Nutrition for the Holidays—A Time to Stuff Your Stockings, Not Your Pet

The holiday season is one filled with gleeful celebrations among friends and family. Often, these celebrations entail large holiday meals, festive desserts and snacks, and enough leftovers for a month’s worth of sandwiches. While we try to be cautious of our own health and nutrition throughout the season, it is just as important that we care for our pet’s nutrition as well—no matter how convincing Fido’s “begging” face is for the chocolate cake in the center of the table.

While you’re out grocery shopping for the perfect holiday meal is a good time to reevaluate the foods that you’re feeding to your pet. “Foods should be individualized for the pet, not chosen based on what one pet needs and then given to all of the other animals,” says Dr. Debra Zoran, Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “The key is to feed a diet that is complete and balanced.”

For cats and dogs, both wet and dry foods are perfectly acceptable. As long as you know what to look for, the decision of which to feed your pet should be based on which they prefer. “Wet food has a high water content (about 80% water) and can also be high in protein and low in carbohydrates, all of which is good for cats,” said Zoran. “Dry foods can be quite acceptable as long as they are high in protein (at least 40%), low in carbohydrates (less than 15%), and fed in meals, not by free choice on the part of the pet.” Dry food for dogs is typically preferred due to its lower costs, especially when supplying food for larger dogs.

As for “all natural” or “diet” dog and cat foods, it is again most important that the food is balanced and has all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. “All natural pet foods are like commercial wet or dry (processed) foods in that you can’t always be sure whether they are a high quality, highly digestible product that is complete and balanced and if they will be a good choice for your pet. The same considerations exist for diet foods,” said Zoran. “In general, diet foods are fine if they are high quality and fed in the proper amount. However, there is nothing magical about weight loss diets; if you feed them too much they will still gain weight or at least fail to lose weight.”  Consulting with a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist is important if you are unsure about the quality of the food you are selecting.

While we have all fallen victim to those big puppy dog eyes or soft, sweet meows from underneath the dinner table, it is vital that we are aware that some foods that can be incredibly detrimental to their health. “Chocolate, grapes, raisins, and onions are examples of common foods people eat that can have disastrous consequences for pets, such as seizures, kidney failure, anemia,” Zoran said.

“In general, it is best not to feed dogs or cats anything spicy, fatty, or not in their typical diet,” says Zoran. “However, small pieces of cooked meat or a vegetable can be okay. For example, feeding a small piece (it should not be more than 10% of their total diet) of cooked chicken thigh with no bones or skin is completely fine and a reasonable treat.”

When the first of the year rolls around, fitness centers become filled with people beginning their New Year’s resolutions to get in better shape. But what about when our pets need to shed a little excess holiday weight to keep healthy? “Just like with us, weight gain is a combination of genetics, metabolism, what we are eating, how much we are eating, and how much we are exercising,” says Zoran. “Any of these can have a major effect on body weight, so it is important to feed your dog or cat good food, the right amount of it, and keep them active. The ideal situation is not to let your pet get overweight – you can help prevent this by weighing them often and then adjusting how much food they are eating up or down accordingly, and asking your veterinarian for help if you have questions or concerns.”

This holiday season, just remember that most of the holiday treats we enjoy are not good for our pets, so to be sure that Fluffy and Fido enjoy the holiday celebrations as much as we do, it is best not to share our holiday food.  Instead, stuff their stockings with pet toys that will keep them active, thin, and healthy.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Should you scrap the table scraps?

As winter break comes to a close, numerous students find themselves back at home with a fridge full of leftovers. For many pet owners, this means a few less trips to the store for pet food. While sharing lunch with your four-legged friend is possible, owners should realize that your pet has particular dietary restrictions it must follow to guarantee that it stays happy and healthy.

“People enjoy sharing food with their pets, it is part of the bonding process,” said Deb Zoran, doctor of veterinary medicine, and associate professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “But proper control of the types and amounts of food pets are served is crucial for its safety.”

“For example, a diet consisting too high of fats can very dangerous for dogs, even causing such problems as diarrhea or in severe cases pancreatitis,” Zoran said. “The additional calories found in average table foods can also lead to obesity problems in your pet if not controlled.”

These problems arise not from the food itself, as whole foods such as meat and potatoes are very nutritious and well digested, but from the many spices added and the food not being in the proper balance for the pet.

“The food itself is perfectly good for our pets,” Zoran said. “If owners want to feed ‘human food’, and are willing to follow prescribed recipes set up by a nutritionist, then it is an excellent way to meet their nutritional needs.”

