Cat & Dog Diets: Pet Nutrition & Health

Published on November 22, 2019 by arothstein

Dog licks lips at pet nutrition, pet food bowl.

A career as a vet tech not only means you’ll have to earn a degree, but you’ll also need to pass the VTNE. Part of becoming a veterinary technician means understanding pet nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet.

Additionally, a vet tech loves all animals. Most vet techs work in small animal practices. However, some may continue their education to work in a zoo, farm, or animal sanctuary. A veterinary technician needs to have strength, skill, and confidence to excel in their field.

Even more, a vet tech needs to know about the nutritional needs of animals in their care. For that reason, one of the specialty fields for a vet tech is to become a Veterinary Nutrition Technician. Even if you don’t pursue certification to become a VNT, you must know how to assess the nutritional needs of animals. For example, some of these needs include the breed, age, and size.

What is a Good Diet for Cats and Dogs?

To begin, pet nutrition needs vary by species, ages, breeds, and lifestyles. A balanced diet is necessary for cell growth and maintenance and good health. Most pet nutrition goals are met from good-quality, commercial pet food as part of their healthy diet.

Feeding Guidelines for Cats

Cat owners know that most cats are more stubborn about their food than dogs. Because of this, it’s no surprise that cats develop preferences for their favorite food in the first year. For that reason, It’s essential to get your cat accustomed to different types of food. Some examples include dry, wet, and semi-moist foods.

A lot of owners focus on the ingredients in cat food, but it’s just as important that the pet owner considers the nutrients, fats and protein in their food. The AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) states if the diet is balanced, so you know your cat’s nutritional needs are met.

Pet Nutrition and Your Cat’s Primal Instincts

Cats in the wild are usually hunting at dawn and sunset, so that’s often the best time to feed them. However, kittens require more frequent feedings; three or four feedings a day is typical. Feeding guidelines for kittens are listed on the food label and varies from brand to brand.

Because the calorie count and pet’s nutrition information differs considerably between brands, so it’s best to follow the recommendations of your vet. The veterinarian also considers factors such as the cat’s age, size, and activity level. The critical point is that cats will nibble on food during the day if it’s left out.

Cats and Overeating

Most importantly, it is important that a pet owner understands the concerns of overeating and pet nutrition. To avoid having health problems due to obesity, choose specific mealtimes for your cat. Additionally, cat owners should put the food away when they are done eating. If a cat gobbles down their food, it’s best to switch to a diet with a lower calorie count.

Good Diet for Cats

Commercial cat food balances and formulates complete pet nutrition for the specific needs of cats. Since many of the commercial cat foods on the market don’t include percentages, cat owners combine dry and wet food to improve the quality of their cat’s diet.

Benefits of Dry Food in a Cat’s Diet

Dry food prevents plaque buildup on a cat’s teeth, but it’s also essential to buy food that doesn’t have a high-fat content. A cat’s nutritional demands change during the stages of their lives. A kitten needs food that contains vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins that are necessary for proper growth.

Adult Cat Diet Considerations

An adult cat requires less fat in their diet. Additionally, their food should always be supplemented with plenty of water.

Senior Cat Diet Considerations

Senior cats should eat food that’s designed for cats with a lower metabolism. Food rich in protein maintains a cat’s lean muscle mass. Food for older cats should contain Omega Fatty Acids for a healthy coat and skin. Senior cat food should also contain dietary fiber and should be easy for the cat to digest.

Cats and Homemade Food Considerations

Homemade foods may work well for a dog, however they aren’t a good idea for cats or kittens. A cat needs specific minerals, proteins, and vitamins that comes from meat. However, domestic cats shouldn’t eat raw meat. Bacteria in raw meat causes salmonella or E-coli. The average cat weighs between eight and ten pounds and even changing one ingredient in their diet can change its nutritional value.

Feeding Guidelines for Dogs

High-quality, commercial foods that pet owners choose for their dogs should be based on the dog’s life stage. Most commercial pet foods contain meat, grains, fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals.

The AAFCO recommend foods that are complete and balanced. Complete means that the food contains all the nutrients that dogs of a particular life stage requires. Balanced means that the nutrients are in the correct proportions for dogs of that life stage.

Puppy Diet Considerations

The AKC recommends that puppies six months and under should be fed three to four times each day. Pet owners can follow the feeding instructions on the dog food to make sure their puppy or dog is getting the correct amount for their age and breed.

