We have all heard the old adage, “Food is Love”, and many of us show love to our pets through feeding them. We think we are purchasing the best food on the market. We go to the pet store, buy an expensive bag of food with terms like ‘all-natural’, ‘first ingredient is meat’, ‘driven by science’, and ‘grain-free’ on the bags of food to make sure we are keeping Fido healthy by giving him the best! By now, we all understand there are some bad dog and cat foods out there but we buy the good ones!

The problem with this thinking is that realistically, all dry foods are heavily processed. Even the ones that we think are the best out there. Manufacturing pet food began in the 1950s and feeding out pets became convenient. The process of making a dry kibble that can sit on a shelf for many years without spoiling includes putting the food through two processing cycles at high heat. And don’t forget that we need to make this food affordable and need to get the food to stick together, so we bulk it up with carbohydrates. Although grain-free diets contain significantly fewer carbs, dry dog and cat food, in general, have anywhere from 5-20% more carbohydrates than our pets should be eating. There have been many studies that link excess carbohydrates to inflammation in our bodies and our pet’s bodies. What is the easiest way to cut back on carbs? Cut back on dry food!

When a new patient comes into the hospital, one of the first questions asked is ‘What are you feeding your pet?’ and ‘What are their favorite foods to eat?’. Many people tell me that they would never feed their pet ‘people food’ because they don’t want Fido to beg at that table or they were always told by their veterinarian that feeding people food is bad for their pet. So when I tell my client that I would like them to cook for their dog, I often get a shocked look in return. But if we look at food in a rational way, why would we think that a heavily processed, carb-heavy food that lacks moisture is better for Fido than a crockpot filled with beef, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and veggies.

I get it though. We lead busy lives and who has time to cook for their pets every day? We barely have time to cook for ourselves and our children! Clients have told me that making crockpot meals for their dogs is just not going to happen. Fortunately, there are other options out there that are convenient but also healthier than dry food. Some companies are now baking the kibble instead of putting it through the high heat cycles. Obviously canned food is a better choice because it is less processed, contains fewer carbohydrates, and more moisture. Freeze-dried diets are becoming more and more popular and are easy to feed by just adding water to the food. There are refrigerated pet foods that offer more real ingredients with ease of feeding and of course, we are big proponents of commercially made frozen raw diets that use organ meat as the source of protein which our pets are very much lacking in their diets.

We can’t always be perfect. Has my dog had some dry food in her life? Of course, she has. But I try to feed her the best I can by giving her less processed food, more real food, more moisture in her food, and fewer carbohydrates. So simply cutting back on dry food and adding in canned, freeze-dried, raw, or home-cooked food can make a big difference in your pet’s health and happiness.

Our cats are a bit of a different story. My cat has never had dry food because the lack of moisture and protein in dry cat diets can cause significant harm to our feline friends. But I’ll talk about this issue in my next article.

Dr. Uehlein