Category Archives: Terminology

Thinking and Speaking: Protein

In other posts I have brought up the fact that language can affect one’s understanding of how and what we feed our pets. Here’s an example of a term that everyone probably thinks they know how to apply, but might not: PROTEIN. I hear this word used in so many ways that I think it merits a solid examination of what it actually means, how we as raw feeders use it, and how a good understanding of it can help us feed the best possible diet we are capable of providing. I know it may sound silly, but I’m going to re-introduce you to protein and propose that we as a community endeavor to consider our words for sake of clarity and understanding.

The other day I was spending some time in an online group for raw feeders, and someone was recounting a conversation with a person who said that only ‘one protein’ was needed in a raw diet because ‘all protein is the same’. I felt the proverbial light bulb turn on, as in this one little anecdote is a way to explain a much bigger issue. Let’s start with this one: Referring to meat and animal products as “proteins”. If you don’t frequent online forums and other communities where people discuss raw feeding, perhaps you’ve been spared this misuse of terminology. I know a lot of Pack Lunch readers come to the site through social media, however, so bear with me. I think there’s something for everyone here.

You hear all the time in online groups currently, “Feed at least three proteins”. You run into people wondering about the nutrients in “a protein”, whether some “proteins” are easier to digest than others, and so on. While in a way these questions could make sense, these people are actually talking about animals and/or cuts of meat, not actual protein molecules. This creates confusion that gives rise to questions like, “What is the vitamin content of that protein?” I might be splitting hairs or being too picky (I’ve been accused of being pedantic before, and I’m sure I will again), but I feel that a person who could phrase such a question might be missing out on some key information required for proper meal planning.

Let’s break it down. What is protein? Proteins are molecules that consist of chains of amino acids. [Definitions and more info on molecules and amino acids is readily available on the ‘net. I’ll leave you to explore that on your own if you feel you need further explanation. I don’t want to slip down the rabbit hole where we descend the scale of matter and enter the realm of quantum mechanics with the end result being, “Nevermind feeding the dog, do I even exist?!”] Plants and animals are “made out of” lots of things. Proteins are one ‘ingredient’. Proteins are not all the same. A being’s genes dictate how many of what amino acids are put together in what way to create a certain protein. There is a near infinite combination of amino acid configurations, and different proteins have different functions. A cow doesn’t just have cow genes that make one identifiable cow protein. A dog’s genes don’t make just one protein we call ‘dog’. (source) While science has come to the point that we know some of the protein forms to expect in a type of animal and might be able to identify the tissue of a certain species based on that, well… it’s really complicated. There’s a field of study called structural genomics that is working on it, but it’ll probably be a while before knowledge in this area is advanced to the point that a reliable database exists. A human body has hundreds of thousands of different proteins. (source) I can’t find a citable statement but I’m going to take an educated guess that dogs and cats and most of their food animals do too.

Animals need to ingest other plants and animals to stay alive. Doing so is one of the very things that makes an animal an animal. One of the many things that animals get from their food is protein. Proteins are eaten as food, and as part of the digestive process protein molecules as they existed in the original food item are broken down into smaller units or single constituent amino acids. Then the body takes those and assembles them into the protein forms required by the eater’s body. There are about 20 amino acids that are relevant to a discussion of protein and food, and ten of them are ‘essential‘ for both dogs and cats. These are: Arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. (source) (I’ll mention that taurine is often called an amino acid, though it’s technically not. Taurine is an essential nutrient for cats, but not for dogs or, incidentally, people.)

Usually the sum of the amino acids as “protein” is the focus of nutrition talks, but really it’s about the combinations of amino acids that make up that protein content that is most important, as each essential amino acid needs to be fed in certain amounts for good health. We don’t really need to concern ourselves with individual amino acid content as a daily thing, and you really don’t need to have a thorough understanding of it to feed a raw diet properly. The fact is that most diets with adequate protein will provide the essential amino acids, but the concept is worth considering and filing away in the foundation knowledge that supports your understanding of nutrition and the diet you feed your pets (and eat yourself).

The types and amounts of proteins in a food item depend on what that food item is. Plants can contribute protein, and so can animals, of course. From the info presented above we know that each plant/animal consumed contributes it’s own proteins, which are made up of various combinations of amino acids. In this we can start to examine the quality of the protein. Protein quality from a nutritional perspective is defined by its amino acid profile — how completely and efficiently the food provides the essential amino acids required by the animal eating it. You might very well be familiar with this concept. Many people who come to raw feeding do so after learning about the short-comings of kibble and other processed food diets that get some or even all of their protein content from grains and legumes. We learn that while technically grains and other plant sources can deliver ‘complete’ and even ‘balanced’ nutrition (when carefully processed, formulated, and combined with other ingredients and supplements), it’s just not the greatest way to achieve it. Carnivores — our dogs and cats — are best suited to derive their required nutrients from animal sources. With meat you get complete proteins (a good amino acid profile) without a lot of additional stuff like excessive carbohydrates or fiber.

