Real food, Real benefits
By Inna Shekhtman
I love Science! It is powerful and has given us amazing knowledge that allows us to call friends halfway around the world, cure illness, and travel into space! The goal of science is to explain the awesome world around us! I have committed a significant portion my life to the scientific study of nutrition and health. So, when the name of science gets used to manipulate and even criticize nature, I take it personally!
One of the arguments that I frequently hear to discourage pet guardians from feeding a raw food diet is that there is a lack of scientific research to validate its benefits. It is important to remember that just because something has not been proven with a scientific study, does not make it false or inaccurate in any way. Science by its definition is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” So the premise that we need to “prove” that the natural foods and how mammals eat in nature is more beneficial than processed food is completely backwards. Its like saying that breathing through a ventilator or oxygen tank is better than breathing naturally, and then demanding scientific proof of the benefits of natural breathing.
Furthermore, just because a product is “scientifically formulated” does not mean that it is better – in fact often the opposite is true! It simply means that is was created using scientific method or with information that has been derived from scientific studies. For example, pharmacy and natural health stores are filled with vitamin and mineral supplements that have been scientifically formulated. However, recent research concluded that the nutritional value delivered by these supplements is less effective than the whole foods they were derived from. Basically, when it comes to food, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and while nature has known this all along, science is just starting to catch up.
Food and the nature of nutrition is a complex phenomena and we are just skimming the surface in our understanding of this system. If we start with this premise, then science becomes a tool for us to better understand how we apply this natural system to create health and thriving. This article will aim to outline some of the current science-based evidence that can be used to better understand the intricacies and merits of real food for pets.
We know intuitively that a healthy diet for us include a variety of fresh, whole, minimally processed ingredients. Recent research has also identified processed foods as a major contributor to many illnesses including obesity, diabetes, digestion disorders and even cancer. It seems common sense that the same principal would apply to the dogs and cats we share our lives with. So let’s start by looking at the studies that examine the causality of these health issues and how it compares to real natural food pathways.
Dietary moisture is very important for digestive and excretory health in dogs and cats and is abundant in fresh foods. Most meats, whole vegetables and fruits are naturally composed of over 50% moisture. In contrast, dry processed food is very low in dietary moisture (usually under 10%). Urinary crystal, idiopathic lower urinary tract disease and other urinary tract issues are increasing prevalent in cats and a number of scientific studies have concluded that the lack of moisture is a significant factor in this increase . In addition to urinary tract complications, because cats are not getting enough moisture in their food (even if I they drink water separately), many cats live in a state of constant low-level dehydration, which places strain on the kidneys and can lead to renal problems further down the road.
Check this article by Dr. Karen Becker for a more in-depth discussion: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/02/17/dry-food-wrong-for-cats.aspx
Obesity is a growing global epidemic among people and pets – the main causes are all too familiar: an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and perhaps some unlucky genes! In recent years, research has pointed to another important variable: probiotics – the bacteria in the digestive system. These microbes serve a critical function in our pets’ digestion and many other systems that maintain health. Recent search indicates that an excess of carbohydrates in the diet can destroy the balance of this gut flora, and is a significant contributing factor to obesity and other metabolic disorders.
A common claim among raw supporters is that feeding a raw diet to your dog or cat improves their energy and vitality and can often reduce the risk of diseases. So in 1999, Thomas Sandberg started a 30-year field study (this is a valid scientific method of conducting an experiment outside a laboratory) on the benefits of feeding species appropriate raw food to dogs. Giant breed, like Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes, and Mastiffs often die earlier than most other breeds – with an average lifespan of 6-8 years. Dr. Sandberg hypothesized that feeding a fresh raw food diet could significantly impact and extend the lifespan and quality of life for these breeds. Fifteen (15) years later, he confirmed his hypothesis: all 80 dogs in his study lived 30-100% longer than average for those breeds! An even more astounding outcome from his study was that of the 80 canine participants, only one got cancer – a remarkable statistic, given that the American Cancer Society estimates that an average of 50% of dogs and cats get cancer in their lifetime! Encouraged by these findings, Dr. Sandberg is now embarking on the next phase of his study that will involve over 10,000 dogs and cats! You can find more information about this ongoing project at his website Long Living Pets Project (https://longlivingpets.com/).
The sad truth is that the rate of cancer in pets is exploding to epidemic proportions. According to the American Cancer Association, dogs and cats currently have the highest occurrence of cancer of any living creature. For years, this diagnosis hung over pet owners like a big white elephant in the room, with no real risk management options and limited treatment solutions such as chemotherapy, which carried their own health challenges. Historically, the scientific community considered cancer to be a genetic disease. Today, that thinking is being challenged and the emerging viewpoint is that cancer is actually a metabolic disease and nutrition plays a huge role in cancer prevention and management.
One study conducted at the Purdue University on a group of Scottish Terriers found that feeding fresh leafy greens and yellow-orange vegetables at least 3 times per week can prevent or slow down cancer by approximately 50%. An even more profound discovery came out of the work done by Ketopets Sanctuary (http://www.ketopetsanctuary.com). In 2014, they developed a nutritional protocol for using fresh food species appropriate diet to help dogs with cancer. Their goal was to provide cancer therapy based upon a ketogenic diet protocol and the results were amazing – their approach was able to slow down or even halt the progression of cancer. There is also a compelling body of case studies showing that this approach can significantly slow down and manage the progression of cancer in people.
Nutritional science is still in very early stages of development. The world of food and nutrition is vast and we have barely touched the surface. It is exciting and promising, and each day we gain slightly more understanding of what food is about and how we can correct our course to get back on the road to health. While the veterinary community is still divided on the subject, more veterinarians are actively embracing real food or at least knowing the need for further education and understanding on the subject.
As pet lovers and guardians, I encourage you to embrace science and common sense, listen to your instincts, and continue to advocate and push all pet care professionals for more research and exploration into natural nutrition. Your pets are counting on you to be their voice!
“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere. And if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment or to the public purse in the form of subsidies. And it’s charged to your health.” – Michael Pollan
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