Dr. Iz Jakubowski

Food for Thought from Dr. Iz Jakubowski

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Royal York Animal Hospital doctors are learning new and interesting things all the time at national and international conferences, courses, seminars, and the like. It gives us a chance to hear from experts in the field and to connect with and learn from our colleagues around the world. In March, I joined about 50 veterinarians from across Canada in Kansas USA for a workshop on nutrition that focussed on the role food plays in preventive care and disease management, the challenge of having so many commercial pet foods on the market that make unsubstantiated or misleading claims, and the latest developments in prescription diets at Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

RYAH shares Hill’s philosophy that pet nutrition is the cornerstone of health. The idea that food IS medicine isn’t new. It comes from Hippocrates, a Greek physician who’s considered the father of human medicine. But it was veterinarian, Dr. Mark Morris, who introduced the idea to veterinary medicine when he developed the first prescription diet for a German Shepherd seeing-eye guide dog with kidney disease named Buddy. (Buddy and her master, Morris Frank, were trail blazers in their own right, and their story is worth reading.) Buddy’s kidney diet launched Hill’s product line in 1939.

While in Kansas, I toured Hill’s processing plant to see how the diets that RYAH recommends are made and the quality controls that are put in place to ensure that the food is safe, that it contains the ingredients it’s supposed to, and that it meets AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. If you have 2 minutes, you can see for yourself how it’s done (short tour); If you have 5 minutes, you can see the full-length tour.

I also toured Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center where Hill’s does its research and development and tests its products in clinical feeding trials to make sure that the food is achieving what it claims to achieve. By the time we’re able to prescribe a new diet like the one we now have for hyperthyroid cats that offers an alternative to twice-daily medicating, a multitude of veterinarians, Ph.D nutritionists and food scientists (not to mention cats with hyperthyroidism) have taken that diet through its paces. That whole process takes years, and it’s all pretty impressive stuff. But just as impressive are the working conditions of the cats and dogs (about 500 of each) involved in Hill’s diet research. The facilities they’re housed in and the care and attention they receive are enviable – plenty of room, lots of opportunity for physical and mental stimulation, great health care, and a lot of love from the teams that look out for them.

Nutrition is its own specialty in veterinary medicine and a very big topic. We’ll have more on the subject to help address common misconceptions and concerns we hear from time to time. Ultimately, we’d like to see your pets thrive and live to their full potential. It’s with that goal in mind that we make our dietary recommendations.

Speaking of Kansas and dogs (“Toto”, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”), anyone know what breed of dog played Toto in the Wizard of Oz? Hint: RYAH’s hospital director, Rita Peters, has one. Both of Rita’s dogs are fed Hills prescription diets.

Dr. Iz


Dr. Iz Jakubowski

Keeping Score — How Fat is too Fat for your pet?

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Obesity: The Fat in the Fire

fat dog and cat

January marks the time of year we revisit our commitment to beating the battle of bulge in our patients. It’s a good time for it as winter settles in and our canine and feline companions spend more time lounging indoors and indulging in creature comforts (read: treats) in front of their favourite Netflick offering. With more than half of cats and dogs in North America overweight or obese, our aim this month is to focus on pet obesity to nip it in the bud – or the butt in this case (and anywhere else that fat is accumulating).

Keeping Score: How Fat is Too Fat?

funny-fat-jokes-300x289 fat huskyWe evaluate body fat in cats and dogs using a Body Condition Score (BCS) – it’s our equivalent of human medicine’s Body Mass Index (BMI). At Royal York Animal Hospital, we use the American Animal Hospital Association’s 5-point scale. A perfect score – that is, an optimal body condition – is a 3 out of 5 (give or take half a point, depending on breed, frame size, and other factors). But anything less than 2.5 (way too skinny) or greater than 3.5 (far too fat) will have your vet raise a red flag.

A pet that’s 10 to 19% above its optimal weight has a BCS between 3.5 and 4.5 and is considered overweight. A pet that’s 20% above its optimal weight has a BCS of 5 and is considered obese. That’s right: obese.(The elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.) Obesity is recorded as a medical condition in that pet’s record.We don’t mince words or downplay the fact because an obese pet tips the scales in terms of being at increased risk for a host of health issues. (See “The Fallout of Fat”.) But even pets that are simply overweight suffer the effects of excess fat – and in our experience are on a slippery slope towards becoming obese and more seriously compromised.

