How is it that kibble diets became the norm in how we feed our dogs and cats? To fully answer this question, we must look at the history of how manufactured pet food originated.
In the late 1850’s, a young electrician from Cincinnatti named James Spratt went to London to sell lightning rods. When his ship arrived, crew members threw left over ship biscuits onto the dock, where they were devoured by hordes of waiting dogs. Spratt had the idea to make cheap, easy to serve biscuits made of wheat, beet root, vegetables and beef blood and sell them to urban dog owners. They sold like hotcakes….and in 1870 he took his business to New York and began the American pet food industry. The FH Bennet Biscuit company starting making bone shaped biscuits in 1908. The first canned dog food in the US was introduced in 1922, using horse meat. It became so successful that horses were bred just for dog food….at a slaughter rate of 50,000 a year. In 1931 Nabisco bought Bennets’ company and renamed the biscuits “Milkbones”, and a massive sales campaign got Milkbones onto store shelves. By 1941 canned dog food had 90% of the market but then the US entered World War 2. Tin and meat were rationed and dry dog food became popular again. In 1950, Ralston Purina started using a cooking extruder to puff air into its’ Chex cereal to keep it crisp in milk. Fuelled by complaints about the appearance, texture and digestibility of dry dog food, Purina’s pet food division used the extruder to experiment with dog food and the result was Purina Dog Chow. The Pet Food Institute began lobbying for the pet food industry in the mid 1960’s, to get people to stop feeding their dogs anything but packaged dog food, funding reports, supported by veterinarians, detailing its’ benefits and running radio ads with celebrities warning of the “dangers of table scraps”. The dog food industry was spending 50 million dollars a year in advertising and by 1975 there were more than 1,500 dog foods on the market.
For anyone born since about 1950 the notion of feeding a dog or cat “people food” seems absurd. Yet the truth is, we have been feeding dog and cat food that is actually highly processed people food for the purpose of long shelf life, economy and convenience.
A basic understanding of nutrition and physiological function tells us that this may not be the most nutritious diet, even for a human being, let alone an animal. It is akin to us eating only cereal and taking vitamins for our entire lives and thinking we will be healthy.
There are many reasons why kibble is not an optimum, healthy diet for a dog and cat. One simple truth is that their digestive system is not designed to handle processed food.
Here are some other key points:
• Kibble usually contains grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats) in higher amounts than the meat content. Dogs and cats do not have long enough digestive tracts (like humans) to process grains and also do not have adequate enzymes to digest starch.
• Kibble contains cooked meat and meat by-products which are digestible but how much nutrition they absorb is questionable. Meat sources are often of poor quality and cooking destroys valuable enzymes and nutrients.
• Kibble can be dehydrating. Dogs and cats are designed to absorb a majority of their hydration (moisture) from the blood of their prey. When eating dry food, they must compensate by drinking a lot of water yet because of the length of a carnivores GI system, the dry food often does not have time to become adequately moistened. Instead of giving vital fluid that contains not only hydration buy nutrients, the dry food draws moisture from the animals body, leading to chronic dehydration. As a result, the kidneys are not often able to function correctly which may lead to renal disease. The absorption of essential water and nutrients via the GI system also comes into question.
• Kibble and canned foods often contain toxic fillers, preservatives, dyes and flavor enhancers.
• Synthetic vitamins and minerals are often used, which are not molecularly nor nutritionally equal to the natural source nutrients in raw food and can be detrimental if not in appropriate amounts and in proper ratio to each other.
• A dog and cats system should be acidic (as opposed to humans who should be alkaline). Processed diets can lead to a PH that is too high (alkaline) leaving the animal more susceptible to parasites and bacteria.
• Kibble is one of the worst contributors to tartar. This is contrary to what we have been told for eons but independent studies of kibble, canned and raw diets proved kibble to be the worst as far as tartar was concerned. Particles of hard, dry food works its way under the gum line as the animal crunches, and combine with saliva into a paste that forms the basis for tartar. We don’t floss our animals teeth, so it sits there and also leads to decay. Think of it like the difference between you eating an apple and a cookie. (the cookie leaves a lot more crud behind!)
• Kibble has only been fed for 100 years. Evolution on the anatomical and physiological level takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years.
More and more veterinarians, holistic and conventional, are coming to the understanding that our dogs and cats are carnivores and therefore should be eating what is natural for them. The Canadian Food Guide (for people) is advising to stop consuming processed food and eat live food to be healthier. Why would we not apply the same logic to our animals? The principles of common sense should be used, to turn the clock back to what we used to feed before processed diets became popular and when dogs and cats were living healthier, longer. They were not considered geriatric at age 7 and they often didn’t spend half their lives on medication.
Next up, the Whys and the Hows of feeding raw!