Holistic Thinking About Pet Nutrition: The raw, homemade, meat based diet

Almost every dog and cat food sold in pet stores and grocery stores is made primarily of grain and, therefore, termed a “cereal or grain based diet”.  Although these “grain based diets” are capable of keeping pets looking “apparently healthy” and free of nutritional deficiencies, they are very far from the ideal diet a dog or cat needs in order to be in a state of  “optimal health”.    Why dogs and cats should be fed a “meat based” rather than a “grain based” diet is the main subject of this paper.

First, let us look at the dog and cat’s dietary history.  Both have evolved from ancestors that were primarily carnivorous and consumed the prey they caught and killed.  Both dogs and cats have relatively simple, short digestive tracts that are far better suited for digesting meat than grain or plant material.   They both have carnivorous dentition with teeth shaped to tear and pull off flesh and to crack and pulverize bones.   Their teeth have no flat, grinding surfaces capable of cracking open grain, as do the herbivorous animals like the cow and horse.   Dogs and cats also lack enzymes necessary to digest plant material and liberate the nutrients within.  Keep in mind that because most of the prey of the ancestors of dogs and cats were herbivorous and because these carnivores would eat the entire carcass including the stomach, intestines and all their contents they would end up eating “predigested” plant material on a regular basis.   So even though dogs and cats are primarily carnivores they should not be fed exclusively meat, but should also be provided lesser amounts of plant material that has been sufficiently cooked or, better yet, fed raw after being pulverized in a blender or juicer in order to make the plant nutrients more accessible for digestion and absorption.

The more grain present in a dog’s or cat’s diet (even when cooked) the more undigested (partially digested) macro-molecules of grain protein will be found in the upper small intestine.   These unacceptably large protein molecules are viewed by the pet’s immune systems as foreign invaders that should not be there and therefore as a threat to the body.   Consequently, the immune tissue present in the intestinal wall, is stimulated to send out immune cells to destroy these large, partially digested grain protein molecules.  During the act of destroying this foreign protein, injury occurs to the surrounding intestinal lining.   As a result of chronic stimulation of the intestinal immune system, by a grain-based diet, progressive damage is done to the lining of the digestive tract until a problem known as “leaky gut syndrome” results.   A leaky gut allows  infectious and toxic foreign material, including yeast, bacteria, bacterial toxins and poorly digested grain protein molecules to pass out of the gut and into the blood stream where they may ultimately contribute to  the development of allergies, arthritis, immune system suppression, autoimmune disease, and cancer..

We consider a meat based diet to be one where more than 40% of the diet is meat (when measured on a dry weight basis).   These diets provide a source of protein that is much easier for carnivore’s to digest when compared with grain based diets.  Because meat based diets contain grain to a much lesser extent than a grain based diet, the likelihood of a leaky gut syndrome developing and producing disease is greatly minimized.  An additional  advantage of a meat-based diet is that meat provides a nearly complete essential amino acid profile.  To come close to such a complete amino acid profile using plants or grains, in place of meat, would require careful combining of two or more complementary grains, vegetables or legumes.

To determine whether a commercial diet is a meat-based diet begin by checking the ingredient list and see if two of the first three ingredients are meat.  If so then it is  possible that the diet may contain more meat than grain.   however, because manufacturers can be very “creative” and misleading when they develop their ingredient list, it is hard to know from the ingredient list alone whether the diet is truly meat based.  Very few manufacturers can actually claim that when calculated on a dry matter basis their food contains more than 20% meat, even when 2 of the first 3 ingredients are meat.

What are your choices ?  One choice is to buy a commercial diet that lists meat as the first two ingredients and to this diet add additional fresh meat.  You could also buy a commercial diet that is truly meat based (at least 40% meat by dry weight) and to this diet add fresh meat.   Finally, you could provide a completely home made diet of cooked but preferably raw or rare food.   This home made diet should contain a minimum of 40% meat and dairy, 30% or more steamed vegetables and fruit, and no more than 30%  whole grain.  The greater variety of foods you supply,  from week to week or month to month, the better.  The fresher the food and the more organically grown ingredients in it the healthier the food is for your pets.   The best vegetables to use are the dark green, dark orange and yellow varieties, especially the cruciferous / brassica vegetables (i.e. brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli).  The vegetables should be lightly steamed or better yet pulverized in a blender or juicer to aid in digestion and the grains should be cooked.  Always add some bone meal to a raw meat / raw vegetable diet to insure that enough calcium is present to provide a healthy calcium phosphorous ratio.  Egg shells softened in vinegar are another way to supply calcium.

