wellness

"Can I feed my pet leftovers?" and 6 other questions the Mamamia team need a vet to answer immediately.

Royal Canin
Thanks to our brand partner, Royal Canin

“No onions, no grapes and no chocolate… and keep an eye out for cockroach baits. Or any baits for that matter.”  

I uttered that sentence around 4 times a day when we first brought our 8-week-old puppy home. I felt like a new mum preparing my home for my first child. The only problem was, I'd grown up on a farm and been around animals my whole life. 

But having your first dog that’s all yours? Well, it turns you into a bit of a helicopter parent.     

Image: Supplied.

In 2020, my partner and I decided to take the leap and get a dog together.  

Having both grown up on farms and with animals our entire lives, we thought we knew about the logistics of having a puppy. But, after a failed puppy school, crate training gone wrong, the destruction of two laptop chargers, a hair straightener, his bag of Royal Canin Puppy food and an entire deck of Cards Against Humanity... we knew we had a LOT to learn.

And pretty soon my mantra became: “Don’t leave anything in reach of a 3-month-old puppy.” Image: Supplied.

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Now, almost 2 years into my animal-rearing journey, I still have a lot of questions. 

Can I actually feed him leftovers? What do I do about separation anxiety? How much food is too much food? And can I actually love my dog TOO much? (Never on that last one.)

It turns out, the animal owners of Mamamia also have questions. So I spoke to Veterinarian and Veterinary Surgeon (and self-confessed cat expert), Dr Chantelle McGowan, about the 7 questions we can’t stop thinking about. 


1. How do I actually keep my animal entertained when I’m working from home? 

Whether you’re a cat or a dog person (or both! Go you good thing!), chances are your pet has featured on more Zoom calls in the past 2 years than you may have planned to. 

(Especially if it’s your cat strolling around with its bum in the camera. Or sending company-wide messages for you on your keyboard. We’ve all been there.)

Dr McGowan says when you’re working from home with your pet, it’s important to take breaks with them. 

“Not only is it a good thing for you, but it’s a good thing for your pet,” says Dr McGowan. 

“Sometimes my cat will walk into the room and that will break my attention, so I make sure that I throw a toy at her for a bit, and then that also makes me stand up, grab a drink of water and take a break. So it may not necessarily be the negative interruption that we think of, for our own mental wellbeing.”

“But, if they’re persistently attention seeking, that’s another story. And it could be that you aim to spend more time with them before your workday starts" through play or exercise to help stimulate their mind, body or both.

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2. Can I feed my pet leftovers? 

The age old question. I'm guilty in sharing the last of my mashed potato because my dog's knowing eyes have been glued to my plate the entire meal!

Well, it turns out: feeding leftovers to our pets isn't really that great. Dr McGowan got a solution for us, though.

“The gold standard textbook responses is no to leftovers! However, we're all human. And we use food as a means of bonding with our pets. So, perhaps instead of giving them the steak that's leftover on your plate, you have a sealed container of kibble on your bench, and you give them that instead. And that way, you're still bonding through food, but you're not risking their dietary upset.”

(Since Dr McGowan mentioned this, I’ve started putting into practice with our dog with a tub on our dining room table! His Royal Canin kibble is working a treat.)

3. I’ve seen a trend on TikTok where owners are cooking proper meals for their pets... is that considered healthy?

A lot of us don’t have time to cook elaborate meals for ourselves, let alone our animals! But for those that do, is this a good idea to optimise the health of our pets?

Similarly to feeding our pets leftovers, Dr McGowan doesn’t quite think so. 

“It’s really challenging to create a complete and balanced diet that not only meets the bare minimum nutritional requirements, but is also safe for your pet."

The individual health of every cat and dog is as unique as they are. Plus, they'll have different nutritional needs when they're a puppy or kitten during growth and development, compared with their vital nutrient needs in their transition to becoming an adult dog or cat.

To ensure your pet is supported nutritionally, for vitality and energy levels, and to maintain a healthy weight, it's recommended they should remain on a tailored, premium puppy/kitten diet before they transition to a tailored premium adult diet.

Royal Canin's approach to pet nutrition has always been based on scientific facts, and is constantly driven by research from nutritionists, veterinarians and scientists from across the world. Founded by a veterinarian in 1968, Royal Canin has always been an expert in animal health nutrition; having put their 50 years of scientific knowledge at the service of the health and wellbeing of pets. 

4. What do I need to know about transitioning my dog's food based on their age?

As your dog grows and ages, there are plenty of factors that can affect their nutritional needs.

