Processed Pet Food - Why you should avoid it
“Let medicine be your food and food your medicine has been the catch cry of dedicated healers down the ages".
On that basis it is hard to believe that dedicated animal healers – veterinary surgeons - will recommend commercial pet food. I find this hard to believe because as a practicing veterinary surgeon, I constantly see the enormous difference in health between pets raised on commercial pet food compared to those raised on a biologically appropriate raw food diet. I see the enormous change for good in the health of pets switched from cooked to a raw whole food diet. Despite that very obvious connection between commercial pet food and the poor health of the animals consuming it, commercial pet food has become the accepted way to feed pets throughout the civilized world! There are of course reasons. Much of it has to do with the way vets are trained in small animal nutrition.
An alarming fact of life is that vets receive very little worthwhile training in nutrition. No training in the use of raw whole foods, and a biased approach to our understanding of commercially produced pet foods. It is relevant to ask what do many veterinarians really know about pet foods? Unfortunately the answer translates as - not very much. Regrettably, a lack of knowledge concerning nutrition has become the basis for recommending processed pet food!
Most people, and that includes vets who are interested in their own health, will acknowledge raw whole foods as basic in the formulation of their own healthy diet. Why then do we insist on feeding our pets processed pet foods? Sadly we have been hoodwinked into accepting the hype regarding commercial processed food. We are prepared to believe the highly improbable theory that two species of animal, the dog and the cat, will do better on a diet for which their bodies are totally unsuited rather than their evolutionary diet!
"Unfortunately, many of the people who realize that commercially produced dog food does not produce worthwhile results devise and cook up something which is in essence not very different from the processed food they were worried about. As a consequence, the results in terms of the health of their dog is not a whole lot better"
Processed pet foods do not produce the lifetime of health promised by the pet food companies. They do not produce the lifetime of health seen when a properly formulated raw whole food diet is employed. Most degenerative disease processes in pet animals are the direct result of a lifetime being fed cooked and/or processed foods. This includes those so called "super premium" foods that have their own set of unique nutritional problems.
The super premium processed foods have most of the drawbacks commonly associated with “ordinary” pet foods, chief among which is the fact they are based on cooked grain. However, they have an additional problem. In their attempt to remedy another common problem associated with dry foods - a lack of essential fatty acids, both omega 3’s and omega 6’s - they contain a very high level of cooked polyunsaturated fats. This makes the coats of the creatures that consume these products look good in the short term, but in the long term, the inclusion of high levels of heat damaged essential fatty acids will produce an enormous range of degenerative diseases including many of the auto immune diseases.
A lot of people use the expression “natural diet” when referring to the evolutionary diet of pet animals. Forget the word natural. When we approach this way of feeding from a scientific standpoint we speak about feeding our domestic pets a biologically appropriate diet. It is important to realize that processed foods are biologically inappropriate. That is why they cause problems. They are not up to the standard the ‘manufacturer’ of our pets requires for optimal performance. I believe that when we vets recommend any form of cooked and processed food we fail our clients and their pets in a major way.
The sad truth is that prepared pet foods help provide patients for vets
Prior to the mid 1960’s, most Australians fed their pets on home produced food. On the down side, the worst we did was to produce a few simple and very obvious nutritional excesses or deficiency problems. Mostly calcium deficiencies, with the odd vitamin B1 deficiency, vitamin A excess and the very occasional vitamin E deficiency. These were simple uncomplicated nutritional problems that are (and were) easily remedied. As our pets moved onto a steady diet of processed foods, we swapped these limited number of easily remedied straightforward nutritional problems for the vast array of complex and insidious degenerative diseases which now afflict our pets and fill our textbooks and waiting rooms. Problems with difficult medical and surgical solutions. Problems that are not usually associated with their true cause, the biologically inappropriate foods that spawned them.
The question we must ask, has the swap been worth it? For pet owners, has the convenience of feeding their pets with pet foods been worth the increase in degenerative disease? As vets, has our relinquishing of the right to be the experts on nutrition been worth the tremendous increase in the suffering of our patients? We must educate ourselves about the enormous dangers inherent in cooked and processed foods. We must realize that they cannot and do not promote health.
The proof concerning these products is found in the long term results of feeding them and the degenerative diseases they produce. The reason these diseases occur is very simple. These processed pet foods are BIOLOGICALLY INAPPROPRIATE. Those two words are the heart of the matter.
In What Way are These Foods Biologically Inappropriate?
The philosophy behind the production of even the so called “best” of these awful products is flawed. It is based on the requirements of the manufacturer, not the needs of the consumer. That is, cost and availability of basic ingredients combined with what is currently known and legally determined as the minimum nutrient requirements for a pet animal. To the recipes formulated using these principles is added whatever the manufacturer deems necessary to ensure the animal eats it (flavor enhancers), and whatever chemicals will prevent it from autolysing or becoming rancid, together with colored dyes to attract the purchaser. The result is a cooked “complete and balanced at every meal” product which does not promote long term health, and although “legally complete,” is not biologically complete - there is a vast difference.
Processed pet foods contain barely adequate levels of the known vitamins. As a result, pet foods do not cater for stressful periods when vitamin needs increase or the individual needs of certain animals whose requirements are higher than average. Pet foods are full of indigestible and inappropriate grain based fibers that are used as cheap fillers. These fibers bind and make unavailable essential nutrients. They have an almost complete absence of biologically appropriate fiber. Note that the fiber - sourced and used by modern pet food manufacturers who have only just discovered the importance of fiber - is not biologically appropriate in the way that raw fiber produced from a wide range of in-season whole fruit and vegetables is.
