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Fluffy dog eating vegetables

What the Hug is bioavailability?

A species-appropriate diet always tops processed pet food. One of the core reasons behind this is bioavailability, a rather complex topic. 

We know, we know – it doesn’t sound like a walk in the park. Worry not. In this post, we break down the basics of bioavailability and focus on facts that are relevant to you, the pet parent. 

We’ll explain why nutrient bioavailability is vital for your pet’s long-term health, and why it’s a given when you feed species-appropriate food. We’ll also outline why non-species-appropriate pet foods (artificial, extruded, tinned, you name it) can only offer limited nutritional value. 

It’s pretty interesting, promise. 

Digestion for Cats and dogs

Bioavailability for beginners 

Put simply, bioavailability is the term used to describe the absorption rate of nutrients ingested by your dog or cat. 

Your pet’s digestive system has a thin lining with a large surface area. This lining is dotted with absorption sites which, all being well, ferry nutrients from the intestine to the bloodstream. 

If the nutrients are readily bioavailable, there are no access issues: they make it through the ‘gates’ and are absorbed into the bloodstream. But when a non species-appropriate diet is fed, essential nutrients can find themselves shut out, never making it past security – more on that in a minute. 

It all started before cats and dogs were domesticated…

Let’s go back to the beginning, when dogs and cats sustained themselves by foraging for whole foods in their natural surroundings – prey, grass fruits, and more. They evolved to thrive (not just survive) on the specific balance of minerals and dietary components that a whole food diet delivered. 

Cat in the wild

In other words, canines and felines are biologically wired to live on a whole food diet. As a result, this is the diet best equipped to provide them with essential nutrients in ratios that ensure optimal bioavailability – and this is why it’s deemed species-appropriate.  

Along came processed pet food 

Ok, great. But what’s the link between a non-species-appropriate diet and diminished nutrient bioavailability?

That’s a mammoth question. Many factors can restrict the bioavailability of nutrients in pet food, but the two main roadblocks are dietary components (for example, certain additives and cereals) and the chemical form of the minerals included.

These roadblocks are commonplace in processed pet food, which is why it’s referred to as being non-species-appropriate. To understand more, let’s revisit the moment when pets were domesticated…

Once we realised how great dogs and cats are, the pet food industry came to be. Unsurprisingly, it was the first port of call for owners looking to buy pet food – but there was a problem. The food being produced was designed for convenience: long shelf-life, low prices, and maximum profit for manufacturers. 

Just as it is today, standard pet food was packed with cheap cereals such as corn and maize, and additives. All of these ingredients interfere with nutrient bioavailability in pets’ digestive systems, as, before they moved in with us, none were present in the original diets of canines or felines. Examine the ingredients lists on pet food sold in the supermarket, and you’ll find few that qualify as species-appropriate.

Pet food aisle in a supermarket

The phytic acid example

What pet food producers didn’t realise was that mineral relationships are hugely intricate, and feeding a non-species-appropriate diet triggers mineral interactions that can have long-term effects on pets’ health.

A prime example of this? The phytic acid problem. In the pet food industry’s infancy, it wasn’t understood that cereals contain phytic acid, or that phytic acid blocks the absorption of many crucial minerals, including calcium – in fact, it actively competes with other nutrients for absorption sites. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, research into the cause of skeletal disease in growing dogs showed that a diet containing phytic acid caused a domino effect. The phytic acid impacted the level of calcium absorption into the blood, which then upset the all-important calcium: phosphorous ratio, causing skeletal abnormalities. 

Subsequently, pet food guidelines were created. These increased the levels of calcium in dog food to compensate for the phytic acid effect – this was particularly critical for growing pups. 

Corn being harvested

The phytic acid fiasco is just one illustration of why correctly balanced feeding cannot be achieved without an understanding of species-appropriate nutrition.

Looking at the chemical form of a mineral is also fundamental to determining its bioavailability. Minerals from meat are thought to be more bioavailable than those from plants. Chelated minerals, orates, and picolinates are more bioavailable than gluconates or oxides. Supplementation can also disturb mineral interactions if given inappropriately. We could go on…

A species-appropriate diet is a necessity 

With all of this in mind, your pet’s bowl of food might technically contain the essential nutrients they need, but it may also contain elements that block their absorption into the bloodstream. This leaves your friend with a meal stripped of significant health benefits. 

Yup, nutrient interaction is a minefield! However, one thing is clear and backed by science: if a pet is fed a whole food diet close to the one it evolved to eat, the nutrient interrelationships will not cause any disease within that species. 

By feeding a species-appropriate diet, we can let nature do its work as intended, obstacle-free. 

Dog in nature

Sadly, the majority of pet food producers still concentrate on singular nutrients required to sustain life – they overlook the importance of species-appropriate nutrition and optimal bioavailability. This oversight means the food they manufacture is incapable of delivering vital phytonutrients and antioxidants, as cost-cutting continues to come first. 

Mammals evolved to cope with variation in diet – fast, famine, seasonality. If a species occasionally eats food that fails to support its nutritional needs (and is hazard-free), you will see no effect.

Issues arise when non-species-appropriate food is fed consistently, and bioavailability is compromised – the knock-on effect is exemplified by the problems certain cereals pose (phytic acid, itchy skin, digestive issues, the list continues).

The golden rules of pet food production

Here at Hug, we feel that pets deserve more than the minimum required to keep them alive. We’ve seen the effect whole foods have on their long-term physical and mental health, and it’s incredible.

You’ll never find cheap filler ingredients in our recipes. We use species-appropriate ingredients that are both bioavailable and ethically sourced. In other words, we offer the next best thing to the diets pets foraged for, pre-domestication.

The recipes in our cookable range are bone free, so they can be safely heated through, reducing the risk posed by bacteria, if this is a concern. We replace bone with the most natural source of calcium available, calcium carbonate.

We also offer a working dog range that includes bone and is only served raw. For those who don’t have space, time, or a desire to deal with raw, we have a premium cold pressed dog food range.

You choose the style of feeding; we provide the ideal solution. All of our food is human-grade, kitchen-friendly, and delivered straight to you – it’s never been easier to feed your pet the best.

Still feeling a bit baffled when it comes to bioavailability? Get in touchour friendly team of vets, veterinary nurses, and nutritionists live and breathe this stuff.