Diet for a Small Pet

Bring Out the Animal in Your Dog or Cat With Healthy Food Alternatives

The wild dogs and cats that roamed the Earth thousands of years ago were the direct ancestors of the “domesticated creatures” we share our homes with today. As our pets, they’re “civilized,” but their physiology has remained remarkably unchanged from that of their ancestors. The intestines of the dog and cat are short, the stomach full of strong digestive juices and the teeth sharp for tearing. Produce and grains would come largely predigested in the stomach of prey.

Jason Kremkau

What’s In Those Cans?

The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that Americans spend approximately $11 billion per year on pet food. But it may be time to examine how those shiny but foul-smelling cans and cute-shaped kibble measure up to what Mother Nature provides.

Two books by Ann N. Martin and Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn’s Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (Rodale Press, 1995) spell out in great detail the reasons commercially processed pet food is dangerous to your animal’s health. It boils down to what is missing and what should be missing in those cans and bags. For example: Listing the protein source as “meat or poultry by-products” allows the manufacturer to include meat processing waste. This includes “4-D” animals: dead, diseased, dying or disabled, whose meat often contains tumors and drugs used to try to treat the animals before they died. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, pet food can and does include spray-dried animal blood, hydrolyzed hair, dehydrated garbage, unborn carcasses and many other things.

To add insult to injury, according to the National Animal Control Association, of the more than 13 million pets shelters kill annually, five million are shipped to rendering factories to be used in pet food. Drugs used for euthanasia, such as pentobarbital, survive the rendering process.

Carbohydrate sources of commercial pet food may consist of grain factory waste (i.e., dust, floor sweepings and husks.) Restaurant grease has also become a major component of pet food in recent years.

The final topping of this unhealthy concoction is lots of preservatives, such as BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, propyl gallate, benzoate of soda plus artificial colorings and flavorings. According to veterinarian and federal meat inspector P. F. McGargle, “Feeding such waste products to pets increases their chances of getting degenerative diseases and cancer.”

The Healthy Alternative

How can we provide our pets with nutrition closer to what nature intended? There are several options available. Raw meat mixed with vegetables, grains and supplements is the optimum diet for dogs and cats according to The New Natural Cat (Plume, 1990) and The Natural Dog by Anitra Frazier and veterinarian Mary Brennan with Norma Eckroate. Once you get the hang of the recipes, making your pet’s food is easier than making a simple meal for yourself and well worth the health benefits. To make matters even simpler, Sojourner Farms sells pet food mix consisting of human-quality grains, herbs, ground nuts and sea vegetables. A 10-pound bag of dog food mix is $19.95 and four pounds of cat food mix costs $12.65.
Pet owners not ready to make the leap to homemade should try Country Pet. The company’s 1.5-pound loaves ($3.99) of cat and dog food are made from New Zealand free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free lamb, beef, chicken and fish mixed with raw egg, garden vegetables and vitamins. Snap freezing preserves freshness and avoids the vitamin-destroying high heat used in canning.

Even canned and dry pet food have come a long way since we automatically reached for Kal Kan and Friskies. Not only does the Wysong website ( analyze every component of its pet food, but the reading covers the role of diet in your pet’s health. Four-pound bags of Wysong dog and cat food are priced from $5.99 to $12.39 and 14-ounce canned foods range from $2.59 to $4.79.

Wellness is a relatively new line of canned and dried food from Old Mother Hubbard. The series provides human-grade ingredients (no by-products or rendered fats) and healthful extras like spirulina, flax seed and cranberries. Wellness 12.5-ounce cans for dogs and cats cost $1.45. Dry food ranges from 47 ounces for cats ($8.99) to six-pound mix for dogs ($9.69).

Another great natural pet food brand is Wow-Bow. The company’s fresh-baked Vegekibble for dogs is made of whole wheat and soy flour, corn meal, torula yeast, garlic, vegetable broth and a vegan supplement. Vege-Krunch Kibble includes parsley, blueberry and garlic. While it’s very difficult for cats to go exclusively vegetarian, they can supplement meat requirements with kittie Vegekibble, which contains flax seed and toasted wheat germ. Both dog and cat kibble cost $5.95 for five pounds and $32.50 for 40 pounds.

Innova by Natura Pet and PetGuard are two more alternative brands to look for in health food stores, pet supply retailers or online. Both companies insist on human-grade ingredients, refuse to use artificial preservatives and add innovative extras like apples, garlic, alfalfa sprouts and carrots. Innova feline is $12.82 and canine is $12.59 for 6.6-pound dry food. Canned foods are $1.30 for 13.02 ounces. PetGuard’s 14-ounce dog and cat food cans run from $1.53 to $1.89, and eight-pound dry food bags cost $15.59.

Though your dog or cat is more likely to share your couch than roam the land in search of food, today’s healthier pet food recipes can bring back a little call of the wild that still lives within.