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Dog Food: Healthy Alternatives

By Lee Allen

We are a nation of pet owners where nearly three out of four households own at least one domestic animal — 96 million furry feline friends and 81 million canine companions. And while we may love them (and spend $58.5 billion on them annually to demonstrate that love), we don’t feed them well.

“If you’re not controlling their food intake, you’re allowing someone else to do it for you,” says master dog chef Micki Voisard. “Most of us wouldn’t eat commercial dog food and chances are, if they knew what was in it, our dogs wouldn’t eat it either. Feeding your animal dead, processed food, produced months before you purchased it causes more problems than it solves.

Some crunchable kibble is so loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink that I see dogs hyped up like teenagers on Red Bull.”

An advocate of “real food versus dead food,” Voisard notes, “When Hill’s put the word Science in front of the word Diet a few decades ago, I think we lost our last bit of common sense in the dog feeding world.”

dog food
Tripe, turkey, lamb, beef liver and other organ meats make good food for man’s best friend.

Her concerns are shared by a growing audience, one that represents a lot of consumer buying power. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “May – National Pet Month,” it was reported that pet food varieties labeled organic now generate $2.9 billion in annual sales. Wisely, the writer did add the caveat that “while organic labels (for humans) are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, separate pet food standards don’t exist.”

USA Weekend reported: “Many premium foods contain ‘great-sounding ingredients’ that can be less nutritious than more economical ingredients.” The publication noted: “Dog food companies are jumping on the farm-to-table bandwagon and incorporating a range of produce for canine companions.”

Citing a study by Purdue University, the article informed readers that “feeding vegetables to dogs at least three times per week can reduce the risk of canine bladder cancer,” while quoting veterinarian Susan Wynn as saying, “There is accumulating evidence that the fiber, flavonoids and glucosinolates in vegetables are beneficial in helping dogs prevent or fight chronic diseases.”

Even garden-variety cat foods are being joined on store shelves by an increasing selection of purportedly healthier options such as by-product-free, grain-free, human-grade, natural and organic brands.

Chef Voisard expresses pessimism about asking vets nutrition questions and how to feed their animals in a healthy fashion.

“Vets aren’t qualified to talk with clients about feeding pets properly,” she says, “Because they don’t study nutrition and only take the word of sales reps. How do I know that? I used to hold cooking classes for veterinarians at my Dog Chefs Kitchen and they would tell me they never took a single nutrition class in their schooling and had no experience in feeding natural food.”

Some pet owners are comfortable with the routine of feeding commercially prepared foods because they keep life running smoothly — quick, clean, no muss, no fuss. “Inevitably, there’s a price to pay for that choice, and you can pay it now to keep your animals healthy, or pay it later with vet bills,” said Voisard.

Customizing Dog Food

At her house in Tubac, Arizona, Voisard says it’s OK to feed her dogs table scraps … as long as she is the one who prepared the meal. Her cadre of canines (all rescue dogs) includes a pair of flat-coated retrievers, a border terrier, a collie/shepherd mix and a mini-Shar Pei.

“We want all dogs to be healthy and that means not making grain-based, preservative-laden, convenience dog food the staple of your canine’s diet.

You can improve your dog’s health and behavior by easily and economically amending their current diet to provide nutritious meals your pup will find appetizing.”

Providing tastier and healthier edibles for pets increasingly makes sense, especially in light of numerous brand recalls because of tainted pet food.

Canines are carnivores, they need meat, but look at the first five ingredients listed on many food bags and you’ll find something you might feed a chicken instead of a dog.

“Where’s the beef?” Voisard asks. “I advocate slightly-cooked organ meats for animals, and I love showing owners the basics of what is species appropriate, showing people that they can share their food with their dog.”

That is, if they eat well themselves.

“If we eat wrongly, no doctor can cure us; if we eat rightly, no doctor is needed,” she said. “Substitute the word ‘doctor’ for ‘veterinarian’ and it comes out the same. Food is like vehicle fuel. If you put the wrong kind of stuff in your engine, you’ll be spending lots of time on the side of the road.”

Master dog chef Micki Voisard advocates for healthier dog diets.

Voisard participates in online meetings of a group called AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, where she says, “Pet food is never referred to as ‘food,’ but is referred to as ‘human food waste.’

It’s an ugly thing when you go deep into this industry and actually see what is being used as food.” She cites fellow pet food safety advocate Susan Thixton who writes: “The AAFCO system is feed, not food. Food is what humans eat. Feed is what animals eat and can contain euthanized animals or pesticide-contaminated ingredients.”

While Voisard ultimately urges a complete change in how Fido is fed, amending your companion animal’s current diet is a process that can be accomplished in steps.

“This isn’t rocket science,” she says. “The solution to pollution is dilution, an easy nutritional path down the detox superhighway.”

While advising that there is no one-size-fits-all, her recommendation is to feed your companion animals by paying attention to the ingredients in their commercial food and supplementing with real food on a daily basis.

“Ultimately I’d hope you’d want to go further and feed your dog nothing but natural foods.”

And what is a species appropriate diet for dogs? Whether the meat is cooked or raw is up to the person and the dog. Voisard prefers meat slightly cooked in water and using the water as additional hydration as a broth.

Good Vittles:

  • Meat with the natural skin (fat) such as chicken thighs, legs, breasts. When cooking a chicken thigh or leg with the bone in water, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water as it helps to leach the minerals out of the bones. Then once cooked, discard these cooked bones.
  • Turkey
  • Beef (with the fat)
  • Ground beef
  • Lamb
  • Organ meats: chicken gizzards, hearts, livers
  • Beef liver
  • Beef hearts
  • Tripe
  • Fish-salmon, mackerel, sardines (canned or fresh)
  • Eggs
  • Small amounts of veggies such as kale, broccoli, carrots, sprouts, zucchini, peas, green beans
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Bones-raw knuckle or marrow
  • Potatoes-sweet or white or golden
  • Quinoa
  • Oat
  • Plain, non-flavored yogurt

This article appeared in the February 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.