Read an Excerpt
The Tao of Chow: Rethinking Your Pet's Food
A good diet is the key to a long and healthy life for any pet. It's vitally important for pet owners to understand that quality nutrition is as beneficial for their animal charges as it is for us humans. Sound nutrition goes a long way toward preventing diseases, and, of course, prevention is the best cure.
Most people trust that their animals will remain healthy with commercially prepared meals. They believe these foods are scientifically proven to provide complete and balanced nutrition and that one brand is all an animal will ever need to remain healthy. In reality, most of these foods lack sufficient minerals, enzymes, and vitamins for good health. In addition, they consist of unhealthy ingredients such as processed grains and harmful additives. Could this have something to do with the fact that dogs and cats in the United States are living shorter lives today than they did in the not-too-distant past? Read on and decide for yourself.
THE MANY PROBLEMS OF COMMERCIAL PET FOODS
Up until the 1940s cats and dogs ate meat and vegetable scraps with some limestone or bone meal thrown in for nutritional balance. On the farm, companion animals would mostly hunt food themselves and be fed whatever leftovers were available. After World War II, when household pets became increasingly popular and life increasingly complex, average people started to rely on industry to free them from cooking and other routine chores. At the same time, the kennel industry developed and was looking for away to feed animals consistently and conveniently. In response to these demands, the pet food industry emerged and rapidly grew. Americans had a lot of faith in this industry's ability to simplify life, but little understanding of its motives.
In its infancy, the fast-growing pet food industry was in need of large amounts of raw ingredients. The void was filled by the human food processing industry, which had a great many wastes it wished to dispose of. At the time, organic materials were was being converted to fertilizer or farm animal feed, but very little profit was being made from these businesses. The opportunity to supply pet food makers appeared far more lucrative, and indeed it was. Today, most pet food companies are divisions of major agricultural and human food production companies (e.g., Nestle owns Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies, and Mighty Dog) and the industry earns billions of dollars each year.
Most commercially produced pet foods are full of cheap, inedible ingredients that are bad for your pets, and, unfortunatelythough predictablythe cheaper the food, the more likely this is to be the case. Just think about it. What are the odds of spending only a few dollars on a bag full of quality protein and grain? They're not good, when you consider that the cost of purchasing such ingredients would be higher than the selling price of the typical bag. This is not to say that more expensive pet foods are better in every case. Some are, but others are just as undesirable as any bargain brand. Compare the labels of a cheap grocery store dog food and a premier pet store product, and you may see many of the same basic ingredients. These might include corn as one of the top ingredients, meat and poultry byproducts, meat meals, animal fat preserved in BHA, ethoxyquin, and various vitamins.
What you are likely to find in pet foods are the contaminated or condemned remains of "4D" animalsthat means dead, dying, diseased, or disabled livestock. Foods are made from all body segmentsintestines, udders, esophagi, nails, ground feathers, claws, chicken beaks, cartilage, tendons, and bones. Ingredients may also include lungs with pneumonia and even cancerous parts, as well as blood and fecal wastes. These slaughterhouse throwaways, often listed on pet food labels as byproducts, are considered unfit for human consumption. Capitalizing on the whole animal creates an additional source of income for food processors and farmers, but does little in providing healthy sustenance for companion animals, as the ingredients are toxic. Also, the nutritional consistency of protein byproducts is questionable and may vary from batch to batch.
Byproducts are primary components of moist pet food, and they're in semi-moist and dry foods as well. Dry foods also contain equally revolting material from rendering plants. Rendering is a process that melts animal carcasses in a large vat to produce meat, bone meal, and animal fats for use in the manufacture of pet food. The stew is once again composed of materials considered unfit for human consumptionroadkill, zoo animals, and euthanized companion animals, flea collars and all. Animals are cooked in high heat for up to an hour. Fat, called tallow, rises to the top, and the raw material sinks to the bottom. The raw material is then put into a spin-type dryer where it is forced through small holes and dried. This creates a product called meat meal, which is the protein component of pet food and livestock feed.
By the way, shelter companion animals are not the only candidates for rendering. Pet owners should be aware that their beloved pets, once deceased, could become another animal's food as well. To prevent this from happening an animal owner should not automatically sign authorization papers at a veterinary clinic (papers that state that a pet is no longer yours and anything can be done with it). First, an owner should find out exactly how the pet is going to be disposed of, as some animals are buried in mass grave sites, some are cremated, and others are sent to rendering plants.
