Below is an excerpt from an excellent article about feeding a species appropriate, raw diet to your pet. Credit and original link at bottom.
First let’s review a little background on kibble foods.
Kibble pet food originated in the late 1800’s as a matter of convenience; prior to this most dogs were fed a diet made by owners or composed simply of table scraps and whatever they could scrounge up on their own. This usually included different types of meat, bones, bread, veggies and so forth. Once kibble was created and companies started to boom, others saw the profit that was to be made in the market and the pet food business exploded.
The problem with kibble is essentially in the fact that it is an artificially created diet. There are varying degrees of quality on the market ranging from wonderfully sourced human-grade ingredients, to the equivalent of feeding your dog a bag of sawdust and old boots. Whatever the quality however, the end result of making the kibble remains the same.
The process of high pressure and high heat required for cooking kibble kills and denatures most of the enzymes, probiotics, vitamins, and oils that naturally occur in the raw ingredients before they are processed; the entire chemical and nutritional composition of the ingredients is altered. As a result, kibble manufacturers have to add these vitamin packs after the fact, along with probiotics, fish oils, preservatives, etc. They also will often spray a coating of fat on the outside to make it more palatable. And while these additions after processing of enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients is good, as soon as that bag of kibble is opened and exposed to light and oxygen, those additions instantly die off. Because of this we find that many pets have digestive upsets with kibble such as gas, bloating, loose stools, constipation and vomiting. As a result they need to be provided with additional supplements to adequately digest their food and gain nutrients from them.
Furthermore, years ago (and it is still true today) most pets that were fed kibble were fed the same brand and same protein most of their lives. We came to believe that changing up their food would lead to stomach upset, diarrhea, and other awful side effects that made rotating through different foods unappealing and possibly dangerous. What we failed to realize, unfortunately, is that feeding the same food can ultimately lead to nutritional deficits for your pet.
Take a moment and consider this: how healthy would we feel after eating chicken and potatoes for 5 years? Probably not very considering we would constantly be getting the exact same amino acids, fats, and starches in our system. Chicken for example, has a completely different nutritional profile than beef; as does brown rice versus oatmeal. Again, think about our diets. Some days we eat blueberries which provide us with antioxidants. Other days we eat kale and increase our calcium intake. Still other days we eat fish and take in some of those amazing Omega 3’s. If we only eat chicken and potatoes we are depriving our body of the benefits of all these other wonderful nutrients.
After some time on the exact same diet, it’s possible that our bodies and our pet’s bodies cannot use these foods as beneficially as they once did. Furthermore, this increases the chance that an allergy or intolerance to a food will develop. Fortunately most high-end kibble companies these days advocate rotational diets. They create formulas that can easily be swapped through with little to no transition necessary. In this manner we are exposing our pets to a variety of foods and nutrients.
Recently there has been a greater push to take this new-found interest in optimal pet nutrition even one step further: raw food.
The underlying argument backing the benefits and appropriateness of raw food comes back to examining the basic design of dogs. Despite their domestication, the anatomy and physiology of a dog is still very much the same as that of a wolf. Both their teeth and their short and acidic digestive tract are indicative of an animal that is meant to hunt and kill prey, scavenge, and consume raw meat with few starches and carbohydrates. Now I know a lot of owners will think to themselves, “domesticated dogs have been around for thousands of years, there is no way they are still like wild dogs or wolves”. The truth is that although we have changed their appearance over thousands of years, evolution often takes HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of years to truly change an organism, and therefore a dogs dietary needs really are like that of a wolf’s.
Essentially, what this means is that dogs are best suited with a diet of meat, bones, organs, and the occasional fruit and veggies. Fruits and veggies are often gleaned from the stomach content of their prey, as dogs do not have the ability to digest the cellulose wall of many plants and thus need it predigested or juiced in order to be able to assimilate it and gain nutrients.
The same is true of cats, but to a greater degree, as cats are biologically obligate carnivores: “Cats evolved to meet their nutritional needs through the consumption of animal tissue rather than plant-based proteins such as grains, which make up the majority of ingredients found in commercial cat foods today.” This means that cats have zero nutritional need for grains, and very little if any of veggies and fruit.
Carnivora, one of my favorite Canadian raw pet food companies explains it best:
“When wolves or wild cats catch their dinner, they eat the soft tissue first, the lungs, spleen, heart, kidneys, and intestines. During follow-up meals at the kill site, they will continue eating the animal’s muscles, hide and bones. The stools from these meals contain mostly hair wrapped bone fragments. By the end of the feast there will be few leftovers, maybe a jawbone or hoof.
Even though dogs and cats are domesticated, we must respect the fact that they are still carnivores with strong carnivorous instincts, and a palate that is suited to eating primarily flesh. Beneath the purring and wagging tails lives a wolf and a wildcat, and although domestic companions may not have the survival instincts of their wild equivalents, they still have the dietary needs of a predator and scavenger.”
Based on this principle, raw food naturally advocates rotational feeding as hunters and scavengers would be exposed to a variety of different foods based on what they could hunt or find. In this way the variety leads to a balanced diet. Additionally, because raw food is by definition uncooked, all the wonderful nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, oils and so on are naturally intact and available to your pet in pure form. A proper raw food requires little to no supplementation or addition of nutrients after the fact.
I can personally vouch for the wonderfulness that is raw food. I’ve fed a raw diet to my two cats since I brought them home at 8 weeks old. They are happy, healthy, and fit. Their coats are shiny, their weight is perfect (a lot of cats actually gain weight due to all the carbs in kibble diets) and their litter box has zero smell. Their litter box is actually one of the reasons that I LOVE feeding raw. As soon as I switch to a kibble when my husband and I go away for a weekend and leave them with their automated feeder, we get back to a stinky litter box with a large amount of waste. In two days their litter box goes from unnoticeable in our small condo, to smelling up the entire place! Because there are so many fillers in kibble, often to hold it together, and many of the ingredients are indigestible, waste volume and smell increases on any kibble diet. As soon as we return from our weekend away, I switch them back to their raw and the smell subsides in about a day.
And really when you think about it, this all makes perfect sense. How do we feel after a diet full of frozen microwaveable dinner, fast food, and over-processed junk? Lethargic, sluggish, and generally unhealthy. It’s amazing the difference a good diet can make in terms of our vibrancy and health – and the same is true for our pets!
There is SO much more I could write about as there is so much literature, information, and debate about pet food diets. I think I have provided a good framework for those that are interested in learning about biologically appropriate diets for their pet, and hopefully I have enlightened some about the potential problems with kibble diets. In the future I will write some posts on some more specific issues such as the importance of feeding raw bones, the incidence and prevention of certain ailments, and so on.
For those interested in raw dog or cat food here are a few links. Some people do put together their own combinations with help from a local butcher, as it’s often a bit cheaper than buying from a pet specialty store. Just make sure to do your reading first as your pet needs meat, bone, and organ (and perhaps some veggies and fruit if you are feeding a dog), and in certain percentages in order for it to be balanced. A good rule of thumb is to think about the anatomy of a chicken carcass. There you find probably about 80% meat, 10% bone, and 10% organs. Too much bone can cause constipation, while too much organ can lead to loose stool!