However, taste is only one factor that affects how palatable a food is. Dogs and cats also rely on olfaction (smell), texture, shape and the temperature of food before they decide if they like it or not. For example, studies show that neither dogs nor cats particularly like sticky foods but yet generally both show a preference for wet food over dry. Cats in particular can form strong preferences for the texture of food, which can happen when they are very young. This can create finicky adult cats that have never been exposed to different textures of food as kittens. Some pet foods contain colourings to make the food appeal visually to the owner, so far there are no studies to suggest that colour makes any difference to food preference of dogs or cats.
he water content of food does seem to play a part with both dogs and cats preferring moist food over dry. Adding water to dry food can increase palatability (and water consumption) for some pets but there are others that will refuse to eat it this way.
Higher protein diets- those with a higher percentage of meat or fish are favoured by dogs and cats (cats especially like diets that contain liver) but the freshness of a diet is important especially when it comes to fish. Interestingly, with the increase in raw diets at the moment when given a choice it seems that most pets prefer cooked food over raw, however if it’s overcooked this can put them off.
Some pet food companies add ingredients specifically designed to increase palatability of dry food. These are called ‘digests’ or ‘palatants’ and come in a dry or liquid form. The dry kibble is coated with the palatant (and sometimes oil or fat), which can be vegetable, yeast or meat based. The quality of the palatant varies greatly, with premium palatants costing more to produce. However, diets that use high quality ingredients should be tasty enough without the need to add these flavour enhancers.
With all these factors to consider when developing a new food, it is important to test palatability before launching a new diet and there are several different ways to do this. Some pet food companies will use kennelled dogs or cats. There are benefits to this method, for example it tends to be more accurate as there are no family members to feed extras and no other pets to push in and steal the food! And kennelled animals are used to a wide variety of flavours and textures which means they tend to be less fussy. However, we prefer pets to try our food in their familiar own-home environment and we only use willing volunteers – either staff pets or clients that come into our in house Vet’s Klinic. This type of taste-testing means that we only use family pets and we are able to get ‘real-life’ feedback rather than data from kennelled animals that taste new foods day in, day out. We can also get the owners perspective on how excited their cat or dog is to eat the new food.
There are two types of consumption tests; the single bowl acceptance test and the two-bowl (or two-pan) acceptance test. When we tested our Ultra Fresh cat food we used the two-bowl approach. Two bowls are offered to the cat simultaneously. One bowl contains the cat’s current food and the other bowl contains the new food – that up until this point they had not seen, smelled or tasted before. Each bowl contains the same amount of food and after a set period of time the remaining food is measured to see which bowl the cat ate more food from, this is called ‘intake ratio’. The other measures recorded during this approach is for the owner to report which bowl the cat approached first (even if they didn’t eat from it) – this is called ‘first approach’ and then which bowl they ate from first, which is ‘first choice ratio’.
At Vet’s Kitchen we only use willing volunteers to taste test our food in their own home. Before we launched our Ultra Fresh Adult cat food, we were pretty sure it was going to be tasty, but to be sure we recruited 40 willing volunteers from our own in-house practice Vet’s Klinic… the empty bowls speak for themselves!
See our tasters in action below.
Socialisation is the term used to describe the careful introduction of your puppy to other animals, people, environments and objects. Puppy socialisation as a way of learning; they learn how to cope with new places, situations and people, they learn how to communicate with other animals and how to fit in with family life. A puppy that is properly socialised will grow up to be confident and happy, whereas one that has been poorly socialised may end up anxious and fearful, which in turn can lead to aggression. Several studies have linked a lack of early socialisation in puppies with behavioural problems in older dogs.