High-heat cooking is supposed to make rendered foods sale, but Sere is no guarantee of protection. While the rendering process destroys bacteria, the processed material may come in contact with raw productdead and diseased animalsand become recontaminated. Pet food companies should be testing for bacterial recontamination from salmonella and Escherichia coli, but they seldom do. Nor do they test for endotoxins, pathogens produced during a bacterium's growth that are released when the bacterium dies. These toxins can cause sickness and disease.
Rendering destroys many germs, but it does not destroy the chemicals and heavy metals that were in livestock before their demise, such as hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Additionally, insecticides used in flea collars and topical ointments will remain, as will sodium pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to euthanize animals. Many poisons not only withstand the rendering process, they become more toxic. Most companies do not test for the presence of chemicals but assume the material they buy from rendering companies to be drug-free.
What makes such awful ingredients appeal to animal taste buds are added fats, and these are often produced from another sickening sourcerancid restaurant grease. Restaurants collect grease in huge drums that are stored outside, where they may be exposed to extreme temperatures. Rendering companies eventually pick up the used grease, blend it with other fats, including the tallow from rendered products, and then stabilize the mix with antioxidants to prevent further spoilage before selling it to pet food companies. These fats are then sprayed onto dried kibble, extruded pellets, and other bland foods to entice animals to eat food they would normally walk away from in disgust.
Grains are used in large volume as cheap filler. Top carbohydrate ingredients are corn and wheat; the problem is that nutrients from these are not completely absorbed by dogs and cats. You might see a grain deceptively listed as if it were two products (such as ground wheat and wheat flour) since components are listed in the order of quantity, and splitting the ingredient makes it appear as if less grain and more protein is being offered. Carnivorous animals need a diet high in protein, so feeding them a mostly grain-based diet is not in their best interest; however, it does serves a purposethat of saving money for the manufacturer. This is especially true when the parent company manufactures cereal; note that the largest producer of pet foods is Ralston-Purina.
Moldy grains are potentially deadly and a reason pet foods are sometimes recalled. Wheat, corn, cottonseed meal, peanut meal, and fish meal are particularly susceptible to mycotoxinstoxic substances produced by mold. In 1995, Nature's Recipe pulled $20 million worth of dog food from its shelves after many dogs became ill with vomitoxin, a mycotoxin that causes vomiting, diarrhea, and an inability to eat. In 1999, an even more harmful mycotoxin prompted the recall of Ol'Roy, a Wal-Mart's brand of dry dog food, but not before 25 dogs had already died.
Processing practicesheating, cooking, rendering, freezing, dehydrating, canning, extruding, pelleting, and bakinggreatly diminish the nutritive value of pet foods. For this reason pet food manufacturers add vitamins and minerals to the final product. Vitamin fortification, however, does hot compensate for what bas been lost in the food. Mineral deficiencies or imbalances may result from inferior food products and cause a host of aliments, notes Howard Peiper, coauthor of Supernutrition for Animals. Peiper explains that a lack of zinc, for instance, could cause vomiting, conjunctivitis, debility, or retarded growth, especially in cats. Another example: Calcium deficiency could result in osteoporosis, hip dysplasia, gum erosion, tooth loss, bones that break easily, and reproductive failure.
Finally, chemical additives and preservatives are added to improve appearance and shelf life. Synthetic preservatives commonly include butylated hydroxy anisole (BHA), butylated hydroxy toluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin, a synthetic antioxidant developed to keep rubber in tires from oxidizing. Although only small amounts of these substances are added to foods, animals tend to rely on a single food for their nourishment. These potentially cancer-causing toxins build up in the system and over time may take a toll on the animal's health. Also, no studies have been performed to ascertain the synergistic effects of various additives. In other words, your pet may be ingesting coloring agents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and stabilizers at the same time without anyone knowing whether or hot dangerous interactions could occur.
It's no wonder that today's pet foods are correlated with chronic sickness in young animals and shorter lifespans. Cancer among young animals is rampant. In the past, veterinarians sometimes saw cancer in older pets; today, they are witness to many cancer-ridden animals that are only two or three years of age. Other diseases being seen in increasing or epidemic proportions include infections, skin diseases, liver problems, irritable bowel disease, bone and joint diseases, urinary tract disorders, and thyroid problems. Some specific conditions have been directly linked to commercial food ingredients, such as ethoxyquin, which has been related to skin problems and infertility in dogs. Other diseases stem from a lack of nutrients. Heart disease and blindness, for instance, are known to result from taurine deficiency. Additionally, there may be a connection between the eating of diseased animals and mad cow disease, according to Ann Martin, author of the book Foods Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food. Martin states that over 100 cases of mad cow disease have been discovered in England, although Canada has reported only one and the U.S. none. Nevertheless, Martin says that the disease could be more widespread than believed, as it can easily be misdiagnosed as a neurological illness.
