What is Your Dog Eating?
Dog food. Yikes! Dog food. What an all encompassing ever-changing subject. Everyday I learn something new. I see something changes and what I knew to work before no longer does. I find things that were true decades ago that became obsolete, now show that there was a small kernel of truth in them. Research reveals startling pieces of the puzzle of nutrition, key information never known before that changes everything. New discoveries are made every single day and need to be incorporated into our feeding plans. How do we sort through all of this and how do we make the decisions? And so I ask, what is your dog eating? Because for us that is the most basic and most important question to ask. What is your dog eating?
If any judgements are to be made about what your dog is eating those decisions are to be made by you and your vet and most importantly your dog (the way your dog chooses does not mean which food he snarfs down with gusto, it means the food that helps your dog be as healthy as he or she can be.). My only function is to be the catalyst for your education, for your research, for your search and for your discovery of what works well for feeding your dog.
I am not a vet, nor do I play one on TV. I am not a consultant, or a practitioner of any size shape or form. I am just a middle-aged woman with a biology degree who sells dog food. It is as simple as that. I don't pretend to know everything about canine and feline nutrition. That field of research is evolving and growing every single minute. I do my best to learn about it all. And then I try to carry as many lines of dog food that offer good nutritional results for as many animals as possible. There is no one perfect dog food for every dog. There is not even one perfect dog food for the lifetime of a single dog.
Let's start by looking at the Pet Food Industry. The first commercially produced dog food was introduced in 1860. Before that dogs were never fed a food that was bought in a store. They ate what ever they could catch and scrounge for and whatever their guardians would give them. Dogs thrived on being omnivores and on either living with or staying near humans for over ten thousand years. In the 1920's and 1930's the grain industry was selling large amounts of their left over, second quality, not fit for human consumption grains to the manufacturer's of dog food. This was a boon to both the grain companies and the dog food manufacturers. It was basically a very cheap source to base the product on and it was a way to recycle what would have gone to waste.
The year was 1957 and the Purina Company developed the extrusion process. This was the innovation that turned the tide. The ability to mass produce cheap food and sanitize it from bacterial contamination was a revolution. Soon the industry grew by leaps and bounds. Today the Pet Food Industry is a multi billion dollar a year economic engine.
This industry invests in large ad campaigns using TV, radio, magazines, newspaper and all print media in order to gather larger market share and make more profit. The different companies have focus groups, marketing experts and advertising agencies working for them to sell more food every year and of course to make more profit and increase their bottom line.
According to the Animal Health Institute's Market Sales Report, October 29, 2004, animal health product sales in the United States for 2003 totaled .7 billion - an increase of 5.7 percent compared to 2002. This increase can be attributed to the growing dollars pet guardians are spending on improving the quality of life for their companion animal. It is also due to the concerted efforts by animal health manufacturers, who are allocating more funds to marketing and promotional activities.
Given those facts, the question that screams out at us is; is it possible to produce a fresh, balanced diet using the best cuts of meat and highest quality vegetables and do it all for under a bag? The answer is unfortunately, a big resounding NO! The cheaper the product is to make the higher the profit potential becomes.
Now here is where it gets interesting. It costs the manufacturer 19 cents per pound in food ingredients to make the dog food. Onto that you must add another 10 cents a pound to cover the bag, processing, etc. for a total cost to the manufacturer of 29 cents per pound. The manufacturer needs to make a profit and his margin is 45 %. He sells it to the distributor for 53 cents per pound, plus the cost of freight that is another 6 cents per pound. The distributor needs to make his profit. His margin is 22 %. The retailer pays 75 cents per pound for the food and now he needs to make a profit too and he gets 25%. This means that the food it cost the manufacturer to make at 29 cents a pound is costing you a whopping .00 to buy. This is for a product made with the cheapest possible ingredients, 'pet grade' or second quality grade ingredients. To make this easy for you, the bag of food you pay .00 for at the store only cost .78 total.
