Food For Thought

by Teresa Garden, DVM

One of the most common questions I am asked as a veterinarian is “What is the best way to keep my pet healthy?” My answer, probably different from most veterinarians, is feed your pet a natural, well-balanced diet. Good nutrition is the base of the pyramid that optimal health is built upon. It is the most crucial tool to restore and maintain good health. Optimal nutrition throughout life contributes to lasting health and longevity in people as well as our pets. Chronic disease accounts for the vast majority of pet illness in our country. Chronic diseases may not be life-threatening but they can certainly diminish your pet’s quality of life. Examples of chronic diseases that commonly affect our pet population include skin allergies, ear infections, arthritis, IBD, cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, obesity, and periodontal disease. These diseases are not cured but managed. The good news: 80% of chronic diseases will improve with a healthy diet. Healthy natural diets will also lower risk to chronic disease and slow their progression in pets already afflicted.

Pet owners may have reservations regarding upgrading their pet’s diet. Their concerns may be financial or may be related to time constraints involving shopping or preparation of meals. At Animal Health & Healing we try to find a diet that will help our patient and that our client can be comfortable with providing. Food is like everything else in life…you get what you pay for. The economic downturn has made most of us more cost-conscious. Purchasing a low-cost pet food may seem economically practical, but low-cost pet foods usually contain low quality, low digestible ingredients. Therefore, more food must be fed to provide adequate nutrition than if you were feeding a high quality, highly digestible food. Thus, the per-meal cost of the inexpensive food may be higher.

Veterinary visits to treat Fido’s ongoing chronic illness, such as allergies or ear infections, will only add to the cost.

There are vast differences between natural foods and regular commercial pet foods. Commercial pet foods, even the more expensive and premium brands, contain additives, byproducts and artificial preservatives which can be unhealthy for pets. The additive ethoxyquin has been implicated in immune-mediated disorders and organ failure.

Additives BHA and BHT are suspected carcinogens. Artificial color red dye #40 is a suspected carcinogen and blue dye #2 has lead to increased sensitivity to fatal viruses in dogs. Many commercial diets are too heavily weighted in poor quality grains such as corn, corn gluten, wheat gluten, brewer’s rice, and oat groats. These grains are used as the protein source in the food instead of high quality meat. These diets tend to be too high in carbohydrates which increases risk to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease in dogs and cats. The meats used in these diets are also often of inferior quality (not fit for human consumption). Byproducts in these foods may contain feathers, hooves, hair and beaks which count as a protein source albeit one of poor quality and low digestibility.

It is no wonder that after 50 years of feeding these inferior foods pet owners and veterinarians are seeing a huge increase in chronic disease even among young dogs and cats.

Natural kibble or canned pet food will be much more beneficial to your pet. They do not contain any artificial preservatives, coloring, or additives. Vitamin E is used as a natural preservative. These diets are meat-based so will be higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates This ratio is appropriate for the GI tracts of dogs and cats. Ingredients will be of higher quality and hence more bioavailable and higher digestibility. The meats are often of human grade consumption and the grains will be whole grains. Natural diets cost more to produce and buy but since they are calorie-dense and highly digestible you feed less. An added benefit will be lower stool volume. Examples of good natural diets that are readily available are California Natural, Evanger’s, Blue Buffalo, and Natural Balance. Grain-free natural diets are also available and can be helpful in treating allergies, ear infections, diabetes and cancer. Evo, Now, and Instinct are a few notable brands. Homemade diets are even healthier since fresh foods are used in their preparation. It is imperative to follow a recipe to ensure the diet is balanced to meet your pet’s needs. We highly recommend Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s book “Natural Health for Dogs and Cats”. It contains numerous diets for general health, weight loss and kidney disease.

Proper nutrition can boost the body’s natural resistance to disease. Improvement in almost all diseases or aging processes are seen when feeding with an optimal, healthy diet. This knowledge allows you, as a pet owner, to take charge of your pet’s health. Just like us, our pets will feel better emotionally and physically when consuming highly nutritious food.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. For more information please visit AnimalHealthandHealing.com or call 314-781-1738.