Many other illnesses are not traceable to a single cause but are simply the result of a worn-out immune system that can no longer keep up with the influx of so many toxins. "There are millions of dogs and cats fed garbage every day, and nobody has ever questioned it," says Martin. This is because, for the most part, pet food companies are accountable to no one. It's an industry that grew very quickly, Martin points out, and fell through the cracks without ever being regulated.
Labeling. Pet food companies do have one constraint: They must label their products for nutritional standards. But these requirements are not as stringent as one would expect. Originally, laboratory and testing facilities were set up to weed out unscrupulous pet food manufacturers. Guidelines were set by the National Research Council (NRC) of the Academy of Sciences, which required feeding trials for pet foods claiming to be balanced and complete. The group changed hands in 1992 when the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization created by the pet food industry itself, took over. At first the AAFCO adopted NRC regulations, but later they replaced feeding trials with testing through chemical analysis.
The problem with chemical analysis is that it does not address the biological value of foods. Dr. Morris, the founder of the Hills Pet Food Company, once published a chart mocking regulatory standards with an inedible list of ingredients that would pass as pet food. His concoction contained:
2 old shoes (protein)
1 quart of crankcase oil (fat)
1 bucket of coal (carbohydrates)
This is an exaggeration, perhaps, but one well worth considering when planning your pet's diet.
One should also be wary of products marked USDA-inspected. While this appears to indicate that the food is good for human consumption, it actually means that the product was rejected for this purpose.
Advocating for Change. Because major pet food companies are comfortable with their profits, they are not, by and large, motivated to improve standards. To the contrary, defenders of the industry, which include rendering and veterinary associations, claim that pet food companies are conscientious suppliers of a good product. According to one member of the Pet Food Association of Canada, whose constituents include such multinationals as Ralston Purina and Heinz, "Regulations are not the answer. I believe the products are already good."
One advocate for change is the Animal Protection Institute (API). As a liaison to AAFCO's Pet Food and Ingredient Definitions Committees, the API voices consumer concerns about pet foods and lobbies for federal regulation and the development of more stringent standards for ingredients. They are faced with a difficult challenge because the multibillion-dollar industry has no desire to regulate itself and makes million-dollar contributions to government agencies in order to preserve its interests.
Still, the API is an important resource for consumers who wish to know more about the pet food industry. For more information, contact the API at P.O. Box 22505, Sacramento, CA 95822, or call (916) 731-5521 and ask for the organization's pet food report. Be sure to share the literature with friends, family, and veterinarians. Another source is author Ann Martin, who can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the pet food industry and resources for consumer action. Additionally, pet food issues are discussed in the Love of Animals newsletters. Subscriptions can be obtained by calling (800) 211-6365 or (800) 711-2292.
Education is the first step toward action. Become involved by writing or calling pet food companies and the Pet Food Institute (whose numbers are listed in the appendix) to express concerns about commercial pet foods. And, of course, boycott undesirable products. When enough people start spending their dollars elsewhere, real change can happen.
THREE LEVELS OF HEALTHFUL PET NUTRITION
Fortunately, you can promote good health, and help reverse illness, once you start feeding your animal human-grade or real foods. That's how Rotweiller breeder Kim Thomson cured her animals of eye and ear infections, skin diseases, and liver problems. Thomson's own success inspired her to help others, and so she began to market her own product, but of course there are a variety of other options for people seeking to improve the diet of their pets. In addition to buying healthier commercial brands, they can cook foods themselves, or feed their animal charges some combination of home-cooked and commercial foods.
Most holistic veterinarians advocate homemade meals for animals, and some animal owners have the time and interest to prepare foods themselves. But not everyone is willing or able to do this. Many people lead busy lives and, while they may love their pets, they just don't have the time or energy to follow pet recipes. Others don't like to cook or feel the extra costs are not within their budget. Dr. Robert Goldstein, a holistic veterinarian with more than 20 years of experience, and his wife, Susan J. Goldstein, an expert in animal nutrition, have responded to the widespread need for better pet nutrition with a quality dietary program that's simple for anyone to follow. Their three-level plan invites people to engage either minimally (level I), with a bit more involvement (level II), or with optimal input (level III). At level I, all an owner need do is switch to a natural brand of commercial dog or car food, because yes, there are some good brands. A level II degree of participation bas owners adding nutritious chopped vegetables to the commercial food, and level III adds healthy table scraps and other wholesome foods to levels I and II. Whatever your degree of involvement, expect to see such positive results as a shinier, more lustrous coat and an enhanced resistance to infections and chronic diseases.
