Pet Health! This is a subject that I am passionate about along with human health! While studying my Naturopath degree for humans I supported myself working in the retail pet food industry. I have learnt a great deal in my 4½ years especially in regards to pet health, diet and illness.
It is interesting to see the conditions in animals are not dissimilar to humans. The most common conditions I see in dogs are skin and gut related, but I have also seen a fair bit of pancreatitis and cancers. The more common conditions I see in cats are thyroid and kidney related.
When I first started working it was rather mind boggling trying to understand all the different food products. Most of my training came from the reps of that particular product, so it was a one sided opinion. As my study progressed so did my knowledge for understanding food and labels, making the mind field of information much easier to navigate. At this stage I started doing my own research to find more credible information that was not one sided.
The most common piece of information I hear (that in my view) is incorrect, is that a dry food only diet, supplies enough nutrients to your animal! I do not subscribe to this as both dogs and cats still need to get substantial moisture from food not just the water bowl. Dry food does not supply this moisture.
It is very common to have customers come in looking to change their animal’s food due to a lack of interest in their current diet. I estimate that around 90% of these (that I see) are using a dry only food regime. So before changing brands of dry food I always strongly recommend that they add a wet component to the diet. This wet component does need to be a quality product. Using cans from the supermarket or even some of the well-known brands is not a good option. There are a couple of local based brands that make fresh cooked rolls that are a good option to add in.
Using a well-balanced raw diet is by far the best option for your animal, BUT is not always the first choice if you are changing from a supermarket or dry only diet. A raw diet also needs to be balanced, especially if you are feeding exclusively raw. A raw and a grain free diet requires a change of gut health for your dog or cat and this transition needs to be done slowly.
I am also not a fan of puppies going onto raw until they are around 4-5 months old unless they have been introduced from the very beginning via their breeder. If you are adopting a pet (great job!) and you do not know the full history of the animal I would start with a quality cooked wet and transition to raw.
If you transition to fast you may see digestive upsets, like loose bowels, strong smelling gases and possibly some vomiting. If this happens then ease back on the transition to raw and try lightly cooking off the raw to reduce the bacteria level until they cope again.
There has been a move towards grain free food, in nearly all brands including some of the supermarket ones. Another common question I get is “What is the difference? Don’t they need grain?” The answer is no they do not. Both cats and dogs require a higher protein and fat based diet compared to us humans. Filling them with processed grains just causes inflammation and this is often where I see most of the skin and gut issues with dogs.
Follow the link to see an article written by a holistic vet that explains some of the differences of grain free diets.
Another issue that has arisen and is blamed on grain free diets is cardiomyopathy. This condition has been seen more often and in dogs that would not normally be susceptible to it. What the research is telling us is that grain free diets which are predominantly legume based are the culprit, not grain free diets that are made from animal protein. This is due to a low level of taurine in plant based proteins that has led to a taurine deficiency in these dogs which plays a factor in this condition.
Dogs and cats are not able to digest the likes of soy, corn, chickpeas and lentils. Soy and corn used for protein is often found in your cheaper brands as they use this to increase the protein levels. Cats have an even greater need for protein versus carbohydrates (Roberts et al., 2018).
When you look at ingredients, the first 5 items are the most important. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance, or the most to the least. You want to see meats, poultry or fish, along with meat meals, like chicken meal, fish meal, turkey meal, not meat by products. Meat by products is a guess as to what it is. Beet pulp is another ingredient that is often used in food and shouldn’t be there. It is a low quality ingredient to increase fibre when you could use sweet potato, pumpkin and peas. Some brands have chicory which is good for increasing the microbiome health.
Single protein diets is something I am not a fan of. As a Naturopath I am fully aware of the issue of GUT health and when I see animals with a multitude of food sensitivities opting for a single protein diet I cringe. Don’t get me wrong sometimes this is needed to reduce any reactions, but you need to treat the cause and not just treat the symptoms. Allergies and immune health are gut related and if you do not repair the gut then the allergy will not disappear. Both dogs and cats need a variety of protein in their diet as each one provides them with different nutrients and when they have a functional gut this is not an issue.
The pet food industry is a mind field of products that can contradict each other, not unlike our supermarkets really. Many people come in to the store and are really unsure of what to do and who to listen to. My advice is always ask the person giving you the information where they get their nutritional understanding from. Vets are great at illness but most have a limited understanding of pet food nutrition and what products are available so don’t expect them to know the answers.
If they have done extra nutritional study great, otherwise seek out a holistic vet who will have a greater understanding of nutrition.
Like humans, dogs and cats are directly affected by the type of diets they have. Don’t underestimate the value of a quality diet and the direct impact on their health and longevity.
Some products that I prefer to recommend, although this is not an extensive list, are:
- Natural Animal Solutions, they offer some good nutritionals and gut care products.
- Ziwi Peak
- K9 Naturals/Feline Naturals
- Meals for Mutts grain free
- Barf -Big Dog
- petfoodreviews.com.au is a good site to compare different types of dry foods.
Kaplan, J. L., Stern, J. A., Fascetti, A. J., Larsen, J. A., Skolnik, H., Peddle, G. D., … Ontiveros, E. (2018). Taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in golden retrievers fed commercial diets. PloS one, 13(12), e0209112. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209112
Roberts, M. T., Bermingham, E. N., Cave, N. J., Young, W., McKenzie, C. M., & Thomas, D. G. (2018). Macronutrient intake of dogs, self-selecting diets varying in composition offered ad libitum. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 102(2), 568–575. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpn.12794
This article was authored by Jan Caton, Bachelor of Health Science – Naturopathy. Jan is the Director, Naturopath Nutritionist and Herbalist at Magnolia Apothecary. Jan practices in the Yarra ranges.