes to a pet's diet over time. These changes can be detrimental for your pet because they change the amount of certain nutrients the diet provides. Not providing your pet with the correct amount of each essential nutrient causes problems that are not usually obvious, but can be very serious in the long-term (for adults) or even in the short-term (puppies and kittens).
Just like specific life stages require different nutritional care, the demands that we place on working and service animals can also create special needs.
Do you feed a raw meat-based diet?
While these diets can have some very important benefits, they also carry some significant risks. If you feed your pet a raw meat-based diet, understanding these risks are and how to minimize them is very important for your pet's health, as well as your own. Veterinary Nutrition Care can help you to maximize these benefits, while reducing these risks as much as possible, or to find an alternative diet that provides similar benefits without the risks.
Are you (and your veterinarian) completely happy with your pet's current commercial diet and/or supplements?
There are so many commercial diets and nutritional supplements available to pet owners; these represent a wide spectrum of safety and quality. Veterinary Nutrition care can help you to evaluate these products and compare them to your pet's needs, as well as yours.
Are you sure you're feeding your pet the right diet, in the right amount, and in the right way?
The right diet and amount are pretty self-explanatory, but "in the right way" is a little less obvious. Your board certified veterinary nutritionist uses this term for most of the other aspects of feeding; where feeding takes place, whether your pet eats from a bowl/food dispensing toy/feeding tube/something else, whether your pet is meal-fed or free-fed, and on and on. This is where a pet's nutrition plan can really become customized. Pets who need large amounts of treats as rewards for good behavior need a nutrition plan that accommodates that, and others who get bored easily, or need to gain or lose weight are examples of adjusting the "way" the diet is fed to meet the pet's and pet owner's needs.
It's okay for you to be high-maintenance too!
A "high-maintenance" pet owner is simply one who is involved in their pet's care. They want to make sure that they understand treatment plans, medications, diets, and supplements; that the diet and supplements they feed are healthful and safe, and that their pet is treated with care and respect. These are all good things!
Pet owners who have specific questions about their pet's nutrition, or just want clarification on general pet nutrition topics can also benefit from working with Veterinary Nutrition Care. The more informed you are about your pet's care, including nutrition, the better choices you will make for him/her.