How to Choose A Healthy Dog Food or Cat Food: A Quick Checklist
Most of us (especially in Vancouver!) are health-conscious and eat fresh, whole food whenever we can. At Kafka’s Organic, we believe that our pets deserve the same high-quality nutrition as the rest of the family. We dug deep into veterinary research and found that gently cooked fresh dog food and cat food is the healthiest option for pets.
Here's a quick checklist to look for in your pet's food when choosing a healthy cat or dog food option for your beloved companion.
- Minimally processed
- Fresh, human-grade ingredients
- Lack of preservatives & additives
- Nutritionally balanced
- Easily digestible
- Contains quality supplements
- Easy to handle & feed
Don't worry, we've broken these down step-by-step so you can quickly have the key information you need to look for when browsing the pet food aisles or buying your pet's food online.
Feed minimally processed food whenever possible
Dry dog food and cat food such as kibble undergo extreme heat processing using a method called extrusion to mechanically tear ingredients and force the mixture through an opening at high pressure. The resulting mixture is then dried under high heat to form the kibble base. Extrusion gets rid of all bacteria in the food (good and bad) which is why dry dog food and cat food has a long expiry date and keep on your under-the-sink cabinet for years! Currently, 95% of dry dog and cat food in the pet food market is manufactured using extrusion.
Extrusion also changes the natural structure of whole ingredients and its nutritional content so that most of the heathy fats, vitamins, antioxidants and heat-sensitive nutrients in the food disappear after high heat processing. That’s why you see a long list of ingredients on pet food labels; the nutrients that were lost need to be added as synthetic vitamins and minerals. This type of processed diet is not ideal for daily feeding because our pets need naturally derived vitamins and antioxidants which come from fresh ingredients to build up a healthy immune system and support their long-term health.
Quick Tip: Try to choose wet over dry food whenever possible. Wet is typically less processed and tends to retain more nutrition. If not feeding a full wet food diet, try to supplement your pet's diet with homemade or fresh food whenever possible.
Read about why you should choose fresh!
Human-grade ingredients make for healthier pet food
The main ingredients in most store-bought pet foods are not fit for humans to eat. The meat used in dry or canned dog and cat food can legally come from 3D meats: dead, dying, or diseased animals. 3D meats and byproducts are contaminated with bacteria and viruses and are low quality in terms of nutrition. For example, salmonella contamination from byproducts is a major problem that pet food suppliers need to battle, and they do so by using high heat processing which comes with its own set of problems (discussed earlier). Human-quality food eliminates a lot of these problems since they meet higher standards for safety and are subject to consumer regulations.
Avoid these common pet food preservatives & additives
The AAFCO also lists 36 preservatives that are legally allowed to be in commercial pet foods, but are technically artificial chemicals. For example, Butylated hydroxyl anisol (BHA), Butylated hydroxyltoluene (BHT), and Ethoxyquin have unknown toxic and carcinogenic properties, meaning that nobody is sure if they are toxic in large amounts or not! Often these preservatives are found in higher quantities than what appears on the label (yes, mislabeling is a big issue in pet food). So, it’s unclear if we are feeding our pets high amounts of preservatives that build up in their system over time.
Quick Tip: Dog owners and cat owners alike need to be wary of preservatives and additives in their pet food ingredients list. Check out this resource for what to look for on a pet food label.
Look for Nutritionally Balanced & Complete Pet Meals
When cooking for your dog at home or shopping raw food for your cat, it's important to consider nutritional adequacy. Pets require species appropriate nutrition in their food, and deficiencies in essential nutrients can cause major problems over time. A major drawback we found in raw pet food is that it often doesn’t contain the right combination of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. In other words, it’s not nutritionally balanced. For example, studies have consistently found deficiencies in calcium, copper, zinc, iodine and vitamins A and D in raw pet food.
Unless a raw dog food or cat food diet is carefully planned, there is a risk of nutritional imbalance and deficiencies happening. For example, a whole-rabbit raw diet that contained enough taurine when analyzed still caused taurine-deficiency cardiomyopathy in cats after a few months of feeding this diet (6). This could be because of a lack of bioavailability of some of these minerals in raw meat.
Quick Tip: If you decide to home cook or feed raw food to your dog or cat full-time, we recommend speaking to your vet and diving deep into research to nutritionally balance your raw food diet by adding organ meat, bone meal powder, fresh veggies and quality supplements in the right proportions.
Safe handling of your pet’s food: protecting sensitive stomachs & your family's health
Another drawback with raw dog food and cat food is the time required for careful handling. Although most raw pet food is minimally processed with limited ingredients, raw pet products also regularly exceed normal hygiene levels for Enterobacteria. Enterobacteria family members include nasties such as E-Coli, Salmonella, Shigella and Klebsiella. One Canadian study analyzed 166 different raw food samples from local pet stores in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto, and found that 21% of samples had antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. Yikes. And that doesn’t include the species that were not antibiotic resistant. Another recent study done in the Netherlands found E.Coli in 80% of samples from 35 different raw food brands. Keeping in mind that the EU has stricter regulations for pet food than does North America, that’s cause for concern.