When selecting a commercial diet, in addition to making sure it is meat based, there are a number of other important criteria to check out.  For example, what ever grain is present should be “whole grain” rather than “grain fractions or grain by products.”   The fat in the food should be  preserved with natural vitamin E rather than artificial chemical preservatives (ie ethoxyquin).  Chemical flavoring agents, coloring dyes, and texturizures should also be absent.  The quality of the ingredients in the diet is not easily determined from the package information and it may necessitate calling the manufacture and asking their nutritionist certain important questions.  Questions you may want to ask are:  What is the source of the meat and grain in the diet?   —Are they organically grown and are they of a quality fit for human consumption ?   Is the meat “USDA Inspected”?   Was the carcass from where the meat was taken “USDA Approved”?   What form, if any, of meat by-products are included in the diet?   Is the grain tested for the presence of  “mycotoxins”?    What are the quality controls the manufacturer practices ?

Just as meat based diets are healthier than grain based diets, a raw meat, raw vegetable diet is more nutritious than a cooked meat, cooked vegetable diet.  You may wonder why this is true and you may also have some questions about the safety of feeding uncooked meat, so let me explain.  The  use of  fresh raw meat provides fat, amino acids, and vitamins and minerals in a state undamaged by cooking and is, consequently, much more nutritious.   A raw meat diet also provides beneficial bacteria and active enzymes both of which are destroyed by cooking.   Feeding a raw meat diet provides a much fresher diet that is very low in rancid fat and damaging  free radicals.  Feeding a raw meat, raw vegetable diet even once a week or as a daily addition to a high quality commercial diet, helps keep the bowels healthy by providing natural digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria which allows a weakened or imbalanced immune system to be revitalized.  If you are concerned that uncooked meat will be a source of  dangerous bacteria and bacterial toxins you should know that a cat or a dog’s stomach is far more acidic than our own and kills most dangerous bacteria that attempt to pass through.   This is why wild dogs and cats can eat several day old carcasses and not suffer any ill effects.  Parasites such as worms or toxoplasmosis are other legitimate concerns.   However, in most cases the  animal’s immune system will see to it that such threats do not develop into a clinical disease.   I do not recommend you feed raw pork because of the prevalence of parasites.   I also do not recommend feeding raw chicken or turkey because of the high prevalence of Salmonellosis in poultry.  Upon returning home the raw meat should be immediately divided into daily portions, put in plastic bags and placed in the freezer.   It has been claimed that freezing meat for 30 days or more will kill most bacteria and parasites.   Searing the raw meat or soaking it in grapefruit seed extract for 30 minutes  is a further precaution you can take to avoid the possibility of bacterial dangers.  If the idea of feeding raw meat is simply unappealing and or the risk of bacterial contamination is unacceptable you may want to consider cooking the meat but leaving it extremely rare.   Remember, feeding a raw meat, parboiled or grated vegetable diet does not require much more work than feeding a commercial diet because there is very little or no cooking involved.  If you do nothing more than adding, to your pets diet, left over meat and vegetables from your table there will be no cooking or preparation time .      Although the benefits of feeding raw meat, far out way any serious dangers posed by bacteria and parasites, these dangers may be unacceptable to the most conservative and cautious pet owners.  For these people I recommend feeding commercial meat based diet (no raw meat) and adding only raw vegetables that have been parboiled, steamed, grated, or preferably macerated in a blender.   For public health concerns, remember to wear plastic gloves whenever you are handling raw meat.   We recommend that you do not feed raw meat if you can not accept the chance that such a feeding practice could, on rare occassions,   result  in a  pet contracting  a serious bacterial or parasitic disease.

If you are going to prepare an all-natural diet from scratch you should know that vegetables and grains can be parboiled together for just a few minutes.   Use root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets as well as cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and garlic in the late fall and early spring.   Use kale, collard and mustard greens, various green and yellow beans and asparagus in late spring and early fall.  Lettuce and garlic are available all year round.

Creating variety in your pet’s diet is an important concept to keep in mind.  Do not feed the same raw meats or vegetables every day.  On the contrary, gradually change the type of meat and vegetables you feed weekly or monthly.  The greater the variety of foods you feed the greater the overall quality of  nutrients you will provide.  Creating variety is also important when using commercial diets, however, you must move gradually from one to the other.  Feed a commercial diet that is chicken based one month and then move to a beef or lamb based diet the next month.  Varying the types of meat, vegetables, and grains not only increases the overall nutrition but also may help to prevent the development of food associated allergies.

