Knowing where pet foods are manufactured may offer worried pet owners the opportunity to make informed purchases.
According to PetFoodIndustry.com:
“… Senator Dick Durbin, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee overseeing food safety, called for a hearing on the recall of these tainted petfood products and said that while it is not realistic to stop importing from countries like China, additional inspections may be one option for increased safety. Nearly all vitamins and minerals for human and pet consumption are imported to the US from China, according to Tiffany Bierer, health, sciences and nutrition manager at Mars Petcare US.”
Another option an increasing number of pet owners are considering is making their pet’s food at home from ingredients they select. People who choose this route do so to improve the health and longevity of their pets, or because they want their companion animals to eat the same quality of food they do.
However, according to veterinarians and pet food producers, it can be more difficult than pet owners realize to create homemade pet food recipes containing all the essential nutrients an animal requires.
“Experts say that pet owners must be very careful. If pets are not fed the correct balance of proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins, according to clinical nutritionist Joseph J. Wakshlag with the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University, they can experience several health disorders, including anemia, broken bones and loss of teeth from lack of calcium.”
I think it’s wonderful more and more pet owners are looking for alternatives to low quality, highly processed dog and cat foods.
Not only are commercially available pet foods being recalled for contamination at an alarming rate, but -- as regular readers of this newsletter know – most affordable formulas on the market are not species-appropriate for your dog or cat.
If You’re Ready to Take the Plunge …
If you’re thinking about upgrading your pet’s diet to meals you prepare at home, I applaud you!
However, I must also reinforce what Joseph Wakshlag of Cornell University said above about being very careful to serve balanced nutrition to your dog or cat. It’s not as simple as dropping some meat into your pet’s bowl and calling it a day.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned pet owners do exactly that. I see more than my share of nutrient-deficient dogs and cats with diet-related health conditions.
The good news is there is lots of information available on how to prepare a balanced, nutritious diet for your dog or cat, including my book, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. Some of the information out there is excellent, but much of it, in my opinion, is lacking when it comes to guidance about balanced nutrition, including using supplements as necessary. In fact, that’s what drove me to co-author the Real Food cookbook.
I strongly recommend you also work with a holistic veterinarian with expertise in pet nutrition to create a diet that meets the specific nutritional needs of your pet.
As a starting point, you should keep the following general ‘rules of the road’ in mind as you travel the path toward serving more nutritious, species-appropriate food to your furry four-legged companion.
Rule #1: The Quality of the Protein in Your Pet’s Food is Key
Canines and felines are carnivores designed by nature to thrive on diets containing mostly protein, fat, moisture and little, if any, grains or other carbohydrates.
Because protein is the primary biological dietary requirement of dogs and cats, the quality of the protein source is extremely important. Where the protein comes from determines its value to your pet’s body.
The best protein for dogs and cats is human grade animal protein from a whole food source like beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, etc. Better still is meat that is free-range or pasture-raised and isn’t full of hormones and antibiotics.
The protein in most reasonably-priced pet food formulas is derived from crude, rendered or non-meat sources. The digestibility/absorbability of low grade protein sources is questionable at best. This means your pet’s body won’t get optimal nutritional benefit from the protein in the majority of commercially available pet foods.
Rule #2: Grains Should Not Be a Part of Your Pet’s Diet
If you went out into nature and analyzed the poop of wild canines and felines (not that I’m suggesting you do so!), you’d discover the only carbohydrate-rich foods your pet’s wild counterparts ingest are those that have been pre-digested by prey animals.
Your dog’s or cat’s body isn’t designed to handle large quantities of ‘fresh’ grains or seeds (those that haven’t been predigested by a prey animal), yet commercial pet foods – especially kibble formulas – are often loaded with grains.
Grains are added to pet food because they’re cheaper than meat and hold the kibbled bits together. They aren’t added for the sake of proper nutrition for your meat-eating pet.
Feeding large amounts of grains to your carnivorous dog or cat can have long-term metabolic consequences. (The same is true for many people.)
Whenever you feed your dog or cat food ingredients he doesn’t have a biological need for, his body has to work harder than it should to digest and process the foreign elements in his diet.
Over time, the ongoing ingestion of food that is not species-appropriate can create illness and dysfunction in your pet’s body, particularly in the form of chronic, unchecked inflammation.
