Can pet food be made without animals?

Here are some answers to a few of the common questions we get at Because Animals.

Why are you making pet food without animal ingredients?

We started Because Animals because we are animal lovers and because we believe in minimizing our impact on the Earth.

And at every meal time, we face a conundrum: we want to keep our pets healthy with nutritious food, but we don’t want to contribute to the destructive system that produces the commercial pet foods that exist today.

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Right now, there is no choice. There is no way to give dogs and cats the food they need without supporting factory farming―a practice that is hideously cruel to animals, profoundly detrimental to the environment and a major player in pet food recalls.

What is the problem with standard commercial pet foods?

We see three main issues.

The risk to your pet’s health. For the most part, commercial pet foods are safe and contain the proper balance of all vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed for your pet to survive. But contamination and incorrect formulation do occur, putting your pet at risk.

The ingredients. The majority of commercial pet foods are made from animals and animal by-products that have been deemed unfit for human consumption. This includes 4-D meat, which comes from animals that are Dead, Diseased, Dying or Disabled. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges the use of 4-D meat in the pet food industry and cautions that “[such] meat may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it”.

The manufacturing. There are a number of problems that arise in the making of commercial pet foods, including:

  • Infectious disease. To sterilize rendered animal ingredients, the pet food industry uses a process termed extrusion, which involves high heat, pressure and steam to kill contaminating bacteria¹. However, this process is not always effective. From December 2016 through to June 2017, there were 33 dog food products that were recalled. Five of those recalls were due to potential contamination by Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes―bacteria that can infect both your pet as well as pet parents handling this food.
  • Chemical contamination. The majority of dog food product recalls between December 2016 and June 2017 were due to potential exposure to dangerous chemicals, including an antimicrobial processing aid not approved for use in the US, and the euthanasia agent pentobarbital.
  • Incorrect formulation. The intense manufacturing process of pet food leads to a loss of heat-sensitive enzymes, as well as many essential vitamins, minerals and certain amino acids. For commercial pet food to be nutritionally complete, the processed meat must be fortified with synthetic vitamins, minerals and amino acids―take a look at the ingredient label of any commercial pet food and you can see for yourself. Incorrect formulations can lead to nutritional deficiencies and toxic overdoses². There were 17 cat food products recalled between December 2016 to May 2017, with 16 of those products having potentially low levels of vitamin B1 (thiamine)―a nutrient that is easily destroyed during processing, and is essential for cats and dogs³.

What is the advantage of Because Animals products?

Because Animals makes safe and healthy supplements, treats and nutritionally-complete pet food using ingredients from non-animal sources. 

By excluding meat―the common theme underlying most pet food recalls―our products are naturally free of antibiotics, Salmonella, and toxic chemicals such as pentobarbital.

Unlike meat-based kibble, the safety of our ingredients do not require the harsh process of extrusion―which means that our foods retain more of the beneficial enzymes and bioavailable vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in whole foods.           

But aren't cats carnivores?

Yes. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that, in the wild, the only food source to contain all nutrients required by cats to survive is meat. However, for cats fed a commercial diet, these same nutrients can be provided by non-meat sources.

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If cats are carnivores, how is it possible to formulate a nutritionally-complete food that doesn’t contain meat?

Cats require the nutrients found in meat, not the meat itself. Although animals are the only single source of all nutrients needed by cats, animals are not the only source.

For example, taurine is a nutrient that cats must obtain from their diet. In nature, animal tissue is the only abundant source of this nutrient. Therefore, cats in the wild must consume other animals in order to obtain taurine.

But there’s not much taurine found in the meat of commercial cat food, since most of it is lost during processing. Instead, synthetic taurine is added to cat kibble and canned food in order to produce food that is nutritionally complete. That’s why you’ll find taurine listed on the ingredient panel of your cat’s meat-based food.

If you’re feeding your cat a commercial diet then you’re already fueling your kitty with essential nutrients that are either synthetic or microbially-sourced. Commercial cat food is an excellent illustration of the reality that animals need nutrients, not ingredients, in order to survive and to thrive.

Are dogs carnivores?

No. Dogs are omnivores.  This means that, in the wild, dogs can consume all of their essential nutrients from plant and animal sources. 

If dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet, why do so many people―including veterinarians―say they are carnivores?

There are several reasons for this.

  • The first has to do with ancestry. The carnivorous wolf is the direct ancestor of the domestic dog. Because of this, it is commonly believed that dogs share the same metabolic traits and nutrient requirements of wolves. However, recent research has shown this assumption to be incorrect. Unlike wolves, dogs possess genes that are involved in starch digestion and glucose uptake, which allow them to thrive on a starch-rich diet.

  • The next reason involves dog anatomy. Dogs possess certain anatomical traits that lend themselves to carnivorous feeding habits. These traits in dogs―such as incisors for holding prey―are generally very easy to observe. In contrast, the metabolic traits of dogs (e.g., their ability to digest starches) that arose by gene selection are not so easy to see. As such, the omnivorous nature of dogs is often overlooked.

  • The last reason stems from the definition of “carnivore”, which is often used interchangeably to refer to two very different things.

The true definition of “carnivore” applies to organisms that, in nature, require the consumption of animal flesh in order to obtain all nutrients necessary for survival. This is the case for obligate carnivores, such as cats.  

But “carnivore” is often used in reference to any animal that falls under the scientific classification of the order Carnivora. Both cats and dogs are taxonomically categorized as Carnivora. However, not all animals in the order Carnivora are carnivores. For example, the panda bear, which is also in the taxonomic category Carnivora, is predominantly herbivorous (i.e., obtains all of its nutrients from plants). For this reason, dogs―who are metabolically omnivorous―are often labeled as carnivores because they belong in the taxonomic category Carnivora.

So, if not meat, then what is going in Because Animals products?

We emphasize protein sources that are nutritious, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly. A few examples of our nutrient-packed and ecologically sustainable ingredients include algae, sprouted legumes, ancient grains, seeds, vegetable protein and yeast. All essential nutrients required by our pets come from non-animal sources.  

We will have many different ingredients as our products roll out―you can read all about them on our Ingredients page.

But, most importantly, remember we will only use ingredients that are scientifically proven to be nutritious for your pet. We’re doing the necessary work to ensure we provide the healthiest ingredients for dogs and cats, and pave the way to the future of pet food.

Have a question that we didn’t answer?

Please drop us a line at hello@becauseanimals.com.

Sources

¹ Zicker, SC. (2008) Evaluating pet foods: how confident are you when you recommend a commercial pet food? Top Companion Anim Med. 23:121-6.

² Buchannan, RL. et al. (2011) Pet food safety: a shared concern. Br J Nutr. 106: S78-S84.

³ Markovich, JE. (2013) Thiamine deficiency in dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 243:649-56.

⁴ National Research Council (U.S.). Ad Hoc Committee on Dog and Cat Nutrition. (2006) Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. National Academies Press.

Bosch, G. et al. (2015) Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: insights for optimal dog nutrition?  Br J Nutr. 113: S40-S54.

Axelsson E. et al. (2013) The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature. 495: 360-364.

Brown WY. et al. (2009) An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs. Br J Nutr. 102: 1318-1323.

Shannon Falconer, PhD