Level I: Feeding Better Commercial Foods. Well-informed consumers are demanding healthier pet foods and some manufacturers are responding by creating acceptable alternatives to standard fare. Ingredients are often far superior to the average pet product. Instead of adding harsh artificial chemicals, the fats in these foods are naturally preserved with such ingredients as vitamin C (ascorbate), vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), and oils of rosemary, clove, or other spices. Rather than meat meals or byproducts, whole meats are used. You can tell what is used because the label will read "turkey" instead of "turkey meal" or "chicken" instead of "chicken byproducts." In addition, you'll find better grades of minerals and vitamins. Easily absorbed chelated minerals will replace cheap, less absorbable ones. Whole grains, the nutrients of which are easily digested and fully bioavailable, will be used. Instead of hard-to-digest corn and nutritionally useless ground wheat, the product will contain wholesome brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. These grains, which contain complex carbohydrates, are excellent sources of nutrients, soluble and insoluble fiber, and energy.
The consumer should still be cautious, however, as many foods touted as natural are not always as wholesome as they appear to be. Fats may be preserved in rosemary oil and vitamin C, for instance, while other ingredients in the product are chemically preserved. Since it is not mandatory to list all preservatives on a label, one can be easily duped. The only way to know for sure is to call or write individual pet food companies asking for a full list of the exact ingredients. According to Dr. and Mrs. Goldstein, who have researched commercial products, the best ones, as listed in their Love of Animals newsletter, are:
California Natural(800) 532-7261
Flint River Ranch(909) 682-5048
Halo, Purely for Pets (Spot's Stew)(813) 854-2214
Nature's Recipe(800) 237-3856
Nutro Natural Choice(800) 833-5330
Old Mother Hubbard (Wellness)(800) 225-0904
One Earth (Eight in One)(516) 232-1200
Sirius(800) 890-7767 or (800) 395-7134
Solid Gold(800) 364-4863
Wysong(517) 631-0009 or www.wysong.net
They also recommend Alive, an organic, three-module food plan for dogs and cats that features active enzymes and is available from Earth Animal at (800) 622-0260. However, any of these products could be used in level I of Dr. Goldstein's program. Remember, though, that as animals have sensitive digestive tracts, new foods should be introduced gradually.
Level II: Adding Live Foods to the Base Diet. Even though better-quality dog and cat foods are a vast improvement over average rare, they are still cooked at high temperatures, a process that destroys indispensable enzymes and other valuable nutrients. Thus, level II of Dr. Goldstein's diet plan consists of adding live foods to the base diet to be sure an animal gets a full spectrum of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.
Implementing level II is simple in that all you have to do is add some fresh, organic, chopped or grated fruits or vegetables. Be sure to keep pieces small because your dog and cat's ancestors that lived in the wild got their vegetables in a digested form out of the intestines of their herbivorous prey. Good choices are carrots, cabbage, celery, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, watercress, broccoli, and green beans. Cats are especially fond of zucchini. To make fruits and vegetables more appetizing, try mixing the chopped produce with a spoonful of organic plain yogurt and a capful of flaxseed oil before blending into the food.
Raw fruits and vegetables will boost your animal's immune system with the live enzymes needed to help digest carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and to generate new tissue. You can also take your animal's health and healing to a higher level by juicing organic raw fruits and vegetables.
HOW JUICING HELPS. If you make fresh juices for yourself, allow your animal to share some of the marvelous benefits too. Juices are a concentrated source of splendid nutrients that requires very little work for digestion and absorption. As such, they are ideal "medicines" for the ailing dog or cat. Even serious conditions, such as cancer, arthritis, and kidney disease, may improve with the extra immune support supplied by fresh juice.
Each fruit and vegetable has healing properties. Apple contains pectin for the removal of toxins, and the fruit's alkalinity makes it a digestive aid. Carrot juice, rich in fiber, beta carotene, chelated minerals, and antioxidants, is good for the eyes and the immune system, and helpful in reducing oxidative stress in the bloodstream.
