The Carnivorous Cat and the Omnivorous Dog


Natural and dry food for pets in metal bowls isolated on white background.

What should they eat?

By KL Snyder

Kibble, canned, raw, freeze-dried, homemade—which? Among pet food’s genres, is there a healthiest choice?

Pet nutritionists’ views differ, and three area pet professionals also have their own ideas. All have studied nutrition, keep current on medical literature and have found just-right diets for their pets. 

Meat is the cat’s meow

“To figure out nutrition, look at ancestral diet,” says Travis Einertson, DVM, co-owner of Heritage Pet Hospital in Rochester. Throughout millennia, felines have devoured meat.

“Cats absolutely need meat to live,” says Sara Reusche, CPDT-KSA, CVT, ANWI, owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Rochester. “They are obligate carnivores, which means that (unlike dogs) they cannot subsist on vegetarian diets.”

Studies show that a meat-filled, moisture-rich diet that’s high-protein, low-fat and very low-carb suits cats best.

Kibble is the only food type unable to deliver Kitty’s healthiest diet. “Cheap canned food, is better than expensive kibble,” Einertson says. And low-cost canned is nourishing. His feline favors Friskies Classic Paté.

Dog nutrition: a bone of contention

Research’s lack of a once-and-for-all answer to what’s best for dogs doesn’t equate to a lack of opinions. They abound, and if dog owners aren’t confused, they aren’t paying attention.

Canines, omnivores, can consume a variety of fare, but that doesn’t mean they need it all.

“What’s best for cats, probably also applies to dogs,” Einertson says, pointing again to ancestry, to dogs’ and gray wolves’ comparable DNA (around 98 percent similar) and to early dogs and their relationship to early man. “In hunter-gatherer societies, the people ate the organ meats and fed the lean meats to the dogs.”

Later, dogs got table scraps. “They’ve always been our garbage disposals,” he says.

His dogs flourish on a homemade raw diet that he can’t endorse “because the medical literature doesn’t support it.” He hopes trials soon will. “I think it is the best.”

Einertson approves of canned food but frowns on kibble. “Ideal dog food is never crispy brown balls you pour from a bag. Dogs can survive on kibble, but I don’t think they thrive.” If you do choose it, make sure it’s grain-free and contains no vegetable oil.

Chinese and an ancient Greek

Darlene Cook, DVM, owner of The Bluffs Pet Clinic of Red Wing, says “It’s important to credit Hippocrates.” She quotes him: “Let food be your medicine, and let medicine be your food.”

In her practice she incorporates aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, including food therapy—using specific foods to treat specific ailments. Oats, for instance, help remedy digestive disorders and high blood pressure. Steamed celery lowers blood pressure, too; and steamed carrots are good for eyes, dry eyes and livers.

Cook’s canines dine on dry food. Two get prescription kibble and the other limited ingredient, all supplemented with people food—meat, fruit and vegetables. To the dogs’ delight, she makes bone stew for them.

Her advice for pet food buyers is to look for the AAFCO statement on the label. It assures that the product meets nutrition levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. “Those foods are more expensive but usually have higher-quality ingredients.”

If it works, embrace it

“I don’t think there is a single ‘best’ food for dogs,” Reusche says, “and I’m huge believer in doing what works.” What works for Trout, her couch-potato canine who has an autoimmune disorder, is a hydrolyzed prescription diet. Pantalaimon, her high-energy pup from lines of flyball athletes, shines on a combo of raw food and premium kibble.

“There are many wonderful kibbles on the market now,” Reusche says, “and I think kibble can be a responsible choice for many dogs, as can canned, freeze-dried, home-cooked, refrigerated and raw food diets. If your dogs have appropriate energy levels for their age and breed, clean teeth, healthy skin and coats, firm stools and no health problems, then the diet you have them on works. If not, it may be worth experimenting to see whether something else will work better.”

Weighty matters, ancestral dining

“Regardless of what you feed, how much you feed can add or reduce years from your pet’s life,” says Reusche, citing a 14-year study by Purina. It showed that simply keeping large-breed dogs lean resulted in an additional two years of life. “That’s a lot of extra time with your beloved pet.”

Pet food labels’ suggested serving sizes tend toward the excess, says Cook who recommends starting at a half-cup of kibble for every 20 lbs. of canine. If the dog loses or gains weight, adjust the amount accordingly.

Whether or not the diet is ancestral, the dining experience can be—should be, Reusche says. “Throw away your pet’s food bowl. Seriously, chuck it out. Neither dogs nor cats evolved [by] hunting herds of wild food bowls across the prairies.”

Eating from bowls “is a highly unsatisfying way for these scavengers (dogs) or predators (cats) to eat. Set up find-it games, encourage scavenging or use a food-dispensing toy.” Ancestral dining simulated.

Then do something non-ancestral. Brush your pet’s teeth. Wholesome diets and healthy mouths complement one other.

KL Snyder is a Rochester freelancer whose Cocker Spaniels, Chester and Snicket, enthusiastically scarf all the foods mentioned above. 

Want to chew on more pet nutrition info?
Our experts, Darlene Cook, DVM, Travis Einertson, DVM, and Sara Reusche, CPDT-KSA, CVT, ANWI, suggest: pet-food-types.aspx 

And some books: “The BARF Diet: Raw Feeding for Dogs and Cats” by Ian Billinghurst (BARF for “biologically appropriate raw food” or “bones and raw food.”)“Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog” by Carina Beth MacDonald and “Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats” by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM.