Do Horses Need Hay Around the Clock?

Do Horses Need Hay Around the Clock?

By Clair Thunes, PhD

Q. I have heard that horses need hay kept in front them all the times, but also that they don’t need 24-hour access to hay. I feed my 20-year-old horse 8 ounces of protein feed in the morning with two to three flakes of hay, and then turn him out on the pasture in afternoon until it gets dark. Now that it’s dark at 5: 30 p.m., I bring him in but don’t give him any hay for the night. Am I feeding him enough?

A. Accurately evaluating if you’re currently feeding the right amount of hay is challenging because I don’t have all the information I need about your horse and what you’re currently feeding. There are really two ways to look at your question:

1.      The first is are you feeding enough to meet your horse’s nutritional requirements; and

2.      Are you feeding enough to maintain gut health?

I will try to address both using some general considerations and hope you’ll find it helpful.

You’re correct that some owners/barns keep forage in front of their horses 24 hours a day while others meal feed. If you think back to where horses come from, they evolved in an environment where they could eat around the clock. Because available forage was low in nutritional value, they had to eat a lot of it, and their digestive tracts evolved accordingly. As a result, their digestive tracts are set up to receive small amounts of food almost constantly and always secrete stomach acid; most of their digestive tract volume is dedicated to forage fermentation.

Traditionally, our domesticated horses were fed in the morning before they went to work. They might receive a meal during the day in a nose bag or similar and then would receive another meal or be turned out on return from work at night. Meal feeding has remained our model for feeding horses even though few horses work all day and this pattern of feeding goes against how their digestive tracts are designed. Feeding this way was a necessity of the lifestyle, and meal feeding remains a mainstay of feeding practice in many barns.

When we apply these considerations to your horse, you’re doing a combination of both as you meal feed, but your horse also gets access to pasture for at least some of the day. It sounds as though your horse likely has feed for most of the daylight hours, assuming the morning hay lasts until turnout. However, overnight there is no feed available. Having no forage available overnight goes counter to the way your horse’s digestive tract is designed. Yet it’s how many horses are fed.

That said it’s also true that the risks of developing issues such as equine gastric ulcer syndrome and some forms of colic increase when horses are meal fed and go for long periods without forage access. So feeding some forage after return from pasture might benefit gastrointestinal health especially now that you are bringing your horse in earlier and the time spent in the stall without forage has increased.

This brings us to the other consideration: Are you feeding enough to meet your horse’s nutritional needs? The first consideration, and what I am going to focus on here, is calories–are you feeding enough calories to maintain body condition? Reducing your horse’s turnout time on pasture means less time for him to consume pasture and the possibility he’s consuming fewer calories. I say possibility because horses have actually been shown to consume the greatest amount of pasture when they are initially turned out, so reducing turnout time might or might not have a significant impact on total pasture intake.

However, at this time of year pasture quality drops off considerably. Rate of plant growth is reduced, so there’s a strong likelihood that your horse is not getting the calories from the pasture that he did over summer and early fall. This could lead to a loss of condition. Not knowing what condition your horse is in currently, I can’t determine whether this would actually be beneficial or not for your horse.

If current condition is ideal, then a loss of condition should cause concern and would require that these missing calories be provided some other way such as additional hay. This could be achieved by feeding some hay when you bring your horse in which would also help solve the issue of the long overnight period without feed.

If your horse needs to lose a little weight, or the reduction in pasture intake does not cause a loss of condition, then you could look at restructuring your current feeding program to spread out the hay you are feeding throughout the day and overnight. Instead of increasing hay intake in this scenario you could feed some of the morning hay in the evening.

Whether you feed more total hay or spread out the current hay fed, consider using a slow feeder so that it takes longer for your horse to eat the hay you are feeding. Some horses can handle constant access to forage without gaining undesirable weight. This typically requires finding an appropriate hay that has low nutritional value and restricting access with slow feeders. However, not all horses adjust to this even when the hay is of low nutritional value and display undesirable weight gain and therefore must have their intake limited.

One last general rule of thumb to keep in mind when debating the issue of whether you’re feeding enough total feed is how much feed your horse is consuming as a percentage of body weight. Research suggests that most mature horses in grazing situations consume 1.5-2% of their body weight per day as dry matter. While studies have shown wide variation in the amount consumed by each individual, veterinarians and nutritionists typically recommend a minimum of 1.5% of body weight as dry matter to maintain gut function.

Hopefully as you consider these general guidelines and your current feeding program they will help you to determine how best to make feeding adjustments if you decide changes are necessary.


Peppermint – Good tasting and good for your horse!

by Hilary Self, BSc (Hons), MNIMH comments by Diane Weinmann

Peppermint is one of the main herbs for digestion and contains between 0.5% and 1.5% of volatile oil, found in all parts of the plant. The oil content is highest just before flowering. The quantity of oil in the plant can vary depending on the variety of mint, the soil it is grown in and the climate. The oil consists of about 50% menthol.

The reason peppermint is such a valuable herb for the digestive system is because of this oil. It has a carminative action, helping to relax sphincters and the smooth muscles of the digestive system, assist in the expulsion of intestinal gas, tone mucous membrane surfaces and increase peristalsis. Peppermint oil is sometimes administered to people in capsules for irritable bowel syndrome.

The oil has a cooling, soothing and anesthetic effect on the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines, which makes it one of the key herbs to choose when dealing with horses prone to colic, gastric or duodenal ulceration, smooth muscle spasm, trapped gas, digestive cramping or poor appetite.

Peppermint contains a bitter quality that increases bile secretion and helps stimulate the appetite as well as tannins, which can help with horses who suffer from loose droppings or bouts of diarrhea.

Other internal and external benefits

For the respiratory system, antibacterial peppermint oil can be added to a pad or steam inhalant and used to help loosen residual mucus/catarrh, relieve and reduce the frequency of a troublesome cough, encourage perspiration in the early phases of colds and flu, or help combat lung infections.

The menthol content of the plant is antiseptic and when used in high concentrations can act as a disinfectant. The oil has been extensively trialed and shown to offer very significant antimicrobial and antifungal effects against over 25 bacterial and 20 fungal species.

Externally, peppermint oil can be sparingly added to topical lotions or blended with a carrier oil (such as almond oil) and applied directly on the skin or mucus membrane. The oil can act as an insect repellent and is often used to reduce the sensitivity of skin receptors, helping to reduce pain, itching, or sensitivity to temperature, making it fantastic for topical use on skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and neuralgia.

In the winter time I used to melt peppermint candies in hot water and add sweet feed and some bran to make a hot bran mash for my horse.  It helps keep things moving (if you get my drift with the bran) and it’s a favorite treat to warm their bellies!

Next time you brush past some peppermint and smell that fresh aroma, remember how many benefits this humble herb has to offer.

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Posted on August 19, 2014 by Roy J. for Nutrena


There are some common questions come up when we talk about what happens to horses as they age and why their bodies change shape:

§  Does my good old horse need more calories (energy) or more protein?

§  He is out on good pasture and is holding his weight, but his hair coat looks dull and he has lost muscle mass.

§  She looks a little thin, should I add some fat/oil to her diet?

These are all apparently simple questions, but actually we need to look at the nutrient supply and purpose a little closer.

Calories from fat/oil, digestible fiber (structural carbohydrates and starch & sugar (non-structural carbohydrates) are the key energy sources for horses. If a horse is thin, that tells us that the horse needs more Calories to maintain fat cover measured by Body Condition Score system. Those Calories can be added from extra fat/oil, extra digestible fiber or additional starch and sugar. Vegetable oil contains 2.25 x the Calories per pound of carbohydrates and is a safe way to add Calories. Switching to a highly digestible fiber source (better quality forage, added beet pulp etc.) can also add Calories of digestible energy (DE). It takes 2-3+ pounds of added feed to add 1 pound of gain, depending on the feed.