Combination juices can nourish the system even more completely. Use carrot or apple juice as a base because their sweetness pleases an animal's taste buds. Then add a little green juice for its potent healing effect. Greens are bitter, and bitters help detoxify the liver. Be careful to use only small amounts of green juices, as just a little is needed, and too much could make your animal sick. An example of a combination juice would be a sprig of parsley blended into apple or carrot juice. The apple will aid digestion while the parsley will cleanse the blood, fight viruses and bacteria, and even sweeten the breath. For special challenges, try some of the following juice combinations:
Allergies, asthma carrot, apple, kale, parsley
Arthritis, dysplasia carrot, celery, lettuce
Constipation carrot, lettuce, cabbage
Cancer carrot, apple, watercress
Skin disorders, itching carrot, apple, cucumber
Cataracts, vision carrot, apple, endive
Epilepsy peas, carrot, beet greens, spinach
Diabetes carrot, Brussels sprouts, string beans
Heart problems carrot, red pepper, asparagus
Digestive disorders lettuce, papaya, carrot, apple
Kidney, bladder carrot, watermelon, cranberry
Toxic liver carrot, garlic, dandelion
Congested lungs carrot, ginger, garlic, radish
Tooth decay carrot, celery, spinach
Stomach upset apple, kale, collard greens
Just a little juice can be a powerhouse of healing. For small dogs and cats start with 1 teaspoon and work up to 2 tablespoons. For medium dogs, those between 15 and 34 pounds, begin with 1 to 2 tablespoons and build up to _ cup. And for large dogs, initially give 3-4 tablespoons and work up to 1 cup.
If you are wondering how to get your pet to drink fresh juice, try waiting until mealtime and then mixing a small amount of juice in with the food. Or add a few drops to your pet's water. You could also put some juice in an eye dropper and place it in his mouth. Before long your pet may develop a liking for the juice and look forward to a little each day.
Level III. Taking it a Step Further. If your dog or cat is chronically ill, preparing meals yourself may be the fastest way to restore its wellbeing. This is also a great way to keep a healthy animal healthy. You may think that cooking for your pet is time consuming, but it doesn't have to be, note the Goldsteins, who suggest using healthful human-meal leftovers or making a big pot of meat and grains once a week that can be served for several days.
On level III of the Goldstein food program, healthful table scraps and other wholesome ingredients are added to commercial fare by reducing the natural base of dry food by about 25 percent and replacing it with equal amounts of protein, whole grains, and finely chopped or grated vegetables. Recommended portions are 1/4 cup per meal for a cat or small dog, _ cup per meal for a medium-sized dog, 1 cup for a large dog, and 1 to 1_ cups for a giant dog. The great thing about this plan is that it needn't be costly.
SHARE THE HEALTHAND SAVE THE WEALTH!
Do you think you should never give your dog or cat table scraps? That's probably something you've learned from pet food companies, or from conventional veterinary medicine. But think about the kind of nutrition your animal gets from commercially produced pet foods, and then think about the kind of nutrition you want your pet to receive in order to stay healthy and happy. If you yourself are eating healthfully, there are lots of ways you can extend the benefits of your own good nutritional habits to your furry loved ones, and save money in the process.
Say you're having salad for dinner. Save some without dressing for your dog or cat, leaving out the onions and avoiding tomatoesthey're too acidic. Then grate your salad with a food processor or hand grater, and add it to your pet's regular food. You'll be reducing the amount of money you spend on pet food, and improving your pet's diet at the same time. Cats, in particular, love salad and greens.
You can do the same thing with oatmeal. If you're making yourself some for breakfast, make an extra cup, let it cool, and add it to your dog's reduced morning helping of dry food. Oats are as good for animals as they are for people. Other good grains to use are brown rice and millet. The rich roughage and fiber content from these complex carbohydrates will ensure fewer hairballs in cats. Refined grains, however, should be avoided.
Almost any fruit, except citrus, can be shared with pets. Apples make a great snack for everybody in your household, two-legged or four-. Cats are often fond of melons. And remember to save some of your baked potato (without the butter or sour cream, of course) as cats and dogs love spuds and their skins. Buy organic potatoes if you can; otherwise, scrub the skin well before cooking.
Many people shy away from feeding table scraps to their pet for fear of upsetting their delicate digestive systems. But this should not happen if you introduce the food slowly and increase leftover portions gradually. One more caveat: Raw vegetables should also be eaten as fresh as possible; after purchase, refrigerate and use them within three to five days; otherwise, they will spoil as a result of naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria.