Pet Nutrition Information and Recommendations
We believe that dogs should be fed like dogs and cats should be fed like cats. In nature, dogs and cats both derive the majority of their calories from meat (especially cats), not from grains like corn. An ancestral type of diet is appropriate for dogs and cats. Although the precise ratios differ between dogs and cats, a high protein, moderate fat and low carbohydrate food composition is ideal. Unfortunately, most pet foods, especially the large name brands that dominate the pet food industry do not come close to fitting this profile. Most of these brands are heavily carbohydrate based, using grains as the main source of energy, not meat based protein.
Basic Pet Food Knowledge
By-products in Pet Food
By-products are often used as a source of protein in pet foods. By-products are not inherently bad and actually can be nutritious – for example kidney and liver tissue. However, the quality of the by-product can be very questionable. Organs from the 4 D’s (dead, diseased, deceased and disabled) animals are considered unfit for human consumption but are acceptable to put into pet food. Do we really want to feed this to our pets? There are better, higher quality sources of protein that can be used in pet food.
What are Animal Fat and Animal Digest?
Many of the large, name brand pet foods contain unspecified “animal fat” or “animal digest”. This sounds innocent enough but in reality, this “fat” is what is drained off after rendering (cooking at extreme temperatures) the food. When the pet food label does not specify the origin of the “fat,” it usually means there is no quality control of what went in. It could have been any animal(s), in any health state (diseased or healthy). This leftover grease is sprayed onto the dry kibble to entice the pet to eat.
Word-Play and Guaranteed Analysis
The pet food industry is cloaked in deception and word-play. For example, a label claiming “chicken” as its main ingredient is deceptive. Ingredients are listed on a label in order of weight. The ingredient with the heaviest weight is listed first. So, it looks great when “chicken” is listed first. However, the truth is that a lot of the weight of the chicken is water, so if you remove the water, the amount of actual chicken meat is far less than the ingredients listed behind it – usually corn, wheat, soy etc. A food you buy thinking it is meat based, is usually still grain based. If the label states “chicken meal” as its main ingredient, then this is truthful because “meal” means the water has been removed.
The “guaranteed analysis” listed on the label of the pet food is very misleading and of little value. This is supposed to indicate the percent of nutrients in the food but is inaccurate because it is a measure of an ingredient that still contains water; this artificially increases its percent. An accurate measure of the percent of nutrients is termed “dry matter” analysis, but this, of course, is not listed on most labels. Dry matter indicates the percentage once the water has been removed and is the real measure of a nutrient.
The Basics of Nutrition for Cats
Cats are being fed inappropriately in this country as a direct result of what we have been told and sold by pet food manufacturers. Cats are strict carnivores, just as cows are strict herbivores. Does it make sense to feed a cow a meat based diet? No, it is species-inappropriate. Why then, does it make sense to feed a cat a plant-based diet? It is completely species-inappropriate. In nature, a small cat eats meat, in the form of a mouse, bird or rabbit. This is a high protein, low carb diet. It is also a diet rich in water and as a result, cats have a low thirst drive and do not need to drink a lot of water.
Unfortunately, the pet food industry decided decades ago that in order to make a profit, they would use grains as the main source of energy in cat foods, instead of meat based protein. In addition, it was decided that cats should eat dry food that contains very little water, not taking into account that cats obtain their water by eating their prey.
Here are some of the results of these decisions:
- Taurine Deficiency
Carnivores need taurine which is found in meat. Without this amino acid, a fatal heart condition called DCM occurs. We learned this the hard way – a lot of cats died. That is why cat foods are now supplemented with taurine.
Carnivores are metabolically intended to digest calories from meat, not grains. It is interesting that once we put an obese cat on a high protein, low carb food, they lose weight.
- Diabetes Mellitus
A chronic high carb diet puts undue stress on the pancreas of a carnivore. Over time, the ability to produce insulin is reduced and diabetes ensues. A mainstay of treating a diabetic cat now is to change to a high protein, low-carb diet. Sometimes, this alone will resolve diabetes in a cat, without the need for insulin.
- Bladder Stones, Urethral Obstruction
We frequently see this terrible problem in cats. Without question, a key component to preventing this is feeding a canned food. The increased water content of canned food (similar to that found in prey) increases urine volume which then dilutes and flushes out into the urine the building blocks of stones before they can form.
The Basics of Nutrition for Dogs
The results of feeding grain based diets to our dogs have not been as devastating as they have been with cats. This is because dogs are not strict carnivores; they do eat plant material also. However, intuitively, we know that dogs are meat eaters, and if we look at the food profile of a wolf/ancestral diet, carbohydrates are by far the least important nutrient from a percentage stand point in the diet. A wolf’s diet is heavily protein/fat based.
Willowbend Animal Hospital’s Pet Food Recommendations
We do not have a specific brand we recommend. Below are some guidelines.
Dogs and Cats
- Meat based, not grain based
- Free of by-products
- Free of unspecified “animal fat” or “animal digest”
- As low a carbohydrate content as possible
- Canned/moist food, not dry food
In general, we do not recommend the name brand foods found in supermarkets and even in some veterinary clinics. Realize that the “AFFCO” label means nothing about the quality of the ingredients in the food, nor do statements such as “veterinarian approved.”
We do not carry non-prescription food because we want to leave that decision to you. There are many good over the counter options. We do carry prescription diets for specific medical conditions.