Choosing the best diet – know what you are feeding

Do you know what your pet is really eating?  It is so important these days to look beyond the marketing hype and actually read the ingredient list – you may be shocked at what you see!

Here is an example of the ingredients in a typical grocery store food:
CORN, SOYBEAN MEAL, BEEF & BONE MEAL, WHOLE WHEAT, ANIMAL FAT (BHA USED AS PRESERVATIVE), CORN SYRUP, WHEAT MIDDLINGS, WATER SUFFICIENT FOR PROCESSING, ANIMAL DIGEST (SOURCE OF CHICKEN FLAVOR), PROPYLENE GLYCOL, SALT, HYDROCHLORIC ACID, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, PEAS, CARAMEL COLOR, SORBIC ACID (USED AS A PRESERVATIVE), CHOLINE CHLORIDE, SODIUM CARBONATE, MINERALS (FERROUS SULFATE, ZINC OXIDE, MANGANOUS OXIDE, COPPER SULFATE, CALCIUM IODATE, SODIUM SELENITE), VITAMINS (VITAMIN E SUPPLEMENT, NIACIN, D-CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE, VITAMIN A SUPPLEMENT, RIBOFLAVIN SUPPLEMENT, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, VITAMIN D3 SUPPLEMENT, VITAMIN B12 SUPPLEMENT, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, FOLIC ACID, BIOTIN), DL-METHIONINE, CALCIUM SULFATE, CARROTS, GREEN BEANS, WHEAT FLOUR, TITANIUM DIOXIDE (COLOR), YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6, RED 40, BHA (USED AS A PRESERVATIVE), BLUE 1.

Notice that this diet is primarily grain with a bit of meat flavoring. Five of the ingredients are actually the colors red, yellow, and blue – do you think your dog really cares what color the food is? This is all part of the marketing game.  There are a few vegetables and a whole bunch of synthetic vitamins and minerals.

This one is from a ‘better’ dry food:
Chicken Meal, Millet, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Pumpkin Seed, Yeast Culture, Spray Dried Chicken Liver, Dried Egg Product, Alfalfa Nutrient Concentrate, Montmorillonite Clay, Dried Kelp, Spray Dried Porcine Plasma, Dried Tomato, Almonds, Dried Chicory Root, Dried Carrot, Dried Apple, Menhaden Fish Meal, Dried Pumpkin, Dried Apricot, Dried Blueberry, Dried Spinach, Dried Broccoli, Dried Cranberry, Parsley, Dried Artichoke, Rosemary, Dried Mushroom, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium bifidium Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus coagulans Fermentation Product, Dried Pineapple Extract, Dried Aspergillus niger Fermentation Extract, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Extract, Dried Trichoderma longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract

There are more real-food ingredients, but the second ingredient is millet, which is used as a binder and filler.  The first ingredient is chicken meal, so we really don’t know what is in that one.

Here is one from a ‘high-end’ dry food:
Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, chicken liver, chicken meal, catfish meal, turkey giblets, whole red lentils, whole pinto beans, pollock meal, chicken fat, whole green lentils, whole green peas, whole chickpeas, whole blue catfish, whole eggs, rainbow trout, pollock oil, lentil fiber, natural chicken flavor, chicken cartilage, turkey cartilage, choline chloride, whole pumpkin, whole butternut squash, mixed tocopherols (preservative), dried kelp, zinc proteinate, kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, whole carrots, whole apples, whole pears, freeze-dried chicken liver, freeze-dried turkey liver, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, copper proteinate, chicory root, turmeric, sarsaparilla root, althea root, rosehips, juniper berries, dried lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried lactobacillus casei fermentation product.

There is more meat in this one, but also red lentils, pinto beans, lentil fiber, green lentils, green peas, and chickpeas.  None of these are necessary in the diet of a carnivore, and can, in fact cause disruption in the normal digestion and absorbtion of nutrients.

