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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pet foods: where to begin?

I've wanted to write on the topic of pet food for ages, but I didn't really know where to start. Frankly, there is such a huge variety of pet foods on the market today, it is impossible for me to know each of them in detail.
I am often asked, "What is the best food for my cat/dog/kitten/puppy?" That is the million-dollar question. What is the best food for our pets? Is it kibble? canned? what brands? raw food?
I don't have the scientific answer, sorry everyone. However, I do have some facts to share, which everyone should consider when choosing what to feed their pet.
Dogs are omnivorous, which means their gastro-intestinal tracts have evolved to digest meat and plant material. Wild dogs are mostly carnivorous but will also eat berries and plant material when available, though one study showed the latter did not exceed 1% of the material in their stomachs. Domestic dogs likely branched off from wild dogs about 100,000 years ago, though this date is highly controversial with hypotheses ranging from 12,000 to 140,000 years ago. I suspect it is closer to the latter, though I certainly have no proof of this. My point is that humans and canines co-evolved in symbiosis, with the humans benefiting from having canines as protection, while their canine counterparts adapted by taking scraps from humans, and with time, precluding the need for the group hunt.
We know from canine behaviour that dogs are quite the indiscriminate eaters, and will often eat things they are not supposed to, including non-food items. Therefore, just because a dog will eat a loaf of bread or your favourite pantyhose, does not mean it should be doing so. Domestic dogs are not wild dogs, but their biology is constrained by their relationship to them. This means that things like their eating habits and behaviour (amongst many other things), evolved from the eating habits and behaviour of wild dogs.
I apologize for my loquaciousness, but having said all of this, and with the knowledge that at least 50% of our companion dogs are obese, I think that dog foods should closely approximate those foods eaten by their ancestors: diets high in protein and low in carbohydrate (such as wheat, corn, etc), and balanced in vitamins and minerals (such as calcium and phosphorus). Protein contains less energy than carbohydrate and carbs are diabetogenic, more so than protein. Combine all of this with a strict calorie-counting diet, and our dogs would be in much better shape (i.e., not the shape of a coffee table).

Cats are obligate carnivores, plain and simple. Their diets should approximate the nutritional make-up of, say, the small rodents they eat. Throw a mouse into a blender and voilà: high-quality canned food! I know the comparison is quite macabre, but it's true.
Most diabetic cats fed a diet that is exclusively a high-protein CANNED diet, will have their insulin requirements decreased and often go into remission.
Personally and professionally, I believe that cats should be fed as much (high-quality) canned food as possible.

More on pet foods in the future...

Not funny, folks...


Mel said...

I do hope you'll touch on raw foods a bit more. My advice to clients is always that if they're going to feed raw to know the source of the meat. Supermarket meats, at least here in the US, can never be assumed to be safe, and when I've seen problems with raw diets, it's always been people trying to DIY it with meat from the grocery store.

GoLightly said...

How did I miss this post??
Pet foods are a pet peeve.
I still have both dogs on a vet-sold prescription diet (gastro), for Flip's tummy.

They've recently changed the size of the can, and changed the formulation. No warning. It was a little hard on tender-tummy Flip.

I lost a cat to taurine deficiency, brought on by the (vet-prescribed) diet he was on at the time, for crystals in his urine.
The pet-food manufacturers learned something from this debacle. This was 30 years or so ago.

I also wonder, without really wanting to know, how humanely the animals used for their food are slaughtered.
I know that if the dog or cat "did it themselves", it wouldn't be humane either. Sorry, idle thought.

My dearest vet friend is not a fan of raw food, for the reasons Mel has mentioned.
What do you recommend? Catching squirrels and rabbits?
Growing my own cows?
Oh, and as far as veggies go, is it up to the individual dog, or are there some "never feed your dog" fruits/vegetables?
I've found with Flip, she has a heck of a time with veggies.

martha said...

-good question- what foods to never give your pups?
grapes for sure
what others?
for weight control while training-I sometimes use apple & carrot bits
and the pup I have now LOVES oh LOVES Blueberries
one of his first words he learned was BLUEBERRIES!!
for ONE SINGLE blueberry he would do 5, count'em 5 "puppy pushups"!!
(now they are tooo expensive!)
...sorry i changed the topic on you....
what about the occasional raw bone?

Vets Online said...

This is a really cool vets blog.

Anonymous said...

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Angus said...

Great post. Good to see you back again. Post pancreatitis one of our two PLS's has a problem with protein - too much and his ever present colitis flares up. Finding a low protein food that he'll eat has been a real test of our ( and his ) patience. Look forward to your next post.

Life With Dogs said...

Great post, even though I am late finding it!

Ben Simmons said...

I agree Mel, I have lost count on the number of dogs I have met where the owner has unwittingly misfed the pet on the meat from an unknown source. Especially those fed on the economy brands adopted by so many supermarkets here in the UK.

spotts said...

If people could only understand that feeding their pet's junk food is bad, but so many people eat poorly themselves so it is no wonder that pet's are fat too.
Spotts Grooming & Holistic Pet Foods

Komondor Puppy said...

Agree with spotts. Why do we expect people to feed their pets properly if they are unable to feed themselves properly? Raising awarness is the only way forward tough, keep up the good work!

1916home said...

Hi. My cat was brutally attacked by two pitbulls and my cat survived the attack. No broken bones and no internal bleeding according to the emergency vet. Lots of wounds everywhere and I notice his entire belly area is a dark red bruise... very dark. Is he going to be OK? I have the x-rays. The emergency vet said he should pull through, but these deep bruises look horrible.

Keisha said...

New reader, first comment. Great post - love the idea of educating pet owners on nutrition! My Catahoula/Pit mix gets mainly dry kibble (a higher protein content because he is so active) with vet approved treats such as low sodium green beans and carrots, organic peanut butter and peeled apple slices. Once a week, he gets a raw brown egg on top of his kibble. He went for his yearly check-up and vaccines today and I was told he is amazing, nothing to complain about. When possible, I buy fresh veggies locally for my human kids and my four legged kids as I believe it's better than store bought produce. What do you think about local versus store bought fresh foods for pets? Any opinions on that?

kasia said...

Raw all the way for both dogs and cats (they would never in a million years cook their food would they??!) with added species appropriate roughage, plus raw bones....... and definitely no dry (kibble) so called food.