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What's Wrong with Commercial Pet Food?

The Problems

Problem #1: Grains

I have never heard a field biologist or scientists from National Geographic say they observe wolves, coyotes, lions, cougars or tigers eat wheat, soy, corn, gluten meal or other grains in the wild, let alone as a main staple.

The gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats are a lot shorter than human and herbivores like cows and horses. The digestive tract is simply not long enough to process and extract nutrients from grains.

This is the same reason when you feed fresh vegetables to dogs and cats, you need to chop or grate them finely to expose enough surface area for nutrients absorption. This mimics the pre-digested green matter in the prey's stomach (e.g. deer, rabbit). Lightly cooking the vegetables will also help.

Unscientifically, commercial pet food has grains as the main ingredients and fillers. Cheap for the manufacturers and pet owners but very unhealthy for our pets. Fortunately for the manufacturers, our pets cannot complain verbally and we have been ignoring the gradual signs of declining health and slow to connect the dots.

Problem #2: Ingredients

According to U.S. author and Texas ex-cattle rancher Howard Lyman (aka Madcowboy), pet food ingredients are more than convincingly questionable.

Animal parts unfit for human consumption, rotten road kill, euthanized pets, diseased animals, slaughterhouse waste, grains unfit for human consumption, dirt and other stuff from the factory floor, restaurant grease and waste, expired meat from supermarkets and non-food ingredients are used in many pet food brands.

The pretty pictures on the marketing labels of fresh ingredients are just that, marketing. Pet food manufacturers will never let you see the real pet food processing process because it will make them bankrupt.

Do you really want your dog or cat to eat a regular diet of food that human deem unfit for consumption?

Problem #3: High Heat Processing

High heat processing is necessary to kill bacteria, fungus and viruses especially with questionable ingredients. High heat sterilization also destroys vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and enzymes.

Good processed food, at best, are broken down, rebuilt, reconstituted whole foods with up to 90% of the vitamins and minerals missing. Pet food manufacturers add back only a handful of the hundreds of nutrients they removed with synthetic vitamins and minerals. Then they call it 100% nutritionally balanced. Premium brands are no guarantee that it is better, it is only a marketing strategy.

Problem #4: Preservatives and additives

In order for pet food not to go rotten and have a long shelf life, significant amount of preservatives must be added to prevent oxidation, moisture-related mold, fungus and bacteria. Different chemicals are added to prevent food spoilage, especially in dry pet food. Coloring is also added to appeal to human shoppers.

So how do they get your pet to eat this chemical laden pet food? Your pets seem to like the pet food and even get addicted to it, much like we get addicted to salty chips and desserts. Sugar, salt, hydrolysed yeast, flavorings and other additives are added to get your pet's hooked.

If your pet eats this once in while, it is not lethal. But as a regular diet, 24/7, 365 day a year, it is not just unhealthy, it is toxic. We have not yet counted the insecticides, fungicides, pesticides grain farmers sprinkle on their crop as well as antibiotics, growth hormones and other poision we put into our farm animals.

Problem #5: Dry Food and Kidneys Failure

Try this experiment at home and record the amount of water absorbed by your brand of kibbles. Fill a glass with 1/4 cup water. Then fill the glass with 1/4 cup dry pet food. Cover and wait 48 hours. If all the water is absorbed, add another 1/4 cup water and wait 48 hours. Keep going until there is water left. Add it up to see the total amount of water absorbed.

This is the amount of water your pet has to replenish after each 1/4 cup of dry pet food. This is the reason why your dog or cat needs to drink a lot of water. Unfortunately, especially for cats who are not instinctual water drinkers, the fluid loss with the dry food means kidneys stress. Animals in the wild get most of their fluids through meat, blood and fruits. They only drink a little unless they run and pant, or if the weather is hot.

Long term, mild dehydration is stressful for the kidneys and cause damage over time. This is the reason why so many cats and dogs seem fine, and then out of the blue, get diagnosed with kidneys disease, kidneys failure and kidney stones.

Old age is a very poor excuse for kidneys problems. The reason why kidneys problems are diagnosed in older dogs and cats is because it takes time for the damage to the kidneys gets to the level where symptoms are displayed. By this time, the kidneys destruction are advanced and more difficult (though not impossible) to reverse.

