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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

October is National Pet Wellness Month

October 21, 2011 / (0) comments

It’s National Pet Wellness Month. The campaign, sponsored in part by the American Veterinary Medical Association, is aimed at educating pet owners about the importance of regular wellness checkups (i.e., don’t just take your pet to the vet when it’s sick) and disease prevention.

While there is no specific mention of nutrition, I think it fits well into the disease prevention category because without adequate nutrition, it is impossible for dogs (or anyone else for that matter) to live a full, happy, and healthy life. In fact, I think that if more owners were to feed a high quality, balanced food to their dogs AND ensure that they got adequate exercise, veterinarians would have a lot more free time on their hands.

So in the spirit of National Pet Wellness month, let’s look at how a good diet plus ample exercise equals a healthy dog.

As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” High quality ingredients bring nutrients to a dog’s diet without a lot of unnecessary extras that have to be broken down and eliminated from the body. For example, highly digestible protein sources, like chicken and egg, help dogs build muscle. Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that are essential to a well-functioning immune system and overall health and vitality.

Most people inherently understand that if dogs get too little nutrition, they cannot be healthy (picture a half-starved, scruffy, listless stray); but too much can be just as dangerous as too little. This is true whether we are dealing with individual nutrients or the diet as a whole.

We talked previously about how over-supplementation with certain vitamins and minerals can lead to health problems, but the overfeeding of calories is even more common. According to a recent study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of U.S. dogs and cats are now overweight or obese. In dogs, obesity can play a role in the development of Cushing’s disease, skin problems, congestive heart failure, cancer, and musculoskeletal diseases like osteoarthritis, cruciate ligament ruptures, and intervertebral disk disease. Overweight pets have a decreased quality of life and often die at a younger age than do animals that are at a healthy weight or those that are on the skinny side.

Diet and exercise complement each other. Exercise burns calories directly, but in many cases it can also provide a boost to the metabolic rate for hours after a dog has stopped to rest. Exercise keeps muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones strong and provides mental stimulation as well. I tell my clients, a tired dog is a happy dog.

To celebrate National Pet Wellness month, petMD and Hill’s Science Diet have launched an interactive quiz to help owners better understand dog nutrition. During October, people who take the quiz will receive a rebate for the new Ideal Balance dog food offered by Hill’s Science Diet, and a chance to win one of four $2,500 pet retailer gift cards. What’s not to like about that?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Galina Barskaya / via Shutterstock