Up until 16 weeks old, puppies are going through a critical stage of their development when they are open to learning about new situations and environments. After this age anything new that they haven’t come across before will be met with apprehension. However, there is also a phase known as the ‘fear imprint period’ which is seen between 8-11 weeks old. It is still within the socialisation window but occurs when their natural fear responses start to kick in. During this period any traumatic, frightening or painful experiences will have a more lasting effect and can set your puppy back for life. It is very important that you continue to expose your puppy to new things during this stage but it is essential to make each experience as positive as possible – please see our information on ‘positive reinforcement’ in Training 101. A second fear imprint period occurs during adolescence, typically between 6-14 months old.
It is believed that this stage in development can be traced back to the habits of wild dogs and wolves. After the first few weeks with their family and a safe environment, wolf cubs develop a healthy apprehension of new situations or creatures as a way of protecting themselves from danger. Although older dogs can still be socialised it is much harder and they do not appear to cope as well.
Your puppy should be introduced to as many friendly people as possible in their first few weeks of life. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder how many people your puppy has been socialised with before coming home with you. They should also have handled the puppy frequently as this gets them used to being touched and has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of biting later on. You should try to let your puppy meet as many different people as possible including: men, women and children of all ages, people of different races, people wearing hats, scarves or sunglasses, family members and strangers.
According to the PDSA, more than five million cats in the UK are overweight. Vets are now reporting that 40% of all the cats that they treat are obese or overweight. With 48% of owners feeding them treats more than twice a day one way of tackling this feline obesity epidemic is with puzzle feeding.
Puzzle feeding is simply a way of feeding your cat in a more rewarding and stimulating manner than the ordinary bowl method. Your cat has to figure out what movement of a toy is required to get the food out, creating a game!
Many owners wish to keep their cats indoors due to safety or health reasons, however, it is important to remember supply them with enough environmental enrichment to keep them mentally stimulated and physically fit. Using a puzzle feeder can provide this enhancement into their daily life.
Cats are natural born hunters and they normally get their meals by stalking, pouncing and capturing prey. In the domesticated lifestyle, we are simply serving beautifully prepared birds and mice in a ceramic bowl, usually two times a day, which causes them to become lazy and bored. For this species, a successful meal requires mental and physical stimulation.
Puzzle feeders come in many shapes, sizes and complexity. If you’re just starting out using them then consider a simpler puzzle and then move onto more complex designs.
You can choose from stationary puzzles where the cat has to use his/her paws to knock, push or pull the food to where they can eat it, or a moving puzzle they have to chase or bash around to get the tasty reward out.
You can make your own inexpensive, homemade puzzle feeders easily using toilet rolls and bottles making them as simple or complex as suited to your cat.
These are important minerals for a dog with chronic heart failure. A deficiency of magnesium or phosphorus can exacerbate the potential side effects of cardiac medications and may cause other problems such as muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmias. Magnesium levels should be monitored in your dog and if he/she becomes deficient then a diet with higher levels may be recommended. However, whether the dog requires a diet higher or lower in potassium depends completely on the individual animal. Again, your vet will need to check your dog regularly and moderate the diet when and if necessary.
Some of the specialist diets specifically developed for cardiac disease have a reduced phosphorus content too. Phosphorus, along with calcium is a major component of bone. Phosphorus is also found in the soft tissues and plays a role in almost all of the body’s metabolic processes. However, phosphorus restriction is important once kidney failure has been diagnosed. During renal failure the kidney’s ability to filter and excrete phosphorus declines and the build-up of phosphorus in the body can be toxic. Reducing dietary phosphorus for dogs with kidney failure has been shown to increase their lifespan by 2-3 times compared to dogs fed on a standard food. As many dogs with heart disease also have kidney disease, some companies have chosen to restrict phosphorus in the diet as well as minerals such as sodium. However, phosphorus restriction is not necessary to aid patients with heart disease if their kidneys are functioning correctly.
