Feed for Vitality

Best dog food? Best cat food?

Raw. Balanced.

Wild Genes

When readers ask me, "What's the best dog food (or cat food)?", I have to chat a bit about what's known about where our domestic pets come from. That foundation will always help you be a wise consumer.

We know from genetic mapping now that domestic dogs share some 99% of their genes with the wolf, their nearest wild cousin, and ancestor. Similar overlap must exist between the domestic cat and the wild cousins and ancestors they have come from.

Tweaking Genetics

We, as the human species, have selected for very, very little other than appearance in our breeding of pets. (Much more selection takes place in dairy cows, for example, for the suspension of udders, production of milk, strong legs, etc.)

So, you find yourself attracted to certain breeds more than others, because they appeal to your heart, your mind, your intended “use” of that animal, etc.

You might be a person who rescues a certain breed. You feel good around that breed, and like being involved in rehoming those waifs that ended up homeless.

You might like the dogs that are big and trained to work, like in search and rescue, herding, seeing eye guiding, guarding, etc. There are breeds that just fit for you in your chosen avocation.

Small pets that can go with you and don’t cost much to feed or medicate might be your cup of tea.

Your goal in choosing animals might be entirely based on form over function. Or vice versa. Or temperament, like affection seeking, or protectiveness, etc.

The bottom line is,

We have done nothing to select for a “new” digestive system in our domestic animals. Nada. Zip.

It would take careful selection over many generations to do this and it hasn’t been on our priority list.

So, who are we feeding then?

From the tiniest Chihuahua to the ginormous Great Danes, from the feral cat to the most pampered long haired Persian, we are simply feeding.

Wolf. Mountain Lion.

[I have a harder time convincing my tea cup Poodle owners of this, and it’s easier with the German Shepherd owners, but it’s true across all breeds]

We are feeding predators who live in our midst.

Expectations

So, what does a predator “expect” to eat, genetically speaking?

Prey, of course.

And prey is always fresh, raw, and warm, right? It hasn’t conveniently run through a campfire before getting eaten!

Prey has muscle, bone, organs, vitalityit’s alive and gives life to the eater.

That vitality, common to prey, is lost in cooking. That’s a big loss.

To maximize health, we have to provide species appropriate nutrition.

 

Choices, Choices

So, the obvious choice of what to feed dogs and cats is a food most closely resembling prey. The best dog food or best cat food is raw. And balanced.

Closest to what the wildness inside your dog or cat expects and is looking for.

This can be accomplished in a couple of ways:

  1. Buying it ready made
  2. Making it homemade

Buying “Prey”

The choices for raw food have nearly exploded in the past several years, as you, and many other pet owners, have understood this truth and voted with your pocketbooks in the marketplace. There are several brands available that base their products on this understanding, that we must feed the genetic expectations. While a wolf in a Shih Tzu body could survive on starchy, processed food-like chunks, she will thrive on a wolf-like diet!

Convenience and Raw Food Benefits

For folks who don’t care to start from scratch and completely make their own raw food, I offer two excellent choices.

All Raw (and WILD!), Delivered to Your Door!

RAW WILD
It doesn’t get any easier than this, for all raw, truly healthy prey-like food. These fine folks send you Raw Wild direct to your door so fresh and solid, you can be assured it never did the repeated freeze/thaw/refreeze cycle that commercial raw foods can go through on their way to your pet’s dish.

Dave Sabey, a hunter himself, realized what a huge resource wild elk and venison was for dogs. Hunters know there is no better meat than that of wild grazing animals who are drinking from mountain streams.

In my mind, "best dog food" equates to "best wolf food," keeping those huge genetic overlaps in mind. And wild game is what those wolves eat, solely.

Wild sourced meat means no GMOs, no hormones, no antibiotics, grains, or preservatives.

And if your dog is itching and scratching and allergic to a shopping list of proteins? You can bet elk and venison are better than anything to help that wildly over reactive immune system to find a balance once more.


Other frozen raw diets that are on my short list of recommendations are Darwin’s (a great rotation with Raw Wild, and also ships all over the US), Aunt Jeni’s, Answers, and Small Batch, available at better pet shops.

There are many, many others, but you have to be a label detective here, as with any other food purchase for yourself or anyone in your care. I remember a client showing me a label of a raw food years ago that had only meat and vegetables. No calcium source like bones, at all. How close to prey is that? Obviously, not close at all.

  • Dehydrated, Home Delivery

Sojos entered the natural pet food market with human quality ingredients way back in 1985. Their original product was based on the teachings of Juliette de Bairacli Levy, herbal medicine’s grand dam, who pioneered natural treatments for animals.

Sojos offers high quality dehydrated food in packets that cost little to ship due to the water removal, yet are high in inherent nutrients, including enzymes, that are retained in low heat processing.

You can choose from products to add your own raw meat to (my preference) or products with freeze dried meat already inside (great for camping and travel). Sojos makes diets for both dogs and cats, and, as this is not a heated kibble, would qualify as an easy cat food source for occasional use.

