The Happy Beast - Blog - Diet & Digestive Health

Fresh Food: The Cost to Feed and Why It’s Worth It

This is why I feed my dog fresh food (and exactly how much I spent on dog food last month.)

At The Happy Beast, we believe in feeding minimally processed, whole foods and species-appropriate diets for our dogs and cats. We promote nutrition plans that benefit healthy animals and ones that compliment veterinary care in animals with health complications.

The role of diet and nutrition is powerful. We believe that what we feed our animals greatly affects their ability to maintain health, fight off disease, recover from illness and can influence the development of certain conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.

Many pet food companies use inexpensive ingredients like corn, wheat and animal by-products and flavor enhancers like artificial flavorings and sugar. Kibble (dry dog food) is processed with pressure and extreme heat (a process called extrusion). Sure, dogs have been surviving on these diets for years, but they certainly aren’t thriving. At The Happy Beast, we routinely see dogs suffering from food allergies, obesity and cancer.

Fortunately the fresh food market is rising to meet the need for convenient and affordable foods. These are available in both frozen food or shelf-stable options. Some require more prep- defrosting or rehydrating with water, and others offer the same “scoop and go” convenience of kibble dog food.

Pirate - The Happy Beast

Pi in a furry hat.

My dog, Pi, has been raw-fed since the day I brought her home. In the last five years, I’ve fed her most of the prepared raw foods on the market: every kind of frozen raw, air-dried, freeze-dried and dehydrated. For a six-month stint, I spent every Sunday afternoon preparing a homemade diet by chopping vegetables and weighing chunks of meat. Now we’ve settled in on a combination of prepared frozen raw, some air-dried meat and raw meaty bones.

Feeding Pi fresh food is important to me for two key reasons:

  • Daily Health: Pi has a soft shiny coat, her teeth are clean and white, she stays at a healthy weight, her urine doesn’t kill the grass and her stools are small and don’t stink.
  • Long Term Health: Her diet is her health insurance. She stays healthy, so we don’t go to the vet except for wellness exams and vaccinations.

Pi is a 48lb, fairly active, 5 year old super-mutt.

   Last month she ate:

2 – 6lb Bags SmallBatch Frozen Raw $60

3 – 2lb Chubs SmallBatch Frozen Raw $25

1 – 2lb Bag RealMeat Air-Dried Food $23

1 – 6pack Raw Marrow Bones $16

TOTAL: $124

   Last year, our vet bills total $72.

I attribute my dog’s health and low vet bills partly to genetics (lucky mutt!), partly to ample exercise, but primarily to a healthy diet.

See this chart to get an idea of what it would cost to feed your dog fresh food.

*Remember that every dog has a different metabolism. For example, growing puppies require more calories than an older dog and a super active working breed typically needs more food than a couch dwelling bulldog.

Calories Per Day Frozen Raw 2lb Chubs Frozen Raw

8oz patties

6lb Bag

Air-Dried 10lb Bag Freeze-Dried 8lb Bag
20lb Dog 400 $42 $60 $60 $65
50lb Dog 1000 $110 $150 $150 $162
80lb Dog 1600 $170 $240 $240 $262
100lb Dog 2000 $220 $300 $300 $325

 

Supplements for Every Day Dog Health

You already have your dog on a healthy diet so what else does your she need for optimal health and wellness? The answer might be dietary supplements.

At The Happy Beast, we always address diet first. A species-appropriate diet lays the foundation for proper health by reducing the risk of illness and injury in animals and helping them recover from existing illness and disease. Often times, our animals have a lifestyle need or health condition that can be addressed by adding supplements to the appropriate diet.

For example, my dog, Pi, eats raw foods prepared by Primal and Small Batch and she occasionally gets air-dried food from The Real Meat Co. She’s on an optimal diet, but to meet her specific health needs, I stock my doggie medicine cabinet with Connectin joint support, a fish oil, Pet Natural’s Calming treats and Optagest prebiotics.

Check out these common scenarios we hear in the store every day and how the right supplement can help improve your animal’s health.

