Quibbles about kibbles...what does 'diet' mean?

I spend a lot of time talking about food. And while it’s true that I enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine…it’s typically dog (or kitty) kibble in the context of a veterinary visit that I am talking about.

Those who’ve stumbled on this blog before (n = blood relations), have read my mention of definitions and how these can vary markedly between individuals. As another example of this, the word ‘diet’ is defined by most of us who practise clinical nutrition as everything the dog or cat in question consumes in a typical week. In addition to the bulk of the diet (usually kibble), this encompasses treats, supplements, snacks and whatever other ‘little something’ he or she might get from his/her owner, the floor, grandma, etc. However, the word ‘diet’ can mean something rather different to the average pet-owner when asked, ‘what does your pet eat?’ and due to my disinterest in quibbling (and desire for brevity) I’ll leave the variations of responses to your imagination. To try to get everyone on the same nutritional page, and because I try to teach my students how to be efficient and consistent (aka I’m a slacker and compensating for poor detail-oriented task skills), I typically advise obtaining pet diet information via a nutrition history-questionnaire. 

Here’s an example of a standardized diet history questionnaire: http://www.wsava.org/WSAVA/media/Arpita-and-Emma-editorial/Diet-History-Form.pdf

These types of questionnaires let me know what the pet is eating (the whole diet) and their activity level. The rest of the pet’s nutritional assessment (weight, body and muscle condition score), other history and physical exam helps me figure out how they are doing with their current diet/exercise. Putting all that info together allows us (vets) to provide recommendations for ongoing care... However, the first step in any type of planning is obtaining information, and that (i.e. pet specific nutrition information) can vary dependent on where you practise and who is coming to your veterinary clinic.

Here's a piece of recently presented research that surveyed clients coming into the Atlantic Veterinary College small animal veterinary teaching hospital, with some interesting results from a nutrition, exercise and infection control standpoint:

Nutritional Knowledge, Attitudes, Perceptions and Practices of Clients Presenting to a Small Animal Veterinary Teaching Hospital , VSRA Texas 2018

M. Peace, J. Stull, G. Munguia, and M. Evason


1)Determine teaching hospital small animal clientele current knowledge, attitudes, perceptions and practices regarding nutrition and exercise 

2) Evaluate client recall on veterinary recommendations related to diet and exercise 


Sample of clients visiting the small animal Atlantic Veterinary College Teaching Hospital from June 8th to July 4th, 2018 were invited to complete a paper questionnaire. Descriptive statistics were used to evaluate questionnaire data.


Total of 143 clients were invited to participate- 140 agreed to participate, with 106 pet-owners returning the questionnaire. 

Surveys that were <50% completed were excluded, providing a 71% response rate (n=101).

This is wonderfully high level of interest, cooperation and response.

A variety of responses were recorded in response to ‘What does your pet’s diet consist of in a typical week?’ The majority of responses to this question were similar to other studies of this nature; however, total raw food intake (commercial, homemade, treats) was 30%. This result is higher than other studies of this type and VERY important information for hospital infection control planning and prevention of disease transmission (e.g. salmonella) to other pets and staff.

Pet-owner interest in learning more about their pet’s nutrition was reported as:

▪Yes-very interested (63%), No- not interested (22%), Unsure (15%)

As in other studies, pet-owner interest in the topic of nutrition and diet for their pet is high.

Pet-owner recollection of discussing nutrition with vet:

▪Always speak about nutrition (35%)

▪Sometimes speak about nutrition (44%)

▪Unsure (19%), never (3%) 

Again, similar to other studies while pet-owners indicate a desire to speak about nutrition this isn’t something that appears to be occurring regularly during visits to the vet clinic, i.e. over 20% of the time it isn’t happening, and it’s hit or miss about half the time.

Pet-owners varied in their interest in having their veterinarian discuss their pet’s exercise requirements. Responses to this query were as follows: somewhat agree that I’d like my vet to talk about my pet’s exercise needs (36%), strongly agree and want vet to discuss (27%), felt neutral about having this discussion(26%), strongly disagree and do not want to talk about exercise for pet (8%), somewhat disagree (3%).

This was an interesting result and worth exploring further to assess differences between cat vs. dog owners, and whether things differed between reported exercise (amount, frequency) and interest in exercise related discussions.