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Why You Should Choose a Raw Paleo Diet for Your Pets

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By Kelley Herring

If you have pets, you probably consider them members of your family. After all, our pets provide companionship, loyalty, entertainment and, of course, unconditional love.

In fact, Americans care so much for our pets that we spend $60 billion a year on our furry friends. Nearly $20 billion of that is spent on pet food alone.[i]

Unfortunately, however, the food that most people feed their pets is a recipe for the same chronic diseases that afflict modern humans. While it was previously quite rare, it is now commonplace for domesticated animals to suffer from cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, cataracts, arthritis, IBS, obesity, dental problems, autoimmune illness and more.

And in most cases they develop these diseases for the same reason humans do… because they are eating a diet that is genetically-inappropriate.

The Harmful Ingredients in Conventional Pet Food

So what is the most appropriate diet for our pets? Lets’ take a closer look…

Cats are obligate carnivores. That means they must consume an exclusively animal-based diet to survive and thrive.

Dogs, on the other hand, can survive on an omnivorous diet. And there are some arguments that a diet of mostly meat and some plants is healthy for dogs. But the general consensus is that dogs are genetically primed to be carnivores and do best on an exclusively meat-based diet.[ii][iii]

The Smithsonian recently reclassified dogs as Canis lupus familiaris. This places our domestic pups in the same species as the gray wolf. In fact, domestic dogs are genetically closer to wolves than wolves are to their wild relative, the coyote.[iv][v]

Of course, it is important to know that many plant-based and processed foods can be detrimental or even deadly to dogs and cats. These include macadamia nuts, chocolate, coffee, caffeine, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, and xylitol.[vi]

And while the ingredients found in most commercial pet kibble are not as acutely toxic as the foods above, they can also cause death and disability over a longer span of time. Read the label on most brands of dog or cat food and you’ll likely find a number of ingredients that are a major deviation from your pet’s optimal native diet:

  • Grains (including wheat and corn) – These high-glycemic foods are completely absent from our pets’ native diet. They are also commonly genetically modified and often contaminated with aflatoxin – a toxic mold known to cause liver and kidney problems and raise the risk of cancer.[vii]
  • Soybean meal – A byproduct of soybean oil production, soybean meal acts as a cheap “filler” ingredient to boost protein.
  • Animal Byproducts – In nature, cats and dogs would happily feast on organs and other offal. But commercial pet foods include hard-to-digest byproducts like feathers and beaks.[viii]
  • Synthetic Nutrients – Lab-created nutrients are biologically dissimilar from those that exist in nature and can negatively impact digestibility and the bioavailability of other nutrients.[ix]
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup – Known for increasing triglycerides and fatty deposits in the liver, corn syrup may also contain mercury, due to the chemicals used in processing.[x]

And if the ingredients that comprise the majority of commercial pet foods aren’t bad enough, they also lack the key nutrients our pets need to thrive including:

  • EPA/DHA Omega 3 Fats – These healthy fats are found in grass-fed and pasture-raised animals and wild fish. They are vital for moderating inflammation and supporting eye, heart and brain health. They also promote healthy skin and fur.
  • CoQ10 – This key nutrient is vital to provide energy to the mitochondria or “powerhouse” of the cell. The richest source of CoQ10 is heart.
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin – Best known for their ability to preserve joint health and reduce pain related to arthritis, these vital nutrients are concentrated in connective tissues.
  • Organ Meats – Organ meats are the most nutrient-dense parts of the animal and those which predators consume first (often leaving muscle meats).
terrier running, pet dog
Shop for premium grass-fed and pasture-raised raw pet foods at US Wellness Meats

Cooked vs. Raw Meat Diet for Pets

A typical objection to a raw, meat-based diet for pets is the risk of bacteria. But cats and dogs are designed to consume bacteria-laden, raw food.  In fact, they thrive on it as raw food provides unaltered proteins and nutrients, with high bioavailability and low allergenicity.[xi]

The reality is that there is some concern for people handling the food. But this risk is no greater than handling raw meat for human consumption. Just be sure to practice safe meat handling procedures and wash all surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water. And of course, ensure that kids don’t eat pet food (raw or kibble!).

