I have noticed pet parents really want to know which foods are best to feed their dogs and cats and WHY. There has been a growing mistrust of the conventional pet food industry as well as an increasing desire for explanations of recommendations in order to build confidence in those who recommend and manufacture pet foods and treats. Pet parents are a highly educated, inquisitive bunch! They are thirsty for the knowledge and skills to procure the best lifestyle and nutrition with the hope to increase quality of life and longevity for their pets.
To that end, I have begun a series on “Biochem for Your Pets”. Let’s begin with a new, emerging super food or functional food for dogs and cats: sprouts!
Two common age-old questions, not without controversial answers, have been: should carnivores be fed vegetation and why do dogs and cats eat grass?
Most of us have witnessed a dog or cat voraciously or calmly ingesting grass. I believe our furry, little carnivores are intuitive enough to know which vegetation to consume or simply chew in order to affect the desired purpose. Some have said a dog only chews on grass to release the desirable nutritive chlorophyll, accidentally swallows the grass, and then the indigestible grassy fiber acts as an emetic and the pet vomits. Witnesses to the ravenous consumption of grass by a dog with bloat or a cat with a giant hair ball would beg to differ.
These pets, often frantically and intentionally, chow down the green stuff, seemingly with the intent to get relief by vomiting. Observant herbalists have stated that their pets make particular selections of plants from their vegetable and herbal landscape which have nutritive value and do not have any emetic effect. Some vegetation, in fact, may have a laxative effect and the strict carnivore feline is often very receptive to the consumption of an inordinate amount of pumpkin or greens beans which moves the ingesta and the fecal matter to relieve this common uncomfortable malady which occurs in our aging cat population.
I would propose that our intelligent little meat-eaters know exactly what they are doing, although they commonly do not have access to their preferred menu of greens. If allowed to forage in the wild, many types of carnivores have been witnessed to consume just the right vegetation for their needs. Western herbalists teach that the native American Indians learned which berries were safe to select by watching the bears make their selections from the foliage.
The wild maned wolf eats small prey (rodents, rabbits, birds, fish), but, over 50% of his diet is vegetation. When confined, maned wolves were fed meat-heavy diets; many developed bladder stones. Zoo diets for these wolves now include fruits and vegetables.
The maned wolf has an interesting symbiotic relationship with the plants upon which it feeds. According to zoologists, “The maned wolf carries the seeds of various plants, and often defecates on the nests of leafcutter ants. The ants then use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens, and later discard the seeds onto refuse piles just outside their nest. This process significantly increases the germination rate of the seeds. (1)
The maned wolf has susceptibility in common with our domestic dogs. Both can be infected with a potentially fatal giant kidney worm. Wild and domesticated canids have a lot of physiology in common. Perhaps the benefits of the consumption of particular germinated seeds should be investigated further. In fact, it has!
The germination of seeds is colloquially phrased sprouting, and it’s not just for vegan sandwiches!
The sprouting of seeds and grains releases an explosion of nutrients which would otherwise be unavailable for absorption by the digestive systems of our carnivores.
Courtesy of Carna4 Hand Crafted Pet Food
Sprouted products ideally go through extensive testing to ensure safety and effectiveness. Raw seeds must contain no harmful bacteria and optimally are certified organic. These seeds: flax, barley seed, lentils, mung beans and others, contain Mother Nature’s bacterial flora. These good bacteria produce nutrients for the plant. Germination of these seeds, releases the probiotics and nutrients for utilization by anyone who consumes the sprouts!
Analyses show that there are millions of good bacteria in sprouted flax and none in regular unsprouted flax. If your goal is to create a healthy gut, it is important to feed the flora. Good foods feed good bacteria, probiotics such as Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Bad foods (like starch) feed bad bacteria, pathogens such as Listeria or Salmonella. Not only do sprouted grains release the probiotics, but they also provide prebiotics, good food for the probiotics! Prebiotics increase by over 1000% upon sprouting.
