There is much debate on what is the “right food” for both us as humans and our beloved pets. Many opinions are driven by commercial requirements of the companies that make the food so it is difficult to get a clear view of what is right and wrong.
History can teach us so much as it give a bench mark as to what was and should be a “normal diet”. Humans, Cat and Dogs can be traced back approximately 3.5-4 million years in our current form, although there would have been many challenges the diet would have remained the same with the first major change being during the industrial revolution around 1760, where people moved from a rural “cottage industry” to towns and cities as we see today.
The world’s first dog biscuit was produced by Mr James Spratt, known as “Meat Fibrine Cake” and was launched in London circa 1860. (A young clerk, Charles Cruft was one of Spratt’s first employees who went on to found the Cruft’s dog show) "Dog Cakes" were initially sold to English country gentlemen for their sporting dogs and were consumed alongside a diet of fresh meat.
Evolution and Adaptation
Evolution can take thousand or hundreds of thousands of years and even then only small changes can be observed. Both human and cats/dogs digestive system are 99.9% the same as our ancestors. All species have the ability to adapt to short term changes in diet, this would have been essential for survival as food sources would have been in variable supply. The issue arises when an animal is exposed to a life time of inappropriate food.
In Humans, it is widely known that the consumption of “fast food” can be detrimental to health, although one fast food meal never hurt anyone, the eating high calories, nutritionally devoid food for a long period of time with the exclusion of fruit and vegetable can be linked to a number of serious illnesses. For Cats and Dog, the consumption of large quantities of cereal grain, rice and other refined carbohydrates for long periods of time with the exclusion of meat can also be linked to serious illnesses.
As I live in a rural part of Staffordshire I sometimes come across the remains of a “fox’s meal” when out walking our dogs. All that is left is a few feathers or some fur. Your dog or cat would act in exactly the same way if they were left to their own devices. Whole prey is a combination of meat and bone which gives a balanced meal for a carnivore, it is worth noting that feeding meat with the absence of bone can cause loose stools as the calcium slows the digestive process down.
It is also worth noting that there is no such thing as puppy, junior, adult or senior food in the natural habitat. Generally adult pet food is of poorer quality and therefore would have a detrimental effect on puppies and kittens.
Cat and Dog Ancestral Diet
Further to a cat and dog's natural preference to eat meat, we can also look at The Ancestral Diet to understand the ideal intake. The modern day dog, The Timber wolf and the Tundra Wolf are classed under the umbrella of The Grey Wolf as Canis Lupus and they share over 99.9% of the mitochondrial DNA (Mitochondria being part of a cell that converts the chemical energy from food into a form that the cells of the body can use) which means the Wolves' diet is also ideal for your dog. Similarly a domestic cat may be traced back to Miacoidea 33-66 million years ago, with a more recent ancestor the African wild cat all having the smilar digestive system.
A Wolf and a Wild Cat would have consumed the whole animal possibly excluding the feathers or fur. We can therefore get an insight to the nutritional requirements of a modern day pet by looking at the composition of the whole prey. The following table is taken from an nutritional analysis of whole prey and clearly show the Macro Nutrient profile (Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate and Ash (Mineral)) content; See full report from: *Dierenfeld, E. S., Alcorn, H. L. & Jacobsen, K. L. (2002). Nutrient composition of whole vertebrate prey (excluding fish) fed in zoos.
As can be seen from the charts, Dried mass Protein content varies between 42.3 - 65.2% with Fat content ranging between 15.8 - 41.4%
The source of the Macro Nutrients is also important. Animal Protein contains all of the amino acids essential to dogs and cats in the correct quantities for overall health. Plant Proteins often have missing amino acids such as arginine, taurine, methionine, lysine and tryptophan.
Animal Fats are a very important part of both the dog and cats nutrition, providing a source of essential fatty acids (EFA’s).
Intolerances to food
Intolerances can manifest themselves in many forms, the pictures below show one of the skin problems associated with food intolerance. The left hand picture is Sabre’s skin which shows a flare up before changing her food, the right hand picture was taken after 2 weeks on Eden.
Thank you to Linda Shearman for the pictures.
Why not ask you pet?
One experiment you could try at home would be to offer your cat or dog a choice. Place a bowl of chicken (de-boned and cooked if not completely fresh), a bowl of Rice and a bowl of Cereal where you normally put the feed and allow your dog to choose what to eat. My guess is that the choice would be the chicken every time!