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Feeding the best diet is important for total holistic health for your pet. By getting your pet on the best diet, some mild conditions (such as allergies) may respond without needing to use other therapies. In the next several months we will explore the seven dietary classifications of nutrients — water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and food additives so you can make an informed choice on your pet’s diet that will encourage growth, promote a healthy coat, and allow proper function of his organs and immune system.


While most people don’t consider water a nutrient, it is without a doubt the most important one. An animal can survive after losing most of its fat or protein, but a 15 percent loss of body water results in death! Your pet’s body, just like your body, is made up mostly of water. The water content of the pet’s body varies with age; on average, water content of the pet’s body at birth is approximately 75 to 80 percent, while the percent of body water in an older pet might be more on the order of about 40 percent. The water content of plants can be anywhere from just above zero percent (very dry plant matter such as aged hay), to about 11 to 16 percent for cereal grains, to about 99 percent for seaweed. Most people forget how important water is to a pet’s diet, yet water may be the most important nutrient. Too much or too little water can be fatal. For those interested in a holistic approach to feeding pets, you would be wise to consider using distilled water or pure spring water to reduce the possibility of contaminants.

While your pet’s food can supply a little or a lot of your pet’s daily water needs, water is usually supplied by always having available a fresh bowl of clean water.

There is some debate concerning whether tap water is adequate, or whether bottled or distilled water is preferable. No published studies prove one type of water is better than another, or that any type of water causes disease in pets. Many holistic pet owners prefer bottles or filtered water to tap water. A recent report in a popular periodical tested a number of brands of bottled water and found them no different from plain tap water. City tap water is chlorinated. While this causes concern to some owners, chlorination also kills various bacteria that could cause food poisoning in pets if the bacteria were present in high numbers. Using non-chlorinated water could predispose the pet to poisoning by these bacteria (as well as any protozoal organisms) if they are present in the water source. Cities will usually provide a chemical analysis of the water supply if requested by owners. The decision about which water source to use is a personal one; most clients offer their pets whichever type of water they themselves drink.

Body water serves several useful functions. First, water is used for body heat regulation. Water in the body transfers heat produced during metabolism by the cells to the outside surface of the body. The heat is released through sweating (although our pets can’t do this) and through evaporation in the lungs. Second, water is used for transportation of body nutrients, from the food the pet eats into the cells where the nutrients are used for cellular processes such as energy production, cellular metabolism, and making hormones. Third, water allows the body to transport waste material from the cells to the outside of the body (in the form of urine and fecal production). Finally, water assists in lubricating the various body surfaces (joints, intestines, and organs of the abdomen and chest).

Dry food is six to ten percent water, soft-moist is 23 to 40 percent water, and canned food is 68 to 78 percent water. As a rule, the amount of water consumed by mature dogs and cats maintained at a comfortable environmental temperature is about 2.5 times the amount of dry matter consumed in food.

Dry food is the least expensive per pound. Soft-moist food often contains a high sugar or propylene glycol content. Excess sugar may contribute to diabetes in dogs and cats, and propylene glycol can cause anemia in cats. Owners desiring a more holistic diet best avoid soft-moist foods. Canned food contains a lot of water; therefore, a dog or cat consuming a lot of canned food (or homemade diet) will drink less water. For owners choosing to feed wholesome, natural processed diets, offering dry food (supplemented with canned food as desired) seems a popular option. Dry food is not quite as messy as canned food, costs less, is less likely to spoil quickly, and promotes healthy gums and teeth. Periodontal tartar seems to build up more slowly when pets eat a diet of dry food, although pets that chew a lot (pets fed bones) also build up tartar less quickly. Tartar buildup and periodontal disease occur differently in every pet, usually as a result of diet plus individual susceptibility to this common infectious disease of dogs and cats.

Water should be increased in times of illness, when fever is present, when the environmental temperature increases, if your pet pants excessively, or when your pet is taking certain medications (such as corticosteroids or diuretics) that result in an increased urinary output.

Next month we will discuss carbohydrates as a source of energy in your pet’s food.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As my thank you for reading my articles, enter code “drshawn” at my natural products web store,, to save 10% on all your future purchases!

Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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