by Jean Hofve, DVM, Veterinary Advisor to Only Natural Pet
We hear many misperceptions about pet food and nutrition from our customers here
at Only Natural Pet Store. Here are some of the myths
that we hear most often to help you separate fact from fiction:
1. The best foods are those the veterinarian sells such as
Royal Canin, Purina Veterinary
and Science Diet.
While many pet guardians have been under the impression that these brands and
others sold by their veterinarian are premium, top of the line foods, one look
at the ingredients by an educated eye will reveal the truth. Most of the
formulas from these large, heavily marketed manufacturers derive far more
protein from grain or grain by-product sources such as corn gluten meal and
brewer’s rice than from meat sources.
These so-called “premium” foods contain ingredients such as chicken by-product
meal, which consists of the leftovers in meat processing that are unfit for
human consumption including head, necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines
– basically everything BUT clean meat. It is a cheap, low quality source of
protein – and far less digestible protein than clean chicken meal. These
ingredients indicate poor quality food, and are the same ingredients you'll find
in the discount brands at your grocery store!
Meat, and specifically a named meat meal (i.e., chicken meal, lamb meal, etc.) should
be listed before any grains in a pet food. Dogs and cats are designed by nature
to eat protein from meat sources, not grain. The high grain content
of many pet foods is one of the main contributors to the growing obesity problem
and increase in allergies in dogs and cats, as most pets do not do well on such high-carbohydrate
foods. (This does not mean that all grains are bad for dogs and cats – see myth
#7) For more information on selecting a truly premium food for your companion,
articles, "Quick Guide to Natural Pet Foods," and
"What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food."
2. Dry food cleans a dog's or cat’s teeth.
This one you might even hear from some veterinarians, but it is most definitely
not true. Actually, if you wanted to stretch things a bit, kibble might clean
the very tips of your pet's teeth, but that's about it. Dogs and cats have very pointed teeth; even their molars are sharp
edged, not flat. These are teeth that were designed to bite, tear and chew
raw meat. When a dog or cat eats kibble they either swallow it whole or, when they
manage to bite down on a kibble or two, it will shatter. Kibble does not scrape
down onto the lower parts of the teeth or near the gums, which is where dental
problems start. In fact, kibble can contribute to dental problems when small
bits lodge between the teeth and promote bacterial growth. Just as with
humans, food debris that contains carbohydrates gets broken down into sugar,
which dental bacteria feed upon.
Dental care for dogs and cats is vitally important as poor dental health can
lead to other chronic disease conditions. Healthy teeth start with a healthy
diet of course, and with regular brushing. Please see our article, "Dental
Healthcare for Your Companion," for detailed information on caring for your four-legged
Raw meat and bones are a terrific way to promote healthy teeth and gums as they
require the dog or cat to gnaw and chew in a way that the sinews of the meat and
hard bone will scrape teeth and massage gums. The longer they gnaw and chew
the cleaner the teeth become, so big chunks of meat or meaty bones like chicken
or turkey necks are ideal. The size of the meat or meaty bone should be appropriate
for the size of the animal. For example cats can chew
chicken necks, but not
If raw meat and bones are a bit more than you bargained for in caring for Fido's
or Max's teeth, then brushing is a must. In addition to
regular brushing, dental and oral supplements such as PetzLife Oral Care Gel or Spray, Proden PlaqueOff
Wysong Dentatreat can assist in discouraging the bacteria that cause plaque
buildup on teeth. Jaw exercise and gum massage are important components of
dental care, so try
Complete Natural Nutrition Terrabones or
Zukes Z-Bones for a healthy, non-raw chew
for dogs. Some cats like to
chew, too. Catnip-filled toys such as the
Catnip Chew Ring or the
Yeowww! Catnip Tin of Stinkies Cat Toys
are enticing to many kitties.
3. Dogs and cats should be fed a food appropriate to their
life stage - puppies need puppy food, kittens need kitten food and senior pets need
Stage of life diets were really created as a marketing tool. The more
of food a particular manufacturer could develop, the more shelf space they
could command. While it is true that puppies and kittens need more food for
their size than adult animals, they do not necessarily need a specially formulated
puppy or kitten food. A high-quality, varied diet is the best option for most
young pets. For puppies this can include
raw food. For kittens, kibble is not recommended to be a large
portion of the diet (nor for adult cats) as it can contribute to dehydration, urinary
tract issues and less than optimal health over time. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are designed by nature to eat meat and very little carbohydrates. The newer higher meat content
grain-free foods may be a good option if kibble is
to be fed to kittens, but
raw are better choices. Puppies, especially large breeds, can be at risk of growing too fast and experiencing
joint problems - so overfeeding a high-protein food can be detrimental.