If you really want the closest thing to prey, you can actually buy prey animals, sold for pets to consume. I’ve got a client buying frozen rabbits for her Springer Spaniel and I know there are facilities raising rodents for cat consumption. I’ll have links on my Resources page if you’re interested in going this route.

Making "Prey"

If you’d rather not deal with whole prey species (and I’d totally understand if you didn’t), you can make raw food at home.

It’s best to start with a book or two, so you have some frame of reference. Unbalanced homemade food is, in many ways, worse than store-bought food.

Here’s one for dogs that’s elegantly simple. If you trust that “balance” need not be in every bowl, but happens over time (as I do), you’ll love this approach.

vitalanimal feedforvitalitypage makingprey

For cats, here’s a woman who’s really put her mind into researching and calculating complete meals for cats. Several recipes, great info, and a forum of holistic cat owners is here.

Here’s some great equipment, should you embark on this path of homemade, especially is you’re using large meat sources for small mouths, like cats. A meat grinder that makes it through the toughest of bone and sinew!

vitalanimal feedforvitalitypage meatgrinder

Feed 'em like their ancestors and wild cousins, and watch their health bloom!

26 Comments

  1. Joy Metcalf on May 14, 2024 at 9:08 am

    Wolves are are lot larger than many dogs. My homeopathic vet recommends flat bones for my Sheltie. At 22 lbs, he’s quite a bit smaller than a wolf but probably in the same weight range as a fox. Foxes, of course, eat smaller prey. For me, it makes sense to feed bones commensurate with the size of the dog, comparing them to wild canids.

  2. Melissa Miller on January 28, 2024 at 1:47 pm

    You mentioned challenging but not gulpable bones….I always heard not to give the weight-bearing bones bc they are too dense and can break teeth. What do you suggest, then, for “recreational” bones not meant to be eaten but rather good teeth cleaners? Obviously, all bones should be given w meat still on them as well.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on January 29, 2024 at 3:30 am

      I think the only teeth that get broken are in animals who aren’t healthy to begin with. I can’t imagine wolves ignoring the leg bones of caribou or getting broken teeth, can you?

  3. Elizabeth Long on January 28, 2024 at 8:46 am

    I’ve been feeding raw and whole prey to kitties for over 20 years, and thought I’d share my favorite resources: Rodent Pro for whole prey:
    https://www.rodentpro.com/?msclkid=cc5688041aa316a7692bedb27c271dfd

    Even the tiniest baby mice are a thrill for indoor cats. Pro tip is start small, rolling the piece of prey in bonito or fish flakes to get them started. I try to catch the sales at Rodent pro for affordability.

    For ground food on the US east coast, Hare-today provides great quality offering a variety of proteins, ground and chunked; and enough information via recipes for making your own complete with ratio calculators: https://hare-today.com/

    Hare-Today is a multi-generation family business, conscious about treating their animals raised for food for other animals humanely during their lives, and in how they kill them painlessly.

  4. PJ on January 28, 2024 at 8:18 am

    I’ve been having great success with the meatless feeding guidelines from Pitcairn’s 4th edition. Dog are about as much wolves as humans are apes. We’ve both evolved since then, and co-evolved for the past couple hundred thousand years. As such, it would be most accurate to say the most appropriate diet for a dog would be our leftovers and refuse. I also think there is no escaping the contamination of the planet and therefore the foodchain. Therefore the benefits of eating low on the foodchain outweigh the risks of bioacculated toxins associated with eating high on it. I think a bit more nuance in your discussion of this topic is needed.

    • Lorraine on January 28, 2024 at 9:47 am

      Dogs and wolves are the same species. Wolves and dogs can breed and in order for two animals to mate they have to be part of the same species. In 2021, a literature review of the current evidence infers that domestication of the dog began in Siberia 26,000-19,700 years ago by Ancient North Eurasians, then later dispersed eastwards into the Americas and westwards across Eurasia. You state that both dogs and humans have evolved for the past couple thousand years yet you never stated what changed. Dogs teeth are still designed for killing prey and tearing meat. Dogs so not have the teeth of a Herbivore made to eat plant material. Forcing a dog to eat all plant matter is no different than forcing a deer to eat all meat products.

      • PJ on January 28, 2024 at 4:59 pm

        Forcing a dog to eat all “plant matter” is actually quite different than forcing a deer to eat all meat products. Deer are herbivores. Dogs are omnivores. That means they can eat plant and animal “matter”. Some (https://biologyofbehavior.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/are-dogs-and-wolves-the-same-species/) argue that they are detritivores. That means they are most accustomed to eating our leftovers and trash “matter”. In any case, I’m not forcing anyone to eat anything and not all “plant matter”. I feed my dog meat, just not every day and not very much. As I said, nuance. The world is not black and white.

