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Healthy Pets and What They Eat

After everything I've learned about nutrition, the FDA, and the almighty dollar over the past decade, the thing that probably still gets me the most upset is the things we feed our pets! Once guilty of this myself, our goal was to spend as little as possible on our dog food, because we figured it was all the same. It's not! Recent stories in the news of pet food recalls probably worried many for a bit, but I'm sure most of those affected went right back to the same pet food or another cheap brand that is just as bad.

What is wrong with pet food?

Just as humans have options ranging from healthy home cooked meals to the lowest quality options available at fast food restaurants, pet foods come in as many varying standards. We couldn't live very happily eating fast food or nutrient weak foods everyday, and we shouldn't expect our pets to thrive off of the lower quality food on a regular basis either.

I have owned pets most of my life, and I also have a great memory. I don't forget the way things used to be, so I believe I have picked up on a trend. As human food has gotten more grain and sugar-based and less nutritious, pet food has as well. Pets are not living as long as they once did, and they are getting more diseases and having more problems as they age. Most pet owners haven't picked up on this, perhaps because it has been accepted over time as "normal" just as we have accepted our own aging health problems. (I've also noticed that vet costs have followed the same pattern as human health care, but that's a discussion for another day).

I recently took in a dog and kitten. The dog was a two year-old rescue. He was healthy, but came to me with what I thought was ear mites. The vet wasn't too concerned, so I didn't worry, but treated it with an olive oil and tea tree oil mix that seemed to solve the problem. Months later, the dog woke up at 4 am, irritated by something in his ear. I thought a bug had gotten in there, so we went to the vet, where I discovered he had a yeast infection in his ear! I know in my heart he has this issue and many others due to the food we have been feeding him. We never switched over after adopting him, and still feed him the same stuff often recommended by vets and it's not cheap stuff, either!

One other major thing I've noticed by both the dog and the kitten (now almost full grown) is that the food we'd been using never seemed to satisfy them. It is nutrient poor, so they were always looking for more. We are now using a brand we used many years ago on different pets with success and I'm excited to see the difference in their health.

Update 2023

The brand I formerly recommended was a kibble. I didn't have issues with it, but I did change the food our pets received. Here's why...

The kitten (Francis)  that I mentioned above was two years old when we got two new kittens. Francis had a history of vomiting off and on, but nothing too alarming that we took him to the vet. He was generally playful and happy. He was about a year old when he got fixed, and received his first vaccines at that time as well. When we picked him up, they mentioned he already had some problems with his teeth, which was a red flag I should have paid more attention to. He recovered nicely, and life went on. When we brought the new kittens in, they were about 4-6 months old. He seemed to enjoy them and showed them the ropes. Eventually he began vomiting more, and then he started hiding. I will shorten a really long and painful story by telling you he had something called FIP (feline infectious peritonitis), which we found out during exploratory surgery, and it was all over his abdomen. This was a devastating loss for my son, and it was very difficult for all of us to grasp that we lost a two year old cat. At that time FIP was fatal almost 100% of the time, but there have since been some new treatments that seem to help some cats.

The two remaining kittens were confused for a week or two, and kept looking for their "dad" cat, but eventually we got used to having just two dogs and two cats (and a turtle!)

And then one of those cats ("Boo") started vomiting. She also vomitted off and on like Francis had, and we tried different foods. Because she had previously had a urinary tract infection that was hard to get rid of, we put both cats on canned food to increase her water intake. But one 4th of July holiday, the fireworks stressed her out and she hid under my bed. Flashbacks of Francis came back, and I couldn't help but think we might have a second cat with FIP! Since it is relatively rare, I knew that would be crazy, and the vet said she might have inflammatory bowel disease or something similar. Because the stress of the kittens moving in caused Francis to get sick, I was still worried that we were on that same path and the fireworks stressed out Boo and she might not recover.

When she wasn't holding anything down, I had to get her plain canned chicken or pureed baby food. There had to have been something in the food that was triggering her, because plain chicken was fine. So like any worried cat mom, I went on a path of finding a homemade recipe so I could control the ingredients.

I bought a grinder similar to this one because I knew how important it was to include bone in their food. And I did not trust the pre-ground chicken from the grocery store, because it was not going to be cooked, and it HAD to be safe.

This is VERY similar to the recipe I used, and I suggest you do your own reading and research for your particular situation, and so you understand the hows and whys regarding making your own pet food. Also, information changes over time and you want to make sure you are using updated information as much as possible.

Both cats took to the food immediately, but usually you want to gradually introduce new food a little at a time. I didn't have a choice with Boo, and the other cat went right along with it as well. Only time would tell if it was helping...

It did! She stopped vomitting. And despite being a fully grown cat at that point, SHE GREW IN SIZE. I couldn't believe it. I never realized how sickly she was, and how miserable she must have felt for years. Her whole personality changed and she became much more affectionate towards us, and even slept with me every night cradled in my arm. I suppose to say "thanks!" Here she is...

Sleeping cat

Both cats now live with my son and his wife, and he continues to make their food using the same recipe.

Because the cats were doing so well on their raw homemade food, I felt guilty that the dogs were still getting kibble. So eventually I started making their food as well. I admit it can become tedious. So when I discovered The Farmer's Dog, I switched to making cooked homemade following their recipes. The benefit to this is that I didn't have to grind my own meat/bones and that is a lot of the work involved in providing raw. I used The Farmer's Dog nutrient packets and recipes for a while until my mom came to live with me. She had dementia, and I needed something even easier.

The Farmer's Dog has fresh food you can purchase, but I had come across Dr. Marty's freeze-dried dog food which was the best of both worlds- easy to prepare AND raw. It comes in little dry pieces that you add water to (or not). That's all you do. I currently use both The Farmer's Dog and Dr. Marty's freeze-dried just to keep their diets varied. Because one of my dogs is 11 and showing signs of dementia, I am also using these products to see how much they help before I move to CBD oil.

Mushroom blend for petsFlora Dog Probiotics

Because I already had the Flora Dog on hand, I was able to feed it to my dementia dog after three nights of him waking up and barking at 3:45 for no reason. The night after I gave him the probiotics, he slept through as usual. I'm hoping it's not a coincidence. I tried this because I had read somewhere that dog dementia can be improved with probiotics. Mushrooms were also suggested.

So, What should I feed my healthy pet?

1. Homemade raw

2. Dr. Marty's freeze dried raw (they have cat food as well!)

3. Homemade cooked with The Farmer's Dog nutrients or prepared food from The Farmer's Dog

If you choose to make homemade raw, there are facebook groups with lots of info, and websites as well. Just do lots of research before you jump in, because you need to make sure you are providing a well balanced diet for your pets!

I also suggest filtered water or even distilled, so that your pets' water isn't full of contaminants from the tap.