The ideal dog food would be a ration that tastes like a postman - Anonymous
Is this a true statement? Well, maybe, but only if the postman were served raw (uncooked) with a side helping of pulped green leafy, perhaps some organ meat, a kelp tablet and a small portion of brewer’s yeast! He probably couldn’t eat the whole postie in one sitting so providing a place he could bury him for later excavation – perhaps a midnight snack? - would be helpful!
Unfortunately, the law forbids us to feed posties to our dogs (nor is it appropriate to feed your cat the native wild bird population) so what can we give them to provide optimal health? Well, first and foremost, we must supply raw meaty bones, not just to ensure good dental health, but also to provide the correct nutrition in the diet. These raw meaty bones should make up the bulk of the animal’s diet as they supply all their energy, protein, mineral and, especially if chicken, essential fatty acid requirements (Billinghurst, 1993). Studies have found that dogs can actually tell when their food lacks a single amino acid and will avoid such a meal. According to the National Research Council of National Academies, “Dogs cannot survive without protein in their diets. Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids that dogs cannot make on their own. Known as essential amino acids, they provide the building blocks for many important biologically active compounds and proteins. In addition, they donate the carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High-quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids”. It goes on to state that although dogs choose foods that are high in protein, it is not known whether this is a matter of taste or a biological response to their bodies’ needs for the 10 essential amino acids.
To ensure your dog’s health the next step is to provide a raw diet rich in variety that is certainly not set in stone but changeable and fed over a period of weeks so the nutrients are balanced out over this time rather than at one meal sitting. These items might include green vegies, offal, meat, eggs, yoghurt, brewer’s yeast (for B vitamins), kelp (iodine) and a small amount of grains and legumes (fed together). Pulped vegies and fruit ensure they mimic the contents of a prey animal and their nutrients are more available to the dog or cat. Table scraps can also be fed occasionally but preferably raw.
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, are beneficial to cell structure and function, and keep pets’ coats and skin healthy, eyesight and physiology. While these can be obtained from chicken, adding some good quality fish oil is another option. Other oils might include cod liver, corn, soyabean, wheat germ, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower and peanut, says Billinghurst, 1993.
For a cat I would also include taurine – an essential amino acid which plays an important role “including the formation of bile salts which aids the digestion of fats and absorption of fat soluble vitamins. It is necessary for cardiac function, brain and nervous system function, immune function and maintaining eye function, female reproduction and foetal growth” (Catworld).
“Calcium and phosphorus are crucial to strong bones and teeth. Dogs need magnesium, potassium, and sodium for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and cell signalling. Many minerals that are present only in minute amounts in the body, including selenium, copper, and molybdenum, act as helpers in a wide variety of enzymatic reactions.” (National Research Council of National Academies) What does this mean? Well, feeding a correct diet as listed above will provide all of the nutrients and goodness a dog or cat needs to maintain health.
Dogs and cats that are not fed on a balanced nutritious diet are prone to a number of diseases. Studies in America have shown that cancer is the number one killer of dogs with one in three dying from the disease and 50% over the age of 10 contracting it. “Manufactured dry dog food does not provide the nutrients our dogs need and thus cause malnutrition; commercial foods also contain toxins that are over-burdening their bodies and compromising their immune systems, so they fall prey to disease”. (Omega-3-Fish-oil-Wonders.com).
After cancer, says Billinghurst, 1993, kidney and heart disease are the leading causes of death in dogs fed commercially processed foods. “The excesses of salt, phosphorus and protein commonly present in dog foods, when consumed over a lifetime are a major cause of both kidney and heart disease. In other words, commercial dog foods are known to be a direct cause of the leading killer diseases in older dogs”. The same can most certainly be said for cats.
Feeding a raw diet in the short term means “no dental problems, no skin problems, no ear problems, no eye problems, no bowel problems, in fact no health problems of any description, plus a dog that is full of energy, bright, alert, active etc” (Billinghurst, 1993). Long term, the results are just as good because you have a dog that is free from major disease and with good dental health.
Russell Swift believes that dogs and cats fed on a processed diet (one with grains containing a high carbohydrate content of cheap calories) “cannot maintain long-term production of the quantity of amylase enzyme necessary to properly digest and utilise the carbohydrates. In addition, the proteins in grains are less digestive than animal proteins. As a result, the immune system becomes irritated and weakened by the invasion of foreign, non-nutritive protein and carbohydrate particles. Allergies and other chronic immune problems may develop”. He goes on to state that while the animal’s pancreas will do its best to keep up with the demand for amylase it very likely suffers as a consequence, which may go a long way to explain the high number of pets diagnosed with pancreatic disorders.
Dogs can get too much or too little of a specific mineral in their diets. A deficiency of dietary calcium, for instance, (with animals fed mainly meat with no bones) causes secondary hyperparathyroidism and results in major bone loss, skeletal abnormalities, and pathological fractures. An excess of calcium, on the other hand, may also cause skeletal abnormalities, especially in growing large-breed puppies, and can predispose to bloat especially in deep-chested dogs. On the other hand too little phosphorous will cause reduced weight gain; poor appetite; bowing and swelling of forelimbs in puppies and too little magnesium, a reduction in weight gain, irritability, and convulsions in puppies; hyperextension of carpal joints and hind-leg paralysis later in life (National Research Council of National Academies).
In addition, a deficiency of zinc (usually caused by excessive calcium) will lead to skin problems, growth problems, reproductive problems and reduced resistance to disease which means all sorts of health issues. Billinghurst, 1993, lists some of these as delays in wound healing, loss of body protein, decreased nervous system function, decreased thyroid function and testicular degeneration in pups.
For cats, a taurine deficiency spells disaster in the form of feline central retinal degeneration which eventually leads to irreversible blindness, dilated cardiomyopathy and reduced fertility in queens.
There are plenty of other degenerative diseases caused by feeding a diet that fails to provide essential nutrients to the dog or cat and suppresses the immune system. These animals can present with autoimmune disease, renal or kidney failure, pancreatic and liver disease, heart problems, allergies, skeletal problems, arthritis, skin and coat problems, obesity and, of course, dental diseases.
“Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease. In nature, we see another example of wild animals eating entirely enzyme-rich raw foods being free of the degenerative diseases that afflict humans” (Shirleys Wellness Café, 2010) In other words, all these can be avoided if the dog or cat is fed a nutritious raw food which contains all the necessary elements for good health. Throw in a postie or two and you’re done! And don’t forget:
A dog desires affection more than its dinner. Well, almost - Charlotte Gray