If you decide to feed a predominantly commercial diets it would be wise to add a comprehensive B vitamin supplement, a chelated trace mineral supplement, a plant based digestive enzyme supplement, an essential fatty acid supplement, a probiotic (good bacteria) supplement and an anti-oxidant supplement.   To a predominantly fresh raw muscle meat steamed vegetable diet it would be wise to, once weekly, add some organ meat (i.e. calves liver).  You would also be well advised to add bone meal, raw soup bones, trace mineral supplements, and anti-oxidants.

When choosing a commercial pet diet here is a summary of  things to consider:

The first 2 ingredients listed on the package should be meat rather than grain  or  vegetables.

The meat and grain should, ideally, be of a quality fit for human consumption and should come from USDA inspected carcasses.   Of course,  organically grown meat and grain would be ideal.

No “meat by-products” should present in the ingredient list unless you can be sure of exactly what these by-products are.

“Whole grains” rather than “grain fractions” or grain by-products should be in the  ingredient list.

No artificial chemicals should be used for flavor, coloring, preservation or texturizing.   The package should state that the food  is preserved with natural vitamin E and that ethoxyquin should not be on the ingredient list.

Of course, if you could find a commercial diet using organically grown meat and  vegetables then that would eliminate any concerns regarding the presence of   antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

The food should be as fresh as possible.  Check the manufacture’s package code indicating either the manufacturing date or the expiration date of each package.  ou may need to call the manufacturer for an explanation of the code.

The food should be supplemented with:  vitamins, chelated minerals, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, iodine and friendly  bacteria.

The food should contain as few ingredients as possible that have a reputation for being allergenic:  i.e. wheat, dairy, corn and soy

You should call the manufacture and find out what quality control measures are taken to prevent contamination of  stored grain.

The package should state that it is complete and balanced for all life stages and that  it meets or exceeds the nutritional  requirements as established by AAFCO and the National Academy of Science.

Any steps  that the manufacturer has taken to help the packaging prevent oxidation  and  rancidity is greatly preferred.

Change commercial diets monthly to provide a variety of meats and grains.  Do so   slowly over a 10-day period.

****************************************************************************************

Woodside Animal Clinic is a unique, very personal,  one doctor practice where, for over 35 years, Dr. Simon has been healing dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles with both conventional and alternative medicine.  Dr. Simon is certified in Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Stem cell therapy.  He is the author  of 4 pet care books, a past president of the Oakland County Veterinary Medical Association and a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine  .     Woodside Animal Clinic sees pets from all over Michigan but primarily from the greater Detroit  area  including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw.   Cities in these counties including Royal Oak, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Detroit, Redford, Livonia, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Warren, Centerline, Clawson,  Troy, Sterling Heights, Southfield, Birmingham, Lathrup Village, Bingham Farms, Franklin, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Novi, Wixom, Brighton, Livonia, Plymouth, Commerce, Ann Arbor, Ortonville, Waterford, Union Lake,  Rochester,  Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills, Utica,  Grosse Pointe,  Romeo and Flint, Hartland,  Lansing, Okemos, Flint ,Howell,  Brighton, White Lake, Romeo, Saline, South Lyon, Windsor Canada, Toledo Ohio

Almost every dog and cat food sold in pet stores and grocery stores is made primarily of grain and, therefore, termed a “cereal or grain based diet”.  Although these “grain based diets” are capable of keeping pets looking “apparently healthy” and free of nutritional deficiencies, they are very far from the ideal diet a dog or cat needs in order to be in a state of  “optimal health”.    Why dogs and cats should be fed a “meat based” rather than a “grain based” diet is the main subject of this paper.

First, let us look at the dog and cat’s dietary history.  Both have evolved from ancestors that were primarily carnivorous and consumed the prey they caught and killed.  Both dogs and cats have relatively simple, short digestive tracts that are far better suited for digesting meat than grain or plant material.   They both have carnivorous dentition with teeth shaped to tear and pull off flesh and to crack and pulverize bones.   Their teeth have no flat, grinding surfaces capable of cracking open grain, as do the herbivorous animals like the cow and horse.   Dogs and cats also lack enzymes necessary to digest plant material and liberate the nutrients within.  Keep in mind that because most of the prey of the ancestors of dogs and cats were herbivorous and because these carnivores would eat the entire carcass including the stomach, intestines and all their contents they would end up eating “predigested” plant material on a regular basis.   So even though dogs and cats are primarily carnivores they should not be fed exclusively meat, but should also be provided lesser amounts of plant material that has been sufficiently cooked or, better yet, fed raw after being pulverized in a blender or juicer in order to make the plant nutrients more accessible for digestion and absorption.

