[BLOG] Nutrition in animal shelters: the consistency principle


I just came back from a business week in Quebec, visiting and lecturing for some of our shelter partners. One thing they all told me: shelters = challenges. Best way to face them? Being consistent in whatever you are doing in such an at-risk environment: being consistent to prevent spread of infectious diseases inside the shelter’s walls, being consistent while cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces, being consistent when doing daily rounds… And as well, being consistent when it comes to animal nutrition.

As quoted in the “Shelter Medicine for Veterinarian and Staff” textbook“Good nutrition is a basic, critical component of any shelter’s wellness plan: it is essential for the maintenance of good health and an important treatment tool whose value is often overlooked”.

Diet consistency: important in a shelter environment?

That’s a fact: in order to feed the animals, many shelters rely on donations. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get that donations are something important in shelters and they should never be turned down. However, when it comes to pet food, it often means that, to feed the animals, different bags of different brands will be available at different times. Which basically means that the animals are nearly always eating something different. Keep in mind that the digestive system of our dogs and cats is less capable of handling frequent dietary changes (see picture below). In certain individuals, this will lead to gastro-intestinal upset: frequent diarrhea will then be observed, rising up the veterinary costs of the structure if a treatment is needed. That’s why it is important to stay consistent on the brand/product that is fed inside your structure. I know, easier said than done… There are however solutions out there. To fulfill this consistency principle, some shelters ask people to donate only certain diets. Petfood manufacturers also often have a specific program for shelters (at Royal Canin, ours is called Elite Shelter Club, feel free to speak with your Royal Canin PRO rep if you want to know the details).

Feeding consistency: also something to focus on in shelters

More than just the diet, the way you use it as well is also critical. From what I see and hear, it is not uncommon for people who feed the animals not to pay attention to quantity… Overfeeding is not rare, while for the shelter and for the animals, there are risks:

–            Food waste: that is definitely something you would like to avoid in a shelter environment for sure. Keep in mind that in order to avoid alteration of the diet, all food remaining in an animal’s bowl should be discarded after 24h for dry food and after a few hours for wet.

–          Gastro-intestinal upset: some cats or dogs have a tendency to be greedy (Labradors are usually a perfect example). If you give them too much, they will overeat. This increases the risks of vomiting (especially in cats where the stomach does not have the ability to contract as well as in dogs) and diarrhea (we often call it “diarrhea of overconsumption”: after eating too much, the digestive capacities of the animal are overloaded and diarrhea will occur as a consequence).

–          Overweight: if the animal regularly eats more than required, it will receive extra-energy that will be converted into fat… and on the long run, will turn into an overweight condition, with all its potential consequences (increased risk of cardio-vascular diseases, joint issues, etc.).

In shelters, you understand now why feeding the right amount of the right diet is crucial and should not be overlooked. A zootechnical approach is always required, even when it comes to nutrition. And when properly done, it CAN make a big difference.

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