Problem #6: Processed Food & Enzymes

High heat kills enzymes. So what, you ask? Well, enzymes are only the energy sparks that run numerous biochemical processes in our body such as our digestive process.

Fresh, live foods with enzymes contribute to our pet's digestion and well-being. Dead food with dead enzymes require more work from our pet's body to digest the food and break down amino acids, fats and carbohydrates. Undigested complex carbohydrates also stay in the gastrointestinal tract longer and gives off gas. That's where bad breath and gas comes from.

Think human consuming freshly cooked chicken, salads and fresh squeezed juice versus MacDonald's or pizza and a can of pop. The latter is highly processed, sits in the stomach longer, takes longer to digest, makes one feels lethargic and gassy instead of feeling alive and energized.

Some clever manufacturers say their pet food has added probiotics and live enzymes. No probiotics (friendly stomach bacteria) or live enzymes can survive in heat or open air (unless the probiotics are encapsulated) for much time, let alone for the duration of the long shelf life of dry and canned pet food. Complex sugar (e.g. table sugar) also kills probiotics, so do chemicals and preservatives.

Problem #7: Teeth cleaning

Have you wondered why we need to brush our dog's and cat's teeth? No animals brush their teeth in the wild. They don't need to. Their teeth remain sharp and in good shape till old age. Their survival depends on it.

Sugar erodes the teeth, especially if you don't brush and rinse them out of the mouth. Sugar happens to be an important palate-enhancing and foul-taste cover-up additive for commercial pet food. Brushing helps but added sugar is not necessary for your pet's health at all.

So how does this sugar stay in our pet's mouth, gums and teeth long enough to cause problems? Try this experiment at home. Eat a small 1/4 apple and go look in the mirror. How much fibre is stuck in your teeth? Once noted, use your fingers to get the fibre out (pets don't use their tongue). How easy is it? Now, floss any remaining fibre to prepare for step 2.

To continue the experiment, eat an equivalent amount of biscuits, cookies or bread. Go to the mirror and check again. Note the amount of stuck food in your teeth, gums and mouth. Try to use your fingers to get it out. How easy is it this time?

Refined complex carbohydrates has the tendency to stick to the teeth more than fresh food with fibre, and harder to get out. That's why animals in the wild, who only eat natural kill, don't need to brush to maintain healthy gums and teeth. Their only enemy to bad teeth is a fight, a serious one at that.

Our pets, on the other hand, have different challenges. Sugary tidbits (kibbles) that are stuck in between our pet's teeth, gums and mouth stay to erode the enamel of the teeth. All tidbits provide food for bacteria to grow and cause tartar and plague build up in our mouth. This is another reason why so many dogs and cats have bad breath, bad teeth and gums. There is always a reason, don't blame innocent old age.

Problem #8: Allergies

Too many dogs and cats have so called allergies today. Itchy, rashes, skin toxicity and other skin problems are far too common with our supposedly well-fed pets. Fleas, mites, mange, ringworm, yeast and other infestations are rampant and both veterinarians and pet guardians talk about it like it is normal. It is not.

I've seen animals on raw diet having beautiful coat and no flea problems, till end of their life. Healthy animals in the wild, those that can kill for fresh food, have healthy skin and the occasional itch. Coyotes in the city who eat our garbage, because there is no natural habitat for them to hunt healthy preys, get malnutrition, mange and very troubled skin diseases. Hmmm.

So what is allergy? In the veterinarian world, it is called autoimmune disease. That means the body's own immune system attacking itself and things that are both harmful and not harmful to the body. The immune system is basically confused.

Vaccinations and commercial pet food are the biggest culprits of pet's allergies today. There are four major ways they contribute to our pet's so called skin problems.

1st, the original concept of vaccination is that we stimulate our immune system with the dead virus or bacteria, so when the real ones come, it knows what to do. Well, somehow the vaccines manufacturers think our pet's bodies are very dumb, needing this stimulation year after year instead of just once.