Not only can these bacteria cause stomach sensitivities and GI issues in pets, they can also pass from pets to humans. Especially for immunocompromised people in the household, the consequences from feeding raw pet food can be high.
Quick tip: It's important to consider safety when handling pet food. Choose a cooked, human quality food whenever possible to avoid spreading harmful bacteria or chemicals unsafe for human consumption.
Look for natural supplements in your dog food & cat food
Alongside minimally processed ingredients and balanced nutrition, the best pet food brands should contain carefully selected supplements suitable for each species. Several key high-quality supplements can be beneficial for protecting your pet's overall health, vitality and longevity.
Omega-3,-6 and -9 fatty acids are important for maintaining a healthy skin and coat in cats and dogs. Most pets eating processed food such as kibble get an excessive amount of omega-6 fats from inexpensive grain, corn, chicken-meal and meat. In order to correct this imbalance, the best essential fatty acid for most dogs and cats is an omega-3 supplement made from marine oils – krill oil or fish oil, including salmon, sardine, squid and anchovy.
A less well-known but equally important supplement for pets is CoQ10, an enzyme that is produced naturally in the liver. As pets get older their bodies have less ability to convert CoQ10 to its active form, ubiquinol. Ubiquinol works in the mitochondria of cells to produce energy and support growth. Certain cell types such as heart, intestinal and immune cells, have a high energy requirement and need higher levels of CoQ10. Organ meats such as liver naturally provide CoQ10 to support healthy circulation, immune function, and overall heart health. That's why all Kafka's Organic recipes contain fresh cooked turkey liver.
Finally, iodine is an important trace mineral in a healthy diet for thyroid function, without which dogs (and humans!) can develop hypothyroidism. Instead of salt, Kafka’s uses an organic kelp powder ground from dried Atlantic kelp to provide enough iodine as well minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Kafka’s Organic also includes a human-grade Omega-3 fish oil derived from anchovies with 18% EPA and 12% DHA to give maximum benefit for skin and coat. Depending on the recipe, we’ve also added organic safflower oil or organic flaxseed oil (high source of linoleic acid) in order to balance the overall blend of omega-6 and omega-3s.
Quick tip: Choose key supplements like an omega-3 fish oil, an organic source of Omega-6 like safflower oil, and organic kelp to support your pet's overall health.
Why digestibility is important when choosing a healthy pet food
Nutrient bioavailability refers to the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed from the diet and used in the body. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are usually highly bioavailable, and more than 90% is absorbed by the body. But the bioavailability of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants can vary widely.
There is a fine balance when considering nutrient bioavailability and how digestible a food is. Cooked food is easier to digest, but high-temperature cooking can destroy certain nutrients like vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Low-temperature cooking makes many nutrients more bioavailable even when compared to raw food! For example, gentle cooking breaks down the tough cell wall of vegetables such as sweet potatoes, kale, spinach and carrots, making nutrients more readily available. This increased bioavailability means that your favourite furpal can get the maximum benefit from the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants naturally present in their food.
Quick tip: Low-temperature cooking retains nutrients while still making a pet food easy to digest. Especially when considering a pet with a sensitive stomach, gently cooked dog food is the best option to feed your dog to give them maximum nutrition while still making the food easy to digest. The same is true for cats.
Great taste is a big factor! Don't compromise
We all love to see pets excited over their food! The best cat and dog food should be incredibly tasty. Instead of artificial palate enhancers, that’s why at Kafka’s Organic we infuse our recipes with bone broth. Not only does bone broth boost the flavour profile, but it adds a bunch of trace minerals and immune-boosting antioxidants. Best of all, cats and dogs go crazy for their fresh food!
Why Kafka’s fresh pet meal delivery is a healthier food option for your pet
Many busy pet owners choose to feed kibble because it’s fast and convenient. We’re with you; convenience is important. Feeding a healthy food can sometimes be time-consuming because of the prep involved.
Quick tip: Fresh cooked food is not only healthier than kibble, it also takes less time to prepare and feed compared to raw. That’s the best of both worlds!
This was a lot of information! Let’s peek at a cheeky comparison chart to see the differences between Kafka’s and other pet food options out there. Keep in mind that this is no accident, we set out to correct industry standards in our food.
We believe in our pet food, or we wouldn’t offer it to our community. But our unbiased recommendation is summarized by Dr. Karen Becker’s statement here:
“Feed yourself and your pet as much unprocessed, fresh food as you can afford. If you can't afford to feed an entirely fresh, living, raw or gently cooked diet, offer fresh food snacks instead. Research shows that providing any amount of healthy foods to dogs and cats is better than no healthy food at all.”
Whatever you choose to feed your pet, we support your journey and are here to help. If you have any questions you would like answered, reach out to Kafka’s through our social channels or contact form. We’ll put it to our vet nutritionist if needed and get back to you.
About Us: Kafka’s Organic is a fresh cat and dog food brand based in Vancouver, Canada offering pet meal delivery. Our mission is to innovate fresh, real food for pets that is naturally balanced for all life stages.
Learn more about our gently cooked wet dog food and cat food recipes here.
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