Adding Calories alone will not bring back the muscle mass. This will require added protein (really added essential amino acids, particularly lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids). If a horse is getting adequate crude protein, but the protein is of limited quality and is low in one or more essential amino acids, the horse will not be able to utilize it fully to maintain or restore muscle mass. This is why it is essential to know the quality of the protein in feeds, particularly these first 3 limiting amino acids.

A common situation is an old horse retired to a grass pasture. It may be difficult for the horse to consume enough to maintain body condition, thus the horse loses weight. The grass pasture may also be low in crude protein and certainly low in essential amino acids, so the horse also loses muscle mass. Tough combination for an old friend!

The good news is that this can be reversed with the use of a well-designed senior horse feed providing both Calories and essential amino acids!


Supplements for Horses



As a horse lover I have provided many supplements to my various horses through my 42 years of owning and loving horses.  Obviously many of us horse lovers want the very best for our beloved equine friends and we turn to supplements to keep them comfortable and happy.  I have used hoof supplements, joint supplements, blood enhancers such as Red Cell and many more.  Ah, what we do for our pets!  Read all about supplements by clicking on the link.  Enjoy and learn!


Can Cats Have a Raw Food Diet?

By Aly Semigran as seen on PetMD


 A cat’s natural instinct—even a friendly, loveable housecat—is to hunt for food. And if left to their own devices out in the wild, cats would find their food in a raw, natural state.

 That’s why, with the proper preparation, knowledge, and veterinary guidance, a pet parent can provide their cat with a raw food diet that not only taps into their feline instincts, but keeps them healthy and strong too.

 Should Cats Have a Raw Food Diet?

 Cats, like dogs, can be fed a raw food diet, and some holistic veterinarians even recommend that pet parents should have this as part of their cat’s lifestyle. In fact, as Jodie Gruenstern, DVM, points out, a raw food diet may be even more important for cats than it is for dogs “because they are stricter carnivores than dogs.”

What Should Be Included in a Raw Food Diet for Cats?

 Gruenstern says there are four main components that need to be included in a raw food diet for cats. A balanced raw diet should include flesh, organs, a bone or ground bone and a small amount of vegetation.

In addition, Jill Elliot, DVM, explains that pet parents can also add calcium to a raw-food diet for cats. This can be administered through supplements and small amounts of cat-safe dairy products.”

 When planning a raw food diet for cats—whether preparing food at home or purchasing a commercial raw food from the pet store—it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat is receiving proper, balanced nutrition, and to decide which supplements need to be included.

You can also choose a commercially prepared raw cat food. These are available at many pet stores and come with a certification from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO certified foods provide complete and balanced nutrition and do not require supplementation. This often takes the guesswork out if you’re considering switching to a raw food diet for cats.


What Are the Benefits of a Raw Food Diet For Cats?

 Gruenstern explains that the biggest benefit to a raw food diet for cats is the elimination of starch. Starches and sugars in cat foods may lead to health issues such as diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, urinary tract diseases, and obesity, she says.

 Erika Halle, DVM, agrees. “Obesity is still possible with raw food, but much less likely than with processed, high carbohydrate food.”

 Cats also need taurine in their diets (about 125 milligrams on average) to achieve maximum heart health. This essential compound is often damaged in the heating process of kibble cat foods. “Raw foods tend not to have this issue,” Halle adds, noting that a high volume of taurine is often found in muscle and heart meat that is often a part of raw food diets.

 How Early Can a Cat Be Started on a Raw Food Diet?

 As soon as a kitten is weaned from its mother, the feline can begin a raw food diet.

 Halle suggests feeding home cooked, dehydrated raw, or canned food until six months, then switching to fresh and frozen raw. “Once the system is mature at six months they are ready to handle a raw diet,” she says.

What Are the Best Foods For a Raw Food Diet?

 Variety is an important component of this meal plan for cats. Meats, like ground turkey, are the best option when it comes to a raw food diet for cats, but Gruenstern suggests providing a cat with a variety of meat. “That’s how you’ll minimize the repetition of a deficiency or an excess,” she says.

