"Why would I sit down to homemade soup and give my dog processed food?! It has only taken me 3 years to cop on to this." That was a text from an owner following my September blog on nutrition. I must admit, it took me a lot longer than that to consider what I was feeding my dogs. I only became really interested when our second dog Bruno died at the age of 9. I was shocked to learn that cancer rates are sky rocketing in dogs and cats, along with auto immune diseases, allergies and degenerative diseases.
It is difficult to source unbiased, accurate information due to a lack of routine reporting on the subject, but according to "The truth about Pet Cancer", there is an "epidemic of cancer... and in younger and younger animals". Processed pet food is widely blamed for this, along with vaccines, parasite preventatives and environmental toxins. I believe that Bruno's death was due to the well known supermarket brand I had been feeding him, exacerbated by chemical tick & worm prevention. I have been studying canine health and nutrition ever since and whilst I can't bring Bruno back, I can share what I have learned in his name.
"Fake industrial food...works to the detriment of cats and dogs producing a pandemic of degenerative disease. This pandemic began following the introduction of processed pet foods to the lives of our pets" (Dr. Ian Billingham, Pointing the Bone at Cancer In Dogs, Cats and Humans.)
Could you imagine if we were told to feed children a diet of dry nuts to balance their nutritional needs? We know that a diet containing excessive amounts of potato chips, breakfast cereal and fast food would not be good for our long term health and contributes to obesity, diabetes and other illnesses and disease. The same applies for our pets. Kibble is convenience food and while some brands are better quality than others, (click here to compare), it is important to recognize it as such. Click here for some specifics about the issues associated with feeding kibble in the long term.
Most people today don't remember a time pre-kibble, but processed pet food only exists since the 1930's when it was marketed as the ideal, low cost alternative to feeding dogs meat. It was a great way to commercialise nonhuman grade meat and waste products from grain mills and slaughter houses. Initially the sales pitch for kibble was an economic one, but gradually the industry became bold enough to claim that processed food was the only way to feed dogs a nutritiously balanced diet, further enhanced in the 1950's with the introduction of scientific, prescription dog food. Pet food manufacturers such as Hills even wrote the nutritional textbooks used in veterinary colleges. Over the decades, marketing became more and more sophisticated with TV advertising, celebrity endorsements, food dyes to make nuts look healthier and special diets for different breeds and body types. Today's buzz words are organic, grain free and natural, but the reality is that kibble is still predominantly comprised of sub standard meat or meat meal, grain, fillers, starches, fibres and grain by-products cooked for far too long.
"The pet food industry continues to write and publish pet nutrition textbooks for veterinary colleges. Aspiring vets are taught to tell their clients that only processed dog foods are scientifically proven to meet their dog's nutritional needs." (Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olsen PhD)
In truth, industry controls what our pets eat and also what we understand about their nutritional needs, thanks to the marketing power of pet food manufacturers. Happily this is now changing, as more and more pet owners and vets are demanding healthier nutritional alternatives, for ourselves and our pets.
If this has got you thinking and you'd like to learn more, I'd encourage you to watch the eye opening Pet Fooled documentary on Netflix. And if you're feeding kibble, it is never too late to improve your dog's health and well being. There is so much you can do from simply adding in some supplementary real foods (click here for more information), to completely switching your dog over to a raw diet (click here for advice).
Last word for now to Dr. Olsen, auther of my book of the month, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: "It is not easy to disregard what we have been told over the years. However, if you look at what is good for you nutritionally, it makes just as much sense to feed your dog whole, fresh foods as it does to feed yourself and your family the same.... If you want your dog to live a longer, happier life, it is time to start looking at canine nutrition differently and bring back the common sense approach to good health and nutrition".
Aileen Woulfe, Irish expat, lifelong animal lover, Swiss qualified with a diplôme cynologique in breeding, grooming and kennel management and owner of Happy Dogs Aigle boarding and daycare in Vaud, Switzerland.