It doesn't take a genius to feed a dog, although that's what the pet food manufacturers would like you to believe! Pet food is a multi-billion dollar industry, and these companies will do anything to convince you that your pet literally can't live without their product. Even many vets are afraid to feed anything but kibble. They don't know any better - they are just repeating what they learned in school. But veterinary nutrition classes are very short, with limited curriculum, and mostly funded by pet food manufacturers. Obviously, these companies aren't going to discourage the use of their own product by revealing the full truth about animals' nutritional requirements.
Ask a senior citizen and they will likely remember feeding their dogs table scraps as their sole diet, and they got by just fine. Humans have been feeding their dogs that way for thousands of years. Less than 60 years ago, the use of commercial pet foods became widespread. Interestingly enough, around this same time, dogs and cats became plagued with new and unusual health problems. I don't see that as a mere coincidence.
If you know what the ingredients in pet food really are, it's no wonder it's making our pets ill! An excellent book on the subject of pet food ingredients is "Food Pets Die For" by Ann Martin. There is also an abundance of information online.
Points to ponder
Most large pet food manufacturers are divisions of the human food industry. These manufacturers are essentially the human food industry's dumpster. The following information is just a sample of what goes into pet foods.
Meat (if you can call it that): Usable parts of the animal are sent to be prepared for human consumption. We get boneless chicken breasts, cube steaks, pork chops, etcetera. The inedible and otherwise unusable leftovers, including diseased tissue, are sent off to rendering facilities where they will be processed into pet foods. Somewhere in between, these by-products are treated with potent chemicals to prevent them from reentering the human food chain.
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse! Most of us are aware of the huge pet overpopulation problem. Every year, millions of pets are destroyed in animal shelters. But where do those euthanized animals go? They are sent to those same rendering facilities where they are mixed in with all the other junk.
That's cats & dogs, roadkill, and condemned meats that are going into animal feed. Not only are our beloved pets eating this stuff, but it is also fed to the animals we are eating. Heard of Mad Cow Disease? It exists from the practice of feeding sheep meat (and even beef) back to cows. Cows are herbivores and shouldn't be eating any kind of meat, let alone it's own kind! Not only is it just plain disgusting, it's biologically inappropriate. Now imagine how this is effecting our pets. They are at least natural carnivores, but still, there is nothing natural about dogs eating dogs.
Yes, our cats & dogs are natural carnivores. So why is it then, that the food they are fed often consists of 80 or even 90% grains? Sure, the label may list meat as the first ingredient, but ingredients are measured by weight, not volume. If you measured out 1 pound of meat and 1 pound of grain, which do you think would have the greater volume? The grain, of course. Here is a common example: If you were to fill a house with kibble ingredients, the meat would fill one closet, the additives would fill a drinking glass, and the rest of the house would be filled with grain. It's another example of biologically inappropriate feeding.
Dogs and cats have no nutritional need for grains - they are designed to store carbohydrates from animal fat. Even pet food companies have admited that dogs & cats do not require grain carbohydrates! Modern grain does not exist in nature. Wild dogs and cats, and humans too, have been around alot longer than grains. Reseach shows that even people are consuming too much grain nowadays. Our carnivorous pets are most definitely eating too much of it.
So why do these pet food companies, who claim to care so much about your pet's well-being, put so much grain in their food? First of all, they need it to hold the food pellets together. You can't make cookies without flour! And, as the Whole Dog Journal points out, kibble must be at least 50% grain, otherwise the machinery gums up. Second of all, grain is cheap, Cheap, CHEAP! It's even cheaper for them, since they often use human grain rejects, even moldy grains and the floor sweepings from mills. Just think of the profit they are making by selling you overpriced bags of garbage!
What else is added to pet food? There are artificial colors, put in to make the food's appearance more pleasing to us. Obviously, our pets (with their limited color vision) couldn't care less what their food looks like.
There are artificial flavors, added to entice your animal to eat something it's instincts tell it not to.