 One of Gruenstern’s preferred raw food meals for a cat is a whole quail, which can be fed half in the morning and then half in the evening. She explains that quail is a good choice for cats because their bones are a safe size and do not present a choking hazard for cats. Cats can also benefit from the oral care that bones—such as quail bones—provide. Of course, pet parents should monitor cats whenever they are eating bones to ensure there are no choking risks.

 Judy Morgan, DVM, recommends dark muscle meat from poultry and heart muscles in raw cat diets. She also recommends that pet parents include liver in raw food diets for cats. Both dark meat and heart muscle have high rates of taurine.

Morgan also suggests including whole eggs for the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) found in the yolk, and the protein in the whites. Fish can also be included in a raw food diet for the omega 3 fatty acid content, she adds. According to Morgan, sardines are a good option because they are less likely to have a high concentration of heavy metals.


While veggies aren’t necessary in a raw food diet for cats, some vets like to add them into the food. “A small amount of pumpkin is a nice addition for the fiber it provides,” Morgan says. “A small amount of kelp will provide sodium and iodine. I also like to add about five percent ground veggies, which can include kale, carrots, zucchini, and parsley.”

 However, whatever meats and veggies you do decide to include in your cat’s diet, Gruenstern recommends adding a veterinary-recommended calcium source as well as freeze dried organs (including brain, spleen, kidney, liver, heart, and gizzards) to fill in any nutritional gaps.

 Commercial Raw Foods for Cats: What to Look For

 Commercial raw foods for cats are prepared foods you’ll find in stores, often found in a frozen or freeze-dried form. But, labels are important when it comes to deciding which raw food is best for your cat.

 “A few of the main differences among commercial raw diets is whether or not they’re high-pressure pasteurized, and whether or not they have synthetic vitamins and minerals,” explains Gruenstern. “In general, there’s lots of commercial raw diets that have attained the AAFCO certification [showing] they’re balanced in a variety of ways, just like kibble or canned food.”

 Finding a high-pressure pasteurized food is important because the pasteurization process destroys any pathogenic bacteria, says Gruenstern. This is especially important for cats that suffer from immune disorders such as feline leukemia or have been treated with steroids, which can weaken the immune system.

 Gruenster adds that most healthy cats are prime candidates for commercial raw pet foods, though she warns that pet parents should avoid foods with synthetic vitamins and minerals, since the concentrated vitamin form in synthetics may cause a toxicity in cats. “A toxicity occurs when high doses of [synthetic] vitamins are taken over a prolonged period of time,” adds Scerba.

 Raw Food for Cats: Home Preparation Tips and Safety Guidelines

 If preparing raw food for cats at home—whether feeding whole prey and parts or grinding the meats—pet parents need to take more precautions and steps to ensure the cat’s safety, as well as their own.

 “If you are making your own food, the meats should be purchased frozen, then thawed before serving or partially thawed before grinding and refreezing,” says Halle.

 “If raw diets are not formulated to be balanced properly, there can be nutritional deficiencies,” Halle notes. “And if the food is not handled appropriately there is a risk of foodborne illnesses like salmonella.”


Still, both Elliot and Gruenstern note that salmonella poisoning from handling raw foods for cats is very rare, and that as long as pet parents are taking all the proper steps (washing their hands, disinfecting surfaces and utensils, buying foods from a reputable source) they shouldn’t experience this problem.

Just be sure to wash out bowls after every feeding and don’t forget to refrigerate and put away any raw food after mealtime.



Love These Chews, but They Fracture Teeth Like Dogs Crazy

By Dr. Becker and comments by Diane Weinmanndog-with-bone-2

When it comes to recreational bones and chews for dogs, antlers seem to be a blessing for some dogs, and a curse for others. The upside to antlers is that most dogs seem to love them, they’re long-lasting and they help keep teeth clean.

However, an increasing number of veterinarians are discouraging dog guardians from offering very hard chews, including antlers, due to the potential for broken teeth. In the U.K., veterinarians have seen a steady increase in fractured carnassial teeth. And while broken teeth are common in dogs, fractures in back teeth are not.