This table shows that while all plants and animals have proteins to contribute, the food sources are not equal, and the proteins are not all the same. Plants contain less overall protein than animal products, and the amino acids are distributed differently from plant to plant, and differently than they are in meat. Most raw feeders have firmly grasped the nutritional superiority of a species-appropriate diet and only use plant matter as “functional foods“, supplemental matter, and/or treats — if at all — but I think it helps with the ‘big picture’.

Concluding this thought, a raw diet is going to be meat and animal products, not just some vague concept of a protein. Going back to the beginning of the article where we had a person saying that feeding more than ‘one protein’ (by which they meant animal) wasn’t important because “all protein is the same”, well, to summarize: No way. No how. It’s totally not. Not even close.

A source of protein …and more! This brings us to the terms “meat” and “animal products”. If protein is actually just little intangible chains of things you can’t even see, then what’s that hunk of stuff you just gave the dog for dinner? That’s meat. Meat is the proverbial “bread and butter” of a raw diet. (I’m sorry, that’s awful but I couldn’t resist.) One of the first things you learn as a raw feeder is that meat, bones, and organs are all important, but in a certain proportion. Meat should make up between 70% and 80% of the overall diet — a significant amount. Meat is the flesh of animals, and in culinary terms can also mean the whole animal — bones and organs included. For our purposes in talking about raw feeding, when we say “meat” we generally mean the muscle-meat parts of an animal, which includes skeletal muscle (what most people associate with the word ‘meat’), smooth muscle (like the stomach), and the heart. In addition to actual muscle fibers, meat also includes connective tissue, intramuscular fat, and water. A lot of water, actually.

Fresh meat can contain up to about 75% water. Factors like how fatty the meat is and how the cut or animal has been handled between slaughter and serving — among other things — can affect overall moisture content. (source) The next largest component of meat is …. wait for it…… protein, with most fresh/frozen raw muscle-meat on average consisting of about 20% protein. The next most prevalent nutrient in meat is fat. Fat content is highly variable, but exists in pretty much all meat. (Fat has been unfairly demonized as the cause of many human afflictions in the last couple decades, but it’s actually a very important source of energy and contains crucial micronutrients.) Finally, meat contains vitamins and minerals, again, in various amounts depending on species, cut, and other factors.

The term “animal product” is also one you’ll see and/or use when discussing raw feeding, as it is a little more expansive than “meat”, and can mean anything from part of an animal, to the whole animal, to a substance created by an animal, i.e. milk or eggs. Animal products such as eggs can be a very useful item in a raw diet, and — as you’ll see in the charts and text of next post — very healthful.

So there you have it: You are now familiar with protein, and the difference between protein and meat. I implore you to choose the right terms when discussing food and feeding as a small gesture in promoting informed actions.

Next we’ll expand upon the quality of protein, and the importance of feeding a varied diet illustrated by the nutrient contents of different foods.

NEXT:  Spicing Up Life: The Importance Of Variety


More reading and additional sources:

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/nutritional-requirements-and-related-diseases-of-small-animals

http://www.fao.org/ag/humannutrition/35978-02317b979a686a57aa4593304ffc17f06.pdf

http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ai407e/AI407E03.htm

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Glossary of Terms

When reading the posts here on Pack Lunch you may come across terms you’re not familiar with, or maybe would like a refresher. If you clicked a hotlink in an article and this page opened it’s because the word is here in the glossary. Click on the ‘+’ to get the definition. If you have a recommendation for the glossary please use the comments or contact me. Listings are alphabetical.

80/10/10 rule

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The commonly subscribed-to theory that the edible part of a natural prey animal is 80% muscle, fat, and connective tissue, 10% edible bone, and 10% organs, and that this proportion is how an appropriate raw diet should be formulated. 

Bioavailability

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“The degree and rate at which a substance is absorbed into a living system or is made available at the site of physiological activity.”
Source: Merriam-Webster

Biomagnification 

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The increase in concentration of a substance that occurs in a food chain. 

Carnivore

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An animal that derives most or all of its essential nutrients from animal sources. Canids (dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes), felids (housecats, lions, tigers, lynxes, cougars), and mustelids (ferrets, weasels, badgers, wolverines) are carnivores. 