To put excess weight for a cat or dog in perspective, a Chihuahua that’s carrying just one extra pound is like a 125-pound woman carrying an extra 30 pounds. Not ideal for either of them.

human parallel

So how to keep score and stay in the game? Your vet will show you how at your pet’s next exam. And you can refresh your memory with the pictures in AAHA’s Nutritional Assessment Guidelines (see page 4).


Hills obese catHills Obese dog

The Fallout of Fat: What’s the Big Deal?

Don’t get me wrong. Fat is a good thing. It supplies your pet with energy, essential fatty acids, and the means to absorb fat-soluble vitamins that play an important role in their bodies. But too much of a good thing is, well…bad. And it’s bad on so many levels that it would be quicker to list body systems that excess fat doesn’t affect adversely. (Actually, I’m hard-pressed to think of even one.)

Fat is its own (not so) little chemical factory that pumps out compounds that cause chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and other damage. I won’t get into the details of the biochemical processes at play here because it gets complicated and my boss has me on a ‘restricted calorie’ word count. (I keep telling her, “My blogs aren’t bloated. They’re just big boned.” but she’s not buying it.)

Suffice to say that diseases associated with, or exacerbated by, obesity include:

  • Diabetes Mellitus and Fatty Liver disease in cats
  • Hypothyroidism and Hyperadrenocorticism in dogs
  • Heart disease, high blood pressure, and respiratory issues
  • Kidney disease
  • Skin disease
  • Orthopedic issues (arthritis and ligament damage)
  • Urinary tract issues
  • Decreased immune function (including impaired wound healing)
  • Cancer (such as insulinomas and transitional cell carcinomas)

And that’s just a partial list. What’s more, an obese pet is one that’s not enjoying life as much as his or her leaner counterparts because of constant pain and compromised cardiovascular function. They just can’t tolerate much activity.

Obesity is an added concern for your veterinarian who can’t properly examine your pet through all that fat and who worries about increased anesthetic complications when your pet has to have surgery for whatever reason.

The bottom line: Obesity significantly compromises a pet’s quality of life and shortens his/her lifespan by up to 2.5 years.

That’s plenty for you to digest in one sitting. Let’s take a break (and maybe go for a walk!). I’ll be back soon to explain how to trim excess fat and get your pet back in perfect form. In the meantime, Happy New Year from all of us at Royal York Animal Hospital.

Dr. Iz Jakubowski

cat  dog  weigh scale










dog being examined by vet

How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

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Trimming the Fat: Six Steps to a Perfect Score

Pet obesity is our focus this month and if you haven’t yet read our first blog on the subject (Keeping Score – How Fat is Too Fat?), here’s the lean version: 1 Fat dog and catMore than half of cats and dogs in North America are overweight or obese. (Ask any vet at Royal York Animal Hospital and they’ll tell you that statistic sounds about right based on our own experience.) By overweight, we mean 10-19% above optimal weight. And by obese, we mean 20% or more above optimal. How do we know whether a pet is too fat? By performing a body condition score (BCS). Why do we care? Because excess fat is damaging on so many levels, and it compromises a pet’s quality of life and shortens his/her lifespan by up to 2.5 years.

Now here’s the skinny on what has to happen in order to win the battle of the bulge. First, it’s important to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. But there are six basic steps you can follow to get a perfect body condition score – and maintain it. (Note: There’s a lot to digest here, and you may not want to do it all in one sitting. Feel free to take breaks, walk your dog or play with your cat and get a jump on step 5!)



I’ll use the Golden Retriever pictured here to illustrate how we get this done. Jessie was about 5 years old when I first met her 4 years ago, and she’d already succumbed to the creeping “middle-age spread” that so many pets experience by mid-life. Weighing in at 101.5 pounds, she’d taken on the proportions of a coffee table (she’d long since lost any semblance of a waist and from an aerial view, her body looked flat and rectangular). Her ideal body weight is about 70 pounds, so she was 45% overweight with a BCS of 5/5 (read: obese) when I first laid eyes on her. Time for an intervention.

