THE BASICS OF PET FOOD (thanks to Pat, a.k.a Barbponys)
The first thing to keep in mind when considering a dog food is that dogs are carnivores. Many people think that dogs are omnivores because they are scavengers. They will eat just about anything when they are hungry or if food is scarce. One thing you don’t see Wolves doing is raiding a farmer’s grain field no matter how hungry they may be. Their jaws are designed to rip and shred not grind. Their digestive tract is very short and their gastric juices are very strong to break down bone. All of these components indicate a carnivore. They will eat some plants and berries; however, they get the majority of their plant fiber from pray. It’s not a large portion of their diet but they do need some. Grain, however, is not a part of a natural diet for dogs or wolves and they just can’t use them. Omnivores, humans, have ripping and grinding surfaces to their teeth. We need the grinding surfaces to break down plant fibers, and the hull on grains. Our digestive tracts are very long so we can actually get nutrients out of grain.
There are two schools of thought that are currently, and often hotly, discussed. Feeding dry, and feeding raw or B.A.R.F.
Let’s start with dry:
The ruling body in the pet food industry, government run and regulated, is AAFCO. They determine what our pets need to eat. There are percentages of allowed “contaminants” in all forms of dog food. That includes, waste matter, dirt, foreign objects, i.e.: bedding, decomposed matter, and the list goes on. It’s quite scary that some of it would be considered “safe” for any of our pets to ingest. It certainly wouldn’t be allowed in any or our food. My opinion is, they don’t know squat about proper nutrition for any ones dog or cat.
Most dry dog foods are grain based. And the cheap food that can be
purchased in the grocery store is by far the worst. They don’t use any real meat based proteins, they use by-products, tallow(lard), lots of grain fractions(flours, brans, glutens), and all from very questionable sources. ALL dry food must have some sort of grain or starch in it to hold it together. Some use less than others. The first ingredient on a label is what the food has the most of, by weight. There are two types of meat used in all foods, fresh and meat meal. Meat meal is pre-digested meat protein that is dehydrated and then added to the food formula. It’s a pure form of meat and high in protein. Fresh meat is just that, fresh meat. The draw back to using fresh meat is it losses half its weight in the cooking process. A lot of companies also SAY they use fresh meat because the consumer assumes that it’s better to use fresh than meal and it makes their food “read” better. If it’s true and they use fresh meat, and listing it first on the ingredient label , it is in fact the 6th or 7th ingredient after cooking . It may have started out as the most by weight prior to cooking but……….with meat meal, you are getting a lot more meat-based protein.
When looking for better quality foods, lots of listed protein sources aren’t always a good thing. That doesn’t always mean lots of meat, usually it just means very small amounts of those on the label. I like to see one or two main meat sources, one or two whole grains, some herbs, fruits and perhaps some veggies.
With the use of so much grain in the diets for dogs, intolerance is becoming a big problem. I run into soo many dogs with this or that grain allergy. Protein specific problems are starting to crop up too. And quite often it’s a problem with meat when it’s cooked, not when it’s raw. Rice, wheat, corn, soy, oats, potatoes, millet, amaranth,
quinoa, Durham, spelt, sweet potato,……and the one I REALLY love, brown rice, are all starches. They will all hold the food together and they will all be hard for your dog to digest. Since so many dogs have trouble with food there have been some interesting foods introduced of late. Duck and Potato formulas are very popular, as are venison and BROWN rice, fish and sweet potato, bison and millet, venison and millet etc. etc. etc. Some dogs never have a problem, but many do. And I feel that in time it will be a much bigger problem.
When it comes to specific formulas there are a few hard, fast rules I follow.
1) I do NOT feed puppy foods, the main reason being they don’t need it. The main difference between a puppy and adult formula is the protein percentage and the supplementation. The protein comes from questionable sources, usually grain, and the supplementation doesn’t really help them grow. In some cases it can actually be detrimental. For the large breed dogs giving them too many supplements can cause growth problems, cause them to grow too fast, and it just isn’t necessary. Genetics will determine how big a dog will be, food will influence the over all health but not the end results of growth.