The more grain present in a dog’s or cat’s diet (even when cooked) the more undigested (partially digested) macro-molecules of grain protein will be found in the upper small intestine.   These unacceptably large protein molecules are viewed by the pet’s immune systems as foreign invaders that should not be there and therefore as a threat to the body.   Consequently, the immune tissue present in the intestinal wall, is stimulated to send out immune cells to destroy these large, partially digested grain protein molecules.  During the act of destroying this foreign protein, injury occurs to the surrounding intestinal lining.   As a result of chronic stimulation of the intestinal immune system, by a grain-based diet, progressive damage is done to the lining of the digestive tract until a problem known as “leaky gut syndrome” results.   A leaky gut allows  infectious and toxic foreign material, including yeast, bacteria, bacterial toxins and poorly digested grain protein molecules to pass out of the gut and into the blood stream where they may ultimately contribute to  the development of allergies, arthritis, immune system suppression, autoimmune disease, and cancer..

We consider a meat based diet to be one where more than 40% of the diet is meat (when measured on a dry weight basis).   These diets provide a source of protein that is much easier for carnivore’s to digest when compared with grain based diets.  Because meat based diets contain grain to a much lesser extent than a grain based diet, the likelihood of a leaky gut syndrome developing and producing disease is greatly minimized.  An additional  advantage of a meat-based diet is that meat provides a nearly complete essential amino acid profile.  To come close to such a complete amino acid profile using plants or grains, in place of meat, would require careful combining of two or more complementary grains, vegetables or legumes.

To determine whether a commercial diet is a meat-based diet begin by checking the ingredient list and see if two of the first three ingredients are meat.  If so then it is  possible that the diet may contain more meat than grain.   However, because manufacturers can be very “creative” and misleading when they develop their ingredient list, it is hard to know from the ingredient list alone whether the diet is truly meat based.  Very few manufacturers can actually claim that when calculated on a dry matter basis their food contains more than 20% meat, even when 2 of the first 3 ingredients are meat.

What are your choices ?  One choice is to buy a commercial diet that lists meat as the first two ingredients and to this diet add additional fresh meat.  You could also buy a commercial diet that is truly meat based (at least 40% meat by dry weight) and to this diet add fresh meat.   Finally, you could provide a completely home made diet of cooked but preferably raw or rare food.   This home made diet should contain a minimum of 40% meat and dairy, 30% or more steamed vegetables and fruit, and no more than 30%  whole grain.  The greater variety of foods you supply,  from week to week or month to month, the better.  The fresher the food and the more organically grown ingredients in it the healthier the food is for your pets.   The best vegetables to use are the dark green, dark orange and yellow varieties, especially the cruciferous / brassica vegetables (i.e. brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli).  The vegetables should be lightly steamed or better yet pulverized in a blender or juicer to aid in digestion and the grains should be cooked.  Always add some bone meal to a raw meat / raw vegetable diet to insure that enough calcium is present to provide a healthy calcium phosphorous ratio.  Egg shells softened in vinegar are another way to supply calcium.

When selecting a commercial diet, in addition to making sure it is meat based, there are a number of other important criteria to check out.  For example, what ever grain is present should be “whole grain” rather than “grain fractions or grain by products.”   The fat in the food should be  preserved with natural vitamin E rather than artificial chemical preservatives (ie ethoxyquin).  Chemical flavoring agents, coloring dyes, and texturizures should also be absent.  The quality of the ingredients in the diet is not easily determined from the package information and it may necessitate calling the manufacture and asking their nutritionist certain important questions.  Questions you may want to ask are:  What is the source of the meat and grain in the diet?   —Are they organically grown and are they of a quality fit for human consumption ?   Is the meat “USDA Inspected”?   Was the carcass from where the meat was taken “USDA Approved”?   What form, if any, of meat by-products are included in the diet?   Is the grain tested for the presence of  “mycotoxins”?    What are the quality controls the manufacturer practices ?