There are preservatives added to keep the food fresh. These include BHA & BHT; both of which are considered hazardous chemicals in laboratories. Regulated amounts are still allowed in human food, however, the pet food industry gets away with adding much larger amounts of chemicals. Both are toxic to humans and animals and you should avoid pet foods with these preservatives altogether, and minimize your own intake of chemically preserved foods.
There are other preservatives added to pet foods. Ethoxyquin is hazardous enough to be banned for use in human food, yet it is still allowed in animal feed. If this stuff is dangerous to humans, can we honestly believe it is any less dangerous to animals, especially considering the fact that they are much smaller than we and they are getting far higher doses of the chemicals?
Proplyene Glycol is a common additive in semi-moist food and treats. It is also a component of antifreeze. The list goes on.
Perhaps you feel good about being able to feed your dog a "100% complete and balanced" meal every day. Well, you can wipe that smile off your face. There's no such thing as 100% complete and balanced. It's truely impossible. There are many factors involved in nutrition.
First of all, the food has to be digestible. An egg is a complete protein; the body can use every bit of it. Leather is just full of protein; but that protein cannot be assimilated by the body. Still, leather can legally be used in pet foods and listed as a meat by-product.
Secondly, pet foods only have to meet minimun standards. The food must contain just enough nutrition to keep the animal alive - not necessarily in optimal condition.
Third, all dogs are different. It is proven that different breeds have different nutritional needs. Some breeds require much higher amounts of certain minerals or special doses of fatty acids. This fact alone is enough to prove that it is impossible to provide a complete and balanced food fit for all breeds.
But there is another important reason "100% complete" cannot exist, especially when referring to processed pet foods. Heat and light destroy important enzymes, vitamins, and trace minerals. After all the processing that pet foods go through, it's a wonder that any nutrients survive. To make up for the loss, the manufacturer adds synthetic vitamins and minerals to the food. The bio-availability of these synthetic nutrients is questionable. And even if they were all digestible, how could it be complete? Aren't we hearing, now and then, of the discovery of "new" vitamins that play an important role in health? If those nutrients are lost in the processing, and not added back in later, the animal will likely start exhibiting signs of deficiency. Unfortunately, these signs aren't always noticed. And if they are, they might be ignored because they are so commonly seen. We, and even veterinarians, have come to accept our pets' low level of health as normal.
So what ya gonna do about it?
There are many ways to feed your pet. If, for some reason, you feel you have to feed a commercially prepared food, learn to read the labels and avoid chemical preservatives, nonspecific terms such as "meat & bone meal" (which could very well be cat, dog, or porcupine meat and bone), and any by-products.
Also look at the suggested serving sizes. If they expect a 60 pound dog to eat 7 or 8 cups of kibble each day, they're crazy. True, some dogs will eat until they burst, but that's often caused by the addictive flavors put in the food, and certain breeds just tend to be that way. On average, an active 60 pound dog will consume no more than 4 cups of dry food each day. Couch potatoes will eat about half as much. If the package says to feed a 60 pound dog 7 cups, then that is how much he needs to get the "complete & balanced" nutrition. If he eats less, he is going to be more deficient in required nutrients. But there's no way to feed a housepet such a large amount of food without them becoming obese.
You can also judge digestibility by the "end result." If more comes out of the dog than goes in, it's a sign of poor digestibility. The body is trying to rid itself of a "foreign" substance. Stool volume should only be about 25% of what goes into the dog. And no, it's not normal for it to smell bad enough to knock you over!
If you are willing to feed real food to your pet, you have many options. There are diet programs with all cooked food, all raw food, or a combination. Some include bones, some use other forms of calcium, some don't supplement at all. A few versions cost less, some cost more, many cost about the same as high quality kibble. You can make it as hard or as easy as you want to. Yes, all variations take longer to prepare than just opening a can or scooping food into a bowl, but not much longer if you are organized. And isn't you pet worth it?
Allow me to summarize for you the most common fresh foods diets...
