Pet Nutrition cover mage

The Nutrition Guide For Cats & Dogs

  • What’s The Best Diet For Your Pets?
  • How About Supplements?
  • Ditto Table Scraps?
  • Ditto Raw Food?
  • Does Neutering Affect Your Pet’s Health?

It’s no secret that America’s favorite pets – our dogs and cats – need good nutrition too.

 As with their owners, this can keep them healthy and more active during their lifetimes. In addition, making the effort to learn about pet nutrition pays off.

A healthy pet is a happy pet who will bring you years of happiness and companionship.

 In this issue of Nutrition News, we present a range of pet feeding options, plus we explain some of the ingredients found in commercial pet foods.

We talk about raw diets, healthy snacks, supplementing commercial food, and nutritional supplements.

We also have something to say about the grains in our pets’ food.

Look inside and find out how to keep your pet healthy for a lifetime….

Pet Nutrition cover mage


Now, after 27 years of seeing successes [in treating pets] with improved diet, the essential importance of nutrition in health is obvious to me. …. Without it, there is little to work in  helping an animal to recover. I feel certain that many of the chronic and degenerative diseases we see today are caused by or complicated by inadequate diet. – Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats

The Nutrition Guide For Cats & Dogs

• What’s The Best Diet For Your Pets?

• How About Supplements?

• Ditto Table Scraps?

• Ditto Raw Food?

• Does Neutering Affect Your Pet’s Health?

Look inside and find out how to keep

your pet healthy for a lifetime….

It’s no secret that America’s favorite pets – our dogs and cats – need good nutrition too.

As with their owners, this can keep them healthy and more active during their lifetimes. In addition, making the effort to learn about pet nutrition pays off. A healthy pet is a happy pet who will bring you years of happiness and companionship.

In this issue of Nutrition News, we present a range of pet feeding options, plus we explain some of the ingredients found in commercial pet foods. We talk about raw diets, healthy snacks, supplementing commercial food, and nutritional supplements. We also have something to say about the grains in our pets’ food.

For millennia both dogs and cats hunted and scavenged their food. Both are meat eaters. Cats are obligate carnivores (they have to eat meat). Although dogs prefer meat, they are omnivores. In the US, the first known commercially prepared food (dog biscuits) was introduced in 1860. The use of bagged and canned foods only became popular after WWII (mid-1940s). Until then, pets ate what was available around the farm and in cities where many owners purchased cheaper cuts of meat and scraps from the butcher. During the Great Depression, people saved money by feeding more cooked grains and less meat.

There is a broad range of pet feeding options from mimicking our pets’ evolutionary diet to feeding only the least expensive commercially prepared kibble. This range includes preparing or purchasing a basically raw meat diet; cooking your own pet food, using “organic” or conventional ingredients; buying high end food (canned or dry) with “food grade” ingredients (fit for human consumption); purchasing food that has named meats listed as the first ingredients (chicken, lamb, salmon, etc.); food that has meat by-products as the first ingredient; and last, food with grains as the first ingredient.

All of these options are improved by adding nutritional supplements, and, in the case of low protein foods, adding meat, egg, or dairy (cottage cheese or yogurt).

What’s Best?

After researching the subject, it is our considered opinion that the best diet for our pets is a raw food diet. Mimicking the way they ate “in the wild” remains the optimal diet. Often referred to as biologically appropriate raw food (BARF), this is also the way zoo diets are approached. This diet is easily accomplished at home, using mainly raw organic or conventional meat supplemented with fish oils. (Also, dogs appreciate the occasional veggie or fruit.)

Feeding your pets a raw diet is controversial. Over the last several decades, pet food marketers have decried raw food feeding. Manufacturers of modern grain-based processed pet foods have developed the position that it is difficult if not impossible for pet owners or even vets to feed modern pets properly. They claim that only the scientists they employ are capable of determining proper nutrition for our pets. This is patently untrue. How could feeding a pet be more difficult or complicated than feeding children?

Another argument against feeding raw meat is the presence of parasites and harmful bacteria. This is a weak argument given what pets eat without our consent. Frankly, the strongest argument against is cost, and that depends on whether cats or dogs are being fed, how many of them, and what they weigh. A fourth variable would be cost of the raw materials chosen.