Just as meat based diets are healthier than grain based diets, a raw meat, raw vegetable diet is more nutritious than a cooked meat, cooked vegetable diet.  You may wonder why this is true and you may also have some questions about the safety of feeding uncooked meat, so let me explain.  The  use of  fresh raw meat provides fat, amino acids, and vitamins and minerals in a state undamaged by cooking and is, consequently, much more nutritious.   A raw meat diet also provides beneficial bacteria and active enzymes both of which are destroyed by cooking.   Feeding a raw meat diet provides a much fresher diet that is very low in rancid fat and damaging  free radicals.  Feeding a raw meat, raw vegetable diet even once a week or as a daily addition to a high quality commercial diet, helps keep the bowels healthy by providing natural digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria which allows a weakened or imbalanced immune system to be revitalized.  If you are concerned that uncooked meat will be a source of  dangerous bacteria and bacterial toxins you should know that a cat or a dog’s stomach is far more acidic than our own and kills most dangerous bacteria that attempt to pass through.   This is why wild dogs and cats can eat several day old carcasses and not suffer any ill effects.  Parasites such as worms or toxoplasmosis are other legitimate concerns.   However, in most cases the  animal’s immune system will see to it that such threats do not develop into a clinical disease.   I do not recommend you feed raw pork because of the prevalence of parasites.   I also do not recommend feeding raw chicken or turkey because of the high prevalence of Salmonellosis in poultry.  Upon returning home the raw meat should be immediately divided into daily portions, put in plastic bags and placed in the freezer.   It has been claimed that freezing meat for 30 days or more will kill most bacteria and parasites.   Searing the raw meat or soaking it in grapefruit seed extract for 30 minutes  is a further precaution you can take to avoid the possibility of bacterial dangers.  If the idea of feeding raw meat is simply unappealing and or the risk of bacterial contamination is unacceptable you may want to consider cooking the meat but leaving it extremely rare.   Remember, feeding a raw meat, parboiled or grated vegetable diet does not require much more work than feeding a commercial diet because there is very little or no cooking involved.  If you do nothing more than adding, to your pets diet, left over meat and vegetables from your table there will be no cooking or preparation time .      Although the benefits of feeding raw meat, far out way any serious dangers posed by bacteria and parasites, these dangers may be unacceptable to the most conservative and cautious pet owners.  For these people I recommend feeding commercial meat based diet (no raw meat) and adding only raw vegetables that have been parboiled, steamed, grated, or preferably macerated in a blender.   For public health concerns, remember to wear plastic gloves whenever you are handling raw meat.   We recommend that you do not feed raw meat if you can not accept the chance that such a feeding practice could, on rare occassions,   result  in a  pet contracting  a serious bacterial or parasitic disease.

If you are going to prepare an all-natural diet from scratch you should know that vegetables and grains can be parboiled together for just a few minutes.   Use root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets as well as cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and garlic in the late fall and early spring.   Use kale, collard and mustard greens, various green and yellow beans and asparagus in late spring and early fall.  Lettuce and garlic are available all year round.

Creating variety in your pet’s diet is an important concept to keep in mind.  Do not feed the same raw meats or vegetables every day.  On the contrary, gradually change the type of meat and vegetables you feed weekly or monthly.  The greater the variety of foods you feed the greater the overall quality of  nutrients you will provide.  Creating variety is also important when using commercial diets, however, you must move gradually from one to the other.  Feed a commercial diet that is chicken based one month and then move to a beef or lamb based diet the next month.  Varying the types of meat, vegetables, and grains not only increases the overall nutrition but also may help to prevent the development of food associated allergies.

If you decide to feed a predominantly commercial diets it would be wise to add a comprehensive B vitamin supplement, a chelated trace mineral supplement, a plant based digestive enzyme supplement, an essential fatty acid supplement, a probiotic (good bacteria) supplement and an anti-oxidant supplement.   To a predominantly fresh raw muscle meat steamed vegetable diet it would be wise to, once weekly, add some organ meat (i.e. calves liver).  You would also be well advised to add bone meal, raw soup bones, trace mineral supplements, and anti-oxidants.

When choosing a commercial pet diet here is a summary of  things to consider:

The first 2 ingredients listed on the package should be meat rather than grain  or  vegetables.

The meat and grain should, ideally, be of a quality fit for human consumption and should come from USDA inspected carcasses.   Of course,  organically grown meat and grain would be ideal.

No “meat by-products” should present in the ingredient list unless you can be sure of exactly what these by-products are.

“Whole grains” rather than “grain fractions” or grain by-products should be in the  ingredient list.

No artificial chemicals should be used for flavor, coloring, preservation or texturizing.   The package should state that the food  is preserved with natural vitamin E and that ethoxyquin should not be on the ingredient list.

Of course, if you could find a commercial diet using organically grown meat and  vegetables then that would eliminate any concerns regarding the presence of   antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

The food should be as fresh as possible.  Check the manufacture’s package code indicating either the manufacturing date or the expiration date of each package.  ou may need to call the manufacturer for an explanation of the code.

The food should be supplemented with:  vitamins, chelated minerals, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, iodine and friendly  bacteria.

The food should contain as few ingredients as possible that have a reputation for being allergenic:  i.e. wheat, dairy, corn and soy

You should call the manufacture and find out what quality control measures are taken to prevent contamination of  stored grain.