The veterinary dentist Dr. Becker works with is fond of saying he has been able to fund an entire wing of his dental clinic thanks to dog owners offering antler bones to aggressive chewers!

Anything your dog chews on that is harder than his teeth can cause a fracture, largely due to the force with which dogs are able to bite down. This typically occurs when a dog moves the chew or bone toward the back of his mouth on one side and chomps down on it like this fellow here:

According to the U.K. DentalVets group, “The teeth damaged have all had the same buccal slab fractures of the upper carnassials (see image). Many have fractured so severely that surgical extraction is the only treatment possible.”1

What Happens When Your Dog Cracks a Tooth

When your dog breaks a tooth, the pulp — which is the sensitive nerve inside — can be exposed. Not only is an exposed nerve extremely painful, it can also lead to a deep infection and root abscess.

Most pets with tooth fractures don’t show obvious signs of pain, but sadly, many suffer silently for weeks, months or even years before the situation progresses to the point where they can’t eat comfortably and lose their appetite. The longer a broken tooth goes untreated, the worse it gets.

Oral bacteria can invade and infect the tooth pulp and cause it to die. Next, the infection often moves from the root tip to the bone, destroying it. In severe cases, the infection moves past the bone into the skin, forming a facial fistula (a whole in the face through which the infection drains).

Fortunately, not all broken teeth are so serious. If only the enamel has been fractured, the tooth can often be smoothed to remove sharp edges.

However, if x-rays indicate the tooth is dead, if pulp is visible or if the tooth has turned from white to pink, purple, grey or black, treatment typically involves either extraction or root canal therapy.

It’s important for every dog parent to understand that a fractured tooth requires prompt veterinary care.

Antlers and Other Hard Chews Result in Lots of Fractured Teeth

I spend a lot of time with dog parents going over detailed recommendations for appropriate recreational bones.

Some of my clients think I’m overplaying the importance of choosing the right type of bone for their dog, but part of the reason I’m so detailed and thorough is to avoid fractures and other chew bone-related catastrophes.

There are some dogs for which no bone or chew is appropriate because they are just too aggressive, or they’ve already broken too many teeth. The veterinary dentist I work with, Dr. Stephen Juriga, sees hundreds of cases of fractured teeth as a result of inappropriate raw bones, and not just from my practice.

He notes that antlers are often a problem, as are Nylabones. Anything you can’t put a dent in with your fingernail has the potential to fracture the crown of your dog’s tooth.

It’s very important to pair the personality, breed, age and tooth condition of the dog with the right type of chew. One size does not fit all when it comes to recreational chews and bones.

The Type of Chew I Recommend for Forceful Chewerschewing-bone

The first thing to ask yourself: “Is my dog an aggressive chewer?” This type of chewer is more interested in eating the bone than leisurely gnawing on it. She wants to consume the chew in its entirety, and the sooner, the better.

Many aggressive chewers fracture their teeth. They acquire multiple slab fractures in their eagerness to break the bone down as quickly as possible. These dogs get hold of a bone and chew like mad, fracturing or wearing down their teeth very quickly.

If this describes your dog, needless to say, she shouldn’t be given hard bones like antlers or marrowbones smaller than the size of her head. I also advise against thin or narrow bones that fit nicely into her mouth, allowing her to apply a strong vertical bite force.

My pack includes pit bulls who are very powerful chewers. They’re not into swallowing their bones, but they’re very passionate chewers. Offering them small, narrow femur rings or antlers would be a really bad idea, because the vertical bite force as they chomped down on an antler could easily break teeth.

What I offer my pitties are big, raw knucklebones. Raw knucklebones are much softer than rock hard antlers and are gentler on the teeth. I also monitor their chewing very closely, because they can whittle a large bone down to the size of a ping-pong ball in about an hour.

Once a bone is that small, it’s too small to be safe, so I watch my dogs closely and when they’ve worked a bone down significantly, I take it away.

Are Antlers Appropriate for Any Dog?

If your dog happens to be a soft chewer who just enjoys holding or gently gnawing on a bone, antlers may be a good choice. You can purchase elk, moose or deer antlers, and they’re very economical because they last forever.

