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For the owner of a companion animal, maintaining the health and fitness of our furry friend is our prime consideration and the main, everyday task that we perform is providing the food he or she will eat. It is, therefore, our responsibility to ensure our pet is given a balanced diet, which provides all the energy and essential nutrients needed to maintain the animal in health appropriate to its lifestyle and stage of life.
What is a balanced diet?
It can be defined as a diet which allows no net gain or loss of nutrients from the body to maintain a state of metabolic equilibrium. It should supply all the key nutrients needed to meet the daily needs of the animal together with the quantity of energy required to sustain the animal’s life stage. Its role is to provide a long and healthy life for the animal, maintaining peak condition and therefore reducing the susceptibility to disease.
The fundamental requirement for all species is for energy which provides the power for all cells to function. Energy is required to do essential work such as respiration, circulation, and kidney function. This requirement changes with body weight and composition, age, and hormonal status. Additional energy expenditure is required for digesting, absorbing and using nutrients, muscular/exercise expenditure, stress, and maintenance of body temperature.
To provide adequate nutrition we must understand an animal’s requirement for specific nutrients. We must also ensure that the food is safe, free from toxic elements, and palatable.
Food is needed for energy, growth, repair, and reproduction. Nutrients are the components of food which have these functions. The main types of nutrients are:
1. Carbohydrates – provide the body with energy. Two forms a) simple sugars e.g. glucose, and b) simpler sugars e.g. starch, a carbohydrate found in most plants.
2. Fats – provide energy in the most concentrated form. They aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and supply essential fatty acids which are required for certain body functions.
3. Proteins – provide amino acids which are involved in the growth and repair of body tissue. They also provide energy.
4. Minerals and Trace elements – minerals e.g. calcium and phosphorus – used in growth and repair. Trace elements such as copper, zinc, and iron are needed in smaller amounts but are essential for health and activity.
5. Vitamins – regulate body processes. Two categories exist a) fat-soluble – Vitamins A, D, E, K, and b) water-soluble – B complex and Vitamin C.
A diet that provides enough protein from which the metabolic requirement for glucose can be derived eliminates the need for carbohydrates. Animal proteins have a more balanced amino acid profile and better digestibility than plant proteins. Cats have less capacity than dogs to digest carbohydrates due to lower enzyme activities in the small intestine. Dogs also have a proportionately longer digestive system than cats which makes it more efficient. Cooked starch is better tolerated than the simple carbohydrates such as sucrose and lactose which can cause severe digestive upsets and/or allergic reactions. The inability to digest lactose is the result of not enough of the enzyme lactase which breaks down the lactose into its component parts.
Cats are dependant on (2) two amino acids which, unlike most animals, they cannot synthesize enough to meet their needs.
These are Arginine and Taurine.
Deficiency of Arginine results in the inability to metabolize nitrogen compounds which then accumulate in the bloodstream as ammonia which can lead to death.
Taurine is an essential nutrient for the cat and is found almost exclusively in animal-derived materials. Deficiency has been associated with central retinal degeneration and cardiomyopathy. Cats also need Taurine for the formation of bile salts. They do not use glycine for this like most animals.
Cats also need to source Vitamin A from animal products because they cannot convert the Beta carotene from plant sources to Vit A. Vit A is essential for vision and regulation of cell membranes, as well as the growth of bones and teeth. A vegetable-based protein diet increases the zinc requirement.
Zinc availability is also decreased by the presence of phytic acid in food which is found in some foods. Typically a diet lacking in zinc will manifest as poor coat condition, anorexia, poor growth, and skin lesions.
So what do we feed our furry friends?
Cats are the real carnivores in the equation. Meat, meat and more meat. Meat materials are highly palatable to cats and dogs. Animal carcasses contain a high proportion of bone and are a good source of calcium and phosphorus. Cats vegetables can be fed at not more than 5% of the daily food intake. For dogs a 40-60% veggie diet is appropriate. Cooked pumpkin, sweet potato, and carrots, and cooked broccoli are all well tolerated and provide the fiber and vitamins needed in the diet. Root vegetables are rich in starch and are poorly digested in their raw state by cats and dogs. Cooking gelatinizes the starch and makes it more digestible. Peas and beans are rich in protein and provide more energy than root vegetables. They are also a good source of most B vitamins. However, they also contain complex carbohydrates which are resistant to digestive enzymes, hence they pass undigested into the large intestine where they may be fermented by bacteria with the consequent production of flatus. Soya bean meal contains high-quality protein and high levels of essential amino acids.
Essential fatty acids include Linoleic and linolenic acids which are required for optimum health cannot be synthesized by the cat or the dog. They are found in vegetable seed oils and occur in small amounts in some animal fat, (particularly pork and chicken). Arachidonic acid is an additional fatty acid that is essential to the cat and is found in small amounts in some animal tissue fats. It is found predominantly in the liver and kidneys of grain fed animals, and in egg yolk.
Fats, such as wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cod liver oil, add flavor and palatability to food and are a source of energy, EFA’s and Vitamins A, D, and E. They are highly digestible and slow down the rate of stomach emptying. Avoid fats used for deep frying as they are likely to contain peroxides and other toxic materials harmful to cats and dogs.
Eggs are a rich source of iron, protein, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamins B12, A and D. Only feed or mix the egg yolks in some goats milk as a treat.
Most of the B vitamins are found in the yolk which also contains fat and protein. Raw egg white contains the anti-nutritional factor, avidin, which affects the bioavailability of the vitamin biotin. Heating destroys this biotin-binding effect and increases the digestibility of the egg white, so it is advisable to cook eggs first before feeding.
The raw food program will enable you to solve many of your animals ailments, such as allergies, arthritis, ear and eye problems, heart, liver, kidney and bladder dysfunctions, skin and coat disorders, weight problems, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, fleas, parasites and many more that may have plagued your animals and you for months and years.