With most dogs and cats fed on commercial pet foods, it’s no surprise that they too are susceptible to chronic afflictions, much the same as those that affect the human species. In this article Alexandra Bastedo, Director of Pet Nutrition Concepts Ltd., provides dietary recommendations for both canine and feline health.
As with human health, the health of our pets depends on what they are fed. Preservatives, colourants and sugars are prevalent in a number of commercial pet foods, both for cats and dogs, mentioned in such small print on the back of tins and packets that in the majority of cases you would need a magnifying glass to decipher the label. Even worse is misleading labelling such as “with chicken” emblazoned in large letters on the front while on the back in the aforementioned tiny lettering it states chicken: four percent. Or in the case of “rabbit flavour” you would be hard pressed to discover any rabbit at all. Fortunately, however, many health food stores now stock a range of organic pet foods (e.g. Yarrah, Pascoe and Deluxa), which specifies all its contents. Some products are free from preservatives (e.g. Naturediet) and others (e.g. Denes original tins) contain beneficial herbs and seaweed. The best of the Hills products such as Hills ID are only obtainable through veterinary practices.A new food on the market- Bozita- which our cats and dogs love claims to have some foods with a 93 per cent meat content instead of the 4 percent in many of the common commercial brands.
As an alternative to commercial pet foods, a home cooked diet can prove extremely nutritious. However, care must be taken to provide the correct protein to carbohydrate ratio, and to ensure adequate vitamins and minerals.
Raising a Healthy Dog
Correct nutrition in puppyhood is vital if the animal is to grow into a healthy adult. Cheap all-in-one dried foods, semi-moist preparations (full of sugar) and inexpensive tins are not the answer to optimum growth. A dog can develop diabetes, heart, liver and kidney problems, cancer, thyroid, pancreatic and intestinal disorders if the diet is nutritionally deficient.
Between two and four months of age puppies should be fed four times a day. A suggested daily menu may consist of:
Breakfast: Weetabix and goat’s milk.
Lunch: Scrambled eggs and raw tripe plus liquid vitamins.
Tea: Cooked chicken mince and biscuit meal.
Supper: Raw tripe and biscuit meal.
Puppies require a higher protein to carbohydrate ratio than adult dogs. If you don’t have time to prepare home made meals, give ready-made commercial meals that are specially formulated for puppies. Feeding adult commercial dog food on a regular basis does not provide the correct nutrition for a puppy. It is advisable to add bonemeal or calcium and phosphorus to home cooking. The introduction of raw carrots as “bones” and baby rusks, are also beneficial and good for the teeth. Between three and six months old puppies require three meals a day, and at nine months either one main meal or two smaller meals.
A good basic diet for dogs should consist of 50% grains (boiled or steamed), 25% vegetables and 25% meat; although the percentage of protein may vary according to age and the amount of exercise the animal takes. In the wild, dogs would eat fruits, berries, grasses, herbs, wild garlic and borage, and digested grains from the stomachs of their prey, so it’s important to include similar foods in the diet of a domestic pet. In this modern age obesity is often a problem so meat should always be lean. Beef, chicken, turkey, rabbit, tripe and lamb (preferably organic) are the meats of choice. Liver which contains folic acid should be given occasionally. A little oatbran and wheatgerm rich in vitamin B sprinkled on the food can both aid digestion and provide bulk. Australian vet Ian Billingshurst, author of Give Your Dog A Bone (Abbeywood Publishing Ltd) recommends raw bones as opposed to cooked because the latter can splinter.
Fish is not a natural food for dogs, although mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna contain high levels of essential fatty acids which help encourage a glossy coat. Fish is also a good source of protein, magnesium, iodine and selenium. Raw fish should be avoided as it contains an enzyme called thiaminase which destroys vitamin B1; however this substance is destroyed when the fish is cooked.
An ideal diet for a dog is, for example, cooked chicken or rabbit, boiled brown rice and carrots and broccoli together with canine vitamins, minerals and essential oils and possible canine collagen to help maintain healthy joints.
RAISING A HEALTHY CAT
Like puppies, kittens also require correct feeding in early life to ensure a healthy adulthood, otherwise their immune system may be weak and they may be vulnerable to a variety of diseases and parasites. The queen’s milk is best and feeding orphaned kittens can often be a problem as intolerance to cow’s milk is relatively common.
Weaning should commence at three to five weeks old, when kittens require feeding four times a day. A suggested daily menu may consist of:
Breakfast: Finely minced chicken with water and liquid vitamins.
Lunch: Organic porridge and a little live goat’s yoghurt.
Tea: Finely minced turkey with water and liquid vitamins.
Supper: Organic scrambled eggs with a little added spirulina
or premium grade chlorella.
At five weeks old kittens can transfer to specially formulated commercial kitten foods such as Denes, Whiskas or Felix. From twelve weeks to six months old they should have three meals a day and after six months of age, two meals a day.
Cats require approximately 60% protein and obtain the amino acid taurine, which is vital for their well-being, from meat. A deficiency of taurine in a cat’s diet can result in the development of heart problems and may cause death within a year. To ensure adequate levels of this amino acid, suitable sources of protein include raw rabbit, chicken, turkey, pheasant and very occasionally lamb. The daily taurine content of wild cat’s prey is 25-50mg according to Dr Pitcairn, author of Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (Rodale Press Inc). When meat is cooked, up to 80% of the taurine content can be lost, so if feeding cooked meat, it may be advisable to supplement. As cats are susceptible to salmonella and parasites, raw meat should be from a reliable, uncontaminated source, preferably organic. Pork should not be given as it may contain trichinosis. Many felines are allergic/intolerant to beef.
