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Nutrition is key to good health
What is in commercial pet foods?
A word about dry food
Learn to read ingredient labels
So what should we feed our pets?  
Premium canned pet foods
Commercially prepared raw diets
The home prepared diet
Educate your veterinarian

Nutrition is key to good health

We hear and read it time and again:  that good nutrition is essential for staying healthy and preventing disease.   We are repeatedly told to eat plenty of fresh, wholesome food and to avoid highly refined, processed foods.  We are urged to eat healthy homemade meals instead of packaged or takeout “fast foods.”  Health Canada states: “Most people want to eat well and are looking for answers to their healthy eating questions and challenges.”   So we at ORA ask:  why should it be any different for our pets?   We believe that most people want to feed their pets healthy, nutritious food too. 

Would you eat from a bag or box everyday?

What if your doctor gave you with a bag of “Chow” and told you to eat it day after day stating that it was 100% nutritionally complete for humans and that eating a variety of fresh food was not important.  What if you were told that if you become overweight on the “chow” you would have to purchase a “light chow”, or when you get older you must purchase a “senior” version.  It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  Yet that is precisely what is being done to our pets. 

Flashy advertising has convinced most people that packaged, processed and highly refined pet foods are ideal for their pets.  The truth is that most of these “balanced” commercial pet foods are anything but ideal, containing some very unhealthy and questionable ingredients.  Some of these ingredients can contribute to many chronic and degenerative diseases such as: allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, skin and coat problems, thyroid disease and cardiovascular disease to name a few.

Putting a little thought into your decision on what you feed your pets can pay very big dividends over their lifetime in reduced vet bills and very possibly help them avoid serious, painful, and costly diseases.


What is in commercial pet foods?

Ann Martin, author of “Food Pets Die For” has been investigating the multi-billion-dollar, commercial pet food industry since 1990. Today, she is internationally recognized as an authority on the dangers of commercial pet foods. 

She writes: 

“I quickly learned that this is a multi-billion dollar industry that operates with virtually no government regulations and in many ways is self-regulated. I also learned that there are many deplorable ingredients that legally can be used in pet foods as sources of protein—in particular, euthanized cats and dogs, diseased cattle and horses, roadkill, dead zoo animals, and meat not fit for human consumption.  Although the pet food industry is not regulated in the US and Canada, we as consumers have been lulled into believing that government and voluntary organizations are overseeing every ingredient stuffed into a container of pet food.  What is required is government-enforced regulation of the industry. Only state legislatures can turn the tide, but it will be a long and difficult battle to persuade our representatives to take up the fight.  In the meantime, let the buyer beware!”

To read another excerpt from Ann’s book please click  Book Excerpt – Food Pets Die For.

And there’s more…

Many of these processed foods are saturated with chemicals, preservatives, colorings, pesticides as well as excess amounts of artificial flavorings, salt and rancid, overcooked oils leftover from restaurants.   Most of the “meats” contained in them are waste products that have been condemned for human use and rendered into “meat by-products” and “meat meal.”   Dried kibble foods also contain an abundance of fillers such as ground corn, corn gluten meal, rice hulls or peanut shells, all of which are nothing more than food and agriculture industry waste.

The Animal Protection Institute agrees.  In an informative article titled “What’s Really in Pet Food?”, the API states:

”Today, the diets of cats and dogs are a far cry from the primarily protein diets with a lot of variety that their ancestors ate. The problems associated with a commercial diet are seen every day at veterinary establishments. Chronic digestive problems, such as chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the most frequent illnesses treated. These are often the result of an allergy or intolerance to pet food ingredients. Urinary tract disease is directly related to diet in both cats and dogs. Plugs, crystals, and stones in cat bladders are often triggered or aggravated by commercial pet food formulas.

Processing meat and by-products used in pet food can greatly diminish their nutritional value.  To make pet food nutritious, pet food manufacturers must “fortify” it with vitamins and minerals. Why? Because the ingredients they are using are not wholesome, their quality may be extremely variable, and the harsh manufacturing practices destroy many of the nutrients the food had to begin with.  The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals and rendered meat meals are not as nutritious or safe as you should expect for your cat or dog.”