My two-year-old border collie mix is my hiking and running companion.

A young, active dog is susceptible to joint inflammation and injury. Omega-3s from fish oil and glucosamine keep joints healthy and moving. Colorado canines will also benefit from a daily prebiotic or probiotic to stave off environmental bacteria like giardia. Try InClover’s Jump or Connectin for joint health and Optagest Prebiotic and Enzyme.

I have a seven-year-old dog with a history of urinary tract infections and struvite crystals.

Powdered cranberry contains tannins that prevent certain pathogenic strains of bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. Free-floating bacteria can then pass through the bladder, reducing the risk of infection and growth of struvite crystals. Try Cranimals or Wee Wee Boost.

My lab has itchy dry skin and sheds incessantly.

Omega-3s from fish oil or algae combat inflammation and soothe itchy skin. Anecdotal evidence shows that those same omega-3s reduce shedding, but conclusive research is still ongoing.  Try InClover Glow or Alaska Natural’s Salmon Oil.

My dog’s breath stinks!

Bad breath can come from tartar in the mouth or bacteria in the gut. To combat both, pair a prebiotic with a green detoxing supplement. Try InClover’s Grin or PetKelp’s Wellness Blend.

I have a dog who is a Nervous Nelly at the vet and sometimes vomits on car rides.

There are several supplement approaches to calming an anxious dog and some are more effective than others depending on the dog and the cause of anxiety. Theanine helps dogs who are generally anxious, while flower essences like Rescue Remedy work well for sensitive dogs. A dog who vomits in the car will find relief from an herbal supplement like Ark Natural’s Happy Traveler.

My dog got into the trash and she’s had loose stools for the last few days.

Pumpkin fiber soothes tummies by regulating stool volume and density, meaning it binds loose stools and combats constipation. Firm-Up’s dehydrated pumpkin also boasts soluble apple fiber for an extra stomach-soothing boost.

We hope this blog post provides a good, quick summary of some of our favorite supplements, but stop by the store if you’d like to talk more about your pet’s specific conditions and how we might be able to help.

Cats Eat Meat! Phasing out kibble for cats at The Happy Beast

Starting this month, we’ve decided that The Happy Beast will be phasing out kibble for cats, and that we’ll stop carrying it completely as of July 2016! We know this may come as a surprise to a few of you so we wanted to explain our thinking and provide an opportunity for our customers to ask questions. We’re looking forward to this next stage in our growth and evolution and hope you’ll join us!

For years, we have committed a great deal of our time to educating our customers and increasing  awareness about why kibble can be detrimental to a cat’s health. Despite this, we’ve continued to sell it. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to sell something that we believe contributes to a variety of the health issues we see in cats today. Selling kibble has become the equivalent of preaching health and wellness on one hand, and then eating a diet of fast food and potato chips on the other hand.

We think it’s important to point out that this topic is not black and white and there are certain circumstances where we recognize the benefits of providing a high-quality kibble for cats. For instance, shelters, rescue groups, and individual’s feeding barn cats, may not have the time or economic ability to feed a diet of raw or canned food to dozens of cats. Then again, we cannot ignore the fact that when you look at the Top 10 Reasons cats go to the vet (reported by VPI pet insurance) we feel that a majority of those visits could have been avoided or remedied by feeding a biologically-appropriate diet of raw or canned food that consists primarily of animal protein.

What really got us moving in this direction was my recent interview with Dr. Angie Krause. In that interview, I learned that by the time Dr. Krause entered veterinary school in 2003, she was taught that cats should be on a canned food diet, and that kibble was no longer accepted as a good diet option for cats. I was both pleasantly surprised by this information and disheartened. If the vet community was now being taught that kibble is not appropriate for cats, then why is it still used and recommended so prolifically?

