By Dr. Becker
I was recently made aware of a new type of pet food on the market: "raw kibble." This product, available for both cats and dogs, is actually a blend of grain-free kibble and chunks of freeze-dried raw meat.
According to PetfoodIndustry.com, the new combination formulas are being marketed as an answer for pet owners who want grain-free and raw diets for their animals, but who find frozen pet food does not "work with their lifestyle."
Hmm. I hope this is not an attempt to convince pet owners they can provide the benefits of raw, species-appropriate nutrition from a convenient bag of kibble.
I'm also concerned about pet owners' interpretation of "grain-free" when it comes to kibble.
Pet food ingredients can't be turned into kibble without some type of starch included in the mix. So a kibble that is "grain-free" is not starch or carbohydrate free – it just doesn't contain grain as a starch or carbohydrate.
Grain-free Does NOT Mean Carb-free or Starch-free
In the case of the new "raw kibble" blend for dogs, the second listed ingredient is tapioca. Tapioca seems to be taking the place of grain-based fillers in many pet food formulas of late.
Tapioca is used commercially in pearl, pellet and flour form. As flour, it can be used to make bread and thicken desserts. It mixes well in cold water, turns to gel/paste at 125°F to 150°F, and becomes more gelatinous the higher the cooking temp and length of cooking time.
In the extrusion process used to create dry pet food, tapioca expands extremely well – up to two to three times that of rice.
Tapioca is a starch. In certain regions of the world, including the U.S., tapioca is primarily associated with a flavor of pudding. But in many other countries, it is considered a staple carbohydrate in the diet. On a dry basis, tapioca contains insignificant amounts of protein, ash, fat, and fiber, and not much sugar. It is essentially a pure carbohydrate.
The plant that produces tapioca is known by a variety of names, including cassava. The leaves, stems and skin of the cassava plant contain cyanogenic glucosides which can produce cyanide effects. These effects include development of goiter, pancreatitis, paralysis and death in both people and companion animals. The cassava plant must be properly processed to eliminate these effects.
As kibble binding agents go, tapioca is less problematic than many others. But it isn't nutritious for dogs and cats. And keep in mind it's number two on the ingredient list, which means there's lots of it in the mixture.
Additional Observations About the Ingredient List
The sixth ingredient on the list is sun-cured alfalfa meal ("sun-cured" simply means it was cut and left in the sun to dry). Alfalfa is a member of the hay family more commonly included in horse and cattle feed than dog food. It contains plant (not animal) protein and a lot of fiber (25 percent). I'm not sure why this ingredient is in there at number six, but I suspect it's to boost the overall percentage of protein in the food.
The freeze-dried raw meats included in the "raw kibble" blend show up on the ingredient list at items 9 through 12. Obviously, kibble represents a much greater portion of the formula than raw meat.
Unadulterated Raw Meat vs. HPP and Freeze-Dried Raw Meat
The raw meat in this pet food has undergone high pressure pasteurization (HPP) to sterilize it. Raw food enthusiasts maintain that food handled in this manner is no longer truly raw and shouldn't be marketed as such.
In addition to the high pressure pasteurization, the meat has also been freeze-dried, which is yet another process.
Freeze-drying removes the moisture from food, which extends its shelf-life. Sterilized, freeze-dried meat is the only kind of meat that could be combined with a kibble mixture. Clearly there's no safe way to add unadulterated raw meat to a bag of kibble that might be stored at room temperature or higher for up to a year or more.
So the "raw" meat in this formula has actually been processed in two different ways.
Diets Lacking in Moisture Are Not Species-Appropriate for Dogs and Cats
One of the main problems with all kibble is lack of moisture, and adding freeze-dried chunks of meat to the mix is hardly a solution.
Carnivorous dogs and cats were designed to consume moisture-rich foods. Unadulterated raw foods are about 70 percent moisture. Compare that with dry pet food, which is only around 12 percent moisture.
Your pet's body has evolved to consume a diet rich in moisture. When raw pet food ingredients are turned into kibble, several strange things happen, but the most detrimental is that the food becomes too dry.
Feeding kibble requires that your pet's body provide sufficient moisture to reconstitute the food in the digestive tract. Although an animal's body will make a noble effort to consume extra water to compensate, most pets and certainly most cats simply can't make up the difference.
The Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that owners feed cats a diet of primarily canned or raw food instead of dry food for this very reason. A lifetime of minor dehydration is stressful to multiple organ systems and can easily be avoided by feeding foods that have not been dehydrated, dried, kibbled, or extruded.
Kibble is Kibble is Kibble
Having said all the above, I should probably point out that as dry pet foods go, this new blend of grain-free kibble and freeze-dried raw meat is far from a terrible formula. Certainly there are many worse products on the market.
The important things to know about this new formula are:
- It's primarily kibble, and therefore lacking in moisture content.
- It doesn't contain grains, but it does contain tapioca – pure carbohydrate – as the second ingredient.
- It contains very little "raw" food and the raw meat it does contain has been both high pressure pasteurized and freeze-dried.
If you want to feed your healthy dog or cat balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, kibble is the first thing to avoid. Your best bet is to either make homemade pet food in your own kitchen (from balanced recipes only, of course), or provide your dog or cat with a high quality, commercially available, balanced raw diet.