1. Recognize the problem and commit to correcting it.

Many pet owners are surprised to learn that their pet is overweight. Some are even a little offended when it’s pointed out. (“Who you callin’ fat?”) But we’d be doing our patients a disservice if we didn’t call it like we see it – and we see hundreds of pets in a month and thousands in a year, so we get a lot of practise evaluating and comparing pets’ body condition scores. (See Keeping Score: How Fat is Too Fat?) The consequences of weight gain going unchecked are too serious to ignore. (See The Fallout of Fat: What’s the Big Deal?) But we can’t do anything to help a pet slim down until his/her owner agrees that that pet needs to lose weight and commits to making it happen. For significantly overweight or obese pets, that means committing to the full meal deal – a formal weight loss program like the one described here, starting with some blood work and a urinalysis to rule out underlying issues (such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, and kidney or liver disease) that’ll interfere with our progress or dictate which diet food we recommend. 3 cartoon (See Doc he's not fat)

Jessie’s Story:

Jessie’s owner knew Jessie was overweight and had tried to work on it over the years. (Not easy with a dog that’s as food driven as Jessie. You know the type: A “Hoover” that sucks up every last crumb and then looks for more and that seems to put on a pound just by looking at a kibble.) You can see from her weight chart below that she’d been obese for a few years and that she had a pattern of losing some weight, then regaining it (and then some). What Jessie (and I) needed from her owner was a renewed commitment to try again – this time, with a formal program that would involve a therapeutic weight loss diet and the necessary exercise and follow-up (weigh-ins and calorie adjustments). “I’m in,” came an email from Jessie’s owner a few days after we chatted about the problem and how we could solve it if we worked together.

4 Jessie weight graph 1

2. Choose an appropriate food.

When a pet owner recognizes that a pet needs to lose weight, the temptation might be to just cut back on the food currently being fed to that pet (typically some kind of maintenance diet) or to choose a commercial weight loss or weight control diet available over the counter (i.e., from a pet store). That can certainly work if a pet is just mildly over weight. (See “Note” below.)5 dog with celery But when we’re talking about the need for significant weight loss, that pet needs to be on a therapeutic (read: prescription) diet designed (and tested) for that purpose. (That’s assuming you’re not willing to work with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to design a home-cooked weight loss diet for your pet, which is another option.) So why is that? The amount you’d have to cut back on a maintenance diet in order to restrict enough calories to effect significant weight loss will result in two problems:

  • your pet will be robbed of essential nutrients (protein, minerals, vitamins) he/she needs to stay healthy
  • your pet will no longer feel satisfied and will start to beg and forage for food (how long will it take for you to cave if you’re met with begging from a little beggar as cute as this?)

Meanwhile, where commercial diet pet foods are concerned, there are no clear nutritional and caloric standards that companies have to follow when making label claims such as “less active,” “healthy weight,” “lite,” “weight control” and so on. As a result, there’s a lot of variation in these diets’ caloric content and the proportion of nutrients, fibre and digestibility in each one. It takes some knowledge of nutrition and product labels (for example, what constitutes “crude fibre” and “guaranteed analysis”) and careful evaluation to understand what you’re getting and whether or not it’s a good bet for your pet. 6 Metabolic treats

Therapeutic weight loss diets have two important features not found in other diets:


  • Lower Energy Density – the name of the game for achieving weight loss in cats and dogs is to reduce the caloric density of their food. That’s done by lowering fat and increasing fiber and moisture (and sometimes even adding air). But that’s not all there is to it…
  • Fortified Nutrients – if you restrict calories enough to effect significant weight loss, the body will eventually turn to muscle for energy. Well that’s no good. The idea is to lose fat, not muscle. So therapeutic diets include higher levels of protein to prevent muscle loss. They also include higher amounts of vitamins and minerals so that none of the nutrients a cat or dog need are sacrificed while losing weight. Some of these diets also include L-carnitine to help with fat metabolism.

