PET FOODS: MISCONCEPTIONS AND MYTHS
By Gigi Gaulin, D.V.M.
Feeding our pets can be very confusing because there are so many opinions about what is best for our animals. The food industry tells us their foods are 100% complete and balanced; veterinarians tell us they have the best food because it is scientifically prepared and made especially for a particular disease process; and holistic veterinarians recommend whole food diets or high quality processed foods. So whom do we believe? The animals! Are they healthy? Energetic? Are their coats soft and shiny or are they greasy and smelly? Do you have to get their teeth cleaned a lot? How about yearly anal sac expressions? Do they eat dirt? There are many more questions we can ask about your pet's well being which reflect his or her nutritional health.
Remember, they are what they eat! We need to look at nutrition as the soil — the foundation— with which we build good health. With that in mind, here are a few statements or questions I hear often from clients about feeding their companions:
"I never give him people food.” Well, actually, real food isn't bad for animals. Dogs and cats are carnivores. They are meant to eat raw meats and organs and predigested foods from their preys' stomach. Instead, we give them poor quality foods with high grain content, cook the heck out of them, add minerals, preservatives, and who knows what else — and call it dinner. The best one can do for their pet is to prepare a balanced diet consisting of fresh organic meats, vegetables and some grains. Variations to this include supplementing high quality human-grade processed foods with some meats and veggies. There are many books available with recipes and further information about diets. I recommend Dr. Goldstein's book, "The Nature of Animal Healing"; Kymythy Schultz's book, "The Ultimate Diet"; and Dr. Ian Billinghurts' book, "Give the Dog a Bone."
"Is it true animals shouldn't have a variety of foods?" Again, variety is good because different foods have different quantities and qualities of nutrients. Could you imagine yourself eating the same hard, processed food every day, twice a day for your whole life? Look at all the varying types of animals we have — no food could be 100% complete for them all. William Cusick wrote a book called "Canine Nutrition — Choosing the Best Food.... for Your Breed." In this book he has researched where certain breeds came from and what foods were most likely available to them. One note about varying foods: if your animal is not accustomed to changing foods, then this process must be done gradually to prevent gastrointestinal upset. Most animals on a natural diet have little problems in changing foods daily.
"I leave food out all the time so she can eat whenever she wants.” Seems like a good thing to do but actually it isn't. Why? Because these critters, when in the wild, scarcely ate whenever they were hungry and had to wait for prey. Consequently, there was much fasting to help eliminate wastes, to heal and repair and cleanse the intestines, lungs, urinary tracts and pores of the skin. Also, the smell of foods left out all the time triggers the brain to prepare for digestion even if the animal isn't eating. This wastes important metabolic processes, slows down metabolism and eventually wears out the smelling trigger, an important mechanism. Leaving food out can also be a cause of finicky eater syndrome and alkaline urine, a component of FUS (feline urologic syndrome). It is best to leave food out for one-half hour and then remove. They may not like this new pattern but it is in their best interest!
Before making any great changes in your pet's diet, I would suggest consulting with a veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to guide you in this process. I don't think any of us really knows what is best for each animal. We don't even really know what is best for humans based on all the varying diet regimens — what's good for us one day is bad for us another. So, we keep doing the best we can with the information we learn and, hopefully, we create better health and awareness.
Dr. Gaulin is a veterinarian practicing in the Santa Fe/Eldorado areas. She specializes in the homeopathic treatment of animals (505) 660-8323.
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