The goal of clinical nutrition is to sustain the nutritional health of the pets we care for without adversely affecting the
quality of the bond between our clients and their pets. To do this we consider the signalment of the animal, the most suitable
diet to recommend given the pets physiological state and (or) disease, and the most appropriate feeding strategy for both
the pet and her owner. An associated issue, at least in our practice, is that many urban clients do not have extensive experience
as pet owners, and appreciate advice that may seem elementary to veterinarians.
As we approach the animal, we note its age, physiological state, and the amount of activity it engages in. We're lucky when
presented with a puppy or kitten so we can get owners off to the right start. This is the time to recommend a diet you trust,
and to discuss any information, or misinformation, the client may have received about feeding their new pet. We become concerned
when a client reveals that a bizarre diet is fed, a variety of supplements provided, or when a well-meaning breeder has recommended
an overly strict or unusual feeding regimen. Listening to the client's concerns, and explaining that pet food quality has
improved so much that supplementation no longer is necessary, and may be hazardous, usually convinces them of the wisdom of
feeding a prepared pet food. If not, I recommend that the patient be returned more frequently to ensure that all continues
to go well.
The initial visit also is the time to explain that urban pets, like urban people, are at risk of obesity due to ready availability
of highly palatable foods, the lack of readily available opportunities for calorie-burning activities, and the stress of living
in confined spaces. To prevent future problems with obesity and begging for food, the client may need help learning to feed
to a moderate body condition and to establish a tradition of non food-related interactions with their pet. Owners can be
taught to feed whatever amount of food is necessary to maintain a moderate (3/5 or 5/9) body condition. If they have limited
experience with animals, they should be shown the elements of moderate body condition by having them palpate the ribs and
waist under your supervision, so you can advise them if the animal needs more, less or the same amount of food. Another advantage
of teaching owners to feed according to body condition is that it is the same method they use (or should use) for themselves.
Few people know how many cups or calories of food they need to eat to maintain moderate body condition. We usually decrease
our intake when we notice that our clothes are becoming too snug, and we can teach our clients to do essentially the same
thing with their pets.
We also can help clients maintain their pets body condition by recommending non food-related interactions. Teaching tricks,
playing with the pet, and walking regularly instead of feeding the pet when it wants attention all help maintain a bond that
is not sustained with food. Owners sometimes confuse begging for attention with begging for food. They can differentiate
the two by throwing a favorite toy for the pet to fetch when it looks longingly at them. If it fetches the toy, it was more
interested in attention than food.