By: Jeff Smith, DVM
A new monthly column presented by local experts in pet care
Nutrition: Closer to Nature is Always Better!
I am asked all the time, “What should I feed my dog or cat?” There is not a single simple answer to this question but hopefully you will gain some clarity from the following information.
There are three main diet considerations: budget, ingredients, and convenience.
Budget – One of the main points I emphasize at my puppy and kitten visits is the importance of nutrition, especially in a fast growing animal… I convey, “the more you can spend on food, the less you will need to see me…”
The spectrum ranges from frozen raw food with an eye toward sustainability on the one end to the other end: food sources deemed unsuitable for human consumption (by-products such as beaks, feathers, claws, even tumors) that are combined with fillers and artificial colors & flavors and then cooked.
Another important and often overlooked factor to consider is that it can take up to four times the amount of low quality food to equal the calories from higher quality food. (Side note: food in = stool out…)
Ingredients – Dogs and cats are carnivores. They have not evolved to eat grains – their sharp teeth are designed for tearing! In nature, they ingest a balanced diet by eating an entire carcass, which includes protein from muscle, calcium from bones, fiber from the hide/hair/feathers, fruits & vegetables from stomach contents, and vitamins, minerals & enzymes from organs.
With ongoing pet food recalls, it is tempting to prepare a homemade diet for your pet and, though this is a good idea, it is important to ensure it is balanced. Please seek a recipe from a veterinarian to avoid creating bone and vital organ deficiencies. Note that raw meats from the grocery store have high bacteria counts on the surface, as they are intended to be cooked (regulated by the USDA); certified raw frozen pet foods are not (regulated by the FDA).
Unfortunately, processing food with heat and pressure denatures the proteins/enzymes and destroys vitamins, making processed foods far inferior to fresh or fresh-frozen. If you choose to feed processed (dry, moist or canned) food, you will need to do a fair amount of label reading (the back of the bag, not the front) to ensure a quality diet.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight before they are cooked. Therefore, even if a meat source (no by-products, by the way) is listed first, it will shrink up to 80% upon cooking. So any grains listed next will likely be the dominant ingredients. Meat meals are not all bad. They contain some bone (for calcium, to balance the phosphorus in the meat) and have less moisture content so they can provide a higher protein content after cooking.
Ideally, grains and potatoes (carbohydrates and starches) should be avoided as these simple sugars typically provide more energy than an individual needs, challenge blood sugar-regulating mechanisms, and are easily stored as fat if unused by exercise in short order.
Avoid all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives – at all cost! All processed food needs to be preserved but look for mixed tocopherols (vitamin E and C) as opposed to BHA/BHT and ethoxyquin. On the subject of artificial colors, I often tell my clients, “Your dog doesn’t need to poop a rainbow.” Think about it…
Convenience – We are fortunate that Asheville has an abundance of independently owned pet food stores where the owners have extensive knowledge of evolutionary nutrition and can guide you to the best food for your pet that your budget will allow. Pay them a visit!