Some holistic manufacturers do have
kitten and/or senior formulas, but these are created with the same care and
attention to detail that goes into their regular formulas, and often include
holistic ingredients like probiotics and enzymes that are helpful for pets at
various life stages. In particular, holistic pet foods for
senior cats and for
senior dogs may contain more natural digestible fiber and/or herbs that
promote healthy aging, unlike many conventional senior formulas that often
reduce protein, boost the cheap carbohydrates, and add cheap indigestible fiber
to their "special" senior line.
Feeding younger animals more frequent meals - 3 times per day, is helpful while
they are in their biggest growth phase. After three or four months of age,
two meals per day should be sufficient for most animals. Puppies and kittens
should be kept slim, just like adult animals. The pictures shown in many puppy
or kitten food advertisements of round, roly-poly fur-balls are misleading. It is just as unhealthy for younger animals to be overweight as it is for adults. If you choose to feed a puppy or kitten food for the first few months, keep an eye
on your little companion's waistline and don't let them get round. Transition
to adult foods by three to six months of age.
Senior animals tend to slow down as they age, just as we humans do. While
their calorie requirements may shrink, their need for the healthiest food you can
provide is never greater than in the senior years. As animals age they require
excellent nutrition to keep their immune system as strong as possible and their
joints in good working order. Continue to feed a high quality, varied diet
right into your companions final years, just feed a little less of it. Again,
watch their waistline. Older dogs and cats are the most susceptible to the
many health issues that obesity can contribute to including diabetes, arthritis,
urinary tract problems and a shortened life span.
4. Table scraps and other "people food"
are bad for dogs and cats.
This is another one you may have heard in the past from your veterinarian. Most holistically trained veterinarians, however, encourage the practice of feeding
"people food" to pets. Healthy leftovers are an excellent supplement to your
companion's regular fare. There are only two rules with people
food for pets: 1) It must be healthy for them - meat, steamed or finely chopped
veggies and fruits, baked sweet potato, rice, oatmeal; you get the picture - no
junk food; and 2) If you give them some of what you are eating, remember to feed
less of their own food so that they do not put on extra pounds. And skip the onions,
grapes and raisins - those can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Even beyond leftovers, home-cooking is becoming popular among dog and
cat lovers. Homemade food has never been easier to create. There
are a number of
pre-mixes available to which all you need to add is meat
and an appropriate oil for healthy fat content. The pre-mix contains vegetables, vitamins and minerals,
and sometimes grains to make the meal complete. Sojos has varieties with and without grains as well as an organic blend.
Honest Kitchen offers
Honest Kitchen Preference, a grain-free blend. Dr. Harvey's makes pre-mixes for home cooked food that contains organic grains
with an amazing blend of herbs, and also a grain-free pre-mix. You don't have to cook every meal for your companion
to benefit from fresher food - even the occasional homemade dinner is a wonderful
5. Only complete and balanced meals should be fed to cats and
Pet food companies have a pretty big interest in perpetuating this myth. Is every meal you eat complete and balanced? How about every meal you feed
your kids? Even the most health-conscious among us do not worry about meeting
the proper balance of nutrients at every meal. We know that over the course
of the day or week our diet will be fairly complete, so we don't worry about eating
exactly what the food pyramid recommends on a daily basis. Many of us take
vitamins and supplements to fill in any gaps because even eating a very healthy
diet of whole foods may not provide all the vitamins and minerals our body needs
to stay healthy in this day and age.
Variety is the key to a healthy diet for humans, for dogs and for cats. If you are feeding at least 50-60% commercially prepared foods that are designed
to be "complete," then you are well on your way to providing a majority of the "balance"
of nutrients. Adding
canned meats, raw or cooked meats, people food, fresh
vegetables or other "incomplete" foods to your companion's meals can boost the overall
nutrition of the diet as long as it is not overdone. Providing a
daily multi-vitamin adds extra insurance. One caveat here - meat is higher
in phosphorus and lower in calcium. When adding more than 15 - 20%
extra meat to your companion's diet on a regular basis, keep the calcium and phosphorus
ratio balanced over time by including raw bones or adding a
Wysong Call of the Wild is a supplement designed to balance raw, cooked or canned
meats and can make a varied diet simple.