The package should state that it is complete and balanced for all life stages and that  it meets or exceeds the nutritional  requirements as established by AAFCO and the National Academy of Science.

Any steps  that the manufacturer has taken to help the packaging prevent oxidation  and  rancidity is greatly preferred.

Change commercial diets monthly to provide a variety of meats and grains.  Do so   slowly over a 10-day period.

****************************************************************************************

Woodside Animal Clinic is a unique, very personal,  one doctor practice where, for over 35 years, Dr. Simon has been healing dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles with both conventional and alternative medicine.  Dr. Simon is certified in Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Stem cell therapy.  He is the author  of 4 pet care books, a past president of the Oakland County Veterinary Medical Association and a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine  .     Woodside Animal Clinic sees pets from all over Michigan but primarily from the greater Detroit  area  including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw.   Cities in these counties including Royal Oak, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Detroit, Redford, Livonia, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Warren, Centerline, Clawson,  Troy, Sterling Heights, Southfield, Birmingham, Lathrup Village, Bingham Farms, Franklin, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Novi, Wixom, Brighton, Livonia, Plymouth, Commerce, Ann Arbor, Ortonville, Waterford, Union Lake,  Rochester,  Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills, Utica,  Grosse Pointe,  Romeo and Flint, Hartland,  Lansing, Okemos, Flint ,Howell,  Brighton, White Lake, Romeo, Saline, South Lyon, Windsor Canada, Toledo Ohio

Almost every dog and cat food sold in pet stores and grocery stores is made primarily of grain and, therefore, termed a “cereal or grain based diet”.  Although these “grain based diets” are capable of keeping pets looking “apparently healthy” and free of nutritional deficiencies, they are very far from the ideal diet a dog or cat needs in order to be in a state of  “optimal health”.    Why dogs and cats should be fed a “meat based” rather than a “grain based” diet is the main subject of this paper.

First, let us look at the dog and cat’s dietary history.  Both have evolved from ancestors that were primarily carnivorous and consumed the prey they caught and killed.  Both dogs and cats have relatively simple, short digestive tracts that are far better suited for digesting meat than grain or plant material.   They both have carnivorous dentition with teeth shaped to tear and pull off flesh and to crack and pulverize bones.   Their teeth have no flat, grinding surfaces capable of cracking open grain, as do the herbivorous animals like the cow and horse.   Dogs and cats also lack enzymes necessary to digest plant material and liberate the nutrients within.  Keep in mind that because most of the prey of the ancestors of dogs and cats were herbivorous and because these carnivores would eat the entire carcass including the stomach, intestines and all their contents they would end up eating “predigested” plant material on a regular basis.   So even though dogs and cats are primarily carnivores they should not be fed exclusively meat, but should also be provided lesser amounts of plant material that has been sufficiently cooked or, better yet, fed raw after being pulverized in a blender or juicer in order to make the plant nutrients more accessible for digestion and absorption.

The more grain present in a dog’s or cat’s diet (even when cooked) the more undigested (partially digested) macro-molecules of grain protein will be found in the upper small intestine.   These unacceptably large protein molecules are viewed by the pet’s immune systems as foreign invaders that should not be there and therefore as a threat to the body.   Consequently, the immune tissue present in the intestinal wall, is stimulated to send out immune cells to destroy these large, partially digested grain protein molecules.  During the act of destroying this foreign protein, injury occurs to the surrounding intestinal lining.   As a result of chronic stimulation of the intestinal immune system, by a grain-based diet, progressive damage is done to the lining of the digestive tract until a problem known as “leaky gut syndrome” results.   A leaky gut allows  infectious and toxic foreign material, including yeast, bacteria, bacterial toxins and poorly digested grain protein molecules to pass out of the gut and into the blood stream where they may ultimately contribute to  the development of allergies, arthritis, immune system suppression, autoimmune disease, and cancer..

We consider a meat based diet to be one where more than 40% of the diet is meat (when measured on a dry weight basis).   These diets provide a source of protein that is much easier for carnivore’s to digest when compared with grain based diets.  Because meat based diets contain grain to a much lesser extent than a grain based diet, the likelihood of a leaky gut syndrome developing and producing disease is greatly minimized.  An additional  advantage of a meat-based diet is that meat provides a nearly complete essential amino acid profile.  To come close to such a complete amino acid profile using plants or grains, in place of meat, would require careful combining of two or more complementary grains, vegetables or legumes.