2) The other rule I never break is: I do NOT feed Lite or Senior formulas. They are actually very unhealthy for dogs and cats to eat. They are designed for weight management or weight loss and in fact will make matters worse. With them being heavy grain they will cause the dog to eat more and therefore put on weight. If you have a dog with a weight problem, or even a finicky older dog, a good high quality adult food is good for the life span of most dogs.
Now for raw or B.A.R.F. diets.
B.A.R.F. stands for Bones And Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Depends on whom you talk to. Dr. Ian Billinghurst of Australia brought the BARF diet to the public’s attention. He’s used it for a lot of years on his dogs and cats as well as getting clients to feed it. The concept behind the diet is, dogs and cats are carnivores so it’s makes a lot more sense for them to eat raw meat, bones, eggs, pretty much anything their wild cousins would eat or scavenge. He does use some grain with some animals, I don’t agree with this since it goes against whole point of a raw diet.
Raw Feeders try to mimic what the animal would eat in the wild.
The feeding of vegetation is avoided, the use of whole carcasses is the ideal, no grain is fed in any form, and some supplementation is done. A lot of the folks I know that feed raw do a combination of raw and BARF. I personally do 75/25, my animals get vegetables and fruit. I do feed carcasses, usually chickens though I would feed others if they were available. Whole rabbits would be nice but they are hard to find. I have fed raw to my dogs for a long time, I’m coming up on 10 years and just started my 7th dog on raw.
If you do searches for information on raw you are bound to come across articles about how raw will kill your dog or cat. One sites the fact that it isn’t an ideal diet for wild dogs and cats let alone domestic. That begs the question……..what are they meant to eat if not raw?? How are they going to learn to create fire, harvest and grind grain, and all the other things necessary to eat a cooked or processed diet? I find it very hard to believe that god’s creatures can’t survive without mans intervention. Another fact was brought up, a dog died of worms on the brain. I actually laughed when I read that. It proved he had no idea what he was talking about. The article was written by a PhD, not to belittle his hard work or the respect due for achieving his doctorate, however, there is a built in safeguard to the possibility of that happening, it’s called the blood brain barrier. The only way that could happen is if the worms were a protozoa, which they aren’t, so in fact they can not infect the brain. I’m not disputing his intelligence, I do, however, have serious doubts he received his PhD in nutrition, or any other medically based science. Therefore I dispute his validity in writing the article. There is not hard proof on either side if the diet works. All the evidence is anecdotal; no hard numbers can be given by either side. All I know is, of the hundreds of people I know that feed raw, not 1 is unhappy with the results. Many have fed it for years and have had no difficulty. I have had 7 dogs and a cat on it and have never had any difficulties. I have one on straight raw and he has been for about 2 years now, he’s thriving and happy. Are there guarantees with raw? No. Life offers no guarantees. Are there risks? Sure there are.
There’s always the chance that something could go down wrong, or for some reason a bone isn’t digested properly. Or, the bone splinters when chewed and causes damage. There’s always a certain amount of risk inherent in a raw diet. The fear of germs or bacteria seems to be the most often brought up. The handling of raw meat for a dog or cat is no different than what we do with our own meals. Wash the preparation surfaces, and wash the feeding bowls. I have had people say they are concerned for the safety of their children, my question has been, why is your child getting into the dogs bowl while it is eating? The dogs or cat will not have a problem with any bacteria on the meat. As I stated earlier, their digestive juices are designed to deal with any bacteria or “germs”. The only animals that are prone to illness due to contamination are the very young, the very old or the very ill. I firmly believe that there are as many, if not more risks, to feeding a processed diet however. The risks, in my opinion, are more dangerous. Processed foods do more damage to more dogs/cats than all the stories of raw diets put together. It causes kidney, liver, thyroid, heart and joint damage as well as over all poor health in most dogs/cats that are fed it. The long-term damage can be and usually is extreme. The bottom line is, feeding a carnivore the appropriate diet is imperative to long-term health benefits. Dogs have been domesticated for 10’s of thousands of years, they have been eating out of a bag for the last 50. Take a look at the involvement of big money (corporate America, or Europe) in the feeding of our pets. How many pet food companies are family owned any more?? Very very few.