A word about dry food

It is important to understand that cats are obligate carnivores.  This means that cats need to eat meat to stay alive.  Left to their own devices cats would catch and eat mice, birds, toads and insects – a high protein diet.  Less than 10% of this diet would consist of carbohydrates from vegetation and the stomach contents of their prey.  Dogs on the other hand are omnivores and can eat more fruits and vegetables than cats.  In both cases, grain or “cereal” is not suitable food because carnivores are not grain or starch eaters – they lack the necessary digestive enzymes to digest it properly. Their digestive system burns protein and fat for energy and does not burn carbohydrates as humans do.  So why do most commercial dry foods contain 35-50 percent carbohydrates from grains like cornmeal or rice? The answer is that these high carbohydrate dry foods provide a CHEAP source of calories that are routinely sprayed with addictive flavorings so that pets will eat them.

The evidence is quickly mounting that pets who eat dry food become chronically dehydrated compared to pets who eat wet food.  Cats are at greatest risk having evolved as desert animals that do not naturally drink much water but rely almost entirely on their food to provide their moisture requirements.  The natural prey diet of a small cat is between 65 and 75 percent water.  Dry food contains only 5-10% water and actually draws moisture from the cat’s body creating a state of chronic dehydration over time.

In summary, the combination high carbohydrate content, questionable protein sources and severe lack of moisture make dry food a very poor choice for pet nutrition. At a bare minimum, you should use as little dry food as possible, perhaps only as treats or snacks, and try to feed a quality diet that contains meat—preferably human-grade—as its first ingredient. 

For more information on the risks of feeding dry food, please read the following:

We Are Feeding Cats Too Many Carbohydrates, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM
The Dry Cat Foods Crisis, Feline Future Company

The Truth About Dry Cat Food, Michelle Bernard

Learn to read pet food ingredient labels!

Not all pet foods are created equal and not all proteins are high quality.  Some of the guidelines we suggest for reading canned food ingredient labels are:

The first ingredient is the most important and should be real meat such as chicken, lamb, turkey, etc.  The first ingredient should NOT be water, broth, meat by-products or organ meat such as liver.

The next two ingredients should be other real meat ingredients such as liver, giblets, meat broth or fish.

Do not buy a food containing “by-products” or “meat meals.”   These are the most inexpensive sources of protein, which can vary greatly in quality and are not a reliable source of nutrition.   They often contain questionable ingredients such as feathers, feet or other ingredients that have been condemned for human consumption

Grains should not be listed in the first three ingredients, if at all. The main ingredient in a carnivore’s diet should not be grain, so if grain is present it should be minimal and well down the list of ingredients.  Common grains in pet foods are corn, corn meal, rice, flour, oats and wheat gluten.

The words “recommended by veterinarians” are not necessarily indicative of high quality – read the ingredient label!   Many of the prescription diets sold by veterinarians do not provide optimal nutrition for a carnivore.  Many of these diets contain by-products, meal and grain.  Unfortunately many veterinarians are poorly educated in the area of pet nutrition because all too often their education is provided directly from the pet food industry itself.

Let’s look at three canned ingredient labels, including a prescription diet, and see if you can spot the by-products, meat-meal and grain and the order of the ingredients.


Hills Prescription Diet® Feline C/D

Beef by-products, water, pork liver, corn meal, pork by-products, corn gluten meal, powdered cellulose, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, taurine, brewers dried yeast, iron oxide, minerals (calcium sulfate, salt, potassium chloride, dicalcium phosphate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, calcium iodate, sodium selenite),beta-carotene, vitamins (choline chloride, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, ascorbic acid(a source of vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement).