Let’s quickly review a couple of the most common areas of discussion: the potential health issues and the perceived reduced costs of feeding kibble:

Where kibble falls short and the potential health issues:

Read more in our “Kibble Transition Guide for Picky Cats” blog post

  • Too low in moisture. Can lead to kidney and urinary tract issues.
  • Too low in animal protein. Animal proteins provide the full spectrum of amino acids, including Taurine, which a cat needs, whereas plant-based proteins such as peas and potatoes do not. Peas and potatoes are the most common “binder” found in grain-free kibble, and can make up as much as 44% of the total kibble diet!
  • Too high in Carbohydrates.  All kibble, even “grain-free,” contains an average of 25% carbohydrate (a cat’s natural diet is generally less than 2%). This excess amount of carbohydrates promotes obesity because it is higher in sugar and causes cats to overeat. Cats tend to overeat kibble because the carbohydrates in it do not trigger satiety like fats and proteins do.  Additionally cats lack the enzyme, Amylase, which is responsible for digesting carbohydrates

Perceived reduced costs of feeding kibble:

  • Admittedly, it’s difficult to determine exactly what the cost savings would be to feed a biologically appropriate diet (and avoid extra vet visits) versus the average cost an owner would incur at the vet in order to treat a specific health condition.
  • From my personal experience, I know that I spent well over $8k over the course of four years to help my cat with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The cost to feed raw for an average ten-pound cat would be about $240/year, and the cost to feed canned would be about $480/year. (Costs vary depending on the diet, but yes, feeding raw can be even cheaper than feeding canned!) For my cat, switching him to a raw food diet made a tremendous difference; both in terms of his overall health as well as avoiding extra visits to the vet. I only wish I had made the transition sooner.

In summary, we know that change can be difficult. For example, why should a pet food company shift away from producing a profitable line of kibble cat food when the consumer demand still exists? Or why should a pet food store stop selling it? For us, we’ve decided to stop walking the line of this debate and stop carrying kibble for cats. We’re excited to have you join us, and we’ll continue working to provide the best-possible education and products to improve the health and happiness of cats.
We’d love to have you stop by the store or comment on this blog post to ask any additional questions. Or just use the hashtag #CatsEatMeat on social media to show your support and join the movement!

What is the Difference Between Raw and Canned Food for Cats?

According to VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance), gastrointestinal issues are among the top ten reasons cats visit the vet. We feel very strongly that feeding a species-appropriate diet reduces the occurrence of GI issues, saving you money by eliminating treatment by a vet. In a blog post from last month, Dr. Angie Krause stated that she believes the need to see a vet would reduce by 50% if animals were fed a species appropriate diet!

Our ultimate goal is to see our customers (those wonderful cat guardians) get their animals off of dry food and onto a high moisture, high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Most people are familiar with canned foods, but raw foods are still a relatively unknown food option. There are three big differences between Raw and Canned food.

  1. Raw / Uncooked vs. Cooked (obviously)
  2. Amount of carbohydrates
  3. Use of thickening agents (e.g. Guar Gum, Carageenan, etc.)

In this post, we are going to focus on #3, because #1 is a much bigger topic (2.2 million Google Searches for: benefits of raw food diet!) and #2 has previously been discussed in our blog Flimflam Food: The Truth About Grain-Free Pet Food.

Although canned foods are a much more appropriate option for cats than dry food, it is still important to pay attention to the ingredients. Most canned foods still have a higher than ideal carbohydrate count (over 5% carb) and almost all brands utilize a thickening agent such as potato starch, tapioca starch, carrageenan, guar gum, xantham gum, locust bean gum, and agar agar. These additives are used to give the product a certain texture and consistency. Let’s focus on what these thickening agents are and their potential side effects.

