Have We Surrendered the Health of Our Pets to Convenience Food?

convenience food for pets

Story at-a-glance

  • This week I’m helping to raise funds for an organization I co-founded called CANWI — the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute
  • The money we raise will be used to fund urgently needed, unbiased pet nutrition research on how processed versus fresh food affects the health and longevity of animal companions
  • The pet food industry has evolved to produce processed foods for pets that are certainly convenient, but potentially very costly in terms of the health and longevity of dogs and cats
  • Nothing will change about the quality of commercial pet food until studies are conducted that prove what so many of us already know about the benefits of fresh diets for dogs and cats
  • CANWI will receive no pet food research funding from big donors, the government or the pet food industry — all funding will come from pet parents

By Dr. Becker

Commercially prepared pet food in the U.S. has a relatively short (around 100 years) but interesting history. Prior to the early 1920s, the only food produced exclusively for pets was the dog biscuit. Then during the 1920s and 1930s, the pet food market began to expand a bit.

Americans with enough money to purchase their furry family member's food could find dehydrated, pelleted and canned formulas made from meat and grain mill scraps. But most pets were still fed primarily raw meat and table scraps, plus whatever food they hunted for themselves.

Great Depression Brought More Pet Food to Market

The Great Depression of the 1930s and early 1940s had a significant impact on the growth of the commercial pet food market; however, lack of industry regulation encouraged anyone who wanted to make a buck to produce a can or bag of pet food. During that period, canned pet food accounted for over 90 percent of the market.

During World War II (1939 to 1945), not only was metal rationed, pet food was categorized as "non-essential" by the U.S. government. The combination spelled death for the canned pet food industry. In addition, food rationing led to fewer table scraps.

Pet owners who could afford it bought dry pet food or dog biscuits — the only commercially available products at the time.

Byproducts of WWII: Processed Human Food and Dry Pet Food

Unfortunately, the American pet owner's love of dry pet food endured well past the end of World War II. The war also sparked the processed food revolution in the U.S. Spam and similar products were developed in the 1930s to feed the troops abroad and to help with food rationing restrictions at home.

All the factors that made processed food attractive to humans ultimately had a significant impact on the pet food industry as well.

The period after the end of WWII was a time of enormous economic growth and expansion in the U.S. Jobs were plentiful and more Americans were able to buy their own homes. As more families moved out of cities to suburbia, giant supermarkets replaced small grocery stores.

Consumer demand for processed foods … for fast food … for food in general kept pace with increases in educational and employment opportunities, individual wealth and ever-expanding lifestyle options.

In response to the tremendous increase in U.S. consumer appetites, the human food industry created vast quantities of agricultural scraps from slaughterhouses, grain mills and processing plants. Pet food manufacturers immediately understood the unlimited opportunity of human food waste to their industry.

By 1960, Pet Food Companies Were Mass-Marketing Kibble

Sad but true: our pet population provides a place for recycling waste from the human food industry.

Grains that fail inspection, uninspected pieces and parts of waste from the seafood industry, leftover restaurant grease, deceased livestock and even roadkill are collected and disposed of through rendering — a process that converts all sorts of human food industry waste into raw materials for the pet food industry.

In the late 1950s, a U.S. pet food company developed a way to create kibble from boiling cauldrons of meat, fat and grain scraps — it's called extrusion. Pet food manufacturers purchase the raw materials and then blend the rendered fat and meat with starch fillers.

Because poor-quality raw ingredients and the manufacturing process itself cause significant nutrient depletion, bulk vitamin and mineral supplements are added, and then the mix is extruded at high temperatures, creating all sorts of toxic reactions including advanced glycation end-products and heterocyclic amines.

This is what passes for pet food and it's sold to consumers at a tremendous profit. This "advancement" in manufacturing allowed pet food companies to capitalize on the popularity of kibble.

Now they were able to mass-market the type of pet food most popular with U.S. pet owners due to its convenience and low cost.

Today there are hundreds of kibbles, canned and semi-most dog and cat foods to choose from. This is remarkable, given that not 60 years ago, commercial pet food was almost unheard of.

Have We Chosen Convenience Over the Health of Our Pets?

No one really argues with the fact that in order for optimal health to occur, animals, including humans, must consume the foods they were designed to eat, and preferably whole, fresh and unadulterated. This is known as species-appropriate nutrition.

For example, vegetarian animals must eat vegetation for optimal health. Carnivores must eat fresh whole prey for optimal health.

Carnivorous pets have not evolved to digest and assimilate foods like corn, wheat, rice or potatoes, yet these are the very foods the vast majority of pet food manufacturers use as primary ingredients in their formulas. Fortunately, dogs and cats are extremely resilient creatures.

Not only do they not die immediately upon eating biologically inappropriate foods, it often takes years before the significant physical degeneration that occurs from a lifetime of eating the wrong foods becomes noticeable.

One of the reasons we're able to deceive ourselves into believing convenience pet foods are good for dogs and cats is because the changes to a pet's health and vitality brought on by a dead, processed diet are usually not immediate or acute.

For over a half-century our pets have been fed inappropriate diets that have kept them alive, but not thriving. In fact, we've created dozens of generations of animals that suffer from degenerative diseases linked to nutritional deficiencies.

Optimal Nutrition for Your Dog or Cat

Dogs and cats need quality protein, fats and a small amount of vegetables and fruits, which provide antioxidants and fiber to animals that no longer hunt whole prey.

Natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids must be added, since the soils in which foods are grown are depleted of many of the nutrients pets need. Also, food storage, whether it's in a freezer or a pantry, decreases critical essential fatty acid levels in foods.

Pets need unadulterated, fresh, whole foods that are moisture-dense. They don't need grains, fillers, artificial preservatives, colors, additives, chemicals, byproducts or processed ingredients. Although animals can eat some processed foods, they aren't designed to consume a lifetime of dry or canned diets.

The first pet nutrition study the CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) organization, which I co-founded, is planning will evaluate the effects of processed pet food on the health of dogs and cats.

Our goal is to produce impartial scientific studies that evaluate the health effects of both processed and fresh food diets for dogs and cats. The results of our research will give you and every concerned pet parent unbiased information about pet nutrition so that you can make informed decisions about the best way to nourish your animal companion. I invite you to join me in supporting this important work with a donation to CANWI, either online through PayPal or via the mail.

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