If you can cook a healthy meal for yourself, you can feed a dog or cat. They eat whatever you do, as long as it's healthy. Meal examples would be stir-fries, cassaroles, stews, even spaghetti & meatballs.
Benefits: all you have to do is make enough dinner to feed another mouth. The animal gets a good variety of foods - and variety is the spice of life! Often, you will start eating healthier too, and enjoy the benefits.
Drawbacks: It might be expensive to share certain meals with more than one large dog. Dogs and cats require higher amounts of calcium than humans, so if this diet goes unsupplemented, they may develop a deficiency. Dogs and cats also have a different food pyramid than humans - it basically looks like ours upside down. So this diet may provide too much grain for some animals and not enough meat, especially for cats, who have a less adaptable digestive system than dogs. Still, we know that commercial foods are loaded with grain, so this diet is certainly no worse. In fact, it's better, since the animal is at least eating fresh, whole foods!
The Natural Diet
This is formulated much like dog food, with about 50/50 meat and grains. Most versions of the diet use bonemeal or another source of calcium, along with other essential supplements. Some have been tested for nutritional balance.
On the up side, this diet is good for people who prefer scientifically formulated nutrition. On the down side, it takes more work than any other type of home prepared diet.
The Natural Diet shouldn't cost much more than premium kibble, if you buy in bulk and take advantage of sales. If you prepare it ahead of time in batches, it doesn't take up alot of your time. However, if you have more than one large dog, you'll need enough freezer space to store the food.
The B.A.R.F. Diet
This is an amusing acronym for 'Bones and Raw Foods' or 'Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods.' There is no cooking involved, as the diet is based on raw meat with bones. The bones can be whole, chopped, or ground. Only soft, raw bones are used, as it is cooked bones that splinter, and as much as the dog loves chewing on a beef leg bone, he cannnot eat it and therefore it doesn't provide much calcium to his body.
If there is any worry about choking, simply use ground bones and there is absolutely no risk.
This diet is often cheaper than premium kibble, since it usually calls for inexpensive chicken parts, such as necks, backs, and wings. The rest of the diet is made up of vegetables that you put through a food processor, blender, juicer, or hand grinder. To that, you add fruits and a few supplements.
There is little to no grain, and, depending on which version you are following, no dairy, as these are both unnatural food groups. Dairy products are purely a product of mankind. There are no cheeses in the wild! Animals only consume milk when young, and they get it from their mothers - not another species. Many dogs and cats are unable to digest the lactose in milk products. Dairy is only fed to pets if they can tolerate it. Although unnatural, it does provide inexpensive protein.
The BARF diet is good for allergic pets, since it eliminates most allergy causing ingredients. It is fairly flexible, so you can choose ingredients and preparation methods according to your beliefs and your pet's needs.
A variety of fresh foods is a requirement for all life forms. If you were told that the only way you could survive was to eat the same overly processed food every day for the rest of your life, and weren't allowed anything else, you'd laugh... or scream. Either way, you know it's a ridiculous idea. So why accept it for your pets? Their bodies require just as much variety as ours. Think about it.
Copyright 2001 Tara Lamper
Original article written October 2000
Revised March 2001
Sources for more information
"Food Pets Die For" by Ann Martin
"Natural Food Recipes for a Healthy Dog" by Carol Boyle
"The Nature of Animal Healing" by Martin Goldstein, D.V.M.
"Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats" by Richard Pitcairn, D.V.M., Ph.D.
"The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat" by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
(Levy also has another book, "Cats Naturally" specifically for cat owners.)
"The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog" by Wendy Volhard & Kerry Brown, D.V.M.
"Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats" by Kymythy Schultze
"Give Your Dog a Bone" by Dr. Ian Billinghurst
"Reigning Cats and Dogs" by Pat McKay
"The Whole Dog Journal" monthly publication on natural dog care, 1-800-829-9165
Also available: "The Whole Cat Journal"
Read more about these books and/or buy them
Visit other informative websites