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Cat & Dog Nutrition

Have you ever wondered what is the 'right' food for your cat or dog? What percentage of protein should it contain? How long should they be on puppy/kitten food for? What about bones for dogs? Is your dog allergic to something?
All and more of these questions are answered in the article below by Ebeneze Spamers, a vet in our Amberley Clinic.

For many years “Tux biscuits and dog roll” has been the go-to diet for Pet owners across New Zealand but in the last few decades animal nutrition science has come a long way.  

Dogs and cats require nourishment from the same essential nutrient groups as humans namely; protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and most importantly fresh water.  However, the ratios at which these different nutrients are needed by different species and even different breeds within a species differ greatly.  

Every pet is as unique as a fingerprint and will require a diet that is suited to their individual needs. A Huntaway in full work will require a much different diet than the little chihuahua that graces your lap.  

In this day and age we are spoilt for choice when it comes to pet foods.  This may also make choosing the right food for your pet a daunting task.  Most premium and super premium commercial diets such as Black Hawk, Royal Canin, Hill’s and Eukanuba will have a range suited to your pet.  These diets are well researched and contain precise amounts of energy, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to support your pet or working dog in their daily tasks.  As these brands are usually sold exclusively in Vet clinics and pet shops it is always advisable to have a chat to a Vet, Vet nurse or Clinic representative about which food is most suited for your individual pet.  

Supermarket brands have also come a long way and these mostly contain adequate nutrients for your pet.  Supermarket foods usually contain more plant-based protein sources such as soy where premium diets usually consist of mainly animal based protein. Supermarket foods often have a lower protein to carbohydrate ratio and some animals may not perform as well on these diets as on the premium diets. 

That being said, there are some meat based diets out there with far too high protein content, this may place unnecessary strain on the animal’s kidneys and other organs systems.  Always read the ingredients label and look for a guaranteed analysis of the food.  A good diet should consist of approximately 20-30% (animal based) protein, 10-15% fat, and depending on the type of diet between 30-70% carbohydrates and fibre. 

Feeding the right diet according to life stage:  

Small and medium breed dogs should be kept on a good quality puppy food for their first 12 months, large and giant breed dogs should be kept on puppy food for the first 18-24 months.  Large and giant breed pups should be fed a food that is specific to large and giant breed dogs as their Calcium and Phosphorus requirements differ from small breed dogs.  It is also very important NOT to supplement these dogs with calcium during their growing years.

Kittens need to be fed a good quality kitten food for the first 10-12 months of their lives.

Adult foods can be fed to small and medium breed dogs till about 8 years then they will need to be placed onto a senior food.  Large and giant breed dogs age more quickly and will require a food suited to senior pets from around 5/6 years of age.

There are many Veterinary diets suited to specific conditions and should your pet develop any one of these during their life your Veterinarian would recommend a suitable diet specific to their condition.

Some food myths busted:


Many people still believe that bones are essential to dogs’ health.  The reality is that they cause more harm than good.  Unfortunately, vets worldwide still see far too many bone-related emergencies.  Bones can get stuck in a dog’s throats, leading to asphyxiation.  Most commonly we see swallowed bones causing obstructions or perforations in their intestinal tracts.  These usually require very expensive surgical intervention to prevent death if caught early enough.  Constipation and fractured teeth are also common adverse effects caused by feeding bones.  Basically, it is just not worth the risk.  The minerals that bones contain can easily be fulfilled by a good quality commercial diet and there are much safer options out there for your furry friend to chew on.

Raw diets: 

A lot of people shy away from commercial pet foods and opt for a more “natural” approach. Some cooked homemade rations do have a place in animal nutrition but the majority of these diets are potentially dangerous for numerous reasons.  Most homemade diet rations and recipes are not nutritionally balanced for your pets dietary needs, this may lead to deficiencies in macro and micro nutrients that may have serious implications in their overall health. Raw meat, especially minced meats run the risk of being contaminated with dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria.  These not only pose a risk to your pet but also to your health when you handle the food or come into contact with the animal’s excreta. 

If you choose to feed a home cooked diet (cooking the food kills most of these nasty pathogens) please consult with a Veterinary nutritionist to have the ration properly balanced.  

Allergens and grain free diets:

Just like humans some dogs do have allergies or intolerances to certain foods.  In animals a food based adverse reaction or allergy is mostly associated with a protein such as beef or chicken.  Unlike in humans, allergies to grains and gluten is extremely rare in animals so changing to a grain free diet will often not solve the problem.  There are many diets containing no chicken or beef protein and rather containing novel protein sources such as fish, lamb, kangaroo and many other sources of protein that the animal may not have developed an allergy to.  There are also diets containing hydrolysed protein that cannot bind to allergy receptors in the gut. 


To find a diet suited to your pet and your wallet talk to your Veterinarian because together we can find something that works for you and your pet.

About the author

Ebeneze Spamers

Our Clinics

North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics operates four clinics throughout the Hurunui region.