|Trends in Home-Prepared Diets for Pets|
|Written by C. J. Puotinen|
|Thursday, 19 September 2002 01:37|
In the United States, most people believe that "people food" is unsuitable, even dangerous, for dogs and cats. For half a century, pet food manufacturers and veterinarians have explained that commercial pet foods are "scientifically balanced," "nutritionally complete," and superior to anything our pets might otherwise consume. These experts frown upon giving pets table scraps, raw food and supplements that disrupt a commercial pet food's "precisely controlled balance of vitamins and minerals."
We're so used to these notions that most of us accept them without a second thought. But some pet owners have remained skeptical and have taken a different approach. In recent years their numbers are growing.
What are these eccentric people feeding their animals? Just the things the experts say will kill them: raw meat, unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, raw vegetables and fruits and--worst of all--raw bones. If these dogs and cats don't die from indigestion, botulism, Salmonella, E. coli bacteria, or a deficiency disease, they'll surely choke to death or puncture their intestines. Any veterinarian will tell you that these animals are living on borrowed time.
Make that almost any veterinarian. Members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association,1 an organization that reflects the surging interest in natural therapies for pets, believe those animals are eating exactly what Mother Nature intended.
A diet of mostly raw animal foods for cats was examined back in the 1930s by Francis Pottenger, MD. He conducted a ten-year-long study in which nearly a thousand cats were fed the same basic diet of milk, meat and a small dose of cod liver oil.2
The healthiest cats were the ones who received raw meat and raw milk. This was the only group to produce generation after generation of healthy kittens with broad faces, adequate nasal cavities, broad dental arches, strong and correctly shaped teeth and bones, excellent tissue tone, good-quality fur with a minimum of shedding and an absence of gum disease. These cats were resistant to infections, fleas and internal parasites. They showed no sign of allergies and were gregarious, friendly and predictable in their behavior patterns. Miscarriages were rare and litters averaged five kittens, which the mothers nursed without difficulty.
Another group received raw milk and cooked meat. The cats in this group developed skeletal and dental deformities, heart problems, vision problems, thyroid imbalances, infections of the kidney, liver, testes, ovaries and bladder, arthritis and inflammation of the joints, and inflammation of the nervous system with paralysis and meningitis. Their second and third generations had abnormal respiratory tissues. Cooked-meat cats were so irritable that some of the females were named Tiger, Cobra and Rattlesnake, while the males were docile and passive, a sexual role reversal not seen in the raw-food cats. Vermin and intestinal parasites abounded and skin lesions and allergies appeared frequently. Adult cats died of pneumonia or infections of the bone while kittens died of pneumonia and diarrhea. The cooked-meat cats had serious reproductive problems including sterility, miscarriage, a lack of maternal instinct and difficult labors with high infant mortality rates. Many females died in labor.
The cats fed raw meat with pasteurized milk showed similar changes, and those fed evaporated milk showed even more damage, while the most marked deficiencies occurred among those fed sweetened condensed milk.
Because the health of each new generation was adversely affected by its parents' inferior diet, the cooked-food kittens had even more problems, and there were no fourth generation kittens in any of the cooked-food groups because the third generation always died before reproducing. Had antibiotic drugs been available, these kittens might not have died of pneumonia and other infectious diseases, in which case the experiment could have continued through longer chains of deformed offspring.
One of Dr. Pottenger's most exciting discoveries was that the health deterioration caused by cooked foods can be reversed, although it took four generations to completely restore perfect health to cats whose ancestors ate cooked meat or pasteurized milk.
The Natural Rearing Diet
During the 1940s and 1950s, while food scientists in England and Europe were developing commercial pet foods, Juliette de Bairacli Levy fed her unvaccinated Afghan hounds raw meat, raw bones, raw goat milk, raw fish, raw eggs and a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and oils. The only medicines she used were herbs. Supremely healthy and intelligent, her dogs won numerous championships and de Bairacli Levy gained a devoted following around the world. In 1955, she published The Complete Herbal Book for the Dog, which explained the Natural Rearing diet and philosophy. (The book was renamed The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat3 in subsequent editions.)
