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Overnutrition imperils pets

More is not more – notwithstanding what people do on the Sizzler buffet line.

When it comes to our pets, overnutrition is a serious concern. And in many cases the problem is not just how much food you feed, but what kind.

As with any diet change or modification, first consult with your veterinarian or other qualified professional.

Dogs. Chubby puppies may be cute, but they might very well be priming themselves for health problems down the road. A 1997 study looked at two groups of Labrador retriever puppies that were fed a high-protein, high-calorie diet for three years: The only difference between them was that one group was free-fed, and the other was not. Not surprisingly, the Labs that were permitted to chow down without restriction were 22 pounds heavier on average than their moderately fed counterparts. They also had significantly higher levels of hip dysplasia.

Weight aside, puppy owners must also be careful not to fuel fast growth spurts: For a dog’s orthopedic health, slow, steady growth is best. For that reason, many experts caution against feeding nutrient-packed puppy food to giant and large-breed puppies, recommending adult food instead.

Adult dogs that pack on the pounds are also imperiling their health, and are at higher risk for everything from heart disease to diabetes.

Watch out for oversupplementation: Excessive amounts of specific nutrients can be too much of a good thing, causing nutritional imbalances.

To create a sense of fullness in a dieting dog, substitute some green beans or plain canned pumpkin, which have a lot of fiber but fewer calories.

Cats. Fat cats and diabetes go together about as nicely as that old-fashioned horse and carriage. Exacerbating the problem are commercial diets heavy in cereal-based carbohydrates – not exactly a natural choice for a true carnivore like the cat.

To keep diabetes at bay, some feline specialists encourage owners to feed a “catkins” diet – roughly 40 to 45 percent protein, 40 to 45 percent fat, and only 3 to 5 percent carbohydrates. Canned cat foods, while more expensive, are far closer to these recommendations than dry.

“Fasting” a cat is possibly the worst idea ever. Cats that do not eat within 24 hours face possible life-threatening repercussions.

Rabbits. Pellets are the Twinkies of rabbit nutrition. Many veterinarians who are well-versed in “bun” care recommend restricting pellets (though not necessarily eliminating them entirely, as they produce important trace minerals), and augmenting them with fresh veggies such as carrots (tops and all), broccoli and a variety of greens. Because rabbits also must eat indigestible fiber to keep their gut functioning properly, constant access to grass hay is a must.

Birds. Seeds may be addictive to parrots and other companion birds, but these high-fat, high-calorie goodies do not provide a balanced diet. Many avian vets recommend a diet of nutritionally complete pellets, combined with fresh vegetables. (Be sure you know which foods are potentially toxic to birds, such as avocado and chocolate.) Feeding a varied and complete diet early on in the bird’s life will prevent it from developing a narrow palate.

As with other animals, resist the urge to supplement with vitamins or other nutrients, as overdoing it can lead to serious toxicity.

Fish. Let’s bust a myth right now: Fish can’t really be fed to bursting. But raining flaked food over a tank like some nor’easter will lead to uneaten morsels rotting and creating all kinds of aquatic havoc, from cloudy water to bacteria and algae growth.

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