What about the better quality brand of pet food that uses human quality grade chicken? That costs twice as much. The manufacturer pays 61 cents per pound and you pay .99 per pound. Or that same bag of food at the store that you buy for .99, it cost the manufacturer .14. You do the math. The food company makes a bigger profit on the cheaper food so of course the cheaper food is more widely advertised and sold, because more consumers are aware of the product and it saves them money to buy it. Or does it? How much more of the cheap product must you feed to get the same nutritional value as a better food? Quite a bit more actually. And how many extra vet visits will you make per year to treat symptoms caused by bad food? On average three to eight. Is that food still less expensive now?
What about what most vets are taught in school and who sponsors nutritional research. The dog food companies fund most research and they also sponsor the nutrition courses taught in vet schools. Vets also learn that their practice can have a very large profit center by selling prescription diets from those very same companies.
Most of these foods are 100% nutritionally complete. Ensure™ is 100% nutritionally complete. Does that mean we should wean our children off of breast milk onto Ensure™ and then feed them that until the day that they die? And then feed all ensuing generations Ensure™ because it is nutritionally complete? No of course not. When we look at it that way we see how foolish it is. The same applies to that bag of pet grade, grocery store bought dog food. That is the dog food equivalent to Ensure™. What do you think would happen if we raised 10 generations of human children on Ensure™? And only added in treats like candy, cookies, chips and other junk food. Would those children grow up healthy?
No of course not. What we would have is compromised health, shortened life spans, and a myriad of diseases including organ failures, diabetes, tumors, cancers and obesity. This is not normal or natural in any way shape or form. We would be treating symptoms as they express and we would not be treating the underlying causes. This would suppress symptoms and then other ones would emerge to take their place.
It is not uncommon to make five to eight vet visits a year under these circumstances. Sometimes even more trips to the vet than that. I have personally corroborated these results with a number of vets both traditional and holistic. Most recently by Ron Schultz, DVM Chairman of Pathobiology, University Madison Wisconsin. Typically an annual vet visit is ideal for your companion. More than that should ring alarm bells. These days your average pet guardian should be hearing five alarm fire bells ringing constantly. This is not normal.
Let's make this simple:
Excellent Nutrition = Good Health
Average Nutrition = Compromised Health
Bad Nutrition = Disease & Death
Nutrition is not the only component of health. The other components are important too. Genetics and environment comprise the other top factors in health for our animals.
Genetics and breeding is a large field and it too has its share of diverse opinions. I recommend looking for "hybrid vigor". The term hybrid vigor itself can be considered controversial. What I mean by it is what occurs throughout all species in the animal and plant kingdom. Unrelated animals of the same species are mated. The theory is the offspring in the first generation will be more healthy, fertile, and (in animals) mentally stable than either parent. Out-crossing is a related term. Out crossing in pure-bred dogs is the breeding of unrelated dogs. On a pedigree no names will be repeated within the first 5 generations. Out-crossing is the means to get the greatest genetic diversity. Out-crossing does not guarantee that the animals won't develop genetic disorders or have "hybrid vigor". It can reduce the numbers of affected offspring, if neither lines are carriers of a recessive gene that can cause a genetic disease. Simple lack of a common ancestor does not ensure that neither dog carries genetic disease. Hybrid Vigor only applies to the animals that are the direct offspring of the crossing of the unrelated strains.
So did all of that confuse you? Genetically speaking look for the best possible puppy you can to help your dog have a healthy life not effected by diseases that can be transferred from the parents. If you are not getting a puppy from a quality breeder what then? You open your home and your heart to an unknown rescue dog and find the dog of your dreams. The bottom line in all of this is even with the best planning of breeding you never know exactly for sure that your dog will be one hundred percent free of any genetic problems. The same is true for a dog you rescue that you have no health history available. Those are the facts that our dogs come to us with and that we can't change. The same way we can't change who our parents are but don't we wish there wasn't a history of heart problems or cancer in our genetic/family background!
The other big component of health is the environment. This is something we do have some control over. Not complete control like we do over the food we feed, but we can make some informed choices. We can choose not to spray our lawns with harsh chemicals. We can choose to only allow our dogs to romp in areas where those chemicals are not used. We can not use other harsh chemicals to clean our homes. We can not install building materials that outgas harmful residues and byproducts. We can provide a living environment as free from as much harmful and should I even say lethal products as we possible can.