Corticosteriod

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A class of pharmaceutical drug that imitates a naturally occurring hormone produced in the body. (Not to be confused with anabolic steroids, the hormone that athletes take as a performance enhancer.) Corticosteroids are used in drug form to reduce inflammation and decrease immune response, and have a wide variety of applications in conventional medicine, from skin problems to cancer. Common corticosteroid drugs are cortisone, prednisone, and prednisolone. Corticosteroid use comes with many side-effects, both short and long term, notably liver and kidney damage. Corticosteroids are not used so much to “cure” diseases or conditions, but used in the maintenance of disease and can have a snow-ball effect on declining health. 

Essential & Non-Essential nutrients

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Essential nutrients cannot be synthesized in the body, or not in amounts high enough to meet requisite amounts for good health. These nutrients must come from food, and include certain vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.

A non-essential nutrient can be synthesized in the body. It’s important to note, however, that the right ‘building blocks’ must be present. These might be sufficient amounts of essential nutrients, or another outside source. Often non-essential nutrients are still very important to the diet as a more efficient way to ingest what the body needs for growth and maintenence.

Interesting note: Essential nutrients are not absolute! i.e., Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for humans, but it is not for dogs or cats. Arginine is an essential amino acid for dogs and cats, but not humans. Taurine is essential for cats, but not dogs or humans.

Functional Food

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A food that is endowed with attributes beyond nutrition. Usually foods that contain substantial amounts of substances linked with preventing or curing disease states. Synonymous with “nutraceutical”.

Herbivore

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An animal that eats mostly or only vegetation for sustenance. Bovids (cattle, bison, oxen) and cervids (deer, elk, moose) are herbivores. 

Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acid (EFA)

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A polyunsaturated fat that is essential to the diet, as it’s not manufactured in the body. The significant dietary O-6 EFAs are “linoleic acid” and “gamma linoleic acid”. O-6 is abundant in grains and vegetable oils. Humans and pets eat these things directly, and indirectly in the form of meat that was fed grain instead of grass, which is also very high in O-6 EFAs. O-6 EFAs are overrepresented in the average North American diet both in quantity and in balance to O-3 EFAs. A 1 : 1 O-6 to O-3 ratio is thought to be ideal.

Medicine

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a: “A substance or preparation used in treating disease”
b :”Something that affects well-being.”
(source: Merriam-Webster)

Omnivore

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An animal that is designed to utilize both animal sources and vegetation for sustenance. Examples of omnivores are humans, bears, and pigs. 

Physiology

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The organic processes and phenomena of an organism or any of its parts or of a particular bodily process. In other words, how a body’s systems work to produce functionality of the whole being. (source: Merriam Webster)

Process(ed)

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To alter the raw natural state of food either physically or chemically. This can be an everyday technique like puréeing or baking, or more complex handling and manipulating, e.g., hydrolysis. Goals of food processing are usually preservation, palatability, and/or increased nutrient availability. The term ‘processed’ can refer to actions on single ingredients, or food items made from many ingredients. Some food items are processed in many ways before a final product is finished. This gives rise to terms like “minimally processed” and “highly processed”. 

Ruminant

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A classification of herbivorous animal that has a chambered stomach including a “rumen” where grasses and other roughage are fermented. The fermented mass is called a “cud” and is usually brought back to the mouth and chewed before being formally digested. Ruminants include cattle, sheep, goat, deer, and bison, among other animals, and make up the mainstay of prey animals for wolves and other apex predators.

Supplement

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Something that is added to something else in order to make it complete.
(source: Merriam-Webster)


 

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Terminology: The ‘Prey Model’

The term “prey model” gets thrown around a lot in circles that discuss raw feeding. It is used to describe and differentiate between the different methods of formulating a raw diet. It means different things to different people. Some like the term “prey model”, others do not. I am of the former camp. I think it is possibly the best descriptive term to apply to a proper raw diet, and in those two little words are a frequent reminder not to get lost in the details and provide just what our domestic carnivores need.