Antlers come in a variety of sizes and can be split, cut or whole, but again, you don’t want to give a small antler to a large dog because of the potential for tooth fracture. Giving small antlers to small dogs and big antlers to big dogs is fine, but first you want to make sure they’re gentle chewers.

An alternative for any chewer is sweet potato chews or liver chews.  They are nutritious for your dog and will not hurt their teeth no matter how hard they chew.  Contact Diane Weinmann to find out where to purchase them.  See



Updated List of Best-to-Worst Types of Pet Food

By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmanngood-dog-food-2620000

Feeding your pet is a major portion of your job as a pet parent. You obsess and worry if you are feeding the right food, heck, you are inundated with commercials on the TV of which food is best for your pet.  How do you chose?  Here is some information that can help in the decision making process.

Processed Diets Can Also Contain Carcinogens

Not only are processed pet foods biologically inappropriate, they also contain added synthetic vitamins and minerals to meet basic nutritional requirements. The food is heated to very high temperatures, which at best denatures proteins and decreases nutrient value. At worst, it introduces carcinogens into your pet’s body on a daily basis.

Two potent cancer-causing substances are created when dry pet food is made by the extrusion process. When protein is extruded, carcinogenic heterocyclic amines are created. The byproducts of extruded starches are acrylamides. Both are known to cause cancer in dogs and cats. This is quite disturbing when you consider the fact that most pets across the globe are eating dry food their entire lives, and the cancer rate is skyrocketing in companion animals.

Feeding dogs and cats inappropriate ingredients for several generations has created significant metabolic and physiologic stress. Convenience pet foods are the root cause of the inflammatory processes and degenerative diseases that plague today’s dogs and cats. A biologically correct diet for a carnivore is high in moisture, high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates. The vast majority of pet foods on the market today are the opposite – low in moisture content, with low to moderate amounts of poor quality protein and fat, and high in starches or carbs.

Feed Your Pet the Best Diet You Can Reasonably Afford

The goal in feeding your pet a diet she can truly thrive on is to mimic the ancestral diet of dogs and cats as closely as possible without breaking the bank.

Now, I know some of you might be thinking “Gee, I would like to feed myself an all-organic, free range, non-genetically modified, and fresh food diet… but I just can’t afford to.” I certainly understand, and my basic recommendation is to feed yourself and your pet as much unprocessed, fresh food as you can afford.

I have clients who can’t afford to feed an all-fresh, living, and raw food diet, so they offer fresh food snacks instead. Research shows that offering some healthy foods is better than offering no healthy food at all.

I also have clients who can afford to feed their pet maybe 2 to 4 fresh food meals out of 14 in a week. Others do a 50/50 split, meaning one meal a day is a processed pet food, and the other is a fresh food meal.

I recommend taking baby steps toward providing the best diet you can afford for your dog or cat.

 dogs and cats eating

  1. Nutritionally balanced raw homemade diet. This is the best diet you can feed your dog or cat. It’s very important not to wing it when preparing your pet’s meals at home. I say this because when pet food nutrition expert Steve Brown and I analyzed many of the homemade and prey model diets available, we learned they fall far short in trace minerals, antioxidants including nutrients like manganese, magnesium, vitamin E and D, copper, zinc, iron, choline, and essential fatty acids.

Additionally, if the diet doesn’t have a proper fat or calcium to phosphorus balance, it can actually cause a myriad of health problems, especially in growing animals. So, it’s critically important that you know your homemade diet is balanced.

The great thing about homemade raw diets is you get to handpick the ingredients. You know the quality of the meat you’re using. And if your dog is allergic to chicken, for example, you simply pick a different protein source. Another benefit is you can wash the veggies to your own satisfaction to remove any pesticide residue.

Making your own pet food can provide peace of mind because it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find ethical pet food companies that use locally sourced or even US-grown ingredients. With homemade food, you’re in complete control of every ingredient that enters your pet’s body.

And of course, raw food is just that. It’s raw and unadulterated. It contains all of the enzymes and phytonutrients that are typically destroyed during food processing.

