While humans have moved away from natural laws, they have also forgotten what animals do eat in the wild. Today, many brands of kibble do not respect the real nutritional needs of our domestic dogs and cats. The lifespan of our four-legged companions, which I believe is longer than what we think, is being shortened and we often find cats affected by kidney disease. The logic and critical thinking applied in this article can be extended to other animals in farms or horse centers. This article is directly inspired by the work of Nora Lenz and the model she created called rotational monofeeding for dogs (and raw feeding for cats).
The carnivore diet of cats
It’s often the case that the kibble and cans intended for cats on the markets contain elements that they would not eat if they were living in the wild: starchy food, rice, it even happens that we find tempeh, coconut oil or wholemeal pasta in “vegan” formulas for cats. However, no animal consumes vegetable oil in the wild or cooked food. The morphology of a cat is one of a carnivore (with large kidneys to manage the acids produced by meat). Their intestines are rather short: cats frequently eat small quantities. In the wild, cats eat raw meat and certain organs (except the head, legs and gall bladder) of small preys (mice, shrews, birds, lizards), as well as some herbs. This provides them with a diet rich in protein and water with a moderate fat content and very little carbohydrates. Cats chews little and the digestion process begins in the stomach which is small and has a very acidic pH.
Moreover, kibbles intended for our pets are generally made up of downgraded cereals and other vegetable waste of poor quality and a small portion of meat of unknown origin and composition, all denatured by cooking at high temperatures. A high level of carbohydrates is found in most supermarket kibbles, in specialist veterinary shops and in organic stores. This can severely influence the sugar level for cats. Cereals are very inexpensive materials and brands gain in profit by increasing their proportion. Very often cat and dog kibble is an amorphous food. Our animals survive these living conditions which are far from ideal, but they do not thrive. And even when the kibble we feed them correspond to the needs of our pets, their disadvantage is that they are very dry and require the animals to drink much more. Indeed, in the wild, a prey is composed of about 70% water, whereas the kibble does not even reach 10%.
Where to start for cats?
When we change our cats’ diet (they are the least accommodating when it comes to the transition in their bowls), it is best to make a smooth and gradual transition that spread accross several weeks. The older the cat is and the more encrusted are his habits, the more patience and creativity will be good allies.
- The first step is to opt for dehydrated kibbles of fresh meat and fish without cereals and with a low ratio of mixed vegetables, herbs and synthetic additives (more difficult to assimilate), such as those of the Orijen brand (which I partially feed my older cat with). I do give him limited kibble and it’s not anymore in access all of the time. I leave the left from fresh meat during the night. That’s when they eat what they were maybe refusing to eat during the day when they were more picky.
- On the other hand, traditional canned food is replaced by a brand that respects the needs of cats. Brushing the tip of cats’ noses with the new food might encourage them to lick their noses, which may well help them start to eat. We may serve a bit of kibble so they will eat their fresh food, and if necessary mix the fresh meat with some canned food.
- Finally, a portion of raw (or slightly warmed up) meat is served to them twice to 3 times a day. Cats can become accustomed to not having an accessible bowl at all times because raw products tend to lose their freshness if they are not eaten directly or in the next hours. It will be necessary to proceed by trials and errors to see what type of meat is their preferred one. It will sometimes be necessary at the beginning to mix with a can, although digestion times vary, or to barely heat the portion of raw meat or to cook it very lightly.
- In its natural state, cats are not supposed to eat pigs or cows, so we can pay attention to that as well and opt for quail eggs or (often whole pieces of) frozen rats, mice, pigeons, fish or rabbits. My cats have their habits: one of them is served beef as it seems to do good for his inflammation.
- Cats are generally good at regulating their food intake; 30 to 50 grams per kilo of the cat’s total weight per day is generally recommended. I just go by intuition and I do not like to fight with my cats or that they would be frustrated.
- Select a few brands or producers who follow an ethical charter.
- Buy from local organic farms, avoid supermarkets.
- Choose meat with the closest expiry date as it is more likely to be thrown away or wasted.
