Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Nutrition Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What services do you offer?

A: We will work with your veterinarian in a team-approach to offer commercial diet recommendations and/or homemade recipe formulation for small animals and ration formulation for large animals.

We will consider specific requests from the owner, but our recommendations will be based on meeting nutritional goal relative to your pet’s medical history.

For homemade recipe formulation, we formulate a single recipe for each patient. Additional recipes may feasible, but will incur an additional charge. We recommend starting with a single recipe and determining how well your pet does on the recipe before considering other options. We balance recipes using a powdered vitamin-mineral product formulated by a veterinary nutritionist specifically for dogs and cats. We are unaware of a single human supplement that meets the needs of dogs and cats. In rare circumstances, we can use multiple human supplements to balance the recipe.

For ration formulation, we will formulate a ration based on your current forage provided that your forage is appropriate for the patient; a forage analysis may be needed.

Q: What are the fees for a nutrition consultation?

A: Please contact your veterinarian for our current fee schedule. Charges are submitted upon completion of the nutrition consult; payment is expected upon invoice receipt.

Q: How do I request a nutrition consultation?

A: Please have your veterinarian initiate the consult request. Both you and your veterinarian will need to complete our consult request forms. If you have questions about the forms or submission process, please contact us at vetnutrition@vt.edu.

Q: Do you have any nutrition resources you could recommend?

A: Yes, please see our Nutrition Resources page.

Q: What should I do to ensure my pet is getting the nutrition it needs?

A: We believe an adequate diet is one that maintains ideal condition and weight for the appropriate life stage of your pet. If your pet is losing or gaining body weight, losing interest in his/her food, or has a change in health status, contact your veterinarian as a diet change may be indicated.

Q: How do I choose a commercial diet for my pet?

A: There are many commercial diets on the market and many myths about nutrition, thus choosing a food for your pet can be a daunting task. Our general guidelines are as follows:

  1. The product label has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement; such as,
    1. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate [diet name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [maintenance of adult dogs/cats, growing puppies/kittens, AND/OR gestating or lactating adult female dogs or cats]” OR
    2. “[diet name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO [Dog or Cat] Food Nutrient Profiles for [adult maintenance, growth, reproduction, AND/OR all life stages]”
  2. The AAFCO statement states that the food is appropriate for your pet’s species (dog or cat).
  3. The AAFCO statement states that the food is appropriate for your pet’s life stage, which include adult maintenance, growth, or reproduction (gestation/lactation).

We recommend that you review the points stated in the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) document, “Selecting the Best Food for Your Pet.”

You may believe that some ingredients should be avoided while others are ideal. The only ingredients that we specifically recommend avoiding are those that are toxic to pets; including, garlic, onion, and grapes.

Q: How do I determine how much to feed my pet?

A: Caloric requirements vary between individuals and can be influenced by activity. For example, if your pet is becoming less active with age, then the total daily calorie requirements will likely be less and pet owners may need to feed less. Likewise, caloric requirements typically decrease after spaying or neutering. If your pet acts hungry with less food, you may select a food that has less calories per cup. The amount of food needed is estimated and must be adjusted based on your pet’s weight and body condition.

Q: What about treats for my pet?

A: Treats contribute to daily Calories (kcal), but are not complete and balanced. We recommend feeding no more than 10% of total daily calories as treats because feeding more than this may result in malnutrition. Often, the pet’s current food may be offered as a treat.

Q: What about table scraps for my pet?

A: Table scraps are a source of extra source of calories, could lead to obesity, may include toxic ingredients (i.e. onion, garlic, grapes), and may cause gastrointestinal upset (i.e. vomiting, diarrhea). We generally do not recommend feeding table scraps.

Q: How should an owner deal with loss of appetite?

A: A complete loss of appetite in may indicate a disease. Therefore, loss of appetite greater than 2-3 days should be addressed by your pet’s veterinarian.

Q: What should I consider when feeding the senior pet?

A: Our goal is to feed a nutritionally complete diet per national research council [NRC] or Association of American Feed Control Officials [AAFCO] adult cat or dog requirements. There are no specific requirements for the senior pet. However, seniors may develop organ dysfunction (i.e. heart, joint, or kidney) and thus adjust each diet depending on the specific condition of your pet.

Q: How many recipes will I receive for a homemade diet consult request?

A: Homemade recipe formulation is complex; therefore, we recommend a single recipe for your pet. If you would like additional recipes, additional fees apply.

Q: What ingredients should I request for a homemade diet recipe?

A: Chose ingredients that your pet likes and will eat consistently. If you do not know what ingredients your pet likes, we suggest that you do the following: chose a primary protein and primary carbohydrate source (see the table on the client consult request form) that is easily accessible to you, prepare these ingredients for your pet (cook the meat), and monitor intake. If you pet doesn’t like the chosen ingredients, try others.

Q: What if my pet is allergic or sensitive to some ingredients or foods?

A: The solution is to select a commercial or homemade diet that contain foods or ingredients that does not contain the offending ingredient(s), which is/are typically a protein or carbohydrate source. We will select ingredients that are new or novel to your pet, which requires a complete dietary history to determine previous exposure to ingredients. We call this process an “elimination or diet trial” as your pet may or may not respond to the new diet. Thus, it can take weeks to months to arrive at an acceptable diet for your pet.

Q: Should I worry about arsenic when feeding rice to my pet?

A: We do not see reason for concern provided that you are purchasing your rice for human consumption.

Q: Can I give my pet a fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid pill?

A: Supplemental fish oil may be helpful and safe. However, we don’t recommend casually adding fish oil to the diet without considering the total omega-6 and total omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Please contact your veterinarian for guidance. We are happy to speak with your veterinarian to determine the best plan for your pet.