As consumers, dog and cat owners are presented with a myriad of choices when selecting a dog or cat food. Unfortunately, most owners buy a food because it is well marketed, the one having the best commercials or printed advertisements. The goal of this paper is to educate you, as the consumer, such that you will be able to make better decisions when purchasing your pet’s food.

When discussing diet it is always helpful to remember just what dogs and cats ate prior to domestication. This is difficult for dogs because they have been domesticated for so long and because of human influences, they represent a wide array of genetic variability. This is not true for cats. Cats are not truly domesticated (as any cat owner knows). Cats can survive in the wild quite well. They learned to live with humans because we attract their primary food source….rodents! Cats not only consume rodents, but also birds, insects, snakes, and a wide variety of grasses and other plant material (hence why they enjoy catnip so much!). Cats will spend most of their day hunting, yet rarely be successful. Therefore, fasting or at least long intervals between meals, is the norm. When cats consume their prey they don’t just nibble the meat off the bones like we do, they consume the organs, the bones, the hair, and even the brain.

Wild dogs probably had a similar diet to cats; however, they would be hunting in packs which would enable them to have access to larger wild game. There is likely more regional variability in the diets of ancestral dogs. Dogs that originated in the arctic likely ate a fish based diet that is higher in fat. They also probably consumed a large amount of carrion left over from larger carnivores. Dogs originating in the tropics would likely consume more fruit and berries. Unlike cats, dogs have the ability to survive on a much larger variety of foods, being omnivores just like humans. This is undoubtedly due to the longer time of domestication by humans.

With this background, let’s discuss the various diets available for dogs and cats, I will break this into two sections: raw food/homemade diets and commercial diets. Let’s start with raw food/homemade diets. These diets are primarily fed to try to match more closely the primitive diets of dogs and cats. Most raw food diets incorporate the use of raw chicken or turkey necks and backs, fresh vegetables, eggs, and diary products. Use of organ meats is common. The most popular raw diet was started by Dr. Ian Billinghurst and is outlined in his book Give Your Dog A Bone.

Homemade diets are similar, but usually involve a larger base of ingredients including cooked grains. The meat in these diets is often fed raw also. Dr. Richard Pitcairn has popularized homemade diets in his book The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. These diets are often used for animals with specific problems such as gastrointestinal upsets, skin problems, and arthritis. Both raw food and homemade diets are far superior to any commercially available diet because of the use of fresh, whole foods rather than the processed foods in commercial diets.

Unfortunately, our society is not one in which people cook for themselves or their children, so it is unlikely that the majority of people will be cooking for their pet. So we are left trying to determine what the best commercial food will be for our pet. To do this we must read the label. First and foremost we want to avoid any food that is made with byproduct ingredients. The byproducts are what are left over from the human food industry including diseased tissues, feathers, spoiled meats, and rancid grains. The only byproduct that is good for animals is the organ meat. Unfortunately, you can seldom differentiate the organ meats from other byproducts just by reading the label.

Secondly, avoid foods with any artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, or propylene glycol. Most of these are banned from ALL foods in Britain because they are known carcinogens. (Most of these are found in breakfast cereals!). Look for foods that contain meats, or meat meals and whole grains. Simple foods (i.e. foods that have fewer ingredients) are likely better because they are easier to digest. The body has difficulty digesting multiple different protein and grain sources at one time, being unable to secrete the necessary enzymes.

The better quality commercial foods available include: Fromms, Nature's Variety, Orijen, Natural Balance, Holistic Select's and Wellness. Many new foods are entering the market making it hard to list all of the varieties available. This is why reading the label is so important!

As you can see, feeding your dog or cat is no simple task. At the very least it entails you to be an informed consumer, reading pet food labels to determine which food is good rather than just buying the food because your dog looks like the one on the commercials! Homemade diets are wonderful and usually a necessity if your pet has an illness. Raw diets are the closest to a primitive diet and are likely the best diets for all pets to be eating. However, you will need to read up on these diets before trying to prepare one.

Sandy's Pet  Food Center

Natural Pet Food & Supplies, Concord, NH