A positive development is that more pet owners are more concerned than ever about what they are feeding their companion animals. I notice the countless questions being asked about what we are feeding our pets and what all the label Latin printed on the food bags at the end of the day really means.
This brings up one question I am frequently being asked: What does “holistic” actually mean and stand for? Neither AAFCO nor any other rule generating and enforcing governmental body has so far come up with standard definitions for holistic. I always say, the holistic approach is basically one that treats the whole animal, using nutrition to stimulate the body’s ability to heal and maintain itself.
Holistic health is based on the law of nature that a whole is made up of independent parts. When one part is not working at its best, it influences all of the other parts of that animal. Furthermore, this animal, including all of the parts, is constantly interacting with everything in the surrounding environment. For example, when a pet is anxious about its owner leaving, their nervousness may result in a physical reaction such as an upset stomach and loose stools.
The principles of holistic health are based on the fundamental idea that health is more than just not being sick. A common explanation is to view wellness as a continuum along a line. The line represents all possible degrees of health. The far left end of the line represents premature death. On the far right end is the highest possible level of wellness. The center point of the line represents a lack of apparent disease. This places all levels of illness on the left half of the wellness continuum. The right half shows that even when no illness seems present, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Holistic health is an ongoing process. The cells in an animal’s body are constantly being replaced. New cells are built from what is available. Harmful substances or lack of needed building blocks in the body can result in imperfect cells and an inability to do what is required to keep that animal healthy.
When diseases and chronic conditions occur, the holistic health principles can also be applied. The term usually changes to holistic medicine though and additional factors are added. A holistic approach to healing means going beyond simply eliminating the symptoms that are present. For example, giving your pet an inoculation for dry skin and itchiness would be like disconnecting the oil light on the dash of your car when it flashes. The irritation is eliminated, but the real problem still exists. Looking at it from a holistic standpoint, a symptom is considered a message that something needs attention. The symptom is used as a guide to look below the surface for a root cause.
A holistic pet food is one that supports your pet’s health on all levels by using high quality ingredients and proper formulation to insure that optimal amounts of nutrition are being achieved. If appropriate nutrition is received by the animal, you should not see itchy and dry skin, energy loss, excessive eye drainage, yeast infections in the ears and skin or principally any other disease.
What should you look for in a holistic diet for your pet? Here are a few pointers in the right direction:
Look for quality animal based protein sources that are steroid, antibiotic and hormone free. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. I believe I explained before that fresh chicken would include the moisture (approximately 70% of its weight), chicken meal does not contain moisture and is cooked prior to being added into the kibble mix, dehydrated chicken is fresh chicken with the moisture removed that has not been exposed to heat.
Look for whole grains and not grain fragments. Beware of ingredient panels that list three grain parts together as their total weight could add up to more than the animal protein Example: rice, rice bran, rice flour. Look instead for a variety of grains such as millet, oatmeal, brown rice, barley and quinoa.
Make sure it contains high quality fat sources and a good Omega Fatty Acid Ratio. Chicken fat, fish oil and coconut oil are examples for good sources of fat.
Select food with natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E. Avoid foods that contain chemical preservatives such as BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin.
The diet needs to be free of added colors or flavors.
Beware of diets that heavily market inclusion of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables should be fed fresh in order to receive the full value of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants available. Fruits and vegetables cooked at high temperatures provide nothing in the end result but fiber and sugar.
Keep in mind that probiotics and enzymes added to kibble diets must be genetically modified to remain active. Once digested these Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) replace what the body has already made on their own. Look for diets that include prebiotics like for example inulin because they encourage the production of beneficial bacteria by the body in the gut, rather than replacing them.
Grain Free doesn’t mean carbohydrate free. Many grain free diets use large amounts of simple carbohydrates such as potatoes. In a basic nutritional comparison, grains such as oatmeal or brown rice offer more nutrition and less insulin production than a white potato.
In my opinion my best advice is: When looking for your pet’s diet rely on common sense nutrition rather than what you are being told by marketing claims and by nothing meaning pictures on the bags.