As you follow my blog posts, you will quickly understand that I view wholesome nutrition as the key to a healthy, balanced body and a strong immune system that is able to resist disease. The body is not meant to operate efficiently on sub-optimum nutrition. It might “get by” for a while, but eventually it will begin to break down and a host of illnesses will start to develop. This is true with people as well as with our companion animals. Food is, literally, the fuel that runs our bodies. So, then, how come our pets are suffering from food sensitivities at an alarming rate? How could it be that the very foods that are meant to provide wholesome nutrition are instead leading to chronic itching, recurrent gastrointestinal (GI) issues, yeast infections and even inconsistent or unacceptable behavior?
One big drawback of commercial, mass-market pet foods is that they are highly processed. So, even a company that uses “premium” ingredients (look for more about what that really means in future posts!) is still altering them beyond anything our pets’ bodies can normally identify. Processing exposes more antigenic sites on the foods’ molecules, which alter the body’s immune surveillance and recognition responses. In other words, our pets’ bodies view much of the “wholesome nutrition” we are feeding them like “foreign invaders”, setting off classical defensive immune responses. These defenses are typically manifested by a host of food sensitivity and intolerance symptoms suffered by our pets.
Kibble is the main culprit. It is a conglomeration of many ingredients (just read a typical package) that are ground up, mixed together and “extruded” into those dry nuggets you pour into your pet’s bowl. Since many common ingredients in kibble (i.e. proteins of poor bioavailability along with glutens such as wheat, corn and soy) may be reactive on their own, just imagine the effect when several are combined into one food! Moreover, the high temperatures used during extrusion further release the reactive molecules of the food. Extrusion also kills valuable enzymes and probiotics (“good” bacteria) that are vital to a healthy digestive tract and immune system [remember that much of the body’s immune surveillance system is contained in the gut, so a compromised GI tract means a compromised immune system). In addition, dehydrating the kibble – whereby all the water is removed – actually concentrates the reactive molecules. Then, to top it off (literally), the kibble may be sprayed with all sorts of chemical flavor enhancers, colors and preservatives! Is it any wonder that are pets become progressively intolerant of these foods over time?
Canned foods tend to be less reactive than kibble, if only because each can contains about 75-80 percent water, which both “takes up room” in the can and dilutes the antigens in the food. But, pets who eat “wet” instead of “dry” are still at increased risk of food sensitivities. Several reactive ingredients – such as beef, corn and soy – may be combined into one can. And, canned foods are highly processed. Although chemical preservatives need not be added here, once filled, each can is sterilized at temperatures close to 250 degrees for at least sixty minutes. As discussed above, this processing increases the food’s antigenic qualities, turning it into a foreign invader in our pets’ systems.
Now that we understand why commercial pet foods can cause many food intolerances, what can we do about it? Watch for upcoming blog posts, where we will talk about minimizing your pet’s risk of food intolerances by feeding them functional foods for maximum health.