You’re standing in the pet food aisle, wondering what to choose. Do you stick with your old kibble or try something healthier? But, what? If this sounds familiar, you are so not alone. Good dog nutrition is one of the most common stumbling blocks for pet parents trying to achieve vibrant health in their pets. And, while I teach nutrition and natural medicine to pet parents, I too, had my own experiences in the power of proper food with my babies.
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Sophie is an 11-year old Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, our princess. After years of begging and pleading with my girl to eat her food – food, mind you, that was high quality and most dogs would’ve gobbled up, we like magic, have a dog that went from fussy to foodie!
How did we do it?
Each time Sophie runs into the kitchen as I’m prepping her meals, eagerly and expectantly waiting to be served, I’d swear an alien has taken over my dog!
What actually happened is less celestial and woo woo.
Good nutrition, which we’ll dive into today, laid the groundwork for Sophie”s vibrant health, but it was homeopathy that spearheaded this change, in many ways, for the better.
Skin Allergies, Internal Imbalances & Food
It started with chronic itchy skin, like many dogs. Skin allergies has to be one of the most frustrating issues for pet parents; it’s so hard to pin down what is causing it and so hard to conquer. You can go the pharmaceutical route – get Cytopoint shots or give them Apoquel – both itchy skin relievers that are also suppressive drugs, but the underlying problem, an internal imbalance, will not be solved that way, and you’ll find the symptoms returning as soon as you stop, and possibly other symptoms popping up that are deeper and potentially more serious.
So, what to do?
With Sophie, good nutrition was always a cornerstone of her health. Like many pet parents, I went the Apoquel and Cytopoint route temporarily a while back, and decided it was not one I wanted for my girl.
As a practicing homeopath, I knew if I chose the remedy carefully, taking the whole of Sophie and how she was expressing her symptoms into account, it would work. So, I took my dog’s case and decided to give her a remedy called Pulsatilla. Why I chose Pulsatilla is the subject of another post, as every dog or cat expresses their symptoms in a unique way to them. So, trying Pulsatilla on your dog for itchy skin and expecting it to work may prove disappointing.
But on Sophie, it did work. And over the next few months, while we had good periods and not as good periods with her skin, an interesting thing simultaneously happened.
Sophie became happier and more vibrant all around, and more loving where she’d always been a don’t-get-too-close kind of dog. And, she became a foodie. My very fussy, beg her to eat dog became a food lover! Nothing else changed except giving her that remedy. And, as my journey with Sophie’s chronic skin allergies continues, we have made enormous headway in reducing itching, biting, licking. I’ll write another post about chronic skin allergies, a very tough challenge for us pet parents.
None of this would’ve had as much impact on my girl without good nutrition as a foundation pillar.
So many pet parents ask me about what to feed their dog or cat, so I hope this will help you understand a bit more about what good nutrition looks like and the kinds of foods that deliver it (or don’t).
Good Nutrition & The Immune System (Just the Facts, Please)
This won’t be a post from a zealot about feeding raw. It will be a post about facts of good nutrition. With that being said, the proper kind of nutrition helps to strengthen your pet’s immune system, sometimes resolving conditions and increasing their vitality. In my course on natural medicine and nutrition, one student’s dog had chronic ear infections. Drove her crazy for years. Just changing her dog’s diet resolved it.
The state of your dog or cat’s health begins in their gut. It’s the same for us. The gut ecosystem, or the gut microbiome, is responsible for so much when it comes to our pets’ and our health.
In fact, a company called AnimalBiome’s entire business is focused on pet gut health. Here’s a good post to tell you more about what they do.
All animals have unique collections of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses and other tiny things) in their digestive tracts. Bacteria in the microbiome is crucial for digestion and obtaining nutrients from the food your dog or cat eats. We are learning more and more that the gut, in both humans and our pets, is the center of good or poor health.
- The gut microbiome contributes, directly or indirectly, to almost everything physiologically going on in the body
- An imbalance in gut bacteria has been shown to have an important role in developing allergies, diabetes, even depression and anxiety.
- Serotonin, that key hormone that enables the brain cells to communicate with other nervous system cells, as well as stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion…did you know that 90% of the serotonin in our pet’s body is produced in the intestines?
- Alterations or imbalances in the gut microbiome directly affects immune function. Because the microbiome is linked to the immune system, gut bacteria affect your pet’s chance of developing a disease. When the immune system is under-reactive, your dog is at higher risk for catching infectious diseases. However, when the immune system is over-reactive, your dog’s body could trigger inflammation at inappropriate times. Long-term inflammation, left unchecked, can lead to chronic disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, or even cancer.
- A healthy and stable microbiome can simultaneously act as pro- and anti-inflammatory, keeping a balance to prevent excessive inflammation while still being able to promptly respond to infections
- Many kibble diets are too high in carbohydrates, which doesn’t promote the growth of all beneficial bacteria. In a study where dogs were fed a high-protein, low-fat dog food, the microbiome balance of overweight dogs shifted to a balance associated with healthy weight.
That longtime kibble you’ve been feeding can be a cause of allergies and other conditions in your pet.
The Kibble Quibble
It’s easy, cheaper and my dog likes it. Ok. I get it. My daughter liked McDonald’s growing up, and occasionally, she had a Big Mac. But, I wouldn’t feed her a Big Mac for every meal.
And, this is why dry food the least optimal choice to make for your pet.
- It is essentially fast food for pets with its high carbohydrate levels, flavor enhancers and synthetic nutrients added after the fact.
- Many of its ingredients are literally unfit for consumption. Take a look on Dog Food Advisor to see what I mean about the process to make dry dog food and the awful things they put in it. You will never look at that kibble the same way again.
- The high heat process used to make it is called extrusion, and it kills any nutrition that might’ve been in the food.
- High glycemic contents like genetically engineered corn, wheat, rice or potato make up the majority of kibble. Even grain-free kibble often contains high-levels of starchy carbs including legumes, peas & lentils.
- This creates metabolically stressful insulin, glucagon and cortisol spikes throughout the day.
- The high carb content also contributes to the growing epidemic of pet obesity.
- Low moisture dry food puts your pet in a constant state of dehydration from its food, which can lead to reduced energy levels, panting, dry skin and dry membranes.
Despite what your vet may have told you, feeding raw is really the top of the food pyramid; the pinnacle of vibrant food. Why?
Cooking kills enzymes, important for your pet’s health. They assist in the digestive process and also helps the body with just about every metabolic process.
One of the arguments conventional vets often make against feeding raw is that dogs are susceptible to bacterial infections from the raw meat.
What they don’t tell you is this:
- after eating, a dog’s stomach produces about 100 times the amount of acid than that of humans, meaning they rapidly break down proteins, kill most pathogens and are able to break down bone matter and grizzly bits humans can’t digest.
- Their digestive tract is also much shorter than humans, so the transit time from eating to digesting and eliminating is much quicker. Unless you are very careless with handling raw meat, it’s unlikely for dogs and cats to get sick from it.
Wet food isn’t much better, as while it has a higher meat and moisture content than dry, it also goes through a high heat process, making it necessary to add nutrients later, synthetically.
And, cans can be lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor chemical. Research has shown that BPA from canned dog food can be detected in the bloodstream of dogs. You have to carefully check the label for cans without this chemical.
Freeze-dried and dehydrated food can be very convenient, especially if you’re traveling, but it is still only one tier above canned food on the pyramid. Here’s why.
Often people interchange freeze-dried and dehydrated but they’re not the same. Freeze-dried goes through a freezing process that takes 97% of the moisture out of the food and leaves most of the nutrients, taste, smell and texture intact.
Dehydration goes through a heating process to remove its moisture but only 90-95% of it is actually removed. The heating process its exposed to takes about 50% of its nutrients and changes the taste, smell and texture of the food.
Both processes change the natural state of the food, which can make it harder to digest.
- Dehydrated goes through a heating process to remove the moisture while freeze-dried is frozen.
- Nearly 97% of the moisture is sucked out of freeze-dried food, most but not all the nutrients remain. Dehydrated foods has only 90-95% moisture removed and can lose up to 50% of their nutrients from the heating process.
- Freeze-dried food retains its original taste, texture and smell. Dehydrated food has a noticeable difference from its original form in these areas.
- Some freeze-dried foods go through high-pressure processing called HPP, which is a pasteurization process used to decrease quantities of bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli. After this process, freeze-dried is still considered a raw food, but technically, it’s not.
- Taking food out of its natural state by dehydrating or freezing it makes it harder to digest for animals.
So, if you’re considering freeze-dried or dehydrated, choose freeze-dried. There are more nutrients preserved and it tastes, feels and smells like the natural food it was before freezing.
Home cooked meals can be great if you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, those tasty meals can be lacking in critical vitamins and minerals dogs or cats need to be healthy and, over time, that will affect your animal’s health.
Also, heating of any kind kills nutrients, so the process of cooking meats and veggies will kill the nutrients in them, to a large degree.
However, you do control the entire process, avoiding the pitfalls and recalls of commercial foods, and you’re able to tailor a diet specifically for your pet’s needs.
And, you can add raw meat to a home-cooked base meal upping the nutritional value.
This is a good option for those who don’t want to feed completely raw or for those who do and want to cook a meal every now and then for their dog or cat too.
What’s All The Fuss About?
It’s all about the enzymes and the life force in the food. Raw food retains its enzymes and the energy of the animal and they will increase the life force energy in your dog or cat, as well as strengthen its immune system.
Because the meat, muscle retains the stress-induced release of cortisol and any drugs the animal may have been given, it’s important to serve farm or pasture-raised animal meat to our pets.
The cortisol released into the pet’s system, as well as any antibiotics, hormones or other chemicals fed the animal by the farmer will be going into your pet’s body and staying there.
There are several raw food diet models to choose from:
- The BARF Diet– based on “ancestral” diet and the idea that dogs are omnivores, it’s focused on unprocessed and “biologically appropriate” foods for dogs. Those include meat, bones, organs, fruits, vegetables and supplements.
- The Prey Model Raw (PMR) Diet – the PMR diet is animal-exclusive, and attempts to emulate what dogs would eat in the wild (what wolves eat) – whole prey. It includes meat, bones, organs, feathers, etc. There are no fruits or vegetables.
- The Keto Diet – A ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. The idea behind this diet is to switch the body’s natural fuel source from carbs to fats. This achieves a healthy metabolic state called ketosis and begins usually 3 to 4 days after removing carbs and sugars from a diet.
Additional benefits of raw feeding include:
- Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
- A leaner, more muscular build
- Cleaner, healthier ears
- Vibrant, calm energy
- Glowing coats and shining eyes
- Healthier teeth and gums (with raw bone feeding)
- More of the food utilized by the dog or cat’s body, so smaller, less smelly stools
So, next time you’re in the aisle at the pet food store, turn to the freezer and try your dog or cat on raw. Introduce slowly and let me know if you have any questions or need some help.
Maybe you, too, will find some pesky problems your pet has had will disappear, like by magic, because you’re giving them what their body craves for optimal health and performance.
Stay tuned for more on good nutrition and natural healing.
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To their health 🐾