Managing Animal Nutrition and Health

By ACS Distance Education on December 21, 2016 in Animals | comments

Health Checks are Important

Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and infections are always a risk for any animal in your care. Detecting and reacting to problems early is always the better than letting an issue go undetected for too long. Full health checks should be completed by a vet regularly to ensure any health issues may be picked up early.  It is also important to learn to complete a home health check if you are an owner, or work with animals.  Health checks are a way of picking up any injury or illness before it worsens.  You can basically start from the head and work the way down the legs and then to the tail, covering all areas of the body. 

Observing an animal is equally important and it is vital to learn their normal behaviour, then you can observe any changes which may occur, allowing early diagnoses if necessary.  Some behavioural changes to look out for include;

  • Increase in urination or defecation
  • Decrease in urination or defecation
  • Unhappy, lethargic or quieter than normal
  • Aggressive, or short tempered, which is unusual
  • Hunched posture
  • Changes in eating behaviour
    These behavioural changes may not necessarily mean an animal is unwell, but may indicate there is something going on and it is worth keeping up your observations to assess improvement.

The Importance of Good Nutrition

The importance of nutrition to wellbeing cannot be over stressed. Nutrition is vital for the health of every living creature, and it is important to feed our animals on the correct nutrition required which is specific to their needs.  Poor nutrition in animals can greatly impact their health and wellbeing, and can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. Poor nutrition can result in animals becoming more susceptible to illness, their injuries may be more severe, and their bodies are less able to heal themselves.

Animals that are fed a healthy balanced diet will usually retain good health.  Those that are not are more likely to succumb to diseases such as arthritis and diabetes amongst many others.  If an animal is suffering malnutrition and an injury occurs, or catches and infection, it will take longer to heal.  Improved health is maintained by a healthy and active immune system which protects the animal from disease.  In nature, animals feed from a variety of fresh food sources, it is difficult to replicate this diet for our domestic animals and therefore we need to supply the next best thing.

All animals will require sufficient food, of the right type/s, and at the right intervals. Each animal requires a specific diet that will vary depending on the species. The food provided must be adequate for the species and contain the correct amounts of:

  • Protein
  • Fibre, and carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

The quality of the food is also important. Poor quality food lacks essential nutrients required for optimum health. Poor quality food can in itself, cause disease (e.g. fungal spores in mouldy maize cobs).

Understanding what types of food your animals require is very important, it is also important that you understand differing food requirements at different stages of their life (e.g. young versus mature animals, when pregnant or feeding young).  To ensure the best health of your animals, only use good quality food that has been properly stored (e.g. not perished, or mouldy, or infested with pests). Discuss with your vet to ensure your animals are receiving adequate nutrition from their diet, and to determine ways in which you might need to modify it to improve their all-round nutrient intake.  

Although it can seem nice to treat animals to human foods and sweets, it can be very detrimental to their health.  Certain foods that are fit for human consumption can in fact be toxic to some animals.  Allowing your pet to eat constantly, or providing them with an unbalanced diet, can lead to obesity.  This is an increasing problem and has serious complications for animals, they are unable to move as freely and become sedentary, and they can develop joint problems such as arthritis, as well as injuries related to the stress on their spines from the additional weight.  Heart disease is also more likely along with complications such as obesity related diabetes.
There is increasing evidence that some foods can protect animals against disease. Garlic, for example has well researched medicinal properties, and is used in some countries as a feed supplement (in powdered form). Another supplement that has proved beneficial is powdered seaweed (supplies many essential minerals and vitamins).

Provision of Water

It is not only important to provide good quality diet, but also fresh clean drinking water should be available at all times. Nearly all animals will require regular water supplies, some having high water requirements. Water should be of high quality, and plenty provided. If the water is not changed regularly it can become contaminated with dirt and bacteria, and may cause ill health to the animal.  Water and food dishes should be cleaned each day to prevent any build-up and to prevent the contamination of flies and other pests.  Animals can quickly suffer or die if sufficient water is not available on a hot day. Containers should be regularly inspected for damage, and any automatic watering systems should be regularly maintained, and regularly checked to ensure they are operating properly.

The types of water containers provided should be suitable to the types of animals you are watering, for example deep, steep-sided containers may pose a drowning risk to small animals, including birds, while containers or troughs used by multiple numbers of a particular animal should provide sufficient room (access) so that there is not any great degree of competition between the animals for the water - this is particularly important on days of high water need (i.e. very hot days), or with more aggressive animals.