The last 50 years have seen some radical changes in the way we care for our domestic pets. Gone are the days when the family dog was banished to the back yard or left to roam the neighbourhood streets. It is now rare that cats are left to prowl the night away, wailing on fences and attacking small mammals and birds. Modern pets spend much more time at home, confined to backyards by fencing, or contained in cat enclosures or restricted by night time curfews.
When you combine this sudden decrease in activity and natural predation/scavenging practices, with the massive shift towards processed dry pet foods as the sole source of food it is not surprising we are seeing a decline in the overall health of domestic pets. The current situation dangerously mimics the typical “western” diet and lifestyle – too much processed food and not enough physical exercise. Recent studies have shown that more than 60% of domestic pets are either overweight or obese.
When you combine that with another 70% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 having advanced periodontal disease, 60% of dogs over 8 suffering from arthritis, and a significant increase in the incidence of allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and a vast range of degenerative diseases and cancers, then it is high time we took notice of these growing problems and react accordingly.
To solve the problem we need to find, address and deal with the true underlying cause(s). The simple answer to controlling this problem is no different for pets than it is for their owners – a healthy diet, common sense feeding and regular exercise! Not only can a healthy diet and regular exercise correct obesity, but it can also help treat and prevent a large percentage of the disease previously mentioned.
By far the greatest change in the lifestyle of domestic pets has been the wide?scale introduction and adoption of processed pet foods. The modern dry dog/cat food pellet is far removed from the dog and cats traditional diet of fresh meat, bones, and scraps. Modern processed dry pet foods are much higher in calories because dry foods are made with significantly higher levels of carbohydrate and vegetable protein, and lower levels of meat protein than a natural dog or cat diet.
They often have approximately 8% moisture (compared to 65% in fresh meat diets) and pet owners must feed considerably less in volume than they would if feeding a wet food. Unfortunately this reality is often ignored by caring pet owners, who see such a small bowl of dried food as being “not enough” to keep their pet(s) happy and as a result, over-feeding has become a wide-scale phenomenon, directly relating to the current obesity problem. Dogs and cats have been evolving for millions of years eating raw, unprocessed pet food. They are finely tuned to be able to catch, process, digest and absorb the nutritional content from raw meat diets – just like they still do in the wild.
Modern processed pet foods do not resemble the dog or cats natural diet – pet foods are now cooked, processed, flavoured, coloured and preserved (just like fast food). They are filled with cheap carbohydrates, vegetable protein, and powdered meat meal, complete with synthetic vitamins and chemical preservatives. The fact that they may be labelled “nutritionally complete” does not in any way guarantee the consumer that the product is actually “healthy “ for their pet !
Regular exercise is extremely important for dogs (much less for cats). Stricter council laws on dogs off leashes and roaming have had a significant impact on the activity levels of today’s dogs. As families and working pet owners become busier, time spent walking the dog has decreased dramatically, as has the number of locations where dogs can run free.
Now there is a thriving industry for professional dog walkers and doggy day care centres to cater for loving pet owners who feel guilty that they cannot provide enough exercise or stimulation for their dogs. Given the high level of pet ownership enjoyed in Australia (one of the highest in the world), many suburbs have an “off?leash” dog park available.
One of the most noticeable changes in the modern pet is “humanization”. Pets have “risen in the ranks” in terms of their place in the family hierarchy and are now treated far more as “one of the family”. As a result of the lack of external stimulation, food has become a major highlight of a domestic pets’ day. The human?animal bond has historically been developed on the simple basis of “I will feed you and care for you – and you will love me” – and/or “work for me”, in the case of horses and working dogs. The all pervading attitude that FOOD = LOVE is highly prevalent. Many Pet owners are far more indulgent with their pets, spoiling them with treats and highly expensive “gourmet” foods – but the truth is, we are “spoiling them to death”.
When the cat meows and rubs your legs in the kitchen, or the dog sits drooling at your feet as you prepare tonight’s dinner, more than likely they will get the chicken skin you have just trimmed from the fillets. If they seem a bit interested at lunch time, surely you will give them a bit of your sandwich (or a tea biscuit) and perhaps a treat, for being “such a good boy”. Most of us then make sure that they also get their full regular quota of breakfast and dinner, forgetting the 200+ calories we have already given them during the day. It’s not that hard to see how we have started “killing them with kindness”.
The answer to today’s pet health issues will come from common sense feeding and exercise. Simple things like feeding your pet just once a day, in the morning, and using a healthy natural diet with plenty of fresh meat and bones, can go a long way to improving your pet’s overall health and longevity. My experience, gained over 20 years as a practicing vet, has demonstrated to me that dogs and cats fed on a raw food diet will enjoy infinitely superior health and develop far less degenerative diseases than those raised exclusively on processed pet foods.
Dr Bruce’s Weight Loss Tips
- Determine the dogs target weight
- All Vet clinics have scales and can suggest an appropriate target weight for the dog’s ages, breed and lifestyle.
- Feed once a day, in the morning so they can exercise and work off the calories during the day
- Feed a natural raw diet free of anything artificial.
- A natural raw diet ensures the dog or cat feels more “full”, is lower in calories, and generally low in fat.
- Kangaroo meat is most preferred because it is low in fat and high in meat protein
- Ensure there is plenty of water for your pet at all times
- Exercise your pet appropriately. Your local vet can advise you on an appropriate amount for your pet.
- Consider dog walking services or doggy day care.
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural.
Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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