Making Better Pet Nutrition Choices - Everything You Need to Know

By Nick Connor at PetAssistant

The correlation between pet nutrition choices and tobacco ads may not be immediately obvious to you. But hear me out on this. What was once considered acceptable by society, industry, and consumers of tobacco directly relate to the options pet parents have today.

An Analogy: Vintage Tobacco Ads

Judging vintage tobacco ads with today’s breadth of knowledge makes these ads seem misleading, harmful and downright dishonest. Doctors used to endorse cigarette brands. What we now know about the products causes those ads of old to seem irresponsible, harmful and even hard to believe.

Shockingly, between 1920 and 1950 many cigarette ads had prominent and trustworthy endorsers, including Mickey Mantle, doctors, small babies, and even Santa Claus. They placed ads in prime locations to entice the most notice, including commercials on television and a vast number of print ads.

Now, decades later, the thought of any reputable doctor aligning their name with such a harmful product is ludicrous. The scientific and medical evidence that cigarette smoking is harmful, not healthy or trendy, is overwhelming. It led to many lawsuits against the industry and a ban on nearly all tobacco product advertising.

So, you might be wondering… what does this have to do with pet food?

Today, pet owners are being misled by the pet food industry regarding their pet’s diet and how it impacts their overall health and wellbeing. Just as the public was being fooled by nefarious tobacco ads some 50 years ago. Read on to learn more:

Dalmation Puppy photo (example of pet nutrition choices)
Gypsy Rose - A Cute Dalmation

Misinformation Galore About Pet Nutrition Choices

For starters, there are over 14,500 different pet food formulations in the US alone. Products are littered with images of juicy steaks and statements about freshness, completeness, holistic, organic and more. But here are a couple of things worth knowing about immediately.

First: Kibble (dry pellets) are made in large factories where the food is highly processed at extremely high temperatures. One third of the content is starch which is used as a binding agent, and this becomes carcinogenic at these high temperatures, not to mention the source of many ingredients and the effect that this processing has on the nutrients. The answer - if you can afford to feed your pet whole, fresh, unprocessed foods, you will be doing them a favor.

Second: For years there has existed a massive worldwide industry for recycling waste materials that were deemed not fit for use in the human food industry. This includes meat ingredients that were sourced from Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Disabled animals, including roadkill and even euthanized pets. Guess what the recycling system has been? Yup, your pet’s belly. Thankfully, this is being restricted by the FDA but its part of why the industry has persuaded people that there is a different class of food from human food called “pet food”. There is only FOOD.

Standards for pets are different than for people. For starters, pets are classified as “property” when the truth for many of us is they are our furry babies.

(These facts are courtesy of the excellent documentary Pet Fooled, which delves into the behind the scene world of the pet food industry and the immense disservice it has done to pets for decades. This is just being discovered in recent years.)

While many pet parents are questioning if pet food as they manufacture it today is safe for their pet’s health and wellbeing, the industry is still making a killing. Revenue was 36.9 billion US dollars in 2017 according to Statista. There are many who are beginning to question if pet food manufacturers do know the harm they are causing and due to the income they are enjoying, are simply looking the other way.

Common Sense: It’s How to Combat The Issue

The many horror stories featured in the documentary mentioned above that showcase how the wrong food, created not for pets but for profit, can be deadly to your pet can send you into a panic.

So, what are you to do with so many pet nutrition choices? How on earth can we navigate the endless choice and confusing messages?

Thankfully, it’s common sense. The more fresh, raw and whole a food is, the better. The less processed it is, the better. Common sense tells us that eating biscuits for 100% of our diet isn’t healthy, so maybe that’s true for our pets also. Eating fresh whole foods without preservatives that hasn’t sat on shelves for months would be better. The best way to keep your pet safe, and to avoid the negative side effects of additives and harmful chemicals found in many products today is to buy fresh, whole food for your fur baby.

What is Good and What Isn’t For Your Pet? It’s All About DNA

Let’s cut it down to size here and look at what you want to avoid and what is okay for your pet to consume. All species should consume what is correct for their genetic makeup, otherwise, there are health consequences. We know this as a “species-appropriate diet”. For example, a caretaker at a zoo would never feed a panda a steak, or a snake a piece of lettuce, they instead feed each animal based on their biological needs.

Therefore, you have to first consider the biological makeup of your pet to know how to feed them. Both cats and dogs should be considered primarily carnivores based on their biological and genetic makeup. Yes, dogs are also capable omnivores that can eat most foods and cats have evolved somewhat to be able to eat other foods, but the nutrients their bodies need should be sourced mostly from meats.

