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!
Cat Litter is Cat Litter – What’s the Big Deal?
Sodium Bentonite and Crystalline Silica Dust – that’s the big deal!
Clumping cat litters hold great appeal for cat-lovers because they are so convenient. However many pet-owners don’t realize these two ingredients in most clumping cat litters have been implicated in diseases and even deaths in animals and humans.
Sodium bentonite is often added as a clumping agent to traditional cat litters to create “scoopable” clay litters like Tidy Cats. Sodium bentonite acts like an expandable cement, which is why these litters should not be flushed – they swell to 15 to 18 times their dry size. It is also used in grouting, sealing, and plugging materials.
Cats often lick themselves after using the litter box, ingesting pieces of the litter, which expands just as it does in the plumbing. Also, the dust from such litters can coat cats’ lungs, leading to respiratory problems. The HennepinCenter for Poison Control in Minnesota has reported instances of poisoning in humans from chronic ingestion of sodium bentonite, so just imagine what effect it can have on our kitties who breathe it multiple times a day!
Crystalline silica dust, the other ingredient in most clumping litters, is a known carcinogen for both humans and household pets when inhaled. According to OSHA.gov, “Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal. The silica dust enters the lungs and causes the formation of scar tissue, thus reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.”
Clumping clay kitty litters may be related to a wide variety of seemingly unrelated cat health problems, included diarrhea, frothy yellow vomiting, mega-bowel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney problems, respiratory problems, general failure to thrive, anemia, lethargy, and even death.
How does clumping litter affect our pets?
- Cats inhale dust from clay litter, or ingest it while cleaning their feet. Kittens, being curious creatures, sometimes eat litter, as do dogs who like the little “treats” kitties leave for them.
- When combined with natural and ingested liquids, the powerful clumping abilities of sodium bentonite cause the ingested clay dust and particles to form a solid mass in the intestine or stomach.
- Inhaled particles could cause similar problems in the moist climate of the lungs.
- The “clumping activity” in the intestines could draw fluid out of the body, causing dehydration, and possible eventual urinary tract problems.
- The clumping substance coats the digestive tract, attracting the collection of old fecal material, increasing toxicity, bacteria growth and prohibiting proper assimilation of digested food. This can lead to stress on the immune system, leaving the animal susceptible to viral, bacterial, parasitic and yeast infections.
- The problems can also extend to dogs who sometimes are inexplicably drawn to “litter box snacks.”
Oh, and if you care about the environment, read on….. Clay is strip mined for use in cat litters. This not only damages the environment in the same way any strip mining does, but clay is also not biodegradable. Natural cat litters are made from materials such as wheat, corn, walnut shells, pine and recycled newspaper. All are by-products of products we already use and are biodegradable.
Our advice: switch your cat litter to one made from a plant-based material – it’s better for your pet, for you, and for the environment. Some options for all-natural, healthier cat litter products sold at PetMAC are listed below. All are clumping and scoopable.
All-Natural Litters We Carry:
Naturally Fresh by Blue – made from walnut shells (ask about their Frequent Buyer Program!)
Nature’s Miracle – made from corn cob
World’s Best Cat Litter – made from corn kernels (ask about their Frequent Buyer Program!)
Swheat Scoop – made from wheat
Feline Fresh – made from pine
Dr. Elsey’s Litter Attractant – the herbal ingredient in Cat Attract – can be used with other non or low-scented litters
Clumping Clay Litters We Carry:
Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract – while it is a traditional clumping litter, it has been very beneficial for cats who have litterbox issues and is 99% dust free
Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat – a traditional clay litter I brought in by request…. At least it has less silica dust than grocery store cat litters
Hey Folks! We are going to start running specials which will be announced through our Facebook Page. We want to be sure that you are receiving all of our posts so you don’t miss out on these posts. When you “Like” us, please make sure to also click “Get Notifications”. This will ensure that you get notified of any new posts we make. You can click the picture for instructions. Also, please make sure to share this on your page so your cat and dog loving friends can “Like” our page and get in on the savings too! Thank you and see you soon!
Click here for Facebook
City Dogs will hold dog adoption events from 12-2 every second Sunday of the month. Please check the City Dogs Web site to confirm. They have some wonderful dogs looking for permanent forever homes.
What should I feed my pet?
Most likely your pet has come from a shelter where he was eating a low-quality donated food. Sadly, many of the animals we rescue have poor feeding histories – many having had to eat scraps, garbage and poor quality food. A bad diet can affect your pet’s health, energy and outlook on life (both in the short and long term). So this is your chance to start your pet out on a positive, healthy path for the rest of his life.
“We are what we eat”, so they say. Healthy eating makes for a long and healthy life. And a good diet can (literally) save you thousands of dollars in vet bills. Most commercial pet foods have effective marketing campaigns designed to make you believe that their foods are good quality, but most are not. Even the more expensive commercial foods can/do contain ingredients that can be harmful to your pet on a number of levels. Foods containing any kind of by-products, chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, or inferior ingredients such as wheat and corn gluten, which are cheap sources of protein, can harm your pet by not providing the healthy nutrition he/she needs. Many animals have grain allergies that are never properly diagnosed – and yet grains are found in most commercial foods.
