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Wet or dry diet? 09/22/11

Wet or dry? What is the best diet for our four-legged friends. Paul Vondis shares his views.

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Not too long ago, most people were used to feeding wet food and scraps to their pets that came from the table. Far from a new idea, this is something our parents, grandparents and probably great grandparents did for years. This isn’t a new revelation and many prepared – separately – a tasty home-cooked meal for their animals on a regular basis.

After the relatively recent introduction of dried kibble into our households,  it has become the norm to only feed our pets pellets that were either bought at a supermarket or through a veterinarian. The whole nutritional base of our animals has shifted towards highly- processed and chemically-laden food. This has been an abrupt change from their natural diet.

While manufacturers claim that our pets can thrive on a diet consisting of nothing but commercial dried food. More and more, processed dried pet food is being implicated as a source of disease or as an exacerbating agent for a number of degenerative diseases.

After numerous highly publicised pet food recalls such as those where melamine (which is used as a substitute for a protein) was discovered in food, many pet owners began to re-access diet and investigate the source and production of dried commercial pet food. Consumers also started to look at alternative natural and wet diets.

There is no doubt that the feeding of dried food is more convenient. And depending on what brand you are using, may be more cost effective, although this is not always the case. But like everything in life, there are no short cuts. We are finding that the longevity of our pets is decreasing and many of our companion animals are suffering from common ailments like skin allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, renal complications, arthritic conditions, dental disease and cancer.

The British Journal of Small Animal Practice states that: “a growing number of vets state that process pet food is the main cause of illness and premature death in the modern dog and cat. In December 1995 they published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other disease. This research, initially conducted by Dr. Tom Lonsdale, was researched further by the Australian Veterinary Association and proven to be correct”

But, what is a kibble or pellet and why are so many veterinarians and nutritionists questioning them?

Well, for one, dried food is foreign to the feeding behaviour of our domesticated pets and their ancestry from the wild. They were used to eating real, whole and wet foods. Moreover, gastronomically dried food has its limitations and may, in fact, be boring. Variety is the spice of life – and no more so than with our cats and dogs who have a fantastic sense of smell and taste.

But it is the nutritional component of dried food that is so worrying as well as certain specific preparation characteristics. All dried pellets must go through a cooking process called an “extruder”. This process reaches extreme temperatures, and in many cases can reach up to 200 degrees.

Wet food, even canned food, is subjected to much lower cooking temperatures and in many cases may not be cooked at all, thus retaining all its natural nutritional values. Whole nourishment comes from whole natural and enzyme-active foods which are not refined, processed or laden with preservatives or chemicals. The highest quality nourishment can be obtained from organic foods grown on fertile soil and raised without harmful chemicals.

Dried food is also preserved to such a degree that it can maintain itself on a shelf for more than 12 months. Canned food, although still containing additives and colourants, is far less preserved because the canning process itself is a method of preserving food. Raw food or home-cooked food need not contain any preservatives and the natural process of freezing can preserve food for 6 months or more.

Dried food, by its own definition, is dry and devoid of moisture. Wet food contains moisture and that’s why the recommended amount of wet food is that much more than dried food. When you extract the moisture from wet food you arrive at the same weight and recommended feeding amount as stands for dry food.

Both cats and dogs, domestically or in the wild, often rely on their food for their liquid intake. It is not normal for our domesticated pets to drink copious amounts of water from a bowl. This is especially true for cats. When on a wet food diet they drink very little water, but these days with dry food diets, tend to consume large quantities of water.

This state of dehydration may explain why so many cats suffer from urinary tract infections, crystal formation in the urine and renal complications. Also, technically, for several years, pet food manufactures have carried out acidification on pet food to control struvite crystal formation in the urine to counteract the fact that urine becomes too alkaline when dogs and cats are fed high cereal diets, as found in dry food. However, this acidification of the diet can destroy acid-sensitive micronutrients like vitamin K, biotin and B 12. The result is that this can lead to the development of calculi/stones in the urinary tract that cause painful and even fatal urinary blockage.

Nutrition is arguably, the most important factor in maintaining health, longevity and wellbeing. There is a worldwide trend towards natural, organic and whole foods. The same concepts of nutrition apply to our companion animals.

Our pet’s metabolism is not designed to consume food that is over-processed, cereal and carbohydrate-based and that contains a variety of additives, preservatives, flavourants and colourants.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that wet food is a far better nutritional option than dry food.

Paul Jacobson is a Pet Food Nutritionist and qualified chef and owner of Vondis Holistic Pet Nutrition. He is regular guest on radio 702/capetalk. Vondis has been producing natural pet food for 14 years and is a registered nutritional pet food. Vondis is actively involved in educating the public on the benefits of natural diets for pets and a holistic approach when treating them. Go towww.vondis.co.za for more information.

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Paul Jacobson is a Pet Food Nutritionist and qualified chef and owner of Vondis Holistic Pet Nutrition. www.vondis.co.za

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