  • Potato Starch – Extracted from potatoes, used as a thickening agent and does not provide any nutritional benefit. It is very important to pay attention to the amount of starch used as any amount above 5% is too high for a cat.
  • Tapioca Starch – Extracted from cassava root, used as a thickening agent. Consists almost entirely of carbohydrates and has no significant amount of essential vitamins or minerals.
  • Carrageenan – A polysaccharide extract from red seaweed. It is commonly used as a thickening agent in both human and animal foods. Studies disagree about the effects on the GI tract, but it should be noted that certain studies urge caution because of the belief that it irritates the GI tract by causing inflammation.
  • Guar Gum – Fiber from the seed of the guar bean, used as a thickening and stabilizing agent. Side effects include increased gas, diarrhea, and loose stools for digestively sensitive cats. Studies have shown that guar gum inhibits the digestibility of both fat and protein in older cats and those suffering from digestive issues, such as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). Read more about IBD on our blog
  • Xantham Gum – Used as a thickening agent and engineered in a laboratory by the US Department of Agriculture in 1969. To date, no studies have been conducted on its effect in cats, however it should be noted that Xanthan gum was identified in 2011 as the cause of a deadly form of colitis responsible for several infant illnesses and deaths.
  • Locust Bean Gum – Derived from the seed of the carob tree, it is used as a thickening agent. No studies have been conducted on its digestibility in cats. In human studies, individuals reported similar side effects to guar gum (e.g. increased gas, diarrhea, and loose stools).
  • Agar Agar – An indigestible fiber source extracted from red seaweed. In the digestive tract, it absorbs water, increases bulk, and stimulates bowel movements. It has been used for centuries as a laxative. No studies currently exist on its affects on a cat’s digestive tract.

For a healthy cat, these thickening agents might not pose a serious harm to their initial state of health. But because gums, such as Guar Gum reduce digestibility, cats with GI issues are unable to get all the nutrition that they need, and symptoms such as diarrhea may persist due to their potentially inflammatory and laxative properties. Additionally, as cats age, digestive function becomes less efficient and the body has a reduced ability to compensate for less digestible foods.

Cats with IBD, like our foster cats Dottie and Fancy, need to be on an exclusively raw food diet. We have “experimented” with different brands of canned foods, all containing various thickening agents. The results are always the same: loose and excessive stools even when given less than ¼ tsp!

Raw food is our number one option when it comes to cats. Raw food most closely simulates their natural diet of rodents, rabbits, and birds. It is the least processed of all the commercially-available food options and does not contain fillers or thickening agents. Compare the ingredients in a raw diet for cats with those of a canned diet.

  • SmallBatch Raw Chicken Formula: 97% Chicken, 1% Produce, 2% Supplements: Chicken, Skinless Chicken Necks, Chicken Backs, Chicken Livers, Chicken Hearts, Chicken Gizzards, Salmon Oil, Organic Dandelion Greens, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Organic Kelp, Organic Bee Pollen, Organic Barley Grass, Organic Cranberries
  • Mauri Brushtail Canned Food: Brushtail, Brushtail Broth, Pumpkin, Ovine Plasma, Calcium Carbonate, Fish Oil, Locust Bean Gum, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Vitamins & Minerals: (Choline Chloride, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Biotin, Sodium Selenite, Folic Acid, Calcium Iodate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacin Supplement, Iron Amino Acid Chelate , Zinc Amino Acid Chelate), Cranberries, Taurine, New Zealand Green Mussel.

Raw food is more digestible than cooked food, and especially more digestible than the protein found in kibble. Due to its higher digestibility, raw food is the best option for a cat suffering from GI issues. While feeding your cat raw meat, initially seems odd, when we take the time to consider the fact that cats don’t cook their prey, the concept of raw doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Let’s take a look at the cost to feed both raw and canned foods, I think you will be surprised at the cost (in a good way!) Remember there are lots of variables that can drive up and down the cost, for instance feeding a “novel” protein such as Rabbit or Venison will cost more, but feeding Raw “chubs” (big blocks of meat) will drive your cost down.

COST OF RAW FOOD: 3lbs Bags with 1oz sliders:

  • 8 lbs: 160 cal/day: 3oz of raw: $30/month
  • 10 lbs: 200 cal/day: 4oz of raw: $40/month
  • 12 lbs: 240 cal/day: 5oz of raw: $50/month
  • 15 lbs: 300 cal/day: 6oz of raw: $60/month

Cost of Raw Food Chubs (2lb sausage shaped)

  • 8 lbs: $18/ month
  • 10 lbs: $24/month
  • 12 lbs: $30/month
  • 15lbs: $37month

COST OF CANNED FOOD: Calorie/oz varies between brands, it’s important to check your calories so that you are feeding them the proper amount.

