If we were limited to using just one modality to treat our patients, it would have to be nutrition. There is little else that can match nutrition for the immediate, significant improvements in health. We have all, unfortunately, spent a generation feeding our animal companions "pet food".
The following article was written by Larry A. Bernstein, VMD.
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Most commercially prepared foods contain byproducts, additives, preservatives and who knows what else.
Unfortunately we have been indoctrinated to believe that these diets are wonderful, nutritious and balanced for our animals. On paper they might look that way but on paper, the food from any of the fast food franchises also looks healthy. What is important is not only the amount of a nutrient but its source and bio-availability. Many commercial foods are cooked at high temperature and pressure and then extruded. This may take many of those added vitamins and turn them into toxic free radicals. Not a good thing to be feeding our animals. That is why we highly recommend that you feed as natural a diet as you can afford in both time and cost.
Our first choice for our patients is an all natural raw food diet. There are a number of books with recipes and each has their own devotees. For a starting place we recommend using one of the books listed at the end of this paper.
If you MUST feed a commercial diet, look for one that is "all natural" and does not contain Ethoxyquin or BHT as a preservative. Look at the quality of the ingredients and the palatability. Price should be a minor consideration. These diets will cost more to feed but you will use less and the improvement you see in your animal will be worth it. You may also benefit from less medical problems and less veterinary bills.
There is another popular diet called the BARF diet. This stands for Bio Active Raw Food (I used to think it was Bones and Raw Food and that also works). This is a diet based on the book Give Your Dog a Bone by Dr. Ian Bilinghurst and has been popular since 1993. It has a large following and consists of feeding raw meaty bones and a veggie mix. Cats also like to eat raw bones (have you ever seen what they leave from a caught bird - feathers and a beak) and do well but most of my clients use it more as a supplement or treat. At the end of this article, there are a number of websites and internet lists on BARF'ing
The Raw Food Controversy
This brings us to the ongoing controversy over feeding RAW FOOD to an animal. It seems that we have been so conditioned by years of advertising that many consumers (and veterinarians) actually believe that processed, artificial, extruded pet food is healthier and safer for our animal companions than a fresh natural diet. There is also the concern that feeding raw meat can be dangerous. If done properly I do not feel there are any unacceptable risks. Whenever we get into this discussion, the subject of bacteria, parasites and Toxoplasmosis seem to come up most often. This is for animals being fed a raw meat diet. There are steps that one takes to minimize risks.
Research shows (in a personal conversation with Dr. JP Dubey), that a 24 hour hard freeze should be just as effective as cooking to destroy Neospora or Toxoplasmosis organisms. Perhaps, the largest risk of bacterial contamination would be to the person handling the raw meat and not to the animal. It is important to practice proper sanitation when handling raw food. One should always wash their hands well and disinfect working areas just like with any other food preparation.
Finally there is the risk of an unbalanced diet. Feeding a diet high in meat may affect mineral balances unless proper supplementation with calcium is included. All of the diets and books recommended in the reading list should take these factors into account
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We do use supplements in our practice but nowhere near the deluge commonly fed. When feeding a home prepared raw diet or a combination of home prepared and high quality commercial food, we usually want to make sure the calcium balance is correct and will supplement per the recipe's instructions. A good multi-vitamin always helps and we often will add a probiotics to provide a healthy intestinal flora. We do believe in trace mineral supplementation and use these products in moderation. We use bovine Colostrum in many of our cases and this is often added to the food.
A note on water, we do not recommend unfiltered tap water. We feel that good natural spring water is much more beneficial. This does not include those five gallon jugs one gets delivered or from the grocery store. I am not sure of their quality and stay away from them. I also tend to avoid giving distilled water. I think of it as "dead" water as it seems to lack the vital energy found in the deep spring waters. There are high quality commercial filters that radically improve the quality of tap water but the best is still spring water. We have also had a number of clients using reverse osmosis water with good results.
Nutraceutical medicine is the use of micronutrients, macronutrients, and other nutritional supplements as therapeutic agents. There are many forms of nutraceuticals and they serve hundreds of purposes in medicine. Some examples are Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) an enzyme that is involved with cellular metabolism, DMG (Di-methylglycine) a natural immune stimulant and Glucosamine Sulfate – a nutrient for joints and synovial fluid. Vitamins and trace minerals are other examples of this wide class of products.
The Bottom Line
We have been moving away from commercial foods in our practice. We think that the raw home prepared diet is by far the best way to help any pet's medical status. We also realize that the expense and time involved can make it difficult or impossible to do this every day. If you can prepare food for your dogs, DO SO! The results you see will be phenomenal. Don't just assume that these "natural" pet foods come close to this level. They are much better than the grocery store brands but they still do not rival the results with a raw food diet. Sometimes the expense in both time and money may make this dream unreachable and then you need to either, purchase the diet already or feed a combination of home prepared and commercial.
There are more foods, diets and regimens than one can count out there in the pet world. Everyone has their plan and many are good. We feel that an excellent level of nutrition is paramount. You need to prepare or select foods that are balanced, preservative free and are made from the highest quality ingredients rather than the discards so common in pet foods. As you improve the quality of nutrition in you dogs, you will see an improvement in every other aspect of the health. Their coats are shinier and more lustrous, the joints are more flexible, there is a glint in the eyes and even their concentration seems to improve.
Resources For Nutrition Information
- Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, Susan Hubble Pitcairn (Preface)
- Reigning Cats & Dogs : Good Nutrition Healthy Happy Animals by Pat McKay
- Give Your Dog a Bone By Dr. Ian Bilinghurst
- The New Natural Cat : A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners by Anitra Frazier, Norma Eckroate
- Natural Cat Care : A Complete Guide to Holistic Health Care for Cats by Celeste, Ph.D. Yarnall
- Natural Dog Care : A Complete Guide to Holistic Health Care for Dogs by Celeste, Ph.D. Yarnall