And speaking of foodborne illness, commercial kibble has its own risks. Nearly every year, people contract salmonella from handling commercial pet food. Dry pet foods have also been contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid, causing renal failure and death in cats and dogs.[xii][xiii][xiv]

Creating a Nutrient-Dense, Grain-Free, Ancestrally-Appropriate Diet for Your Pets

If you’re interested in switching your pet to a genetically appropriate diet, you may be tempted to toss out the kibble and go raw Paleo.

If so, it is important to make the shift gradually. This allows your pet’s digestive system to acclimate. Gradually increase the amount of real food in your pet’s diet while simultaneously decreasing the amount of store bought pet food. Be alert and watch for any signs of digestive disturbances or behavioral changes (like lethargy).

As with the changes you make in your own diet, do some research and reading. I’ve found the following to be invaluable resources:

  • Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf
  • The Raw Meaty Bones website of Dr. Tom Lonsdale, DVM

Getting Started with Paleo Pet Food

Choosing a real-food diet for your pet will be more expensive than a diet of kibble. But it can also save you thousands in vet bills over the long run (not to mention giving your best friends their best shot at optimal health). Here are a few suggestions for making a raw Paleo diet more affordable:

  • Buy in bulk and consider a separate chest freezer for your pet’s food
  • Buy meats and organs on sale (like lamb kidney, beef heart, and liver) and grind your own pet burger
  • Provide a budget-friendly meal of raw chicken necks and backs (Note: Cooked bones are not acceptable as they become brittle and pose digestive health hazards)

If you can’t make a complete switch to a raw Paleo diet for your pet due to budget constraints, keep in mind that transitioning to grain-free commercial pet food and supplementing your pet’s diet with nutrient-dense organs, bones and pet burger will still be highly beneficial.

I believe it is the wish of most of us to “live long and drop dead”. It certainly beats spending our last years of life dealing with health problems and disability. And I think this is a wise wish for our pets, as well.

To help your pets achieve their longest “healthspan”, choose a grain-free, ancestrally appropriate diet. Allow them to engage in vigorous breed-specific exercise (don’t ask your Maltese to climb Kilimanjaro). Provide them with unchlorinated and non-fluoridated water, fresh air and sunshine. And avoid unnecessary chemicals, medications and vaccinations that could comprise your pet’s health over the long term.

kelley herring

Kelley Herring

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[i]  “Americans Spent a Record $56 Billion on Pets Last Year.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

[ii] Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 258.

[iii] Myth: Dogs are Omnivores. RawFed Website.

[iv] Wayne, R.K. “What is a Wolfdog?”

[v] Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation.

[vi] Human Foods That Are Dangerous for Dogs and Cats. VetStreet Website.

[vii] Knueven, Doug, DVM, CVA, CAC. The Holistic Health Guide, Natural Care for the Whole Dog. (2008)

[viii] Papadopoulos, Manthos C. “Processed chicken feathers as feedstuff for poultry and swine. A review.” Agricultural Wastes 14.4 (1985): 275-290.

[ix] Buff, P. R., et al. “Natural pet food: A review of natural diets and their impact on canine and feline physiology.” Journal of animal science 92.9 (2014): 3781-3791.

[x][x] Thompson, Angele. “Ingredients: where pet food starts.” Topics in companion animal medicine 23.3 (2008): 127-132.

[xi] Clark, W.R. 1995. Hypersensitivity and Allergy, in At War Within: The double edged sword of immunity, Oxford University Press, New York. pg 88.

[xii]  Dog Food Salmonella Recall Expanded in US, Canada. Reuters.

[xiii] Burns, Katie. “Recall shines spotlight on pet foods.” Recall (2007).

[xiv] Brown, Cathy A., et al. “Outbreaks of renal failure associated with melamine and cyanuric acid in dogs and cats in 2004 and 2007.” Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation 19.5 (2007): 525-531.