There's a whole range of vital nutrients your puppy needs during the first months of life to aid healthy growth and development. Puppy diets are typically higher in calorie, providing more energy to sustain their daily activities (lots of playing!), but also to support the growth of bones, muscles, and the development of body systems. 

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Puppies also need a diet that's easy to digest, with prebiotics to support gut health, to allow their immature gastrointestinal tract to absorb maximum nutrition. A carefully balanced ratio of vitamins and minerals will also help support healthy skeletal development.

As puppies continue to grow, they require the nutritional support of carefully balanced calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D to support healthy skeletal growth and development. Puppies will also be building their muscle mass through this time, relying on high quality, highly digestible protein in the diet to support this phase.

As they approach adulthood, a puppy’s digestive and immune systems continue to strengthen, but still require nutritional support to ensure your puppy avoids gastrointestinal upsets.

So, considering all of this: their changing age and needs does require a change in diet. This is where puppy diet products and adult products, like Royal Canin's, are nutritionally balanced to offer a tailored diet to meet the needs of dogs of all sizes, and breeds. (This principle of course applies to kittens and cats too!) 

One last point many owners mightn't know: neutering can actually make your dog more susceptible to weight gain. The hormonal changes that happen with neutering can impact your dog’s metabolism, so can impact how much food they need to eat. 

Once your dog is desexed, their daily calorie intake reduces by 30 per cent... that’s one third of their daily portion! (And interestingly, within 2 days of their procedure, your dog’s appetite may increase by up to 20 percent. Woah).

So, with our dogs' transitioning nutritional needs based on their age (with neutering in the mix too!), it's important not to keep them on the same diet and simply reduce the volume we feed them ourselves, as your dog can miss out on key nutrients and affect a healthy bodyweight.

Dr McGowan's advice: always be sure to consult your veterinarian for advice on transitioning your dog (and cat's) food!

5. I’ve adopted a pet, how do I make sure they have a smooth transition into their new world?

Consistency is key for any pet to feel safe, says Dr McGowan. Everything from their food bowl being kept in the same location, being fed at a regular and consistent time, and having their own place to retreat to. 

“I’m a huge fan of creating a safe place for both dogs and cats. A place to retreat as their safe, quiet, calm space. It could be a crate, it could be their bed, it could be your bed, or even on top of a bookshelf for a cat. 

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"These spaces are important, especially when unfamiliar people are around. So when you see your animal go to their safe space, they’re putting up their do not disturb sign. Because they're saying to us, ‘I'm overwhelmed by this social situation, I need to withdraw, I need to just observe from a distance’. And that's how they tolerate these situations. Not every dog likes strangers. And that's okay. 

"I think we need to manage our expectations around rescue animals in particular, because it takes a really long time for rescue animals to truly settle in. And so if we just give them that safe space, with a bit of luck, they’ll settle in."

6. Does the timing I feed my pet matter too much? 

Twice a day? Once? Even three times a day? Who even knows if there's set rules?

Dr McGowan confirms there are a lot of factors at play here, and it's actually not as simple as a one size fits all approach. The best thing is to consult your vet based on your dog's breed, age, size, lifestyle and health factors at play to ensure the frequency of feeding is tailored to the pet's needs. 

“Studies also indicate that cats prefer to eat out of a bowl, they don’t want food puzzles and they don’t want to work for their food. However dogs would definitely prefer to work for it,” Dr McGowan says.  

7. I’m returning to the office. How can I help my pet with separation anxiety?

I’ve started going back into the office myself, and while my dog isn’t being... destructive (touch wood!), I find that while I’ve been away, he seems to be spending a lot of time sitting on top of our human bed. 

I asked Dr McGowan about this, she said it was because of how our pets see the world, and where they feel safe.  

“What we know is that dogs and cats sense the world differently to us. Their vision, sense of hearing, smell and touch, is not identical to ours. Their sense of smell is almost 15 times stronger than a human. So when you leave either a cat or a dog alone, make sure they’ve got something that smells like you.”

One thing you can do is sleep on a towel for the night, and then put it in your animals bed. This familiarity of your scent can help them feel calmer and more content when you're back to work, away from them for longer periods than usual, and ease them into a new routine change.

Everything Royal Canin do is designed to create precise nutritional formulas to help them have a long and healthy life. Find a Royal Canin stockist, and explore more about tailored nutrition for cats and dogs.

Feature Image: Getty.

Royal Canin
At Royal Canin, we focus our efforts on understanding the unique needs of domestic cats and dogs. Everything we do is designed to create precise nutritional formulas to help them have a long and healthy life. All our products are researched and developed not by trends in human nutrition or preferences of the pet owner, but through innovative nutritional science and the observation of cats and dogs