I talk often here at Mercola Healthy Pets about the importance not only of species-appropriate nutrition, but of balanced nutrition.
In fact, an unbalanced raw diet of high quality fresh meat is in my professional opinion a greater risk to your dog or cat than cheap processed pet food.
Newly Adopted Kitten Develops Lameness and Eye Problems
A 5-month old male Sphinx kitten, adopted from a breeder 11 days earlier, was taken to the vet by his new owner because he suddenly had no use of his rear legs.
X-rays showed the kitty had generalized osteopenia.
Osteopenia is a condition that often precedes osteoporosis.
It means the bones of the body have lower than normal mineral density – they aren’t as thick or strong as they should be.
When formation of new bone isn’t sufficient to make up for normal bone loss, osteopenia is the result.
The x-rays also showed a widening of the growth plate of the femur in the right hind leg, and a tibiofibular fracture of the left hind leg.
As if all that wasn’t disturbing enough, the poor little guy also had lesions in the left eye commonly seen in cases of a gradually degenerating retina caused by taurine deficiency.
The kitten was diagnosed with metabolic bone disease, central retinal degeneration, and past or current taurine deficiency.
The left rear leg was splinted and fortunately, the kitty fully recovered after a couple of months of cage rest and a balanced diet.
How This Kitten’s Health Was Compromised
The breeder of the Sphinx kitten fed him only raw chicken from the time he was weaned until he was adopted at the age of 5 months. So for 3 to 4 of his first months of life, during a very rapid growth period for kittens, this little guy was fed an unbalanced raw diet of exclusively chicken muscle meat. He quickly became seriously deficient in several crucially important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
His new owner switched him to store-bought kitten food, but by that time the damage was done. Less than 2 weeks into life with his new family, the kitten had rear leg lameness, eye lesions, a condition called microphthalmia which means the eyes are smaller in size than normal, and an opaque right cornea.
Commercially available pet food must meet AAFCO standards for nutritional completeness. And while it’s true many commercial pet food ingredients are not high quality or even species-appropriate, they do provide balanced nutrition for the growth and maintenance of your pet’s body.
Why Feeding Raw Meat Alone Causes Problems
Unfortunately, a growing number of well-meaning pet owners are confusing balanced, species-appropriate nutrition with feeding hunks of raw muscle meat to their dog or cat. Although fresh meat is a good source of protein and some minerals, it doesn’t represent a balanced diet.
In my practice, I’m seeing an increasing number of pets with skeletal problems, organ failure and endocrine abnormalities caused by dietary deficiencies of essential nutrients.
Wild canines and felines eat nearly all the parts of their prey, including small bones, internal organs, blood, brain, eyes, tongue and other tasty treats. Many of these parts of prey animals provide important nutrients for dogs and cats. This is how carnivores in the wild nutritionally balance their diets.
An exclusive diet of raw chicken muscle meat is lacking the minimum requirements for a number of vital nutrients as established by AAFCO. These include potassium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, and vitamins A, D, E, B-12 and choline, the essential fatty acid ratio (omega 6s to omega 3s) is unbalanced, and there’s a complete lack of phytonutrients, antioxidants and enzymes.
When your dog or cat is fed only muscle meat, he’s missing out on a variety of essential nutrients and sooner or later, he’ll develop serious health problems as a result. Some conditions brought on by nutritional deficiencies can be corrected through diet, others cannot.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking all you need to do is throw a few fresh veggies in the bowl to make up the difference. Balancing your pet’s food to provide optimal nutrition is a bit more complex.
How to Make Sure You’re Feeding Balanced Nutrition to Your Cat or Dog
In my book, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, co-author Beth Taylor and I include four primary components in our nutritional program, including:
- Meat, including organs
- Veggie and fruit puree
- Homemade vitamin and mineral mix
- Beneficial additions (probiotics, enzymes, super green foods that aren’t required to balance the diet, but can be beneficial for vitality)
Our recipes for dogs are built to contain 75 percent meat/organs/bones and 25 percent veggies/fruit. For kitties, the mix is 88 percent meat/organs/bones and 12 percent veggies. We have found these ratios work well for most healthy pets.
The book includes information on how to prepare a vitamin and mineral mix to balance the recipes for optimal nutrition. The fresh, whole food provides the majority of nutrients pets need, and the vitamin/mineral mix takes care of the few deficiencies that do exist.
Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats also addresses which vegetables and fruits are most appropriate, plus the supplements we recommend.
If you’re preparing homemade food for your pet, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of insuring the diet you feed is nutritionally balanced. You can accomplish this by using the recipes in my book or another similar resource, or by feeding commercially available pet food that meets AAFCO standards.
A Word about AAFCO
Although I don’t agree with many of the positions AAFCO takes on nutrition-related topics, and I feel there is room for significant improvement within this organization, at least they have identified the minimum level of critical nutrients needed to sustain life in dogs and cats. Sadly, some pet owners are unaware of these basic requirements, and pets suffer because of it.
It would be excellent if AAFCO continued to work on their recommendations, including digestibility and bioavailability of the ingredients in pet food, as well as optimal levels of nutrients and ceilings for recommended supplementation.
So while AAFCO leaves much to be desired in terms of establishing the ideal nutrient levels required for pets to thrive, I am thankful that in the U.S. there is an agency tasked with identifying the basic nutrients required for animals to survive. Many countries have no such advisory board, and too many animals succumb to unnecessary nutritional deficiencies.