I am not saying we all have to become naturalists and subscribe to Mother Earth News. But I am saying be wise on how your immediate surroundings and living environment is put together. I will give you an example from my own life. I live on almost two acres of land. It is almost all grass. My neighbors hate me. They have complained to our homeowner's association about me. Why? I absolutely refuse to put any chemicals on my lawn of any kind to kill weeds or fertilize the grass. By the time the beginning of summer rolls around, I have the most beautiful sea of yellow undulating in the summer breezes you ever saw. I have the very best dandelions growing everywhere. The tender leaves make a wonderful salad and have great health effects in terms of detoxing a liver and kidneys but I digress.
Everyone around me hates it. They all have lawn services. The grass is perfect and green and has terrible stuff spread all over it multiple times per year. Lucky for me I live on a bit of a hill and my land is elevated from all my surrounding neighbors. Before my home was here it was land that had been abandoned from farming for many, many years. So any farm chemicals had long ago leached out and anything my neighbors spread normally flows away from my higher elevation. My dogs roam freely and I don't have any fears that they are getting toxic chemical in large proportion from my yard.
The dogs that used to live on either side of me lived their entire lives on beautiful green lawns. Their guardians are obsessive about having a perfect green and manicured lawn. By the time both of these dogs were three they were experiencing serious health problems. They both died at an age that was younger than the average for their breed. One of them at not even 8 years old for a breed that averages 14 -16 years old. The other at 10. One of these dogs started getting reoccurring fatty cell tumors. It didn't matter how often you would aspirate they came back. Finally they stopped aspirating. When the poor boy passed away he had multiple tumors all over his body many the size of grapefruits and others as large as16-inch softballs. The traditional vet said all of the lawn chemicals were a contributing factor to the tumors. Ya think????? The American Veterinary Association now says lawn chemicals can cause cancer and cites a study using Westies and bladder cancer occurrence as it's source.
Other areas where you can improve the environment for your dog are number one stop smoking! Second hand smoke effects your dogs as much as your spouses and children. Not to mention what it does to you. Stay away from busy roads and vehicle exhausts. This includes riding in the back of an open pick up truck. Keep the dogs in on smoggy days. Put any toxic chemicals, cleaners, solvents and paint under lock and key in an area where your dog never goes. Brush and bath your pet regularly to keep contaminates off his fur and pads. Supply your animals with clean water. Don't just presume your tap water is safe and don't presume bottled water is safe either. Check into it, make sure and seriously consider investing in a reverse osmosis filter for not just your dogs and cats but you and your family. Everyone will benefit.
Food is the one component of the health of our dogs that we do have a very large amount of control over. Genetics we have very little, environmental we have some control around our homes, but not in the park down the street etc. Food though is the one place we can make a major difference. Do what you can about supplying a healthy environment, but concentrate on feeding your dog the best possible food. Your return on investment so to speak will pay very large dividends in the health of your companion for many years.
Let's get a little more in depth about how dog food is made and what is put into it. Let's learn what the ingredients really mean and how we can decipher the ingredients listed on the label. Let us take a look at whom if anyone regulates the pet food industry.
You are already familiar with the USDA and the FDA. They regulate the industries that produce food and drugs for us humans. You most likely think they do the same for the pet food industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The USDA and the FDA do not govern pet food. Currently the government does not even have a set program to test commercial foods. Up until 1974 the National Research Council (NRC) set the nutritional standards. The pet food industry itself then formed the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). They are not part of the federal government nor are its members appointed by them.
What does AAFCO do? Their main responsibility is to regulate label text and product names. They have no enforcement authority. They are a private organization and the pet food companies do not have to comply with their standards. Each of the fifty states can set their own manufacturing guidelines and some states do not even have guidelines for the foods made there such as Florida and Alaska.
Why was AAFCO formed? The industry found the NRC's regulations too restrictive and found a way to create it's own loop holes for claiming nutritional adequacy. Instead of actual feeding trials, chemical nutritional analysis would be conducted to provide the nutritional requirements. Let me restate that in English for you. AAFCO says whether a food is "complete and balanced" chemically. AAFCO does not say whether the food is palatable, digestible, or bioavailable. AAFCO provides minimum standards, not optimums. And don't forget AAFCO is run by the pet food industry. Talk about the fox in the hen house. AAFCO does not say anything about biologic value of the food. Nothing about how amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other components are digested or even if they are absorbed at all. Further more, AAFCO posses no restrictions or limits on the use of certain types of animals or the quality of the products used in making meat meals, tankage or digest. AAFCO doesn't care where it comes from at all!
