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Pet Food Facts

You Cannot Have It All – Best Nutrition or Convenience & Economy – Part 1 of 2
By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | May 01, 2021
Photo by: Debra Bell

One of my favorite authors and experts on pet nutrition is animal nutritionist Dr. Richard Patton. I recently interviewed him on The Woof Meow Show [ FMI – http://bit.ly/WfMw2wPattonAPR21 ]. I appreciate that Dr. Patton can break down a complex subject like pet nutrition into some basic principles. When he first appeared on the show in April of 2016, he stated, "You can have convenience and economy, or you can have best nutrition. You can't have all of those things." In this column and my next, I'll break down that statement to help you evaluate what you feed your pets.

What Is Best Nutrition?

If you ask any person to define optimal nutrition for a person or any other animal, you will likely get a multitude of contradicting opinions. However, whether you believe every animal was placed on earth by a creator or that it exists due to evolution, it is clear that each species developed to find and consume nutrients that ensured its survival naturally. Since these species were evolving as humans evolved, they discovered their optimal source of nutrition without human intervention.

Both the domestic dog and cat evolved over tens of thousands of years from species that were carnivorous predators. They were animals that hunted and survived by consuming other living species that were their prey. The prey they ate were comprised mainly of water, fat, and protein, basically meat. These meals were often consumed fresh, although caching of food to eat later also occurred. When times were tough, the dog also adapted to survive as a scavenger. However, the closest living wild relatives of our pets continue to survive by eating prey animals. Some of us have both cats and dogs that will readily hunt, kill, and consume a mouse if given the opportunity. It is the food mother nature provided for them.

I would not encourage anyone to turn their pets loose on wildlife or domestic livestock to get the food they need to survive. However, if we want to feed our pets the optimal diet that nature intended, we need to provide them fresh meat. In my next column, I will discuss how we need to balance that with cost and convenience.

If we want to feed our pets an optimal diet, we have two choices. We can educate ourselves to make our pets' food [ FMI - http://bit.ly/PetFoodMyths-Facts-4MAR21 ] or avail ourselves of the many commercial products now available. These include frozen raw diets, lightly cooked & frozen diets, and freeze-dried and dehydrated diets that primarily consist of meat. Canned diets composed of 90% or more meat are close to what our pets would choose for themselves; however, they are not as natural as non-cooked meat because they are cooked.

What Is 'NOT' Best Nutrition?

The most common type of pet food fed to cats or dogs is kibble or dry food. In full disclosure, it is also the biggest seller in my store. I do occasionally feed kibble to my dog.

If you spend any time watching television, you know that dry pet food is advertised heavily. According to statista.com, in 2013, pet brands spent almost $891 million on advertising. That amounts to $2.4 million/day! Much of that advertising is an attempt to convince us that dry pet food or kibble is "natural" and has been developed to provide optimal nutrition for our pets. Based on what I know about how canines and felines evolved and just plain old common sense, I find the proposition that kibble is an optimal source of nutrition incredibly deceptive.

Scientists have formulated kibble to include ingredients that provide all of the nutrients that AAFCO standards state our pets need to survive. These ingredients are all put together in a "recipe" and are then processed at high temperatures and pressures and formed into the brown/gray bits we know as kibble. If you read the ingredient list and look at what you place in the bowl of your pet, you will realize it is hardly equivalent to a diet of fresh meat.

In my opinion, dry pet food was developed because it is less expensive to make and sell and more convenient to sell and feed than fresh food. It is in no way an optimal or "best" diet for any cat or dog.

Kibble is a highly processed food. Human nutritionists tell us that we should eat fresh, whole foods (dairy, meat, fish, fruits, & vegetables) and severely limit or avoid eating processed foods. Why would our pets be any different?

Next month I will address the economic and convenience aspects of Dr. Patton's statement and provide you with some tips on how you can balance all of these factors so that your pet will not only survive but can thrive.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Don is committed to PPG's Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. He serves on the PPG Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee and is the Chair of The Shock-Free Coalition ( shockfree.org ). Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://bit.ly/AM620-WZON every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©20-Apr-21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved