See Spot Eat: Natural Food for DogsAlana Cheyne December 1, 2012
Andrea Lauridsen watched helplessly as her beloved Shih Tzu, Quincy, suffered for half of his 15 years with skin allergies, itching, welts, and redness. “I tried everything and spent literally thousands of dollars on that poor dog,” she says. “We tried round after round of cortisone, topical ointments, chemical dips, and even Prozac. Nothing worked.”
After discovering Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s book, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Andrea zeroed in on the possible problem – a lifetime of poor quality dry dog food, otherwise known as kibbles.
To Kibble or Not to Kibble?
While certain dry dog food brands provide better nutrition than others, some veterinarians feel that a processed pellet can’t possibly hit all the nutritional marks. “I believe quite strongly that there is no dry food on the market that is appropriate to feed to dogs or cats as their primary source of nutrition,” says holistic veterinarian Moira Drosdovech.
Not only are kibbles lacking in nutrients, but they also require some kind of starch (often low quality and genetically modified) to hold them together. Even if a product claims to be “grain-free,” it likely still contains another starch, like potato protein, to prevent it from crumbling. “Dogs did not evolve to eat starchy foods,” says Drosdovech. Their digestive systems struggle to process the excess carbs, and which are stored as fat.
As for what else kibbles might contain, you probably don’t want to know. In her book Food Pets Die For, Ann N. Martin exposes the ingredients used in many processed food brands, like cellulose (a filler not unlike sawdust), meat by-products (the leftover waste from human food production, including diseased and deceased animal materials from rendering plants), and toxic chemical preservatives. Those opting to feed Fido kibbles would be well-advised to read all labels carefully.
Drosdovech concedes that kibbles are convenient, but worries that our dogs may pay the ultimate price. “I feel that these foods are pro-inflammatory,” she says, “and may be the cause of not only the obesity epidemic we are seeing in our pets, but perhaps many of the chronic, degenerative, and inflammatory conditions that are rampant.”
So What Should We Feed our Dogs?
Raw meat and bones: Drosdovech recommends a diet resembling that of a dog’s ancestors. Canine teeth are designed to rip the meat from their prey and chew the bones. Proponents of the raw diet feel that cooking the meat changes it chemically, to a dog’s detriment.
Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables provide important health benefits – as long as they’re easily digestible. Canine teeth can’t grind vegetable matter down sufficiently for proper digestion, and their small intestinal tract makes absorption difficult. Drosdovech recommends processing or juicing these foods, or using a good “greens” supplement designed for dogs.
Supplements: High quality fish oils provide important nutrients. And your veterinarian can recommend any additional supplementation for specific issues, like glucosamine for joint problems.
A balanced diet comprising each of these elements can go a long way toward ensuring our dogs’ optimal health. Unfortunately, by the time Lauridsen discovered this information, it was too late – Quincy died. “A lifetime of poor quality dry dog food had taken its toll,” she says. “After he died I swore that my next dog would be fed a raw food diet.”
Lauridsen went on to adopt a young puppy, Chico, from a rescue group and did just that. She was delighted to see him thrive, dodging all of the health conditions that had afflicted Quincy. “He was amazingly healthy,” she says. “His coat was shiny, teeth perfectly white and I had never once brushed them. People would ask me if he was a puppy when he was eight and nine years old. I could see the difference completely – it was undeniable.”
The results were so inspirational that Lauridsen and her husband, went on to open their own pet food store, Healthy Spot Pet Nutrition & Supply in Vernon, B.C. Specializing in high quality, natural foods – including pre-packaged raw food – they’ve witnessed how these foods have positively impacted the dogs in their community. Drosdovech can relate, seeing first-hand in her practice how the raw food diet benefits her doggie clients. “Their health and longevity astound me,” she says. “They have fewer chronic degenerative conditions than those pets I see that are on kibble and their energy is wonderful.”
Still, the raw food diet is not without its controversies. Some veterinarians argue that modern domesticated dogs are physiologically different from their wild ancestors, particularly from breed to breed, and therefore do not require the same diet. Also, it can be time-consuming for dog owners to adequately balance this diet, especially if they’re making it from scratch, and cutting corners could lead to nutritional deficiencies.
But the most pressing concern is the fear of bacterial contamination from raw meat. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association warns on its website that the merits of the raw diet have not been adequately tested, and that positive reports are anecdotal. Along with the Public Health Agency of Canada, they argue that the potential benefits aren’t worth the risks of harmful pathogens like salmonella.
But according to Drosdovech, the risks posed to our dogs are rare because their stomachs are so acidic, generally neutralizing contamination before it develops. Also, a dog’s short intestinal tract provides little time and opportunity for bacteria to thrive.
However, dogs can expose humans to these pathogens, so families with small children or immune-compromised people should be careful. And certain common-sense precautions should always be followed, says Drosdovech. Don’t leave the meat defrosted in the fridge for longer than three days, and wash all dishes carefully. And most importantly, she says, “make an appointment with a qualified professional to gain a clear understanding of all that is involved.”
By taking these risks into consideration, and learning how to mitigate them, you might find that a natural raw food diet is just what Spot needs to live many happy years by your side.
For more information, contact Andrea & John Lauridsen, Healthy Spot Pet Nutrition & Supply, 200-3115 48th Ave. Vernon, BC Phone: 250-545-9000 http://www.healthyspot.ca or Dr. Moira Drosdovech Pawsitive Veterinary Care, 6-1551 Sutherland Ave., Kelowna, BC 250-862-2727 http://www.pawsitivevetcare.com