  5. Kerstin DeRolf on October 8, 2023 at 6:52 am

    I have had 3 dogs in the time I have been married. I fed the first one on a kibble diet until the last year of his life when he suffered from liver failure (probably from vaccines and the kibble) at which point I started to research more and finally switched him to raw – he enjoyed it most of the time, although, like any human, preferred the kibble if given a choice.
    The second one switched to raw the moment we got him (a rescue, between 8-10 months old) although by then the damage from vaccines had been done (mostly rabies vaccinosis). But he loved it, and gave us another 12 years before dying of splenic cancer (again, I think ultimately caused from the vaccines early on – he was adopted, given up to a shelter, then a few months later we got him – again, OD on vaccines I believe). With this dog I also discovered homeopathy, which I know kept him doing better for many years.
    Both of these were German Shorthairs. Now we have an Irish Wolfhound, and (again, dealing with a husband who believes vaccines are good) I submitted until he was 4 months old, at which time (vacation schedule upset, got a good diarrhea) we switched him to raw and he is now a happy camper, although sometimes he doesn’t like getting the actual bones and prefers the ground mixes I get from My Pet Carnivore – although those ground blends are a lovely “prey” mix of bone (you can see the pieces) organs and meat. And treats are 99% dehydrated meat.
    They do make my life easy, although my question is – if I am feeding him 3.5 pounds of food a day, can I really do that in one sitting or do I need to split it up like the suggestion is for kibble? The concern is always “too much food in one sitting” if he gets all of it.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on January 29, 2024 at 3:35 am

      Any size dog can eat raw to satiation without worry. Kibble swells and can cause stomach torsion, especially with activity after a big dry meal. Most wolves distend their stomachs, as meals are relatively infrequent. So, gorge/fast is a canine norm.

  6. Tom on September 12, 2023 at 1:43 am

    Hi Dr Will,

    I have two dogs who aren’t picky about what I feed them.

    I would like to try home prepared meals. But there prices are all over the charts
    Is there a simple basic recipe you can share for someone on a budget?

    Thanks

    • Will Falconer, DVM on September 15, 2023 at 12:29 am

      Hey Tom,

      I hear you, but I’ve purposely avoided basic recipes, as I’ve seen too many get stuck on them, and feed a “mono-diet,” something no wolf would ever consume.

      If you want to start very simply, just make a meal out of raw whole chicken (or parts, like a drumstick to big guys, a wing to the wee guys). Then, start to think about how “prey” is made: Mostly muscle and bone, 2nd is organs (liver, heart, kidneys, etc.) and a very distant 3rd: predigested vegetation (no more than 10% of your final “bowl”).

      Read up on wolf research. What do they eat? How do they eat? You won’t go wrong with this approach. Baby steps at first, and as your confidence grows, you’ll get more creative and varied in what you offer your non-picky dogs (good for them! they’ll thank you at every meal for your efforts!).

  7. Tammy C on August 18, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve been feeding my dog Dr. Marty natures blend freeze-dried raw dog food. Do you have an opinion on this dog food? My dog has so many health issues. Could they be food related?

  8. elisabeth beau on July 9, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    Dr Falconer: What about ‘fasting’ or rather, a day or times when we let their digestive systems rest or a day where they ‘have not found’ prey.
    This happens in the wild; more so more than one day. I know for me, this is a positive thing to do… we are voraciously overfed; though some suffer massive malnutrition on nutrient redacted things falsely called ‘food’

    • Will Falconer, DVM on July 10, 2023 at 6:06 am

      Absolutely valuable. Easy, too: Thursday every week is fast day. Broth, water, nothing solid (or maybe a challenging bone that’s not “gulpable.”

      • Pat on January 28, 2024 at 3:08 pm

        Would fast days apply to cats as well? I have always feed my dogs raw (all lived to at least 17 y/o and had very few shots) but now I only have 2 cats. One was a feral kitten that showed up at my door and the other is a 16 pound boy that I adopted at the death of his mom. I do not know a lot about cats, having been a dog person all my life.

        • Will Falconer, DVM on January 29, 2024 at 3:29 am

          Yes, in most cases, the determining factor being body fat. If a cat is fat, fasting can be dangerous, as they’ll mobilize those fat stores and get a sick liver, aka fatty liver disease.

  9. Alison Logee on January 22, 2023 at 7:58 am

    We make à fond blanc, (every 2 weeks), which takes 24 hrs., and then we make dog cookies with all the bones, as they are very soft by then. They grind up nicely. Can these same bones be used in making the raw food as well or do you think the nutritional value has been diminished from the 24 hrs of simmering?

    Thank you,
    Alison

    • Mary C, on June 25, 2023 at 2:46 pm

      I wish Dr. F. would reply to this. I’m not sure dogs should eat cooked bones, at least not whole. Maybe ground is ok?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on June 26, 2023 at 1:05 am

      Greatly diminished nutritional value, Alison, though no harm eating ground up cooked bones, Mary. That’s a damn sight better than bone meal.

  10. Mary C. on October 3, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    From the Amazon information on the Grinder shown above: “This MEAT Grinder “WILL NOT” GRIND BONES! Although you may see customer comments/reviews indicating otherwise, results are not consistent, and you will most likely be dissatisfied with your purchase of this product.”

    • Will Falconer, DVM on October 4, 2021 at 8:53 pm

      I’m betting poultry bones won’t give it pause. Or probably veal, lamb, or goat bones.

    • Medical Freedom on January 23, 2022 at 8:57 am

      Thank you for posting the info.

      • Medical Freedom on January 23, 2022 at 9:00 am

        also, several links not working

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