The Kibble Conundrum
Imagine that you are 60 years old and for your entire life have eaten nothing but a highly processed, dehydrated diet that comes in a factory sealed bag. No fresh food. No vegetables or fruit. Even if this diet were 100% nutritionally balanced, and was the best “human kibble” on the market…organic even… how healthy do you expect you’d be? If you’re thinking, “not very,” then why would you expect your dog or cat to eat kibble every day for 10 years and be completely healthy?
The reality is that animals and humans alike need substantial amounts of fresh, minimally processed foods in their diets to have optimal health and vitality. Most of us understand this for ourselves and our families, but sometimes fail to realize that the same is true for our pets. You might think that your 9 year old Labrador Retriever’s arthritic hips are a normal age related problem. But I’ve seen many dogs, well over 10, that eat fresh, home prepared diets and are in the peak of health, with beautiful hair coats and no arthritis whatsoever. I’ve seen many cats on fresh diets live well over 20 years without ever suffering any serious health problems (with all their teeth intact!). I would go as far as to say that most of the chronic, recurring health problems I see in my patients are due in large part to their diet of only processed foods such as kibble.
Most people don’t realize that dry dog and cat foods are a relatively recent invention. Up until World War ll, most dog food sold was canned and made from horse meat. In 1950, Ralston Purina recognised a market for the rapidly growing pet population, and developed a technique by which ingredients were pushed through a high pressure tube, cooked quickly at high heat, and puffed with air the same process used to make Chex breakfast cereal stay crispy in milk. Purina Dog Chow was born and became an instant success. Other pet food companies quickly took notice and followed suit. In the mid 60s, the Pet Food Institute, a lobbying group for the pet food industry, began an advertising campaign to promote the benefits of feeding dry kibble exclusively, even to suggest that feeding table scraps was dangerous. Soon cat kibble diets followed, and by 1975, there were more than 1,500 brands of dry pet foods on the market.
So this brings us to the “conundrum.” Dry kibble diets are certainly very convenient, and in general quite affordable. Pet food companies spend billions of dollars a year convincing us of the health benefits of their particular brand. Veterinarians prescribe commercial “prescription diets” to help treat a wide variety of pet medical issues. Until several years ago, I too believed that a high quality dry dog or cat food was the healthiest way to feed a pet. Certainly there is a wide range of quality in kibble diets, ranging from very good to frighteningly bad, but in the last few years I have come to realize that all “processed” pet foods are by their very nature inadequate for optimal health.
So what’s so bad about kibble and other processed commercial foods? First, most kibble diets have a high percentage of starches, which are a cheap source of calories, and the “glue” that holds kibbles together. These starches are rapidly converted to sugar during digestion, and contribute to elevated levels of insulin in the body. Persistently elevated insulin levels lead to a metabolic condition that creates longstanding inflammation throughout an animal’s body. Examples of diseases caused by this chronic diet induced inflammation range from arthritic joint disorders to urinary tract infections, skin allergies and even senility. Read “The Cause of all Illness” http://animalkindvet.com/illness from a recent JVille Review article for a more in depth discussion. Secondly, processed foods have significantly fewer vitamins and antioxidants than good quality fresh foods. Omega 3 oils don’t survive heat processing and storage well, and are almost always deficient. Without adequate amounts of these vital nutrients, tissues of the body become “malnourished” and are more susceptible to organ dysfunctions, infections and even cancer.
An easy way to introduce your pet to better quality fresh foods is to start by slowly adding fresh foods to your pet’s current kibble diet. Lightly browned ground meats and organ meats and eggs are a great start. Vegetables such carrots squash and leafy greens can be steamed or pureed in a food processor and added in. It is even possible to make pet food totally from scratch, but it is very important to insure a proper balance of nutrients. My colleague Dr. Karen Becker’s excellent book Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats can help you formulate a fresh, homemade diet for your dog or cat. K9 Kitchen, by Monica Segal and Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet by Steve Brown are also great resources.
Dr. Judkins is the owner of Animalkind Veterinary Clinic in Jacksonville, Oregon