12 months ago I had no idea about what was in commercial pet food....

12 months ago I had no idea about what was in commercial pet food....

Firstly WELCOME to Healthy Active Pet!

Whether you are new to learning about pet nutrition or a long time expert I welcome you here!

My name is Rhian and I am the Founder and I am passionate about the health of pets and I wanted to explain why I launched the business and how my mission is to help educate and inform pet owners about the best health and nutrition choices for your pets

I hope this piece I wrote helps to inform you as to what is going on in the pet food industry and how you can make better health decisions for your pets so they live a healthier and longer life.

Healthy Active Pet

I absolutely LOVE my pets (I have dogs and cats and have done all my life) and the reason I am here and have created Healthy Active Pet is that I believe that a light needs to shined on pet health and nutrition.

Just like humans - feeding our pets a NON processed and fresh food diet is the best way to keep them healthy, lean and living a long life.

BUT it is so important to feed them a balanced fresh food diet as if you are feeding them a non balanced fresh food diet without the right nutrition it can also hinder their health. (please note the ALL Healthy Active Pet recipes are created by our pet nutritionist and meet AAFCO standards)

I can also thoroughly recommend watching a documentary called PET FOOLED which is a great overview of the problem that exits with so much of processed pet food and I hope that we as a business can help go someway to address and through education we can all make more informed choices.

So here we go........

12 months ago I had ZERO idea about nutrition for dogs and cats - which looking back I am ashamed about as I am so focused on nutrition for humans (I founded The Healthy Mummy in 2010).

I have had cats and dogs most of my life and Jack Russels have always been a staple but last year we got a couple of Cavoodles.

I love my cats and dogs immensely but I had always bought traditional pet food for them (not knowing that this was not the best option for their health).

But then my Cavoodles starting having diarrhea GALORE and after some exploration with the vets I discovered they had a chicken allergy.

healthy active pet

I then discovered that most of all pet food had chicken in - wonderful!

This then began a BIG research and discovery part of my life into the pet food industry and nutrition for pets.

And after I did a lot of research plus talking to pet nutritionists, animal experts and vets I completely changed the way I viewed pet food and what I fed my cats and dogs.

And it was here where I learnt about home made and raw feeding. Which honestly I had never ever considered before or even been aware of.

I also discovered the home made recipe niche or raw feeding niche was pretty big with some very passionate people in - which was literally a whole new world.

Raw feeding

So what did I discover?

Firstly that a lot of commercial processed pet food is not great for the health of our pets.

Commercial pet food is a very broad term that encompasses a lot of variety, but what I mean by this is dry and tinned processed food.

These types of foods are made from extremely processed ingredients of dubious quality – often waste products from other industries – that are not suitable to a dog or cat’s digestive needs or requirements.

They are generally upwards of 50% processed starches, with the bulk of the actual nutrients coming from cheap synthetic supplements.

These foods are difficult to digest, contribute to chronic inflammation, spike insulin (leading to weight gain - nearly 50% of dogs are now overweight and 35% of cats) and do not support the health or wellbeing of our pets.

Have you ever picked up a bag of dog or cat food and seen "Meat by-products and meat (poultry, beef &/or sheep)” or words to that effect? What does that even mean? (P.S pick up any of the brands in the supermarket and you will see this)

Chances are it means the manufacturer doesn’t actually know which one is in their food. 

Heavily processed pet food like kibbles and tinned dog and cat products are almost always made from meat that has either been rendered to a shelf stable powder, or otherwise processed to a meat “slurry” that is then sterilised.

Rendering is a process favoured by the fertiliser industry, whereby meat and bones that are not fit for human consumption are crushed and then heated to very high temperatures until the water and fat separate.

The remaining “meat” is dried to a long life powder that contains mostly protein and bone, and then turned into garden fertiliser, dry dog food and livestock feed. 

Some tinned pet foods also use these meat meals, while others grind whole meat and meat by-products (which may include heads, hooves, offal and basically any part of the animal that is otherwise discarded), and then add cereals and other binding ingredients to form the chunks in a tin that we might mistake for actual pieces of meat.

These ingredients are then cooked so the starches gelatinise and proteins begin to denature, before being tinned and sterilised using temperatures over 120 degrees Celsius for several minutes.

These products are basically always synthesised with vitamin and mineral supplements, because very little nutrition survives these heat intensive processes. 

Because these meats are pretty much always not of a quality fit for human consumption, prior to being turned into pet food they are regulated by a different set of rules to food intended for the human supply chain.

These rules don’t require that meat be properly labelled as “beef” or “sheep,” which is why pet food manufacturers don’t always seem to know which one is in their food.

We know that for good health we should avoid heavily processed meats and refined carbs; the same applies to our pets but in commercial pet food this is not the case.