Germination increases enzyme availability by 50% to 900%, natural vitamins A, B, C, and E are increased by 20% to 9000%! Even the healthy, omega-3 fats, calcium and amino acids stored in seeds are released in mega levels compared to that of the unsprouted counter parts.(1)
It’s no wonder sprouted seeds, grains and legumes have been touted as super foods and aptly called functional foods!
Pet food manufacturers have recognized the deficiency of these live and whole food nutritional components in their processed foods. Most companies boost deficiencies by adding synthetic, laboratory-derived probiotic or vitamin premixes. Well-informed pet guardians are recognizing that this approach to nutrition is woefully inadequate and may even be harmful. Some manufacturers have become successful with the development of products which contain whole food sourced and viable nutritional elements which when consumed can actually provide the intended healthful result.
The technological breakthrough which successfully combines the old traditional knowledge that fermented foods are good for you, with healthy meat sources and low temp processing, now allows savvy pet food companies to manufacture truly balanced diets without the addition of potentially toxic synthetic vitamin/ mineral additives and weak, useless probiotics! Additionally, millions of live, naturally derived bacteria have been shown to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria in the final kibble or treat, actually making the food safer! In today’s world of scary pet food recalls, this is a huge plus!
Conscientious pet guardians with some time on their hands can have some fun sprouting seeds for their pets. Those of us living in the fast lane are always searching for healthy convenience foods. We praise those manufacturers who come up with innovative ways to provide quick and healthy diets and treats for our pets.
David Stauble and Maria Ringo, founders of Carna4, the company that pioneered the use of sprouted seeds as an ingredient in dog food, recommend pet parents have fun learning to sprout their favorite seeds for the whole family. “We love the combination of flax, lentil and barley for its high therapeutic value, and that’s why we put it in our products, but any combination of seeds is nutritious. Every sprout is a healthy sprout!”
Diets and menu plans that make sense for a carnivore are going to provide the nutritional building blocks for healthy tissues without the damaging side effects created by the processing of fresh ingredients. Sprouts are just one more functional food or supplement to look for and provide for your dog or cat to maintain and produce a healthy body!
Side bars: How to Sprout
1. Choose a glass jar with a lid.
2. Drill small holes in the lid.
3. Put some seeds in the bottom of the jar and cover with water to soak for twelve hours. Germination begins. The seeds will swell.
4. After twelve hours, rinse the seeds in room temperature water. Drain the water out of the holes in the lid, leaving the seeds damp, but not swimming in water.
5. Repeat the rinsing process at least once every 12 hours until the sprouts are ready – usually about 2 to 4 days.
6. Feed the sprouts right away, or store them in the fridge. They will last approximately one week.
Ideally, combine sprouts with a species-appropriate raw diet. However, sprouts will enhance the nutritive value of any diet. Begin with a small amount (tsp for a small pet, a tbsp. for a larger dog), and monitor your pet’s stool production. Healthy foods can cause a physiologic cleanse! If this occurs in a controlled fashion, it can be an acceptable step toward better health!
Sprouted Seeds Can Aid a Pet Who Has
Chronic Ear Infections
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Chronic bladder infections
(1)Journal of Zoology (London) "Diet of Maned Wolf, Chrysocyon brachyurus, in Central Brazil" 240 (2): 277–284
2) Mortec/ Gelda Scientific, Inc. May 2010
Special thanks to Carna4 for the beautiful photos from their production facility, and to the folks at http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/6-easy-steps-to-sprout-heaven/ for the info on how to sprout!
Jodie Gruenstern,DVM,CVA is a UW-Madison graduate and has been practicing veterinary medicine in Muskego, Wisconsin since 1987. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist by the Chi Institute. Dr. Jodie is the owner of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, an integrated small animal practice. She has been an advocate for natural pet care through writing, speaking, radio, television and the manufacturing of unique products. Dr. Jodie is founder of the non-profit iPAW: Integrating People for Animal Wellness.