Many people say, “But my dog lived till he was 15 on XYZ Commercial food.” Yes, that is true, and some of us could live long lives eating McDonald’s. However, our doctor bills would be higher, our energy levels lower and our medical issues more numerous. The same goes for your pet. Why not do better for your pet?
Benefits to feeding natural foods include: reduction/elimination of common allergies (often caused by foods but not always diagnosed by vets); reduction in inflammation of joints; stronger/healthier digestive tracts; cleaner/healthier teeth; decreased infections of ears and mouth; less shedding; smaller/firmer stools and a happier, healthier pet!!!
Also consider that the USDA does not regulate the quality of ingredients that go into commercial pet food. 4-D animals (dead, dying, diseased and down) animals can be used in your pet’s food with no restrictions. And many commercial pet food companies use such animals to save money. Do you want your pet eating diseased or badly-handled meat? All-natural and organic foods are strictly regulated and must meet standards of care and feeding for the animals that go into such foods. These regulations not only dictate a safer, healthier food for your pet, but also more humane treatment of the animals that go into the food.
Should I feed dry kibble or canned food?
Generally, canned food is healthier for your pet, as it is less-processed and closer to their natural diet. Cats evolved in the desert and do not have a well-developed thirst mechanism like people and dogs do, so often don’t drink enough water. The lack of moisture in their diet can contribute to urinary problems, kidney problems and crystals. For these reasons, canned food for cats is a must for good health, either instead of or in addition to dry food. Contrary to what most folks have been told about the benefits of kibble (scraping of teeth to clean tartar), vets today are actually finding that a canned or soft diet is healthier for teeth and gums (especially when used in conjunction with strong chewing objects like bones.) The carbohydrates in kibble get caught between their teeth much like crackers do in human teeth. If we’re not diligent and brush their teeth every day, then the carbs turn to sugars, then tartar, ultimately causing gum disease and producing bacteria that can damage the heart. Using kibble is still quite common, as most people have schedules that limit the time they spend preparing their pet’s food. And so using a high-quality, all-natural kibble in conjunction with canned food is certainly acceptable. Be sure to consider brushing your pet’s teeth and/or providing hard, safe objects for them to chew on. We will be happy to make suggestions on specific foods, toothpaste and safe chewing objects for your pet. Beware of bones that could splinter easily – always give them under supervision. Raw marrow bones provide safe chewing (they are softer and don’t splinter) and offer hours of entertainment for the dog working the marrow out!
What is the BARF Diet?
BARF stands for Bones and Raw Food. This diet most closely emulates what your pet would eat in the wild. Pure raw food with no additives, preservatives or harmful by-products makes the BARF diet a fantastic choice, and pets love it. You can purchase raw food in a variety of forms: frozen in patties and nuggets; dehydrated (you add water); or you can purchase human food at your local grocery store and cook for your pet. At PetMAC, we sell raw foods in both the frozen and dehydrated forms. You can feed these exclusively, or in conjunction with a canned or kibble diet if necessary.
My pet is overweight – should I switch him to a Light food?
Unless your pet has some medical reason for needing a lower protein food, then there is no reason to put them on a Light diet. Most Light or Weight Management foods simply reduce the protein and fat, therefore increasing the carbohydrates. Dogs and cats (especially cats) are not designed to get their nutrients from carbs, and carbs make us ALL fat! The best option is to keep him/her on a regular adult diet and adjust the serving size as necessary. Feeding a canned food also helps with weight control as the water in the canned food helps to fill him/her up faster with fewer calories. Also consider feeding your pet several small meals throughout the day and supplement with healthy snacks (fruits and vegetables or dried meat treats, as opposed to carb-heavy biscuits.) A lot of dietary tricks that work for people also work for pets. We have had success with some of the high-protein, low-carb weight management foods, such as EVO Weight Management.
What is the best food for my senior pet?
As with Light foods, most Senior foods have lower protein and fat and higher carbohydrates. If your pet has no medical reason to need low protein and fat, then it’s best to leave him or her on a regular adult diet and modify the portion as necessary. Some older pets can benefit from Glucosamine and/or Chondroitin to prevent or treat arthritis. We recommend feeding this via a treat or supplement, as Senior foods don’t list how much G/C is actually in the food as fed. Older pets need a very healthy diet, and getting the by-products and additives out of your dog’s system will only help to make him healthier. It’s never too late to switch your pet to a healthier diet!
Where Can I Learn More?
www.dogaware.com – A great website to check out for comprehensive information on many foods, health issues, supplements and other important tidbits on animal health and diet.
pets.webmd.com/features/pet-nutrition – excellent website giving a quick overview of what dogs and cats need and don’t need.
www.catinfo.org – a great resource for cat nutrition and health.
pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/K9Nutrition/ – a great listserv for people wanting to learn more about dog health and nutrition, and for sharing ideas on feeding and supplements for daily use and for special needs, such as puppies, seniors, and dogs with specific medical conditions.
www.whole-dog-journal.com – excellent magazine, kind of the Consumer Reports for pets!
www.animalwellnessmagazine.com – excellent magazine!
b-naturals.com/newsletters – interesting list of articles about all aspects of pet health
What’s Really in Pet Food – by the Animal Protection Institute (Now Born Free USA) (http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359)
Selecting a Commercial Pet Food – by Animal Protection Institute (Now Born Free USA) (http://www.bornfreeusa.org/articles.php?p=361&more=1)
What to look for:
Whole, named meat sources: chicken, salmon, turkey, beef, lamb, venison. You know what you’re getting and they are good quality, human-grade meats – not by-products.
