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What's in your pet's food bowl?

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By Melanie Vittitow

March is Pet Nutrition Month so let’s explore what your pet needs to thrive. Wild animals manage to survive on what they find to eat but their life span is far shorter than our domestic pets.

Today’s manufactured pet foods are carefully formulated to keep all of our pets’ biological systems functioning well at all times, but there are so many choices that it can get confusing. What about home cooking? Should you supplement with vitamins?

If you have switched to home cooking because of last year’s food scare, then you will need to supplement. Remember that some human foods are not good for animals and they need different proportions of fat and protein than we do, so you will also have to research what mixture of meat, grain, vegetables and vitamins are best for your pet, then discuss your recipe with your vet and stick to it.

For the rest of us, it’s a matter of which pet food to buy and when and how much to feed. Pet nutritionists have determined what ratios of fat, protein, fiber, etc., that pets need at different stages of life, and pet food manufacturers have created different formulas to meet these various demands.

Choose a high quality food that matches your pet’s size and age and you should be fine. I’m not discussing special diets for medical purposes; that’s a whole different subject.

What about canned versus dry? If your pet does well on dry then it is certainly easier than canned, but either one is a complete diet so it’s your choice. How much food is the big question.

We spoil our pets (and ourselves) by overindulgence. Overfeeding is not helpful because of the health problems that can occur with overweight animals.

Pet nutritionists recommend that you check the can or bag and start at the mid-range of the “suggested” serving. After 30 days, if your pet has gained weight, then feed less. It’s that simple.

They also recommend feeding twice a day unless yours is one of the rare animals that can feed at will without getting fat. When animals are sick or nursing they will need different amounts but your vet will advise you about that.

Also be advised that the formulas for small breeds differ from those for large breeds, so choose accordingly. And one more thing – cats should not be fed dog food. It doesn’t contain the taurine that cats need because they can’t manufacture it themselves.

Last but not least, don’t forget the water – and keep the bowls clean.

Coyotes in the Corridor

With all the clearing going on for new construction we have been destroying coyote habitat;, so they have adjusted and joined us in our neighborhoods. I have checked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Web site and found that coyotes are not considered very dangerous predators. In fact, they believe coyotes keep other predators and nuisance animals (rabbits, rats, mice, etc.) under control.

This does nothing to alleviate our fears when we encounter one while walking our dogs early in the morning. While dusk and dawn are their most active periods, they have been observed traversing various golf courses in mid-day.

Coyotes are usually timid toward humans but confrontations occur when we try to protect our pets. Small dogs and cats are especially at risk. Calling Fish and Wildlife will get you a pamphlet on how to avoid attracting coyotes but not how to protect yourself.

Without question, you should never let your pet out unattended. The FWC also reports that coyotes are drawn to outdoor feeding stations for birds and squirrels, or pet food dishes, or garbage. Another surprising fact is that they especially like watermelons. So be watchful around your vegetable patch.

Even if a coyote does not act threatening toward you or your pet, it can be a carrier of distemper or rabies so you don’t want it to get close. The coyote is not a protected species so it can be killed, but authorities do not try to eradicate them because it is a nearly impossible task.

I suggest carrying a big stick, at the least, and make a lot of noise to scare it off. Or use your own judgment and the method that works best for you.

SPCA News

The SPCA has managed to find homes for two more dogs, but we need your help. We are not a large group and we can’t do it alone.

We need animal lovers who will be willing to occasionally foster an animal for a few days or weeks, until we have determined that the owner can’t be located and a new home is found.

We have our animals checked and treated by a vet before adopting it out, and we don’t charge for this, so it’s a good deal for the animal and the new owner.

You don’t have to join or come to meetings, just say “yes” to helping animals. We still have one dog that needs a home.

It’s Sheba the shepherd mix. She’s a loving dog but she’s young and needs a home that has a yard or time to play with her because she has lots of energy. Call Judy Smith at 861-1775 if you want to meet her.

The next SPCA meeting on March 20 will feature Arlene Cole of Feisty Acres, the cat shelter. Arlene is also starting a magazine that features animal rescue and adoption agencies in our area.

Meetings are at 1 p.m. at the OTOW Arbor Conference Center, room H. Call if you need directions from the gate.

Pet Tip

Since we covered pets dietary needs, here is a tip on switching from one brand to another. If you need to change diets (for health purposes) or just want to because you think your pet is bored with his current brand, do it gradually.

Start with just a quarter of the new food and go to half then three-quarters over a 5- to 7-day period. This method will minimize digestive upset as well as possible rejection of the new taste.

Melanie Vittitow is an OTOW resident who does publicity for SPCA of Marion County. For SPCA information, call Jodi at 861-9765 or Melanie at 873-8690.