Choosing to feed your pet in this fashion also leaves the owner with the responsibility for meeting their pet’s proper nutritional needs, which are different for dogs and cats. Chicken is an excellent and frequently used meat source to feed pets, with the fat removed for dogs and left in place for cats.

“Generally high fat things are potentially very problematic for dogs, while cats don’t need carbs in their diets at all,” Zoran said. “Spices and seasonings, especially onions, capsaicin, and other additives are all potentially problematic in your pet food as well.”


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Tummy Ache

A tummy ache is never fun for people, but it can be life threatening for your pet.

“It’s not uncommon for most animals to have upset stomachs and vomit from time to time, but there’s usually a simple reason,” says Dr. Deb Zoran, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Vomiting may be caused by a hairball in the stomach or small intestine or by other foreign material, such as plants, rocks or bones.  Diet could also be a cause.

“If a dog or cat has had a change of diet or if it has eaten spoiled food, it can result in nausea or vomiting,” adds Zoran.

“Just like when humans get food poisoning, the symptoms usually go away within 24 hours.  The digestive tract is cleared and whatever was causing the problem is gone.  However, if the animal has repeated vomiting, won’t eat, or the symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, the animal needs to see a veterinarian immediately.”

Zoran says frequent pet vomiting can be a difficult problem to pinpoint.

“The causes are numerous – food allergies, infection or inflammation in the intestinal tract, foreign objects that obstruct the bowel, ulcers, liver or kidney failure, diabetes, cancer – the list can go on and on,” says Zoran.

If the animal has been vomiting for more than 24 hours, the most serious problems are dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.  The animal has lost body fluids and they need to be replaced right away, then the source of the problem can be examined.

X-rays can often detect the source of the vomiting, and as with humans, barium liquid can be administered to the pet to outline the digestive tract.  Other tests that may be necessary include ultrasound, blood work, and an endoscopic examination to determine the problem.

“One key question is, does the cause of the vomiting come from inside the G.I. (gastrointestinal) tract or is it hidden elsewhere in the animal?” Zoran adds.  “If the problem is not in the G.I. tract, it can be harder to detect.”

If the pet owner detects blood in any food the animal has vomited, that should be a warning sign that something is not right.

“If blood is present, it’s a serious problem and possibly a life-threatening problem,” says Zoran.

“Unfortunately, it may not look like blood because the stomach acids will digest any blood present and the blood may look something like coffee grounds.  The best answer is, if you don’t think it looks like food, the animal needs medical attention as soon as possible,” says Zoran.

Other signs that should alarm pet owners: if the animal vomits every time it eats, vomits multiple times per day, or if the animal won’t eat at all and appears to be weak and depressed.

“All of these are warning signs that something serious is wrong and the pet needs medical help immediately,” says Zoran.

Frequent or persistent vomiting in any animal is not normal. If the animal has been vomiting excessively, it’s essential that it sees a veterinarian.



Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Low Carb for Cats

According to Dr. Debra L. Zoran, a clinical assistant professor of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, cats are metabolically adapted for higher protein, low-carbohydrate diets.

“More than 35 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese,” said Zoran.

Age, sex, and activity level are all factors that influence the weight of a cat; however, feeding style is a significant contributor to obesity rates. Traditional weight loss plans include low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. However, cats are not traditional animals when it comes to their ideal diet.

“Cats are not only carnivores but they are obligate carnivores, meaning they require additional protein and other nutrients that are only present in animal tissue”, said Zoran.

Zoran explained that cats utilize protein for energy, even in the face of large amounts of carbohydrates in the diet.

“Because cats lack salivary amylase and have low concentrations of other carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, digestion of sugars is very inefficient in cats,” explained Zoran.   “When it comes to cat food, extra carbohydrates only mean extra calories, which, if not burned for energy, are stored as fat.”

In addition to their enzyme deficiencies, a cat’s small intestine is much shorter than that of an equally sized omnivore such as a dog. Felines have longer GI tracts which allow them to handle complex carbohydrates.

Instead of slimming down a fat cat, a high carbohydrate, high fiber diet may lead to abnormal intestinal function or even diarrhea.

“While these [low-fat, high carbohydrate, high fiber] diets may result in weight loss, they do so to the detriment of lean body mass which is protein in muscles,” said Zoran.  “Losing lean body mass often contributes to weight regain because cats’ appetites are not reduced and satiety, or a sense of satisfaction, is never reached.”