More protein than carbs: Dogs and cats are meat-eaters. They are NOT designed to have a diet full of carbs and grains. Dogs can tolerate more carbs than cats, who are obligate carnivores and have little to no need for carbs. Ideally, at least 2 of the first 3 ingredients should be a named protein (fresh or meal).
Whole Grains, Vegetables, and Fruits: Foods are meant to be consumed as nature intended. Breaking them up alters how they are digested and used by the body. The less processed they are going into the mixture, the more likely they are to retain their nutrients.
A Good Reputation: Just like with human-food, you want to look for a company that not only makes a good quality food, but is an honorable company that has the animals’ best interest in mind. Smaller companies are able to maintain better quality control and are more likely to use better quality ingredients. Mass-produced “anything” is never as good as those made by small, specialty companies.
What to watch out for:
Unnamed meat sources: i.e. poultry instead of chicken, meat instead of beef – You don’t know what kind of meat it is or how it has been handled.
Meat By-Products: These are ingredients that are not fit for human consumption. Therefore, there is no guarantee of what they are or how they have been handled. Ingredients called the 4Ds: dead, diseased, dying, downed, are not allowed in human food but are allowed in pet food – and can be found in the cheap, lesser quality pet foods.
Grain By-Products: Products like brewer’s rice and wheat bran are left-over by-products from other food manufacturing processes. They are cheap sources of protein that make the protein levels look good on paper, but do not provide the meat-based protein that dogs and cats need. Look for whole grains like brown rice or barley, or better yet, no grains!
Too many carbs: Ideally, at least 2 of the top 3 ingredients should be named protein sources; i.e. chicken, chicken meal, deboned chicken. Plant proteins are a cheap source of protein. While they may make the protein level look good on the label, they are not as beneficial to animals as meat proteins. Additionally, an over abundance of carbs in the diet increases the risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Fractionated grains – the sum of the parts is larger than you might think: For example, instead of putting “whole brown rice,” they may put “rice bran” and “rice flour,” each weighing less than the first ingredient, but the sum of the two would weigh more. Using whole grain ingredients is not only healthier, but it also offers a more accurate accounting of the ingredients used and their true proportions.
Fresh vs. meal – the trick: Ingredients are listed by weight, so you may look at an ingredient list and see: “chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal” (Purina One Adult for Cats), and think “Chicken is the first ingredient, so that must be good.” The problem: 80% of the weight in fresh chicken is water. Once it is cooked and the water is removed, the chicken now doesn’t weigh as much and falls farther down the list of ingredients, so essentially, your ingredient list by weight is more like: “brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry by-product meal, chicken” – not so good!
Unnecessary Chemicals: Chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin can potentially cause cancer, create a weakened immune system and speed aging. Farmers use ethoxyquin as an insecticide in their fields and are required to wear mask and gloves to handle! Propylene glycol is used to help keep foods moist (think the Bits in Kibble ‘n Bits) and add sweetness, yet it is a less-toxic version of antifreeze! Also steer clear of artificial colorings – who cares if the food is a natural brown or an artificially dyed red (think Beneful)? If the food is made from actual meat instead of corn, wheat or other non-meat products, artificial flavorings are unnecessary because it will taste good naturally!
DID YOU KNOW?
- Vets get little to no training on nutrition? Companies like Hills, Iams and Purina provide books, food and sponsorships to vet students and have a huge presence at veterinary conferences. Unless they search it out on their own, most traditional vets simply buy-in to these large companies’ mantra. For an alternative, consult a holistic vet, look for a vet who understands how good (or bad!) nutrition can affect an animals’ overall health, ask an educated staff member at your local independent pet supply shop (like PetMAC!!), or do some independent research on the internet (see suggested reading at the end).
- AAFCO “complete and balanced” markings on bags of pet food are based on the assumption that dogs are omnivores and can be sustained on plant and vegetable matter – but that is not the case. Dogs, and cats more so, NEED MEAT PROTEIN! Additionally, feeding trials determine the minimum standards necessary for the average dog or cat. Since there is no “average dog or cat,” some may do fine on the food for a while, but others may need additional protein, nutrients, etc. Just like each human is different in what we need to make us healthy, the same is true for our pets. Be a critical thinker. Observe your dog or cat and make adjustments as necessary.
- A dry coat, flaky skin and/or excessive shedding could be a sign of a nutritional deficiency. The life-critical systems use the nutrients first and if there are any left over, the skin and coat get them. Salmon or fish oil is an excellent supplement for any dog because it is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to the heart and immune system (just like for us!)
Just a few of my favorite magazines and books to get you started!