Skip To Content

Why Dry Food Is Not A Healthy Diet For Cats And Dogs

Photo of Dr Patrick Mahaney and Jodi Ziskin Lecture at The Healthy Spot in Santa Monica, CA Dr Patrick Mahaney and Jodi Ziskin Lecture at The Healthy Spot in Santa Monica, CA I'm featuring a guest blog post by Jodi Ziskin, Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant (with a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition), as we share common perspectives about the health value of dogs and cats attain from eating a whole food-based diet instead of processed foods.  Go Jodi.... _________________________________________________________________________________________________ I am on a mission to help cats and dogs live healthy, happy lives. One of the topics I feel is truly important for all pet guardians to discover is that a dry food diet is not a healthy choice for any pet. Cats and dogs need a varied diet. Feeding the same food day after day, week after week, year after year can create nutritional deficiencies as well as increase the chance for food intolerances. That’s the mild stuff. Here we go! Dry pet food was created approximately 100 years ago simply as a convenience for people. Unfortunately, it is a truly unnatural diet for cats and dogs. One of the questions I ask my clients is: Have you ever seen a kibble plant? With very few exceptions, dry food is manufactured using very high heat. This destroys many of the nutrients found in the raw ingredients. Some estimate that 50% of the amino acids are destroyed as well as nearly 100% of the vitamins and minerals. That is one of the reasons synthetic vitamins and minerals are often added back in. The thing is, cats and dogs do not assimilate synthetics. In addition, the once healthy omega 3 fatty acids in the food also become rancid during the cooking process. Of course, the heat also eliminates most of the moisture content. On average, dry food contains around 12% moisture. Compare that with the 75 – 80% liquid content in natural prey, raw, homemade, and canned foods. A cat or dog drinking copious amounts of water can consume around 50% of what is available in the aforementioned food forms. This is a far cry from what they actually need. Remember – hydration includes electrolytes like potassium, magnesium and calcium as well as many micro-minerals. What does this all mean? Well, many pets on an all-dry diet become chronically dehydrated. This is especially true for cats who naturally have a very low thirst drive and will often not even drink water until they are 75% dehydrated. A dry only diet is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome/disease, constipation, kidney disease, liver disease, joint problems, skin issues and more. These are not my opinions – these are facts. I asked integrative veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA to explain more. ”Dehydration is truly one of the primary enemies of our pets’ bodies and occurs when there is a loss of body fluid or a lack of liquid consumption, both of which reduce overall blood volume,” said Dr. Mahaney. “Lack of sufficient moisture consumption combined with increased liquid output results in dehydration and the emergence of a variety of otherwise preventable pet health conditions (kidney and other organ failure, lethargy, etc).” “All body parts suffer when there is deficient fluid to enhance the movement of blood through the arteries and veins and lymph in the lymphatic vessels,” he continued. “Thick blood and lymphatic fluid inefficiently perfuse and drain body tissues, resulting in lack of oxygenation and nutrient delivery, reduced toxin removal, and deficient white blood cell activity in all organ systems.” Dr. Mahaney, who practices Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), explained why dry food is categorized as Yang (warming). “Dry food is inherently yang, as the majority of the naturally occurring moisture has been cooked out. In comparison to moist and whole foods options, dry format has a drying effect on the body by requiring the secretion of liquids (saliva, gastric acid, bile, pancreatic enzymes) to facilitate digestion. Additionally, water must be consumed in association with dry food consumption as the body is unable to secrete sufficient moisture to efficiently digest most dehydrated foods,” shared Dr. Mahaney. “Inflammation associated with arthritis, cancer, immune mediated ailments (like Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia or Thrombocytopenia [IMHA or IMTP]), and inflammatory associated illness (inflammatory bowel disease [IBD], allergic skin disease, etc.) are conditions of excess yang (or deficient yin) and are exacerbated by the further addition of dryness or heat to the body,” he explained. “Reduction of dry food and provision of moist foods having yin or neutral energies are means of addressing inflammation from the perspective of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM).” How Dry Food Leads To Obesity Because of the lack of nutrients, dogs and cats will eat more dry food just to try to meet their nutritional requirements. Most dry foods also contain grains*, which have no place in the diets of carnivores, like dogs or obligate carnivores, like cats. When stomach acids break down these grains, it causes a spike in blood sugar. Insulin is then released by the pancreas to bring the blood sugar back to normal levels. What the insulin can’t handle then gets stored as fat in the body. *Note: in many commercial foods, grains such as wheat, corn, and soy that have been condemned for human consumption due to excessive pesticide residue can be used without limit in food intended for animals. Dry Food And The Clean Teeth Myth Simply put, dry foods do not keep teeth clean. That’s like telling you to eat granola or crackers and not brush your teeth! Starches from dry food (even grain-free dry foods contain starch) adhere to teeth and become the breeding ground for bacteria (plaque). The best way to keep the teeth of cats and dogs clean is to provide them with raw bones after meals. Alternatively, brushing the teeth with toothpaste made especially for pets is a great idea. It is important to have your vet check your pet’s teeth during their annual exam. Most pets will need a professional cleaning from time to time. Why Pets Love Dry Food In order to attract dogs and cats to their food, pet food manufactures add flavor enhancers. This is a spray of fats, artificial colorings and flavorings, including MSG, which is added as the food cools. Not only does this help the food become more visually appealing to YOU (trust me, your pet does not care what color his/her food is), it actually causes your pet to become addicted to the food! Convenience Over Health “Canned and dry cat and dog foods evolved out of a desire for owner convenience and the emerging role of the companion animal as a member of the household,” explained Dr. Mahaney. “After all, why feed your pet the discards of your kitchen table if you can feed a nutritionally complete and balanced pet food?” According to Dr. Mahaney, this is where the proverbial ball was dropped and the public’s opinion began to shift to the belief that processed foods are more beneficial for pets than whole foods. “When a pet owner’s desire to merely open a bag or can and fill their pet’s bowl with processed dry or canned foods (and then just walk away) supersedes the interest in cooking a home prepared diet or feeding a fresh, commercial available meal, then convenience wins out and pets’ health suffers,” Said Dr. Mahaney. “Unfortunately, our canine and feline companions have suffered as a result as cancer, allergic conditions (inflammatory bowel disease, allergic skin disease, etc) obesity, and metabolic disease (hypothyroidism, diabetes, kidney and liver abnormalities, etc) are occur in increasing numbers in pets eating commercially available foods containing feed-grade ingredients.” If your pet simply loves to crunch on dry food, then think of serving it as more of a treat or side dish – much like you having chips with a nice sandwich. Try to keep dry food to less than 10% of your pet’s overall diet. There are very few dry foods I ever recommend (and always as an accompaniment to a high quality diet). All are from companies that use ingredients fit for human consumption, that do not include by-products or rendered ingredients and that cook at lower temperatures and for less time. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Jodi, thank you trekking to California and teaming with me to educate pet lovers at The Healthy Spot (as pictured). Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond). Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Back To Top