Terminology: The Prey Model (photo: Meridian and deer)

I’m not sure where exactly the use of the term “prey model” originated, but it gained popularity among users of an online community that I’m sure can boast being the largest and oldest still-functioning raw feeding discussion group. The term has spread to other online communities, and it is very common to hear ‘prey model’ when the subject of raw feeding comes up. The reason for its popularity, I believe, has to do with the fact that it describes exactly how one needs to formulate a raw diet. It can seem like a daunting task, especially for newcomers to the idea. It describes a “bare bones” approach – pardon the pun – and is used to differentiate this simply formulated, simply fed diet from more complicated home-prepared diets and commercially produced diets. Some attribute the term to Dr. Tom Lonsdale, or at least the style of feeding he promotes. In actuality, Dr. Lonsdale is not actually a fan of the term, but from what I can gather, it is because he feels that the term is unnecessarily limiting and discourages perfectly adequate feeding of raw diets that do not strictly conform to a “prey model” approach by his definitions. (See the discussion he has made available on his website here: http://www.rawmeatybones.com/pdf/RawVetPreyModel06.pdf). Interestingly enough, his reasons for not supporting the term is exactly why I think it’s great, and feel the need to clear up the way it’s interpreted and used some 10 years after the exchange from the link took place. Dr. Lonsdale’s exchange seems to me to be a discussion of semantics more than the intention of the term. What I like in the term prey MODEL, is that by using the word “model” we know that we have a suggested framework, not a set of absolute rules.

The commonly held antithesis of the ‘prey model’ approach is ever so attractively termed “BARF”, which stands for either “biologically appropriate raw food” or sometimes “bones and raw food” depending on who you ask. This term is attributed to Australian veterinarian and early champion of raw food awareness, Ian Billinghurst. If you follow his work (several published books and an internet presence), you’ll see his approach change over time, from a diet plan very much along the lines of what most consider “prey model” now, to one that includes a lot of ground veggies, fruit, herbs, flax seeds, and things like yogurt in a ground form. He even sells this food construct as frozen patties thru his website, BARFWorld. The “extras” content is what a lot of people use to distinguish a “prey model” approach from a “BARF” approach to raw feeding, though that’s not the end of it. I feel the term “BARF” is pretty outmoded these days, and I also strenuously object to any diet plan that comes in a ground or highly processed form without emphasis on the need for whole parts and pieces. Therefore that’s about all I’m going to say on that!

Terminology: The Prey Model (image: Meridian eats deer RMB)

Roughly 15,000 years ago (or as little as 8,000 and as much as 32,000 according to some sources) the domestication of the wolf resulting in today’s dogs began. Modern scientists attribute the domestication of the cat to the ancient Egyptians about 10,000 years ago. Domesticity and all that comes with it has changed for humans and our pets over those thousands of years. For most households with dogs and cats nowadays, if done at all hunting is a seasonal activity for partial subsistence or sport and is not a regular requirement for basic sustenance. The process doesn’t necessarily even include the pets! Thus the need to formulate pet diets using the natural diet as a model rather than a reality:  The impracticality of providing whole prey and the space to eat it in our modern homes.

OK, SO WHAT IS THIS ‘PREY MODEL’, ANYWAY? 

The prey model is exactly as it sounds. It is the practice of looking to the physiological make-up of a natural prey animal, and the observed eating patterns of those animals by wolves (our dogs’ living ancestors) or wild cats or other predatory carnivores, for a “recipe” that we can use to practically feed our domesticated companions. (I will also take this opportunity to point out that ALL domestic animals and livestock can benefit from their own version of species-appropriate feeding, from fish to guinea pigs to chickens to horses. Seems there’s a “kibble” for every species these days!)

The idea behind the prey model is that nature has everything figured out, more or less. All we have to do is follow that plan to keep our kitchen-wolves and wildcats happy and healthy. There is one axiom a pet owner must accept before deciding that this is the correct approach: Our domestic carnivores are just that — carnivores. Whether “obligate” like cats and ferrets or more “opportunistic” like dogs, they have the digestive process and physiology of an animal that best derives sustenance from eating other animals. This, in my opinion, is more than easily acceptable fact, with proof coming from everywhere from scientific journals to simply taking a look at the dog or cat sitting by your feet as you read this.

Sourcing appropriate and practical parts, pieces, chunks, and smaller “whole prey” animals that fit into your lifestyle can be done in a variety of ways. Some raw feeders use only the meat section of their usual grocery store or butcher. Others hunt and/or fish, or connect with outdoorsmen or guides to acquire deer, fowl, fish, and other appropriate wild game. Raw feeders in more population-dense areas have formed co-ops and buyers groups which welcome new members. Restaurant suppliers and wholesalers will often deal with individuals willing to purchase in relative volume to save money. Some pet supply stores and boutiques meet the needs of raw feeders, and make available not only frozen ground food, but meaty bones and small whole prey.

BUT WHAT’S A PREY ANIMAL MADE OUT OF?