For cats, 2 small meals a day would be good. Adding a little warm water will make the meal more appealing for them. Commercial producers purchase the cheapest cuts of meat and don’t trim the fat. They do not take in account that digesting fat is taxing for cats. Everything is thrown into the grinder. Symptoms such as eye discharge, shedding, matted fur, hair balls can be resolved by reducing the amount of food fed to a cat. On the other hand, cats are not meant to fast for a long time. Water fasting cats might be considered if the cat suffers from inflammation or a disease. After a few fast, it’s common that an improvement of condition will be observed so healing can continue without having to fast them much. Cats are not meant to process the stored fat which comes from their bodies when they are put on a fast.
Which meat to choose?
Feeding our animals the meat of other animals can be a moral dilemma for some, especially for those consuming a vegan diet for ethical reasons. The source of the problem lies in the fact that humans have domesticated carnivorous species. Most of the products found in pet foods for domestic cats and dogs often come from parts that are not intended for human consumption. Local farms can be asked if they have any leftovers that are unfit for human consumption. Often, however, these leftovers are used to feed farm animals. It is an everyday conscious choice to limit participation in systems that perpetuate cruel treatment of animals. Above all, let’s pay attention to the feelings of guilt and shame that such a dilemna can come from because one day soon we will try to sell us laboratory-grown meat for our pets by manipulating our emotions. And they will disguise it under the label of progress. In its natural state, predation is not cruel. There’s a fine line between guilt and healthy concern. Where can we improve our actions and decisions without going for the transhumanist agenda?
What about parasites?
Because we don’t want to poison our pets, which is a trap of agreement with owners being the ones to buy harmful products and to feed it to their beloved cats, we can substitute chemical anti-fleas for natural anti-parasites such as spot’n’go, based on natural active agents and Margosa oil, to be applied behind the neck. The use of essential oils is to be avoided (hydrolats are preferred) for cats because they lack a specific enzyme that allows them to evacuate them efficiently.
On the road to an ideal diet for our dogs
Once upon a time, life in the wilderness
On the contrary to cats who have practically no need for plant foods, dogs are facultative (optional) carnivores, which is close to the omnivore category. They are capable of surviving without a fresh prey for long periods of time. The wild models show us that once puppies are weaned, they frequently go long periods without food while their mother leaves to hunt. They can subsist mostly on pre-digested, regurgitated food from the mother. A lone wolf may find it hard to get fresh meat during winter time and will live on scavenged carcasses. Wild dogs are predators, but they are also opportunistic scavengers. Unlike cats, who prefer their food freshly killed, dogs are physiologically equipped to eat and easily digest rotting carrion. The stomach acid of a dog is 10 times stronger than the acid in a human’s stomach. Their systems get rid of the meat quickly, before putrefaction occurs. Wolves consume less prey during the summer months when other foods (fruits primarily) are available. They tend to eat fresh prey every 2 or 3 days on average. Deduction can lead us to interpret that feeding fresh meat twice a week to a few times per month is quite close to what nature tells us about these species. Yet, there will always be a small difference by taking in account that we may adapt our ways to domestic pets as they may have undergone some structural changes along the generations of unproper feeding by humans.
What dietary choices for dogs?
Dogs have inborn faculties for ripping, chewing and crushing to get the food pass their small throats. It’s best to avoid mixing proteins and carbs as dogs are not meant to process them at the same time. Digestion is compromised when foods are combined, as the acidic nature of the digestive chemicals required to break down proteins actually neutralize the ones that are required to break down carbs. They digest at different speed and can cause problems if they encounter each other in the digestive tract. Raw vegetables are not really appropriate for dogs, even when pureed so only in small amounts (spinach and lettuce for example). Cooking vegetables can make it more digestible for them. Dogs lack sufficient amylase to break down starch and cellulose and lack grinding molars for chewing. When cooked, starchy veggies like mashed green peas or carrots become more bioavailable. Cooking breaks down the long-chain sugars of these starchy veggies to simple sugars, so they become quite digestible. Sweet potatoes for example are so high in sugars that when cooked they begin to resemble overripe fruit in composition. Yet, fruits are a far better choices for dogs than vegetables. The subject of giving grapes to dogs is controversial and dog guardians get scared if their dogs eat some grapes. I have not noticed negative side effects from feeding my dogs grapes. I work on getting my dogs one hydrating meal a day with their morning fruits since I rarely see them drink. It’s best not to disguise food if the dog will not eat it unflavored (as for beans which are high in protein but also complex foods that are high in starch).
