Every cell in every organism has evolved to survive, grow and multiply on a wide range of species-appropriate nutrients. Food is the source of this nutrition and the more natural the food, the better the quality of nutrition. It is essential that an animal is fed the type of food it has evolved to eat in order for it to utilise the nutrients and gain sustenance from the food to maintain health and prevent and fight illness and disease.
When it comes to cats and dogs they have adapted through millions of years to maintaining health by eating foods easily available to them in the wild which are biologically appropriate to their digestive systems and easily digested. These foods are called the dogs or cats natural foods.
“An animal’s natural foods are the ones his body, organs and structures are best equipped to utilize. Through evolution the bodies of dogs have superbly adapted to maintain health on the foods that were most easily available to them in the wild. These foods are called the dog's natural foods” (Lazarus, Keep Your Dog Healthy the Natural Way,1999)
Natural Raw Food for Pets
Dogs and cats evolved to eat raw food. Their bodies rely on the nutrients in raw food for growth, reproduction, immunity and longevity. Eating raw food as nature intended strengthens a pet’s immune system giving it the ability to prevent and fight off illness and disease, provide the correct proportion of minerals for bone development, sustain a healthy skin and coat, prevent premature ageing, promote dental health and support sexual function. This is why a raw food diet is essential.
It is no surprise then that feeding an unnatural, species inappropriate, predominantly processed pet food which lacks essential nutrients (or an unhealthy overabundance of some) can lead to illness, allergies and diseases in our companion animals including cancer, diabetes, immune and growth problems, and inflammatory diseases like pancreatitis.
Why a natural diet is beneficial
· A natural diet doesn’t have anything artificial, no colourings, flavours, preservatives or toxins, especially if it is organic. It doesn’t contain any diseased organs or made from animal/bone meal from dying or sick animals.
· Raw meat is a natural source of essential nutrients, including high quality protein, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and enzymes.
· Natural foods boost the immune system and prevent disease, illness and premature death. They also promote physical and mental health, happiness and well-being. Behavioural problems in dogs can be attributed back to a lack of nutrients as the brain also requires essential nutrients for optimal function.
· A natural diet promotes longevity, and prevents premature and random ageing
· Bones are natures toothbrush, bulk stools, provide exercise and supply a balanced level of minerals, e.g. calcium and phosphorous
· Resembles a dog’s wild ancestors natural diet
Domestic dogs have the same eating habits, nutritional needs and digestive system as wolves and wild dogs. However, it’s falsely believed that domestic dogs have evolved differently to wolves and wild dogs impacting their metabolism, ability to digest raw food and weakening their digestive system (Billinghurst, 1993). Vitamins, minerals and amino acids act as anti-oxidants and when fed in raw food prevent ageing and fight disease.
Home Cooked Food for Pets
Food is cooked to kill harmful bacteria, increase its longevity, make it easier to digest and prevent the transfer of parasites. While some foods do need to be cooked to make them easier to digest e.g. grains and some vegetables, cooking actually reduces the nutritional value of food. Water-soluble vitamins are lost in the cooking water when vegetables are boiled, while enzymes are destroyed by heat. Enzymes are essential nutrients that aid in the digestion of the food they are found in and slow down the ageing process (Billinghurst, 1993). The cooking process destroys anti-oxidants, also essential to slowing down the ageing process, and changes the molecular structure of proteins, fats and carbohydrates making them more difficult to digest and turning fats into potentially dangerous chemicals.
Although cooking food may make it look, smell and taste better, by removing many of the foods nutritional benefits it may inadvertently cause health issues down the track. As wild dogs and wolves live exclusively on a raw diet, and remembering that domesticated dogs have the same digestive system as their wild relatives, it makes sense that a raw diet is suitable for domesticated dogs providing all the nutrients they require.
Pets fed a home cooked diet may exhibit some or all of the following health problems:
· Poor dental health from a lack of bones;
· Skin issues from a lack of essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants and vitamins etc.;
· Joint problems from a lack of enzymes and anti-oxidants; and
· Kidney damage from excess protein.
However, this doesn't make home cooked food bad for pets. Humans after all eat cooked food. In fact, some pets do better on a cooked rather than a raw meal and for some it is recommended. In particular, pets diagnosed with cancer. This is crossing into the territory of therapeutic diets, which is not within the scope of this blog.
Commercial Pet Food
Prior to the industrial revolution when farming and self-sufficiency was key to survival; family pets were fed the leftover food from the family meal. Dogs at this time received nutrients from bones, meat, fruit and vegetables, providing them a balanced diet over time.
In the mid 1800’s a young electrician, James Spratt invented the first dog biscuit after observing dogs being thrown leftover dried biscuits made from flour, water and salt from ships docked in the harbour. The biscuits were cheap to make and easy to serve with a long shelf life. When Spratt’s dog biscuits hit the market in 1860, the pet food industry was born. Many followed in Spratt’s footsteps including the Chappel brothers of Rockford, Illinois who in 1922 developed the first canned dog food made from horsemeat. To promote their canned food they sponsored the Rin Tin Tin show and hence advertisements promoting the health benefits of commercial dog food began.
The feeding of raw food to dogs was discouraged, claiming it would cause serious health issues and changing their routine diet would upset their digestive system (Khalsa, 2009). However, many commercial dog foods contain waste products from the cattle and poultry industry, deemed unsuitable and unsafe for human consumption and have been found to include the remains of euthanised animals, roadkill and tumour growths.
Additives, preservatives and genetically modified foods have been added to commercial pet food to prolong its shelf life, improve colour, texture and taste while the food preparation and cooking process reduces the nutritional value of the food. Animals have not yet evolved to be able to digest grains, however many commercial pet foods use grain as a major ingredient in their food. Vets are now reporting higher and higher instances of pets with allergy related conditions which is suspected to be caused by a high grain diet. Wheat and grain free pet foods now populate supermarket shelves. While they may seem like a step in the right direction, wheat and grains have been replaced with other fillers that are also indigestible in the animal GI tract.
Today, pet food companies may add synthesised vitamins and minerals to commercial pet food to bulk up their nutritional value however they maybe unusable or unavailable to the pet due to the cooking and manufacturing process.
Vets have also reported an increase in pets with dental problems, illness, disease and pre-mature death since the introduction of commercial pet food. Doggy dentistry is now a lucrative and growing industry in the veterinary world which anyone who has had to have their dogs teeth cleaned with know.
1. Billinghurst, Dr. Ian, 1993, Give Your Dog a Bone, 22nd Print, Warrigal Publishing, Bathurst, NSW, Australia
2. Khalsa, Dr. Deva, 2009, ‘Natural Dog: A Holistic Guide for Healthier Dogs’, BowTie Press, Irvine, California 92618
3. Lazarus, Pat, 1999, Keep Your Dog Health the Natural Way, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, USA
4. Pitcairn, Richard H, DVN, PHD. & Susan Hubble Pitcairn, 2005, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, Holtzbrinck Publishers, USA
5. Schultze, Kymthy, 1998, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: the Ultimate Diet, Hay House Inc, USA