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Pet Nutrition Tips for Your Dog and Cat

We've got the formula for healthy eating for cats and dogs.

By Maria Minsker

The options are endless -- and overwhelming -- when buying pet food. Feeding your furry family members a nutritious diet keeps them healthy, so examine all options, says Susan Lauten, Ph.D., president of Pet Nutrition Consulting. Good eating habits will keep them wagging their tails or purring for years to come.

Say no to scraps.
Resist sharing your food. This can lead to obesity, since it's often difficult to track how much you're actually giving your pet, and makes it more likely he'll ingest foods that aren't good for him.

Read the label.
Look for the nutritional adequacy statement on bags and cans of cat or dog food to ensure that products meet all of your pet's dietary needs for his specific life stage, as established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Treats aren't required to have the AAFCO statement, so offer them sparingly. They should equal no more than 10% of your animal's diet.

Add variety.
Occasionally include fruits and vegetables, such as apples (sliced, with seeds removed) and green beans, in your dog's diet, says C. A. Tony Buffington, D.V.M., professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University's Veterinary Medical Center. Stay away from onions, avocados and grapes, which can be dangerous because they're toxic. Cats can have very small servings of fruits and vegetables -- like bananas, carrots and cucumbers -- in bite-size pieces.

Practice portion control.
Don't just follow package guidelines for how much to give your pet. Consider his breed, activity and age. If your pet is gaining weight, reduce the portion size -- always measure servings -- and the number of snacks. Consult with your vet for specific recommendations.

Avoid on-demand feeding.
Don't leave food out all day. Instead, establish a schedule by always putting out food at the same times and discarding after 30 minutes. This also allows you to monitor how much your dog or cat is really eating.

Nearly every animal has moments of food fussiness. Lauten suggests doing these things to entice finicky eaters:

Make it tasty.
Add warm water to food, heat it in a pan or mix in a small amount of vet-approved herbs with heavy scents.

Avoid hovering.
He'll notice that you're watching and he will stop eating to get treats instead.

Don't worry.
Healthy dogs and cats can miss a meal or two as long as they're drinking plenty of water. If it's for more than a day or he experiences prolonged diarrhea or constipation, contact your vet.

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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