As one of the organizers of a dog meetup group, I am often asked, 'Which kibble do you recommend?' - My answer is always the same.
Inevitably, the pet owner continues on, "OK....well, if you had to recommend a kibble, which one would it be?" - I respond that I simply cannot, in good faith, recommend a kibble to feed their dogs. I realize this is harsh. I realize people are regularly confused and grossed out by my feeding my dogs raw meaty bones and offal - though the same people are often impressed by my 3 pound Ella Bean, tearing through a chicken thigh!
I realize people ask me about kibble because their intentions are to provide their pets with optimum nutrition. They know that we are what we eat - and our pets are what they eat. However, the institution of 'no human food for pets' is so strong, that it has become against our cultural norm to provide an animal with fresh, whole foods - and what has become normal for companion animals and livestock, instead, is packaged feeds.
I thought that I would talk a little about why I cannot, in good faith, recommend kibble as a way of feeding our pets (aside from the whole scavenger-carnivore issue, which is another article for another day.)
Many people who feed high quality and very expensive kibble point to the nutritional facts label as proof that their choice of kibble is a healthy diet.
That said, labeling is really confusing when it comes to understanding the quality of the food. There are factors beyond the actual ingredients and percentages in play here...for instance, the digestibility of a given ingredient. Each protein may comprise an ideal protein percentage in the food, but the digestibility of that protein varies with its source. Some proteins, like chicken feathers or horse and cattle hair (often rendered into feed) are high in protein, but nearly impossible for the body to break down. So, even if your label says xx% of protein is included in their super, fantastic kibble, it may not be a highly digestible protein. Manufacturers are only required to list the crude protein content, rather then the percent your pet can actually digest and use.
One of the ugliest parts of the pet food industry....by-products. The term 'meat by-products' can - and do - include the most disgusting of animal parts. I'll be brief. Meat by-products, can - and do - include connective tissues, leather, fecal waste from farm animals, tendons, and hair or feathers (Pitcarin, pg. 11).
The same is true for fish-meal, lamb-meal, poultry-meal or chicken-meal. These 'meals' are the absolute least nutritious and the cheapest protein sources. These are the left-overs from the meat industry.
There is also evidence to suggest that even in pet foods containing 'fresh, real meat' - that this may not be the good stuff. It is also important to note that there are no legal standards for using the term 'organic' in pet food.
Dr. Pitcarin's book, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, cites a source who witnessed firsthand the USDA Inspectors trimming the diseased and rotting parts of chickens off the animals and dropping them into garbage cans - and the contents of those cans was transported directly to a pet food factory (Pitcarin, pg. 17). Legally, this can still be advertised as yummy, fresh meat in your pet's food.
Ann Martin's book, Food Pets Die For, provides considerable evidence that another regular protein source for pet food is euthanized dogs and cats (Martin, pg. 17). Martin's evidence comes directly from the source - carcasses are transported directly from veterinary clinics and shelters to rendering plants and used by pet food companies.
This is all perfectly legally. There are no laws to mandate how companion animals are to be disposed of. For more detailed information on this issue, I suggest Ann Martin's book, Food Pets Die For. It's an eye opening, well researched and rather quick read.
In order to sterilize the proteins before adding them to pet feed, the sources are exposed to high temperatures over a prolonged period of time. Even if a protein starts off from a nice fresh, clean cut of meat, the heat causes the proteins to form compounds that cannot be broken down by the body's digestive enzymes. Given that a dog's digestive tract is designed to break down raw food sources, these cooked products are incompatible with an animal's digestive tract, leaving the feed mostly useless in providing adequate nutrition.
Pet food companies choose the cheapest food sources to generate the required protein, fats, fiber and carb contents in their kibble. Many times the cheapest sources are barely edible, much less nutritious. According to Dr. Pitcarin, "...one veterinarian concocted a product containing the same composition of the basic proteins, fats and carbohydrates as a common brand of dog food by using old leather shoes, crankcase oil, and wood shavings," (Pitcarin, pg. 12).
If you insist on feeding kibble, be especially concerned with generic labeling terms like meal, bone meal, meat by-products (includes poultry and fish), meat by-product meal (includes poultry and fish), and digest.
Chemical additives and artificial coloring in pet food are another major cause for concern. Again, these are either not regulated for safety or regulated in extremely limited ways. Additives are used as binding agents, to create a desired consistency to the product, preserve the product for long periods of time and sweeteners to make the food more 'desirable' to the pet. Many of these preservatives and additives, such as Ethoxyquin and Butylated hydroxytoulene (BHT) are known carcinogens and toxins. Fed over multiple generations, health issues such as lethargy, behavioral problems, allergies, cancers and chronic digestive conditions present themselves at earlier and earlier ages in our pets. Our conventional veterinarians then 'treat' these illnesses with even more chemicals to suppress the symptoms, rather then heal the pet.
