In Part I, we looked at the history of pet food recalls that led to illness and death in our dogs since the 1960’s. In Part II, we examined the high carbohydrate content of commercial foods that leads to a diet that is not only high in what dogs don’t need, but can lead to health problems that can shorten the life span and adversely affect the immune system of dogs.
The veterinarian business has been booming. Scheduled appointments, rather than walk in visits are the norm today. Higher prices are charged for office visits and more sophisticated medical equipment and techniques are being used more frequently. Check any veterinarian’s waiting room and the majority of the problems being addressed include skin and coat problems, gastric symptoms, kidney issues, urinary tract infections or problems with weight management. These problems generally get addressed by veterinarians prescribing antibiotics, flagyl and steroids and the dog’s owner leaving with one of these along with a bag of or several cans of prescription dog food meant to address these common problems. These issues have become so common place that specialists are now available on a referral basis to address these health problems on a more advanced level.
Each of the ‘special’ diets prescribed often further reduce the protein and protein quality in the food, add more fiber, and leave dogs in worse nutritional shape. Our dogs become hungrier as their bodies crave fat for energy and satiation and the lack of high quality animal based proteins result in a loss of organ health and a further compromised immune system. While the owners of these dogs may either become more frustrated or achieve some small satisfaction with the fact that their dog has ‘firmer’ stools, the unfortunate truth is the, health problems continue to persist with a diet that offers poor nutritional value and is irritating to the digestive tract.
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I hesitate to blame our veterinarians. They are practicing what they were taught in veterinary school. The nutrition textbooks and prescription diets have been developed by the dog food industry. While veterinarians may be skilled practitioners with a good ability to diagnose illness, they continue to dispense and give advice on nutrition as it was recommended and taught to them by the pet food industry.
Although many pet food companies may perform research on what diets are needed for our dogs in health and in illness, the real crime is, they know those types of diets can’t be duplicated in dry food based diets and the production costs are often too high to provide it in canned foods.
For example, a dog with chronic renal failure may require a low phosphorus diet but it still needs a high quality protein diet for the kidneys to function well. This is interpreted as ‘low protein’ by the dog food companies and even at that; they use poor quality proteins such as soy or other plant based sources. Poor quality fat is often added to some of these diets to help maintain weight for the dog, but often can result in pancreatitis in dogs with poor kidney function.
The same prescription diets are also offered for calcium oxalate and struvite crystals. These two problems couldn’t be more different. Dogs with calcium oxalate crystals need foods low in oxalates, however, not surprisingly, oxalates are contained mostly in grains and vegetables. Struvite crystal formation is NOT a diet related issue. Struvite crystals develop when bacteria is present in the urinary tract. Bacteria cause a high pH in the urine, which is a perfect environment for struvite crystals to form and multiply and create a urinary tract infection. The most effective and assured way to cure the infection is to have a sterile urine culture done, which determines what bacteria are present and what antibiotic is needed to treat the urinary tract infection. A UTI can be difficult to treat, so often a full 4 week course of antibiotics is needed. A follow-up urine culture is necessary after the antibiotic protocol is completed to ensure the infection is completely gone.
Prescription diets are dispensed for dogs with ‘food’ allergies on the concept that introducing a ‘novel’ protein will resolve this issue. However; upon examination of any commercial dry dog food there is such a large array of ingredients that it is hard to decipher what foods or ingredients might be the offender. Additionally, putting a dog on a novel protein for a long period of time will only result in an allergy to that protein. Finally, these diets are made up of processed foods and are of poor nutritional quality that they are difficult for even a healthy dog to digest and absorb. Imagine how this might affect a dog that is already having difficulties with digestion.
Dogs with gastric problems such as IBD, IBS and colitis are often given prescription foods that reduce fat and increase fiber. The high fiber helps remove moisture from the stool in the colon which helps produce a firm stool, but also provides less nutrition and creates irritation to the intestinal lining, creating a permanent problem. Owners think the dog is ‘fixed’ because its stools are firmer, however; over time, further problems can develop. Continued inflammation of the intestinal lining results in poor absorption of nutrients and creates discomfort and pain in the dog.
Weight management is addressed by prescription diets with lower fat and more fiber. This, in turn, creates a dog that is constantly hungry. Dogs need fat to feel full and satisfied. Additionally, a higher carbohydrate diet is more fattening and the dog receives less of the amino acids it needs from an animal based protein diet.
Prescription liver diets also have problems. It is a common misconception that dogs with liver problems need less protein. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on the liver issue the dog may need reduced fat in the diet, as fats are processed through the liver, but the liver requires a good amount of high quality proteins to help the liver regenerate. Shunt issues or end stage liver issues that cause ammonia build up in the blood stream simply need to avoid red meat and organ meats, which contribute to this. Poultry, eggs, fish and dairy such as yogurt and cottage cheese offer a good protein source and are fine for these issues.
The very diets created to help with these health problems actually make the problems worse and regular commercial diets are often the impetus of these health problems in the first place, yet the public remains naïve to this fact.
There isn’t one commercial dog food on the market today that I can recommend to any dog owner for any reason. The pet food industry, with all their own clever ways of creating marketing schemes to sell commercial dog food, has boxed themselves into a corner. There are ways they could correct this, but it would mean back stepping on everything they have preached over the last 60 years. I think many dog owners would be willing to pay more for a dog food that is healthier for their dogs. The amount spent at the veterinarian clinics reflects that. With a growing awareness of canine nutrition by the public, it is time the pet food industry becomes more innovative. Some solutions they could use might be to develop a pet food and encourage dog owners to add some fresh animal protein to the food. The could also offer pet foods that contain fewer ingredients. Additionally, they could perhaps offer nutrition classes to veterinarians that reveal the latest research in spite of what processed dog food can offer would be helpful.
Unfortunately, until the time comes when large corporations truly care about the populations they claim to ‘care about’, dog owners need to understand their animals need to have the same quality nutrition they need for themselves. For dogs, this includes a diet that consists of fresh foods, which are animal protein and fat based. It means taking the time to do a little research to understand that a healthy diet means less illness, more longevity, and a better quality of life. This means understanding nutrition for dogs in calcium/phosphorus ratios, amount to feed and the importance of variety in the diet. These aren’t difficult concepts and can be achieved in a raw or home cooked diets.
Removing carbohydrates, or severely cutting the amounts in a cooked diet, can result in clean teeth, healthy gums, smaller, firmer stools, little or no doggy odor and improved overall health. While diet can’t insure perfect health, it can result in better quality of life. Preparing your dog’s meals means that you have control over the ingredients, and insures a high quality of protein with a good variety in the diet.
In "Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs", you can learn how to prepare homemade meals for your dog, and use easy to follow guidelines to help make an uncomplicated transition to fresh food for your dog!