Although the following deals with canine nutrition, almost 100% of what is described is also valid for the feline.
The Meat Based Diets Are Superior to Grain Based DietsFirst lets take a look at the dog's basic dietary history. The domestic dog, Canis familiaris, evolved from wolf ancestors as a primarily carnivorous animal consuming the prey it caught. Both the wolf and the domestic dog have relatively simple, short digestive tracts far better suited for digesting meat than grain or plant material. Wolves and domestic dogs have identical dentition with teeth shaped to tear and pull off flesh, and to crack and pulverize bones but not to grind grain and vegetable matter. They also lack the enzymes necessary to digest plant material and liberate the nutrients within.
The majority of animals killed by wolves and wild dogs are herbivores. Since canines eat the entire carcass (including the stomach and intestines, and all of their contents) they end up eating pre-digested plant material on a regular basis. Because the plant material has already been broken down by the victim's digestive juices, the nutrients from pre-digested grain and other vegetation can be processed by the short canine digestive tract. So even though dogs and cats are primarily carnivores they should not be fed meat exclusively but should be provided with a small amount of plant material that has been sufficiently juiced, grated, or steamed in order to allow the nutrients to be more easily digested and absorbed by the dog's simple digestive system.
The more grain present in a dogs diet (even when cooked) the more undigested or partially digested grain protein will be found in their upper small intestine. Because the grain protein is poorly digested, these oversized plant protein molecules are viewed by the body as a foreign substance that should be destroyed. Consequently, the immune tissue in the wall of the intestine is stimulated in order to remove the undigested grain protein. Chronic immune system stimulation, resulting from a grain based diet, leads to a damaged digestive tract and to a "leaky gut" which in turn may be the origin of many of our dogs' skin allergies, arthritis, and auto immune diseases.
Meat provides your dog with a nearly complete essential amino acid profile. To come close to such an amino acid profile with plants would require careful combining of 2 or more complementary grains, vegetables or legumes. As a supplementary source of nutrients, cooked grain is beneficial but if the percentages of grain get too high and meat is asked to play a lesser role then nutritional deficiencies and allergies could be the result.
Home prepared natural/raw meat-raw vegetable diets are far superior to commercial diets.Over the last 50 years there has been a growing epidemic of chronic health problems that has coincided with a proliferation of improperly designed commercial pet foods . Typically, these foods are filled with inappropriate and poor quality ingredients that lack bio-available meat protein, nutrients, enzymes, and essential minerals. These so-called premium foods are loaded with inexpensive grains that make them a better food for poultry than for dogs or cats. After all, we must always keep in mind that we are feeding carnivores. Almost all commercial dog foods are made predominantly of difficult to digest cereal grains and relatively small amounts of meat and inferior meat by-products.
The body's intolerance for these unsuitable ingredients has shown up as a wide variety of health problems and immune diseases ranging from simple food allergies and skin problems to organ impairment and dysfunction. As a result of the above concerns holistic veterinarians across the country have become more and more advocates of pet owners feeding a natural-raw meat diet in place of commercial dog food. The dog food industry is only 60-70 years old and every dog alive today can trace in lineage back to dogs who were raised on homemade natural diets. In the beginning dog foods were meant to supplement homemade foods, now unfortunately, the reverse is often true.
The natural / raw meat diet is far superior to every commercial diet because it uses fresh uncooked meat, lightly steamed vegetables, raw fruit and table scraps. The use of raw ingredients, especially raw meat, provides amino acids in their unaltered (uncooked) state, live beneficial bacteria (probiotics) , active enzymes, fatty acids in their unaltered (uncooked state), natural vitamins, and easily absorbed minerals, none of which are found in cooked food. Feeding a natural / raw meat diet even once a week will help keep the bowels healthy by providing natural digestive enzymes and beneficial bacterial flora. This allows a weakened or imbalanced immune system to be revitalized.
Shopping for and preparing a natural raw meat diet allows the pet owner to see smell and touch the raw ingredients going into his dogs food. It allows the pet owner to feed a variety of fresh human grade foods. Such freshness and variety are huge benefits that can be provided only in a home prepared diet.
If available and affordable, organic meat and vegetables would be the ideal choice because they contain more nutrients and far fewer toxins than non organic foods. Home preparing your dog's diet insures his food is fresh, free of rancid fat, moldy grain, mycotoxins, animal excrement, food by-products, artificial chemical preservatives, flavoring agents, coloring agents, and fillers. It is important to clearly understand that the more toxins, chemicals and contaminants consumed by your dogs body over time, the greater will be the body's effort to expel them and the greater will be the loss of anti-oxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that are used up in the detoxification process.
Eventually your dog's reserves of these antioxidants are severely depleted and the normal detoxification process in the liver becomes overwhelmed and clinical disease and degeneration inevitably follow.
Of course preparing an all natural/ raw meat diet is not for everyone and requires more time and effort than simply feeding a commercial diet. Also the idea of feeding raw meat is a turn-off to many people both from an aesthetic sense and from a concern about unintentionally feeding their dog toxic bacteria that they fear may be on the raw meat. I understand these concerns and therefore, later on, will be giving some alternatives to using this raw meat diet. However, let me quiet some of your fears by saying that in talking with dozens of veterinarians, all of which have been recommending a raw food diet for years, none have had any client complaints that their dog was poisoned by the raw meat. If you purchase fresh, high quality raw meat (venison, buffalo, lamb, beef, turkey, chicken) that is ground in front of you as you wait, and is refrigerated and frozen soon after you arrive home, the likelihood of ever having a bacterial related food intoxication is highly unlikely. If for aesthetic reasons you prefer not watching your dog eat raw meat, then lightly brown the outside leaving the inside of the meat very rare.
One of the biggest liabilities in feeding an all natural diet is the fact that most people don't follow the recipe and start taking short cuts which could end up in creating a nutritional deficiency.
If you major concern about feeding a home prepared diet is the time for shopping and preparation, let me suggest that if you simply replaced about 10-15% of your dogs commercial diet with raw meat you would be making a major step in improving his health and extending his longevity. This approach requires no cooking at all and if you purchase a large supply of meat and freeze the bulk of it after dividing it into small daily portions, shopping and preparation would be at a minimum.
If time is not so much a problem but you are absolutely opposed to feeding raw meat then cook the meat to the minimal extent that allows you to feel comfortable and feed it that way. Even though you loose many of the benefits of feeding raw "live" food you still are reducing the proportion of cereal grain your dog must digest and converting your commercial diet from a grain based diet to a more meat based diet (the benefits of which have already been discussed).