With the recent flurry of recalls and news stories about potential links of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) to grain-free pet foods, more pet owners are taking another look at feeding their pets a raw meat diet. Our guest blogger, Jade Bossenbroek, Founder of 4 Raw Pets Raw Feeding, dissects this important subject below.
Why Feed Raw?
Some people might argue that our domestic cats and dogs with all the years of domesticating, breeding and being fed processed foods like kibble, they have adapted to live, survive and thrive on a more – or even complete – plant-based diet. But is this really true?
Carnivores vs Herbivores
“Carnivore” literally means “meat-eater” in Latin. “True” carnivores (called obligate carnivores), are meat-eaters whose survival depends and thrives on nutrients found in animal flesh because they lack the necessary physiology required to digest a large amount of plant material. In other words, true carnivores must eat meat to survive. Cats, dogs and even ferrets are obligate carnivores. Their bodies are anatomically adapted to eating meat in the following ways:
- Their teeth are sharp and pointy, meant for holding, tearing and crushing, all of which are needed for a meat-based diet.
- Carnivores have a very short digestive tract, so food passes through fast and as such the food has got to be easily absorbed to be useful.
- They do not have the enzymes to break down carbohydrates found in plant-based products.
- They produce enzymes specifically for breaking down meat in their stomach.
- The saliva found in their mouths is better suited to prevent cavities, there are no digestive enzymes present in their saliva, it is purely designed to get the food down into the stomach where the digestive process can start.
For the carnivore, meat protein is necessary for healthy muscles and organs. Meat also contains important vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help the body function in every way; including metabolism, brain function and healing. In contrast, feeding high carbohydrate diets (like kibble and other processed foods) can lead to many health issues for the carnivore such as allergies, gum disease, tooth decay and much more.
It is said that all the amino acids needed to function can be found in meat in the right levels; one of which is taurine, an ingredient only found in muscle and organ meat (large amounts of taurine can be found in the brain, retina and heart). This amino acid cannot be found in – or replaced by – plant-based protein. Cats and also foxes need a higher concentration of taurine compared to dogs. Without it, they can suffer from:
- Heart problems; and
- Even death.
Meat also provides saturated fatty acids in usable forms (unlike many plant-based oils). Fatty acids are important for proper:
- Hormone production
- Cell membrane formation
- Protection of vital organs
Saturated fatty acids in animal-based proteins range around 80-90%, whereas plant-based proteins only contain around 10-20%.
(To learn more, read Dogs: The Omnivore-Carnivore Question by Dr. Jeannie Thomason & Dr. Kim Bloomer)
On the other hand, an herbivore is an animal who is well-adapted to primarily beating plant material (anatomically and physiologically). In contrast to the carnivore, herbivores:
- Have teeth that are flat with a jaw that moves from side to side to breakdown plant material.
- Produce enzymes (starting in their mouths) to break down plant-based products; and
- Have a longer digestive tract so plant-based material has time to pass through and be adequately absorbed.
The DNA Link
Whether you have Chihuahua or a German Shepard, domestic dogs and wolves share roughly 99.9% of their DNA and because of this, wolves and dogs also share a lot in common anatomically. No matter how domesticated your dog may be, it still has the same short digestive tract, sharp teeth and the same enzymes for breaking down meat as his ancestors over 10,000 years ago.
Wolves are strict meat-eaters, but they will sometimes supplement their diet with greens and berries. This mostly occurs when there’s a food shortage or when they feel under the weather or lacking something. Think of your dog eating grass and then throwing up. But some occasional plant materials does not automatically make them an omnivore as some suggest.
Is Your Pet REALLY Fine on a Kibble Diet?
Ok, you might be able to survive on McDonald’s every day, but would you really be healthy?
Sadly, it’s all too common for our pets to die from cancer or kidney failure today. These illnesses that weren’t all that common just 30 years ago are now claiming pet lives at an alarming rate. Just like with us humans, nutrition plays a critical part in the overall health and well-being of our pets.