Hill’s has augmented that strategy further with a diet called Metabolic that makes use of a growing field in nutrition called nutrigenomics. It basically boosts a pet’s metabolic rate to help with weight loss. It’s not the Holy Grail of weight loss diets (no such diet exists), but it is one of the ones we prescribe when it’s appropriate to do so. This particular diet comes with cute prescription treats to satisfy the treat-giver in you. If your pet needs to be on a therapeutic diet, your veterinarian will work with you to choose an appropriate one (canned or dry or a combination of the two depending on cost and preference). Note: If your pet has just a little weight to lose and you’re going the commercial diet route, have a read of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines for Selecting Pet Foods before you head out to the store.

Jessie’s Story: Jessie needed to lose at least 25 to 30 pounds. (The human parallel would be a woman who needs to lose about 45 pounds.) The only way I could make that happen safely (and without taking a long time to do it) was to use a therapeutic weight loss diet. I prescribed Royal Canin’s Satiety Support.

3. Figure out how much to feed.

7 Eating HomeworkTo lose fat, we need to feed fewer calories than a pet is currently getting. But how many fewer? It’s really important that a pet (especially a cat) doesn’t lose too much too fast (see step 6), so we start with one of two approaches and make adjustments along the way:

1. If we can figure out exactly how many calories a pet is currently getting (from meals, treats, food used to give medicine, and so on), then one approach is to drop his/her caloric intake by about 20 to 30%. Sounds simple enough. But the trick here is getting an accurate account of a pet’s intake. It can be a challenge, for example, to determine the number of calories in the treats you’re buying from pet stores or the extra calories your family, friends and neighbours may be feeding your pet.

2. If we can’t get an accurate diet history, then we estimate a pet’s ideal body weight, calculate its resting energy requirement (RER) and feed a percentage of that (80% and 100% of the RER is considered a good starting point in cats and dogs, respectively). If we’re going to do this by the numbers (i.e., get this right), here’s the formula we need to use:

Note: Any smartphone’s calculator will have the power function needed to do this calculation. 9 How cat sees math problemsWell that’s a bit mind numbing even for us v eterinarians. Happily, the diets we prescribe come with tools that take care of the math for us. But again, this is just a starting point. Every pet’s metabolism is different, and we’ll need to do some tinkering with calorie counts along the way. Once we know how many kcals a pet needs in order to lose weight, we need to figure out how many cups (or grams) of kibble (or cans of food) to feed. You’ll find the number of kcals/cup (and so on) on the product packaging. The most accurate way to measure food is to weigh it on a digital gram scale. But if you’re not prepared to invest in a scale and your pet is on a Hill’s weight loss diet, you’ll need a Hill’s measuring cup to measure kibble (we’ll give you one). Why does that matter? Because there’s nothing “standard” about standard kitchen measuring cups, and using anything but the measuring cup that a Hill’s diet was designed for introduces inaccuracies in measurements. Ditto for Royal Canin weight loss diets.

10 Hills measuring cupJessie’s Story: Jessie’s ideal body weight is about 70 lbs or 31.8 kgs (divide lbs by 2.2 to get kgs). So she needed 1.0 x (70 x 31.8/0.75) = 937.4 kcal per day to lose weight. And Satiety Support has 231 kcal in a cup, so she needed about 4 cups per day of that particular diet to start. I had a Royal Canin software program do most of the heavy lifting (read: calculating) for me with each weigh in. And if something didn’t make sense or wasn’t quite working out along the way, I consulted one of Royal Canin’s veterinary nutritionists. (Another benefit of going on a prescription diet is that your vet has access to specialists in veterinary nutrition.)

4. Choose a feeding method.

Portion control is an important part of a weight-loss program. It’s best to feed multiple small meals a day for two reasons:

  • The process of digesting and absorbing food expends some energy, so multiple feedings is another way to help burn calories.
  • Spreading calories out over the day also manages hunger better and reduces begging behaviour.

11 Slimcat food dispenserMost people can manage feeding two meals a day. If you can feed three or more meals a day, even better. Using an automated dispenser, food-dispensing toys, or specialized food bowls can help as well. The latter options provide some mental stimulation, slow down feeding (and help a pet feel more satisfied after a meal), and for cats, stimulates and satisfies their inner hunter. Check out the SlimCat video to see cats using one brand of feeding ball. (We carry this one at our clinic.) Our Hospital Manager, Helen, feeds her dog, Indy, with both a specialized food bowl and a tricky treat ball:

What about treats? Being on a diet doesn’t mean that your pet can’t have any. But the treats he/she does eat have to be within the caloric restrictions established for his/her weight loss program – and should be less than 10% of the calories calculated. If you feel the need to give your pet treats, the easiest thing to do is hold back a few of his/her allotted kibbles for the day and use those as treats.