Using the web as our reference, we find that commercially prepared raw pet food costs about $3.60/lb. The basic measure is an 8 ounce meat patty (cost, $1.80).1 The feeding recommendation is 2% of body weight. Thus, a 12 pound animal would be fed 1/2 patty daily for .90c. If you own one small dog or a normally sized cat, your basic cost per month would be a little less than a dollar a day. However, if (like me) you own a cat and two 60 pound dogs, you’ll need about 5 patties, for $9/day. This nearly $300 per month!

1 In one example, the patty is made of chicken, finely ground bones, chicken liver, egg, broccoli, celery, spinach, carrot, ground flax Seed, dehydrated alfalfa meal, apple, pear, grapefruit, orange, dried kelp, cod liver oil, garlic, cayenne, vitamin E, zinc, and manganese. (Although this is a raw dog food recipe, recipes for cats were nearly identical.)

Of course, savings are immense by preparing the food at home. Prepare for a week or two at a time. Once prepared, divide the mixture into 1/2 pound (8 oz) patties and freeze them to thaw as needed. 

What’s Next?

For those who don’t accept the raw diet theory, home cooking the meat and veggie ingredients mentioned above is the best way to feed. Once we get into cooking, we get into time considerations – and cost remains a factor. Home-cooked pet food recipes are going to deliver fresher and more nutritious food than commercially processed food. However, if you don’t use a pure meat and veggie diet, the recipes call for lots of cooked grain. This may cut costs but it adds time – and, our pets are not grain eaters by choice.

If you choose this option, use the best whole, fresh ingredients you can afford. Most pets will love your offering from the beginning. However, others may hesitate to eat the food at first, because it is unfamiliar. Adding a little of the new food into the regular feed each day soon results in a happier pet. Remember, fresh food can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Or divide it into meal size portions and freeze. Frozen food can keep for 3-4 months.

If time and/or money eliminate homemade food, the next option is canned wet food and bagged dry food. At this point, feeding becomes a matter of quality of ingredients and quantities of protein and of grain. Other considerations are organic and/or food grade ingredients, and whether the food contains preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, by-products or fillers.

Wholesome pet foods will have ingredients you recognize, such as chicken, zucchini, squash, turkey, etc., plus vitamins and minerals. They may be certified organic or contain “food quality” ingredients. Still considered “specialty” foods, these superior lines are often carried by health food and natural product stores. An important factor is how the ingredients are listed. As with human consumed food, ingredients are listed in order of content percentage. The cost for wholesome “premium” pet foods will be more, leaving the inferior pet foods at the most affordable prices.

At the far opposite end of the range of pet eats are those in which the first named ingredient is “meat-by-products” or, worse, some kind of grain. If you are locked into low end kibble by economics, consider supplementing your pet’s diet with human foods from your own meals and/or nutritional supplements. (See Supplemental Food, next column.)

FYI: Many pet food companies purchase their lines of wet or dry food from manufacturers that produce hundreds of brands under private-label. These range from the cheapest to highest priced food, yet they may all be the same inferior product. The pet food industry regulates itself with the result that ingredient standards are not high. Packaging may be deceiving with attractive designs and false claims about nutrition. Seeing one high end brand with a handsome wolf represented on the packaging, our publisher remarked, “Eighty parts kibble and 20 parts irony”. If pet food quality is a concern, online research may be helpful.

Going Against The Grain

Cats and dogs have simply not evolved to eat grains. Human saliva contains amylase, an enzyme produced by the pancreas that begins the breakdown of starches as we chew. Pets do produce amylase, but they don’t have it in their saliva. In addition, their intestinal systems are very short, adapted to digesting protein. Unlike ours, their colons are not built to absorb nutrients, except for water and electrolytes.

The most visible result of grain eating is large bulky stools, even in cats. What we can’t see is that the pancreas is forced to produce large amounts of amylase to digest the starches. Further, food stays in their intestinal tracts longer, causing irritation and sometimes spasms.