The Natural Rearing canine diet is based on raw meat, including bones and organs, from a variety of animals. The meat is never frozen and is served whole or in large chunks, not ground or minced. The diet also includes raw milk, especially goat milk; cereal grains, especially those that have been flaked and soaked overnight in raw milk; small amounts of sprouted seeds; finely grated or baked root vegetables; occasional fruits and nuts; and miscellaneous foods such as honey, eggs, seaweed, carob, coconut, avocados and olives. These items should be organically grown whenever possible.
One day each week the dinner is meatless, with raw milk, eggs or cheese mixed with slowly cooked whole-grain cereal, rice or lentils. The following day is a fast day, with only water served or, if necessary, a small amount of honey in water, diluted milk or water from flaked oats or barley soaked overnight. In the wild, dogs hunt when hungry, eat when food is available and often go a day or more without a substantial meal. Feeding a light dinner followed by a day-long fast approximates this schedule.
The Natural Rearing diet for cats is similar, emphasizing a variety of meats, meaty bones and small amounts of soaked grain, raw milk, raw cheese and vegetable matter. While Dr. Pottenger proved that cats thrive on a diet of raw meat and raw milk, cats in the wild consume vegetable matter through their prey's digestive organs. The Natural Rearing diet strives to duplicate the constantly changing fare on which dogs and cats evolved.
"Many people are doing a natural food diet nowadays," says Washington state resident Jo Forsythe4, a longtime Newfoundland fancier who breeds Portuguese water dogs, "but Juliette de Bairacli Levy deserves credit as the grandmother of the movement. I have friends who have followed her guidelines exclusively for many, many generations of healthy dogs. For convenience, I've had to modify her plan when I travel, but at home my dogs eat an almost all-raw diet. They don't have digestive problems or deficiency diseases, and they thrive on fresh, whole foods. I think that by eating a constantly changing assortment of foods, they have a better chance of getting whatever nutrients they need than if they ate the same foods every day."
Marina Zacharias4 saw the difference a natural diet makes when she bought her first Basset Hound fifteen years ago. "He had been raised on a premium-quality pet food for the first five months of his life," she says. "I switched him over to the Natural Rearing diet, which he had a much easier time digesting, and he grew very well. When he was 18 months old, I saw some of his littermates and the contrast was amazing. He had been one of the smaller puppies in the litter and now he was the largest. His coat, bone density, posture, eyes, disposition, alertness and everything else were superior."
He became the patriarch of a line of raw-food Bassets, and Zacharias became a full-time animal nutritionist and publisher of the newsletter Natural Rearing.5 "It works the other way around, too," she continues. "I know breeders who raised their puppies on raw food and sent them to homes where for one reason or another their diet was changed. When they met up with the pups in show-handling class a few weeks later, their coat quality and bone density had deteriorated and they didn't look as well as they used to. It's not that a raw-food diet pushes growth, which would be unhealthy, but it meets the animal's genetic potential by providing all the nutrients the body needs to grow properly."
Breeders who feed a natural diet do more than strengthen individual dogs; they improve their entire lines. "When we had our first puppies from a four-year-old mother who had been on raw food all her life, the difference was dramatic," says Barbara Werner4 who raises Golden Retrievers in New York. "She showed none of the signs of nutritional stress that are common in pregnancy. Her coat stayed gorgeous, her labor was short and she produced nine strong, lively pups that landed on their feet. This is a breed so prone to autoimmune disorders and cancers that one veterinarian told me a three-year-old golden is now considered middle-aged. I find this attitude unacceptable. The puppies' grandfather was still winning ribbons at dog shows when he was eleven."
The Pitcairn Diet
The first American veterinarian to write a best-selling book that endorsed home-prepared pet food was Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, whose Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats6 was published in 1982 and revised in 1995. Dr. Pitcairn recommends a diet based on raw or cooked meat, raw bones, raw or pasteurized dairy products and cooked grains, with small amounts of nuts, seeds, vegetables, herbs, fruits, natural flavorings, brewer's yeast, bone meal, powdered kelp, vegetable oil, cod liver oil and vitamin D capsules.
Cat groomer Anitra Frazier adopted the Pitcairn diet, encouraged her clients to do the same and described the results in 1981 in The Natural Cat. Her book, which was revised in 1990 as The New Natural Cat,7 recommends that food be removed between meals because cats in the wild don't lounge beside automatic food dispensers (that tip alone has improved many cats' coats), and meat should be served raw. Frazier's "Superfinicky Owner's I'll-Do-Anything-for-My-Cat Diet" consists of protein (raw ground beef, organic chicken, organic egg yolk, etc.), finely grated vegetables, and soaked oat bran or cooked barley, millet, oat flakes, brown rice or other grain. Supplements include a vitamin-mineral mix, optional digestive enzymes and once-a-week feedings of vitamins E, A, and D from capsules.
Other writers spread the word about home-prepared diets in books and magazines, using plans much like those of de Bairacli Levy, Pitcairn and Frazier. Reigning Cats and Dogs by Pat McKay,8 Cat Care, Naturally by Celeste Yarnall,9 The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, DVM,10 and my own Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care11 and Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats12 are a few examples.
Introducing the BARF Diet
Early in his practice, Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst read American and English veterinary journals with wonder, for they routinely featured articles about illnesses and conditions he had never seen. In his book Give Your Dog a Bone,13 Dr. Billinghurst describes what happened when his nation adopted commercial pet foods in the 1960s. Until then, Australians fed their pets raw meaty bones and table scraps. "Everybody knew how to do it," he says. "It was common sense. As a consequence, most Australian dogs were very healthy."
Billinghurst fed his own dogs commercial food for two years and watched them develop skin problems, runny eyes, scruffy coats, itching skin, hot spots, ear infections, anal sac problems, smelly fur and feces, bad breath, tooth and gum problems, repeated worm infestations, bone and growth disorders and reproductive problems. Previously, his dogs had dined on fresh hare, raw bones and table scraps. They were never wormed or vaccinated, had large litters of robust puppies and stayed healthy with a minimum of effort.
As soon as he switched his dogs back to their previous diet their health improved. So did the health of dogs belonging to clients who adopted his BARF feeding plan--Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Thanks to his books, speaking tours, enthusiastic converts and the success of his philosophy, so has the health of dogs around the world.
Even when they appreciate the benefits of raw bones, some owners are reluctant to provide them for personal reasons (bones can be messy and inconvenient) or because they have been frightened by veterinarians and other authority figures. Unfortunately, not feeding raw bones may create nutritional imbalances that cause serious harm. In his second book, Feed Your Pups with Bones,14 Dr. Billinghurst warned against the use of substitutes such as heat-sterilized bone meal and calcium supplements, for they can disrupt the natural balance of minerals in growing bodies and can cause--instead of preventing--hip and elbow dysplasia and other structural problems.
"Don't forget that we have all been brainwashed to believe that dogs should eat processed dog food and that raw bones are bad," says Christine Swingle,4 who raises West Highland white terriers in Connecticut. "I have been feeding a raw-food diet for four years, and two years ago I gathered up the courage to feed raw chicken necks and wings. The Westies love them. It's amazing--they digest raw meaty bones despite what I was led to believe!"
Holistic veterinarians warn that pets who are not used to eating bones or who are in poor health should start with small quantities. Too much at first may cause either constipation or diarrhea, or the animal may have trouble digesting bones when they are first introduced.
Bones that an animal bites through are safer than those that are cut with a saw. Bones that are too large to swallow whole are safer than those that can be swallowed, although the size a dog might swallow whole decreases as she learns how to take her time and chew. Bones from young animals are less brittle than those from older animals. Poultry neck bones are the least likely to cause problems, and wings are another favorite "safe" bone. Serving other foods before serving bones provides a cushion that helps protect the stomach lining, while small amounts of fiber or roughage help remove undigested bone fragments from the digestive tract. In the wild, as Juliette de Bairacli Levy notes, dogs and cats swallow the entire prey animal, and its indigestible fur or feathers act as a cushion that sweeps residues along. Her Natural Rearing diet includes a pinch of soaked wheat bran for that reason.
