Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN, discusses the latest research and guidance surrounding popular pet food diets during a Fetch dvm360® talk.
It behooves veterinary professionals to understand the nuances between polarized dietary trends. With so many pet food products on the market, mining the best diet to match each patient’s needs can pose a unique challenge to many professionals working with clients who are seeking the best nutrition plan for their pets.
During her lectures at a recent Fetch dvm360® conference, Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVN, a research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts, discussed the latest research and recommendations for veterinary therapeutic diets (VTDs) and OTC diets, as well as home-cooked meals for pets.
VTDs require approval from a veterinarian and are formulated to help manage 1 or more disease processes in cats and dogs, said Linder. “Because of this special formulation, not all VTDs will be complete and balanced,” she noted, adding that this includes meeting the minimum and maximum nutrients levels presented by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
VTDs are clinically studied to weigh certain vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutritional components to determine their effect on the disease process.1 Conditions such as gastrointestinal (GI) disease, as well as obesity and cardiac disease, require a case-by-case assessment as to whether a pet’s diet requires modification to accommodate a need that would otherwise be available in OTC foods.2 Digestibility of nutrients should always be a key consideration when selecting a diet for a patient presenting with GI disease.3
Although there is a suite of nutritional and nonnutritional diseases that can affect the GI tract, several therapeutic diets are available for these conditions such as highly digestible diets, novel antigen or hypoallergic diets, hydrolyzed (protein) diets, and those with added concentrations of dietary fiber.3
OTC diets typically have a higher risk of contamination with common pet food proteins than VTDs.4 However, VTDs tend to be more stringent and costly than OTC diets. “Communication to owners about the difference between VT and OTC diets can promote adherence, especially in cases where the diet must be fed exclusively for benefit,” noted Linder.
According to Linder, despite anecdotal stories surrounding the benefits of home-prepared diets for cats and dogs, there is no evidence in findings from peer-reviewed clinical trials to support these claims—especially when it comes to home-prepared diets being healthier than commercial diets in general. For clients seeking nutritional advice, she recommended they consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and be “prepared to follow a strict recipe daily that requires weighing.”
One threat to pets with owners implementing home-prepared diets is unbalanced recipes, according to Linder. Often, diet recipes that are available on websites and in books, including those created by veterinarians, are vague, outdated, or deprived of essential nutrients that are needed for a balanced and complete diet. According to Linder, investigators in one study evaluated recipes for dogs and discovered that only 9 of 200 recipes met the basic nutrient requirements for commercial pet foods.5 However, perhaps the most concerning aspect of unbalanced recipes, said Linder, is that pets that are fed a deficient diet may not demonstrate adverse clinical signs or hallmark complications for years. This can make owners believe their pet is fine until a serious health issue arises that may not be easily reversed.5
Another concern about home-prepared diets is quality control. A formulated diet by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist ultimately ensures that the recipe will meet the AAFCO minimum and maximum nutrient guidelines along with the pet’s individualized nutrient needs. Unlike commercial foods, which undergo thorough quality control testing, digestibility trials, and feeding trials to assess for bioavailability and nutrient adequacy, home-cooked diets do not undergo any form of safety and nutritional testing. It is recommended that pets eating homecooked diets have routine veterinary visits and laboratory tests (ie, blood work and urine testing), more so than those eating commercial diets.2