A diet of raw meat and bones produces stools that are very small and contain less moisture. In addition, it is less smelly. According to Lew Olson, dogs may eat their stool in order to obtain the probiotics and enzymes in it. ( Olson suggests that adding digestive enzymes or probiotic supplements, along with B vitamins may help eliminate this obnoxious habit. Also grains produce gas, another problem that may be resolved with the mentioned supplements.

Grains are often promoted as a protein source. Because they are so difficult for our pets to digest, their usefulness as protein is questionable. Another argument for carbohydrate is its importance as an energy source. This may be true for humans, but our familiars have the magic of converting fat into glucose in their livers. They don’t need carbohydrates although carb-free diets need to be higher in fat.

Dogs need a diet of at least 50 percent protein. Meanwhile, cats in the wild eat about 95 percent protein. Do your animals a favor and keep grain out of their diets as much as possible. Many commercial foods contain over 60 percent carbohydrate. Some veterinarians believe that being fed an overabundance of carbs is at the base of animal illnesses.

Supplemental Food

The preferred food to add to the usual fare of cats and dogs is meat. Both muscle meats and organ meats (such as heart, liver, kidneys, and giblets) can be added. Think about the chicken prepared in your household. Chop raw or boil the parts you don’t use and feed them to your pet. Many people don’t eat the skin or the dark meat. Pets welcome them.

Dairy products are great sources of protein. Not just yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese can be used, eggs are a perfect addition. They can be served either cooked or raw. It really isn’t that difficult to remember your pet/s while preparing meals. Just put their food additions or food treats aside for their next meal.

Cats especially may not do well on a straight kibble diet. Both protein and fatty acids may be missing from this dry diet. Taurine is an essential amino acid that cats must have. They get it from eating animal tissue. Without this amino acid, they will die of a weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).

The No-Nos

There are some foods your pets should never have. Of course, all the dog lovers are saying, “Chocolate!” That’s right! The more deeply chocolate, the more lethal. For example, a 20 pound dog would have to consume whopping 250 pounds of white chocolate, just a pound (16 ounces) of milk chocolate, and a mere 2 ounces of baking chocolate. This latter chocolate can cause seizures, coma, and death. Give those          doggies carob, the tasty, nutritious chocolate substitute.

Besides chocolate, never feed your dogs the following foods:

Avocados: Can result in difficult breathing and fluid accumulation in the chest, abdomen and heart.

Grapes and Raisins: Various amounts have resulted in clinical signs ranging from vomiting to life-threatening kidney failure. Be sure not to leave grapes or raisins where your dog can get to them.

Onions: Although garlic is fine, onions, leeks, and shallots can be quite harmful or even deadly.

Macadamia nuts and walnuts: Toxic affects from ingestion include weakness, depression, vomiting and tremor. Although not a common reaction, they should still be avoided.

Pits and seeds from apples, cherries, apricots, and peaches: The seeds and pits from these fruits contain cyanide, which is poisonous to both dogs and humans.

Xylitol: This is a sugar substitute found in chewing gum, baked goods and toothpastes. It protects humans from cavities but has been shown to cause liver failure in dogs.

Caffeine: Coffee, coffee grounds, tea, tea bags, and chocolate can be poisonous.

Supplemental Nutrients

Recommendations for pet supplements come from Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats (an addition to The Natural Vet Series), by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

“Every pet can benefit from a good natural vitamin-   mineral supplement.” The best are whole food preparations rather than the more common synthetic type. In particular, cats often do not get sufficient B vitamins from their food.

Omega 3 fatty acids are known to help fight inflammation. They also support the immune system, help coat and skin integrity. Further, since these fatty acids are abundant only in fish and wild animal flesh, they would seem to be all too rare in our pets’ diets. Foods that do provide utilizable omega 3 fatty acids include deep water fish and fortified eggs. The most convenient way to give your pets this supplement is by using EPA/DHA fish oil capsules. 

Fatty acids lose their integrity when exposed to heat, light or air, so use capsules to ensure freshness. Purchase caps of at least 180 EPA and 120 DHA, and give one per 10-20 pounds body weight per day. Dogs will greedily eat these mixed into their food while puncturing a tab for kitty and squeezing it over her food will work best.

