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From Kibble to Raw: A Feline Food Journey

This month we are featuring Meghan B, who successfully and happily transitioned her feline household onto a species-appropriate raw food diet. As Meghan says, the outcome is a “Cat Mom Win!” Read her challenges, tips, and ultimate success story.

Mya and Diego are my four-year-old purr-babies who came from the same litter. Despite their single origin, each is a unique individual with a differing personality and, as it turns out, gastrointestinal fortitude!

Both fur balls are 100% indoor cats and had been on a kibble (dry food), free-fed diet their entire lives. Previously, I’ve experimented with different proteins and limited-ingredient diet foods because Mya seemed to be particularly sensitive to chicken and salmon. Another concern of mine was the lack of water both cats would drink from their bowl. Instead, they prefer to meow (loudly!) in the sink until I turn on the faucet. Throughout my four years of being the proud cat mom I am, I had never heard of a raw food diet… until recently on a visit to The Happy Beast!

Why raw food you ask? For one, kibble is full of carbohydrates that can often lead to obesity. It lacks a sufficient amount of species-appropriate nutrients and has little to no water content. While I know that kibble may be cheaper and free-feeding my cats is convenient, I’d rather go a little out of my way for the overall health of my babies!

Our cats’ relatives are hunters and live off their prey, so why shouldn’t our pet cats also eat raw?! Raw food is all protein. It’s minimally-processed, contains plenty of moisture, and is amazing for your cats’ digestive health.

Mya has not thrown up once since switching to raw, which for me, is a huge Cat Mom win. Both of their coats are already softer and their stool is smaller/less frequent because their bodies are using all the essential nutrients from their food.

The process of switching my kibble-loving cats to raw-food felines was not the easiest, but I urge all of you that are trying to not give up! They were both set in their kibble-eating ways, although, Diego was much easier to transition than Mya. I started by shredding dehydrated food and mixing it in with some of their old kibble. Mind you, I had to try several types of dehydrated foods because Mya wouldn’t touch some or, alternatively, she would get sick. Next, I gave them only dry, dehydrated food for a few days before adding water to rehydrate the food. This was Mya’s first time eating “wet” food, because, unlike her brother, she would not touch canned food. After sticking to the rehydrated food for a couple of weeks, I then started to slowly introduce raw food. I began with duck raw food because they had been eating duck in both the kibble and dehydrated form. But Diego threw up and Mya wouldn’t touch it. I had stayed away from chicken for years because Mya would get sick every time she had anything chicken based, but I decided to try it in a raw form. Two white cats cuddlingI put a spoonful of raw food under some of their dehydrated food. Diego loved it! Mya still wasn’t convinced. She would eat around the raw food. I kept trying this with Mya for a few days and started to mix the dehydrated food into the raw so that she had to try it. I would also add a tablespoon of water to it. It took a bit of time and persistence, but she finally started eating the whole bowl of food. Within a few days from that point, Mya was completely on a raw food diet! Victory!!! The overall transition took Mya about 1 1/2 months and Diego about 3 weeks.

Overall, I truly couldn’t be happier that my fur babies are now on a raw food diet. Despite the trials and tribulations to reach the outcome, it was all worth the effort. I’m looking forward to seeing continued health benefits for my kitties over the months and years to come!

If you’re working on transitioning your own kitties to a raw food diet, I highly recommend a few other blog posts from The Happy Beast:

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

 

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

Ending the Monotony Meal Plan: The Benefits of Pet Food Rotation

At The Happy Beast, we believe that there are significant benefits from pet food rotation. In fact, we think it’s a big pet food myth that animals should eat the same formula of the same brand of food for their whole lives. While this is a great marketing ploy for the pet food companies (who don’t want you to feed anything but their brand of food) it is not in the best interest of your animal’s health and well-being. For one thing, eating the same thing over and over is boring… just imagine eating one kind of cuisine for every meal for the rest of your life! Even more importantly, from a health perspective, a monotonous diet can have negative effects on your animal for the following reasons:  

  1. Although pet foods are formulated to be “balanced and complete,” it’s unlikely that one food will meet all of an animal’s nutrient requirements over a long period of time.
  2. Feeding one food may cause your animal to develop an intolerance or allergy to the ingredients in that food.
  3. The digestive system of an animal that has only had to process one kind of food will be weaker and less tolerant to changes and natural aging.