Here is the list from a balanced raw diet:

Free-Range Meat (74.58%): Chicken Meat, Chicken Necks  (including bone), Chicken Gizzards, Chicken Livers, and Chicken Hearts.

Organic Vegetables (24.64%): Yams, Romaine Lettuce, Carrots, Yellow Squash, Zucchini, Celery, and Parsley.

Special Nutrient Mix (0.78%): Organic Flaxseed Oil, Sea Salt, Inulin, Cod Liver Oil, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Vitamin E, Manganese Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Iodine.

This list is primarily unprocessed, whole-food ingredients. There are a few supplements added to provide complete nutrition.

Look at the difference in these ingredient lists.  If you did not read them, you would have no idea what your pet was eating, and the difference is immense!

Here are some recommendations in choosing a food for your pet:

  1. The best diet will contain fresh whole foods with minimal processing.  This will include raw or lightly cooked products.
  2. The next best diet would be lightly processed such as dehydrated, freeze-dried, or oven-baked.  This type of processing will still lose nutrient value, but is more convenient and can be a good option to mix with some raw food in the diet.
  3. Canned food has the benefit of a higher moisture content, and does not typically contain the fillers that dry food does.  Still, read the ingredients carefully and I do not recommend feeding this as the only food type in the diet.
  4. Kibble is last on the list due to the level of processing that damages nutrients and can even cause toxicity.  Because of the need to hold the pieces together, there will always be some sort of carb or filler.  Although there is some variability in the quality of kibble ingredients, I do not recommend that any kibble constitute a majority of your pet’s diet.

 

Eliminating toxins

We live in a toxic world, and it is becoming more so all the time, and at an alarming rate. No matter how hard we try to avoid exposure to toxins, it is impossible to avoid certain chemicals and carcinogens completely. In this two-part post, we will first address avoiding identifying and avoiding toxins, and in the second part, some specific steps to take after exposure.

Let’s start with diet.  Herbicides and pesticides are used extensively in our food supply; even foods that are grown organically can be cross-contaminated from crops that are sprayed with chemicals such as glyphosate.  In fact, the use has become so rampant that it has even been tested in the rainwater of certain areas. Constant vigilance is necessary to ensure the purity of your pet’s food supply, and yours as well.  Because dogs and cats are carnivores, they eat foods sourced from other animals.  It is therefore very important to investigate the sourcing of the foods you feed.  What the animals eat and how they are raised has a dramatic affect on the nutritional quality of the end product. If the feed is sprayed with chemicals that becomes part of the food product that you feed your pet.  Many food animals are fed diets that are solely designed to cause weight gain, but this can actually make them sick, causing the food produced to be nutritionally imbalanced.  For example, cattle raised on grass, which is their natural food, have a healthy balance of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  In contrast, cattle raised or finished on grain have a much higher omega 6 fraction which leads to inflammation when eaten.  This is the reason for much of the bad press that red meat has gotten over the years.  It is not the case that red meat is unhealthy; rather meat from cattle raised inappropriately is unhealthy.

In pet foods, even those that start with healthy ingredients can become toxic due to over processing.  Processing at high temperatures or pressures not only destroys vital nutrients, but can denature some proteins and fats causing them to become toxic.  Regulation in the pet food industry is lax at best, and nutritional standards are so weak that a fully inadequate and toxic diet will meet current standards.  The best recourse is to vote with your dollar and favor companies that produce well-sourced, minimally processed products and the stores that sell them.  The inquiry must be ongoing as companies frequently change their standards due to industry pressure.

Now let’s talk water.  Many toxins and pharmaceutical drugs have been tested in municipal water supplies.  The water is also treated with chlorine and fluoride, both of which are toxic.  Water alone could be toxic enough to cause cancer in pets.  The ideal water source is a natural spring, which also contains important minerals from the earth.  This is not a readily available in many areas, so a home filtration system is the next best option.  Reverse osmosis is the most complete type of filtration, but it will also remove minerals so these need to be added back in.  Toxins can also be absorbed through the skin, so also consider the water you use to bathe your pet.  Water from an outside spicket is just as toxic unless you have a private well.

