Journal Scan: Given the choice, what diet would a pet choose?

VettedVetted April 2020
Volume 115
Issue 4

The dogs and cats in this study were free to eat from four different diets with varying macronutrients. So when given their druthers, lets see what they devoured, as assessed by their circulating metabolites.

( Pettigrew)

Why they did it

A plethora of dietary options exist for dogs and cats today. This allows owners to make nutritional decisions previously not available. These decisions may be made for many reasons, some of which are not related to the health or wellbeing of the pet. As a result, these diet decisions affect the available circulating metabolites in the pet. The authors of this study wanted to find out what the circulating metabolites in a dog or cat would be if they were allowed to self-regulate their nutrition.

What they did

Seventeen dogs and 27 cats were used from a study colony. Each was allowed to free feed from a choice of four different diets-one high in protein, one high in fat, one high in carbohydrates, and one with balanced macronutrients. Cats were fed freely throughout the day but stopped when a predetermined maintenance caloric intake was reached. Dogs were separated and fed once daily for a one-hour feeding period and were limited to a predetermined maintenance caloric intake. This was continued for 28 days for both cats and dogs. Plasma concentrations of multiple different metabolites were measured at the beginning and end of the trial.

What they found

Dog saw relatively few metabolite changes when allowed to self-regulate, with the only significant difference being higher concentrations of arachidonic acid. Cats saw significant increases and decreases in various amino acids as well as higher concentrations of highly polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Take-home points

This study confirms that different food choices affect dogs and cats on a much greater metabolic level than was previously known. By allowing the animals to self-select, the authors attempt to establish what may be a normal baseline for these animals. This may provide the base for future study into differences in specific diets.


1. Hall JA, Jackson MI, Vondran JC, et al. Comparison of circulating metabolite concentrations in dogs and cats when allowed to freely choose macronutrient intake. Biol Open 2018 Nov 15;7(11):bio036228. Link to article:

Michael Nappier is assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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