The good news is that there are many ways to incorporate pet food rotation into your animal’s diet:

  1. Even if you like feeding a specific brand, choose a different recipe or protein source each time you buy a bag, box, or can of food. Most companies offer several formulas. If you usually feed a chicken recipe, try bison or fish.
  2. If you normally feed dry food or kibble, supplement with another, less processed food. Raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried, and canned foods can all make great mix-ins.
  3. Add fresh food. “Table scraps” aren’t necessarily bad as long as you’re not feeding them during a meal at the table! Just limit what “people food” you share with your animals to healthy foods like lean meats, salmon skins, yogurt, and cooked vegetables. Although small fish bones are fine, you should not typically feed larger “table scrap” bones because they have been cooked. In comparison to raw bones, cooked bones can more easily splinter and cause a choking risk. 

If your animal has a very sensitive digestive system or has been eating the same food for a very long time:

  1. Add in new foods very slowly.
  2. Supplement the diet with a prebiotic, probiotic, or digestive enzyme. (We like Optagest or raw goat milk.)

Chicken, turkey, lamb, and beef are often used in pet foods, but new protein sources are making their way into the market. “Novel proteins” is an industry term for meats not commonly found in pet foods. We commonly recommend novel protein diets for animals with food sensitivities or allergies, but healthy animals can benefit from these meats as well. Try including goat, rabbit, venison, alligator, or kangaroo in your animal’s next pet food rotation!

 

If variety isn’t the spice of life, is it catnip?

Pet Food Safe Handling Tips

Amidst the FDA’s testing assignment of raw pet foods, we’ve heard more questions from customers lately who are concerned about pathogens and pet food safe handling tips. Pathogens can show up in all types of food, but by using safe-handling practices when preparing, serving, and storing your animal’s food, you can minimize risk and keep everyone safe!

Note: Your dog may lick his bowl clean. He may even be an expert at cleaning your dishes! Do NOT mistake your dog’s tongue for an appropriate cleaning product! Also, resist the urge to let your dog lick your face and remember to wash your hands after he licks your fingers.

  1. Keep It Clean!
    Use hot, soapy water to clean food preparation surfaces like countertops and cutting boards. Follow up with a cleaning product that contains bleach, or make your own diluted bleach solution. Clean utensils and bowls with hot, soapy water too or run them through a dishwasher. You can also use a similar diluted bleach solution to clean utensils and bowls; we typically do this once a week. Let everything air-dry to reduce contamination.After handling pet food, always remember to wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least thirty seconds. Singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself while you wash is an easy way to make sure you’re being thorough.
  1. Get Those Cats Off the Counter
    Easier said than done, we know, but by trying to limit your cat’s exposure to the counter, you can reduce the chances of spreading bacteria from your kitty’s paws to your food preparation surface. Although it may sound like an impossible task, here are some tips for discouraging your cats from jumping on the counter:

    • Don’t make the counter fun or tasty – never feed your cats on the counter and try to move any objects of interest such as houseplants or flowers.
    • Experiment with placing a sheet or two tinfoil on your counters – many cats seem to hate the sound and texture and will avoid walking on those areas.
    • For hard-to-break counter habits, consider getting a PetSafe Ssscat Cat Spray Control System, which sprays a shot of harmless compressed air whenever a motion sensor is tripped by your cat.
  1. Choose stainless steel bowls
    Feeding your pet from a stainless steel bowl is great since stainless steel is much less likely to trap bacteria than plastic or ceramic and is easier to wash. We always keep a great selection at the store for both dogs and cats.
  1. Store Food Properly
    • Raw food should be kept in the freezer and then defrosted in the refrigerator until meal time. Stainless steel fridge containers are less common, but a plastic storage container will work just fine – it’s really the feeding bowls that should be stainless steel. We recommend designating a container with a lid specifically for defrosting pet food.
    • When finding an ideal container, you should also consider what type of raw food you typically feed. For example, some raw food meat patties can be more than 4 inches in diameter so you’ll want a container that’s wide enough.
    • Kibble, dehydrated, free-dried, and air-dried foods should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Many of these foods already include packaging with a resealable, interior plastic bag. This works fine, but for foods that don’t include resealable packaging, it’s best to transfer the entire contents to another, air-tight container.
    • Canned food should also be also be stored in a cool, dry place.
    • Always pay attention to expiration dates and discard any food that is no longer fresh.