Another important consideration is providing our pets with food that isn’t dry but which contains a significant amount of moisture. According to Dr. Karen Becker, dogs and cats should ideally be fed food that contains 70% moisture. Alarmingly, pets fed a dry food diet typically are in a chronic state of mild dehydration because of the lack of moisture within their diet. Feeding your pet a species inaccurate diet can lead to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, kidney disease, allergies, arthritis, cancer and much more.

A Wide Array Of Pet Nutrition Choices

Now that you know the negative impact the wrong choice of food can have on your four-legged family member, you want to do all you can to remedy the issue. The following suggestions are based on recommendations by holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. They are listed from best to worst in terms of pet nutrition choices for your pet. The higher you can go on this list, the better nutrition you will provide your pet:

Raw and BALANCED Homemade Diet

Nutritionally balanced, is not altered from its natural state. It contains all the nutrients that are sometimes removed during cooking or the preservation process. This doesn’t just include meat. Incorporate veggies, fruits and more into your pet’s diet. Just keep protein (meat) as a main or consistent nutritional source. Use a cookbook to ensure complete pet nutrition choices with your recipes and meals.

Commercial Raw Diet

There is a rapidly growing industry of artisan and local fresh food companies that are making fresh raw and cooked diets for pets. The advantages of having a pre-prepared raw diet that IS nutritionally complete is an ideal choice for most busy pet parents if your wallet allows for it. Although it can be hard to navigate through this, there are health companies like PetAssistant that have aggregated all food options to help consumers decide what is the best foods at the right prices.

Look for the phrase “this food has been proven nutritionally complete or adequate for all life stages,” on commercial product labels, indicating it is nutritionally balanced. You can usually find these products in the freezer sections of pet boutiques, privately owned small companies or sometimes online. You will not find these products in a big box or big-name pet store.

Cooked BALANCED Homemade Diet

This is just like the first, most healthy option but includes the element of cooking. Some nutrients are removed or diminished, but it’s a healthier nutritional choice for your pet than strictly commercial pet food. Just make sure you have done your research and created recipes that provide ALL the nutrients your pet needs.

Human-Grade Freeze Dried or Dehydrated foods

Foods that are prepared in kitchens that are also preparing foods for human consumption means it is guaranteed to be human grade. This means the source of the ingredients is more reliable and worthy of being fed to your pets. Remember, this can still vary significantly in quality as a predominantly meat based formulation is far superior to one that is full of protein substitutes and carbohydrates. But at least it avoids the 4D meats (meats sourced from Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Disabled animals), that the cheaper foods are filled with.

Human-Grade Wet Food

OK, so it’s canned food, but at least it’s human-grade ingredients and food that has been deemed safe by the FDA. It's a more expensive way to feed your pet safely but provides an alternative if preparing your pet’s food yourself is simply overwhelming.

Human-Grade Dry Food

Food graded for human consumption and should contain very little rendered by-products, which means it’s safer for your pet.

Prescription” or Science Branded Foods

Watch out for Canned pet food you can buy at specialty pet stores, grocery stores and at your veterinarian office that is labelled this way. One thing to know... “Prescription” is a branding exercise. So is “Science”. It has even been the subject of a class action lawsuit. This food can be 3-10x more expensive that other foods with near identical ingredients and the prescription isn’t even necessary. There is no such thing as food that can only be taken on prescription. It’s food !!

Semi-Moist Pouched Food

It might surprise you that this particular food is so low on the list. At least it isn’t all dry. However, to keep it moist on the shelf, manufacturers often add propylene glycol. This is a harmful preservative that can be extremely dangerous for pets.

Non-Balanced Raw or Cooked Homemade Diet

Wait, why would this be so low? It’s because pet parents who don’t understand how to create a balanced diet for their pets attempt to do so by throwing something together and hoping for the best. Ideally, you should educate yourself on the pet nutrition choices to learn how to create a balanced diet.

Bottom Line about Pet Nutrition Choices

Your pet’s diet is vitally important to the overall life expectancy and wellness it will experience. Of course, you love them and want to do what’s best for them. Even if you are unsure how to enter into the world of proper nutrition for your pet, know this. Your desire to make healthy pet nutrition choices and changes are the first and most important steps. Now, you simply learn more and more until you help your pet achieve optimal health through a proper species-appropriate diet.


Sources

NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/07/business/media/07adco.html

Statista: https://www.statista.com/topics/1369/pet-food/

Dog’s Naturally Magazine: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/is-your-loving-kind-fluffy-dog-friend-a-carnivore-or-an-omnivore/

Dog’s Naturally Magazine: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/can-you-really-trust-dog-food-labels/

PetMd: https://www.petmd.com/cat/nutrition/evr_multi_deconstructing_pet_food_labels

FoodNutritionPet fooled