If you could see me now dear readers, you would know that I am giving you a standing ovation! I anticipated my recent blog post about what to feed our pets might generate some heated discussion and bullying behavior. I thought I might have to be a cyberspace referee! I needn’t have worried- your comments, which can be viewed at http://www.speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=2048 were all so darned civilized! You reported how you feed your pets and what you’ve learned through your own experiences. No one was even remotely pushy! Better yet everyone agreed, as do I, that there is no single type of diet that is suitable for every dog or every cat. Hats off to you! I’m deeply appreciative.
Now, as promised, I will fill you in on my current philosophy about feeding our pets. I emphasize current philosophy because I am absolutely willing to change what I recommend pending the results of future research. While there is plenty of data telling us which nutrients and how much of them dogs and cats need to grow and maintain good health, there is a paucity of legitimate research comparing how those nutrients are delivered, particularly pertaining to raw versus processed foods.
Keep in mind I am not a primary care doctor (aka, family veterinarian). As a board certified small animal internist, the clients and patients I see are referred to me to address internal medicine issues. Invariably, my clients have already made diet decisions based on discussion with their family vets. My job is to determine if and when I should “rock the boat.” After raising three children and working with gazillions of devoted dog and cat lovers, I’ve learned that it is wise to choose my battles wisely. If a client is clearly devoted to a particular diet for his or her dog or cat, and I am convinced that their choice is causing no harm, I don’t go there. Here are some situations that will prompt me to recommend a diet change.
1. My patient is eating a diet that is not nutritionally balanced. Although this can happen with prepared foods, it most commonly occurs with homemade diets and well-meaning clients who don’t know that diets balanced for human consumption are not balanced for canine or feline consumption. If these clients wish to stick with home preparation, I recommend consultation with a board certified veterinary nutritionist and/or reliable references that provide recipes for balanced homemade diets.
2. My patient is eating a raw or processed food diet of dubious origin. If I am unfamiliar with the brand of food I encourage my client to share the package label with the family vet or me so we can provide a better sense of whether or not the food is of good quality and nutritionally balanced. For example, I am not keen on pet foods produced by the neighborhood health food store. How can such a business possibly have the financial resources and knowhow needed to create a quality pet food product that is nutritionally balanced?
3. My patient is eating a raw diet while receiving medication or fighting a disease that causes immune system dysfunction (i.e., their immune system is on the fritz). In this situation I recommend discontinuation of the raw diet. While there is no data (yet) comparing the incidence of raw diet-induced infections in healthy versus immunocompromised patients, there is data that clearly documents increased numbers of disease-causing types of bacteria in the feces of animals fed raw animal protein. Until proven otherwise, I am concerned that my immunocompromised patients are at higher risk for developing raw protein-induced infections. And this simply isn’t a chance I want to take. Please know that some veterinarians feel differently about this, and in fact, believe ingestion of raw meat will help bolster the immune system.
4. My patient has a medical issue that would best be served by a change in diet. For example, I will encourage diet transition for the patient with kidney failure who is eating a high protein diet, the diabetic kitty who is eating dry food only, or the obese patient with arthritis who is eating a high fat diet.
I firmly believe that most of our dogs and cats can thrive on a variety of different foods/diets as long as they contain high quality ingredients and are nutritionally balanced based on life stage (puppies/kittens, adults, and seniors all have different requirements). Whether you choose to feed a homemade diet or prepared raw or processed food is a personal choice; just as shopping for yourself at Whole Foods versus Safeway (the main grocery store chain in northern California) is a personal choice. Whichever style of diet you choose for your pets, your goal is to ensure you are feeding a high quality, balanced product. Here are some suggestions to help you hone in on some good choices amongst the literally hundreds of products at the pet food grocery store!
• Shop at your local independent pet food store. Yes, the prices may be higher (quality pet food is expensive), but the sales people you encounter are far more likely to be knowledgeable than those working at the big box stores. Additionally, pet store shelf space is limited so the brands of food stocked there will be those the staff truly believes in.
• Learn what to be looking for when you read the food label. The best resource I’ve found for teaching this is The Whole Dog Journal. Your dog and I strongly encourage you to get a subscription as soon as possible (http://www.whole-dog-journal.com) ! Editor, Nancy Kerns provides her readers with plenty of practical wisdom about canine nutrition. In fact the February 2011 issue contains a fabulous article called, “Choices, Choices- On What Criteria Do you Base Your Dog’s Food Selection?” Be forewarned, there is some nepotism going on at WDJ- you will find at least one picture of Nancy’s dog Otto in every single issue! Now, if only Nancy would begin working on The Whole Cat Journal!
• The American Animal Hospital Association Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats can be found at http://www.aahanet.org/resources/NutritionalGuidelines.aspx. There is a lot of valuable information here. By the way, at the top of the page you will see that a major pet food manufacturer provided some funding for these guidelines to be made available in French, Japanese, and Spanish. Please don’t let this deter your learning.
• Talk to your veterinarian, let him or her know what you’ve learned, and discuss your pet food preferences.
As always, I welcome your comments!
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.