Jessie’s Story: Jessie was fed two meals a day. Any treats she got came from her daily allotment of kibble. No Benny Bullies from our staff when she came in for her weigh-ins – just lots of praise and attention. And Jessie’s family members were asked to get on board and leave all feeding to Mom. (If there was any cheating on this diet, it wasn’t apparent to me based on Jessie’s progress.)

5. Exercise your pet

Expending some energy is also an important part of any weight-loss plan. Any extra calories a body doesn’t need to run things will be converted to fat unless they’re burned off with some exercise. But go easy, especially if your pet has an underlying medical issue like heart disease or arthritis. No weekend warriors please. Slow and steady wins this race. 12 cat on leashThe idea is to start with an amount your pet can comfortably tolerate at first (even if it’s just to the front yard and back). Increase exercise by a small amount each day, and work up to about a 20-minute walk if your pet couldn’t manage that from the outset. Note: If your pet has had surgery of any kind, check with your surgeon about when and how much exercise is safe. Swimming is a great form of exercise for dogs that like the water; it burns more calories than walking.

Okay, that’s not going to work in winter, but keep it in mind for later in the year. Once your dog is able to tolerate more activity, you can always sign up for things like agility classes or the new Scent Detection sport for dogs. And if you like gadgets and need incentive to keep your dog active, you can outfit him/her with a FitBark monitor that tracks his/her daily activity (and earn BarkPoints while you’re at it). Whatever works for you. (For vet tech, Kim, that’s swimming, agility, fetch, and good old fashioned “tug of war” with her brood.) 13 Swimmer Cats are a bit more of a challenge, but if you think like a hunter and use a little creativity, there are games you can play and perches you can set up that can help your cat burn some energy. All cartoon kidding aside, there are people who’ve been successful leash-walking their cats. How cool is that? Hill’s lists some ideas for exercising both cats and dogs here.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has some more in their Behaviour Guidelines (pgs. 27, 40). Ask our technicians for ideas too. They’ve got plenty of good ones.

14 Agility Class 15 Fetch 16 Tug o War

Jessie’s Story: Jessie worked up to (emphasis on “worked up to”) a couple of one-hour walks a day and lots of romping at the cottage. As the weight started to come off, her owner noticed how much more energy Jessie had and how much easier it was for her to climb into the family car.

6. Do the necessary follow-up.

This is where diets tend to fail. Without checking your pet’s weight on a regular basis and checking in with your veterinary team for calorie adjustments, trouble-shooting tips, and pep talks, what invariably happens is that your pet doesn’t lose much weight. So you get discouraged and decide to ditch the therapeutic diet because you think it isn’t working (and why spend the money on something that’s not working?). And eventually we’re right back to where we started (or worse). Once your pet starts a diet, it’s important that you weigh him/her every 2-3 weeks so we can monitor progress. (Once we’ve got a healthy pattern established, we can move to monthly weigh-ins.) We need to make sure that your pet is actually shedding some weight but not shedding it too quickly. (See insert below.) Too much or too little progress will call for a calorie adjustment. (Remember step 3? We’ll do the math for you.)

Swing by and use our scale any time (no appointment necessary). And be sure to ask our staff to record your pet’s weight in his/her record. If you’re none too keen to bring your cat in to the clinic just for a weigh-in, then by all means, do it at home if you have a scale. (Weigh your cat’s carrier, then weigh your cat in the carrier and subtract the two. Then call and ask us to record your cat’s weight.) Numbers don’t lie, and if we’ve got them, we can chart your pet’s progress and print a copy for you to pin up at home so the whole family can see how your pet is doing. Keep in mind that it can take months to reach the target weight we’ve set for your pet. But it is reachable if you make the commitment and do the necessary follow-up. The beauty is that our clinic provides a built-in support group to help you get there. Think of us as a kind of life coach or personal trainer (but not the unforgiving “boot camp” kind!) for your pet’s weight loss program.18 cat  dog scale Jessie’s Story: You’ll see from Jessie’s weight chart below that with diet and exercise and regular weigh-ins, she lost weight nice and gradually. (It was a thrill to see those numbers come down.) It took Jessie 6 months to reach her ideal body weight. And once she did, we transitioned her to a maintenance diet.