Ok, we have covered what your pet eats and drinks; what about the dishes and utensils you are using?  Plastics contain many toxic chemicals, many of which are hormone disruptors that affect the function of the endocrine system.  Hormonal regulation is very important to the health of the body, and requires a delicate balance.  Once disrupted, the system can cause havoc with the entire body.  There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ plastic either.  BPA has been incriminated as toxic and many plastics are now labelled ‘BPA-free’ but this is only one chemical and most plastics contain others that are just as toxic.  To prevent exposure, use stainless steel, or ceramic that has been stained or glazed with non-toxic products.

Does your pet have toys?  The plastics used to make toys are also toxic, so favor natural materials.  Chew treats that are animal products must follow the same standards mentioned above for choosing food products.  How about bedding?  Many fabrics and stuffings are sprayed with chemicals such as flame retardants and anti-bacterial.  Your pet comes in direct contact with bedding, not to mention breathing in the fumes.  You will pay more for natural fabrics, but the cost is nothing compared to the financial and emotional cost of treating a disease such as cancer.

Inside your home, carpeting and other flooring, furniture, draperies, certain paints and drywall contain toxic chemicals.  Now, granted, you may not be able to change all of these things, but at least consider changing to less toxic options over time.

So far, we have been talking about the toxins present in physical materials.  What about some toxins that you can’t see?  Our culture has become addicted to electronic devices, all of which emit EMF’s, or electromagnetic frequencies that disrupt the health of cells in many parts of the body.  Under the microscope, very dramatic and rapid changes can be seen in red blood cells exposed to EMF.  Constant exposure from cell phones and towers; wifi; florescent lighting; smart meters can be devastating to your pet’s health and the risk continues to grow as we become more dependent on our electronic devices.  There will be an entire section on how to reduce the EMF exposure in your home, but a few things for starters are:

  1. Distance matters. Keep your cell phone and computer away from you and your pet’s body.
  2. Power down. Your modem power can be adjusted down to emit less EMF. Better yet, turn it off completely when not in use, especially at night when you are sleeping.  This is a valuable time for your body to regenerate and repair and it is imperative that EMF does not interfere with this process.
  3. If possible, put your cellphone in airplane mode while driving in your car. The phone emits more EMF as it searches for signal.
  4. Spend time outside contacting the earth directly or consider an earthing sheet or mat.

 

We have been talking about some changes that you can make to avoid toxins in your pet’s environment, and these are very important steps.  The reality is, however, that we cannot completely eliminate toxic exposure.  This is why an ongoing detox program is so important.  Once again, proper nutrition is key here as it gives the body the tools it needs to use its own detoxification system.  The liver and kidneys are the primary organs of detoxification and must be supported.  There are herbs that can help with this process, along with drinking plenty of filtered  or spring water.  We will address this further in part two of this post.

GMO in Pet food

This is a very important reason to carefully scrutinize not only the ingredients in your pet’s food, but where they come from. What does GMO mean?  GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and they are becoming more and more prevalent in our food supply every day.  Crops are modified to increase profit by increasing resistance to disease, or increasing production.  What is the problem with GMO?  Genetic engineering is done in such a way that the DNA of the plant is permanently altered.  The scary part is that very little testing is done to determine what effects the altered genetics will have on the person or animal ingesting the food.  The modified genes can be unstable and even incorporate into intestinal cells, modifying their DNA!

This can explain increases in diseases such as allergies, food sensitivities, autoimmune syndromes and cancer, even when supposedly ‘healthy’ foods are being consumed.   You can learn more details about the genetic modification of our food supply at: https://responsibletechnology.org/

What does this mean for your pet and how can you feed foods that are GMO free?  The answer is to read labels and ask questions of food producers.  Anything labelled organic will be GMO free by definition.  Avoid soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn, and sugar from sugar beets.  These are the crops with the highest prevalence of GMO.  Remember too that there are many byproducts of these crops, especially corn, such as syrup, starch additives.  Many companies are now labeling their products that are GMO free.  You can find a more comprehensive shopping guide at http://nongmoshoppingguide.com/.

