In fact, the trend is growing quickly enough that some farms, butchers and other retailers of fresh meats are offering cuts of meat and bones specifically for pets.
Fresh meat retailers are interested in promoting the sustainability of local and family farms. From a philosophical as well as a profitability standpoint, they want to use everything possible from the bodies of food animals.
Dickson's Farmstand [a NY retailer of meats for pets] offers an array of animal parts, such as blood from hearts, tongues and livers as well as slabs of New York strip. Some of the meat trimmings are also ground up into sausage.
The drawback? Cost.
Dickson's charges $10 for a 1.5 pound package of dog food. At another NY fresh meat retailer, a 2-ounce package of ready-to-eat dog food is $4.
Well now. This looks to me like a recipe that includes a generous helping of great news, a liberal sprinkling of bad news, and a dash of potential for disaster!
The really good news, of course, is the trend toward feeding fresh, human-grade meats to pets. No single thing can do more to improve the health, vitality and longevity of your precious dog or cat than feeding a species-appropriate diet, especially raw.
I'm also a huge advocate of locally-grown food and grass-fed, organic meats. These meats are much healthier than hormone and antibiotic laced meat from factory farms. The way an animal is raised determines its nutrient content and fatty acid profile as food for your pet (and you). Also, many free-range food animals live and eat as nature intended. They aren't raised in the inhumane, unhealthy conditions factory farmed animals endure.
The bad news here is the prohibitive cost for most pet owners of high-quality butcher shop meat. Especially in the current economy, many families can't afford to patronize butcher shops even to feed the human members of the household.
But how, you may wonder, can feeding fresh meat to your dog or cat carry the potential for catastrophe? (Hint: It has nothing to do with bacteria or parasites!)
Lack of Nutritional Balance
As regular readers here know, not only do I promote species-appropriate diets for dogs and cats, I'm also all about making sure your pet's diet is balanced. In fact, an unbalanced raw diet of high quality fresh meat is in my professional opinion a greater risk to your dog or cat than feeding a cheap processed pet food.
Commercially available pet food has to meet AAFCO standards for nutritional completeness, even if the quality, digestibility and species-appropriateness of ingredients are questionable.
In my practice I see a growing number of patients with skeletal issues, organ degeneration and endocrine abnormalities as a result of dietary deficiencies of essential fatty acids, calcium, trace minerals and other nutrients. Well-meaning pet parents are trying to feed species-appropriate food to their dogs and cats, but what they're missing is the need for nutritional balance.
Feeding your pet a hunk of meat isn't the same as if your dog or cat lived in the wild, hunting and eating her own prey.
Carnivores in the wild eat more than just the muscle meat of their prey. They eat the smaller bones, internal organs, blood, the brain, eyes, the tongue and a variety of other delicacies.
Nearly all the parts of a prey animal provide valuable nutrients for a canine or feline in the wild. When your dog or cat is fed just muscle meat, her diet is unbalanced and soon enough her health will be compromised.
This is, of course, exactly what most pet owners are trying to avoid by feeding raw, fresh meat.
How to Achieve Balance in a Homemade Pet Diet
If you're feeding your dog or cat a homemade diet raw or cooked, large or small prey based (or a combination), locally or factory farmed, I recommend you add certain selected foods and supplements for optimal nutritional balance.
For example, to mimic the gut contents of prey animals, I recommend adding a mixture of pureed vegetables and probiotics to your dog's or cat's meals. This mixture provides highly beneficial antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and phytonutrients not found in muscle meats.
In the pet food cookbook I co-wrote with Beth Taylor, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, we discuss the four main categories of balanced nutrition for pets. These are:
- Meat, including organs
- Veggie and fruit puree
- Homemade vitamin and mineral mix
- Beneficial additions such as probiotics, enzymes, super green foods that aren’t required to balance the diet, but can enhance the vitality of your pet
Our recipes for dogs are based on 75 percent meat/organs/bone and 25 percent vegetables/fruits. For cats it's 88 percent meat/organs/bone and 12 percent veggies. We've found these ratios work well for most healthy pets.
If You're Feeding a Commercial Diet to Your Pet ...
Feeding dogs and cats fresh, human-grade food is a growing trend. But many, many pet owners continue to purchase prepared food for their four-legged family members.
Some pet parents can't afford to feed a higher quality food; some don't have the time or other resources necessary to fix homemade pet meals. But the vast majority of dog and cat owners would feed the highest quality affordable food given the choice.
If you're just starting to investigate feeding a healthier diet to your furry companion, or if you're wondering how to upgrade your pet's food but your budget is limited, take a few minutes to review my video 13 Pet Foods – Ranked From Great to Disastrous.
For those of you who'd like some tips on what to look for (and what to avoid) on pet food shelves, take a look at my 2-part video series on how to shop smart for pet food.