The problem is that our pet's body is intelligent but get confused with the yearly bombardment of the same dead viruses and bacteria and now the defense system is really on red alert, good or bad. When that immune system works correctly at the wrong target, we call it allergy. To make things worse, we give our pets pills to suppress the immune system so it doesn't work so well, against good or bad things. Ouch! Bad science, bad logic.

2nd, with all the junk and chemicals in the pet food, it is not hard to believe that a confused immune system will react to a number of ingredients. Since the first thing the body tries to clear itself of toxicity is through the largest organ in the body, the skin, the first signs we see of toxicity is rashes and skin diseases. Again, we try to suppress the immune system so the toxins have to travel back inside the body deeper, perhaps in an enclosed tumor or organ.

3rd, allergies also come in the form of yeast infections. Itchy genitals, ears and other body parts are first clues. Carbohydrates and sugar-happy commercial pet food upsets the bacterial balance inside our pet's digestive tract, allowing bad bacteria like yeast to grow by providing them food. When yeast grows, it wreaks havoc in our pet's body in many ways including itchy symptoms.

4th, since commercial pet food has synthetic nutritional value at best, we are basically feeding our pets junk food all the time. This chronic malnutrition, amongst other things, lowers our pets immune system (now it is confused and weak) and the parasites like fleas, mites, ringworm fungus and mange can detect this and see a perfectly defenseless host for themselves.

Mysterious allergies are mysterious because no one wants to loose money selling you their bad food and unnecessary drugs. Lucky some thinking persons are now making healthy fresh food, natural medicines, supplements and therapies for our pets.

Problem #9: Diabetes, pancreatitis, IBS, IBD, Colitis, Enteritis and other chronic diseases

Sugar, sugar, sugar. If human consume enough soft drinks or candies, we can become diabetic too. A little sugar every day in your pet's food can lead to diabetes for animals who have a weak pancreas genetically, through accident, surgery or certain drug use. Too much sugar also upsets the natural bacterial balance within our body, providing food for the bad bacteria (e.g. candida) and give them an opportunity to grow out of control. The number of health problems resulting from bacterial imbalance within the pet's body alone are daunting.

Pancreatitis is usually initiated by chemical or drug use and exacerbated by fatty foods. With the different chemicals, colorings, preservatives, humectants, ph control agents, antimicrobial agents in commercial pet food, it is possible that one of the chemicals can cause upset. These chemicals can also contribute to colitis, enteritis, irritable bowel syndrome and disease over time.

The unusual high carbohydrate content of pet food is abnormal for our pet's diet and require extra work from the pancreas to excrete more enzymes to try to digest carbohydrates. There are also little nutritive value that our pets can extract from grains and sugar making them junk food. A lack of nutrition for our pets is not an exaggeration if they eat commercial dry or canned food as a normal diet. Malnutrition lowers the immune system and lowers our pet's defense against many diseases and infections.

Problem #10: Toxins, liver and exercise

We mention toxins before. Toxins are things that the body must eliminate from itself because they are not pro-life. Commercial pet food is full of chemicals, preservatives, colorings and actual toxins from questionable ingredients that are considered toxic for our pet's body.

Low level of toxins once in a while can be stored, processed and eliminated by our body's special organs like liver, kidneys, blood and the lymphatic system.

When your pet consumes commerical pet food daily, the toxic level builds up over time. The toxins must be stored somewhere within the body. When the toxicity level overloads our pet's body, the eliminatory organs become stressed like overworked employees, especially our liver. The damage is not visible until years later when everything breaks downs at once.

The gradual hints we tend to ignore are chronic allergy, smelly fur, bad breath, gas, excessive discharges from eyes and ears, yearly fleas, mites, yeast, worms or other parasitic infestations. And we wonder why our pets gets so sick all of a sudden when the problem has been building up. Old age is not the cause of diseases for our pets, it is just a way to explain away logical reasons.

So what do we do? There are three things we need to do to help our pets:

1st, we must eliminate, reduce or minimize further toxins intake. Feed fresh, live foods to your pets, avoid vaccinations, chemical wormers, flea programs and chemical antibiotics, avoid surgeries and drugs if possible.

2nd, regular aerobic exercises help stimulate the body to eliminate waste. Exercise squeezes the muscles, activates the exchanges of gases, nutrients, fluids, wastes and energies within the cells. This helps with the detoxification and elimination process.