In general, fresh organic ingredients will provide the best chance of avoiding genetically engineered foods.  Companies that do not use genetically modified ingredients will typically make that obvious on their packaging.  Remember – pay attention, read labels and ask questions if labels are unclear.  The time you spend will be worth the health benefits to you and your pets.

Feeding your cat

There are 2 main ingredients that are essential in your cat’s diet:  1. Meat    2. Water

1.Cats are obligate carnivores.  This means that cats must eat a diet that is about 85% meat or they will not get the nutrients that they need.  Certain nutrients that are found in meat  meat can be synthesized internally by other species such as humans and even dogs, but not by cats.  For example, taurine is an essential amino acid that cats must have or can develop heart disease along with vision problems, poor coats, and low energy.

Nutrients such as taurine can be chemically synthesized and added into commercial diets, but there are many benefits to feed it from a natural source.  Every nutrient found in nature comes with ‘hidden’ benefits that aid its digestion, absolution, and utilization.  Chemical reproductions of nutrients may not be as compatible with your cat’s physiology and some of the benefits may be lost in the processing of the diet.

2. Cats should eat a diet that is 70% water and will likely be healthiest when they get moisture from their food rather than drinking it from a bowl.  Why?  Cats were originally desert animals, and there was not a lot of water around to drink.  Many cats, therefore, do not have a big enough thirst drive to drink what their body needs, especially if they are eating a kibble-type diet, which are typically about 10% moisture.  When eating a kibble diet, a cat must drink enough to make up for the moisture lacking in the food, along with some extra to meet their metabolic demands.  Many cats end up with kidney and bladder disease because they live their lives in a state of chronic dehydration.

Cats are also picky water drinkers.  Have you ever know a cat that will only drink out of a running faucet or a glass of water?  These cats are often the ones that do not take in enough water to stay healthy.

So now, what do you feed your cat?

Learn to read pet food labels so you are familiar with what you are feeding your cat.  A fresh(ideally raw), balanced commercial diet is the simplest way to feed your cat. See my post on reading ingredients.

You will likely need to experiment and find the texture and type of meat that your cat likes best, and it is a good idea to change the food around a bit.  Many cats will stop eating a certain food if it is fed for long enough.  Remember also that there is no guarantee that the pet food will remain the same – ingredients and processing methods typically change over time, and this may be the reason that your cat loses interest in a certain diet.

 

 

Prescription diets – how healthy are they?

You have likely heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’.  There is a great deal of truth in this for our dog and cat companions as well.  The options and information about what is best to feed your pet are nothing less than overwhelming these days, and it is very important that you read carefully the actual ingredients that you are feeding your pet.

Prescription diets have been  the mainstay of therapeutic nutrition in veterinary medicine for many years.   These are diets that claim to give you a handy package containing the proper nutrition for whatever ails your pet.  Let’s take a look at a few examples for the sake of comparison:

1.  Here is the partial ingredient list for a diet claiming to help with canine liver disease:

Brewers Rice, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Egg Product, Soybean Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Flaxseed, Pork Protein Isolate, Chicken Liver Flavor.

2. And another claiming to promote bladder health in cats:

Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Chicken Liver Flavor, Fish Oil

3. For contrast, here is the label ingredients from a commercial raw food product:

Ground chicken (including ground bone), chicken gizzards, chicken hearts, organic squash, organic apples, chicken livers, organic greens, organic broccoli, organic blueberries, organic apple cider vinegar

4. And another from a grain-free dry dog food:

Bison, lamb meal, chicken meal, egg product, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, canola oil, roasted bison, roasted venison, natural flavor, tomato pomace, ocean fish meal, salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, yucca schidigera extract, dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus plantarum

Now just use your common sense for a moment – which of these diets do you think provides the most well-rounded nutrition for your pet?  It will be the diets with the most whole-food ingredients and minimal procesing.

