Date: Sept. 8, 2003

Contacts: Bill Kearney, Director of Media Relations
Andrea Durham, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

New Dietary Guidelines Issued for Cats and Dogs

One out of every four dogs and cats in the western world is now obese. Like humans, dogs and cats that are obese run a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, or other health problems. A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council recommends revised nutrient guidelines for adequate and appropriate diets to keep dogs and cats healthy.

The 450-page report by an international team of experts is the most comprehensive assessment available of the daily nutrient and calorie requirements for dogs and cats. Although it is intended primarily for scientists, pet-food manufacturers, and veterinarians, the report also includes tips on how to recognize when dogs and cats are overweight, and on what and how to feed the animals to keep them healthy.

The report provides an extensive review and summary of thousands of scientific papers published on cat and dog nutrition over the past 25 years and makes science-based recommendations on specific nutrient requirements. Energy, protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral nutrition are covered in detail; carbohydrates, fiber, and factors influencing nutrient needs, such as physical activity and environment, are given special attention as well. The report includes a comprehensive discussion of pet-food additives and numerous tables detailing the composition of ingredients typically used in pet foods. These dietary guidelines update recommendations last made by the Research Council in the mid-1980s.

In addition to the comprehensive scientific review, there are many new and helpful features in the latest edition. For example, the report establishes not only minimum daily nutrient requirements, but also recommended allowances that take into account the ability of dogs and cats to absorb nutrients found in typical pet foods. When there is not enough evidence to set a minimum requirement, an "adequate intake" has been established. And a safe upper limit is set when there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that adverse health effects may occur if that limit is exceeded. The report provides nutrient recommendations based on an animal's physical activity level and stage in life, the two most important factors influencing nutrient needs. It also looks at how nutrients are metabolized in the bodies of dogs and cats, indications of nutrient deficiency, and diseases related to poor nutrition.

Acknowledging the current obesity epidemic among dogs and cats, the report describes ways to identify and address this problem in pets. For example, if one cannot feel a dog's ribs, the animal is probably overweight. Fat deposits on the back and base of the tail, or lack of a discernable waist when viewed from above, are other clues that a dog is eating too much. A dog is not getting enough to eat, however, if its ribs and pelvic bones can easily be seen, or if no fat can be felt on its bones. These signs may even indicate some loss of muscle mass. A dog is at an ideal weight when one can easily feel the ribs with a minimal amount of fat, and when the waist is easily observed behind the ribs when viewed from above.

The most obvious way to help a dog trim down is to feed it smaller amounts of food on its regular feeding schedule, and to make sure the dog is not being fed table scraps or getting into the food bowls of other dogs in the neighborhood. Owners may also choose a low-calorie "diet" dog food or food high in fiber, which may help the dog feel full without consuming too many calories. Too much fiber, however, can reduce the absorption of important nutrients.

If a cat looks overweight, it is, the report says. Heavy fat deposits on the back, face, and limbs, or a rounding of the abdomen, are clear signs of obesity. A cat is underweight if it feels "bony," has little or no fat on the ribs, or appears to "cave in" just behind the ribs. At an ideal weight, a cat appears well-proportioned, shows a moderate waistline behind the ribs, and has a thin covering of fat over the ribs and abdomen.

Putting less of the same food in a cat's bowl each day while still allowing the animal to eat at all times of the day -- cats eat between 12 and 20 meals a day -- will help a fat cat lose weight, the report says. Although cats eat throughout the day, owners of overweight cats should not let them eat as much as they want since about 30 percent to 40 percent of all cats will overeat if given this latitude. Other ways to get a cat to trim down include serving it a low-calorie food or less appealing food. As with dogs, extra fiber may help as well.

Cats are descended from carnivores, and their gastrointestinal system is well-suited to digesting and absorbing nutrients from animal-based proteins and fats. They should not be fed a vegetarian diet because it could result in harmful deficiencies of certain amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins, the report says. Although dogs may prefer animal-based food, they can survive on a vegetarian diet as long as it contains sufficient protein and other nutrients, the report notes.

Fresh water should be available to a dog at all times, and more during exercise, to prevent overheating. It is fine to feed an adult dog just one or two times a day, but puppies need to eat two to three meals daily. Puppies, kittens, and lactating dogs and cats need more daily calories, as may pets that are sick or injured. Cats do not drink as much water as dogs, perhaps because cats evolved as desert animals. However, the weak thirst of cats puts them at higher risk for urinary tract stones.
Dogs' and cats' preference for food is influenced by many factors, such as early feeding experiences, "flavor fatigue," meal temperature, odor, texture, and taste. Cats are indeed more finicky than dogs, so cat owners need to be more careful to ensure their pets are getting the recommended essential nutrients. When changing diets, it is important that pet owners gradually mix familiar food with new food before switching completely, the report points out.

A quick reference list of daily calorie recommendations and essential vitamin and mineral requirements for dogs and cats, as well as signs that a pet may be deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, can be found at, along with more information on keeping your pet healthy.

The report was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Pet Food Institute. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A roster of the committee that wrote the report follows.

Pre-publication copies of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats are available from the National Academies Press for $295.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This announcement and the report are available at ]

Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee on Animal Nutrition

Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition

Donald C. Beitz (chair)
Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture
Department of Animal Science and
Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology
Iowa State University

John E. Bauer
Professor of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, and
Mark L. Morris Professor of Clinical Nutrition
College of Veterinary Medicine
Texas A&M University
College Station

Keith C. Behnke
Department of Grain Science and Industry
Kansas State University

David A. Dzanis
Dzanis Consulting and Collaborations, and
Contributing Editor
Petfood Industry
Santa Clarita, Calif.

George C. Fahey Jr.
Animal Sciences and Nutritional Sciences, and
Assistant Dean
Office of Research, Agricultural Experiment Station
College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois

Richard C. Hill
Waltham Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition
Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Florida

Francis A. Kallfelz
James Law Professor of Nutrition
Department of Clinical Sciences
New York State College of Veterinary Medicine
Cornell University

Ellen Kienzle
Chair of Animal Nutrition and Dietetics
Institute of Animal Physiology
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Ludwig-Maximilians University, and
Journal of American Physiology and Animal Nutrition
Munich, Germany

James G. Morris
Department of Molecular Sciences
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California (retired)

Quinton R. Rogers
Professor of Physiological Chemistry
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California


Charlotte Kirk Baer
Study Director