In English again please! AAFCO says a protein is a protein is a protein. Where it came from they don't care. By-products come from all the left over parts. One day it is chicken feet and feathers. The next day it is tumors, euthanized or sick animals. The next it is old outdated meat still in the plastic wrap from the grocery store. The next it could be heads, hormone implants and road kill. It would be impossible to figure out what percentage each of those things represents in the mix because it changes from day to day. But regardless they are all proteins.
The guaranteed analyses you see on the pet food labels list the minimum and maximum amounts of protein, fat, moisture and fiber. This has absolutely nothing to do with the animals actual ability to digest them or absorb them or what effects that ultimately has on the animal. You could mix together some motor oil, vitamins, minerals, feathers and don't forget to throw in a bit of leather and you will meet the requirements for fat, protein and fiber. Is that plain enough English for you?
AAFCO says that labels have to list what is in the product by weight. They don't say when in that process they have to do the weighing. Companies weigh the meat raw before they make it into a kibble. "Meals" are rendered products from mammal tissues. It is what remains after fats are drawn off and dried. The processing of meals reduces the protein quality. Then the meal is cooked again to make the dog food itself. When the meat is made into a meal it is about five times lighter than raw which would make it the fourth or fifth ingredient on the label. Knowledgeable guardians want to see meat listed as the top ingredient. So, the components of the grains are broken up and listed separately. You have ground rice, rice gluten, rice flour, and rice bran all listed instead of "rice". Therefore you can now list the protein first and all the rices afterwards. Slick! Or should I say bate and switch!
We have already mentioned the use of second quality grains not fit for human consumption and the invention of the extrusion process in the short history of the dog food industry. The very nature of second quality grains means that they must be properly prepared in order for them not to be harmful to eat. Harmful bacteria must be killed or the animal consuming the food could get sick.
Cooking reduces the potency of ALL nutrients and destroys some too. Any temperature over 130 degrees causes all essential fats, fatty acids vitamins A, D, E, K and several minerals to become useless. Cooked in an extruder and forced through a die under high pressure of 600 to 700 psi and at temperatures of over 300 - 400 degrees Fahrenheit, you loose fifty to eighty percent of vitamins and nutrients. The high heat also creates heterocyclic amines and acrylamides, both are carcinogenic. Heterocyclic amines were studied and found to be one of the most potent substances to cause DNA mutations ever tested! In 2003 Lawrence Livermore National Lab found 13 out of 14 dry dog foods tested positive.
Then added are another twenty to twenty-five synthesized pure compounds versus naturally occurring vitamins. And don't forget to spray on nutrients after the extrusion. These palatability enhancers called a digest which is a result of a chemical or enzymatic reaction of animal tissue from meat, poultry or fish, therefore it is a "natural" flavor sprayed on to get the dog to eat the food.
The second quality grains are non human edible, literally the chaff. These are the parts that are separated, the fines etc. These grains also have had a much longer storage times than those used for humans. The longer storage times actually lower the cost of the grains. What happens during storage is that insects, molds and storage mites get into the grains.
Oh we're not done yet on what is going on with those grains. They have been sitting around therefore their exposure to mold spores in the air increases. Mold spores can also land on the kibble we expose to air at home after we have opened the bag.
That is why I recommend that whatever kibble you are using, store only about one weeks worth in a sealed Tupperware container and store the rest of the kibble in ziplock bags or other closed and sealed containers. Keeping them in the freezer keeps the air from getting to it with its cornucopia of molds, spores and toxins.
Those pesky mold spores so prevalent in our air once they land on either the grain in storage or the kibble we have at home begin to produce mycotoxins. No you might think that is no problem since the food extrusion process with the extreme temperature and pressure will kill those spores. You will be only half-correct. It will kill the mold it will not kill the endotoxicins produced by the mold because those aren't effected by the processing. Aflatoxins and vomitoxens are just a few that will be present.
