One of the greatest challenges we face as a rescue organisation is malnutrition. About 80% of the animals who arrive at our shelter have malnutrition in varying degrees. The skin conditions, infections and diseases they suffer from are often less noticeable than the ribs and spines that signal starvation.
Addressing malnutrition must initially be approached with restraint – too much good nutrition too fast can do more damage than good. Ingesting large quantities of calcium in a short space of time can make the bones of a puppy with rickets grow too fast and result in a deformed skeleton. The puppies we treat often have stunted growth because mothers do not get enough nutrition while feeding them.
Feeding is rehabilitation
For the animals in our care, feeding is not simply a matter of scooping a cup of pellets into a bowl. Each of our dogs and cats have their own tailor-made diet worked out by our animal carers and veterinarian, based on their specific needs. This will include supplements and specific types of food – for example, our older dogs are on diets that cater for ailments such as arthritis.
The dogs and cats we rescue have often been forced to survive on dirty water and minimal nutrition and this is why most of them have mange. Clean water plays a key role in their health, and good quality pet food contains higher levels of moisture. You will notice that low-end pellets are hard and dry, whereas pellets with higher nutritional value are oily and moist. This is one way you can judge the quality of the food you buy for your own animals.
The great protein mistake
A mistake made by many animal guardians in the key areas we serve, is that they feed their animals leftover human food which is severely lacking in protein (many of the dogs we treat live on a diet of mielie pap, and little else). Dogs need 30% to 40% protein in their diet, while cats need at least 70%. This is why a cat should never be fed dog food – there simply isn’t sufficient protein for the needs of a feline. Larger quantities of protein is also why cat food costs more than dog food.
The quality of the food we feed our animals at TEARS is directly related to their recovery period and future well-being. All the animals we take in are given probiotics, which helps with their digestion, boosts their immune systems and ensures weak tummies can handle the antibiotics they may need to be on for other ailments. We add omega 3 and 6 supplements to our adult dog food to assist with eliminating mange, and also include a rich formula in the food we give our puppies with mange as opposed to administering painful weekly injections.
A heart-warming example of the importance of diet is Sebastian who arrived at TEARS with such a severe case of rickets that he could barely walk. With the right diet and medical intervention he was adopted and transformed into the dog he was always meant to be.
SA pet food standards
South Africa has regulations around pet food brands and it is important that if you are a cat or dog guardian that you are aware of these so you can be sure you are feeding your animals the level of nutrition they need and deserve.
The place to start is by looking at the label. Make sure that the manufacturer is registered with the Department of Agriculture and meets the regulations for the minimum nutritional standard (it should say AAFCO approved).
Are you getting it right?
Don’t be fooled by clever marketing – just because it says the food contains chicken, doesn’t mean it does! This even goes for registered manufacturers – so read the label carefully. This is particularly important if your pet has allergies or other health conditions directly linked to food.
For example: “With chicken flavour” contains only traces of actual chicken, and some brands add essence only – so NO chicken at all. If a product says “High or rich in chicken” this means that there is at least 14% chicken in the food. Bags or tins that state “All chicken” mean that your pet is getting more than 65% actual chicken and this is the level you should be aiming for.
Don’t settle for foods that simply say “meat”, “poultry” or “animal” in the list of ingredients. Ensure that a specific source of meat (for example, lamb or chicken) is mentioned in the top two ingredients and that it is antibiotic and hormone free. These need to be labelled as human grade – don’t feed your pets what you wouldn’t eat yourself!
Then there are the basics – avoid artificial colourants and preservatives (these will appear under names such as BHA and BHT) and go for food with added Omega 3 from a high quality fish source (dogs and cats can’t use omega 3s from a vegetable base effectively). Avoid giving milk to them too, as dogs and cats are lactose intolerant and this often results in diarrhoea.
Finally, avoid any food with propylene glycol. This has been linked to anaemia in cats. However, if you follow the guidelines above and buy that treat with “Chicken rich and human grade” on the label, you will certainly be rewarded with lots of happy purrs.