As a Healthy Pet Coach, I focus on educating pet parents on ways to provide their fur babies with a bio-appropriate diet. The emphasis is on fresh food over processed foods. Homemade is great, but not everyone has the time or desire to make food from scratch - and that is perfectly okay. There are many excellent commercial foods available in a variety of forms including raw, freeze-dried raw, pre-mixes, and some canned foods. The one type of food I steer people away from is kibble.
Dry pet food is a processed food that was created approximately 100 years ago as a convenience for people. Unfortunately, it is a truly unnatural diet for cats and dogs. It is the 'fast food' of the pet food world.
With few exceptions, dry food is manufactured using very high heat. This destroys many of the nutrients found in the raw ingredients. Some estimate that 50% of the amino acids are destroyed as well as nearly all of the vitamins and minerals. That is one of the reasons synthetic vitamins and minerals are added. The thing is like people, cats and dogs do not assimilate synthetics very well. In addition, the once healthy omega 3 fatty acids in the food also become rancid during the cooking process.
Of course, the heat also eliminates most of the moisture content. On average, dry food contains around 12% moisture. Compare that with the 75 – 80% liquid content in natural prey, raw, homemade, and canned foods. Pets drinking copious amounts of water can consume around 50% of what is available in the aforementioned food forms. This is a far cry from what they actually need.
What does this all mean? Many pets on an all-dry diet become chronically dehydrated. This is especially true for cats, as they naturally have a very low thirst drive and will often not even drink water until they are 3% dehydrated (which is serious).
A dry food only diet has been linked to obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome/disease, constipation, kidney disease, liver disease, joint problems, skin issues, impacted anal sacs and more.
How Dry Food Can Lead To Obesity
Because of the lack of nutrients, pets will eat more dry food just to try to meet their nutritional requirements. Most dry foods also contain grains, which have no place in the diet of obligate carnivores, like cats. When stomach acids break down these grains, it causes a spike in blood sugar. Insulin is then released by the pancreas to bring the blood sugar back to normal levels. What the insulin can’t handle then gets stored as fat in the body.
Dry Food And The Clean Teeth Myth
Simply put, dry foods do not keep teeth clean. That’s like telling you to eat granola or crackers and not brush your teeth! Starches from dry food (even grain-free dry foods contain starch, that's what holds the food together) adhere to teeth and become the breeding ground for bacteria (plaque). The best way to keep the teeth clean is to brush them or use enzyme-based oral care products made especially for pets.
It is important to have your vet check your pet’s teeth during his or her annual exam. Most pets will need a professional cleaning from time to time.
Why Pets Love Dry Food
In order to attract pets to their food, pet food manufactures add flavor enhancers. This is a spray of fats, artificial colorings and flavorings, including MSG, which is added as the food cools. Not only does this help the food become more visually appealing to YOU (trust me, your pet does not care what color his/her food is). The flavor enhancers actually cause your pet to become addicted to the food!
I have had people tell me that they had a cat or dog that ate dry food his/her whole life and lived to 15. When I ask if that pet had any health issues, usually the response is either sensitive stomach, kidney disease, arthritis or skin issues. This isn't a coincidence.
Of course there are some pets that live log, healthy lives on dry food. There is also that 90 year old guy that goes to a bar every day for whiskey, smokes cigars and is perfectly healthy. Sure, it can happen, but do you really want to take that chance with your pet?
For bugetary reasons, sometimes kibble is a necessary part of the diet for dogs - especially large ones. It is important to offer the best quality food possible. Avoid foods made with by-products, corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors or flavors, and BHT. Keep in mind that ingredient labels can be deceiving. Just because a named meat is the first ingredient, doesn't always mean there is more meat than carbohydrates. For example, let's say the first ingredient is chicken but the next five ingredients are grains and starches, then the food is higher in carbs than meat.
Some of the better kibble brands for dogs include Instinct, Nature's Logic, Acana, Orijen, Merrick, and Fromm. All are made from human grade ingredients.
Cats really should avoid dry food all together.
No matter what form of food you select for your pets, it is important not to feed the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year. This can lead to food intolerances and even nutritional deficiencies.