Last Saturday, I attended “Healthy Pet Day” hosted by Healthy Pet Products, a natural pet store in McCandless, Pa., owned by Toni Shelaske. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at first. I envisioned purse puppies and pet psychics. Blinged-out collars and pets in costumes. I foresaw all manner of expensive, needless items for pampered, Paris Hilton-style pooches.Don’t get me wrong. I am a self-professed crazy cat lady. I have two fur balls, one of which is the worst behaved cat on the planet – Blizzard, a recently rescued stray. The second is the most miserable, cranky cat on Earth – Boots, adopted five years ago from a local shelter, and whose behavior took a turn when Blizzard arrived in December.
Yes, I’ve been known to indulge and spoil them. They are my babies. I want them to be healthy and live long and happy lives. But still, they are animals. I only have so much discretionary income, and they already get pretty much whatever they want including prime spots on the bed. So the $20 all-natural cat food, dietary supplements and acupuncture might be pushing it a tad.
But as I listened to some very educated pet professionals and to those who asked heartfelt questions about their beloved pets’ health problems, I began to discover some important parallels between pet health and people health. It should come as no surprise. After all, they are living, breathing creatures with little hearts and lungs, whose bodies function much the same way as ours do. We actually have a lot in common with our canine and feline friends, particularly when it comes to nutrition and health.
It all started to make sense when I heard Dr. Douglas Knueven, a holistic veterinarian, and owner of Beaver Animal Clinic. Dr. Doug received his veterinary degree from Ohio State University in 1987, but after practicing for several years, became frustrated with what he saw as shortcomings of conventional veterinary medicine: treating symptoms and sickness instead of focusing on overall wellness and prevention.
In a presentation about holistic pet care that he’s given to hundreds of vets at conferences around the country, Dr. Doug said he supports an “integrative” medical approach, that is, an equal combination of both traditional and alternative therapies. I found this interesting, because this is what I have come to believe about health care for myself; that all body systems are connected and function together as a whole; that natural is better.
It’s an approach that is gaining in popularity, although Dr. Doug is still one of the only holistic vets in western Pennsylvania. Indeed, several people who came to the healthy pets program vocalized frustration about not being able to find vets that support holistic care.
According to one survey conducted in 2006, 76 percent of people reported using some type of alternative therapy for a pet, such as a dietary supplement like glucosamine for joint health. However, more than 70 percent of vets do not offer their clients any type of alternative medical care. So, there is disconnect between what people want and what is available. For all you humans seeking alternative medical care, does this sound familiar?
People seek alternative care for their pets for the same reasons they seek it for themselves: some type of personal experience with their own health, a referral or suggestion from a friend, or when standard care has failed.
Central to holistic care is proper nutrition, and Dr. Doug, along with Jackie Hill of Answers Pet Food and Scott Freeman of Nature’s Logic Pet Food, emphasized the importance of natural and raw food (frozen pellets comprised mostly of meat) for pets.
“Ninety percent of an animal’s health issues are related to its food; allergies, digestion, infection, inflammation, even cancer,” Hill said. “More than 80 percent of an animal’s immune system is in the gut, so if you heal the gut, you heal the animal.”Dr. Doug recommends feeding dogs and cats raw food because it’s closer to their natural diet. To know what to feed animals, you need only look at the shape of their teeth – pointed teeth are for tearing meat. Flat, rounded teeth are for grinding grain. Commercial pet food is inappropriately comprised mostly of starch and carbohydrates (30-50 percent) because it is cheap, convenient and binds together easily.
“Dogs and cats never asked us to cook or process their food,” Hill said. “We did it for our convenience, not their optimal health.”
Using the example of “People Chow,” Dr. Doug adds that it’s not good to feed an animal the same commercial food over its entire life because it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, obesity, dehydration and other problems, just as when we humans eat too many cheap, processed foods and carbohydrates.
In the wild, wolves and other close cousins of dogs and cats only eat about 2-14 percent grains. They are carnivores, not corn-ivores, as Dr. Doug said. Thousands of years of domestication haven’t changed that. A high protein diet is better for animals than one that’s high in carbohydrates. So while the meat/protein rich Atkins Diet may be questionable for you, it’s the BEST diet for your dog or cat.
Disturbingly, much of the “meat” added to commercial pet food comes from animals that are unsuitable for human consumption, or as some say, the 4D’s – dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals. Additionally, when the meat is processed into kibble, it’s heated and dried at super-high temperatures creating byproducts such as hydrolyzed protein or MSG. Recent pet food recalls also have involved dangerous additives like melamine, or too many added synthetic vitamins and minerals.
“I heard an old granny once say, ‘if it ain’t real, don’t eat it,’” Freeman said. “That’s good advice for people and for pets.” His Nature’s Logic line of pet food is free of chemical additives, colorings, flavorings, preservatives and synthetic vitamins and minerals. Instead, he uses ground fruits and vegetables to add nutrients.
All the pet professionals at the Healthy Pet expo said the results of feeding animals a natural raw diet include decreased allergies, weight control, improved dental hygiene, improved coat and skin, less shedding, stable energy level and a longer, healthier life. (Hmm…sounds similar to the benefits described when we humans eat a natural, balanced diet of whole, fresh foods.)
“There are now 50 manufacturers of raw pet food, so the word is spreading,” Hill said.
“It’s the single most important thing you can do for your pet’s health,” Dr. Doug added.
BTW…Yes, I totally caved and bought a 3.3 lb. bag of Nature’s Logic Feline Formula natural cat food ($13.99) for my fur balls. They’re worth it.