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Nutrition for your pet

Have you ever wondered what is the 'right' food for your cat or dog? 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

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. Animals may grow and survive on some of these diets but our aim is to have them thrive and promote longevity. 

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 you will receive trained advice.  

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. 

As a general guide look for a food that is life stage and breed appropriate and AAFCO tested (check the bag), this means it has been certified to be balanced and complete, this is your assurance that the food will be suitable for your pet.

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.

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. 

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, Toxoplasma, Tuberculosis 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 via a consult with a nutritional specialist at Massey University.

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.  Come in and speak to us about some options for this problem.


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

Yvonne Marshall-Lee

Yvonne Marshall-Lee

North Canterbury Veterinarian

Our Clinics

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