The best kibble and canned dog and cat foods made today are much healthier than the foods available twenty years ago. Still, kibble and canned foods are more processed and contain less meat and more carbohydrates than the diets that dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems seem designed for. During the past decade, dozens of nutritionists have risen to the challenge of creating canine and feline diets that are closer to the food nature intended cats and dogs to eat.
Evidence that freeze-dried, dehydrated and raw frozen diets contribute to canine and feline health is still mostly anecdotal, but the anecdotal evidence is compelling. Most owners are surprised by the positive changes they see in their animals within weeks: healthier, shinier coats; smaller, less smelly stools; greater energy; better appetites and a more engaging personality. Equally surprising are the positive changes some owners have seen in animals suffering from veterinary and non-veterinary conditions that include obesity, dental issues, vomiting, diarrhea, diabetes, allergies and food intolerances.
Obtaining minimally processed foods for ourselves is simple: grocery stores bulge with fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and freshly squeezed juices. These days, even fast food restaurants offer salads and fruit plates. By contrast, feeding dogs and cats minimally processed food has remained challenging—until quite recently. During the past decade, growing demand for dog and cat foods that are closer to nature has led dozens of companies to begin producing hundreds of different minimally processed foods. And many of these new foods are as easy to feed as kibble. (Really.)
In recent years, many veterinarians, including Mud Bay’s staff veterinarian, have embraced raw foods for their contribution to canine and feline health. Still, other vets remain opposed to raw diets. Opponents often cite the lack of scientific evidence and the risks associated with raw meat and chewing bones. Supporters usually counter that the risks are small and outweighed by the long-term potential health benefits—and note that the risks can be significantly reduced by choosing freeze-dried or dehydrated foods. Still, before putting your pet on any diet, we suggest discussing it with your veterinarian.
From spinach and beef recalled for e-coli to dog kibble recalled for melamine, US food supply chains aren’t perfect. The risks associated with raw pet foods are similar to those associated with raw foods for humans: on rare occasions, contact or consumption can infect people or pets with an unhealthy pathogen. But raw frozen pet food is more likely to undergo High Pressure Pasteurization to kill pathogens than raw meat for human consumption. So (strange as it might seem) it appears we’re more likely to find an unhealthy pathogen in frozen meat packaged for human consumption than in many frozen dog or cat diets.
Raw foods generally cost more per pound than kibble, but they’re very dense, so the per day cost of freeze-dried, dehydrated and raw frozen foods is much less than it appears. On average, it costs about 65 cents a day more to feed a 10-pound cat a diet of raw frozen food instead of kibble. And it costs about 70 cents a day more to feed a 40-pound dog a diet that’s 50% frozen raw food and 50% kibble instead of a diet that’s all kibble. Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods require more processing than raw frozen foods, and so their cost per day is generally somewhat higher.
There are the three main approaches to raw nutrition for dogs and cats. (1) Raw frozen is about as close as you can get to the ancestral diet of dogs and cats. It’s usually the least expensive, but requires the most preparation. (2) Freeze-dried and (3) Dehydrated foods are more processed than raw frozen foods, but still much less so than conventionally cooked foods. That means the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients are much closer to their original state than in kibble or canned food. Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are as simple to feed and as safe from pathogens as kibbles.
A great option for dog and cat owners who are currently feeding kibble is substituting raw frozen, freeze-dried or dehydrated food for 25% or 50% of their animal’s kibble. Combining kibble with raw is less expensive than feeding 100% raw—an especially important consideration for large dogs. And evidence suggests that dogs and cats get most of the benefits of a 100% raw diet from a diet that’s only 50% raw. Many cat owners find that their felines are happiest eating all raw or all kibble, not a combination. But most dogs are quite happy to go back and forth between raw and kibble.
The skin and coat of a carnivore are often the first places a mismatch between an animal and its diet shows up. A dull coat, bare spots, shedding, dry or itchy skin or high susceptibility to fleas are all indicators that a dog’s or cat’s diet may not be completely suited to its needs. This mismatch often shows up in middle age. Dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems become less effective with age, so the diet that seemed to work well at age 3, may no longer work at 6 or 9. Substituting raw foods for some or all of a dog’s or cat’s kibble can make dramatic improvements in the health of its skin and coat.
The pickiness of many dogs and cats is a function of a conflict between biology and commerce. Dogs and cats are carnivorous animals (cats especially so). But most of the calories in most dog and cat foods come from carbohydrates instead of meat. In other words, most dogs and cats are fed foods (highly processed, lots of carbohydrates) that are quite different from the foods their bodies were designed for (unprocessed meat). Once most dogs and cats become used to eating a minimally processed, meat-rich diet, they prefer it to everything else—and pickiness becomes a thing of the past.