I have not recommended a prescription diet food in years now. These diets typically target a specific condition and the diets can actually cause imbalances over time.

In fact, my basic nutritional recommendations change very little from pet to pet, though I may modify slightly depending on the health condition.  Fresh, whole foods and a diet that is meat based and minimally processed is the best pick for your companion.

It is always important to perform appropriate diagnostics such as bloodwork and ultrasound when indicated, and there are other supplements and herbs that can help with certain health conditions.

A species-appropriate diet, however, is always the best place to start in keeping your pet healthy.

 

 

Lifestage diets – is the change necessary?

Many commercial pet food companies these days have foods grouped into categories based on a pet’s age.  You will likely see varieties such as puppy, adult, senior, weight loss, and even some breed-specific diets.  Is all this necessary for proper nutrition?  I say, absolutely NOT!! Dogs and cats are basically designed to eat the same diet from the day they are weaned until the day they die.  I would like to clarify that this is for maintenance only – certain disease conditions may require some variation in the diet.  In my way of thinking, however, it is absurd to think that just because a pet reaches a certain age, its diet must change.  This is nothing more than marketing hype.  The best fundamental nutrition for a dog or cat is a fresh, meat-based diet with a 70% moisture content.  I may sometimes use a diet that is more bland or lower in fat or protein for certain disease conditions, but my basic nutritional recommendations do not change.

My recommendation is to feed whole, fresh foods whenever possible and avoid by-products, chemicals and preservatives in your pet’s diet.  Many of the healthiest commercial foods available do not have life-stage diets – don’t let this keep you from feeding your pet the best diet possible.

Vegetarian diets, are they safe for dogs and cats?

Dogs and cats are carnivores and are meant to eat a meat-based diet.  I understand that many humans choose to be vegetarians for a variety of reasons, but our bodies are much more suited to this type of diets than our canine or feline companions.  Dogs and cats thrive on the nutritional balance that would be obtained from a prey meal – muscle, bone, fat, organ meat, and intestines.   Recreating this type of nutrition in a vegetarian or vegan diet is very difficult to do, and I would challenge those that say that they are able to accomplish this feat. 

There is a huge difference between surviving and thriving.  I would be interested to check blood levels for adequate protein, minerals, amino acids, calcium and phosphorus as well as checking for anemia in natural carnivores that are fed a vegetarian diet.  I have seen dogs on vegetarian diets and have yet to see one that looks healthy.  I have seen dull hair coats, hair loss, flaky skin, along with a general ‘dull’ look in the eyes.  The dog may be surviving, but is deprived of optimal health and energy through nutritional deprivation.

In cats, feeding a vegetarian diet is not only unhealthy, but could become life-threatening.  Cats are obligate carnivores, there are certain nutrients that they MUST get from meat.  Dogs have a greater ability to  survive on an omnivorous diet than cats do, but their teeth and digestive system are best equipped to eat meat.  The healthiest patients I have seen are those fed a balanced, raw, meat-based diet, with at least 70% of the diet consisting of fresh meat.

Is feeding raw food safe for your pets?

Yes, raw food can be fed safely to your pets. When handled properly, there is no danger whatsoever in feeding your pet raw food.  Raw meat that is fresh or has been frozen fresh will not contain harmful bacteria.  There are also commercial raw products that provide guaranteed freshness along with a balanced diet.

Raw is the most natural diet for dogs and cats. As carnivores, dogs and cats are designed to eat a diet that is about 75% meat with a high moisture content – as if they were killing prey in the wild.  Their entire digestive tract, including teeth, saliva, enzymes and intestines are better equipped to digest meat rather than vegetables and grains.