Homemade food also gives you the flexibility to include a lot of nutritional variety in your pet’s diet. You can buy seasonal fruits and veggies on sale. You can use produce that comes from your local supermarket, your local farmer’s market, or even from your own garden.

  1. Nutritionally balanced cooked homemade diet. This option gives you all of the benefits of the homemade raw diet above, minus the benefits of the free enzymes and phytonutrients found in living foods. Interestingly, there are a few nutrients that are actually more bioavailable when cooked, for example, lycopene.

Reasons to cook your pet’s meals include the fact that some animals prefer cooked over raw food, or warm food over chilled food. Also, some pet owners simply prefer to cook the food. And then, there are some medical conditions such as recent GI surgery or pancreatitis for which cooked food is just a better idea.


  1. Commercially available balanced raw food diet. Again, it’s critically important that the diet be balanced. There are a lot of raw diets on the market these days that are nutritionally incomplete. These foods should say right on the label, “For supplemental or intermittent feeding.” I don’t recommend feeding unbalanced foods without adding in the missing nutrients, or your pet can have nutrition-related medical problems in the future.

Commercially available balanced raw food diets are found in the freezer section of small or privately owned pet boutiques. Some big-box stores are now starting to carry a larger selection of frozen raw diets, and you can also find an excellent selection online.

There are new raw diets coming on the market every month and vegetable, bone, and fat content vary widely between products. For example, diets range from 0 to 40 percent in vegetable content. This can impact the amount of synthetic vitamins and minerals that must be added to the diet to make it nutritionally complete. In addition, vegetable content impacts digestive and stool health. So if, for example, you have a dog who suffers from chronic constipation, you may want to choose a food with higher veggie content.

Commercially available raw food diets also range from low fat to high fat. If you have an obese cat, you would want to select a low-fat diet, but if you have a highly active dog on the lean side who loses weight quickly, it would make sense to choose a higher fat food.

Ground bone, bone meal, or a bone meal equivalent is typically added to raw diets for mineral balance. Some raw foods contain bone pieces that are actually too big to be safely cooked, so if you choose a raw diet and want to cook it, make sure it’s safe to do so.

When it comes to ingredient sourcing, some raw food companies pride themselves on using only healthy, grass-fed animals and organic veggies. Others use animal meats and produce imported from China or other countries, as well as factory-farmed and GMO-fed animals raised in feedlots here in the US.

Some use whole foods to meet trace mineral requirements, while others use very few ingredients and rely on vitamin and mineral pre-mixes to meet their nutritional requirements.

Another factor to consider is how the raw food is formulated. Meat-based foods like raw diets are almost always calorically dense. They should be formulated on a caloric basis and not on a dry matter basis. This is a more demanding method of formulating. Comparing the formulation on a dry matter basis to caloric basis shows that raw foods formulated on a dry matter basis actually fall significantly short of nutrients.

You know a raw diet is formulated on a caloric basis when the nutrients are listed as a gram or milligram of nutrient per 1,000 kilocalories. Diets formulated on a dry matter basis will have nutrients listed as a percentage of dry matter. I only recommend choosing raw foods that are formulated on a caloric basis.

How companies manage potentially pathogenic bacteria is another consideration, and ranges from manufacturers who do nothing, to those who batch test, use UV treatments, ozone, fermentation, or HPP (high pressure pasteurization).

Fortunately, this sector of the pet food industry is the fastest growing category, which means you should be able to find a food that fits your ethical and financial parameters, with the added convenience of not having to make the food yourself. The downside is the cost – you’re paying for the luxury of having someone else do the work for you. As with all pet food manufacturers, you’ll need to investigate the company you’re buying from to make sure you’re feeding the correct product for your pet’s specific nutritional and medical goals.

  1. Dehydrated or freeze-dried raw diet. If you can’t or don’t want to feed fresh raw food, a good alternative is a dehydrated freeze-dried raw diet that is reconstituted with water. These diets are shelf-stable so they’re very convenient. To make them biologically appropriate, all you have to do is add water.