19 Jessie wt loss  curve

You’re thinking: “Yes, but did she keep the weight off?” Well, let’s be realistic. We are talking about a highly food-driven Golden Retriever (a breed whose metabolism tends to run a little slower than other breeds). Her weight went up just a bit, then down, then up a bit more than either Jessie’s Mom or I could live with. So what happened?? Life. A knee injury that prevented Mom from exercising Jessie. Kids that were overly generous with treats over the Christmas holidays. An obese-prone dog.

No biggie, though. We won the battle of the bulge once. We knew we could do it again. (And this time we didn’t have nearly as far to go.) We put Jessie back on a formal weight loss program that involved feeding her a prescription weight loss diet, feeding her from a Slo-bowl feeder (pictured here) designed to make her take her time so she feels more satisfied after a meal, and making sure she got regular exercise. And once she achieved pretty close to her ideal weight, we transitioned her onto a maintenance diet that would help keep her weight in check. She’s been on that maintenance diet for a number of months now. At her annual exam about a month ago, I was pleased to see she was holding steady at 70.8 pounds (pretty much her ideal weight). Good dog!

20 Jessies slo bowl Take home message: Once you get the weight off, you need to work at keeping it off. For some pets that’ll be a bigger challenge than for others. But you have a team of really great people in your court to help you with that.

Okay, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. If you’ve hung on this far, you deserve a treat. I recommend something delicious and satisfying (calories be damned just this once).

Dr. Iz Jakubowski

How MUCH food should I feed my pet?

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One of the most common questions we hear during an Annual Physical Exam is: “How much food should I be feeding my pet?”

That’s a very good question! Generally speaking, it’s more common for pets to be overweight than underweight!

Overweight Pets

Before we determine how much a pet should eat, we need to calculate by their ideal weight. This does not mean what they are actually weighing at the moment. It means that, if a pet should weigh 70lbs but he/she actually weighs 90lbs, we still need to feed them as if they were 70lbs. This is because base metabolism is calculated based on ideal weight. To understand this better, let me use an example:

Let’s compare two people. One person weighs 150lbs and the second one, a football player, weighs 250lbs. Both are in great shape and are at their ideal weight. But their base metabolism is different because of their height/build/muscle mass. If the first person gains 100lbs of fat and becomes 250lbs, does that mean he should now eat the same amount as the second person (the 250lb football player)? No. That’s because even if we gain fat, our base metabolism is calculated based on our ideal weight.

funny-fat-jokes-300x289 fat husky

Similarly, when we’re looking at an overweight pet, we need to figure out their ideal weight before calculating how much food they should be eating. When your pet is in for their annual exam, your veterinarian should tell you what their ideal weight is.


Once we have a pet’s ideal weight, we can look at the instructions on the pet food package to find the recommended amount. Keep in mind that this recommendation is usually for pets with an active lifestyle and it’s common for a family pet to not need as much food as what’s printed on the packages. So for most pets, we can start with the lower end of the recommendation, and then adjust up/down as needed.

Measuring your Pets Food

It is important to use a proper measuring cup

Feeding Guides for Pets

Feeding guides assume your pet leads a more active life style than he/she probably does.

Overweight Pets

Most family pets lead a pretty sedentary lifestyle








If you have any questions or concerns the Royal York York Animal Hospital Veterinary Medical Team is here to help and we are only a phone call 416-231-9293 or email If you do not know what your pet’s ideal weight SHOULD be then bring him in so we can get a current accurate weight, compare with previous visits for weight gain/loss and help you determine the proper quantity to feed.

Dr. Lilla Yan



Nutrition Tips to Keep Your Pet Healthy

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Our pets are an important part of our families, and that’s why we want to provide them with the best care possible. Proper nutrition is linked to growth and development, organ health, mobility, longevity and much, much more.

Etobicoke Animal Hospital

Nutrition is one of the ways we can keep our beloved pets healthier and happier for longer. Something that important should be simple right? Wrong. With so much information available to us (both accurate and inaccurate), making the right nutritional choices for “Fluffy” can be overwhelming.