Iams® Chicken & Salmon Formula Cat Food

Salmon Broth, Water, Chicken, Salmon, Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewers Rice, Beef Liver, Ocean Fish, Dried Egg Product, Fish Meal (source of fish oil), Corn Oil, Salmon Meal, Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Brewers Dried Yeast, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Moninitrate (source of vitamin B1), Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement (source of vitamin B2), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Menadione (vitamin K3), Folic Acid, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Choline Chloride, Dicalcium Phosphate, DL-Methionine

Wellness Turkey & Salmon

Turkey, Chicken Liver, Whitefish, Turkey Broth, Salmon, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Vegetable Gums, Flax Seed, Potassium Chloride, Alfalfa, Cranberries, Blueberries, Yellow Squash, Yellow Zucchini, Garlic, Dicalcium Phosphate, Spirulina, Taurine, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E, A, D-3, And B-12 Supplements, Beta Carotene, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, Iron Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Pantothenate, Iron Proteinate (Source Of Chelated Iron), Zinc Proteinate (Source Of Chelated Zinc), Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Copper Proteinate(Source Of Chelated Copper), Biotin, Manganese Proteinate (Source Of Chelated Manganese), Calcium Iodate, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite.


To learn more about interpreting pet food labels and specific regulations, click
on -> Interpreting Pet Food Labels to visit the FDA website’s consumer information page on pet food labeling.


So what should we feed our pets?

The best food you can feed your pet is a properly prepared, well-balanced homemade diet that includes raw meaty bones, plus vegetables, eggs and other ingredients that imitate the nutrients they would obtain in the wild.  While this may sound a bit extreme at first, it deserves a very close look if you truly desire the best nutrition for your pet.   There are no barbeques or frying pans in the wild and for good reason:  carnivores derive optimal nutrition from raw foods, which contain the vital nutrients and enzymes they need.   As with humans, fresh foods provide the healthiest source of nutrition. This is partly because many nutrients, vitamins and enzymes are extremely sensitive and easily destroyed by high heat processing.

A combination of fresh food and high quality canned or frozen food is also an excellent choice.  We will explore the home-prepared diet in a moment and provide links for further research for those who want to provide optimum nutrition for their pets.

In the meantime, there are an increasing number of pet food companies that make food of very high quality. Some of these foods are made using human grade ingredients and do not contain the questionable meat sources, dangerous additives and preservatives that are found in “grocery store” pet foods.  Some are even offering commercially prepared raw food diets in frozen form.


Premium canned pet foods

While these premium quality foods are most certainly a better choice than pet foods available at the grocery store, they are still processed using very high heat, which greatly reduces the nutrients available.   For those who chose not to provide a fresh, home-prepared diet, or for those who wish to supplement a fresh diet with canned food, these foods are a good choice.  They are also an excellent transition food for those attempting to switch pets that are addicted to dry food to a healthier canned food.

Excellent choices are Wellness and Nature’s Variety because they do not contain any grain.

Wellness canned food is a complete, balanced diet.  No supplementation is needed and can be fed, as is, on a daily basis as the sole diet.  Wellness is a very low carbohydrate (3-5%), high quality canned food.

Nature’s Variety canned food is also a complete, balance diet that is great for daily use.  No supplementation is needed.  It is also a very low carbohydrate food containing no grains.

Most other high quality foods contain grain, usually rice or oats.  They are all balanced for daily use, so check the label and look for grain to be far down the ingredient list.  Some of these brands include:

  • California Natural

  • Eagle Pack

  • Evolve

  • Felidae

  • Innova

  • Natural Balance

  • Precise

  • PetGuard


Commercially prepared raw diets

Commercially prepared raw diets provide nutritionally complete, species appropriate food for those want to feed an optimal diet but have little time to research, prepare and plan meals for their pets.  Biologically appropriate foods, purchased frozen or made at home, set the foundation for proper immune response and brilliant health including:  reduced allergies, reduced weight, decreased shedding, decreased stool volume, healthier teeth, softer and shinier coat, fresher breath and increased energy – all resulting in a happier, healthier animal.     Excellent choices in commercial raw food are:

  • Amore

  • Healthy Paws

  • Homemade-4-Life

  • Nature’s Variety

  • The Ultimate Diet

  • Paws and Claws Pet Pantry


The home prepared diet

Preparing food at home for your pet can be an easy and inexpensive way to keep your dog or cat healthy, strong and resistant to disease.  Preparing your pet’s food is not rocket science and you do not need a degree in nutrition to understand it, but there are some extremely important principles to which you must adhere.  