6. Feeding raw food is dangerous due to the risk of Salmonella
and E. Coli.
The digestive tracts of dogs and cats are very different than those of humans.
The human digestive tract is approximately 25 to 28 feet long with a stomach acidity
between 1.5 and 2.5. Dogs and cats have a much shorter digestive system at
an average of 10 to 13 feet for dogs (shorter for cats) with an acidity of less
than 1. Raw food moves through the dog or cat's system in less than half the
time it would through a human's system, and the high acidity kills most bacteria
such as salmonella. Even if the food was contaminated, it is likely that
the microbes would not
enter the animal's bloodstream. Commercially prepared raw food manufacturers
take measures to control against the presence of unwanted organisms such as salmonella
and e. coli, so if you're concerned about contamination,
frozen raw diets are a good option.
If you eat meat, then you are aware of the precautions to take when handling
raw meat. The same precautions apply to raw pet food as to raw meat destined
to be cooked for human consumption: wash bowls, utensils and your hands after feeding
and handling the meat. Keep the meat frozen until two to four days before
feeding, and thaw in the refrigerator. Don't leave the food down for your
pet for more than 30-40 minutes, and throw any leftovers away after this time. If
you use common sense, feeding raw food is no more difficult or dangerous to feed
than any other pet food, and the health benefits of a raw diet can be amazing.
For more information see "All
About Raw Food" in our article archives.
7. Dogs and cats should not eat grains.
This particular "myth" can be true for some animals - especially cats. Again we must look at the teeth and digestive tract for clues here. Humans
and herbivores have flat molars that can move back and forth to grind grasses and
grains into fine particles. We produce the enzyme amylase in our saliva which
begins to break down carbohydrates - even before they reach the stomach where the
job is finished. Dogs and cats do not produce amylase in their saliva. Their teeth have sharp edges and do not move from side to side - they cannot "grind"
anything in their mouths.
Dogs are considered omnivores of sorts - they can eat and digest grains and vegetables
IF they have been somewhat pre-digested as they would be in an herbivore's stomach
or intestines. Therefore cooked grains are an acceptable source of carbohydrates
for most dogs - note that they are an acceptable carbohydrate source, NOT an acceptable
source of protein. Cats on the other hand are obligate carnivores. They
do not digest grains well and become far more easily dehydrated eating dry foods
high in carbohydrates. Cats in the wild tend to derive all their moisture
from their prey - they rarely drink water. Many holistic veterinarians believe
the growing prevalence of obesity and diabetes and many other chronic diseases can
be at least partially blamed on diets too high in carbohydrates for cats.
Grains should be whole or whole ground grains such as rice, oats, barley, millet,
etc. Wheat and corn are common allergens, so they are typically avoided in the top quality
natural pet foods. Wheat and corn are also less digestible for dogs. Grain by-products
such as corn gluten meal, brewers rice, cereal fines and others are less expensive
and less nutritious options than whole grains. Any time a food with grains
is fed to a dog or cat,
digestive enzymes should be added to the food. This helps improve digestion
and your pet's absorption of the nutrients in the food. Digestive enzymes are
one of the two most important supplements you can provide for your companion, along
essential fatty acids (especially
For more information please see our article, "Is
Grain Free Food Right for Your Companion."
8. Ash Content is an important guideline in choosing a cat food.
Concern about ash content in pet foods came about as veterinarians and cat guardians
were looking for the cause of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD - formerly
known as FUS). In the 70’s & 80’s veterinarians thought ash was a factor in causing
crystals in the urine. There are, however, a variety of causes and ash is no longer
considered a factor in causing FLUTD. Further research has shown that the main problem
was the formulation of commercial pet foods: most pet foods were creating a more
alkaline urine (higher pH) which lead to an increase in struvite crystals.
Most dry kibble diets are formulated with a high vegetable and grain content which
creates a more alkaline urine. An all meat diet such as a cat would eat in nature
creates a more acidic urine.