And kibble is a BIG seller in commercial pet food and I couldn't believe I had been feeding it to my pets.

I was feeding my pets- that I LOVED - food that was actually contributing to disease, being overweight and decreasing their longevity and health. 

You can read more on what is in kibble here - and spoiler alert it's not great. 

I then discovered that, without doubt, feeding a raw or fresh diet is the best one for our pets.

And that we need to feed our pets a species appropriate diet

A species appropriate diet is a diet that is well suited to the metabolic capabilities of your dog’s digestive system.

Dogs are closely related to wolves, who are well established predators that thrive on a prey-based diet of primarily other small animals.

They have no need for carbohydrates and are poorly equipped to digest them for a number of reasons.

The most obvious tell-tale signs are in the canine mouth . Unlike truly omnivorous creatures (like humans), dogs and wolves have sharp, pointy canines and molars that are designed for hunting, ripping and crunching in a way that our flat molars and jaws simply aren’t.

They can’t move their jaws horizontally, meaning they have difficulty grinding fibrous foods (which is why kibble in vomit is always still whole!), and in fact they don’t even produce the digestive enzymes required to break down carbohydrates in their saliva (salivary amylase) .

Of course dogs aren’t wolves and it can be difficult to imagine an “oodle” or a pug ever sharing bloodlines with the grey wolf, but biologically they are still incredibly alike, and this extends to their metabolic and digestive needs and capabilities.

Dogs can digest some carbohydrate foods, such as small amounts of fresh fruits and cooked vegetables, and these provide wonderful nutritional benefits to them when they do.

But this doesn’t mean they should eat a starch-based diet of heavily processed grains . Like wolves, dogs thrive on an animal-based diet with the bulk of their energy coming from protein and fat. (P.S commercial pet food is high in carbs)

But what I did discover is that it can be SUPER confusing!

Here are a few things that are confusing!

Some vets still recommend commercial pet food and you can read why this is the case here

The raw feeding trend is massive but can be overwhelming as just like with human meals - you need to ensure you have the correct nutrition mix to ensure your pet isn't malnourished - and for dogs this means things like organ meats and bones.

Lots of people think raw feeding is too hard

Lots of people think raw feeding is too expensive

Lots of people think raw feeding is dangerous and will lead to bacteria and salmonella spread

And lastly, pet owners can get really offended if someone says they aren't feeding their dog the best option - which is of course understandable

So there was a lot to unpack! And a lot to learn.

Next steps & Solution Creation

So, at this stage I knew there was a lot of work to be done and I wanted to help educate people to be able to make better choices BUT I also didn't want anyone to be made to feel bad about their choices and my main focus was education.

I also VERY focused on creating a supportive, informative and non judgemental platform and community for pet lovers to be part of.

We all love our animals and the last thing we want is to be made to feel like a bad pet parent - especially when we are just buying what is on the supermarket shelves.

So I brought on pet experts and pet nutritionists to help me

My aim was three fold

1) To help educate people and give lots of free information all created by our expert team as I strongly believe education is key and you can see lots of free content on our blog

2) To create home and raw feeding recipe books and meal plans that people could use that would empower and educate them. These would be created by our pet nutritionists and meet all AAFCO standards and would be simple and budget friendly. You can see these here

3) To create a convenient but healthy dog and cat food option so if people didn't want to home feed every day they had a back up. I also wanted to ensure all dog food was FREE from CHICKEN & BEEF as I discovered so many dogs were allergic to these and I wanted to provide a dog feed that didn't have chicken or beef!

Point 3 was tricky. But after lots of consultation I was super happy that we created air dried and freeze dried raw food with our first batch focused on weight management

For this it was literally the raw human grade ingredients in our recipes but air dried and freeze dried. A very expensive process but a brilliant and highly nutritious product. And with ZERO processing - so much so that if you ever use our product you will see the sardine heads still in tact! You can see these here

So I hope this has helped give you some key information and you can scroll below for common FAQ on the subject too.

Here are a few super helpful articles too they you may want to check out

And if want to check out our nutrient dense, species appropriate food and programs that will not only help them maintain a healthy weight, but also support their gut health, fight oxidative stress and inflammation, keep them feeling full and satisfied, and potentially may even extend their life - then check it out here

Common FAQ on raw feeding 

And below are some top FAQ which hopefully will answer some questions you may have

Q. What is a fresh/raw diet for dogs and cats? 

A. A fresh or raw diet is a diet made up of nutritious whole foods, just like we eat ourselves. The main difference for dogs and cats is that they are biologically suited to eat a meat or prey-based diet, so their version of a fresh diet is much more protein heavy than ours. It refers to a carefully balanced variety of meat, meaty bones, organs and offal, a small portion of fruits and vegetables, and some extras like herbs and superfoods. It is species appropriate in the sense that it replicates what their natural diet would look like, and as a result is well suited to their digestive and nutritional needs. 