My veterinary acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner was giving Ella Bean her yearly wellness check when she told me that she had seen people who were severely allergic to dogs not present any allergy symptoms in the presence of multi-generational raw fed, un-vaccinated dogs. The dander that our pets shed when their systems are polluted with this chemical stew affects human health as well as pet health.
We are taught, in order to be healthy humans, we must eat a variety of whole foods. We have our food pyramid, with all the components required to optimize our own nutrition and well-being. Nowhere on this food pyramid is 'packaged meals.'
Pet food is a packaged meal, meant to satisfy every nutrition requirement and take the 'guess work' out of feeding your pet. This is an act of convenience. I can't blame people! In this busy world, preparing another meal for the four legged family members is a chore and extra work at the end or start of a long day. I take the time to consider the health effects of feeding convenience foods filled with waste and byproducts and it's not too hard to motivate myself to chop up a chicken. And honestly, once you get the hang of it, taking control of your pet's diet is actually easier than a human diet; by design, dogs need prey to eat and ingest, ideally a whole (or close to whole) carcass with offal (organ meats) and meaty bones!
We, as consumers have been trained not to feed our pets 'people food.' In a recent survey I took online, I was asked what percentage of my dog's diets comprised of 'people-food' and my answer of 'all or most' ended up resulting in a very low score for my pet's health! Kind of funny, considering how my dogs are thriving!
So, what is it in a 'whole food' that makes it so nutritious?
It sounds bogus to many of us raised in a culture of instant gratification and processed human foods, but many scientists are starting to prove that an energy field exists around living things and fresh, raw foods. Throughout history, this energy field has been used in the healing principles behind homeopathy and acupuncture. This 'energy field' has now been successfully documented by scientists in photographs. We are still learning what this means, but there is a great deal of evidence that eating 'live' foods promotes much greater health benefits than eating cooked and processed foods.
Kibble is 'de-natured' - that is to say, the 'nature' and life force have been removed. The 'food' is dead. It is contaminated with rancid protein sources, synthetic chemical additives, chemical coloring and flavorings and is essentially the least natural way to eat that could be!
On Animal Talk Naturally, a podcast on natural dog health, veterinarian Dr. Hugh Bassham recently spoke to this subject - and how 'living' foods promote health. You can listen to this podcast by clicking here.
Un-Learn What You Think You Know!
There is a process of 'un-learning' what we have been taught by veterinarians and the pet food industry. We must 'un-learn' that we are too incompetent to feed our pets, that every meal must be balanced and complete (as discussed above, that balanced and complete label is fairly meaningless). An instant diet that is labeled 'free of additives' or 'natural' is still simply cooked nuggets with little to no nutritious value!
When I say 'Kibble Kills' - I don't mean that lightly. There is almost no nutritious value from which animals derive from packaged feed, kibble or canned food. Our pets are dying younger and younger and presenting with degenerative illnesses that are more complex then ever before - causing inordinate amounts of suffering. There is simply no reason for this! This is not normal.
This descent into illness is not a result of 'purebred' breeding. Responsible, natural rearing breeders have lines of purebred dogs who do not present breed specific degenerative illness! I personally know a Boston Terrier breeder and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder who have achieved such a feat. Both women know that their dogs' wellness doesn't come from a box, bag or can. The myth that mixed breeds are healthier is being debunked as well. The healthiest dogs are cared for according to their carnivorous nature.
Choosing to feed your pets - and yourself - a diet comprised of unprocessed foods is the first step toward living healthy. Add in fresh air, clean water and plenty of exercise and both you and your pet are on a path to overall wellness.
With some effort and research on the part of dog guardians, feeding according to a pet's nature needn't be a costly endeavor. There are plenty of ways to save time and economize, while still providing your pet with optimum nutrition. Consider making a change - the guardians of so many pets who thrive on raw meaty bone diets can attest to the benefits. Your pet depends on you to decide what he eats - don't let the pet food or veterinary industries decide for you.
For more information on this topic, Animal Talk Naturally's show, Kibble is Kibble is Kibble, Naturally, is available for you to download to your iPod or MP3 Player, by clicking here.
Dr. Richard H. Pitcarin and Susan Pitcarin, Dr. Pitcarin's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Rodale Publishing, 2005.
Anne M. Martin, Food Pets Die For, New Sage Press, 2003.