A high protein diet is the best way to maintain a low urinary pH naturally. Cats
canned diets have fewer problems with FLUTD than those eating primarily dry
kibble diets. This could be due both to the higher meat content of canned diets
as well as the higher moisture content. Increased hydration also prevents crystal
raw food diet is ideal for maintaining a lower urinary pH and providing
proper hydration. Focusing on low-ash foods will not solve FLUTD problems,
but a healthier diet and proper hydration will.
A more effective means of preventing FLUTD than stressing about the amount of
ash in your companion's food is focusing on stress reduction. Stress is an
often overlooked contributing factor to FLUTD. Lack of exercise is another. When your companion is stressed their immune system is compromised. Furthermore,
when you are stressed, your companion is far more likely to be stressed. A
great way to ease the stress for both of you and create a deeper bond is through
meditation. Pet Healing Meditations and Visualization CDs are an excellent tool for improving
health for both you and your four legged friend. It may sound a bit "new age,"
however scientific studies at major universities have demonstrated the power of
meditation and healing with visualization.
Flower Essences are another excellent stress reduction and emotional support
tool. Cats are especially responsive to flower essences and can benefit greatly
from their use. There is a flower essence designed for every emotional state,
so look through the large selection and choose the one or two remedies that best
match your companion's issues. Dosing can be as simple as adding a few drops
to the water or massaging them onto your pet's ears or paws.
Please see the following articles in our Holistic Healthcare Database for more
Lower Urinary Tract Disease," "Ash,
Magnesium and FLUTD," "Flower
Essences and How They Work," and "Treating
9. Changing formulas or brands of pet foods is hard on a dog
or cat’s digestion.
A healthy dog or cat can eat a different food at each meal without issue - provided
they are high-quality foods. Holistically minded guardians and veterinarians
know that variety is important for several reasons. The most important of
these is to avoid the development of sensitivities to any particular food or protein
type. When the same food is fed for many months or years at a time, an animal
can develop an allergy or sensitivity to that food or a specific ingredient in the
food. Many holistic veterinarians believe that feeding the same food for many
years is a contributing factor to the development of inflammatory bowel disease.
Variety provides a wider range of nutrition for your companion as well. While foods may be formulated to meet AAFCO standards, that does not mean that every
food that meets those standards meets the needs of every dog or cat. As a
matter of fact, there are many foods on the market that meet AAFCO standards that
many cats and dogs cannot tolerate due to the grains and grain by-products used
as protein sources. A more diverse diet is more likely to meet the nutritional
needs of your companion over time. Besides all that - would YOU want to eat
the same meal day in and day out for months at a time? Even if there was a
"people kibble" that was formulated to meet all your nutritional needs - would you
really enjoy that? And remember - every meal does not need to be perfectly
balanced as long as the diet is balanced over the course of a week or so.
Whenever feeding a diet of cooked or processed food, digestive enzymes are
essential, and will help your companion transition from one type of food to
another with ease.
Digestive enzymes help animals maintain a healthy digestive tract and
get the most nutrition from their food. Essential fatty acids from fish oil
provide the omega 3 fatty acids missing from most processed pet foods that nourish
the skin, coat and digestive tract. Our
Daily Essentials Kit
is an easy and economical way to enhance a high-quality, varied diet and provide
your companion with everything they need for great digestion and a healthy,
Probiotics are important for animals on medication or those experiencing digestive
upsets. For animals in need of increased support due to chronic digestive
issues, Only Natural Pet GI Support provides herbs and nutrients to soothe and heal
the lining of the digestive tract.
10. It is fine for dogs and cats to eat each other's
While there are a few canned formulas available that meet
the needs of both species, most foods are designed specifically for cats or
dogs. Cats require a higher percentage of protein and fat than most dogs
and they have specific requirements for additional taurine. Dogs that eat
too much cat food are at risk of weight gain and even pancreatitis. Cats
that eat dog food are at risk of weight gain when the food is high in
carbohydrates, as well as more likely to develop deficiencies in important amino
acids like Taurine.
If Fido and Fluffy insist on sharing, try a food formulated
to meet both their needs such as
Nature's Variety Instinct Canned Diets - the pictures on the cans are
different, but the contents are the same. Or try an all-meat variety like
Wysong's Au Jus
Evanger's Game Meats to supplement their individual meals.
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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for
informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product.
The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian.
Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff,
guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care