Q. Why should I raw feed my dog?

A. Because it’s the way nature intended for them to eat. Modern pet food doesn’t resemble anything even vaguely like what our dogs and cats would eat if they had any say in it, and they’ve never been fatter or sicker for it. A raw food diet supports their health and wellbeing by providing a steady stream of highly digestible and bioavailable macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and water to ensure your pet thrives, not just survives. 

Q. I don’t want to raw feed, is it ok if I use the same recipes but cook the meat?

A. Yes, it’s ok to cook the meat in most of the recipes in this plan. Some dogs are better suited to eating cooked food, especially if they are older or have a history of digestive upset. It’s also a good idea to cook the meat if your dog has a severely compromised immune system, such as if they’re undergoing cancer treatment. 

The only thing you must never cook is bones. Bones are very soft in their raw state and digest easily, whereas cooked bones are dry and have a tendency to splinter, which can result in sharp pieces getting stuck during digestion or even perforating the digestive tract. If you’re not comfortable feeding raw bones, use the recipes that don’t contain any.  

Q. What is the difference in giving my pet raw food versus lightly cooking the same food?

A. The main difference is that some vitamins, fats, amino acids and enzymes are sensitive to heat, and as a result may be compromised during the cooking process. 

But if your pet has a specific need for cooked food (such as if they struggle to tolerate raw), it’s important to weigh the benefits against these downsides. Our first preference is raw because it is the closest available style of feeding to what a dog would naturally consume, but lightly cooking is our second choice. The easiest way is to broil the meat in a bit of water and feed the water with it, which will ensure you salvage any nutrients that survive but leak out in the cooking process. 

The other main difference is the portion sizes. You will likely find that the size of the meat reduces quite a lot when you cook it, as meat contains a lot of water, so base your portion sizes on the raw weights. 

Q. Should I be worried about pathogens and bacteria in raw food? 

A. We think it’s wise to be conscious of bacteria and pathogens and always practice safe food handling with your pet’s food, just as you would for the rest of your family. But we don’t think it’s something you need to endlessly worry about. It is true that cooking food is one method of destroying pathogenic bacteria, but there are other precautions we can take, such as always selecting human grade meats (not “pet” meat) and feeding it while it is nice and fresh. 

Dogs and cats are also very well equipped to handle any pathogens that do present, due to their very acidic stomach (up to 100 x more acidic than humans!), which has the capacity to neutralise bad bacteria before it can cause problems – they even have antibacterial qualities in their saliva!    

There is a lot of fear mongering around pathogens in raw food, but what we don’t tend to hear about is all the recalls and incidents of salmonella in processed pet food. These are actually much more common and widespread than documented incidents of raw food causing problems in either animals or humans (which are very few and far between). 

You may hear scary statistics about dogs shedding salmonella, but it’s important to look at these in context.

While it’s true that around 15% of household pets shed salmonella, this is regardless of what they are fed.

It’s also important to remember that not all salmonella is pathogenic, salmonella lives in the gut of dogs and cats and those 15% of pets that shed salmonella are clinically healthy.

And when we say they “shed” salmonella, this means that it’s in their waste.

We highly recommend that you avoid getting up close and personal with your pet’s poo for any reason!

Q. Is commercial pet food really that bad and if so why?

A. Commercial pet food is a very broad term that encompasses a lot of variety (but not all), but what most people mean by this is dry and tinned processed food. These types of foods are made from extremely processed ingredients of dubious quality – often waste products from other industries – that are not suitable to a dog or cat’s digestive needs or requirements.

They are generally upwards of 50% processed starches, with the bulk of the actual nutrients coming from cheap synthetic supplements. These foods are difficult to digest, contribute to chronic inflammation, spike insulin (leading to weight gain) and do not support the health or wellbeing of our pets. We know that for good health we should avoid heavily processed meats and refined carbs; the same applies to our pets. 

Q. If I give the fresh food diet a go for my pet, what are the ways I can save money?

A. Saving money by switching to a fresh diet can come in the form of short-term measures, and long-term gains. 

In the short term, we recommend planning ahead and shopping around for specials. You will often find that markets and butchers have good deals that are worth seeking out (sometimes things like offcuts are kept behind the counter). We recommend that you get to know your butcher!

If you can invest in a small freezer to store bulk specials, you can save money that way. You will also find that when you do the maths, raw feeding is actually not that much more expensive than feeding a premium dry food, and it’s almost always a lot cheaper than buying a premade fresh food. 

Then there are the long-term gains. Almost HALF (43%) of vet visits for dogs are due to stomach issues and skin conditions, both of which are so often resolved by switching to an anti-inflammatory fresh diet that supports digestive health. You will be saving money on expensive dental bills and, most importantly, your dog will be happier and healthier – which is priceless. 

