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The soaring fresh food trend, is it worth the cost?

August 26, 2019 | Tips and Training

We had the opportunity to attend the seminar “The Science and Nutritional Literacy Behind the Fresh Food Movement” by Dr. Karen Becker (practicing Proactive Integrative Veterinarian) and Dr. Donna Raditic (professor for both the Nutrition and Integrative Medicine Services at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine).The Fresh Food Movement is definitely strong.

Story at-a-glance

  • Fresh pet food sales increased 70% between 2015 and 2018, not including online sales or homemade diets
  • Pet parents often turn to fresh food to heal a sick dog or cat, or in response to processed pet food recalls and/or distrust of the science behind such diets
  • An optimal raw or gently cooked diet for pets is nutritionally balanced and species-appropriate, consisting of unadulterated fresh whole foods that are moisture dense
  • An alternative to homemade pet meals is a nutritionally complete commercially available diet from a company you’ve carefully researched and feel you can trust

By Dr. Karen Becker – Read Full Article

According to a recent article in the Associated Press, citing statistics from data company Nielsen, sales of fresh pet foodin U.S. grocery and pet stores increased 70% between 2015 and 2018 — and the increase doesn’t include online sales or pet parents who prepare homemade meals for their animal companions.1

Fresh diets (which include frozen raw pet meals) are still just a fraction of the $25 billion U.S. pet food market, but this trend is encouraging, especially given all the dire warnings about fresh meals from the processed pet food industry, the FDA and the conventional veterinary community.

“Just as people have become skeptical of highly processed foods for themselves, they’re looking critically at their pets’ foods as well,”Amy Zalneraitis, one of the owners of raw pet food meal plan service We Feed Raw, told the AP. “They think: How could something with a shelf life of over year be better than real, fresh food?”

The vast majority of fresh or frozen raw meat contains no fillers, preservatives, gums, thickeners, artificial colors other pet food ingredients that a growing number of consumers are trying to avoid. In addition, fresh pet foods tend to be high in protein and nutrient rich.

The downside is that healthier food is always more expensive, for you and your pet. But the extra cost of preventive medicine in the form of healthy food often translates to fewer medical issues down the road. A growing number of pet parents are willing to spend more for their furry family member’s food when it results in improved health and fewer veterinary visits.

Pet parents are connecting the dots between processed diets and chronic illness

The rise in the popularity of fresh pet food is partly due to the growing awareness among pet guardians of the link between processed pet food and many of the diseases suffered by today’s dogs and cats. In my experience, one of the biggest motivators in changing an animal’s diet is a very ill dog or cat whose veterinarian has run out of ideas.

A desperate owner makes the decision to transition a sick pet to a fresh food diet, with positive results. It’s almost as if they’ve fed their pet back to good health. Other pet parents, concerned about the ongoing issue of processed pet food recalls, decide to make a change.

In addition, more and more people are growing distrustful of the science behind processed diets and are doing their own research. They learn about the ingredients and manufacturing methods used to produce processed pet food, and ultimately decide an unprocessed raw or gently cooked diet is a much healthier option for their cat or dog.

My belief is that increasing numbers of pet parents are simply doing for their dogs and cats what the pet food industry and many veterinarians will not, which is to connect the dots between processed diets and ill health, which often starts very early in the life of a puppy or kitten with itchy skin or digestive issues.

You bring home a perfectly healthy, recently weaned puppy or kitten, and soon you notice he’s scratching a lot, or having diarrhea a few times a week, or vomiting for no apparent reason. You take him to the veterinarian, tests are (or aren’t) run, and you’re sent home with drugs and a bag of “prescription” processed pet food.

This is too often the beginning of a vicious cycle for many pet parents and their long-suffering animal companions. But more and more, people are unwilling to simply treat the symptom without looking for the root cause of the problem, and common sense tells them to start with the first building block of health, which is nutrition.

Pet parents are also seeking out pet food brands and companies that are open and transparent about where their ingredients come from and how the food is manufactured. This is information the big players in the processed pet food industry prefer to keep under wraps.

Optimal nutrition for dogs and cats

Dogs and cats need high-quality animal protein, fats and a small amount of vegetables and fruits (roughage) to provide antioxidants and fiber. Natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids must be added, since the soils in which foods are grown are depleted of many of the nutrients pets need.