3rd, use homeopathic remedies, herbs, probiotics, enzymes, live foods diet or a combination to help the body rid itself of toxicity. For the first time, your pet may need a longer detox process. Eventually, detox twice a year for health maintenance.

Remember your pet's body has its own schedule for processing and eliminating toxins that can be stimulated but not rushed. That is why detox takes longer than treating a disease. Be patient and stay with the detox program.

The Misconceptions

Misconception #1: Everyone feeds their dogs and cats pet food. We have always given our pets dry or canned pet food.

Aboriginal hunters feed their dogs seal and game meat, organs, fat, skin and bones. Many pet owners in the world continue to feed their dogs and cats table scraps. However, this creates no profit for industries. So developed, industrialized and rich countries started to create and market commercial pet food as the better alternative. However, an increasing number of educated pet owners in these countries are now switching to raw or fresh food for their feline's and canine's diet, based on bad past experiences.

Commercial cat and dog food, dry and canned, has only been around for 150 years since the mid 1800's. Before that, dogs and cats were fed meats, vegetables, table scraps, salads, soups, eggs, pasta, rice, organs, tripe, fruits and homemade food from their owners. Some animals would supplement that by hunting mice, rats, birds and small animals in the neighborhood.

Dry and canned pet food are a relatively new industry that has caught on and boomed due to its clever marketing, industry financial support (to profit from food unfit for human) and convenience for the urban pet owners.

Even if you have always fed dry and canned pet food for your dog or cat, why keep an unhealthy habit for your beloved animals?

Misconception #2: Commercial pet food seems to keep my pet pretty healthy.

The problems of commercial pet food takes time to reveal its consequences. We are not saying that pet food manufacturer deliberately put lots of poison in the food to kill your pets. We are saying that questionable and cheap ingredients are used and they contain chemicals, molds and toxins that may harm your dogs and cats when consumed on a long term regular basis, a little bit every meal, like slow poison.

Your puppies, kittens, dogs and cats may appear healthy when they are young but little mysterious health problems start to emerge when they are 5-6 years old. They are not as healthy as they should be. Unhealthy diet is a significant source of health problems and allergies just like with us human. Although we may be feeding our dogs and cats expensive food with fancy packaging, when in fact our pets are malnourished from the actual processed food itself.

Misconception #3: Table scraps are not nutritionally balanced for dogs and cats.

First, table scraps are not profitable for veterinarians, pet stores and the pet food industry who make billions on pet food each year.

Second, whether table scraps are nutritionally balanced for your pets depends entirely on what you and your family eats.

If your family's diet is comprised mostly of processed food, pizzas, ice cream, chips, hamburgers and other refined carbohydrates, then the table scraps for your dog or cat will indeed be nutritionally imbalanced.

However, if your family eats a healthy diet of meat, vegetables, salads, soups, whole grains, fruits, nuts and so forth, the table scraps you feed your pets will likely be quite healthy.

Education on proper canine and feline natural diets will be beneficial to any pet lovers. To educate yourself, read the articles in the "natural pet nutrition" section of our Natural Pet Health Database. Ask us a question about your specific situation, we may even post your question and our answer on our "your questions" segment. There are also books on natural pet nutrition out there for more references.

Misconception #4: Natural or raw food is unsafe to eat for dogs and cats.

Observe wolves, foxes, coyotes, cougars, bobcats and lynx in the wild, do they eat anything other than fresh raw meat, organs, bones, skin, wild fruits, veggies and steal eggs from other animals?

It is true that we need to be careful when giving raw food to our dogs and cats because we don't hunt fresh kill every day. The repeated handling, transportation and storage of raw meat in the industry requires extra caution. Either feed very fresh raw meat from the butcher, or make sure the raw meat was frozen before hand to kill the bacteria.

Defrost raw meat in the fridge and keep enough portions for only up to 3 days to ensure food hygiene and safety. Just like raw meat for ourselves, if it smells, looks or feels 'off', discard. Even if you cook it, it will still cause stomach upset. It is not worth the risk and agony of food poisoning.

If you are really concerned, serve your dog and cat medium-rare meat or cooked meat. It is still way better than processed canned and dry pet food.