To determine whether a commercial diet is a meat-based diet begin by checking the ingredient list and see if two of the first three ingredients are meat.  If so then it is  possible that the diet may contain more meat than grain.   However, because manufacturers can be very “creative” and misleading when they develop their ingredient list, it is hard to know from the ingredient list alone whether the diet is truly meat based.  Very few manufacturers can actually claim that when calculated on a dry matter basis their food contains more than 20% meat, even when 2 of the first 3 ingredients are meat.

What are your choices ?  One choice is to buy a commercial diet that lists meat as the first two ingredients and to this diet add additional fresh meat.  You could also buy a commercial diet that is truly meat based (at least 40% meat by dry weight) and to this diet add fresh meat.   Finally, you could provide a completely home made diet of cooked but preferably raw or rare food.   This home made diet should contain a minimum of 40% meat and dairy, 30% or more steamed vegetables and fruit, and no more than 30%  whole grain.  The greater variety of foods you supply,  from week to week or month to month, the better.  The fresher the food and the more organically grown ingredients in it the healthier the food is for your pets.   The best vegetables to use are the dark green, dark orange and yellow varieties, especially the cruciferous / brassica vegetables (i.e. brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli).  The vegetables should be lightly steamed or better yet pulverized in a blender or juicer to aid in digestion and the grains should be cooked.  Always add some bone meal to a raw meat / raw vegetable diet to insure that enough calcium is present to provide a healthy calcium phosphorous ratio.  Egg shells softened in vinegar are another way to supply calcium.

When selecting a commercial diet, in addition to making sure it is meat based, there are a number of other important criteria to check out.  For example, what ever grain is present should be “whole grain” rather than “grain fractions or grain by products.”   The fat in the food should be  preserved with natural vitamin E rather than artificial chemical preservatives (ie ethoxyquin).  Chemical flavoring agents, coloring dyes, and texturizures should also be absent.  The quality of the ingredients in the diet is not easily determined from the package information and it may necessitate calling the manufacture and asking their nutritionist certain important questions.  Questions you may want to ask are:  What is the source of the meat and grain in the diet?   —Are they organically grown and are they of a quality fit for human consumption ?   Is the meat “USDA Inspected”?   Was the carcass from where the meat was taken “USDA Approved”?   What form, if any, of meat by-products are included in the diet?   Is the grain tested for the presence of  “mycotoxins”?    What are the quality controls the manufacturer practices ?

Just as meat based diets are healthier than grain based diets, a raw meat, raw vegetable diet is more nutritious than a cooked meat, cooked vegetable diet.  You may wonder why this is true and you may also have some questions about the safety of feeding uncooked meat, so let me explain.  The  use of  fresh raw meat provides fat, amino acids, and vitamins and minerals in a state undamaged by cooking and is, consequently, much more nutritious.   A raw meat diet also provides beneficial bacteria and active enzymes both of which are destroyed by cooking.   Feeding a raw meat diet provides a much fresher diet that is very low in rancid fat and damaging  free radicals.  Feeding a raw meat, raw vegetable diet even once a week or as a daily addition to a high quality commercial diet, helps keep the bowels healthy by providing natural digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria which allows a weakened or imbalanced immune system to be revitalized.  If you are concerned that uncooked meat will be a source of  dangerous bacteria and bacterial toxins you should know that a cat or a dog’s stomach is far more acidic than our own and kills most dangerous bacteria that attempt to pass through.   This is why wild dogs and cats can eat several day old carcasses and not suffer any ill effects.  Parasites such as worms or toxoplasmosis are other legitimate concerns.   However, in most cases the  animal’s immune system will see to it that such threats do not develop into a clinical disease.   I do not recommend you feed raw pork because of the prevalence of parasites.   I also do not recommend feeding raw chicken or turkey because of the high prevalence of Salmonellosis in poultry.  Upon returning home the raw meat should be immediately divided into daily portions, put in plastic bags and placed in the freezer.   It has been claimed that freezing meat for 30 days or more will kill most bacteria and parasites.   Searing the raw meat or soaking it in grapefruit seed extract for 30 minutes  is a further precaution you can take to avoid the possibility of bacterial dangers.  If the idea of feeding raw meat is simply unappealing and or the risk of bacterial contamination is unacceptable you may want to consider cooking the meat but leaving it extremely rare.   Remember, feeding a raw meat, parboiled or grated vegetable diet does not require much more work than feeding a commercial diet because there is very little or no cooking involved.  If you do nothing more than adding, to your pets diet, left over meat and vegetables from your table there will be no cooking or preparation time .      Although the benefits of feeding raw meat, far out way any serious dangers posed by bacteria and parasites, these dangers may be unacceptable to the most conservative and cautious pet owners.  For these people I recommend feeding commercial meat based diet (no raw meat) and adding only raw vegetables that have been parboiled, steamed, grated, or preferably macerated in a blender.   For public health concerns, remember to wear plastic gloves whenever you are handling raw meat.   We recommend that you do not feed raw meat if you can not accept the chance that such a feeding practice could, on rare occassions,   result  in a  pet contracting  a serious bacterial or parasitic disease.

