What is an appropriate diet for cats and dogs? A dry diet in the form of a pellet or kibble, or a wet diet in the form of home-cooked meals, raw food or canned food?
Not so long ago we were only accustomed to feeding our pets wet food and scraps from the table. This is no new revelation. Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents certainly fed our companion animals left over scraps from dinner or even prepared, separately, a tasty nutritious meal from home.
After the recent introduction of dried kibble into our households it became the norm to feed our pets in this way, whether obtained through a supermarket or veterinarians. The nutritional base of our animals shifted to highly processed and chemically-laden food – an abrupt change from their natural diet.
While manufacturers have claimed that our pets could thrive on a diet consisting of nothing but commercial dried food, research and an increasing number of veterinarians implicate processed dried pet food as a source of disease or as an exacerbating agent for a number of degenerative diseases.
After the last spate of pet food recalls, in which melamine was discovered in the food as a substitute for a protein source, many pet owners began to reassess diet and investigate the source and production of dried commercial pet food. Consumers also started to look at alternative natural and wet diets.
There is no doubt that the feeding of dried food is more convenient and, depending on what brand you are using, may be even more cost effective, although this is not always the case. But like everything in life, there are no short cuts, and this may come at a cost. Certainly, we are finding that suddenly the longevity of our pets has decreased and that many of our companion animals are suffering from common ailments like skin allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, renal complications, arthritic conditions, dental disease and cancer.
The British Journal of Small Animal Practice states that “a growing number of vets state that process pet food is the main cause of illness and premature death in the modern dog and cat”. In December 1995 they published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other disease. This research, initially conducted by Dr. Tom Lonsdale, was researched further by the Australian Veterinary Association and proven to be correct.
So in essence, what is a kibble or pellet and why may it be offensive to many veterinarians and nutritionists?
Well, for one, dried food is so foreign to the feeding behaviour of our domesticated pets and their ancestry from the wild, whom were accustomed to eating real, whole and wet foods. Moreover, gastronomically dried food has its limitations and may, in fact, be even “boring”. Variety is the spice of life and no more so than with our cats and dogs who have a fantastic sense of smell and taste.
But it is the nutritional component of dried food that is of concern and has certain specific preparation characteristics. All dried pellets must go through a cooking process called an extruder. This process reaches extreme temperatures and in many cases reaches up to 200 degrees.
Wet food, even canned food, is subjected to much lower cooking temperatures and in many cases may not be cooked at all, thus retaining all its natural nutritional values. Whole nourishment comes from whole natural and enzyme-active foods that are not refined, processed or laden with preservatives or chemicals. The highest quality nourishment can be obtained from organic foods grown on fertile soil and raised without harmful chemicals.
Dried food is also preserved to such a degree that it can maintain itself on a shelf for more than 12 months. Canned food, though still containing additives and colorants, is far less preserved because the canning process itself is a method of preserving food. Raw food or home-cooked food need not contain any preservatives. The natural process of freezing can also preserve food up to six months or more.
Most pet food manufacturers have recently phased out BHA and BHT that were used for many years as preservatives in both human and pet foods. Animal tests have linked BHA to stomach and bladder cancer, and BHT to thyroid and bladder cancer. Pet food manufacturers now use ‘mixed tocopherols’ (a claimed source or form of vitamin E), citric acid, beta-carotene and Rosemary extract as preservatives. High levels of vitamin E, the most widely used antioxidant in pet foods today, can disrupt the activity of the other fat soluble vitamins, namely vitamin K (menadione), vitamin A (retinol), and vitamin D (calciferol). These are often added as supplements to the formula, which is not without risk since vitamins A and D can be toxic at biologically excessive levels in the food.
Dried food by its own definition is dry and devoid of moisture. Wet food contains moisture and is why the recommended feeding of wet food is that much more than on dried food. When you extract the moisture from wet food you derive at the same weight and recommended feeding as with dry food.
Both cats and dogs domestically or in the wild rely on their food for their liquid in-take. It is quite uncommon for our domesticated pets to drink copious amounts for water from a bowl. Especially in the case of cats, where on wet food they drink very little water, they now consume large quantities of water.
This state of dehydration may certainly explain why so many cats now suffer from urinary tract infections, crystal formation in the urine and renal complications. Also, technically, acidification has been done for several years by pet food manufacturers to help control struvite crystal formation in the urine that becomes too alkaline when dogs and cats are fed high cereal diets found in dry food.
However, acidification of the diet can destroy acid-sensitive micronutrients like vitamin K, biotin and B-12. The result is that this can lead to the development of calculi/stones in the urinary tract that cause painful and even fatal urinary blockage.
The pet food industry is dominated by the most powerful and influential multi-nationals. Through their clever marketing and jargon they have managed to cloud logic and common sense. By doing so they have instilled a sense of fear and doubt amongst the consumer and that wet food may be nutritionally inferior to dried food. As a result there are many misperceptions.
Probably the biggest farce is that our pets can only clean their teeth by chewing on processed pellets. This argument holds no logic. When we go to the dentist he certainly does not recommend that we clean our teeth by chewing on a rusk or cracker.
Moreover, dogs are gulpers. They are accustomed to swallowing large chunks of wet food at a time. They are not used to chewing pellets that form a paste between tooth and lip. Dogs do not have the ability to lick this paste clean. Thus, the food eventually ferments, builds up bacteria and leads to tooth decay.
Another misperception is that dried food produces dry and firm stools and wet food produces sloppy wet stools. This is not true. What happens when we go to the movies and eat a whole container of dried popcorn? The next day is spent on the toilet. Compare that with consuming a wet noodle soup from your local Chinese restaurant. You produce the perfect stool.
Also, we are led to believe that only commercial dried food is balanced and scientific. How the industry loves these two words. In fact, all and every commercial pet food has to be balanced