Puppies and kittens: Pet Nutrition

It is amazing to watch our puppies and kittens grow in front of our eyes. All of this growing, as you can imagine, requires a lot of energy. It is important to feed your little ones a diet specially formulated for a puppy or kitten. These foods often have a higher calorie content, but also specially formulated levels of minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, to provide the important building blocks for bones, joints, and growth.

Animal NutritionPuppy and kitten food should be fed to approximately 1 year of age. Large breed dogs require different nutrient levels compared to small breed dogs, so it is recommended to feed a food formulated for large dogs until 12-18 months of age.

Choosing the right food for your pet:

Not all foods are created equal. So how do you choose the best diet for your furry family member? Look for foods made by reputable companies, and those that have tested the quality of their diets and have the research to back up their foods and claims. Diets with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement are preferable as they demonstrate that the diet is complete and balanced. Even better, a diet with an AAFCO statement that indicates it has undergone feeding trials.

Veterinary Hospital in Etobicoke

Pet food labels:

A common way to select a pet food is by reading the ingredients on the label. After all, this makes the most sense right? Unfortunately, you have to be careful. Pet food labels can be manipulated to make their food seem more appealing. For example, terms such as “holistic” or “human grade” have no legal meaning in the pet food industry and can be added loosely to any label. “Meat as the first ingredient” is also misleading since ingredients are listed in order of weight, including water. That means that ingredients with higher water content (fresh meats/veggies) will be listed higher than dry ingredients even though they may contribute fewer nutrients.

Nutrition for PetsIngredients are not the same as nutrients. Ingredients help provide, or are made of nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates/fiber, vitamins and minerals, and water). Each pet has a very specific nutrient requirement, for example, a young and active dog will have significantly different nutritional needs compared to a mature and active dog versus a senior non-active dog, etc. By combining different ingredients, it is possible to meet these requirements.

Lastly, just because there is an ingredient or nutrient is listed, does not mean that your pet can digest or “use” it. For example, a rock is comprised of different minerals, but your pet’s digestive tract is not able to digest these minerals. In other words, your pet cannot satisfy any nutrient requirements from a rock. A good diet is formulated with the appropriate amount of digestible ingredients, and feeding trials should have been done to prove this.

Healthy Pets in EtobicokeFoods with added benefits:

Not only does food nourish your pet, it can also be used to help manage different conditions. Does your pet suffer with tartar on their teeth and/or bad breath? There is a food for that! Does your cat have chronic urinary issues or stress? There is a food for that! Does your pet suffer with a few “extra pounds”? You guessed it; there is a food for that. Veterinary specific diets (i.e. diets prescribed by and only available through veterinarians) can now serve as more than just “food/nutrition”.

Animal Hospital in Etobicoke

Dr. McPherson’s dog “Rusty”

Every pet is unique. The best way to help decide is by talking about your pet’s specific needs with a veterinary health team member. We love talking about nutrition and your pets. Please call us to book your nutritional consult today!

Dr. Joanna McPherson

Royal York Animal Hospital 4222 Dundas Street West Etobicoke Ontario



Dr. Iz Jakubowski

The Kernel of Truth About Corn: It’s not the bad thing you may think it is.

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Cats and Dogs Eating CornSomewhere along the line, grains – and in particular, corn – have gotten a bad rap where pet food is concerned. And as a result, increasingly, clients are telling us they’re choosing (or looking for a recommendation from us for) grain-free diets for their pets. But here’s the thing: Grains aren’t the bad guys that Dr. Google, a dog breeder, a clerk in a pet store, an ad on TV, marketing on product packaging, or a well-meaning fellow dog-enthusiast at the dog park are making them out to be.

Let’s take a look at the three most common misconceptions driving people’s concerns about corn in particular.

Can I Feed my Pet Corn?Digestibility

If you’re thinking that the ancestors of cats and dogs didn’t have grains on their menu and so their modern-day counterparts aren’t capable of digesting them – or if you think the issue is that cats and dogs lack the necessary enzyme in their saliva to digest starch – you’re only partly right.