It’s important to understand that just because your pet is gobbling up a low-quality pet food and seems healthy today, doesn’t mean she’s well-nourished at the cellular level. Many diet-related diseases don’t show themselves immediately. It often takes months or years of substandard nutrition for full-blown illness to develop in a pet.
Rule #3: Dietary Fat Is Essential for Your Pet’s Health
When it comes to your dog’s or cat’s nutrition, dietary fat is not the enemy. Humans need to worry about ‘good fat’ and ‘bad fat’ – except in certain specific circumstances, your pet does not.
Dietary fats don’t act the same way in your pet’s body as they do in yours. Too much fat in a human diet is linked to high blood cholesterol levels, thickening of the arteries, heart disease and stroke.
Your dog’s or cat’s body processes fat from food entirely differently than yours does. Fat delivers fuel for energy, vitamins and fatty acids essential for your pet’s health.
The best source of fat for both dogs and cats is from animals. Dogs can use some fats from plant sources, if necessary, but cats cannot. All their dietary fat must come from animal sources.
This also means there is an optimal balance of essential fats in a carnivore’s diet. A diet too high in Omega 6 fatty acids causes additional inflammation. An appropriate balance of Omega 3 to 6 fatty acids reduces inflammation.
The ancestral diet of canines and felines in the wild averaged about 20 percent of calories from fat. Homemade pet food recipes should include that amount of animal fat content as well. As with all mammals, fats can also be overdone. Too much fat or fatty acids can cause a host of systemic problems.
The sources of fat should be healthy (there’s a big difference between the fat in processed lard containing toxic preservatives and the fat found in wild caught salmon). Rendered, oxidized, processed and trans-fats and fatty acids are toxic to anything that eats them.
Rule #4: Limit Carbohydrates to Veggies and a Bit of Fruit
The goal with fruits and vegetables in your pet’s diet is to mimic as closely as possible the stomach contents of prey animals your dog or cat would eat if she lived in the wild.
The produce you select should be low in calories or low on the glycemic index, and the more color the better. Certain veggies can be fed raw; others, like sweet potatoes and hard squashes are more easily digested when cooked. Frozen vegetables can be a good choice; canned are less nutritious.
I recommend pureeing vegetables and fruits to improve digestibility and absorbability. Again, the goal is to mimic the pre-digested stomach contents of the prey animals your pet would eat in the wild.
Rule #5: Certain Supplements Are Essential for Nutritional Balance
The fresh food you feed your pet will provide most but not all of the nutrients your companion requires.
Modern farming practices deplete some of the nutrition your dog’s or cat’s body requires to function efficiently.
In my experience, essential supplementation to the diets of most pets must include:
- Bone replacement
- Fatty acids
- Vitamins and minerals
Pet meals that use boneless meats require bone supplementation for proper calcium and phosphorus balance.
Mineral supplementation is necessary because the soil our food is grown in is depleted of minerals, and also because you won’t be feeding blood or certain organs that are rich sources of minerals.
Supplements I view as non-essential, but of great value for most pets include:
- Digestive enzymes
- Glandular products
- Super green foods
Again, if you’re a pet owner considering switching your dog or cat to a homemade diet you prepare in your own kitchen, the above five ‘rules of the road’ should give you a good idea of what it means to feed truly balanced nutrition to your companion animal.
If You’re NOT Ready to Take the Plunge …
My recommendation for those of you who aren’t sure you have the time or other resources necessary to prepare your pet’s meals at home, is to feed a commercial, complete pet food of the highest quality you can afford. Do not feed an unbalanced homemade diet.
There are pet food companies out there doing things the right way. In fact, in response to growing concerns about the integrity of its product ingredients, at least one high end pet food manufacturer now insists on vendor pledges from its ingredient suppliers.
Each supplier must formally declare on an annual basis it is meeting the rigorous quality criteria set up by the pet food company.
Unfortunately, the highest quality pet food comes with the highest price tag as well.
Affordability is another reason pet owners are looking into homemade diets for their four-legged family members. In Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, in addition to recipes that can be served raw or cooked, we offer tips on how to stretch your dollar when buying meat, produce and supplements for homemade pet meals.
Whether you prepare homemade food for your pet or feed a commercial diet, species-appropriateness and nutritional balance is the goal.