Also, food storage, whether it’s in a freezer (better) or a pantry (riskier), decreases critical essential fatty acid levels in foods, and introduces the risk your pet might be consuming toxic oxidized or rancid fats.

Cats and dogs need unadulterated, fresh, whole foods that are moisture-dense. They don’t need grains, fillers, artificial preservatives, colors, additives, chemicals, byproducts or the advanced glycation end products that come from highly processed pet foods. Although they can eat some processed foods, they aren’t designed to consume a lifetime of dry or canned diets.

My first choice for optimal nutrition for dogs and cats is a nutritionally balanced, fresh homemade diet served raw or gently cooked. I can’t stress enough how important it is not to use guesswork when preparing your pet’s meals at home.

Pet food nutrition expert Steve Brown and I have analyzed many homemade and commercially available fresh food diets and found they fall far short in trace minerals, antioxidants including nutrients like manganese, magnesium, vitamin E and D, copper, zinc, iron, choline and essential fatty acids.

In addition, if the diet doesn’t have a proper fat or calcium to phosphorus balance, it can cause a long list of health problems, especially in growing animals. So, it’s critically important that you know your homemade diet is balanced.

As long as you’re following nutritionally balanced recipes, making your own pet food provides peace of mind because it’s becoming more difficult to find ethical pet food companies that use locally sourced or even U.S.-grown ingredients. With homemade food, you’re in complete control of every ingredient that goes into your pet’s mouth.

Serving food fresh also preserves all the enzymes and phytonutrients that are typically destroyed during extensive pet food processing. And homemade food gives you the flexibility to include nutritional variety in your dog’s or cat’s diet. You can buy seasonal fruits and veggies on sale. You can use produce that comes from your local supermarket, your local farmer’s market or even from your own garden.

What to look for in a commercial raw/fresh pet food

If you’re not able to prepare homemade meals for your pet, an alternative is a commercially available nutritionally balanced raw food diet. Again, it’s critically important that the diet be balanced. There are a lot of raw diets on the market these days that are nutritionally incomplete.

They are often substantially cheaper than balanced diets and for good reason; many are made with inexpensive fatty ground beef or poultry carcasses and liver. These unbalanced foods should say right on the label, “For supplemental or intermittent feeding.” Unfortunately, many of them don’t.

I don’t recommend feeding unbalanced diets without adding in the missing nutrients, or your pet can develop nutrition-related health problems that can be difficult to identify until they’re too profound to fix.

Unfortunately, the explosion of the fresh pet food category has brought to light several fresh food manufacturers looking to cash in on this fast-growing segment of the pet food industry at whatever cost. Private product testing has revealed the fresh pet food category is not without its’ own subset of unethical players, marketing unbalanced diets as nutritionally complete and selling factory farmed beef and chicken diets as free-range, exotic meats.

I suspect the number of poor-quality fresh pet foods on the market will continue to grow in response to the increasing demand for fresh foods, so do your homework! If you don’t know if the fresh diet you’re feeding is nutritionally complete, I recommend contacting the manufacturer and asking how they verify that their products meet minimum nutrient requirements for dogs or cats.

The quality of these commercial food products ranges from excellent (ethically sourced, organic and verified GMO-free foods) to terrible (made with factory farmed meats, Chinese-sourced synthetic vitamins and pesticide-laden produce), so it’s important to do your homework when screening raw food companies.

For a list of additional considerations when selecting a prepared raw pet food, I encourage you to review my updated list of best-to-worst pet foods, as well as my three-part series on raw food diets.

Since commercial raw diets are a fast-growing category of pet food, you should be able to find a food that fits your requirements, with the added convenience of not having to make the food yourself. The downside, as I mentioned earlier, is the cost — you’re paying to have someone do the work for you.

As with all pet food manufacturers, you’ll need to investigate the company you’re buying from to make sure you’re feeding the correct product for your pet’s specific nutritional and medical needs. The great news is there are more and more fresh food companies to choose from, and the competitive market for these healthier pet foods means they could become more affordable over time.

This is your FREE roadmap to the healthiest diet for your furry best friend! Learn about:

  • What you need to feed your pet to keep them happy and healthy
  • Toxic (but seemingly healthy) human foods to keep out of your pet’s reach
  • How pet foods made from euthanized pets and rotting animal carcasses can kill your fur baby
  • Must-know feeding hacks if you have a senior or obese pet

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