There's one aspect of nutrition that many people – including vets – can find particularly daunting: fats and oils. There have been mixed messages over the years about good fats/ bad fats, essential oils/ unnecessary oils, long chain/short chain, saturated/unsaturated. This is one area where Wikivet can help – for veterinary professionals as well as members of the public. The Wikivet section about fatty acids provides a clear, comprehensive summary.
The most important facts are worth summarising in ten key points:
1) The terms “fats” and “oils” tend to be replaced by “fatty acids” by nutritionists, as it is the fatty acids in fats and oils that give them their most significant properties.
2) Fatty acids (FA) are carboxylic acids with long hydrocarbon chains, which can be saturated or unsaturated.
3) Saturated fatty acids have single bonds, and tend to have a high melting point making them more likely to be solid at room temperature (e.g. butter or fat on meat)
4) Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one double bond, and tend to have a low melting point so tend to be liquid at room temperature (e.g. olive oil)
5) Mammals are able to synthesize certain saturated fatty acids from other dietary components (such as glucose and proteins) so they do not need to have these in the diet.
6) Dogs and cats, like other mammals, have an essential dietary requirement for certain unsaturated fatty acids since they cannot be manufactured in their bodies: omega-3 and omega-6: these are known as "essential fatty acids".
7) (A technical point, but an important one for biochemistry nerds): Omega-3 FAs are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that have a double bond in the third carbon-carbon bond: the most important are Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
8) Omega-6 FAs are a family of unsaturated fatty acids that have a double bond in the sixth carbon-carbon bond: e.g. linoleic acid (LA) is an essential ingredient in animal diets. Others in the group include Gamma linolenic acid (GLA), Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and Arachidonic acid (AA) (which is essential for cats, but not for dogs).
9) Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are in competition for the same metabolic enzymes in the body and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the total amount of each type, is important.
10) (The key take home point!) These essential unsaturated fatty acids are important for growth (including the development of the brain and eyes), for skin and coat function (including influencing allergic skin disease)
First, choose a good quality diet that is adequately supplemented with the right proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids.The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is thought to be between 10:1 to 5:1. Most pet foods contain far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids are sometimes added to commercial pet foods to lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Second, if your pet suffers from skin disease, in particular, or poor skin/coat quality, talk to your vet about dietary supplements to enhance their omega-3 and omega-6 intake, aiming to get both the absolute quantity and the ratio correct.
Third, remember that it takes around six weeks for a dietary supplement of fatty acids to make a visible difference to the quality of a pet's coat.
Fourth and finally, if you have a good head for understanding chemistry and nutrition, go ahead and read the Wikivet article, and better again, look up the references at the end. This is pure nutritional science, as good as you can get, and it's what pet food companies use to formulate the products on the shop shelves. It may be hard to follow sometimes, but the best way to optimal nutrition is to fully understand the science behind what you feed your pet.
It's well known that regular home care of pets' teeth is the only way to ensure optimal dental health, but it's also well known that most owners find this challenging. Dental experts have identified that there are two methods of home care, depending on an owner's ability to get involved: active and passive.Brushing your pet's teeth a) Active home care is “hands-on” where the pet owner is physically involved with removing plaque and maintaining oral hygiene. Tooth brushing and applying anti-plaque agents directly into the mouth fit into this category. Active home care is the ideal answer, but it isn't always easy. It's known as the "gold standard" of preventive dental care. Clara, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is a ten year old dog who is an ambassador for active home dental care. Her owner started to brush Clara's teeth when she was a pup, and has built tooth-brushing into her daily routine. Clara knows that before she can tuck into her dinner, she has to sit still for a 30 seconds while her owner whizzes around her mouth with a toothbrush and some chicken-flavoured toothpaste. The results of this daily routine are astonishing. Most ten year old dogs have advanced dental disease, with gingivitis, accumulations of tartar and missing teeth. Clara, in contrast, has teeth that are as healthy as a two year old's. Clara provides a good example of the power of active owner dental care. "Letting your pet clean their own teeth" b) Passive homecare refers to aspects of an oral hygiene program that help to reduce plaque in the mouth, but do not require the owner to get involved with the hands-on tooth-brushing or mouth-handling. Examples of passive home care include giving a special type of diet that helps to keep the teeth clean, or offering a dental chew to help reduce plaque accumulation. Jake is a ten year old terrier who has been given a daily dental chew for the past five years. His owner originally tried to brush his teeth, but he wouldn't let her. Many owners have this experience, and this has created a niche in the market that has been occupied by a wide range of commercial products. Jake's owner discovered that he loved the taste and texture of a dental chew, designed to be given once daily. Jake gets this every evening, as a treat before bed. His owner has reduced his daily food ration to take account of the calories in the dental chew, and he's stayed at his ideal weight. Jake did originally need a dental clean up and polish, to remove the build up of tartar that had occurred before he started his dental chews. But the daily chew regime has worked wonders for his back teeth (the molars), and they're as clean as Clara's. The front teeth (canines) have accumulated some tartar (Jake doesn't use these when chewing), but the problem is a minor one that doesn't need any intervention at this stage. Home dental care is an important part of a pet's daily routine, whether you choose an active or passive approach. To find out more, read the Wikivet section on dental hygiene, by clicking here.
One of the challenges for veterinary surgeons working in the media is that is that they are often asked about one specific patient, with a particular problem. While it's helpful for the individual owner to discuss their own pet, it can be less enthralling for other readers.Here are a couple of examples: