What's in My Bowl?
by Dr. Annette Richmond, DVM
Having practiced veterinary medicine for more than twelve years, I have listened to many philosophies about what the best and most appropriate diet is for our animals. The philosophy of giving food that the body recognizes and that can be fully digested is the most important point. Foods that are complete in nutritional value and very similar to the food eaten by their wild ancestors, are the best choice for our dogs and cats. Foods that are highly processed, contain synthetic substances and carcinogens, and are lacking in full nutrition value are not the answer.
Dogs and cats are carnivores, owing to a long evolutionary process. Therefore, their nutritional needs and digestive systems have been designed specifically to eat high-quality protein and low-grain diets. They also require fresh enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. The nutrients they require come not only from the muscle meat, but also the digestive tract of their prey.
A high-quality diet is needed for optimal health, performance, and well-being, regardless of the age of an animal. The exact required daily nutrition varies, depending on the life stage, or if a female is pregnant or lactating. The amount to feed your pet can be determined by a supportive veterinarian, using a formula and taking the animal’s age and activity level into consideration. Growing animals need to be fed larger percentages of their body weight compared with mature ones, and older animals should continue to be fed foods with higher protein levels than some of the commercial brands offer. Healthy older animals should be fed and exercised as if they were young, and they will stay youthful much longer.
Commercial pet foods often contain dangerous chemical additives that can adversely affect an animal’s health: BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and others. Most of these foods also contain a large percentage of plant material like rice, barley, wheat, and corn. Large amounts of grain are not part of the ancestral diet of dogs and cats and contribute to many inflammatory processes like allergies and arthritis. The grains also often contain dangerous molds. These commercial foods are cooked at very high temperatures, which destroy the natural enzymes, resulting in less nutritional products.
High-quality and highly digestible foods come in many forms. One healthful diet is the raw food diet, endearingly referred to as the B.A.R.F. diet, which stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. It is best to have a consultation with someone who is knowledgeable about raw food before switching your pet’s diet. Often, dietary supplements will be prescribed as well, and not all raw foods are created equal. It is best to feed a raw food that is organic to ensure the least amount of chemicals for your animal. Following a proper recipe, home cooking is another healthful alternative. Some healthful diets do come in packages; either freeze-dried, raw food; or a high-quality kibble that is high protein and no grain. Consult a local, privately owned pet food store for these types of diets and how to transition your pet.
Even slight alterations in diet can produce dramatic improvements in your pet’s health. For example, switching to a raw food diet can decrease the severity of skin allergies, ear infections, or chronic gastrointestinal disorders. Increases in energy and improved coat quality are frequently noted after changing the diet. To ensure health and longevity, proper nutrition is vital. Given to our animals daily, this is what their bodies use to fight disease; this is the fuel they use to run and play all day. Please feed them what is most biologically appropriate.
(Interesting note: Hill’s Science Diet is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, and IAMS/Eukanuba is owned by Proctor and Gamble.)
Books to consider:
Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
The BARF Diet and Give Your Dog A Bone, both by Dr. Ian Billinghurst
Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kymythy Schultze, C.C.N., A.H.I.
Dr. Annette Richmond is a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning her degree from UC Davis in 1997. She is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist, trained through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and is currently being certified as a canine rehabilitation practitioner. She opened Natural Veterinary Therapy in Pacific Grove, CA in 2007. Natural Veterinary Therapy is located at 510 Lighthouse Ave. in Pacific Grove, CA. (831) 655-0501 or www.naturalveterinarytherapy.com.