Do dogs and cats need grains?
The natural, ancestral diet of dogs and cats included minimal amounts of grain, yet even the “healthiest” dry foods are half grain. Help your animals live longer- feed them diets more appropriate for their bodies! Learn about the differences between the natural diet of dogs and cats and the modern diet of dry foods.
Dogs and cats are designed by nature to be primarily meat eaters
Dogs are scavengers. Their diet included almost any food that provided calories – but rarely grain. A major factor in the domestication of dogs was the food available at the human garbage dump: The “tamer” wolves, those least afraid of humans, became our close companions over a period of tens of thousands of years. According to a recent study by biologists Ray and Lorna Coppinger, the natural diet of dogs included
”Bones, pieces of carcass, rotten greens and fruit, fish guts, discarded seeds and grains, animal guts and heads, some discarded human food and wastes” (i)
Cats are more selective about food by nature and anatomy: Their ancestral diet consisted of small rodents. Their usefulness to humans had much to do with their eagerness to dispatch the rodents so plentiful around human habitats.
There is almost no grain in the natural diet of dogs and cats
The natural diet of both cats and dogs includes high levels of protein, fat, and water, and very little carbohydrate. The “recommended” diet of dry foods, which is the diet of most cats and dogs, is the complete opposite of this natural diet: High in carbohydrate, low in protein, fat, and with almost no water.
Dogs and cats do not need carbohydrates, and most veterinary textbooks agree:
More Grain, More Insulin, More Inflammation
A highly processed, grain-based diet fed to an animal designed to thrive on a meat based, fresh food diet is very likely to produce symptoms of ill health over time. Diets to address disease most frequently address the symptoms that are the result of a lifetime of inappropriate food, not the cause of the symptoms. The optimum diet for a dog or a cat should closely resemble their natural diet.
A diet balanced heavily toward grain promotes insulin production and the production of inflammatory chemicals. Over-production of insulin makes it hard for the body to maintain the correct weight, and can lead to diabetes and other problems. An overabundance of inflammatory chemicals means more aches and pains.
Improve the balance of your dog’s diet by reducing grain, and you may not need the dangerous Non-Steroidal and Steroid drugs so commonly prescribed for achy animals. Less grain means less inflammation! Toxic drugs make animals more comfortable, but are likely to shorten their lives.
What if eating the right food took care of the problem?
Diabetic animals (and those with other medical conditions) making a switch to a more protein-based diet should be under the close supervision of a veterinarian.
It is our opinion that the best diet for a dog or cat is a fresh meat, bone and vegetable diet. We can’t always follow that advice due to financial constraints; the following suggestions will help you to move toward that goal. Every step helps.
Add Meat To Promote Health
Reduce the grain content of your animal’s diet by adding meat. The following steps can have a profound effect on your animal’s well-being! Remember – reduce the total amount of dry food your pet eats.
Add up to 15% fresh meat, raw or cooked.
Increase protein and reduce the carbohydrate content of the pet’s food. This simple step will not unbalance the levels of any essential nutrient in your animal’s diet. Be sure that the meat scraps you’re adding are mostly meat! Your doggie bag is likely to have much more fat in it than meat. Fat is a very important nutrient, but it’s one that needs to be kept in balance.
Every fat gram has double the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Don’t use “senior”, “lite” and “diet” foods.
These varieties usually have fewer calories per cup because the manufacturer increased the fiber and carbohydrates, and reduced protein and fat, compared to adult maintenance diets. This is the opposite of what is needed. Dog and cat foods follow the trends in human nutrition, but they’re usually quite a bit behind human products. New science has disproved the ideas of high fiber and high carbohydrate diets for overweight and senior dogs and cats.
Older and overweight animals need meat, not grain.
Add canned food.
Good canned food has no grain, and has more protein and fat than dry pet foods. Some good choices are Nature’s Variety, Wellness, Merrick, and Spot’s Stew. “Complete and balanced” canned diets may be fed as an animal’s sole diet.
For cats, we highly recommend switching all the way. Cats should not eat dry foods. Urinary tract problems and kidney failure in cats have been closely related to dietary water, which has a different effect on the body than water an animal drinks. It’s much better for the cat to eat her food with the water in it!
Add a commercially prepared frozen raw diet.
As with canned foods, if these are “complete” they can replace all other food fed to your animals.
Research proper homemade meat, bone and vegetable diets and supplement with good dry food to cut cost.
Homemade foods can be nutritious and affordable, but must be made correctly. We will write more about this in a future article. This option provides the protein and fat our pets need, reduces the amount of grain they eat, and is affordable by most people.
Feed your animal a meat and vegetable based diet, the best choice for almost every animal.
[i] Coppinger, Ray and Lorna, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, Scribner, 2001. 59 – 78.
[ii] Case: Cary, and Hirakawa, Canine and Feline Nutrition, Mosby, 1995. 93.
[iii]Morris, Mark, Lewis, Lone and Hand, Michael, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III, Mark Morris Associates, 1990. 1-11.
[iv] Burger, I., Ed. The Waltham Book of Companion Animal Nutrition, Pergamon 1995. 26-27: 10