Products containing digestive enzymes may help an older pet digest raw bones. Keeping bones out of the reach of dogs that are literally starved for them prevents accidental overindulgences. After adjusting to an improved diet of fresh, raw foods, most dogs and cats are able to digest raw bones without difficulty.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, the cartilage, ligaments, and tendons attached to raw bones act as a natural dental floss, and crunching through raw bones is good for the teeth and gums. As New York veterinarian Beverly Cappel, DVM,4 says, "You can always tell a bone-chewing dog; they have the whitest, strongest, cleanest teeth." Dogs and cats that eat raw, meaty bones save their owners the expense of tooth cleaning and other dental work. They rarely develop gum disease, and their breath is usually sweeter than that of their commercially fed relatives.
Traditional Food Preparation Techniques
Now that the Weston A. Price Foundation is educating the public about traditional food preparation techniques, some dog owners and canine nutritionists are discovering the difference these methods make in the health of dogs fed a home-prepared diet.
Of the various experts whose menu plans are widely used, only Juliette de Bairacli Levy emphasizes the overnight soaking of grain and the natural fermentation of meat. In her Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat,3 she describes in detail how to hang or bury meat (preferably a sheep's head) so that it "ripens." As an alternative, meat-tenderizing enzymes such as papain, pancreatin, hydrochloric acid (betain HCl), pepsin, and bile are ingredients in digestive supplements which can be powdered, mixed with water, and applied to meat several hours before serving to predigest it.
Lactic Acid Fermentation
Vegetables are important to canine health, and although advocates of home-prepared diets debate the quantity of vegetable matter dogs should consume, all agree that vegetables contain essential nutrients that are not provided by other foods. Cats do not require vegetables for optimum health, as Dr. Pottenger proved, but many breeders report good results from adding small amounts of raw vegetables to their food.
One way to help dogs and cats digest vegetables is to puree them. Blenders and food processors make this task easy, and pureed root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, leafy herbs such as parsley, and grasses like wheat grass or barley grass can be added to every meal with good results.
Another way to improve the digestibility of vegetables is with lactic-acid fermentation, and a growing body of research indicates that this method both prevents and helps cure cancer and other serious illnesses. According to William J. Fischer in How to Fight Cancer and Win,15 lactic acid fermentation produces vitamin C, B vitamins, enzymes that support metabolic activity, choline which balances and nourishes the blood, and acetylcholine which tones the nerves, calms the mind and improves sleep patterns. Lactic acid is also a chemical repressor that fights cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Lactic-acid fermentation imitates the digestion of plant foods in the stomachs of small animals that dogs and cats in the wild would eat.
As with any new food, introduce fermented vegetables gently and in small quantities. For dogs and cats that are slow to accept new foods, this can be as little as a fraction of a teaspoon mixed with the animal's regular food, increasing the amount a little each day. Whatever vegetables a canine or feline menu plan recommends can be replaced with a slightly smaller quantity, such as 10 to 15 percent less by volume, of lacto-fermented fare. Fermentation and pressing condense the vegetables and concentrate their nutrients. The resulting liquid, which looks like water but is really the vegetables' juice, is a rich source of lactic acid and other nutrients. It can be added in small amounts, such as 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, to a pet's food and drinking water.
For more detailed instructions, see The Cultured Cabbage: Rediscovering the Art of Making Sauerkraut by Klaus Kaufmann and Annelies Schoeneck21 or Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.23 Lacto-fermented vegetables are sold in some health food stores.22
Making Grains Digestible
Wheat, corn, and other widely used, inexpensive grains have so disrupted the health of America's dogs and cats that a few experts recommend avoiding grains altogether. However, some breeders who prepare their pets' food report that when they eliminated grain, they experienced breeding problems for the first time.4 Restoring grain restored the animals' reproductive health.
Pet nutritionists agree that the only grain dogs and cats can fully utilize has been predigested, such as by a prey animal's digestive organs. Cooked grains are more digestible than raw grains, but cooking does not digest grains. Microwave cooking, cooking in a pressure cooker, and the high heat and pressure used in extrusion processing (the method used to produce commercial kibble) damage the protein molecules and fragile oils in grains.