Aflatoxin poisoning has been recorded since 1952 in the Journal of American Veterinarians Association. More recently there was a widespread episode in 1998 where 55 dogs died from eating contaminated food. I wonder how many more either died or had problems because of it that went unreported? The company that was responsible for the outbreak supplied one quarter of all the dog food sold in Texas that year!
Aflatoxin is estimated to be responsible for 20,000 deaths in humans per year of liver cancer. The human sources of grain are much better than the pet food industry and we wonder why cancer rates are increasing in our companions. The mycotoxins when they are produced and found in food do not create an antibody response. The body does not have a defense to them. The effects are cumulative and that is why eventually a cancer can emerge.
There is more. Beet pulp is the dried residue from sugar beets it is added for fiber and to improve palatability. Soybean meal made by using a solvent that takes the flakes and adds them to the food. Most dogs and cats can not effectively digest it and it can foam and cause bloat. The number one grain that dogs can NOT digest is drum roll please: CORN! No dog can digest corn in any way shape or form. Let me repeat that, dogs can not digest corn. Do you know what the number one cheap grain used in making commercial dog food? Take a wild guess. Yep you got it CORN!
Okay so we got indigestible ingredients, ingredients that have mycotoxins, there are insects, mold and mites, food sources like euthanized animals there could not be anything else in there could there? Yes, yes there is. Don't forget the preservatives, the sugars, the salts, the addictive additives, the emulsifiers, the surfactants and of course the colorizers.
There are additives for flavors the animals crave. There is research done on which shapes the animals will eat more of than of other shapes. There is testing done to find out which textures of food the dogs and cats prefer. None of this testing takes into account whether it is good nutrition only that the animals readily eat it.
Let's not forget artificial colors such as FD&C red #40. You might have heard of it. It is a proven carcinogen, in there. Yellow #5, sodium nitrite, all in there. How about corn syrup, sugar, maltose and dextrose. All these sugars are not good for our dogs and cats to be eating on a daily basis. These contribute greatly to the explosion of obesity, yeast problems and diabetes in pets.
Most pet foods contain BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin, which are preservatives. BHA and BHT are petroleum derivatives and accumulate in the liver causing enlargement and impairing DNA synthesis. Ethoxyquin is a rubber stabilizer it is sold under the brand name Deccoquin. The label has a skull and cross bone and poison on it and it is a hazard, which is toxic by ingestion. Animals taken off of food containing these preservatives still have measurable amounts in their livers months later. Even if your food does not list ethoxyquin on the label it could still be in there. Many companies buy an already processed meat meal from another company. That company lists the ethoxyquin on the label but the buyer using it only has to list the meat meal on their label.
Have we had enough yet? What about herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, steroids, and hormones? Those could not possibly be in there unless they are on the label right? Wrong! Over fifty percent of the antibiotics produced in this country are used to feed animals. Those awful chicken farms you see on news shows like 60 Minutes are all feeding them these things. Since the dog food manufacturer does not actually put the hormones and antibiotics etc. in the food they don't have to list it. Even though the meat sources are loaded with them.
Bovine Spongeform Encephalitis. Better known as Mad Cow Disease. Do you remember the case in 2003 where it was found in Alberta Canada? The actual cow was found unfit for human consumption. Some brain tissue was taken for testing. Do you know what happened to the remains? The remains were sent for rendering. It ended up in dog food produced in Canada and sold in the U.S.!
Currently the scientific evidence is inconclusive on whether dogs can contract the disease, so far there is no dog on record having gotten the disease. Canines are thought at this point to be resistant. Felines though have been documented to get the disease in both the UK and France. Just like the endotoxins released by aflatoxins the agent responsible for BSE called prions can not be killed by heat or temperature. Therefore for cats it is best to stay away from any foods containing beef or more specifically beef by-products if their meat sources are unknown.
Honest I am not trying to scare you or use fear tactics. The information is available to all of us. I have a list of my reference sources. Please look them all up and read them yourselves. Then take it one step further. Don't believe everything you read. Check your facts. Look for multiple places of corroboration and then make sure that all those don't refer back to one compromised, inaccurate or false source. In this day and age of the Internet and journalists using false sources be skeptical. Fallacies abound. Just because it is written in a book doesn't make it true. I just read the chapter on nutrition from the new Dog Age book. I was surprised by the outdated inaccurate info I read there. Yet, our society often thrives on if you hear it often enough, it must be true! Don't be fooled. Do your own research and verify.
So what exactly am I saying? You have all heard this many times before. It is actually very simple:
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!
Do you want to eat chemicals, preservatives and many other ingredients you know are bad for your health? No you don't. And I know you do not want to feed your special and loving companions those things either. We know about many things in pet food that are pretty awful. It is time to look at food that is healthy and good. And here is the best part; it can be easy to feed your companion a simple healthy diet.
The International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature is the body that assigns names to different animals and species. In 1993 they reclassified Canis Familiaris or Canis Domesticus as Canis Lupis. In other words the wolf and the dogs are the same species. The Journal of Science presented a paper using mitochondrial DNA from the along maternal lines that proves the lineage and shows they are identical regardless of the phenotype (How the different dog breeds and the wolf looks or how their physical characteristics express.) Dogs evolved over 14,000 years ago in East Asia and the principal ancestor of the dog has a 5 million-year history. This means we have a very wide amount of historical data to look at about the diet of the wolf and how it relates to the dog since they are one and the same. Fourteen thousand years of natural diet of the dog is there for us to compare to the past eighty years of feeding the commercial dog food product.
What is the optimum diet for our dogs and cats? The correctly homemade raw diet from human quality grade ingredients, balanced with raw real foods, macro nutrients, micro nutrients, low in carbohydrates, high in protein, with whole natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes that closely approximates the diet that Canis Lupis has been eating for its fourteen thousand year history.
What is the next best thing? The commercially prepared raw food diet made from human quality grade ingredients free of antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. Do these diets really exist? Yes they do. How do you make them or how to you find them to purchase?
If you really want to prepare your dogs food, that is wonderful. There are many great resource books available. These books provide recipes and preparation examples. There are also many great online resources. We could spend hours and hours defining how to do it. I have done it. If you have the time and the equipment and you do it correctly there is no better way in the world to feed your dogs and cats. Unfortunately the truth is most of us don't have the time and many of us even after educating ourselves will still not be able to balance certain aspects of the diet properly especially things like the calcium phosphorus ratio. I do not say this to be discouraging to you. I just know that in our 24/7 world and the way we are all over committed in our lives making a balanced dog or cat food would be difficult.
We have looked at what things we want to avoid in the commercially prepared pet food industry. We have talked about the history of our animals and the history of the food industry. Now before we look at how to choose between commercially prepared diets let's look at the actual process of digestion for our companions.
The dog has a very fast and short digestive system. The idea is mouth to out in a very short time period. The dog sometimes keeps the food in the stomach for only 20 minutes and the entire meal eaten can be completely out of their system within 24 hours. The acid bath of the stomach is very strong, it is meant to handle raw meats, bones, decaying substances, bacteria, skin and even some fur.
The GI tract of the dog was designed to process raw contaminated foods, not to hold, ferment and ruminate like cows and horses for days. The dog as a predator for the majority of their history has the requirements of in and out. This is where and why our companions have so many problems in their health and digestion today. The major ingredient in the food they are eating is a form of grain. They do not have the long slow digestive tract required to get the needed nutrients from grains. The proper balance of digestion is thrown off and the long processing time needed for an inappropriate diet is what causes many of the problems.
The digestive system of the dog is the first barrier to disease. A healthy gut helps the dog avoid many diseases. The GI tract is responsible for digestion or breaking down the food, for absorption or getting the food where it needs to go and for prevention or the blocking of toxins getting into the blood stream and body. Bacteria, viruses, pathogens and food particles are in the dog's intestinal tract daily. What we feed has a primary effect on the immune reactive surface in the gut. The defense ability of the mucosa regulating inflammatory responses and more or less permeability are all greatly effected by what the dog eats.
All mammals have good bacteria in their GI tracts. Billions of the proper bacteria are needed for digestion. When the system is in balance, the flora of the correct type thrive and vitamins are made, vegetable fiber is fermented, bad bacteria are inhibited, and toxins are broken down and eliminated.
Eating high bacterial, fungal and viral loads is normal. This gives the intestinal flora high amounts of competitive sources of the same. Food typically spends 4-8 hours in the low pH bath of the stomach. Their pH is lower than humans, it is an "industrial strength" hydrochloric acid, it can literally dissolve iron. Only a little bit of food is released to the intestines at a time and it passes through quickly in 24 hours unlike us humans where it can take 60 hours or more. There are also natural antibiotic secretions in the dog intestines, pancreatic secretions and fluids possess antibacterial properties. Secretions of certain peptides called defensins can even inhibit multiplication of invading bacteria.
When your animal is given a diet based on mostly grains it can cause an immune or inflammatory response. What happens is it increases the permeability of the intestine, thus allowing bad things to pass through and stopping good things from getting in. You might have heard the term "Leaky Gut" used. Once your dog gets to this point then opportunistic bacterium can proliferate such as yeast causing hot spots, ear infections and other problems.
Other things can disrupt the intestinal tract too. Antibiotics remove all bacteria, this includes all the good ones and can throw off the system and cause yeast over growth. Some of us ladies might know a thing or two about a yeast infection occurring after taking an antibiotic. Parasites as well can disrupt and colonize the intestine. Steroids suppress the immune system and GI processes. All of these things can stop the normal functioning of the digestive system. The symptoms that we observe in our animals can range anywhere from the clearly visible such as bloating, diarrhea and flatulence. Other symptoms not as readily apparent can be food allergies, behavioral problems, immune problems autoimmune and joint pain and of course nutritional deficiencies.
Digestive enzymes are another problem area for our dogs and cats. Dogs do not produce all the digestive enzymes they need. Some dog breeds such as German Shepherds produce even less and have a greater insufficiency. The pancreas produces amylase to break down carbohydrates, lipase to break down fat and proteases for protein. This is why in the wild when the wolf pack takes down their prey they eat the pancreas, liver and intestines first. It gives them the rest of the digestive enzymes they need to complete their digestive process. Even if you feed an all natural raw diet your companion still needs digestive enzymes added to their food.
If your companion does not get the enzymes needed the food stays in the tract and goes out undigested and on occasion it putrefies. The poor animal can have soft stools and excessive gas! Because the food is not being absorbed the dog can have nutrient deficiencies causing a large appetite but weight loss and poor hair coats. As our animals age they produce even less of the required enzymes. The lesson to be learned here is that every companion needs digestive enzymes.
Are you ready to put it all together now? The average adult animal eats 2 -3% of its body weight daily. The average puppy or kitten needs to eat up to 10% of its body weight per day. Everyday you should feed to your adult companions optimum weight. So if your friend is over weight feed less than 2 - 3% and if under weight feed more. In actual numbers if you have a 100 pound dog you feed him 2 -3 pounds of raw per day. Your typical 50 pound dog 1 - 1.5 pounds per day. Many holistic vets will recommend a fast day one time per week. In the wild dogs and wolves did not get to eat everyday. Having a fast day allows rest for the pancreas, gallbladder and GI tract and allows the colon to empty and rest. This is a normal and good thing. Just remember a puppy, a sick dog or older compromised dog should not be put through this regimen.
When deciding whether you are going to make your own raw diet or when looking at the commercially prepared diet here are some things to keep in mind. Dogs need 50 - 60% bony meats with 20% of that coming from muscles and with small amounts of organ meat. Cats need 70 - 80% bony meats and can even go higher as cats are the most carnivorous species on the planet! Dogs need 20 - 30% veggies and cats are at 5 - 15%. Don't forget vitamin C, chlorophyll, kelp, omega 3 and 6, alfalfa and spirulina. When you are feeding a correctly balanced diet for your dog the pH of the urinary tract should be between 6.2 and 6.5. That is another indication you are getting the food you are feeding right.
A little bit lean for the entire life our your dog or cat goes a long way in extending their lives. Ralston Purina did a 14-year study showing that a 25% reduction in food intake resulted in a significantly increased life span. Those results have been duplicated in many species from insects to rats to primates to humans. I am not talking about starving your friends. How do you know what is the optimum weight and a little bit lean for your dog or cat? I use simple criteria. Does your animal have a waist? Is there a tuck in from behind the ribs to before the pelvis? Can you take your hand and feel ribs? Or do you have to dig in there and still can't find them? If you feel ribs, perfect, if not then you know what to do. Decrease food and increase motion. It is the same as it is for us couch potato humans!
My biggest rules for any food whether canned, kibble or raw are as follows:
- Human Quality grade ingredients
- No chemical preservatives
- No artificial colors, sugars or sweeteners, salts, surfactants, or by-products
Now how do you decide between kibble, cans and raw? I would bet by now most of you already have a good idea how to do that. Let's start with cans. You already know how to read the label. You how to look for the good stuff. There are a number of companies that produce a good canned food diet. The very nature of the can means that the meat and other good ingredients inside of that can must be heated to a certain temperature in that can. The food is cooked. We know raw is better than cooked. There is the first inherent drawback to canned foods. Many of those vital nutrients and enzymes are denatured and killed in that cooking process. As the mainstay of a diet I would not recommend cans. As used to hide medicine on occasion for use by your kids when feeding the dogs when you are out of town on business, when on vacation or even as a special treat. Sure go ahead. Just do not do it all the time. The other problem with cans is the very nature of the can itself. Even these days with the advance in technology cans can still leach toxic things through the plastic coatings. Over time that can cause our companions big problems!
What about kibble? Look for a kibble that is baked not extruded. They actually do exist. Read up on the Whole Dog Journal's Annual Dry Food Review. The list comes out once a year and it is more than worth the subscription to it for that list alone. A good quality fresh kibble can form a base for your feeding plans. Kibble can be easier for your busy life. Let's face it pouring some dry food in a bowl can be done in a few short minutes. If you are traveling with your dog being able to feed them kibble makes your travels a whole lot easier!
FOOD TIP: Feed only kibble meals and only raw meals. Don't make a kibble meal mixed with a raw meal.
When feeding kibble understand that the acid bath in the stomach must be higher to digest it. If you mix raw with the kibble some of the kibble will pass into the intestine not yet ready and digested enough. This can cause gas and bloating.
I am a realist and I know the majority of dog and cat guardians are going to feed a kibble. It is the prevalent form of food for pets these days. I can not take a hard line stance and say no never feed a kibble. I know that won't happen. My goal is to educate and hope that all of you make better and better choices in the kibbles you are using. If everyone switched from a kibble that is extruded and using by-products to one that is baked and using human quality grade ingredients, then that is a huge step forward.
A commercially prepared raw frozen diet is a great choice. There are many available these days. They all use human quality grade ingredients. Their meat sources are antibiotic free and hormone free. The vegetable amounts can vary from 5 - 7% all the way up to 28 - 30%. The flavors are varied, from chicken and beef to lamb, duck, venison, turkey and buffalo. They have organ meats and ground bone in them. They add in green stuff like kelp and chlorophyll. They are becoming more and more readily available and the prices are not as expensive as one might think. If you want to offer your best friend a great option a commercially prepared raw diet is the way to go if you do not have the time to prepare a balanced raw diet on your own.
FOOD TIP: Supplement the commercially prepared raw diet with some chicken necks, wings or backs for your dog's dental health. And consider some raw marrow bones for chewing pleasure. Just remember to start slow and sometimes a dog will vomit it up and eat it again this is normal. And don't add in too much!
What you take away from this today depends on you. You can say "Oh my goodness I have been feeding my animal terrible things". Or you can say "hey wow there are many new options for us to explore and let's see what works better than what we are doing now".
One of the things I have learned is that there is no one perfect food. Each dog and cat is different and their nutritional requirements throughout their lifetimes change. That is normal. Do your homework about the food you are feeding. Then make changes, as needed both for today and tweak it in the future as your companion's needs evolve and change. The most important thing is enjoying the moment. Live your lives together each second because the one thing I do know for certain is all of our lives are finite. Our companions have an accelerated life span compared to ours even when we can extend it through good nutrition, better environments and sound breeding. Don't let one moment of that precious time slip away. For that is our real treasure and lesson. Thank you.
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Copyright by Nina Pregont and Natural Expressions - 2006,
Article can be reprinted only with source information included and reproductions with source materials noted.