The 100% complete diet. A goal based on the idea that one pet food provides all the nutrition a companion animal will ever need for its entire life. Careful, it is a dangerous myth. All what promoting a 100% complete diet does is selling a lot of product. It is simply a marketing tool supposed to build consumer confidence. It increases convenience. But it does not address the most important issue of how to maximize nutrition.
Today’s diets for our companion animals are a far cry from the variable meat based diets that their ancestors ate. The unpleasant results of grain based, processed, year in and year out diets are coming in. Pets have adopted the same degenerative disease as we ourselves, the humans. They include cancer, obesity, diabetes, allergies, auto immunities, arthritis and dental diseases. In addition new ones have been and are still discovered. They include for example polymyopathy due to low potassium levels, dilated cardiomyopathy due to low taurine levels, arthritis, skin diseases and urolithiasis from acid base and zinc malnutrition and chronic eczema from essential fatty acid malnutrition. The most common health problems associated with pet diets these days include:
Urinary tract disease: Plugs, crystals, and stones are more common in cats eating dry diets, due to the chronic dehydration and highly concentrated urine they cause. Struvite stones used to be the most common type in cats, but another more dangerous type, calcium oxalate, has increased and is now tied with struvite. Manipulation of manufactured cat food formulas to increase the acidity of urine has caused the switch. Dogs can also form stones as a result of their diet.
Kidney disease: Chronic dehydration associated with dry food may also be a contributing factor in the development of kidney disease and chronic renal failure in older cats. Cats have a low thirst drive; in the wild they would get most of their water from their prey. Cats eating dry food do not drink enough water to make up for the lack of moisture in the food. Cats on dry food diets drink more water, but the total water intake of a cat eating canned food is twice the amount.
Dental disease: Contrary to the myth propagated by pet food companies, dry food is not good for teeth. Given that the vast majority of pets eat dry food, yet the most common health problem in pets is dental disease, this should be obvious. People, it is very simple: Dry food does not clean the teeth.
Obesity: Feeding recommendations or instructions on the packaging are sometimes inflated so that the consumer will end up feeding (and purchasing) more food. One of the most common health problems in pets, obesity, may also be related to high carb, high calorie dry formulas. Both dogs and cats respond to low carb wet food diets. Overweight pets are more prone to arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Dry cat food is now considered the cause of feline diabetes. Prevention and treatment include switching to a high protein, high moisture, low carb diet.
Chronic digestive problems: Chronic vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the most frequent illnesses treated. These are often the result of an allergy or intolerance to pet food ingredients. The market for limited antigen or novel protein diets is now a multi million dollar business. These diets were formulated to address the increasing intolerance to commercial foods that pets have developed. Even so, a pet tending to develop allergies can develop allergies to the new ingredients as well. One twist is the truly hypoallergenic food that has had all its proteins artificially chopped into pieces smaller than can be recognized and reacted to by the immune system. Yet there are documented cases of animals becoming allergic to this food, too. It is important to feed variance, change brands, flavors and protein sources every few months to prevent problems.
Bloat: If you feed your pet only one meal daily it can cause the irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid. This appears to be associated with gastric dilitation and canine bloat, also known as volvulus. Feeding two or more smaller meals is better.
Heart disease: An often fatal heart disease in cats and some dogs is now known to be caused by a deficiency of the amino acid taurine. Blindness is another symptom of taurine deficiency. This deficiency was due to inadequate amounts of taurine in cat food formulas, which in turn had occurred due to decreased amounts of animal proteins and increased reliance on carbohydrates. Cat foods are now supplemented with taurine. New research suggests that some dog breeds are susceptible to the same condition. Supplementing taurine these days is more common in higher grade dog foods as it may also be helpful for dogs.
Hyperthyroidism: There is evidence that hyperthyroidism in cats may be related to diet. Experts discuss the possibility that excessive iodine in commercial cat food is a factor. There is also new research pointing to a link between the disease and pop top cans, and flavors including fish or giblets. Hyperthyroidism is a serious disease and treatment is expensive.
Many nutritional problems appeared with the popularity of cereal based commercial pet foods. Some have occurred because the diet was incomplete. Although several ingredients are now supplemented, we do not know what ingredients future researchers may discover that should have been supplemented in pet foods all along. Other problems may occur from reactions to additives. Others are a result of contamination with bacteria, mold, drugs, or other toxins. In some diseases the role of commercial pet food is understood; in others, it is not. The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals and rendered meals are not as nutritious or safe as we should expect for your cat or dog. The clear goal should be to mimic as close as possible the original, primitive diet as our pet’s ancestors ate it. To use ingredients containing naturally high levels of all nutrients. Aside from releasing their pets into the wild, pet owners can select pet food that recognizes the limitations of our knowledge and at the same time offers the best possible opportunities for best health and a long life.