by: Erika Phillips
We are what we eat. Raw feeding dog owners take this simple statement very seriously and eschew kibble for its dubious origins and questionable ingredients. We rightly feel more comfortable feeding foods to our dogs with known origins: we like to know not only what foods are going into our dogs but where they came from. Unfortunately, we might not know as much about the origin of feed animals as we should.
For generations our food has been raised on soils rich in nutrients. Cows ate grass, sheep ate grass. Chickens ranged and ate worms and frogs and other meaty morsels rich with protein necessary to produce wonderfully nutritious eggs. Pigs received 80% of their nutritional requirements from rich and living soil. Life was simpler and life was in our nutrient-dense food. Sadly, this does not ring true today: cows are now grain fed with many of them never seeing a blade of grass, chickens are grain fed and factory raised without sunshine and never seeing a bug or a worm, pigs are raised in concrete buildings and sheep are normally pastured but too expensive to eat.
“The ramifications of industrialized farming have very real health implications for us and for our dogs. The cow is nothing but a machine which makes grass fit for us people to eat.” – John McNulty
Cows are ruminants, and ruminants are designed by nature to digest grass and only grass. They digest it first by eating it raw and then by regurgitating it and eating it again in a partially digested form known as cud. As ruminants, cows have four chambers in their stomachs, and as a cow digests, the food moves slowly from one chamber to the next. Raising cattle on pasture not only makes sense for their digestive systems, but makes sense for humans too, by turning something we can’t eat (grass) into something we can (meat) and dairy products. Cattle raised on grass provide meat that is leaner and lower in calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Grass-fed dairy products also have five times the levels of conjugated linoleum acid (CLA) than their grain fed counterparts. Grass fed cows also convert Chlorophyll that they get from grass into Vitamin D that they get from the sun which in turn produces vitamin A found in the liver and other organs. Without grass Cow’s are not worth eating!
On factory beef farms the staple of the cow’s diet is corn and soy which are not well digested by cows. In fact, cattle can develop severe health problems from grains, some of which include liver abscesses and sudden death syndrome. For filler, factory farms will also add animal by-products to industrial cattle feed, and these additions can transmit diseases like mad cow to both animals and humans. Grains ferment in the stomach and create serious bacteria overloads including salmonella and e-coli. In large production facilities where the animals stand and sleep in their feces, the bacterium is spread throughout the herd and when the time comes for slaughter the feces/bacteria often remain in the meat unless bleached.
On top of that, run-off from factory farms and feedlots can contaminate surrounding crops with salmonella and e-coli and this has resulted in numerous illnesses and recalls.
“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
Factory farmed chickens fare no better than cows . Millions of tons of meat and bone meal from post-slaughter animal waste are recycled back into animal feed each year, and poultry and hog producers are the main purchasers of these products. On industrial poultry farms, a range of antibiotics and additives are also added to the birds’ feed and water and are necessary to combat the ill effects of poor quality feed and lack of sunshine and fresh air. Factory farmed chickens are regularly fed arsenic (and sometimes turkeys and pigs) to encourage weight gain and create the appearance of healthy color in the meat.
If the chicken is eating arsenic, your dog is eating arsenic and the insidious effect of this low level exposure mimics many chronic diseases. Arsenic exposure leads to cancer, nerve damage, diabetes and cognitive dysfunction. Like e-coli, arsenic is not only found in the meat but in the feces which eventually pollute surrounding water supplies.
The Dark Side Of The Other White Meat
According to the Sustainable table, “In some states, garbage can legally be fed to pigs, and if this garbage includes rotten meat, pigs are at risk for diseases such as hog cholera, Foot and Mouth Disease, African swine fever, and swine vesicular disease. Other pathogens of concern are Salmonella, Campylobacter, Trichinella, and Toxoplasma. These diseases may be spread to other livestock or humans if hogs eat contaminated meat in improperly treated food waste.
Pigs have a completely different digestive system than cows and unlike cows, can digest soil and dirt. As a matter of fact most pigs can get 80% of their daily food ration from soil alone. They eat grasses, legumes, ground cover, standing plants and are about the easiest animal to raise on pasture without the worry of supplementation. Unfortunately, this is not the practice that is employed by large pig operations.
What does this all mean for ourselves and our pets? Without the nutrients that are normally found in healthy soil and in turn the plants that soils contain, our companion animals are at critical risk for disease and deficiencies.
If you knew how meat was made, you’d probably lose your lunch.
As much as possible, ensure that your meat comes from local farmers who raise their animals as naturally as possible. If you are forced to feed grain-fed animals, then you might want to supplement a prey-model diet to replace the nutrients erased by factory farming and to boost your dog‘s immune system to fight the ill effects from additives such as hormones, antibiotics and arsenic. Although the full extent of the dog’s ability to digest plant matter is largely unknown, all of the deficiencies in vitamins and minerals are readily available in herbs. Unless you are able to feed exclusively organic, grass-fed animals, the benefits of feeding plant matter to dogs likely outweighs the risks of feeding deficient meats which have joined the alarmingly large and growing list of products contaminated by increasingly powerful industries.