Before embarking on a home-prepared diet, we strongly advise you to do some research and learn as much as you can about the subject.  Though it is very much common sense, like feeding yourself, it would be foolish and dangerous to simply give your pet table scraps or raw meat in addition to their commercial food unless you have gained the required knowledge first.

For instance, to continually add (i.e. on a daily basis) liver, or raw meat without bone, to your pets commercially prepared canned or frozen food will not provide sufficient calcium because the commercial food is optimally balanced to provide the correct proportion of calcium to meat.  Your pet’s diet would therefore become dangerously unbalanced over the long term.  After a little research you would learn that a quarter teaspoon of ground eggshell (save your eggshells!) to each cup of fresh meat would provide the required calcium. There are other ingredients in the home-prepared recipes that are not “supplements” at all, but are essential components that must be included in certain amounts or you risk throwing your pet’s diet off balance. 

There are plenty of books and web sites available that provide a wealth of information on home prepared diets and we have listed a few at the end of this section that we suggest you investigate.


A Recipe for Optimum Cat Health

The percentages quoted below are guidelines only and need not be exact every day. The objective is balance over time, not balance for each and every meal.  You do not prepare your own dinner thinking – I’ll have 50% protein, 10% fat, 10% potato, 20% vegetables and 10% apple pie and cola, so there is no need to do it for your pet either!  And as you do with your own food, always use safe handling practices when using raw meat products.

Approximately 50% of your cat’s food should consist of RAW MEATY BONES. Chicken necks and backs are IDEAL.  If your cat will not eat bones or has few teeth due to age (very young or old), you may need to grind or crush the raw meaty bones. Meat grinders are ideal for creating minced meaty bones.

Approximately 30% of the diet should consist of other meat such as store ground meats, beef heart, chicken hearts (heart is very high in taurine), liver, chicken giblets and gizzards, kidney, and small whole fish such as lake smelt or raw sardines. 

About 10-15% of the diet should consist of pulverized vegetables – half of which should be winter squash such as butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc.  Winter squash is a fermentable fiber that is very beneficial for digestion.  The other half of vegetable content should be a rotating variety of leafy greens (kale, parsley, chard, dandelion greens, spring salad mix, green leafy lettuce, etc.), broccoli, carrots, celery, zucchini, sea vegetables, frozen mixed vegetables, the list is exhaustive.

The remaining 5-10% of the diet consists of raw eggs, plain yogurt for gut health and powdered supplements of flax seed, kelp and dulse (equivalent to a half teaspoon a day of each, or mix equivalent into a batch and freeze.)  Twice a week add a 500mg capsule of salmon oil, a 400 IU capsule of natural source vitamin E. 

Note:  For a cat that cannot or will not eat raw meaty bones and a grinder is not available, calcium must be substituted at the rate of ¼ teaspoon per cup of meat, or ½ teaspoon per pound. Some raw diets recommend the use of bone meal, however bone meal is cooked, processed bone and is less desirable than ground eggshell, which is about 95% pure calcium carbonate.  Simply rinse shells under running water, allow to dry for a few days then grind in a coffee grinder and store – no need to cook or refrigerate once dried.


COOKED BONES – NEVER, NEVER feed cooked bones in any form –whole or ground! Cooked whole bones will splinter dangerously and cooked ground bone causes constipation. Raw poultry necks and backs are soft and do not splinter.

ONIONS AND GARLIC - Onions and garlic contain a compound that destroys red blood cells in pets, resulting in a type of anemia called ‘Heinz body anemia.’  Do not use any products containing onion or garlic powder.  Garlic is less toxic to dogs than cats and can be used in moderation in canine diets. 