Enzymes, probiotics, and green foods all have their place in your pet’s diet. Both enzymes and probiotics assist digestion, curb gas, and may stop the eating of feces if that is a problem. Green foods (such as spirulina, barley or wheat grass, and blue-green algae) are not only antioxidants but nutritional powerhouses that add to your pet’s nutrition.

   A number of studies in people and pets show that glucosamine (-hydrochloride and -sulfate) is equally effective to NSAIDS for treating osteoarthritis without the side effects. Although this bone disease is rare in cats, it is also useful for that condition when it occurs. For a 50-100 pound dog, give 1000-1500 mg of glucosamine with 800-1200 mg of chondroitan daily. Expect results within 4-8 weeks. Dose can be lowered once lameness disappears. Impatient? Your vet can give your dog shots. (My goldie only needed two shots and she was never lame again.)


Don’t Feel Guilty

Few of us have the time and/or money to provide “the best” food for our pets. The real bottom line is that the best we give them is a loving home, lots of play time, regular meals, and clean water.

As noted, we are currently the custodians of two dogs and a cat. We feed them midlevel kibble with meaty ingredients. In researching this newsletter, I learned that they should have variety of different meats, so we now rotate brands. In addition, everybody gets about 1/3 can of cat food with each meal. I add a powder with omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients, plus several times a week I sprinkle 1/2 tsp. spirulina on their food.

I also learned that protein is much more important than I had known, and that grains are really not natural. I have started   cutting back on the amount of kibble and adding a protein source from my own refrigerator, such as a scrambled egg or some sardines.

I am sharing with you because I always give you the straight skinny in the newsletter. After writing this issue, if I could afford it, I would immediately switch my animals to a raw food diet. Although we maintain a mainly ovo-lacto-vegetarian household, I am their fellow carnivore. On occasion my husband buys me a roasting chicken, which I always share with my pets. In fact, just last night, I diced up a raw thigh for them. Boy, were they happy!

In fact, except for cruelty, the only thing to be guilty about is if you haven’t had your pet spayed or neutered. Unless you are keeping pedigreed animals and plan to breed them (a real hassle), do your pets a favor and have them “fixed”.

We are already overpopulated with homeless cats and dogs. (13 million are euthanized each year!) Sterilizing your pet gives you peace of mind in case they get out and roam the neighborhood. More importantly, it increases their chance of a longer and healthier life. Did you know altering your dog will give him 1-3 additional years, and your cat 3-5 more years?! Reason alone to take care of business.

One last thing, when it’s time for your next family companion animal, check the shelters and local non-profit adoption agencies. You’re sure to save a life!

Tips & Nip

DOG TIP: To raise or not to raise your dog’s bowl, that is the question. For many years, the consensus was that it was better to raise bowls for feeding. The thinking was that especially giant breeds would be prevented from gulping air when eating. Further, some pet suppliers claimed it aided digestion and prevented bloat. However, research has now found bowl-raising to be part of the problem. In fact, a raised bowl increases the risk of bloat by 110%!

CATNIP TIP: Two of three cats love catnip. It is a mint, containing a volatile oil with a euphoric scent thought to produce bouts of ecstasy. Only give a nip to adult cats. Generally cats will run, rub, lick, chew, jump, or roll in it. This altered state lasts about 15 minutes and eating it is harmless. Be wary of giving catnip in a multi-cat household as some cats react with aggression toward other cats.2

2 Catnip is also available in tablet form for humans! A mild sedative, it can aid digestion and produce a calming effect. As a tea, it’s good for headaches and can reduce menstrual cramps.


Figuring our pets’ ages in human years is a favorite human pastime. However, it turns out that the old Rule of 7 (years for ever one animal year) is a myth. Also keep in mind that small dogs age more slowly than large ones.



  1 month   6 months 8 months 13 years

  3 months   4 years 1 year 16 years

  6 months 10 years 2 years 24 years

  8 months 15 years 3 years 30 years

  1 year 18 years 5 years 40 years

  2 years 24 years 7 years 50 years

  4 years 35 years 9 years 60 years

  6 years 42 years 11 years 70 years

  8 years 50 years 13 years 80 years

10 years60 years15 years90 years

12 years70 years

14 years80 years

16 years84 years