Of course to model a diet off a natural prey animal, one must know what one is and what one consists of, and in what proportion. First-hand experience with dressing and butchering animals for meat is not a skill most of us grow up with, though having had my own introduction to it as an extension of raw-feeding I do highly recommend the learning experience if you can make it happen! If that’s a little too hands-on, that’s OK, though.

Terminology: The Prey Model (image: deer from "An Atlas Of Animal Anatomy For Artists, 1956)

The paragon of the natural prey animal for dogs (of all shapes and sizes) is members of the deer family — e.g., white tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou, moose. (Also see P.L. article, “A Brief Look At the Prey Model, With Excerpt From Barry Lopez“). Contrary to popular belief, cats have different needs than dogs, (though both are carnivores) and their natural fare consists of frequent meals of rodents and small birds.

From the viewpoint of a predator, a member of the deer family roughly consists of about 70% – 80% meat, fat, skin, fascia, and connective tissue; 10% – 15% edible bone, ligaments, and tendons; and 10% – 15% certain internal organs and glands. The stomach, intestines, and lungs of a prey animal are physically large, but not observed to be choice food for wild canids and are usually considered by raw feeders as “sometimes food” and part of the general “meat” allotment — if fed at all — rather than that of the vitamin-rich internal organs — the dark red squishy or really fatty ones. Of those internal organs the liver is the biggest, with the kidneys following that. (For more see P.L. article, “What Is Classified As Organ?“). While an ideal diet would include a representation of even the smallest glands, a perfectly good diet can be fed that does not, though liver and arguably kidney are crucial for maintaining good health. Other natural prey like rabbits and smaller mammals have a slightly closer ratio of meat/fat to organ/bone.

Another issue when practically putting together the diet using your “prey model” is what meat to use. Unless you hunt or have hunter connections, you likely won’t be feeding actual natural prey animals. More commonly available meat comes from domestic livestock, including, beef/veal, pork, and lamb/mutton, and the less common goat, bison, and rabbit. While it is the author’s opinion that “red meat” is important to nutrition, it is perfectly viable to utilize “white meat” like chicken, turkey, quail, and other birds, as well as fish (see Gone Fishin’). Poultry is especially nice for it’s edible bone content for even the smallest dog or cat and availability at good prices. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of possible food animals. One can make use of a variety of protein sources. The only real limitation is your own resourcefulness, and while variety is really important to cover nutritional bases, I will caution against “variety for variety’s sake. The “prey model” not only can help you determine in what ratio to feed parts, but can serve as a guide in choosing what animals to feed. For example, since we know that deer and small mammals make up the majority of a “natural” diet, it becomes obvious that feeding a diet that includes a lot of squid isn’t going to serve your “prey model” very well. No in-depth nutritional analysis needed.

One of the most vital lessons I think we can derive from looking at our “prey model” and one SO detrimentally underscored in the current raw feeding community is the importance of the non-nutritive aspects of the prey-predator relationship to food: Actually working to eat food, not just having the constituent parts cut up into “bite-sized” pieces or ground. The importance of food as an activity and ‘toothbrush’ I do not feel is an optional part of the ‘prey model’ method of feeding.

WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?

I plan on writing a separate article regarding supplementation, but feel it’s important to address the issue here, too. Pages of online communities that discuss raw food are full of suggestions to feed things like coconut oil, turmeric/golden paste, fish oil, milk kefir, yogurt, and a host of other foods as “supplements”. A “prey model” diet is not mutually exclusive of supplements, but no matter the diet choice I urge people to consider what they’re utilizing as a supplement and consider carefully what the substance is supplementING. A supplement replaces or augments a nutritional gap in the diet. Presumably from the prey model approach you have identified a missing element that you can’t source in proper amounts given the meats you have available to you, and need to go outside of more ‘natural’ meat/bone/organ sources to provide the nutrient. Fish oil is a very good example: When a diet consists of conventional (grain-fed) meat, the Omega-3 EFA content will be low, and the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 EFA out of balance. Fish body oil (like salmon oil) is a great substance to use to add O3’s and close the gap of O3 to O6. You’re not going to see a wolf or a feral dog refining oil out of fish just to get at the O3’s, but that’s why you feed it: Your dog isn’t a wolf. It should also be noted that “supplement” is also not synonymous with “therapy” or “medication”. Natural substances that are used to heal or treat medical conditions are not “supplements”.

I hope that this article has helped to make the “what and how” behind a good raw diet more accessible.  For more practical “how-to” suggestions for getting started with feeding a raw diet please check out the links page and/or Reading and Resources article.

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