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The Whole(istic) Truth About Pet Food
by Christie Keith

"Although we have come to accept commercial foods as being normal or natural ways to feed animals (and indeed ourselves), in fact they are not. They are simply what we've gotten used to in the last few decades. But nothing we can produce commercially ever can rival those mysteriously complex foods manufactured for eons by nature itself."
        --Richard Pitcairn, DVM

Mitch and Bree - photo courtesy of Jim BennetI'm always taken by surprise when people ask me what I feed my dogs. It's not an uncommon question, but I've never come up with an easy answer. They expect me to say "Iams" or "Nature's Recipe" or "Science Diet," when the truth is what I feed my dogs is food.

You know--food. The stuff wolves and coyotes and jackals eat. They don't sell sacks of kibble in the wild.

The usual image people have of someone who "cooks" for her dog is an infatuated owner of a tiny, spoiled dog, someone used to coaxing their finicky pet to have a little more filet mignon before dessert.

In reality, the number of people who have abandoned "nutrition in a sack" and opted for homemade pet food is huge, and growing. There are books and videos and magazines and catalogues devoted to holistic pet care and the preparation of healthy homemade diets.

Back in the 30s, when pet food began to be commercially marketed, the only people who used it were serious dog breeders who had previously maintained large kennels with huge kitchens and staffs who prepared the meals for perhaps a hundred or more dogs. The advent of "complete" foods was a great time- and money-saver for them. Most people fed their dogs with the scraps and leftovers of their own diets.

Today, even the best intentioned of pet owners can unknowingly find themselves feeding their dogs and cats the toxic residues of factory-farmed, antibiotic-fed, hormone-laced cows and chickens and sheep, mixed with spoiled grains and some rancid oil. Many are also feeding their pets preservatives and sweeteners.

The market is flooded with expensive, "scientifically" formulated pet foods, all supposedly providing 100 percent complete nutrition. Do they?

Let me ask you to engage your common sense for a moment. Do we know everything there is to know about nutrition? No. The truth is, research is constantly changing the picture of what "complete and balanced nutrition" might be. The taurine of the 70s might be the vitamin C of the 90s or the "element x" of the 2000s, but you can bet your last dollar, that star-shaped object in the sack is NOT "100 percent complete".

"All processed pet foods--whether sold in cans, bags, or frozen packages, in either giant supermarket chains or local health food stores- are missing something that seems to me to be one of the most important "nutrients" of all. This key ingredient is something nutritional scientists have practically ignored. But when it's there, you and I can know it and feel it. It is a quality found only in freshly grown, uncooked whole foods. It's life energy."
        -- Richard Pitcairn, DVM

We are told that processed foods aren't good for us, and advised to eat whole, fresh foods and vary our diets in order to stay healthy. Conversely, we are told to NEVER feed whole, fresh foods to our pets, to never vary their diets, and not to upset the careful balance of the processed diet they are supposed to eat every day of their lives. Does this make sense?

Only to the pet food manufacturers. To them, it makes sense and it makes money. That is why pet food manufacturers finance veterinarian training programs and subsidize vet school clinics. Some vets only know what the kibble makers tell them, and pass that on to their clients: eat the processed diet. Don't feed table scraps. Don't feed raw meat. Don't give bones.

People often ask me if I am afraid to feed raw meat to my dogs, since so much of the meat we buy today is not just filthy but deadly. We are advised to cook meat thoroughly to prevent bacterial diseases that are the result of the unsanitary and inhumane way we raise and slaughter livestock. In my experience, good, organic, fresh meat is perfectly safe to feed raw to a healthy dog who is used to it. Does that mean there is no risk? No. But I believe the risk is less than it's generally believed to be.

"The many objections we can make about the nutritional quality of animal convenience foods boil down to two basic types: these foods don't contain things we wish they did, and do contain things we wish they didn't....The two basic problems are linked together as an unhappy pair because the presence of various toxins and pollutants actually increases the body's needs for high quality nutrients necessary for combating or eliminating these contaminants. When the overall nutrition is already lower that it should be, we are inviting trouble."
        -- Richard Pitcairn, DVM

Cat expert Anitra Frazier, in her best selling The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners, advises people to "build a mouse" for their cats. In other words, look to the natural diet of canines and felines in the wild for nutritional advice, not the pet food industry.

Well, what do I feed my dogs? I feed them a balanced diet of raw meat and bones, and some extras such as raw eggs, a small amount of veggies, raw cheeses, and yogurt. There are many different approaches to constructing home-prepared diets, ranging from the "whole prey model" of Australian veterinarian Tom Lonsdale as described in his book Raw Meaty Bones, to the more conventionally formulated recipes in Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. I don't feel a really good book has been written yet on feline diet, but still like Frazier's New Natural Cat.

There are many benefits to feeding your pets real food.

  • You can choose organic produce and meats, and thus support clean and beneficial agricultural practices.
  • You have the ultimate in quality control.
  • You can maintain a pet in stunning health, with no body odor or rotting teeth or bad breath. (Did you think wolves had annual teeth cleanings?)
We take so many things for granted when we own pets. We think bad breath and allergies and arthritis and parasites are the norm, but they are not. They are the results of a devitalized and processed diet, of stress and pollution and lack of exercise. They are the result of never eating fresh raw foods.

Dogs and cats are the descendents of wild animals, who evolved over tens of thousands of years to thrive on a certain diet. I don't feed my dogs a natural diet to "spoil" them; I do it because I believe in fresh, whole foods and organic agriculture and treading lightly on the earth. I do it so that they will know the health and vigor that is the birthright of all living creatures. I do it, not to cheat the starving children of the world out of the good food I am "wasting" on my dogs, but rather to withhold my support from destructive and wasteful food industries. And I do it, now, because having done it, I could never go back to gloppy stinking messes and rotten teeth and doggy odor and worms and fleas. Try it, and see.

Copyright 1999, 2003 by Christie Keith. All rights reserved.

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