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No matter what species we’re talking about, each has evolved to thrive on a specific set of foods. My personal experience is with cats, dogs and humans, but the statement is true for any species. In the case of pets, no cat or dog has the DNA blueprint for thriving on dry, high heat extruded, nutrition-stripped pebbles and treats made from very questionable ingredients.

Animals, like people, need real unprocessed food in proportions optimal for their specific metabolisms. Of course this doesn’t mean that you can just feed them what you’re eating. Cats and dogs each have their own specific micro- and macro-nutrient needs that must be met to sustain health. This is one area where commercial pet foods comply – they must meet the minimum required vitamin and mineral needs of the species they are feeding.

The best diet for pets mimics what they would eat if they were still in the wild. Consider it Pet Paleo or Primal. Dogs and cats are carnivores that hunted their prey which varied from meal to meal. Today’s pets are not the hunters of the past, but they still contain the DNA that thrives on fresh raw meats and organs.

Here Dr. Karen Becker gives advice on how to choose a great pet food:

Personally, I’ve tried cooking for my pets, I’ve tried making raw food for them, they’ve eaten kibble, canned varieties and everything in between. One note about making your own pet food – it is very rewarding to know that you are doing something wonderful for them, but BE SURE that you have the proper nutrient balance. An imbalanced home cooked or raw diet is much more dangerous to your dog than a commercially prepared, balanced food.

The key is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can prepare foods for your pet, and you can feed them commercially made foods that are complete and balanced.

Here are a couple books if you are interested in making your own pet food. In his book, “The Whole Pet Diet: Eight Weeks to Great Health for Dogs and Cats,” Andi Brown offers a cooked stew method that I’ve used several times, and I rely on Dr. Becker for raw feeding advice. Her latest book is “Dr Becker’s Real Food For Healthy Dogs and Cats: Simple Homemade Food.”

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

Personally, I stopped making my own food for the time being because I have too many animals and not enough time. That said, where I have landed is a balance of quality + price + convenience. I personally feed a few varieties of dehydrated raw foods. I use Sojo’s and Honest Kitchen – their ingredients lists look good enough for me to eat and they are AAFCO rated to contain species-specific balanced nutrition. Just add water and voila, you have a healthy meal that your pet will love. These are not organic. That is the biggest minus. (If your pet is used to dry food, you’ll need to take steps to transition them new way of eating, but it’s very worth it.)

There are several great foods commercially available for your pets that you don’t have to make yourself. Primal Pet has a line of raw foods, Darwin’s Pet has raw as well, including prescription foods just to name a few. Google for raw pet foods and scrutinize labels. You should be able to find something that lands within your budget.

Add fresh vegetables

If now is not the right time to change your dog’s food, that’s ok! You can still make a dramatic improvement in their health by adding fresh vegetables to their existing diet. A Purdue study showed that adding fresh, whole foods to a processed kibble dog diet can reduce cancer risk by 90%. That’s huge! 90%! Just by adding some fresh veggies to your dog’s bowl. Stir in some chopped greens, zucchini, colored bell peppers – rotate through a variety of different things to give them a nice, fresh nutrient boost.

Whatever you decide to feed your dog, rotating brands and proteins is a great practice for lasting health. The common notion that pets should not change foods is a marketing gimmick started by pet food manufacturers to get you to keep buying their specific food. When dogs eat the exact same thing over and over they run the risk of developing food sensitivities that can go undetected until deeper problems arise. Plus, it just gets boring! Variety is the spice of life – even for your dog.

Any little improvement to what your dog eats will positively impact his health. Food is medicine!