Fish is a good source of protein, iron, magnesium and selenium. However, it is not a cat’s natural food (with the exception of the swimming Turkish Vans!) it should at the most be given once or twice a week. Tuna, the fish that most cats adore, is not recommended on a regular basis. In some cats, it may cause skin problems, so should be given only as a treat. Coley is the cheapest type of fish but can cause problems in delicate kittens whereas cod seems to be more digestible. Mackerel, herring and sardines provide a good source of essential fatty acids, and pilchards and mackerel in tomato sauce are often used to tempt a cat that has been off its food. As cats can choke on fish bones, all bones should be removed before serving. Cats can be allergic/intolerant to fish but this is rare.
The remaining 40% of a cat’s diet can be made up of whole grains and vegetable, which may consist of porridge, maize, millet, avocado, cooked broccoli and Brussels sprouts and possible a little cucumber.
VEGETARIAN DIETS FOR DOGS AND CATS
Felines cannot thrive as vegetarians unless the amino acid taurine is added to their diet. Their natural diet is carnivorous – high in protein, in the form of small rodents and birds, the only carbohydrate coming from the grains ingested by their prey, although they may also eat specific grasses and herbs. To maintain a cat’s health on a vegetarian diet it is advisable to purchase a Vegecat or Vegekit pack from the Vegan Society. The formulations are recommended by David Jaggar, an eminent vet. Kittens should be weaned at eight to ten weeks old and Vegekit can be added to their diet from four weeks of age, progressing to Vegecat at the age of twelve months. Alternatively, if feeding a home-cooked vegetarian diet, vet Richard Pitcairn suggests supplementation with two teaspoons of plain protein powder from egg albumen and 50mg of taurine per day.
Dogs fare well on a vegetarian diet although left to their own devices in the wild they would be mainly carnivorous. This should consist of boiled whole grains such as brown rice, barley, millet or corn, steamed vegetables such as potatoes, cauliflower, courgettes and Brussels sprouts, nuts, goat’s and sheep’s milk, cheese and yogurt and an occasional egg. Commercial vegetarian dog foods are also available. Instead of meaty bones, broccoli stalks and carrots can make excellent vegetarian “bones” and teeth cleaners. With both cats and dogs Dr Pitcairn recommends the addition of feline or canine vitamins, in particular A, C E and D in the correct amounts according to the size of the animal.
Other than malnutrition the two paramount causes of ill health in cats and dogs are worms and fleas. A flea infestation can cause anaemia and even death in weak animals. However this can be kept under control be a variety of means. There is a chemical spot treatment which can last for up to four months which is put on the back of the neck where the animal cannot lick it. Flea sprays and powders can also be administered but there is the danger that the animal may ingest the chemical when it washes itself. Rock sulphur in drinking water can be a deterrent and a vitamin B complex or Brewers yeast and garlic can be helpful when an animal has a severe flea allergy.
There are also a number of anti-flea herbs such as eucalyptus, citronella, cedar, rosemary and fennel which can be made into a flea powder. Regular washing of bedding, vacuuming and grooming with a flea comb are also important.
Periodic worming is vital as parasites prevent optimum nutrition. Wormers in pill form, powder and liquid are available from pet shops but the best ones are obtainable from vets. Visible signs of intestinal worms may include thinness, poor coat condition, diarrhoea, the appearance of pieces of “rice” stuck to fur (segments of tapeworms) and sickness.
Finally an object of dispute is vaccinations. In England it is recommended that dogs and cats are vaccinated annually but the American Small Animal Veterinary Association thinks that antibodies from vaccinations stay in the system for up to three years so that yearly vaccinations may be unnecessary.
Richard Allport, homoeopathic vet at the Natural Medicine Veterinary Centre, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire says, “Most veterinary surgeons in conventional practice feel that routine vaccinations are, on the whole, safe and effective; but the majority of homoeopathic vets have serious worries about the effect of conventional vaccines on the immune system.” He adds, “There seems a strong possibility that conventional vaccines may be a factor in the development of chronic diseases such as eczema, colitis and auto-immune conditions.” Catherine O’Driscoll has written a most interesting book on the subject called Who Killed the Darling Buds of May? (Abbeywood Publishing).
TOO BUSY TO COOK
Although the emphasis of this article is on how to raise your pet on a healthy home made diet, because many people are leading busy lives, with minimal spare time, some of the recommendations may be unrealistic. Fortunately the pet food industry now offers a wide range of good quality organic food to keep your pet both healthy and contented.
Alexandra Bastedo, The Healthy Dog Book, Robson Books, 1999.
Alexandra Bastedo, The Healthy Cat Book, Robson Books, 1998.
Grace McHatty and Tim Couzens, My Cat Is Driving Me Crazy, Robinson 1995.
Richard H Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Rodale Press Inc, 1995.
Mark Elliot and Tony Pinkus, Homoeopathy for A Healthier Cat, 1998.