Spice up a pet’s life through diet and nutrition

As veterinary team members, we must recognize not all suggestions or advice will be accepted by clients

Each pet owner is as individual as the animal. Provide options when discussing the right diet.
Each pet owner is as individual as the animal. Provide options when discussing the right diet.

Pet parents are becoming increasingly curious on what diet is best for their pets, and there is no question why. As diet trends cycle their way through our own culture, pet parents are seeing this happen for their dogs and cats.

Clients are filtering through information from their veterinary team, from the internet, at their local pet food stores, and through conversations with other pet parents. Much of this information will be educational and helpful, while other sources may be less reliable. As veterinary team members, it is our responsibility to stay up to date with all dietary options for pets in order to educate and support clients to make decisions that feel best for their lifestyle, as well as their pet’s health and well-being.

Understanding popular feeding options among pet parents, and finding safe approaches to each, is actually just as important as educating clients on what may be “wrong” or unsafe with their choice. Many pet parents feel strongly on their decision of what to feed their pets. Educating them and then presenting them with safe alternatives is an approach that will likely leave them feeling heard and respected, may increase client compliance, reduce feelings of judgment, and keep clients returning for continued care and professional advice.

Whether pet parents are looking to support their pet’s medical needs through diet, are aiming to align their pet’s diet with their own nutritional approach and philosophies, or they are just trying to eliminate food boredom, there are ways we can safely support and guide them.

Home-cooked diets

Home-cooking for dogs and cats has a bad rap because these diets are missing essential nutritional components that are formulated in the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) balanced pet food diets.

While feeding a home-cooked diet not appropriately balanced is not recommended as a regular diet for dogs and cats, there are available resources for pet parents to create balanced home-cooked diets on their own. Instead of suggesting to all pet owners this diet is always off limits, supply them with viable options instead.

One such resource is available online through the internet and is www.balanceit.com. The site allows each pet parent to create their own recipe for their pets by choosing preferred proteins, carbohydrates, oils, vegetables, and fruits. There are also veterinary diet formulations requiring veterinary approval before being generated and viewed by the pet parent that are available for conditions, such as pancreatitis, urinary crystals, IBD, food allergies, and more.

All recipes, including vegan options, are evaluated for over 40 separate nutritional components and are denied if these nutrients do not meet the requirements of each animal.1

Raw diets

Feeding raw food diets for dogs and cats continues to become increasingly popular, and many clients will choose this diet whether their veterinary team supports the decision or not.

Studies have shown salmonella to be a common bacteria found in commercial raw food diets. However, one small study fed a salmonella-contaminated commercial raw diet to a small number of dogs, and of these dogs, less than half tested positive for salmonella serovars in their stool, however, none of the dogs presented ill.2

While it is possible dogs tolerate salmonella bacteria better than humans, pets will still shed the bacteria in their feces. This indicates the huge importance of hygienic counseling for clients accepting this risk while feeding their pets. Typical methods of cleaning food bowls, including washing in the dishwasher or soaking in bleach may not be effective in fully eliminating salmonella bacteria.2

Hygienic counseling may include:

  • Avoiding feeding raw diets if there are young children present in the home, or at least in the presence of young children
  • Using gloves while preparing the food
  • Lightly/gently cooking raw meals prior to feeding
  • Fully cleaning food bowls after each use
  • Incorporating options like freeze dried raw or kibbles including freeze dried morsels for easier clean-up
  • Avoiding use of raw meat from grocery stores

Simple suggestions

A few easy suggestions for clients of pets experiencing picky eating or just wanting to add change or make small changes to their pet’s diet may include:

  • Add whole foods. Instead of saying, “Don’t feed table scraps,” suggest whole foods are safe and even healthy for pets, while including foods to avoid and why. There is actually no such thing as “human” food. It’s all food! Some are just better for dogs and cats than others, while some are downright toxic.

Whole food snacks are a great way for clients to reduce the daily caloric intake their pets are consuming, while also maintaining the connection that they feel by offering food as an act of love. Dehydrating fruits and vegetables as treats is also a great way for pet parents to stay financially savvy while not sacrificing the health and relationship with their pets.

  • Rotational diets. For pets without strict diets to support medical conditions, rotating diets and changing proteins, and types of food (dry vs. freeze-dried vs. raw morsels) can feel really supportive in alleviating food boredom. There is also some thought rotating diets and food sources may reduce prevalence of allergies and food sensitivities, as well as increase nutritional consumption.3
  • Rotational textures. For many pets, specifically cats, changes in textures can be very helpful in “spicing up” up a diet. Rotating between pâté, shredded, dry food, or freeze-dried can add just enough difference to texture to keep things interesting! This can be beneficial for cats who struggle with maintaining a healthy appetite, and for picky dogs or cats.

As veterinary team members, we must recognize not all suggestions or advice will be accepted by clients. There are many pet parents who feel strongly about the decisions they make for their pet’s health, and specifically relating to diet. What we can do to support the health of dogs and cats while maintaining a positive relationship with their guardian is continue to actively listen to their preferences, while consistently presenting them with safe and educational ways to support them.

Claire Primo is a veterinary nurse and certified animal massage therapist residing in Lyons, Colo. She offers animal massage therapy, laser therapy, hospice and palliative care and veterinary nurse needs through her practice, Peak Animal Wellness & Massage, while also managing a holistic veterinary house call practice, Boulder Holistic Vet. She specializes in senior pet care, holistic veterinary nurse care, and empowering guardians with all the appropriate tools and guidance needed for a healthy and nurturing relationship with their pets.


  1. Balanceit.com. (n.d.). Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://secure.balanceit.com/info/aboutus.php
  2. Schlesinger, D. P., & Joffe, D. J. 2011; January. Raw Food Diets in companion animals: A critical review. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003575
  3. Editorial, P. M. D. 2014; January 29. Rotation feeding for pets. PetMD. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_rotation_feeding_for_dogs

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