The biggest benefit in feeding raw food is that it is nutritionally superior to feeding any form of processed food. Commercial foods are processed at high temperatures that can destroy important nutrients. There are also inherent benefits in feeding whole, unaltered foods.   Certain nutritional components are only beneficial in the whole food form, not when broken down into their chemical counterparts.  Many pet foods start with good ingredients and then process them into a dry kibble form that requires the vitamins and minerals to be added back in.

 

Reading pet food labels – Sifting through the Marketing Hype

Pet food manufacturers are experts at making labels and packaging look attractive, attempting to convince you that their food is better than the rest.  Their objective, however, is to sell their food, not help you feed your pet a healthy diet.  As I said in my post on reading ingredients, the most important thing you can do for your pet is to read the actual ingredients so that you know exactly what you are feeding.  You will see colorful packaging, wonderful claims, even ingredients that sound nutritious on the package; but don’t be fooled – these are methods of marketing to you, with the sole purpose of selling food.

Pet foods do vary in quality, and you will need to learn some of the language of the industry to know the difference.  A truly meat-based diet, which is required to have 95% of the meat protein present, will list the ingredient simply, such as ‘Beef dog food’.  If a name includes an adjective such as dinner, formula, or meal, only 25% of the ingredient listed is required to be present.  Something like beef flavor does not necessarily contain any beef at all, rather some by-product sprayed on the food to make it taste like beef.

On most bags of food, you will likely see something about meeting AAFCO nutritional standards.  Who is AAFCO?  AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officers.  AAFCO is not a regulatory agency.  It is a non-profit organization that creates guidelines that other regulatory agencies can use, but the guidelines are rather loose.  Feeding trials are often done to show that a pet food is nutritionally complete.  An AAFCO feeding trial may consist of a minimum of 8 pets and lasts for 6 months.  The criteria for approval consists of weight stability and a few blood parameters, which are measured before and after the study.  This type of study does nothing to address long term health maintenance, only short-term survival.

There is no substitute for good nutrition when it comes to keeping your pet healthy.  The best thing you can do is to use these guidelines and examine the food you are feeding closely.  You will be helping your pet live a longer, healthier life.

 

Reading pet food labels, Part 1 – The Ingredient List

Do you know what your pet is really eating?  Pet food labeling is often a combination of deceptive marketing and misleading ingredient information.  This is the first part of a series of posts to provide some important tips on choosing the right food for your pet.

Part one, the ingredient list:

1. Read the ingredients every time you buy food, even if it is the same food each time. Why?  Ingredients change.  Pet food companies will often change ingredients in order to control costs, which may mean a decrease in quality or an addition of an ingredient that may not benefit your pet. Look for changes in ingredients, or ingredients that you do not understand – this is a way to add in fillers and ‘miscellaneous’ body parts.

2. Know what the ingredients mean.  True meat will be listed as such – chicken, beef, lamb, etc… and will consist of muscle and associated tissues ( this is the ‘meat’ that we buy and eat at the grocery store).  Meat-based meals and by-products will contain a variety of other body parts, which although not harmful, may not have significant nutritional benefit for your pet.

3. The order of ingredients.  Ingredients are listed in order of descending weight before processing.  High moisture ingredients such as meat may be listed first, but after processing are not actually the predominant ingredient in the food.

3. Which ingredients are best?  The fresher the better.  Pet food that use fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits are going to be the healthiest.  Grains, though not necessarily harmful in small amounts, should not be a primary ingredient in any food for a dog or a cat.

Bottom line – feed pet foods with ingredients that sound like real food – things you recognize and would eat yourself or feed your family.  Would you order ‘chicken by-product meal’ at a restaurant, or prepare it for dinner at home?  Probably not….then don’t feed it to your pets either.

Part 2 – Sifting through the marketing hype – what can you really believe?  http://drjudyholisticvet.com/2012/01/reading-pet-food-labels-part-2-sifting-through-the-marketing-hype/