Q. If my dog is a puppy can they follow this diet?

A. This meal plan has been formulated for adult dogs. Puppies have more intensive nutritional needs than adult dogs, such as their increased requirements for protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, sodium, manganese, zinc and selenium.

It’s very important that these needs are met and that steady growth is facilitated, so they should eat a food that is specifically formulated for puppies.  

Q. What’s the difference between human grade meat and pet grade meat?

A. Human grade meat is the same meat that we eat; this just means that it comes from the human supply chain and has been subjected to the very strict legislative requirements that ensure it is safe to eat.

Pet grade meat is regulated by a different Australian Standard and the rules are much more relaxed around what is permitted to go into it and how it must be labeled. Some meat that is rejected from the human supply chain is permitted to be diverted to the pet meat supply chain, which gives you a fairly strong indication of which one is the higher standard.

Not all pet meat is bad, but it’s much more difficult to work out than it is for human grade meat. 

Q. What’s the difference between dehydrated food and air dried food?

A. These are really just two ways to describe the same thing, which is removing the water from fresh food to preserve it in a shelf stable, dried form. Neither term is regulated, but “air dried” generally refers to a less heat intensive process.

Dehydration can take place over a relatively short amount of time at a higher heat and thus incurs greater nutrient loss, whereas air drying usually refers to a lower temperature process over several days that preserves as much nutrition as possible. 

Q. What’s the difference between air dried food and freeze dried food?

A. The difference between freeze dried and air dried is that air drying preserves food using low (but still warm) temperatures to evaporate the moisture, whereas freeze drying uses no heat at all and evaporates the moisture through sublimination, which is a process of turning the frozen water to gas.

They are both excellent methods of preservation, and it’s possible that freeze drying retains more nutrients than air drying, However this comes at a significant cost. Freeze drying uses an enormous amount of energy, so it is an extremely expensive process, meaning the finished product costs a lot more. We offer a range of freeze-dried treats because we also love freeze drying, but we want our food to be accessible for all so we opted to air dry this portion of our range. 

Q If I use your packaged pet food - will my pet still be getting the best nutrition?

A. Absolutely! Our packaged food is formulated to meet the same standards as our DIY recipes, which are the industry wide standards for the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats.

The only difference is that we have air dried it, using a very low temperature over several days in a HACCP licenced facility. Our nutritionist has ensured the nutrient level safely exceed the minimum requirements, so that any nutrient loss is accounted for.

This means it offers the convenience of being shelf stable, while being just as nutritious as the fresh recipes. 

Q. How is your pre-made/packaged food different to kibble?

A. It’s different to kibble in just about every way imaginable! We don’t use any intensive processing methods, like rendering meat, extruding or high temperature cooking. We don’t use any starches or refined flours, or any synthetic nutrients.

Our food is primarily meat and organs (from the human supply chain), some carefully selected fruits vegetables, herbs and superfoods to fill any nutritional gaps, all lightly air dried to preserve it. It is basically just fresh food with the moisture removed – no other processing is done to it at all.   

Q. How do I transition my dog from a processed diet to fresh food?

A. We recommend transitioning slowly, over a week or more. How long this takes will depend on your individual pet, but most will be ok with having their previous food replaced incrementally over about a week.

If you find this is too much and upsets their tummy, go more slowly and allow them time to adjust. It’s a good idea to introduce things like organ meat towards the end of the transition, as they can be quite “rich.”

Offering a probiotic is a good way to complement the transition phase, as it will help the gut microbiome adapt. We have also included a detailed troubleshooting guide with lots of helpful tips and tricks if you get stuck or feel overwhelmed at any point.   

Q. I've noticed my dog is drinking less water - is this ok?

A. It’s better than ok! It means your dog is getting their water from their food and are naturally more hydrated, just as nature intended.

It’s extremely common for fresh food eating dogs to consume less water, so don’t stress if you notice this. If you think they’re not drinking enough, you can always add a bit to their food. 

Q. Is this diet balanced / What are the AAFCO standards? 

A. Our food is formulated by our pet nutritionist to meet the AAFCO standards for adult dogs and cats.

These are the industry standards in Australia and much of the world for the nutritional requirements of our pets, and it’s generally what people are referring to when they say a food is “complete and balanced.” It’s sort of like the recommended daily intake for people.

If you make any changes to the recipes the food may not meet these benchmarks anymore, but just like we don’t meet our RDIs every single day, we think that’s actually ok.

So long as you are providing lots of variety and supplying the functional foods (like calcium) regularly, some adjustments to the recipes are ok, especially if they are because your pet doesn’t tolerate a certain ingredient.  

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