health and longevity with the raw food diet…

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    More is not always better
    Levels of calcium, phosphorus, protein and salt are of concern in commercially prepared pet foods.

    There is presently a huge variety of commercially prepared pet food for pet owners to choose from in supermarkets, pet shops and Vet clinics. Pet owners are spoilt for choice and the competition between pet food companies is fierce. Supermarkets have dedicated isles stacked several rows high with colourful packets of dried biscuits claiming, ‘
    healthy, complete and balanced.’
    There are so many to choose from, it’s a tough choice for pet owners. However, the brightly coloured packets of food in fact are all very similar. All of their products are cooked, processed, not human grade, and packaged with chemical preservatives to have a conveniently long shelf life.

    The quality of what is used in the product varies, usually according to the price. However the indigestible and unnatural form of nutrients in most processed and packaged foods are in the long term, very damaging to pets.

    Due to the heating and processing of the food, most nutrients are either destroyed or lost. Ingredients are altered, proteins are structurally altered, enzymes become inactive (denatured) and antioxidants are rendered useless.

    In the finished product, many of the nutrients are either inadequate or are in excess which both cause health problems in the long term.

    Whilst there are laws stating the minimum amount of nutrients placed in a commercial pet food, there are unfortunately no laws stating a maximum limit of each nutrient.
    When a nutrient is in excess it can be just as harmful as a nutrient deficiency (Billinghurst 1993).

    Calcium is one of such nutrients that is found in excess in pet food. Whilst being an essential mineral for optimum health of bones and teeth, in abundance excess calcium can effect skeletal growth, reproduction, the immune system as well as the skin and teeth by aiding tartar build up.
    Dr. Billinghurst, author of, ‘Grow Your Pups with Bones,’ claims that there is between 3 to 11 times more calcium in commercial dog food than what is necessary for health.
    In excess, calcium binds to other minerals in the gut such as Zinc, Copper, Iron and Phosphorus. Once bound, they are eliminated in the faeces leaving deficiencies of those minerals carried out with the calcium.
    It is also beneficial to note that vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium.

    When excess calcium creates Zinc deficiency, it results in skin, reproductive, immune and growth problems. Over time this deficiency can cause a poorly functioning nervous system, loss of body protein, delayed time for wounds to heal and abnormal thyroid functioning.

    Copper deficiency due to excess calcium is usually recognised as dry, flaky skin, hair thinning and discolouration. When copper and Iron are both deficient, this can lead to anaemia.

    Apart from robbing the body of essential minerals, excess calcium also stimulates the over production of the hormone gastrin. High amounts of gastrin, has the effect of thickening the entrance and exit of the stomach. This leads to gases in the stomach being unable to escape causing painful bloat (Billinghurst 1993).
    High amounts of Vitamin D3 in the food can also lead to excess calcium in the blood.
    In 2006, Royal Canin Pet Food in Canada had to recall four of its products as the excess vitamin D was leading to hypocalcaemia, which if left untreated causes heart problems, kidney failure and death (Martin 2008)

    Phosphorus is an abundant mineral found in meat and in very high amounts in organ meat. According to Dr. Billinghurst, dog food in Australia and in the USA, contains up to 9 times more phosphorus than what is recommended.
    Excess phosphorus has to be excreted by the kidneys. Over time the excess phosphorus will burden the kidneys with too much work and cause them to fail. Excess phosphorus can also be found building up on the lining of the stomach, heart and lungs. Calcium is also found depositing in these tissue linings. Both cause these organs to lose their efficiency.

    According to Ann Martin, author of ‘Food Pets Die For,’ she claims the most abundant minerals added to pet food in the U.S. are zinc, copper and iron. After feeding her own dog a popular commercial dry food on a regular basis, the dog became seriously ill. She had the dry food independently tested, which was found to contain a zinc level twenty times higher than the recommended allowance. The dog had become seriously intoxicated. The author also claims that excess copper can cause liver disease (Martin 2008).

    In my own experience, many years ago when I never even thought to question the contents of commercial pet food, I had my own cats and dogs into the vets with an array of illnesses on an all too regular basis.
    Never once was the food questionable or deemed as a possible cause of illness by the examining Vet. Unfortunately most Vets are not even looking at linking illness to diet. As soon as a pet owner informs the Vet that their pet is on a ‘
    high quality’ pet food (probably purchased at the vet clinic), the cause being food related is usually dismissed.
    This is incredibly unfortunate and extremely sad for so many cats and dogs; suffering needlessly from so many food related illnesses. Food is our fuel, food is our passage to health, food is what powers our immune system, and food is medicine. How can it not be related to the majority of illnesses?

    Many pet foods include in their list of ingredients ‘meat by products.’ These by products may contain an excess of organ meat, which is very high in phosphorus and very low in calcium. This is a concern, especially when labelling of pet food ingredients is so minimal.

    Less common is excess
    protein in pet food, which is also of concern.
    This is usually the case when pet food companies sell refrigerated packets of minced meat that does not contain any bone (to balance calcium and phosphorus). Whilst fresh meat for protein is essential for growth and repair, it is very unbalanced in phosphorus and calcium.
    When protein is eaten, broken down and utilised in the body for muscle contractions and metabolism, there is a waste material produced called creatinine. In excess, this waste product overloads the kidneys and the filtering process has to work too hard. Over time too much creatinine causes damage to the filtering system and if not given a break, will indeed cause the kidneys to fail (Goldstein et al 2005).
    The excess protein in pet foods comes from the huge amount of waste products unfit for human consumption. In the commercial industry there is an abundance of the dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals unfit for human consumption but all too readily used in pet foods. (Billinghurst 1993)

    Based on my own research, it’s not so much about the amount of protein but the quality of the protein. Poor quality protein such as indigestible plant protein and diseased organ meat is of little use to the growth and repair of our pets ageing bodies. This then leads to the concern of toxins in the plant and animal ingredients, not to mention the inhumane treatment of intensively farmed animals before slaughter.

    Placing excess ‘nutrients’ in commercial products is no doubt detrimental to our pet’s health. However, even if the added nutrients are not in excess, commercial pet foods are by no means necessarily healthy.

    In agreement with Dr Billinghurst, Dr Pitcairn author of, ‘Natural Health for Dogs and Cats,’ reminds us that the digestibility of a protein is of major concern. Some proteins placed in pet food are almost impossible to digest such as animal hair. Even the more digestible proteins are in question as the heating process causes them to combine with sugars that cannot be broken down by the body’s digestive enzymes. Evolution has certainly not prepared our domestic pets for such digestion abuse (Pitcairn et al 2005).

    In opposition to the claims of excess protein in commercial food, there is also the concern of
    protein deficiency in some of them. Dr Dunn from the website ‘PetMD.com’ claims that he mostly sees dog sicknesses from lack of protein due to the pet food being loaded with far too many grains and corn based fillers.
    Interestingly, he states that the research done on the effects of excess protein was carried out on rats,
    not dogs and therefore protein excess illnesses in dogs are somewhat debateable.
    Only if the Blood Urea Nitrogen level (BUN) reaches higher than 75 should there be a concern of protein excess. (Dunn PetMD website) See my article on ‘How to understand your pet's blood test results.’

    Dr Dunn acknowledges that (the all mysterious ingredient) ‘meat by products’ in pet foods are high in protein and advices his readers that they need to approach such ‘by products’ with an open mind.
    This is debateable, as the quality and source of such ‘by products’ in pet food is highly questionable.
    In agreement with Dr Billinghurst, Dr Dunn states that pet food should include high quality protein. Unfortunately his website does not support a homemade raw food diet, instead it promotes commercial pet food.

    The problem is that most pet owners have no idea which pet food to buy. Looking at the list of ingredients on colourful packages can be daunting. Unfortunately, the outcome is a pet food usually chosen on clever marketing skills rather than key ingredients.
    Read my article on ‘Lets Look at Pet Food Labels.’

    In my opinion, the source of commercial pet food ingredients is highly questionable and I am very confident in saying that such produce is certainly not human grade. As far as I’m concerned, if its not fit for me to eat, then why should I give it to my pets who I consider to be part of my family?

    In my own experience when a veterinarian is diagnosing a cat or dog with a degenerative disease such as renal disease they usually suggest a prescription vet approved commercial pet food that can be purchased in the clinic.
    Several commercial pet foods provide specially formulated wet and dry foods for health problems such as allergies, renal failure, liver disease, diabetes and urinary tract disease. However, it’s important to be well informed of the heavily processed ingredients. These prescription type foods are only sold in the Vet Clinics and are usually recommended by your Vet.
    I personally found that following such poor advice led to a very sick cat. Dried, processed, poor quality protein cat biscuits do not assist a cat with renal disease!
    After putting my cat back on a high quality protein diet of organic produce and getting the advice of an Animal Naturopath, my cat’s health has improved in leaps and bounds. Dr Hodgkins, author of ‘Your Cat,’ states that even cats with chronic renal disease (CRD) should still be fed ample high quality protein. Such protein is essential for recovery, strength, repair and energy. She claims that,
    there has never been any scientific studies showing long term benefits from a reduction in dietary protein…even in the cat with CRD.’ (Hodgkins 2007)

    Salt may also be in excess in our pets food. ‘Dog foods in Australia contains 10 to 20 times more salt than our dogs require.’ (Billinghurst 1993) As with humans, excess salt can cause high blood pressure, which has detrimental effects on the whole body system including the heart and kidneys.

    If we take a brief look at our own methods to achieve a healthy, balanced diet we increase the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and high quality protein such as free-range eggs and fish. As we introduce more fresh produce, we eliminate the fast food and heavily processed produce in an attempt to give our bodies real, live food. Very simply, it’s the same for cats and dogs. Fresh produce is medicine for the body, especially a sick one!

    Most caring pet owners are more concerned with their pet not getting enough nutrition rather than excess. Commercial pet food is certainly far more of a serious concern that what the average pet owner can dare to imagine.

    References:

    Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give your dog a bone,’ Warrigal Publishing, Australia.
    Goldstein, R.S. V.M.D. & Goldstein, S.J. 2005, ‘The Goldstein’s Wellness & Longevity Program Natural Care for Cats and Dogs.’ TFH Publications USA.
    Hodgkins, E.H, 2007, ‘Your Cat, Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life.’ Thomas Dunne Books, USA.
    Martin, A. 2008, ‘Food Pets Die For, Shocking Facts about Pet Food.’ NewSage Press, USA.
    Pitcairn, R. H. & Pitcairn, S. H, 2005, ‘Dr. Pitcairn’s guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.’ Rodale Inc, USA.

    Internet websites:
    Pet MD website 2011, Article by Dr. T.J. Dunn, viewed 14th August 2011
    http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_focusing_on_protein_in_the_diet
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