Adequate Nutrition vs Proper or Optimal Nutrition

adequate nutrition vs. optimal nutrition

Part 2 – Why Not Feed Your Pet A Raw Diet?

By Dr. Jeannie Thomason, co-founder of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy

This is where the confusion and controversy gets started.

We love our companion carnivores, they are part of our family, we want to feed them in the very healthiest way possible. We want our animals to thrive, not just survive!  How can we do this?  What is the best diet for our dogs and cats?  How can we be sure that it contains optimal nutrition for them?  Is there one commercially made “diet” better than all the others on the market?

If we are talking about dogs and cats, please be aware, that the carnivore or omnivore debate will continue as long as marketing campaigns continue to use it in an attempt to sway you into a belief about what is the best “diet‘ for them.

This is where the rubber meets the road.  You must be convinced in your own heart and mind as to what is truth.  You have to look at the facts for yourself.  Don’t ever just take someone’s word for anything – always check out and weigh the facts for yourself and if you have questions, don’t be afraid to do some research on your own and ask those hard questions. 

When it comes to dogs and cats, everything in their anatomy and physiology proves they are truly carnivores.  From their teeth and jaws to their lack of digestive enzymes in their saliva. From their  extremely high stomach acid, short intestines to their rapid digestion. In dogs, in spite of all their genetic diversity and how we have been able to create different breeds suitable for different jobs, from the tiny, hairy Pomeranian to the Great Dane, they all have the same carnivore anatomy and physiology as the wolf.  They were designed to thrive on a diet of raw, meat, bones and organs.

Bioavailability of Nutrients  

“The term ‘bioavailability’ attempts to include in a single concept the effect of a sequence of metabolic events, i.e., digestibility, solubilization, absorption, organ uptake and release, enzymatic transformation, secretion and excretion.” 1 Nutrient bioavailability broadly refers to the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed from the diet and used for normal body functions. 2

 

The key to optimal/proper nutrition for any species is bioavailability.

Note that bioavailability is very different from digestibility – digestibility studies measure the amount of input (food consumed) and amount of output (fecal matter).  Digestibility studies do NOT address whether or not the food source’s nutrients are readily available and usable by the body. The key to good, proper nutrition is not the nutrients per se, but rather the usefulness of the nutrients in the food.

Adequate” nutrition should never be mistaken for “proper or good” nutrition.

A specific commercial “pet food” can be analyzed by a chemist and assessed as having “adequate” nutrition for survival and possibly even some elements for puppy and kitten growth but it will not be able to maintain thriving, optimal health in the cats and dogs fed that particular diet. Why? Two reasons really. One is that pet food companies are not concerned with the actual “food” or ingredients used in the product they make. Rather it is the laboratory nutritional analysis which matters, so they simply spray on a synthetic nutritional formula before sealing the bag of dead, processed garbage. Synthetic vitamins or so-called nutrients are not recognized by the body as vitamins or nutrients though, they are seen only as toxins.  Therefore, they are not nutritious – they are of no use to the body.

If the nutritional elements in the food are synthetic or if they are not from sources which are bioavailable to the dog and cat/carnivore, (raw, meat, bone and organs are readily digestible and are easily assimilated) even though they are technically present in the food in what has been assessed by the pet food industry to be adequate amounts, dogs and cats being fed this food will not thrive and much more often than not, they will become malnourished and obese.

One prime example of the importance of species specific or appropriate bioavailability can be seen in the use of soybeans in pet food. Soybeans are very high in protein. However, that protein is not bioavailable to carnivores! Dogs and cats, being carnivores, have the short digestive tract that is typical of wild carnivores. Their digestive system makes them unable to digest soy with any degree of efficiency. Therefore, even though the protein in the soybeans is in sufficiently large quantities to technically meet or exceed the amount of protein a dog or cat requires, it is simply unavailable to the dog or cat to utilize.

The above is also true of all grains AND vegetables. Dogs and cats can’t and simply don’t digest grains or vegetables any better than they do soy. In addition, the proteins contained in these items are not complete proteins for the nutritional requirements of the carnivore.

The proper digestion of grains requires three things which dogs and cats do not have:

  • an enzyme called amylase in the saliva which starts a pre-digestion process
  • true, flat molars for grinding
  • the long digestive tract required to hold, ferment and fully digest grains.

While these  three things are common to you and me as omnivores, they are definitely not part of dog and cat physiology or anatomy.

Therefore nutrients contained in grains, simply are not bioavailable to our carnivore companions.

The same principles apply to vegetables being fed – they simply do not contain bioavailable nutrients for the carnivore.

All carnivores also lack the enzyme cellulase which is necessary for breaking down the cell walls in vegetables making any nutrients available to them.  Again, they lack the grinding jaws and molars needed to grind the vegetables to make any nutrition available, causing the pancreas to work over-time in an effort to digest and assimilate any thing from the vegetables.  Even pulverizing the vegetables before adding them to the food is not enough to make enough nutrients available to them.  They simply are not designed to require grains or vegetables.  These are not foods they would ever have access to in the wild and while they may supply trace amounts of some nutrients – considered adequate by the pet food industry – they are not proper nutrients for thriving, only for surviving and not for very long.

If the animal isn’t being fed a proper species appropriate foods (SARF), many of the animal’s systems will NOT be able to  function at optimal levels. Evidence for this lies in the fact that animals fed on the “convenience” diet of processed pet food will always need far more medical intervention and “artificial” aid to survive with all the ailments that come from a weak immune system due to improper or poor nutrition.

For more in-depth information about carnivore nutrition take a look at our online certificate course in carnivore nutrition.

 

  1. Bronner F. Nutrient bioavailability, with special reference to calcium. J Nutr. 1993 May;123(5):797-802. Review. PMID: 8487089
  2. Aggett PJ (2010). Population reference intakes and micronutrient bioavailability: a European perspective. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91(suppl):1433S-1437S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674C