Don't fear fat in pup's canned food

Q: Six months ago, I rescued an 8-week-old Chihuahua mix from a local shelter. The dog was 3 pounds, malnourished and had pneumonia. I have been feeding her the same food the shelter gave us, which is for small breed/toy. She is now the perfect weight, playful, energetic and very healthy. She loves the food and she is very excited at meal time. She receives dry and wet food three times a day. The brand of dog food we feed her has an excessive amount of fat on the edges of the can. I now try to remove as much excessive fat as I can, but am I hurting her by doing that? Does the fat improve her health or her coat? She is a toy, indoor pet. She appears to be a Chihuahua/terrier mix and currently weighs 10 pounds. -- Celia Ann Volmer, Brentwood

A: The fat you see is not an excessive amount. It is a measured ingredient in that particular brand of dog food, which has been formulated for the age and size dog you are feeding. Sometimes in the processing, the fat will separate out of the other ingredients inside the can, as you have noticed. Since the fat is actually an ingredient in the formula, as you can see by reading the ingredient list on the label, you really should not remove it after you have opened the can. Instead, mix it back in with the rest of the food before you feed it to the dog.

Of course, as the dog gets older and less active, you may consider feeding it a brand of food that has less added fat, but for now I would just leave things as they are.

Q:  I have an eclectus parrot that is now 15 years old, and he is in very good condition. I feed him a commercial parrot seed mix and all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. He also loves to eat any warm grains or legumes we are eating, such as rice, oatmeal or lentils. However, every time I take him to the vet for a well bird checkup or go to a parrot show, I am told I am killing him by not feeding him parrot pellets. He will eat pellets when I offer them to him, but they are very expensive, and when I look at the ingredients on the bag, they seem to be made of the same grains and seeds I am feeding my bird anyway. -- Lauren Cunningham, Deer Park

A: The reason for all the drama is that there are many different ways to feed an animal, and everyone has his or her own opinion based on their experience. The issue here is, what does it take to be sure a bird is getting a balanced diet.

When a bird is offered a bowl of 12 different seeds, some birds will eat each and every seed in the bowl, some will eat only six types of seeds and leave the rest, and some may pick out only one or two types. So the bird that ate all 12 types of seed is getting a balanced diet, but the other birds that pick and choose only their favorite seeds are not.

If the pellets are made of the same 12 seeds that are in the seed mix and the choosy birds are fed the pellets only, then they are forced to eat all 12 types of seeds, as each pellet is made of everything the bird needs to be healthy.

It is a rare human child who will voluntarily eat a balanced diet, and birds are no exception. Your particular bird happens to eat everything healthy you offer to it, but others do not, and those are the birds your vet most likely is seeing, so it is easier for the vet to ensure that those birds are getting the proper diet by telling the birds' keepers to feed them only pellets. In nature, birds will usually find something different to eat each day, anyway, so birds kept as pets should be exposed to many different things to eat as well.

I like to give my birds seeds one day and pellets another day to mix things up and keep some random events in their lives. So if bird keepers have the time and knowledge to be sure their birds are getting a proper and balanced diet, there is no need for that bird to be fed pellets.

Q:  Last spring, I got a male canary, and part of his daily ritual is to take a bath in a little plastic bowl I hang in the cage for him. However, my house is kept at 65 degrees during the day in the winter, and yet he still insists on bathing every day. I was worried about him getting chilled and wonder if I should stop hanging the bowl on the cage every morning so he would no longer be able to bathe until winter is over? --Annie Stevens, Bellmore

A: If he did not want to bathe, he would not do it, so do not worry. I see birds outdoors bathing in freezing cold puddles all winter long, so they know what they are doing.

Actually, if he did not bathe, he would feel cold; if a bird's feathers are not wet periodically, they dry out and become compromised and lose their insulating ability. So the momentary chill he may feel when he takes a bath is worth it in the long run.