Many contain biologically inappropriate antioxidants, enormous levels of refined sugars and masses of salt together with other chemicals used as colorings and flavorings. This chemical cocktail is a lethal brew which is a major factor in producing the epidemic of degenerative disease leading to the early death and suffering we see in pet animals fed such rubbish, including cancer, arthritis and a range of allergies and auto immune diseases.
Cooking renders these products biologically inappropriate in a fundamental way. It is now widely recognized that cooked food has had much of its nutritional value lost. Cooked foods are devoid of enzymes and biologically active essential fatty acids due to heat denaturation. Once denatured, enzymes are no longer biologically active. They are simply cooked proteins. Denatured essential fatty acids which should be the backbone of health become slow poisons, doing irreparable damage. In fact all processed pet foods are disease producing simply because all of them lack biologically appropriate essential fatty acids. They are either not added in the first place, or have been denatured by heat during processing.
Cooking causes complexes to form between proteins and starches, between vitamins and trace minerals, and between minerals and minerals. By this method carcinogens and anti-immunogens are formed and many minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins are lost to the animal by becoming indigestible.
Processed and cooked foods are biologically inappropriate because they lack nutrients which are only present in fresh whole raw foods. These are the nutrients the body requires for healthy longevity. They include biologically appropriate antioxidants - substances present in the species diet until the present era. They include the phytochemicals which to date number in excess of 100,000 isolated, with many more being discovered daily. Unfortunately typical processed pet foods do not contain these health promoting degeneration reducing factors, such factors are present only in raw whole foods.
It takes many years for the loss of such nutrients to be noticed. Even then, the degenerative diseases which develop are generally assumed to be part of the “normal” aging process, and are rarely if ever linked to these foods which caused them.
The vast majority of these products are based on cooked grains. This makes them biologically inappropriate. At no time in their evolutionary history (except in the last 50 to 150 years) have cats and dogs been subjected to cooked grain in any amount, and certainly not as the basis of their diet. Our pets in Australia have only suffered eating this way for a relatively short period of time. However, in that relatively short period of time we have seen a population of pet animals exchange a few simple deficiency diseases for a whole range of complex degenerative diseases largely unknown prior to that time.
Biologically inappropriate pet foods attempt to be balanced at every meal rather than producing a situation where the diet is balanced over time. This approach where added vitamins and minerals are mixed with a combination of chemicals, starches, proteins, and rendered fats and then mixed and subjected to heat, makes many nutrients unavailable. It also produces toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.
Processed Food For Pets
There are four reasons people feed their pets: to satisfy hunger, to provide nutrition, for convenience, and for personal satisfaction. Given our busy society and the rapid pace of each of our lives, convenience is often the reason that most pet owners purchase the foods they do. Mistakenly, the assumption is often made that this convenient, highly processed, long shelf life, “balanced” food fulfills the remaining food needs. While processed food may satisfy hunger and provide some degree of nutrition, the question remains whether pet owners and their pets experience personal satisfaction in feeding the food. The satisfaction level may decrease the more pet owners learn about the true identity of pet food ingredients and the health consequences of feeding such ingredients.
Consider a toaster pastry; after all, it is actually quite similar to processed pet food. The toaster pastry will satisfy hunger, provide nutrition of some sort (it is fortified with vitamins and minerals), and is very convenient. But the question remains about personal satisfaction – most would agree a toaster pastry is not meant to be eaten at every single meal. (Although, I’m sure the manufacturer wouldn’t mind if people ate their pastries at each meal.) Sadly, this toaster pastry is quite comparable to processed dry pet food. Kids love to eat these foods, regardless of their species; because their bellies are full, they experience satisfaction, at least briefly. However, we intuitively know it’s not healthy for humans to eat these foods for every meal, but many pet owners don’t seem to realize the same about their pets’ food. Sadly, once educated about the dangers of processed pet foods, owners lose their personal satisfaction with feeding processed foods.
The dangers associated with feeding processed pet food at every meal are those of chronic inflammation: weight gain, greasy coat, shedding, energy peaks and valleys, and edginess are just a few of the initial results of processed food diets. Over time, the signs of inflammation travel deeper into the body causing illnesses such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, and even cancer.
The proof that these foods are wreaking havoc on our pets’ lives lie in the statistics; almost 60% of dogs in the United States are overweight. There are 43 million overweight to obese dogs in the United States! (This phenomenon is not restricted to the US – almost 25% of Mexican dogs are overweight; the rest of the world is experiencing similar issues.) Furthermore, there is strong evidence that overweight dogs have shortened life expectancy by 2 1/2 years. The irony is the entire reason people feed their dogs is for the pleasure of doing so and the assumption is that the food will keep their pets with them longer. But when a diet of processed food leads to obesity, chronic disease, and reduced life expectancy, then there is no satisfaction with feeding processed food to our pet dogs and cats.
Pet owners who want to share the full food experience with their pets will sacrifice small amounts of convenience to feed the quality food that builds personal satisfaction, not just filling the hunger and nutrition needs. With practice, it stops being an inconvenience to avoid processed pet food diets.