The fact is: Grains were introduced to the diets of cats and dogs when we started domesticating them thousands of years ago. During that time, cats and dogs have become quite good at digesting grains. Evolution will do that. If you compare, for example, the genes of dogs and their wolf ancestors (a Swedish geneticist did exactly that), you’ll find that domesticated dogs express genes responsible for digesting starch at levels at least 7 times higher than wolves. So dogs have the tools (i.e., the genes) to do it, but do they use them? In fact, they do. And so do cats. Digestibility studies have shown that when cats and dogs are fed a diet containing 50% corn, they’re able to digest more than 95% of it.

As for that digestive enzyme (amylase) that cats & dogs lack in their saliva? Not an issue. Why? Because it’s secreted in their intestines where it does the work of digesting starch.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that it’s the cellulose in plant materials that make them harder to digest than other ingredients. That’s why you’ll see undigested whole kernels of corn in your pet’s poop if you feed him/her whole kernels of the stuff. But the corn in pet food is different. Properly processed pet foods contain corn that’s been ground and cooked (thereby breaking down that cellulose), making corn almost 100% digestible.

Royal York Animal HospitalNutritional Value

If you think corn is just a pet food filler (essentially empty calories that have no nutritional value), you’re right about fillers serving no nutritional purpose. But corn is no filler.

The fact is: Corn packs a nutritious punch and is one of the most nutritionally superior grains used in pet food. What it brings to the table (or rather, the food bowl) is a variety of valuable (& in some cases, essential) nutrients:


Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. “Essential” amino acids are ones the body needs but can’t make so have to come from food. Different ingredients contain different amounts of those amino acids and are assigned a “biological value” (BV) accordingly. Corn and meats such as beef and chicken have almost identical BVs. In other words, corn is almost as good a source of protein as certain meats. And when you combine corn with other plants, it’s BV is even better. Who knew?? (Probably not your average Joe or Josephine who dishes out nutrition advice without the training or science to back it up.)

So, some corn is included in pet food along with meat in part because corn provides a less expensive protein source than meat and is more resistant to spoilage.

Complex carbohydrates

Pets Eating CornCarbs break down into simple sugars that supply the energy cells need to function. Carbs are a “must have.” Animals with high energy demands (athletes and pregnant or lactating individuals, for example) need higher levels of carbs while sedentary animals (the proverbial couch potatoes) need less. But all cats and dogs need some level of carbs to provide their bodies with energy. Corn is one such source. And it’s a complex carb that breaks down more slowly than a simple carb, so as carbs go, it’s better at managing blood sugar levels.

Essential fatty acids

Corn has lots of linoleic acid in it – an omega-6 fatty acid that contributes to healthy skin and a shiny coat. “Essential” means the same thing here: need it, can’t make it, gotta get it from food.

Vitamins & minerals

Corn contains B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and phosphorous to name just a few.


Corn is a win-win for digestive health because it adds fibre to a pet’s diet. Fibre helps with gut motility (moving things along) and improves the quality of your pet’s poop. And who doesn’t want quality poop? What’s more, while corn is no fill-er, the fibre it provides tends to be fill-ing and can help a pet feel more satisfied after a meal.


If you think you need to avoid corn in your pet’s food because you’re afraid it’ll cause allergies, you’d be right to avoid it if your pet actually is allergic to corn. But allergies to corn are RARE in cats and dogs.

The fact is: True food allergies that cause either gastrointestinal or skin issues are uncommon in cats and dogs. Only about 10 to 20% of allergies are caused by food. Most allergic skin reactions are caused by flea bites or environmental allergens (pollen, dust mites, and so on). And most GI sensitivities to food aren’t due to allergic reactions per se but rather something in the makeup of a diet (how much fat and fiber it contains, how digestible it is, and so on). When cats and dogs DO have bona fide food allergies, it’s usually to an animal protein (beef, chicken, or lamb, for example). Other culprits include fish, dairy, egg, soy, and wheat. But RARELY corn.

A Final Note

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t feed your pet a grain-free diet. Just don’t avoid diets containing grains for the wrong reasons. And if you’re going to go grain free, be sure you know what you’re getting: not all grain-free diets are free of starch (it’s just supplied in a different form, like potato, for example) nor are they all balanced to provide optimal nutrition.


Dr. Iz Jakubowski