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Nutrition and bone health in dogs and cats

Nutrition and bone health in dogs and cats
Hungry cat near empty bowl asks feed it

The nutrition of dogs and cats is fairly well understood but not as in as much detail as it is for our production farm animals to any of the same degree. Obviously, we sit on decades of fundamental nutrition research and a myriad of peer-reviewed scientific papers for domestic animals like pigs, poultry and ruminants. Nonetheless there is a tide of work being undertaken to determine nutrient requirements to much deeper levels, such as the quantifiable needs for essential amino acids and fatty acids within oils.

In principle, feline and canine nutrition will be similar to many other animal species and we may observe interesting similarities in some aspects and considerable differences in others. One interesting parallel is the fact that dogs and cats age as we do and show all the symptoms of a reduced immune system, elevated risks of infection and disease and a tendency towards poor bone health, reduced bone density and arthritis. Some breeds such as Labradors and Golden retrievers may be more prone and can suffer from other related issues.

Improved nutrition can certainly make a difference and can support later health in both cats and dogs. The older dog starts to exhibit reduced cartilage structural integrity between joints and more inflammatory signs appear leading to pain and mobility problems. This is where nutritional management can be effective and help promote healthier bones and joints. Optimal levels of vitamins and minerals promote the efficient synthesis of cartilage and nutritionally support bone and neurological function.

We know that calcium and phosphorous is essential, but it is important to keep their ratio and levels in the diet strictly balanced for optimal assimilation. Also, a complete and balanced diet with a consideration of the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio nutritionally supports joint health in dogs and cats. We are aware that the nutrition of the dog and cat will be affected by breed and the body size. Overall skeletal demands for nutrients throughout life will vary accordingly placing stress in particularly active animals.

This will give rise to several clinical issues including, for example, primary lesions occurring in osteochondrosis of dogs from the large and giant breeds is an acquired pattern of osteopenic and biomechanically weak subchondral spongiosa that cannot provide adequate bone support for the articular cartilage of joints. Consequently, an over-nutrition in dogs from the larger breeds exaggerates this tendency to create osteopenia by increasing the rates of skeletal growth and remodelling of the newly formed cancellous bone.

However, in veterinary practice, the most frequently observed nutritional bone disease is nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. This is primarily of importance in the dog but is occasionally seen in kittens, particularly in Siamese cats. It is often linked with the feeding of meat-rich diets compounded by the owner. This is now becoming an increasing trend and one to be aware of in the growing petfood market.

In terms of deficiency, fortunately classic rickets type symptoms are now a rare clinical occurrence. Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is often observed in the larger breeds of dog and the aetiology remains unclear and any links to nutrition not yet well established. In summary, nutrition and our understanding of the role nutrients affect the canine and feline immune system and relationship to bone health is key to a fit and healthy animal and must be a prime consideration in petfood formulations and feeding management.

The pet nutritionist must keep abreast of all the scientific investigations being made to support our companion animal friends and be able to disseminate these findings into practical feeds to suite their nutritional demands.

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Article contributed by Simon Davies, Nutrition Editor, International Petfood magazine.


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