⚠ Referring veterinarians
On Feb. 15, 2022, after a decade of running the Nutrition Service at Virginia Tech’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Megan Shepherd transitioned to a private specialty practice, Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, which is now booking new cases. Please visit the practice's website for veterinary referral forms, services, and fees.
Megan Shepherd (she/they), DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition)
Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist®
Comparative Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, PLLC
Frequently asked nutrition questions
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 because a diet change may be indicated.
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:
- The product label has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement, such as the following:
- "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
- "[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]"
- The AAFCO statement states that the food is appropriate for your pet's species (dog or cat).
- The AAFCO statement states that the food is appropriate for your pet's life stage, which includes adult maintenance, growth, or reproduction (gestation/lactation). We recommend that you review the points stated in the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Nutrition Committee's "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.
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 (see "Body condition scoring charts" above).
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.
Table scraps are a source of extra calories, could lead to obesity, may include toxic ingredients (e.g., onion, garlic, grapes), and may cause gastrointestinal upset (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea). We generally do not recommend feeding table scraps.
A complete loss of appetite may indicate a disease. Therefore, loss of appetite longer than 2-3 days should be addressed by your pet's veterinarian.
Our goal is to feed a nutritionally complete diet per National Research Council or Association of American Feed Control Officials adult cat or dog requirements. There are no specific requirements for the senior pet. However, seniors may develop organ dysfunction (e.g., heart, joint, or kidney), and so the diet may be adjusted depending on the specific condition of your pet.
Homemade recipe formulation is complex; therefore, we recommend a single recipe for your pet. If you would like additional recipes, additional fees will apply.
Choose 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: Choose a primary protein and primary carbohydrate source (see the table on the client consult request form) that are easily accessible to you, prepare these ingredients for your pet (cook the meat), and monitor intake. If you pet doesn't like the selected ingredients, try others.
The solution is to select a commercial or homemade diet that contains foods or ingredients that do not contain the offending ingredient(s), typically a protein or carbohydrate source. We will select ingredients that are new to your pet, so a complete dietary history is required 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. As a result, it can take weeks to months to arrive at an acceptable diet for your pet.
We do not see reason for concern provided you are purchasing rice produced for human consumption.
Supplemental fish oil may be helpful and safe. However, we don't recommend casually adding fish oil to your pet's 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.