Nutrition is one of the most basic and important aspects affecting the health of any living creature. We all know the saying “you are what you eat” and a diet of fresh foods with ample variety is not only a healthy choice for ourselves but for our companion animals as well.
The Problem with Processed Foods
Highly processed foods are too easily and rapidly digested and cause high insulin levels and weight gain. Diabetes, allergic dermatitis, ear infections, bladder infections and inflammation, gingivitis and stomatitis, chronic vomiting and diarrhea have all been linked to chronically elevated blood insulin levels and obesity. In order to prevent and treat these diseases, one must stay away from feeding processed food and instead provide a balanced whole food diet (raw or home-cooked).
Besides raising blood insulin levels, food processing also destroys many nutrients. In contrast, whole food diets contain all the nutrients nature has endowed them with; they have superior vitamin and antioxidant levels, enhanced availability of trace minerals, fatty acids and live enzymes. In addition, raw or home-cooked diets often have locally sourced ingredients, they require less energy to make and transport them and hence, they are better for our planet.
Another dietary consideration is the species-appropriate diet. Cats and dogs are carnivores, and although they can subsist on carbohydrate-rich diets, they do not thrive on them. Many maintenance processed foods are rich in carbohydrates and therefore far from species-appropriate.
Whole Food Diets – 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”. 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, feeding a large portion of cereal grains to them was neither appropriate nor 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 pet lovers tried it out and were very impressed with the results. Pets with chronic ear problems, skin conditions, arthritis symptoms and digestive disturbances dramatically improved after converting to raw meat diets. They also had increased energy, healthier teeth and beautiful hair coats.
We recommend you educate yourself first before feeding a raw or home-cooked diet to your pets and that you follow a balanced recipe to ensure proper nutrition. Some pets with weakened digestion cannot tolerate a raw meat diet and can be fed a home-cooked diet instead. For recipes and more information in general, check out Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats (by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM) – we sell copies at our clinic – and Dr. Ihor Basko’s book Fresh Food & Ancient Wisdom. There is also good information on the website of the makers of RadTM Cat, a commercial raw meat diet for cats made here in Portland (see link below).
When feeding raw meat, we recommend using commercial raw meat diets as they are much less likely to be contaminated with E. coli or salmonella than ground meat from the grocery store (the latter should always be thoroughly cooked). Always use proper hygiene when handling raw meat by washing food dishes and utensils with soapy hot water after every use.
Every day in our clinic, we witness the health differences between animals that are fed highly processed diets and those that receive a balanced diet made from fresh foods. Many chronic health issues such as ear infections, skin problems, arthritis improve significantly with changing from a processed to a whole-food diet – without the need for long-term medication. 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 health issues, we recommend you discuss the various dietary options with your veterinarian.
One of the secrets to our success is that we spend so much time discussing your pet’s nutrition because we strongly believe that nutrition is one of the most essential factors in preventative medicine!
For information on Traditional Chinese Medicine food energetics, click here: Food Energetics
For information on bone broth, click here: Bone Broth for Pets