During normal cell metabolism (oxidation) the body produces unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for normal aging but if they are able to increase in numbers they can cause disease and illness too. Contaminants such as pollution and damage from sunlight (sun burn) can increase the amount of free radicals the body produces. Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E help to neutralise free radicals and therefore reduce the destruction caused by free radicals. However, studies have shown that dogs with either Dilated cardiomyopathy or Mitral Valve disease have an imbalance between free radical production and the amount of antioxidant protection available. Therefore it has been recommended that the diet of a dog with heart disease is supplements with antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, however scientific evidence to support the need for supplementation is still weak.
Vet’s Kitchen dry food contains 8% moisture, the rest of the food (92%) is called dry matter and this is where all the nutrients in the food are. Different brands of dry food and types of foods e.g. wet food or semi moist food all contain different moisture contents. These differences in moisture content make it difficult to do a direct comparison on nutrient levels, therefore nutrients are usually only compared on a dry matter basis instead of an ‘as fed’ basis.
November is a time of year to raise awareness for men’s health, and we must not forget our furry friends! Our dogs can also suffer from specific health issues associated with being male, one of these being prostate disorders.
The prostate is a small gland found at the neck of the bladder in male dogs. It is an essential part of the male reproductive system and is responsible for producing some of the fluids found in semen needed to protect sperm. Unfortunately, male dogs can suffer from a range of prostate disorders, some of which are incredibly common – especially in entire (non-castrated) dogs.
Below are some of the basics to identifying and understanding prostatic disease in dogs.
There are a range of disorders which can affect the prostate – some are ‘acute’ and so will have a rapid onset of clinical signs, while others are more chronic and one may only see a slow progression of signs appearing over months to years. All of these conditions however produce a similar range of clinical signs, which you can look out for at home:
As the name suggests this is a non-cancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate. It is very commonly seen in entire male dogs as it is associated with the hormones released from the testicles. It can be treated very effectively with castration, and signs should begin to improve within a few weeks. If the dog is required for breeding or is too unwell to undergo surgery there are medical alternatives which can be used, but the treatment of choice by most veterinarians will be castration. Another similar benign enlargement of the prostate also under hormonal influence is called squamous cell metaplasia – it is most commonly caused by an oestrogen producing tumour in the testicles and is also treated by castration.
Chronic kidney disease is unfortunately a problem in cats and dogs we see all too frequently and at our Vet’s Klinic we help many pets and their owners to manage this difficult news. The kidneys are essential for filtering waste products into urine and for water and electrolyte (essential salt) balance along with the regulation of certain hormones. This article touches on the causes, diagnosis and treatment options available to you and your canine or feline friend.
Kidney disease (also known as renal disease or renal failure) comes in two forms, acute or chronic. Acute kidney disease is often due to toxins, usually accidental poisoning by ingestion of antifreeze/medications, or from diseases, such as leptospirosis (which can be vaccinated against). The symptoms will appear suddenly, over a couple of days. These can sometimes be treated, although the effects on the kidneys may not be fully reversed, depending on how quickly treatment is sought.
Chronic kidney disease (CRF) is fairly common, and mostly seen in older/senior animals, which we class as animals over 8 years of age. Chronic Kidney disease is more common in cats than dogs and is often secondary to other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism. However, it is estimated that 1 in 10 dogs will also suffer from this disease. It has a slower progression than acute kidney disease, and builds up over time. There are several possible causes, and signs are often hard to spot initially, as they are not visible until 75% of the kidney function has already been lost.
The main signs of chronic kidney disease are:
If your pet is showing any of these symptoms, you should go and see your vet.
There are many different causes for the loss of kidney function and often it is impossible to tell the original causative factor. To simplify into three categories there are causes before, in, and after the kidneys which can lead to damage to the kidneys:
Dental disease can also have an impact on the kidneys, as bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and attack the kidneys. The vet can have a look at your pet’s teeth and gums and assess if they will require a dental procedure called a scale and polish, and possible extractions of rotten teeth. However, this does have risks if the pet does already have kidney problems, as the anaesthetic and drugs used in the procedure could worsen the problem.