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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...