The pet food industry has been remarkably successful in marketing its products and for many of us, it is difficult to distinguish truths from myths. From targeting the veterinary medical providers to multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to funding pet food nutritional research, pet food has grown into a global multi-billion dollar business. It is worthwhile to ask whether our dogs and cats are any healthier than they were when subsisting on scraps and food foraged for their selves. Many holistic pet health experts believe that they are not – in fact, many would argue that since the advent of commercially produced pet foods, there has been an astonishing increase in a wide range of pet health issues including food intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, chronic ear infections, bladder infections, pancreatitis, bladder and kidney stones, cancer.
The reliance on dry pet food as the single source of nutrition is particularly troubling. To produce a product that is intended to remain “fresh” for up to a year and a half, the manufacturing process involves intensive heat application. Much of the nutrition in the ingredients is compromised at this time. Because of that, pet food companies add synthetic vitamin and mineral mixes to their food so that food can be considered “complete”. As well, dry pet food has no natural enzymes or bacteria and this reduces the ability of the body to develop a healthy digestive track. Because of this, pet food research focused on how to make that food attractive to the pet while also digestible. In cheaper varieties, dry kibble is often sprayed with fats or blood to make it appealing to a pet’s nose. Dry cat food is a particular problem for felines, who, as true carnivores, were genetically engineered to derive most of their moisture from their food.
Being fed the same food day in, day out, year in, year out, is not a healthy plan for any living creature. Cats and dogs thrive on variety in their diet. Imagine eating the same meal every day? You would never receive any variation in your consumption of vitamins and minerals! Just like us, pets have unique dietary needs. These vary from species to species, and within species, including within breeds. There is no such thing as the perfect food for every single cat or dog.
As we have bred these creatures to be our companions, they have stayed true to their own natural needs. The advent of processed food has not come as a result of changes to their nutritional requirements. The internal constitution of dogs and cats has pretty much remained unsullied throughout the millenniums.
Choosing a food that helps your pet thrive might take some work. The first rule is to scrutinize to the ingredient list – the fancy packaging is to catch your eye. The picture and the information on the front of the package are advertising! Try to stay away from foods that contain ingredients you do not understand, or any that contain by-products, wheat, corn or unnamed meat sources. Remember also that variety really is the spice of life.
Cats and dogs flourish on real food but if you are not feeding a completely real food diet, add some into your pet’s mealtime. Canned wild fish like sardines (low levels of mercury and lead) supply omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that are good for the skin and coat. And few foods can beat the nutritional impact of eggs, with their combination of high-quality protein and fat along with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Yogurt is a natural source of probiotics (stick to low-fat or plain yogurt where the second ingredient is “active bacterial culture”). Vegetables and fruits, particularly berries which are rich in antioxidants and leafy green veggies instead of starchy foods such as grains, rice and potatoes increase the quality of your dog’s diet without adding significant calories. Healthy scraps such as meat and vegetables (and not fatty scraps which have little nutritional value and can lead to weight gain) can be added as well. When you are adding in real food to your pet’s regular diet, always remember to decrease the other food proportionately!
Nutrition for different life stages and ailments
There’s a wide array of dry foods out there. Should you buy foods that are breed-specific? Do you have to purchase foods at the veterinarian’s for specific ailments? It is a confusing dilemma because we all want to do right by our pets. There is no right answer for every single dog or cat. Our pets have unique dietary needs within life stages and throughout their lives. We cover some information on the differing foods in back issues of our newsletter. We also refer our customers to a great website by Mary Strauss who is internationally known as an animal nutritionist and came to the attention of the natural feeding community through her articles on nutrition for The Whole Dog Journal. Her website, dogaware.com, has excellent articles, background research studies as well as recipes for dogs who suffer from various health issues.
Variety is the spice of life!
We talk a lot at It’s Raining Cats and Dogs about variety in your pet’s diet. We think that variety is just good common sense!
Even within breeds, our pets have unique nutritional needs. While the quality and the ingredients in dry food have improved enormously over the past five to 10 years, it is hard to imagine that there might be a singular brand that would provide the perfect nutritional mix for every single cat or dog. It’s just common sense that animals who are always fed the same level of vitamins and minerals every day, every month, every year may develop a nutritional deficiency at some stage of life. If we ate the same thing day in, day out, we just wouldn’t get the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals we need either! For folk only feeding dry foods, holistic nutritionists suggest changing brands a minimum of three to four times a year. We suggest going even farther to provide variety. Think about different canned foods, table scraps, real food ingredients! For people who feed real food, raw or cooked diets, variety extends to different kinds of meat, different organ meats, fish and vegetable mixes. Every food product brings different nutritional mixes to your pet’s dish!
Did you know that in the United States alone, there are over 300 pet food manufacturers who produce more than 7 million tons of pet food? Pet food has now become one of the largest categories of packaged foods in the world. The next time you are in your grocery store, look down those aisles of cookies, cereals, munchies, soups, prepackaged mixes and think about what that means! This industry is a multi-billion dollar operation and produces the most processed food we can feed our pets. Read the ingredient panel on your dried or canned food. You will see at the end of the list a number of different vitamins and minerals. These have been added to your pet’s food to help make it “complete”. That’s because in order to achieve an 18 month shelf life for dried food products and a 3 to 5 year shelf life for canned food, the ingredients have to be heated at an extreme temperature and as a result, a lot of the nutrients found in those ingredients are compromised or destroyed. At the end of the day, it means that the bulk of our pet’s nutrition comes from the synthetically produced vitamin and mineral mixes which are sold to pet food manufacturers and mixed into the food at the end of the manufacturing process. It is also important to remember that if we are only feeding processed food, our pets are not getting access to live bacteria or enzymes, both of which feed and nurture a healthy digestive system.
So if you consider adding variety, we’d encourage real fresh food! Fresh food delivers vitamins and minerals from the source. And it’s easy to do. Organ meats now are often available in the freezer section of your grocery store. Canned sardines in water regularly go on sale. Plain yogurt or cottage cheese (without salt and where the second ingredient is an active bacterial culture) deliver healthy bacteria into your pet’s digestive tract. Eggs are a great protein source. There are also a number of real food diets commercially available for pets. We offer fresh food from Carnivora, Spring Meadows, Pets 4 Life, Farm Fresh and Happy Cat as well as freeze-dried mixes that can form the base of a home made diet. Check out their websites for some great information about feeding real foods!
Nutrition isn’t the only health determinate but eating a sensible, healthy and varied diet does contribute to good health. This rings as true for us as it is for our pets.
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