  • 8 lbs: 160 cal/day 4oz-5oz: $32/month
  • 10 lbs: 200 cal/day 5.5oz: $42/month
  • 12 lbs: 240 cal/day: 6.6oz: $50/month
  • 15 lbs: 300 cal/day: 6.75oz: $62/month

Species-Appropriate Food for Canine Weight Loss

An estimated 53% of dogs in the U.S. are obese or overweight and we get a lot of inquiries in the store for weight loss diets and treats. We started The Happy Beast Weight Loss Program to help dogs and cats lose weight in a safe and healthy way, using species-appropriate foods.

Most commercial and prescription dog foods aimed at weight loss are low calorie, low fat and high fiber. The dominant ingredients in these foods are carbohydrates. Why? Carbohydrates (e.g. rice, corn, potatoes) are much lower in calories per pound than meat. The idea is to help your dog feel full by allowing him to eat just as much food while consuming fewer calories.

We find a few problems with this approach.

First, higher carb means lower protein. (Remember, protein is required for muscle and organ growth and maintenance.)  Second, dogs are satiated by fat. A low-fat, high-fiber food will not help your dog feel full. And third, the body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates, so most unused carbs are converted to fat stores.

Contrast this to the diets we recommend for weight loss that are high protein, moderate fat, and low carb.

In the most recent publication of Nutrient Requirements for Cats and Dogs, the National Research Council finds that canines have no requirement for carbohydrates. The primary source of energy for canines should be fat and protein. For your dog to lose weight, he needs a species-appropriate protein supply and healthy fat to help him feel satisfied. We reduce carbohydrates so the body is forced to use up fat stores for energy.

HIGH PROTEIN

Regardless of your dog’s need to gain or lose weight, he needs a daily supply of high-quality protein. The digestive tract breaks down protein into amino acids which are used for daily body functions including maintaining and repairing muscles and organs. A diet that is primarily high quality protein will provide your dog all 22 required amino acids. If your dog doesn’t consume enough quality protein in his diet, he will synthesize 12 non-essential of the 22 amino acids by breaking down his own healthy muscle and organ tissues. The other 10 amino acids are called essential, because they cannot be synthesized by the body if they are missing from the diet.

MODERATE FAT

Including a moderate amount of fat in the diet may be contrary to what we’re used to hearing when we talk about weight loss, but healthy fats have an important roles in helping your dog feel full.  Dogs feel satisfied when they’ve consumed enough fat, not when they’ve consumed enough food. Feeding a dog green beans and carrots is not going to make a hungry dog feel full. Once your dog has reached his weight loss goal, fat in the diet will be used as energy.

LOW CARB

Any carbohydrates your dog eats are converted into glucose by the digestive system and used for energy. Any unused glucose is stored as fat. By limiting the amount of carbohydrates in the diet, your dog’s system will resort to using fat as an energy source instead; using up fat reserves in the body. This is how your dog will lose weight!

Using the diet of our dog’s ancestors as a guide, dogs require 14% or less carbohydrates. Most dry food (kibbles) are made up of over 40% carbs. If your dog has a weight loss goal, consider a raw, freeze-dried or air-dried food that contain less than 15% carbohydrates. If you still choose to feed a kibble diet, you can still replace some of his food with canned, raw or cooked meat to increase his protein intake while decreasing carbs.

For more info, read our blog post on calculating carbs or check the Nutrition Plan Worksheet for our Weight Loss Program. You can also check out the websites for some of our favorite brands, including SmallBatch, Primal, K9 Naturals, ZiwiPeak and The Real Meat Co.

Or stop by the store anytime and we’ll be happy to help create a customized Weight Loss Plan for your furry friend.