Dehydrated or freeze-dried raw diets haven’t been processed at high temperatures. In many cases, the nutrient value has been retained minus a balanced fatty acid profile.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between fresh and dehydrated or freeze-dried raw food. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods by definition are not the same as fresh raw diets, but they can be a great choice for people on the move, people who go camping with their dog or cat, and for pets that go to day care or need to be boarded. It’s really the next best thing to a fresh raw food diet. Make sure the brand you select is nutritionally balanced for all life stages.

  1. Commercially available cooked or refrigerated food. This is a new category of pet food that is exploding in the marketplace. These diets have been gently heat-processed so the proteins are slightly denatured, but the moisture content is excellent. The food is fresher than processed diets, so the nutrient content is better than choices lower on this list. You’ll find these foods in the refrigerated section of pet stores, and in many human grocery stores as well.

The quality of raw materials in refrigerated pet food ranges from absolutely terrible to excellent, so you do need to do some research before choosing which brand to buy.

  1. Human-grade canned food. If the package label or the manufacturer’s website doesn’t say the ingredients are human grade, you should assume they are not. Pet food made with human grade ingredients is a great deal more expensive than feed-grade or animal-grade canned food. These foods will typically be found in boutiques and small independent retailers that focus on high-quality foods.
  2. Super premium canned food. These products are typically found at big-box stores like Petco and PetSmart, or a conventional veterinary clinic. These diets contain feed-grade ingredients (which mean foods not approved for human consumption). But, the moisture content is much more biologically correct than dry food. Many have excellent protein, fat, fiber, and carb ratios.
  3. Human-grade dry food. Dry food is not biologically appropriate for dogs or cats in terms of moisture content when compared to the ancestral diet. Additionally, even grain-free dry foods contain unnecessary starch that can cause inflammation issues in your pet.

Human-grade is very important because the ingredients have passed quality inspection, which means they don’t contain poor quality or rendered unidentified proteins. If the food has been baked, it will clearly say so on the label. Otherwise, you should assume it has been extruded, which means you are probably feeding a small amount of carcinogens to your pet with every meal.


  1. Super premium dry food. These diets are found at big-box stores and conventional veterinary clinics. These extruded dry foods are made with feed-grade ingredients not approved for human consumption but are typically naturally preserved. Most of these foods contain added grains or starches, which are not species-appropriate and may harbor mycotoxins.


  1. Grocery store brand canned food. These foods rank below super premium dry foods because even though the moisture content is more biologically appropriate, they usually contain high levels of unnecessary grains and synthetic toxic preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin.


  1. Grocery store brand dry food. These diets have all the same issues as grocery store brand canned food, and also do not contain adequate moisture.
  2. Semi-moist pouched food. This stuff is really bad. The reason it is so far down the list is because in order to make the food semi-moist, the manufacturers must add an ingredient called propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is an undesirable preservative that is closely related to ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze. While propylene glycol is approved for use in pet foods, it’s unhealthy for dogs and cats to consume.


  1. Unbalanced homemade diet, raw or cooked. Dead last on the list for good reason is an unbalanced homemade diet. Some pet owners believe they can offer their dog or cat a chicken breast and some veggies, and call it a day. Many caring pet owners are unfortunately sorely lacking in knowledge about their companion animal’s nutritional requirements.


Feeding fresh homemade food is a good thing, however, if the diet you’re offering your pet is nutritionally unbalanced, it can cause significant irreversible and even potentially fatal health problems. These include endocrine abnormalities, skeletal issues, and organ degeneration as a result of deficiencies in calcium, trace minerals, and essential fatty acids.

Almost every veterinarian has seen patients that have been harmed by well-meaning owners who feed unbalanced diets. It’s heartbreaking and entirely preventable. Homemade pet diets must be done right or not at all. When in doubt please consult your vet before starting a homemade diet for your pet. Going homemade is a huge decision and obviously you’ll want to do what’s best for your pet so don’t do it alone get information from reliable proven sources. Don’t forget the old saying, “you are what you eat”…I must be ice cream!

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