Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs

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Author: Ted Kerasote
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Publication: 2013

(Updated April 30, 2019)

As recorded in his bestselling book Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, Ted Kerasote watched his beloved Merle die an agonizing death from brain cancer. Thus began his five-year exploration into why dogs get sick and die so soon. He promised his new pup, Pukka, that he would do everything in his power to give him a long and healthy life.

To answer the question ‘why don’t dogs live longer and what can we do about it,’ Kerasote shares information from holistic practitioners, vets, and enthusiasts about how nutrition, drugs and over-vaccination, environmental toxins, sterilization methods, breeding practices, genetics, and lifestyle lower the quality of life and longevity of our canine companions in his book Pukka’s Promise.

In the space of almost 500 pages, Kerasote gives us the latest common sense and holistic information encouraging and empowering us to improve the lives of our dogs which begins, in my opinion, with feeding them a high quality diet, just as we feed ourselves and our families.

Today’s dogs are developing cancer, osteoarthritis, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, gastrointestinal problems, obesity, endocrine imbalances, etc., at alarming rates – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Our wee friends are suffering the same inflammatory and toxic disease states that many people are experiencing.

Environmental Stresses

Kerasote writes pages on the vast number of toxins (80,000 synthetic chemicals) that dogs can be exposed to every day by just going to the park and chasing a tennis ball or playing with favourite toys. In many cases, PFCs (perfluorochemicals) are found in the grease-proof lining of kibble bags and in dog beds. Bisphenol A (BPA) may be present in the lining of canned foods. The foam used in dog beds was found to be a source of PBDEs – the fire-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (also found in carpets and furniture).

What about phthalates found in vinyl chew toys? Researchers now call the endocrine-disrupting chemicals “obesogens” for the way they contribute to body-wide fat gain. Dogs alone at home most of the day are most at risk, as they tend to chew their toys the longest.

But the scariest part of chemical exposure is a lack of regulation and information about the “inert ingredients” not listed on labels, which manufacturers don’t have to divulge because the information is proprietary. Inert ingredients are commonly found in lawn care products, solvents, flea and tick collars, shampoos, and spot treatments.

Variety is the spice of life, and to ensure a well balanced diet feed your dog a variety of quality foods, and rotate commercial foods every few months. With the various food and treat recalls, it’s very important to know the sources of your dog’s food and have confidence in the manufacturer’s processes (do they cook the foods at a low temperature to preserve nutrients?). Knowing what the ingredients are (what’s this filler or by-product?) and where they come from is essential. Read the ingredient labels on processed foods to avoid artificial colours and flavourings, toxic preservatives, and other questionable ingredients, and pay attention to the first five ingredients which make up the bulk of the food.

Kerasote managed to get inside rendering plants, including one in British Columbia, to see what parts are made into the rendered products, which often appear in commercial pet foods as various meals and fats. He was so disgusted with what he found at the rendering plants that he removed all commercial pet food formulations from Pukka’s diet. Instead, he buys locally sourced foods whenever possible, chooses human-grade ingredients, and avoids starchy carbohydrates and most grains while feeding fresh chemical-free foods often. As well, Pukka gnaws on raw, size-appropriate bones filled with marrow from beef, bison, and elk which will reduce tartar on his teeth and keep his gums healthy (along with regular brushing).

Kerasote finds that by avoiding corn and rice in Pukka’s diet, he is also avoiding pesticides and GMO foods (not to mention glycophosphate residue in Roundup corn). Furthermore, allergies are often caused by gluten, wheat, corn, rice, and soy. Starches, and some grain products, can elevate blood sugar levels, stressing glands and producing high levels of arachidonic acid-causing inflammation, weight gain, allergies, and age-related degenerative diseases.

Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains contain phyto­nutrients and fibre needed to stay healthy. Animals need antioxidants, plus anti-inflammatory and cleansing foods to maintain a healthy immune system and prevent illness.

The Vaccine Connection

For over 30 years, vets have observed a host of adverse reactions to vaccinations, from immune system impairment to cancer, and evidence is becoming available that the core vaccines may provide immunity for several years – even a lifetime – in some dogs.

Every individual is unique and each animal should be tested with a titre blood test to check antibody levels, then you can decide whether a vaccine is needed or not after their initial vaccinations. A titre test can be done at the vet’s office and the results given within 15 minutes.

Immunologist Dr. Ronald Schultz feels that even the triennial vaccination protocol (core vaccines every three years, a practice adopted by most veterinarians) is still excessive and harmful. Kerasote reviews the safest vaccines and explains the benefits of choosing non-adjuvanted vaccine products. Commonly used homeopathic remedies for dogs feeling unwell after vaccination (except rabies) is the detoxification remedy, Thuja.

Beyond Standard Sterilization

Kerasote feels so strongly about the protective role of canine sex hormones that he questions the “spay/neuter mindset,” in part due to a rise in endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism and adrenal disease, and the long-term benefits of hormone-producing glands. Some studies have shown that maintaining natural hormonal levels offers protection against a number of cancers, heart disease, skeletal injuries, memory loss, and weight issues, thus improving the quality and, possibly, length of life.

The safer and simpler procedures of tubal ligation or hysterectomy for females and vasectomy for males halt reproduction while leaving ovaries and testes in place.

If you’re planning to remove the ovaries, ask for the safer procedure, laparoscopic ovariectomy, and decide what is the best age – the longer you postpone, the better.

Pukka’s a very lucky dog. After reading this book, you’ll look at our canine-human bond in a different light. Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs by Ted Kerasote was released in February 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Shirley Darling, RHN, is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in canines and felines. For more information email Shirley.darling@sympatico.ca

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