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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Rethinking Nutrition for Your Pet

Sep 30, 2015 10:13PM
Does anyone remember when dogs ate whatever the family was eating, and cats hunted for their meals? Certainly times have changed—many families don’t even cook anymore—and our understanding of pet feeding and nutrition is rapidly changing too. Most veterinarians were taught that proper nutrition only came out of a bag or can. This could not be more wrong! Over the past 10 years an ever growing list of pet food recalls has made choosing a “good” food more difficult, and large corporations are buying out quality pet food companies. Obviously, your pet will not do well on leftover pizza crusts or the steak fat and chicken bones from your take-out, but there are many excellent options that stray from the “bag only” or “can only” versions of proper nutrition for your dog and cat.

Let’s start with cats, since this is a huge problem. Have you ever watched wild cats, big and small eat? They eat meat. Cats are carnivores. Feeding cats corn, wheat or soy creates long term problems for their systems. Feline calories should come from protein and fat. They require approximately 10-15% carbohydrate, whereas many prepared diets contain 60-70% carbohydrate. This is the reason there are so many fat, lazy, diabetic cats today. They eat too much, and eat too much of the wrong thing. The average mouse is 25–30 calories. A typical feral cat may eat as many as 10 mice per day, if it is lucky enough to be able to catch that many, and it spends 10–12 hours per day catching its meals. A lion or cheetah may not eat for days if a meal cannot be caught. What do our indoor pet cats do all day? Look for food and sleep, and then look for more food. Most people are more than happy to oblige, and give their cat more food, believing they are hungry. However, they are likely bored and not getting the nutrition they need.

Dogs are omnivores, meaning that, like people, they eat meats and plants. This means a balance of meat, carbohydrates and fruits/vegetables. What most people do not know, is that our dog foods are typically too high in carbohydrates, and the protein levels are “artificially” raised with non-meat protein sources. Prepared dog food is also frequently 60% carbohydrate. Dogs do not need more than approximately 35% carbohydrate. Depending on the origin of your dog’s breed, there may even be a preferred choice of meat. Dogs from primarily fishing areas were traditionally fed fish, dogs from areas that raise sheep or goat, will eat sheep or goat, etc. As with our cat foods, many dog foods contain poor choices of food sources. Why do we have so many fat, lazy, arthritic dogs? For the same reason as our cats—too many dogs are eating too much of the wrong thing.

The pet food industry is an enormous market. Many pet owners are unaware of or misinformed about dietary needs. Many are also looking for a more affordable feeding option. Unfortunately, AAFCO nutritional designations and advertisements do not tell the whole story. The industry is hugely profitable because of cheap ingredients and our pets suffer because of this.

A primary cause of many illnesses is inflammation. A huge factor in initiating inflammation is a diet that is too high in carbohydrate, and in the USA this means lots and lots of corn and wheat. By reducing the carbohydrate intake for our pets we can greatly reduce the prevalence of disease. A few examples of inflammatory based disease are: inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, atopic dermatitis, pancreatitis and diabetes mellitus, arthritis, degenerative joint disease and cruciate ligament weakness and tears.

A proper diet needs to be balanced to be healthy and nutritious, and balance occurs over time, not day to day. Diets can include the best choice of dry food, the best choice of canned food, home cooked, raw, dry or canned supplemented with fresh meats and produce, or dehydrated foods that are reconstituted. Food choices may be influenced by the change of seasons, or if your pet has a particular excess or deficiency as defined by Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Supplements may also be added to home cooked meals to assure proper vitamin and mineral balance. An excellent resource for assessing the quality of your dog’s food is This website is constantly updated to evaluate the quality of dry, canned and raw manufactured dog foods from 5 star (excellent) to 1 star (drop that product right away and run!). While the website does not include cat food in its evaluations, you may find that quality brands also carry a cat food line. Regular recall notices can also be obtained from this website.

An honest and thorough discussion with a knowledgeable veterinarian will help guide you to the best choices for your pet. Nutrition is the basis of all other things in your pet’s life, and never forget that preventative care is far better for your pet, and less expensive!

Dr. Karin Derfuss, DVM, is a graduate of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, and IVAS certified in veterinary acupuncture. In addition, she has completed all 5 herbal modules, advanced acupuncture techniques module, food therapy module and Tui-na module through the Chi Institute.

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