If you are going to prepare an all-natural diet from scratch you should know that vegetables and grains can be parboiled together for just a few minutes.   Use root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets as well as cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and garlic in the late fall and early spring.   Use kale, collard and mustard greens, various green and yellow beans and asparagus in late spring and early fall.  Lettuce and garlic are available all year round.

Creating variety in your pet’s diet is an important concept to keep in mind.  Do not feed the same raw meats or vegetables every day.  On the contrary, gradually change the type of meat and vegetables you feed weekly or monthly.  The greater the variety of foods you feed the greater the overall quality of  nutrients you will provide.  Creating variety is also important when using commercial diets, however, you must move gradually from one to the other.  Feed a commercial diet that is chicken based one month and then move to a beef or lamb based diet the next month.  Varying the types of meat, vegetables, and grains not only increases the overall nutrition but also may help to prevent the development of food associated allergies.

If you decide to feed a predominantly commercial diets it would be wise to add a comprehensive B vitamin supplement, a chelated trace mineral supplement, a plant based digestive enzyme supplement, an essential fatty acid supplement, a probiotic (good bacteria) supplement and an anti-oxidant supplement.   To a predominantly fresh raw muscle meat steamed vegetable diet it would be wise to, once weekly, add some organ meat (i.e. calves liver).  You would also be well advised to add bone meal, raw soup bones, trace mineral supplements, and anti-oxidants.

When choosing a commercial pet diet here is a summary of  things to consider:

The first 2 ingredients listed on the package should be meat rather than grain  or  vegetables.

The meat and grain should, ideally, be of a quality fit for human consumption and should come from USDA inspected carcasses.   Of course,  organically grown meat and grain would be ideal.

No “meat by-products” should present in the ingredient list unless you can be sure of exactly what these by-products are.

“Whole grains” rather than “grain fractions” or grain by-products should be in the  ingredient list.

No artificial chemicals should be used for flavor, coloring, preservation or texturizing.   The package should state that the food  is preserved with natural vitamin E and that ethoxyquin should not be on the ingredient list.

Of course, if you could find a commercial diet using organically grown meat and  vegetables then that would eliminate any concerns regarding the presence of   antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

The food should be as fresh as possible.  Check the manufacture’s package code indicating either the manufacturing date or the expiration date of each package.  ou may need to call the manufacturer for an explanation of the code.

The food should be supplemented with:  vitamins, chelated minerals, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, iodine and friendly  bacteria.

The food should contain as few ingredients as possible that have a reputation for being allergenic:  i.e. wheat, dairy, corn and soy

You should call the manufacture and find out what quality control measures are taken to prevent contamination of  stored grain.

The package should state that it is complete and balanced for all life stages and that  it meets or exceeds the nutritional  requirements as established by AAFCO and the National Academy of Science.

Any steps  that the manufacturer has taken to help the packaging prevent oxidation  and  rancidity is greatly preferred.

Change commercial diets monthly to provide a variety of meats and grains.  Do so   slowly over a 10-day period.

****************************************************************************************

Woodside Animal Clinic is a unique, very personal,  one doctor practice where, for over 35 years, Dr. Simon has been healing dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles with both conventional and alternative medicine.  Dr. Simon is certified in Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Stem cell therapy.  He is the author  of 4 pet care books, a past president of the Oakland County Veterinary Medical Association and a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine  .

Woodside Animal Clinic sees pets from all over Michigan but primarily from the greater Detroit  area  including Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Livingston counties.   Cities in these counties include Royal Oak, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Detroit, Redford, Livonia, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Warren, Centerline, Clawson,  Troy, Sterling Heights, Southfield, Birmingham, Lathrup Village, Bingham Farms, Franklin, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Novi, Wixom, Brighton, Livonia, Plymouth, Commerce, Ann Arbor, Ortonville, Waterford, Union Lake,  Rochester,  Rochester Hills, Auburn Hills, Utica,  Grosse Pointe,  Romeo and Flint, Hartland,  Lansing, Okemos, Flint ,Howell,  Brighton, White Lake, Romeo, Saline, South Lyon, Windsor Canada, Toledo Ohio

Comments are closed.