The Industrial Revolution’s Impact on Our Food Chain and Its Unsettling Consequences for Pets
The transformation ushered in by the Industrial Revolution has profoundly impacted our ancestral food chain over the last century, with family-run farms giving way to large-scale industrial food production, a shift that carries some unsettling implications.
This shift, compounded by the mass exodus of people from rural areas to bustling cities, has created a domino effect, steering the food industry towards a proliferation of highly processed, overcooked, and sub-standard-quality food options designed for convenience rather than nourishment.
Regrettably, the repercussions of this transition have not spared our pets. These substandard food products have found their way into our companion animals’ feeding dishes, who are grappling with a range of health issues eerily similar to those that plague human beings.
Understanding a Dog’s Natural Dietary Needs
Historically, canines and felines have subsisted not on cooked foods but on a diet consisting of live prey, fermented carrion, and any other scraps they could forage. The introduction of cooked and processed foods to your pet’s diet is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back just 80 years.
A glance at the dietary habits of dogs and their wolf ancestors reveals their predatory nature, which is reinforced by their physical and physiological attributes. Dogs possess hinged jaws capable of exerting considerable force alongside canines and triangular carnassial teeth designed for tearing flesh and crushing bone. However, they are not opposed to an occasional wild berry!
Unlike herbivores, dogs lack the typical grinding molars for processing plant material, and their stomachs don’t have four chambers for the slow digestion and fermentation of complex carbohydrates (such as starches found in plants and grains).
Instead, dogs have a large stomach, a short digestive tract, and a tiny cecum, consistent with a diet that involves consuming large quantities of high-protein food in short periods, followed by quick digestion and swift nutrient absorption. Such adaptations reflect the feeding patterns of wild canines, which often go several days between meals.
Given this, the question arises – is kibble, commercial dry pet food, actually detrimental to your dog’s health? Let’s delve deeper.
The Unnatural Diet Dogs Are Often Fed
Why are around 90% of pet owners serving their carnivorous companions a dry kibble pellet diet typically composed of at least 60% carbohydrates, contains scant moisture, and offers minimal, low-quality protein?
A significant proportion of the protein found in commercial kibble dog food is plant-based. Expecting our pets to exist and feel physically and nutritionally satisfied on such a diet seems unfounded. The invention of kibble occurred during World War II as a direct response to the rationing of tin and metal, which caused a shortage of canned pet food.
Consequently, manufacturers started to produce dry pet food that they could package in paper, which was not subject to rationing. This dry dog food was more economical to produce, easier to store and transport, and had a longer shelf-life than wet canned food, leading to its popularity among pet owners.
Further advancements in pet food processing and preservation methods, such as extrusion cooking techniques, were developed in the latter half of the 20th century. These allowed for the mass production of dry kibble dog food with various ingredients, flavours, and nutritional profiles, catering to the different needs of pets.
The convenience and lower cost of kibble made dry dog food a popular choice among pet owners. However, the question that arises is – if our pets have survived on this cheap, convenient, and low-quality protein source for the past eight decades, should you still be concerned for your dog or cat?
While our pets may be surviving on commercial pellet dog food, can we confidently say they are thriving on it? The answer appears to be a resounding “No”.
The prevalence of chronic degenerative diseases, auto-immune conditions, allergies, and kidney, pancreatic, and liver diseases within our pet population is alarmingly high. Furthermore, the incidence of cancer continues to escalate at an alarming rate. 
The Evidence Speaks Volumes
Dr Kollath, in a study conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, demonstrated that young animals initially seemed healthy when fed a diet of cooked, processed food. However, upon reaching maturity, they began to age rapidly and exhibited signs of degenerative diseases. On the contrary, the control group, raised on a raw, uncooked diet, aged more slowly and displayed no signs of degenerative diseases, maintaining good health throughout.
A study in Belgium examined data collected over five years (1998-2002) from more than 500 domestic dogs. The authors, Lippert and Sapy, managed to statistically demonstrate that dogs consuming a homemade diet—comprised of high-quality foods from their owners’ meals—had a significantly longer lifespan than those subsisting on an industrial, commercial pet food diet. The difference was a staggering 32 months—nearly three years!
The Issue with Kibble
Many pet owners remain unaware of a troubling fact: apart from the substandard ingredients, kibble, a highly processed and cooked diet, introduces a variety of toxins into our pets’ bodies. These toxins encompass a range of harmful substances, including aflatoxins, heterocyclic amines, acrylamides, and the recently discovered polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – a chemical typically used as a flame retardant.
The Problem with Aflatoxins
Grains like corn, wheat, rice, nuts, and legumes are often subject to mould contamination before or after harvest. This contamination can be due to unfavourable growing conditions or prolonged storage under substandard conditions.
Such moulds can proliferate and produce a potent carcinogen known as aflatoxins. These toxins are incredibly stable and resistant to high-temperature processing, meaning they remain harmful despite such treatments.
Even low-dose exposure to these toxins can have severe implications for your dog’s health, potentially leading to conditions like anaemia, liver or kidney failure, cancer, and even premature death.