Misconception #5: Natural or raw pet food is more expensive.

If you plan your shopping list for your pet's raw or natural food diet, you can buy bulk meat or when certain cuts are on sale. Your pet doesn't need prime rib - meat is meat. Fresh vegetables are essential but little blemishes can be removed.

If you are on a budget, ground beef, inexpensive cuts, chicken thighs, wing tips, meat ends, liver are all perfectly yummy for your pets. Divide into 2-day portions and freeze.

Misconception #6: Natural or raw pet food takes more time & effort to prepare.

Again, a little planning and organization goes a long way. Portioning and freezing the food ahead of time will save a lot of time and makes homemade pet food preparation very easy. It takes 5 minutes for me to prepare each meal for my dog who eats twice a day.

If time is really a concern for you, there are wonderful raw and cooked diet pet food companies who make prepared natural pet food - raw and cooked, some with veggies. They are usually prepared based on pet's weight and comes in frozen or freeze dried (you rehydrate later).

Misconception #7: Commercial pet food is scientific.

So is a multi-vitamins and minerals pill but you won't eat that in place of real food, will you? There is vitality, energy, enzymes, trace minerals and nutrients in fresh food that processed food will never be able to give. To quote Yoda in Star Wars "May the force be with you" - life force in live foods! In my observation, nature always win over science.

Science is always evolving, finding mistakes and misconceptions from before, and improving as we go. Look at human diet, lots of theories and diet plans, yet nothing beats 'eat less, exercise more' and neutralizing emotional distress. Natural common sense is usually too simple for our overly complicated world. Don't let your pets be a victim of our scientific and economic minds. Go natural, go simple!

Misconception #8: It's ok. I feed the Premium brand.

Some premium brands may indeed use better quality ingredients. However, ingredients are not the only problem. The problem is the way dry pet food and canned pet food are processed, as well as the chemicals required to keep the long shelf life. We are what we eat. Why would we eat something unnatural? Good quality premium pet food is suitable for camping and occasional use. Natural fresh food is always the best for our canine and feline digestive system.

Misconception #9: Dogs and cats are not wild. They have evolved to eat pet food.

Unfortunately, no one told them that. Did you know that any evolution takes millions of years to happen, not just a few hundred or even a few thousand years? The evolutionary jump may seem sudden but millions, and sometimes billions, of years of preparation was at work behind the scene.

In nature, evolution takes place when it is beneficial for an animal or plant to adapt to the new environment and living conditions. Nature does not usually change to adapt to unhealthy living conditions (e.g. toxic food, water, air), it simply dies.

However, whenever living conditions change from unhealthy to healthy, the next generation of species will grow again. Our pets and ourselves do not escape the laws of nature. Our pets mostly adapted to the new living environment with humans because there is a mutually beneficial relationship, but they will suffer and die (prematurely) if they are given unhealthy food or toxic chemicals.

Understanding Pet Food Labels

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set the following guidelines for animal feed, including pet food:

Meat By-Products: the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.

Meat Meal: the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

Meat and Bone Meal: the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

Rendered product includes mostly animal fatty tissue and animal by-product unfit for human consumption. Rendered product can also include restaurant waste (mostly grease), butcher shop waste (mostly fat trimmings), old meat (expired) from supermarkets, euthanized dogs, cats and other dead animals from animal shelters, zoos and veterinary clinics, rotten carcasses from road kill and sick or diseased animals rejected by farms, zoos and slaughterhouses.

For more information on the cattle industry, go to

As a thinking person, a few reasonable questions arise with commercial pet food:
  • Where is the meat?

  • Dogs and cats are not cannibals, why are they being fed their own kind in pet food?

  • The lethal drug that is used to kill or euthanize animals are still in the animal, and it is being fed to live dogs and cats ... this now becomes slow poison ... are we insane?

  • Kibbles do not look anything like meat, what else is added to it?

  • How come kibbles have such a long shelf life, what is added to it? No fresh food can last that long.

  • If pet food is processed in high temperature, all the nutrients and live energy are destroyed. Are the only nutrients from pet food from the synthetic addition?
I know I am not the only one asking these questions. If you are a pet guardian, you should ask them too.

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