Around 3 per cent of the weight of the dog is what is recommended for maintenance, a bit more when they are puppies as they are receiving food 2 or 3 times a day. It might be more on plant food days (up to 5 per cent). Plant days can be increased gradually up to 4 to 5 days a week and then, one day of meat. Models proposed could look either like 2 plant days for 1 meat day ; 3 mixed plant days with 2 mono fruit days with 2 meat days. Most of domestic dogs do not seem to be able to be regulating their food intake. Around one year of age, in addition to meat, bones and organ meats, quinoa or millet, cooked sweet potatoes and fruits (bananas, pears, apples) can be introduced. Pets will prefer their food at room temperature. If one tends to feed their pets at random times, it will be easier to fast them. It also helps to cut down the « feed me » demands. In case of health problems, dogs can benefit from being on a water fast.
For the meat days, game hens and quail are ideal foods, their bone to meat ratio is closer to that of a wild prey animal. Then, depending on the size of the dog, turkey necks and breasts, eventually rabbits, turkey legs or beef ribs for bigger dogs can be chosen. Foods which are perfectly healthy, necessary and digestible in their raw state can become toxic or injurious when cooked, most notably, bones. Meat and bones are not improved by cooking. Beef neck bones can be a form of recreational bones that are meant for teeth cleaning. Recreational treats can be in the form of dehydrated beef or chicken liver. Nuts should not be fed whole as dogs cannot chew nuts sufficiently to allow their bodies to make use of the nutrients. Goat’s milk typically contains 50% fat. No animal drink the milk of other species. Because certain proteins in eggs interfere with the absorption of some nutrients, it is not advisable to feed eggs more than once or twice per week. The yolk is also very fatty. When feeding green tripe from grain finished animals, partially digested grains are being fed. Most of the time, dogs won’t eat cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and greens, even when cooked. Dogs will typically pass grapefruits, oranges, raspberries, strawberries or tomatoes. They usually like apples, bananas, blueberries, figs, mangoes, melons, papayas, pears and persimmons. A truly hungry dog will not pass up suitable secondary foods like fruit. Some dogs will accept fruit berries as a treat. Oats, rice and wheat should not be fed as they are too starchy and with a high cellulose content. Amaranth, quinoa and millet are not true cereal grains, they are more like edible seeds. Quinoa is probably the best as it’s higher in protein and lower in carbs. Garlic, ginger, onions, salt, spices and turmeric should generally not be part of a dog’s diet. Vomiting and diarrhea are signs that the dog is having trouble digesting what he is currently being fed. A digestive enzyme may be added (it will help the body to break down until the dog has healed sufficiently in order to be able to produce enough acid to digest meat).
The pet food industry and socialization
Most veterinarians are trained by a system that profits when dogs are sick. In the pet food industry, we find byproducts that are not eaten by humans. They found a way for guardians of animals to pay not only for the fat and waste that is injected in cheap products and deemed unfit for human consumption but also in the form of the vet bills that later come in the game. The introduction of grains into the diets of domestic pets was motivated by economic reasons, not because of their nutritional needs. Industries are non-human entities which generally aim at reducing the cost of their production. The pet food industry is using waste products from different industries (Brewers Rice), inflammatory products (soybean oil) and processed junk ingredients that natural bodies struggle to recognize and process. It is foolish to expect them to have human attributes, like a heart-centered approach and compassion. Some companies are paid to collect and process the dead bodies of animals in medical labs, slaughterhouses, animal shelters and veterinary offices and to use the pet food market to make a profit from these otherwise unusable waste products. Manufacturers tend to put indigestible ingredients (oils and a too high fat contain, certain vegetables, supplements, garlic) in their products. They coat the food with a cooked fat-based liquid extracted from animals. Another common product used to convince dogs that the food is edible is used rancid grease stabilized with chemicals. BARF menus are often supplemented with useless nutritional fragments and might be too high in fat. In ground meat, fat can not be removed. In addition, the idea that puppies should be isolated until their vaccination does not make a lot of sense. It tends to cause an insecure environment for the social abilities of young dogs. They find themselves with 2 options in reaction of this forced social distancing : aggression or retreat. Both of these behaviors are undesirable. Early socialization ensures harmony and is best done in a leash-free environment. Adult dogs usually sniff and leave puppies. Nevertheless, it’s good to stay under the radar about the fact that we don’t vaccinate our pets, especially where there is an attempt to pressure and intimidate.