Nutrition is certainly one of the most basic and important aspects affecting the health of any living creature. We all know that a diet of fresh foods with ample variety is a healthy choice for ourselves, yet we are asked to believe that the best thing to feed our animal companion is a product that is manufactured in bulk, packaged, and stored on a shelf – sometimes for many months. While there certainly are some commercial pet foods that are higher in quality than others, there is something crucial to consider besides convenience when deciding on your pet’s diet. We can ask ourselves: How healthy would we be at 40 years of age if we ate nothing but Purina Human Chow our entire lives? Not very, we suspect. Why then, are we surprised when our 7-year old Labrador on a kibble-only diet develops arthritis or ruptures her cruciate ligament in her knee? What about our 10-year old kibble-eating cat that develops hyperthyroidism or diabetes? Why are their hair coats so shabby? Is it just bad luck?
What makes fresh food better than processed commercially made products? Is it the superior vitamin and antioxidant levels? Is it the enhanced availability of trace minerals, fatty acids and live enzymes? It is all of the above and then some. People wanting the best health for their pets should know that a properly balanced, fresh diet of good quality ingredients will always be superior to any commercially prepared kibble or canned pet food. It does require a bit more thought and effort than shaking out a pile of dry kibble into a bowl, but it’s really not that complicated nor difficult. Fresh food diets create radiant animal companions that achieve their potential in beauty, health and longevity.
Another dietary consideration is the species-appropriate diet. Your sweet little calico cat has essentially the same digestive system and nutritional requirements for it’s size as a mountain lion, but what mountain lion would eat dried corn cereal unless it was starving? And what would a wolf prefer, a rabbit or a bran muffin? Most commercial pet foods are 50 to 60% cereal grains and other fillers. This is far from species-appropriate nutrition. We must also consider the quality of the ingredients that go into making commercial pet food. Even premium pet foods are made with ingredients unfit for human consumption. Why are we lead to believe this is the best way to feed our pets?
It is no wonder we see chronic disease conditions so frequently in our pets. In our drive to create the most convenient and cost-effective diets for our pets, we have overlooked healthy nutrition. The billion dollar-a-year pet food industry would have us believe that that modern science and agriculture have created the most scientifically perfect food possible. The Purina Dog Chow television commercial tells us that this is all our beloved Fido will ever need. Do you believe that? We certainly don’t. Every day in our clinic, we witness the health differences between animals that are fed only commercially prepared diets and those that receive home prepared, fresh foods. This is why we spend so much time discussing nutrition and diet with our clients. It really is one of the most essential factors in preventative medicine. We believe that good nutrition is better than any pet health insurance policy you could buy. But health insurance doesn’t have anything to do with keeping someone healthy, does it?
Raw Vs. Cooked
The popularity of feeding dogs and cats raw meat-based diets is due in large part to the work of an Australian Veterinarian, Ian Billinghurst who wrote the book, “Give your Dog a Bone” in 1993. The book was based on his experiences seeing the remarkable health benefits of feeding raw meat, bones and vegetables to dogs. Dr. Billinghurst reasoned that since dogs (and cats) are highly carnivorous creatures by nature, feeding a large portion of cereal grains to them was not appropriate or healthy. He also pointed out that since a wolf does not barbecue his prey before eating it, why should your dog eat cooked meat? Known as the BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet), many progressively minded dog lovers tried it out and were very impressed with the results they were seeing. Many years ago, we began having clients come into our clinic telling us how their dogs had chronic ear problems, skin conditions, arthritis symptoms and digestive disturbances dramatically improve after converting their dogs to raw meat diets. They also described their companions having increased energy, better teeth and beautiful hair coats. We were impressed, and decided to look into this seemingly “radical” feeding approach. We found a great deal of conflicting opinions concerning feeding raw foods to dogs and cats. Some people were claiming fantastic results and health benefits, while other “experts” were saying that it was a nutritionally unsound and a potentially life-threatening practice. Who was right?
Looking more closely at the subject, we recognized that some people, especially conventional veterinarians, have a strong bias against pet owners making their own food, raw or cooked, reasoning that it would be too difficult to make a complete and nutritionally balanced diet at home. Raw foods, they claim, are full of disease causing microbes and parasites. This bias comes not only from our training in vet schools which emphasize the “germ theory” of diseases, but also from our almost constant exposure to promotional efforts from pet food companies. (Remember too, many veterinarians make profits selling pet foods at their clinics.) On the other hand, we have seen some pets, mostly dogs, that didn’t seem to do very well when fed raw food diets. Usually these were dogs that had weak digestive systems and were unable to make the transition from cooked to raw. Most cats, on the other hand, have done very well. Although almost all of our patients have done well on raw or homemade diets, remember that what works for one dog or cat may not work for another. Overall, our experience with raw meat diets has been very positive.
We recommend you educate yourself a bit first before you try feeding raw or homemade foods to your pets. Get a copy of Dr. Billinghurst’s book or get “Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats” by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker DVM (the latter we sell it at our clinic). If you have cats, there is good information at http://www.radfood.com. This is a very informative website put up by the makers of Rad Cat, a commercial raw meat diet exclusively for cats, made here in Portland, OR. Also, all team members at Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic have personal experience with raw and homemade diets. If you have general questions, they can assist you. If your pet has any significant health issues, we recommend you discuss the various dietary options with your veterinarian.