Yes, of course not everything can be blamed on diet alone. Genetics, the environment, stress levels and more all play an important role. But there’s unrefutable proof there’s a strong connection between health and overall nutrition.
Today’s commercial kibble contains a high ratio of carbohydrates. In order to maximize their profits, the pet food industry has been adding carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables and grains into their products instead of meat. Both vets and/or the pet food industry do not want to potentially discredit their own industry, but basic common sense and research really can unearth the deceitful marketing tactics and indiscretion of the industry.
Humans (who are omnivores – beings who can eat and survive on both plants and meat) identify fruits, vegetables and grains as “whole foods” with valuable vitamins and minerals. But for our carnivorous pets, they can’t digest these “whole food” carbohydrates fast enough to utilise most of the nutrients.
Many carbohydrates we consider healthy such as peas, carrots and rice (which all turn into sugars) are actually pretty high on the glycemic index (the measurement of sugar in the blood) for dogs, cats and ferrets. Some of these same carbohydrates are linked to serious heart conditions and even cancers in our pets. Besides running the risk of developing diabetes, high sugar content also affects hyperactivity and is often converted into fat leading to obesity, a current epidemic among household pets. A weight management diet isn’t going to help, whilst these formulas may drop the fat content, the content of fibre and grain is increased more, which can worsen the condition.
Kibble: The Additives
Since the nutritional value of the raw ingredients has been depleted during the intense manufacturing (cooking) process, the pet food industry then adds artificial vitamins and minerals to mimic a balanced diet. Unfortunately, the ratio of vitamins and minerals added to kibble – and other commercially produced pet foods – is generalised so it covers a wide range of pets. The numbers posted in the analysis section only indicate maximum and minimum numbers and are not exact (think of a recent Hills Science Food recall, where high levels of vitamin D were found).
Since these added vitamins and minerals are not customized to your individual pet (some pets may absorb more nutrients than others), for some animals, there can be too much (for instance) calcium or magnesium which can result in painful crystals.
Then last but not least, in addition to the above, artificial food colouring and flavouring is often added to make it more appealing and palatable to the consumer (for marketing purposes). Sadly, many of these artificial colour and flavour additives have the potential for undesirable and high-risk health issues for our pets as well.
Kibble: The Lack of Moisture
Another hidden problem in kibble is the lack of necessary moisture which begins to tax our pet’s kidneys and can result in eventual kidney failure. Dry kibble typically contains only 7%-10% moisture (whereas meat contains 70% and more) in moisture. Vets already recognise that hydration is important, so why are they recommending dry kibble diets when they contain so little moisture?
The lack of critical moisture eventually results in many common illnesses such as urinary tract infections and chronic kidney failure, especially in cats.
The Proof is in the Poo
Meat protein sources are highly bioavailable at 90-95% (an ingredient’s potential to be absorbed); whereas plant-based proteins are only around 70% bioavailable. This is why when comparing pets on a raw meat diet with those on a kibble diet, those on kibble have large, smelly poos because they are not completely digesting what they are eating and therefore producing more (smelly) waste.
The Final Word
In short, despite human views and lifestyle choices, obligate carnivores like dogs, cats and ferrets cannot thrive on diets of grains and vegetables. As a human, you might choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but those lifestyles should not be imposed on your carnivorous companion.
Meet our Guest Blogger:
Jade Bossenbroek, Founder of 4 Raw Pets Raw Feeding, turned to raw feeding after struggling to find a commercial dog food that would work for all four of her dogs. Each of the dogs was struggling with some kind of issue including flaky, smelly skin, hot spots, food-related allergies, strong dog smells and bouts of vomiting and explosive diarrhea. (She also lost a few cats at a young age form kidney failure.) After doing research on raw feeding, Jade finally took the plunge and her dogs have been transformed for the better because of it. To help other dog guardians, Jade started the 4 Raw Pets website as a free resource to share her extensive research and information on species-appropriate, raw meat diets.