To prepare a nutrient-dense sprouted grain puree, soak 1/2 to 1 cup grain in a wide-mouth quart jar of filtered water for 10 to 12 hours or overnight. Organically grown wheat, rye, KamutÂ®, spelt, barley, millet, amaranth, quinoa, and other grains can be sprouted; rice is the only grain for which this procedure is not recommended.
To introduce sprouted grain to chow hounds with normal digestion, start with 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight every other day and gradually increase the amount as desired. For cats, use smaller amounts, such as 1/8 or 1/4 teaspoon to start. For finicky dogs or cats and those with digestive problems, start with tiny amounts. The grain mash will keep, refrigerated, for two weeks or longer. If following a diet that calls for 15 to 20 percent cooked grain, consider reducing the amount of grain by half once the animal is accustomed to sprouted grain because sprouted grain is far more concentrated and nutritious than cooked grain.
Fats and Oils
Dogs and cats are designed to consume animal-source saturated fats, which are an important source of calories and nutrients, including essential fatty acids (EFAs). Some pet nutritionists recommend a lowfat diet for dogs and cats on the theory that prey animals are usually lean rather than fat, but wild felines and canines eat large amounts of fat whenever they catch animals that are about to hibernate or that naturally develop layers of insulating fat. Dogs and cats need some fat for fuel, but they need less in warm weather or during periods of inactivity. Many pet nutritionists recommend removing any thick layers of fat from raw meat and poultry before serving it, which is good advice when feeding commercially farmed animals whose fat may store antibiotics, synthetic hormones and chemical residues.
Some home-prepared diets for dogs and cats use unsaturated vegetable oils. While small amounts of organically grown, refrigerated, superior-quality flaxseed, evening primrose, or borage seed oil are likely to have a beneficial rather than detrimental effect on canine and feline health, the same cannot be said of vegetable oils sold for cooking, such as those that line America's supermarket shelves. To avoid EFA imbalances and trans fats, do not feed your dog or cat margarine, vegetable shortening, any refined vegetable oil such as corn or safflower oil, or any product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
Provide essential fats and protect your pet against EFA imbalances and deficiencies by feeding a constantly changing variety of foods that contain healthful fats, including nuts, eggs, fatty fish, occasional avocados, and small amounts of raw or home-prepared butter, unrefined, organic coconut oil16,24and/or a superior-quality refrigerated flaxseed or EFA-supplement oil. Older animals and those with a history of digestive problems may benefit from the use of digestive enzyme products that contain lipase, the enzyme that digests lipids (fats and oils).
Egg Whites and Yolks
Raw eggs are a health concern because egg whites contain avidin, a protein that interferes with the body's absorption of biotin, a B-complex vitamin. Because cooking neutralizes avidin, many pet nutritionists recommend cooking eggs before serving them to animals. However, foxes, coyotes, and wild dogs and cats are fond of raiding bird nests or chicken coops and eating raw eggs, shell and all. In the study that showed avidin's adverse effect on biotin, laboratory rats were fed excessive quantities of raw egg white.5 A growing number of veterinarians and other experts recommend feeding raw egg, although opinions differ as to whether the whites should be fed. Pets with strong digestive systems can eat the whole egg and its shell; others (except for those with a serious sensitivity or allergy) can eat the yolk by itself. As Dr. Pottenger proved in his poultry feeding experiments,2 eggs from naturally raised, free-range chickens are more nutritious (and, no doubt, less allergenic) than from chickens confined to indoor coops.
The Great Milk Debate
Should dogs and cats eat dairy products? Some pet nutritionists say milk and dairy products are perfect foods, while others blame them for every canine and feline disorder from ear infections to cancer.
The truth lies somewhere in between. Raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk straight from healthy, organically raised, grass-fed cows or goats is an excellent food for dogs and cats.2,3 Unfortunately, America's supermarkets stopped selling raw, whole milk long ago. Some states allow raw milk to be sold for pet use, and some allow consumers to buy raw milk directly from dairy farms. Health food stores can sometimes recommend suppliers, as can A Campaign for Real Milk.25
The most familiar cultured dairy products in North America are yogurt and kefir, which are sold in health food stores and supermarkets. However, most commercially prepared yogurt and kefir contain questionable ingredients, such as nonfat dry milk powder, and their beneficial bacteria decline during shipment and storage. Freshly prepared yogurt and kefir provide both beneficial bacteria and the lactic acid they thrive on, protecting the system against pathogens and infection while improving digestion.