Your Dog’s Energy Level and Diet

Your vet may recommend a specific amount of food based on the dog’s activity level. For example, a Border Collie puppy that gets a lot of exercise may require more food than a senior dog that lounges around most of the time.

Good Diet for Dogs

In the wild, a dog’s diet is mainly made up of meat, with some vegetables and fruit. There isn’t a perfect diet for dogs, but most professionals agree that the diet should be made up of dry, wet, and homemade foods. The composition of the ingredients determines how healthy the food is.

Wet foods are mostly water, so your dog won’t get as much energy from them. Wet dog foods should be high in meats and fats, a small amount of vegetables and fruits, and no by-products.

Dogs have nutritional requirements like humans. If you decide to feed a homemade diet, it’s always best to discuss this option with your veterinarian. If a pet owner chooses not to feed their dog the correct proportions of nutrients, severe nutritional deficiencies could result.

Why Is A Good Pet Nutrition Important?

Regardless of the species of pet, life-stage appropriate diets are an excellent option. A healthy diet for dogs and cats prevents them from getting overweight and too sedentary. A balanced, high-quality food also reduces the risk of pets developing certain diseases.

Dogs and cats don’t have the same nutritional needs. Cats are carnivores, and dogs are omnivores. Adult dogs and cats could be fed growth formula food. However, food developed for their life stage is the best option since it includes all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need.

Good Pet Nutrition Supports Your Pet’s Developmental Needs

Puppies and kittens shouldn’t be fed an adult diet while they’re in the developmental stage. The caloric count in puppy and kitten food is higher than in adult food. Higher calorie foods are the best choice for kittens and puppies due to their rapid growth.

A cat reaches maturity at approximately ten months old. Small and medium-sized dogs are mature at about 12 months. However, large breed dogs aren’t considered to be adults until they reach 18 months. To keep pets healthy, they should be kept on growth food until this point.

Some Nutrients Cats and Dogs Need to Stay Healthy

Cats and dogs need protein for general body maintenance, to keep muscles healthy, and for cell growth. For example animal-based proteins contain the amino acids dogs and cats need to stay healthy. Taurine is especially crucial for cats and is found in animal-based protein. This is also essential for reproduction, a healthy heart, and good vision.

Why Oils and Fats Are an Important Part of Pet Nutrition

Animal fats and oils from plants are an important energy source for pets. These provide fatty acids that cats and dogs can’t make on their own. In the right proportions, fatty acids help our pets to:


A good balance of carbohydrates increases energy, aids in digestion, and can affect reproduction in dogs and cats. Fiber is a carbohydrate that affects the intestinal tract. Fermentable fiber is in vegetables, rice, and wheat. Fiber isn’t good for young kittens and puppies in the growth stage.

Vet Tech Can Educate Pet Owners on Healthy Diet Habits

A lot of pet owners don’t realize what their pets need to be healthy and happy. A vet tech can educate pet owners about healthy dietary habits for their pets by providing informational resources about the best nutrition for cats and dogs. Factual information is one of the most effective ways to help pet parents make the best choices.

Different Types of Food, Treats, And Supplements

Dry, wet, and semi-moist foods are available for puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats. The way to choose the most appropriate food for your pet is to get a recommendation from your veterinarian based on your pet’s age, weight, and breed.

The average cat or dog that’s eating a well-balanced diet usually doesn’t need supplements. If a pet is being fed a prescription diet due to health issues, it’s wise to discuss supplements with your veterinarian. The food may already contain the supplement and increasing the dosage could have adverse effects.

Common Supplements for Healthy Pets

Glucosamine and chondroitin have positive results in treating arthritis in pets. Vitamins C and E have antioxidant properties that improve the immune system and reduce inflammation in animals. Your veterinarian will know if this is an option for your pet.

Using Pet Treats for Rewards

Pets love goodies, and offering an occasional treat is an excellent way to reward them. Treats are useful during training sessions and for good behavior. Some pet treats are designed to clean their teeth, remove plaque, and keep bacteria from getting below the gum line and causing dental problems.

If you’re going to reward your pet with a treat, make sure that it doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients. A lot of treats are high in calories, so check the ingredients and use them occasionally.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about cat and dog diets interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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