Healthy Food vs Healthy Diet

When we think of food - for instance, when we're hungry, or when we are planning a trip to the grocery store - we think of what we'd like to eat, or the menu we have in mind for the week, and the ingredients required for each dish.  When we make a grocery shopping list, it will consist of foods: milk, eggs, celery, potatoes, yogurt, tea, etc.  If someone asks us about our diet, we will likely cast about for a descriptor of how we feed ourselves, generally.  We might say we're vegan, or paleo, or Mediterranean-style, or "standard family American" or something like that.  We recognize that our diet is the whole of how we eat: preferences, cooking style, ethnic and family traditions.  our diet is a summary of our eating habits.  If we deliberately change our diet, we may change the composition of certain foods, preparation methods, the amount, the schedule or frequency of meals, or any other food-related variable.

For the last 60 years or so, when we think of pet food we think primarily of processed kibble and stuff that comes in cans, and we have been trained to think of each of these foods - even brands, and specific formulas - as diets.  We've been programmed (i would say "brainwashed") to think that way by manufacturers, and by vets who have received all their training in nutrition from these manufacturers.  Each food/diet is supposed to be "complete and balanced" in each and every bite, so that there is never any need to deviate.  Brand loyalty (I call it "addiction") is turned into a health virtue, and a single food into a lifelong diet.

Well, we're coming to our senses about the health, environmental and animal welfare costs of packaged processed foods for ourselves, and I want to tell you, it's true in spades for pet foods - especially when a single food is fed exclusively as the entire diet.

Say you're a giant company that makes everything from household cleaners to baby formula to candy bars.  You already have the ability to raid the entire planet for the cheapest leavings of industrially grown and processed foodstuffs, chemicals and industrial equipment.  You have huge departments devoted to marketing and advertising, global in scope but exquisitely targeted to every consumer niche.  You see how profitable pet food has become, now that pets are considered family, and you discover that you can incorporate as ingredients waste products that some of your other subsidiary industries are now having to pay to dispose of!  You bring them by the boatload to your plant, mix them up, cook them to kill all the bacteria and other toxins (hopefully), add synthetic vitamins and minerals to bring them up to government-established standards for each nutrient, color them, extrude them into cute shapes, spray them with a witches brew of flavor enhancers, bag 'em up and distribute them.  Your ingredients don't vary much, but you package, market and distribute each "sku" to appeal to a chosen sector of your market, and you watch the profits roll in.  The stuff is so profitable that a recall forcing the destruction of millions of tons of product scarcely affects your bottom line for a single quarter!

Some Basics

  • Dogs' ancestral diets were made up of 65% - 80% muscle meat, organs and bones by volume.
  • Cats' percentage of those components were 90% - 95% meat, organs & bone.
  • Water made up 70% of the food.
  • Fat was about 6% by volume, but 45% of the calories.
  • The nutrient profile of the ancestral diet was 49% protein, 44% fat & 6% carbohydrate.
  • That of most dry foods is 21% - 34% protein, 16% - 32% fat, and 63% - 34% carbohydrate.
  • And water content of dry food is, at most, 10%.

Understand that dry food was not invented to improve pet nutrition!  It was designed to profitably use up waste meats and by-products and granary wastes not fit for human consumption.  It was marketed as a convenience.  To pacify pet owners about its wholesomeness, synthetic vitamin-mineral premixes were added.  High heat extrusion killed most of the bacteria that tend to exist in these ingredients and later chemical preservatives were added to retard rancidity, growth of molds and other contaminants.

The transformation in thinking and practice of feeding our pets, to where now we almost automatically picture bagged dry kibble when we think of pet food, has taken only about four human generations.  But it has been thorough!  Most of us wouldn't know where to start if we had to feed our pets real, non-manufactured food.

The very best kibble on the market today is pretty expensive and yet is still far from the natural canine or feline diet; and it will only continue to increase in price because of all the shipping costs:  ranch/farm to feedlot to slaughterhouse to manufacturer to distributor to retailer to you!  Once you learn the basics about home-prepared diets, you can use local and fresh resources, buying much higher quality meats and veggies for less.  There are lots of options to increase convenience when you're rushed: using dehydrated fruit/veggie premix plus meat, cottage cheese, eggs for protein.  You can make big batches and freeze.  You might just figure portion size for your dog or cat and prepare his meal from the same ingredients on your family's menu.  You can certainly buy freeze-dried or dry food for emergencies; think of it as the occasional "happy meal" for your pet.

Principles of Raw Food Diets

1.  Raw meat based diets contain the most bio-available nutrients.

2.  Raw fat is much more easily digested than cooked.

3.  Omega 3 sources (salmon, sardine or krill oil) should be kept in the fridge and added at mealtime, as should probiotics, if you use them.

4.  Homemade cooked diets cannot contain ground bone.

5.  You MUST add calcium if you are not feeding bone.  This must be right on a daily basis.

6.  Organs should make up about 10% of the meat.

7.  If supplementing calcium either with bone meal or sea calcium, add 1 teaspoon per pound of boneless meat or fish.

8.  Feed a healthy adult 1.5% to 2% of his ideal body weight per day, divided into 2 meals; feed a puppy or a very active dog up to 3%.

9.  Do not free-feed.

Note:  These principles are for healthy dogs and cats; they may need modifications for specific conditions.

Is Raw Ever Not A Good Idea?

  • If a puppy or kitten was weaned onto raw, he has the best possible support for his immune system undergoing the challenges of vaccinations, worming and going into his new home.  Continuing the raw diet is best.  HOWEVER, puppies and kittens weaned onto conventional pet food (dry and/or canned) should stay on that or a homemade cooked diet until they have had all their vaccines and adjusted to their new homes.  Adding probiotics to their meals will beef up their immune systems, and starting raw once these stresses are behind them is ideal.
  • Some conditions that suppress the immune system may make a raw diet inadvisable; but then, let the animal's actual condition and response to the food be your guide.
  • Some older animals seem to do better with a very lightly cooked diet.


  • Cats need taurine supplementation
  • Probiotics are always a good addition
  • Omega 3s from cold water fish oil (salmon, sardine or krill) kept refrigerated and added per meal
  • Plain organic yogurt is good for dogs and cats who tolerate dairy
  • Other supplements should be added for specific purposes, on the advice of your vet or a to address a problem.  The goal is nutritional balance, and more supplementation is not always better.
  • Varying the meats, veggies and fruits is the best way to ensure adequate levels of micro-nutrients.  If you worry anyway, you can use a multi-vitamin mineral supplement made from all-natural sources, such as Dr. Harvey's or Nature's Logic.  You can't overdose with these, and you'll be sure to cover all the bases.


High Tails