Yogurt requires carefully controlled heat for its fermentation, but thanks to the many electric yogurt makers sold in kitchen supply and department stores, it is easy to make at home. For dogs and cats, freshly prepared yogurt that has fermented for 24 hours is most digestible, for prolonged fermentation is needed to break down the lactose in milk.20 Kefir ferments at room temperature and requires no special equipment. Starters for both yogurt and kefir are widely available.26, 27, 28 Once fermented, a small amount of yogurt or kefir from a previous batch is added to fresh milk, and the bacteria grow.
Centuries ago, Scandinavian farmers discovered that milk clabbered faster when their cows ate butterwort, a European herb. Piima culture from Finland29 is derived from the milk of butterwort-fed cows; it contains five strains of beneficial bacteria and is easy for pets to digest. Piima starter can be used to make piima milk, cream, butter, buttermilk, cream cheese, and whey, any of which can be added to a pet's dinner. When introducing dairy products, feed them once a week to be sure your dog or cat tolerates them well; then use as often as desired.
Traditional food preparation techniques involve a shift of mental gears. These methods require planning, but they aren't expensive or difficult.
No matter which home-prepared diet one follows, food given to dogs and cats is more nutritious and easier to digest when traditionally prepared. Dog cleanup and cat litterbox chores are usually more pleasant when pets are on a well balanced diet of mostly raw food. Skin and coat problems, joint problems, and other chronic health conditions usually improve, and so do the animals' body odor, disposition, mental focus, and resistance to disease. Puppies weaned on raw foods are especially healthy.33 Well-nourished pets are in every way a joy to live with.
Editor's note: While humans benefit from many of the same dietary principles that prove salutary for dogs and cats, it is important to remember that humans are not animals. The human species has always cooked some of its food, particularly grains, green vegetables and a portion of meat and seafood. Cooking makes some nutrients more available to humans, whose digestive tracts are smaller than those of animals and who lack the capability to neutralize many toxins that animals can handle. Even Francis Pottenger gave some cooked foods to his human patients.
Disinfecting Raw Meat
Many people who contemplate feeding their pets raw meat are concerned with its safety, especially with regard to Salmonella and E. coli. Isn't raw meat dangerous?
Healthy dogs and cats in the wild can eat just about any raw meat and survive, if not thrive. Just think of all the bones dogs bury and all the birds and rodents cats consume. Their stomachs contain high concentrations of hydrochloric acid and digestive juices and their digestive tracts host an abundance of beneficial bacteria, making it difficult for harmful bacteria to survive. Any meat, poultry, or other fresh food that's suitable for human consumption is safe for most dogs and cats.
The following disinfecting methods are more for the protection of people than pets, although any animal that's been fed only packaged, processed food may need protection from unfamiliar microbes until its digestive system recovers. If desired, disinfect raw meat, raw bones, or eggs in the shell with any of the following procedures11, 12. The meat should be in large pieces; these procedures are not recommended for ground meat. Keep meat and other perishable foods refrigerated until ready to use.
Any of the above methods can be used to disinfect raw fruits and vegetables. Use a separate soak solution for each type of food.
At about 150 degrees F, hot water from the tap won't disinfect raw meat but it will warm refrigerated meat to body temperature, a recommended step in meal preparation.
Some nutritionists recommend that meat be frozen for 14 days or more to kill any parasites that might infect it. Juliette de Bairacli Levy3 does not recommend freezing meat, and the thousands of breeders and owners who have followed her Natural Rearing philosophy for the last half-century agree. In the wild, healthy dogs and cats are such poor hosts for pathogens that their bodies repel and reject intestinal worms and other parasites.
References and Resources
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|Last Updated on Friday, 05 June 2009 23:50|