The Holistic Approach to Pet Diet and Nutrition
As humans, we know how difficult it can be to obtain all the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from our diet each day. The reasons for this may be many, but usually it’s the result of opting for fast food due to a hectic schedule and lifestyle. But the question to ask yourself is what menu choices do you make available to your dog or cat? Chances are, the answer is whatever tumbles from the bag of economy kibble you purchased at the grocery store. While the labels of these pet foods may claim to offer premium nutrition, the fact is that they may also contain some very questionable ingredients, such as meat by-products, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors.
What You Don’t Want to See on the Label
Ever wonder why your dog has so much gas? It could be due to consuming too much soybean. While soy is a natural protein with many health benefits for people, dogs simply do not possess the amino acid needed to digest it. So, it remains undigested in the intestines and builds up gas. The end result is not only an olfactory assault, it can also lead to canine bloat, a major killer of dogs second only to cancer.
It’s probably not necessary to go into the unpleasantness of considering what by-products and meat meal actually consist of—you likely have a good idea already. Beyond that, here are some other undesirable ingredients to avoid:
- Formalin, a popular preservative in pet food, is a solution of formaldehyde, methanol and water that is so effective at preservation that it’s used in funeral homes and in laboratories to preserve tissue samples.
- Ethoxyquin, classified by the FDA as a pesticide, is another common preservative that has been associated with liver cancer, kidney and bladder disease, and stomach tumors in dogs. You should also know that some brands of pet foods do not list this agent as an ingredient in a recognizable form. In fact, it may only appear in the ingredient list as simply ‘E’.
- Propylene glycol may also be making an appearance into your pet’s diet. Its purpose is to act as a humectant to bind water and deter bacterial growth in canned and dry pet food. Unfortunately, the same action occurs in your pet’s intestinal tract, along with the destruction of beneficial flora needed to absorb nutrients and flush out toxins. This typically results in dry, hard stools, or chronic constipation altogether. Incidentally, if you think this chemical may sound familiar to you, it may be because propylene glycol is a major component of an item typically stored in your garage--antifreeze.
The Raw Diet for Pets, or BARF
Proponents of a natural diet that simulates one that an animal would consume in the wild, is based on the BARF diet developed by Dr. Ian Billinghurst. BARF, which stands for ‘Bones and Raw Food,’ consists of raw meat, raw meaty bones, raw vegetables and complex carbohydrates. The ideal daily ratio for a BARF diet is considered to be 60% RMBs (raw meaty bones) and 40% vegetables, with small amounts of grain, fruit, dairy products and organ meats occasionally added.
The benefits of feeding your pet a BARF diet are reputed to be:
- Cleaner teeth and fresher smelling breath
- Less solid waste elimination and less offensive odor
- A healthy, shiny coat
- Increased energy
- Reduced incidence of allergies
- Less bloating and gas
Raw Versus Cooked Food
Most veterinarians agree that natural foods are best for any pet. After all, animals in the wild do not lie around waiting for their next meal to magically appear in a dish, nor do they expect the main entree to be grilled, baked or boiled. In fact, cooking destroys heat-sensitive nutrients and alters the molecular structure of fats, proteins and enzymes.
Another interesting event occurs whenever cooked or processed foods are consumed—digestive leucocytosis. Basically, the body perceives the food to be a foreign substance, and the immune system responds by rushing white blood cells to the intestines, like soldiers on a mission to battle an invasion. This leaves the rest of the body vulnerable and taxes the immune system every time such a food is introduced, which is typically one to two times a day, every day. However, this phenomenon does not occur when raw foods are eaten. It also doesn’t occur if a bit of raw food is eaten before consuming cooked or processed food. Keep that fact in mind if you feel that you must flip a lid or tilt a bag of commercial pet food to feed your pet now and then. Just as you might partake of a raw salad before a main course, give your pet a bit of grass, raw carrot, or other uncooked vegetable first.
Before you throw your dog (or cat) a bone, however, know that there’s a difference between raw and cooked bones as well. Bones derived from meat that has been cooked can easily splinter and cause injury. Raw bones, such as chicken or turkey necks, wings and backs, on the other hand, are easily chewed and digested by most cats and dogs. In fact, their teeth are engineered for this purpose.
The Basic BARF Diet
Preparing a wholesome meal for your pet doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, although you may find the process taking a bit of time when first starting out. However, the benefit to your pet’s health (as well as your wallet) will be worth the effort.
It is of primary importance that whatever you feed your pet is free of pesticides, preservatives and other chemicals. To that end, make sure that your supply sources use organically grown produce, as well as meat products free of antibiotics and hormones.
Here is a basic menu of natural ingredients to choose from to make wholesome, nutritious meals for your pet:
- Protein: Raw chicken, lamb, turkey or beef, including organs such as heart, kidneys, giblets or liver. (Note that pork and most fish, including shellfish, are not recommended due to the risk of the transmission of parasites.) Organic eggs, cheese and milk are usually well tolerated in small amounts.
- Vegetables: Pureed or grated carrots, peas, broccoli, bok choy, cucumbers, zucchini, red peppers, sweet potatoes, celery, spinach and most herbs. Fresh vegetable juice is also acceptable.
- Fruits: Chopped apples, bananas, peaches, pears, watermelon, cantaloupe, raisins, dates, avocado, grapes.
- Whole Grains: Fresh, raw wheat, rye or alfalfa sprouts, finely cut or flaked oats, flaked barley.
- Legumes: Small amounts of lightly cooked (preferably steamed) rice and beans.
- Nuts and Seeds: Fresh, sprouted and ground sunflower seeds, ground walnuts and almonds.
- Bones and Marrow: Marrow scooped from beef bones, raw bones from beef, chicken, lamb and turkey. (Note: For cats and small dogs, bones from chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks are easiest to handle.)
- Carbohydrates: Lightly cooked rice, potatoes in their skins.
Concerns About the Raw Diet
The BARF diet based on the concept that since wild animals can presumably digest raw foods with little or no adverse effect, then our domestic pets can as well. However, it could also be argued that wild animals do indeed become exposed to parasites and harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella. It is also interesting to note that proponents of the BARF diet do not recommend feeding pork or wild meat, such as venison or rabbit. This caution stems from the belief that such sources are more likely to carry disease and parasites. Yet, this seems contradictory to the idea that wild animals are capable of digesting and eliminating such hazards before illness can occur.
Other considerations about feeding a raw diet include:
- Finding a reliable source of pesticide, chemical and parasite-free raw meat and/or bones is of critical importance
- Relative expense
- Time required to prepare or plan meals
- Proper digestion of grains and carbohydrates may necessitate enzyme supplementation
Real Dietary Solutions for Real People (and Pets)
If making your pet meals at home every day is simply too daunting a task, or if you have reservations about going full force with a BARF diet, then consider the following options:
- Prepare a batch of meals instead of tackling a meal a day. This alone can make the process much easier and less time consuming. Plus, meals can be divided as single servings into plastic bags (the kind that zipper are best) and stored in the refrigerator for several days.
- Purchase quality, all-natural pet food instead. There are several excellent brands available from health food stores and even online suppliers. Ask your veterinarian to recommend one.
- Balance packaged foods with occasional rations of organic baby food.