It’s important to note that even if your pet’s kibble dog food is grain-free, it still harbours a high carbohydrate content, meaning there’s potential for mould spores to contaminate the kibble during storage, especially if exposed to a damp environment. This contamination can occur in your home if the dog food is stored in a humid basement or an open container.
The Problem with Heterocyclic Amines
Numerous scientific studies have identified the formation of mutagenic, carcinogenic substances, such as heterocyclic amines, as a result of cooking meat and fish. Furthermore, these studies have also illustrated a link between dietary heterocyclic amines and cancer development. [4,5,6,7]
For instance, a 2003 study analyzed 25 samples of cooked, commercially available dry dog food purchased from stores.
The findings were troubling: all but one sample tested positive in a mutagenic test, indicating the potential to cause genetic mutations. Furthermore, out of a subset of 13 of these samples, every single one confirmed the presence of heterocyclic amines. 
The Concern with Acrylamides
Acrylamides have been classified as “probable carcinogens” by WHO (World Health Organisation) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
The formation of potentially harmful acrylamides results from the reaction between asparagine, an amino acid found in vegetable-based foods and sugars when subjected to high temperatures during cooking or food processing and extrusion.
Factors that exacerbate acrylamide formation include low remaining moisture in the product and a large surface area. These two characteristics are common to all types of kibble and dry dog food, all of which are typically low in moisture.
The Problem with PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers)
The discovery of PBDEs, chemicals primarily used as flame retardants in many household products, in commercial pet foods is indeed concerning, even though more studies are required to establish a direct toxicological impact.
A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology proved that the average blood concentration of PBDEs in dogs tested was up to ten times higher than in humans. Additionally, the researchers detected PBDEs in dog food samples; notably, these levels were higher than in meats intended for human consumption.
The study’s authors suggest that the presence of PBDEs in dog food may not originate from the food sources themselves but rather be an outcome of the high heat processing methods employed.
The Dilemma of Nutrient-Devoid Dog Food
Commercial dry dog food pellets, laden with harmful toxins, are often stripped of their essential nutrients, rendering them essentially “dead” dog food products.
Sadly, many well-meaning consumers who aim to provide their pets with a high-quality commercial diet opt for expensive, “grain-free” pellets. These dog food products often boast of being all-natural or even organic, leading consumers to believe they are choosing a more nutritious option for their pets.
However, the reality is that even if this pellet dog food comprises high-quality ingredients devoid of preservatives, fillers, or additives, they still undergo a cooking and extrusion process that significantly diminishes its nutritional value.
As a result, the dog food pellets end up with denatured proteins and inactive enzymes. Moreover, any natural, beneficial microflora (good bacteria) cease to be viable.
All these elements play a critical role and synergistically contribute to the complete digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients from the food, thus highlighting the problem with their absence.
Issues with Synthetic Fortification
To compensate for the nutritional losses in their products, manufacturers resort to supplementing the food with synthetic vitamins and minerals. This strategy enables them to meet standards set by the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO), thus allowing them to label their pet food as “complete and balanced.”
However, research indicates that these synthetic vitamins could be more harmful than beneficial for your pet, as the body often processes them as foreign substances, causing unnecessary stress on the liver and kidneys.
Regrettably, our environment is already heavily polluted with many toxins from which we can’t entirely shield ourselves. Wouldn’t it be prudent to take control and avoid the ones we can, for our own sake and that of our dogs and cats?
Our beloved pets need a robust, well-functioning, and healthy immune system to combat environmental pollutants. The most efficient way to fortify your pets’ immune systems is by providing them with whole, live, nutrient-dense, raw foods.
Feeding our pets a raw or gently cooked species-appropriate diet is the best defence we can offer to ensure they thrive and have the best chance for long, healthy lives.
As guardians of these incredible companion animals who enrich our lives unconditionally, we believe it’s not just fair, but as responsible pet owners, we must provide this for them.
- Milton R Mills MD. The Comparative Anatomy of Eating (2009).
- Doug Knueven DVM The Holistic Health Guide: Natural Care for the Whole Dog (2008).
- Gérard Lippert DVM and Bruno Sapy DVM. Relation Between the Domestic Dog’s Well-Being and Life Expectancy (2003)
- Marta Venier and Ronald A Hites Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and Their Food. Environ. Sci. Technol. (2011) 45(10):4602-8.
- Henry Pasternak DVM, CVA. Healing Pets with Nature’s Miracle Cures. (2001): 13, 63-80.
- J S Felton and M. Jägerstad, M.G. Knize, K. Skog, K. Waka- bayashi, Contents in Foods, Beverages and Tobacco, in M. Na- gao, T. Sugimura (Eds.), Food Borne Carcinogens: Heterocyclic Amines, Wiley, West Sussex, (2000) pp. 31–71.
- M G Knize, C P Salmon and J S Felton Mutagenic Activity and Heterocyclic Amine Carcinogens in Commercial Pet Foods. Mutagenic Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis. (2003) 539 (1-2): 195-201.6.
- S Rohrmann and J Linseisen Heterocyclic Aro- matic Amine Intake Increases Colorectal Adenoma Risk. Am J Clin Nutr. (2009) 89 (5): 1418-24.