Past studies evaluating the use of a canned low-carbohydrate, high-protein (45 percent or higher) diet for weight loss in cats has revealed that all cats lost weight and maintained lean body mass.

“These diets not only resulted in sustained weight loss in these cats, but also in normalization of appetite because they are satiated,” explained Zoran.

This does not mean that cat owners need to bake some blackened tilapia for Tiger or slap some ribs on the grill. A high-protein diet for your cat does not call for extra fuss; suitable foods can be found in the pet food aisle.

“The best commercial diets for achieving a high protein, low-carb profile are canned foods like those used for growth, such as kitten foods, or canned diets specially designed for adult diabetic cats,” said Zoran.

Some cats will turn their noses up at the sight of canned food, but no worries, there are also dry food options that provide high-protein and low-carbohydrate nutrition.  However, Zoran recommends that most cats be fed at least some canned food as part of their diet to reduce both carbohydrate intake and overall caloric intake.

“Dry foods tend to be very calorie dense,” said Zoran, “Feeding them only 50 percent canned food is a good starting point.”

Sadly Garfield might need to give up his lasagna dinners for a healthy serving of protein instead.



Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Evacuating With Your Pets

Hurricane season isn’t over yet. In the wake of Hurricane Ike’s wrath, we are again reminded of the stress and chaos that can come from evacuations. Though a difficult time for everyone, pet owners have the added responsibility of making sure their furry (or scaly) friends are safe.

First and foremost, do not leave your pets behind. If the situation is not safe for you, it is not safe for them. There is no way of knowing how long the evacuation will last, or what damage your home might experience.

“Saving the Whole Family,” a brochure in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s disaster preparedness series, recommends planning ahead. Create a disaster kit that you can grab on your way out. Of course making sure your pet has food and water is the most important necessity for their survival, but there are a few very important, less obvious things you need as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends having these essentials in your disaster kit:

Identification- Make sure your pet has on ID. Whether it is a collar tag, microchip, temporary neckband, or tattoo, your animal’s identification needs to be visible to others in case they get lost. If they do not wear identification on a daily basis, have a form of ID in your disaster kit that is ready to be placed on your pet.

Transportation/Housing- Have carriers for all your animals. It is important to have a place to keep your animals in case you are not able to let them roam free once you get to your destination.

“Even if you are taking your pets to a friend or family member’s house,” says Dr. Debra Zoran, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University, “having a crate to keep your pet in is important to give them a sense of security as well as a place of refuge in the event there are problems between pets on the premises.”

When dealing with cats Zoran recommends having a crate large enough to hold their bed and litter box.

“The bigger the crate the better, the more the cat can move around the more comfortable it will be,” Zoran adds.

Veterinary records-Make photocopies of vaccination records and medical history and take them along. Keep the list of vaccinations your pet has received and the dates on which they were given. Also make sure to have a copy of their rabies certificate. In their medical history the AVMA suggests having important test results on file as well as a list of medical conditions.

Emergency contact list-This list should be prepared before an evacuation situation. Some basic numbers to include are your personal phone numbers, the number of someone that can be contacted in case you are not available, your veterinarian’s name, address, and phone number, a the information of a veterinarian where you will be evacuating to.

If you are evacuating to a shelter, proof of ownerships is essential. Get photocopies of registration information, adoption papers, proof of purchase and microchip information to keep with you. Have a list of each animal’s species, breed, age, sex, color and distinguishable characteristics. It is also important to have current photos of your pets and pictures of you and your pet in case there is a dispute of ownership.

For more detailed information on these essentials, as well as extensive lists for pet disaster kits view the “Saving the Whole Family” brochure found at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s disaster relief website

Having a disaster kit ready can help you be prepared for an evacuation, but the evacuation itself can be incredibly stressful on our pets.

If you get stuck in traffic Dr. Zoran recommends letting your pets out frequently, but have them on a leash at all times. Put the leash on your pet before you open the door.

“It is best to keep cats in their crates, but if you plan to let the cat out, make sure you have a harness for it to wear,” suggests Zoran, “If a cat is stressed and not in its crate, when you open the car door it can easily escape.”

Evacuation can be just as stressful for your pet as it is for you. Dr. Zoran suggests having their favorite toys and comfort items on hand can give them a sense of normalcy in the situation.

Prepare ahead of time for evacuations. Having a pet disaster kit ready to go at a moment’s notice can help make a stressful situation a little less traumatizing for you and your pet.

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