To check the list of plants, vegetables and other substances that are toxic to pets, please click here ->

Potatoes, corn, pasta and other starches as well as legumes such as soybeans, kidney beans, lentils and nightshade vegetables like mushrooms are not recommended for cats. 

Transitioning your cat to raw food

Some cats take to raw food like fish to water and eat it right away.  Many cats however are finicky about new food and the transition should be done slowly with a great deal of patience.  Most cats will transition successfully if you add a little of the new food to their usual diet.  Gradually increase the new food and decrease the old food until the cat is eating the new food. Cats that are accustomed to an all-dry diet can be especially stubborn and may have to be transitioned to canned, wet food first.

Cats prefer frequent, small meals so adult cats should eat at least twice per day, kittens more often.   Have “meal” times and allow them to eat as much as they will in 30 minutes.  Do not leave food out for free feeding.

IMPORTANT!!!!!   NEVER FAST A CAT TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SWITCH.   Cats must not go without eating for an entire day.  Make certain that your cat eats something every day, even if you must feed the old food.   To do otherwise will endanger the life of your cat.  Cats are very prone to Feline Hepatic Lipidosis, also called “fatty liver disease.”  To read more about fatty liver disease, please visit this website:


Educate your veterinarian

Most holistic veterinarians appreciate and endorse a home-prepared, species appropriate diet for those who have acquired the appropriate knowledge.  Many veterinarians, however, do not endorse raw feeding under any circumstances and endorse kibble diets, as discussed above, that are sold from their practice.   If, after learning and researching, you choose to feed a home-prepared diet and your veterinarian disagrees with you, please print the following documents and present them to him/her.

The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats Debra L. Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACIVM

Published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2002:221: pages 1559-1567 which details the unique requirements of obligate carnivores.

Pottenger’s Cats, a Study in Nutrition by Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD

Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger, Jr. conducted a feeding experiment to determine the effects of heat-processed food on cats. The contrast in the apparent health of the cats fed raw meat and those fed cooked meat was so startling, it prompted Francis to undertake a controlled experiment.

What he had observed by chance, he wanted to repeat by design. He wanted to find answers to such questions as: Why did the cats eating raw meat survive their operations more readily than those eating cooked meat? Why did the kittens of the raw meat fed cats appear more vigorous? Why did a diet based on cooked meat scraps apparently fail to provide the necessary nutritional elements for good health? He felt the findings of a controlled feeding experiment might illumine new facts about optimal human nutrition.

An Open Letter to Veterinary Professionals, A Lay Perspective on Feline Nutrition
A “must read” from including an excellent presentation and list of questions for veterinarians regarding the problems associated with the ongoing feeding of herbivore food to carnivores.

Cats are Different! by T.J. Dunn Jr., DVM

An excellent presentation on how cats are different!  The cat is considered by scientists to be a strict carnivore and the dog is considered to be an omnivore. Both species are in the Class Mammalia and the Order Carnivora, but here’s the difference: The cat cannot sustain its life unless it consumes meat in some form.


Finding a holistic veterinarian – directories

Paws & Claws Pet Pantry’s Holistic Vets in Ontario
Pets4Life's Canadian Holistic Veterinary Directory
Holistic Veterinary Medical Association - Referral List
The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy Referral List
Pets4Life's Canadian Holistic Veterinary Directory


Other Resources

Here are some books, websites and other resources for to assist in learning about pet nutrition.



Raw Feeding email support groups:

Updated April 27, 2007

This information was compiled by Bonnie Gardhouse, an ORA Foster/Volunteer and advocate for the natural and holistic rearing of companion cats.  Her multi-cat household has been dominated for over 30 years by rescued cats who have taught her that a natural, holistic approach is best for the long-term health of her feline friends.

Information presented here is for general informational purposes only and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind.   Information on this site is not intended to replace professional advice from a veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical treatment. Any questions about your animal's health should be directed to a professional animal health care provider.  Please consult a holistic veterinarian regarding optimal nutrition for companion pets.




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