To Grain or Not to Grain - Dr. J's Diet Opinion
So please let me start out by stating that I am NOT a board certified veterinary nutritionist. Let me continue by stating that I am an open minded individual who has done an extensive amount of research regarding pet diets. I myself had fed my dog and cat expensive prescription pet food for years. Now I feed ALL my pets a RAW, species specific diet and here's why:
This blog is in NO way meant to judge anyone. I myself fed my pets dry dog food for years, because I did not know any of this. All of what I am sharing can be verified by your own research, more commonly known as "Googling" stuff. This is not meant judge a single soul out there, no matter what they are feeding their pet. If you clicked on the link, you obviously care about your pet. I'm not debating that. You can also do your own research. The only difference between you as a pet owner and me as a veterinarian is that I have learned and memorized many of the medical terms used in medical journals, and I know what terms to look for. Not all of them.
Many veterinarians know as little about nutrition as the average consumer. When I go to a human doctor, I look for one that practices what they preach. My cat and dogs are healthy, verifiable with medical records but more so solidified by meeting them in person. I just received notification that my pets look better than ever from my pet sitter as well, with no knowledge of any changes. They were put on a raw food diet approximately 4 months ago. I get text messages from clients on a weekly basis that have made the switch to a low carb diet and thank me for their pet's progress. It's a small sample size, but more than most. I've also found the least expensive way to treat an animal is by proper nutrition. This has saved my clients a lot of money and I have lost a lot of business from it. Thank the universe, because seeing my patients healthier from eating a better diet fills my heart with a joy that green paper and numbers (digital money) can't possibly fill. This has not worked for all the medical cases that I manage but it has significantly reduced many of the symptoms that I have treated.
I spent the better half of my career over medicating and over treating animals for conditions that I truly believe could have resolved or never had been an issue, had I advocated for species-appropriate diets. This was done without intention to do harm and I harmed my own pets in the process of living the human experience. I believed that foods labeled as "Dog/Cat Food" must in fact be food fit for pets to consume. This is where I went wrong and I trusted the wrong people.
Had I walked out of veterinary school advocating raw/low carb diets or vaccine titers, I would have had a hard time gaining experience as a veterinarian, because few practices would have offered me a position, if any. So I changed who I was, to fit the market and earn an income. I became a bully to prevent being bullied and a sheep rather than a deviant. But I see medicine with a lot more clarity now. Veterinary medicine is a business, and veterinarians have to make a living just like everyone else. But now, since I work for myself, I can make that living in a way that allows me to form my own opinion without influence from Big Pharma or the Pet food industry. For that I am one of the fortunate few. I don't judge those who must earn an income by keeping their mouth shut and their eyes closed, in order to provide for their family, as I once did. We are all humans doing the best we can. This is my new best life.
SO NOW: BEST FOOD FOR CARNIVORES (In order from best to not as good)
1. RAW/HOME COOKED LOWEST CARB DIET
2. LOWEST CARB CANNED FOOD (lots of preservatives in canned food)
3. LOWEST CARB DRY PET FOOD YOU CAN FIND (hard to find a dry food without carb fillers and all have preservatives)
Dogs and cats are carnivores. Can veterinarians and pet food manufacturers admit that? Dogs are undeniably opportunistic and can derive energy from other sources of nutrients, but they are classified in Order Carnivora, which is basic science. Dogs and cats are meat-eating animals, and not rice, potato, pea, or corn eating-animals. A hungry dog may eat those things during times of famine, but that is not what they are seeking or hunting. It's what they are settling for so they don't starve to death. Yet, those ingredients (carbohydrates aka sugars) are present in all of the dry pet foods on the shelves in pet stores today. Some dry foods are made up of over 40 - 50% of those ingredients. Don't believe me? Grab your bag of dry pet food and use this online carbohydrate calculator: http://fnae.org/carbcalorie.html
The calculator is on a feline website, but nutrient profiles are the same for both species, so it is effective for any food, including human processed foods.
Should I trust all foods labeled as "Dog/Cat Food"?
Some pet food manufacturers are scandalous and AAFCO is a private organization, funded by pet food manufacturers. AAFCO is a pet food nutrition regulatory organization and every pet food has to meet these requirements to be considered biologically appropriate. Every pet food has to list the percentages of Protein, Fat, Moisture and Ash as well as a list of ingredients and calories on the bag. Notice something missing? Here's a clue, this missing nutrient MUST be listed on the packaging of all human foods. So what is it?
CARBOHYDRATES AKA SUGAR. Why, AAFCO? Why are you leaving that little detail out, so that we as consumers must use an online calculator? Seems a little scandalous to me. Did you forget or are you trying to hide something? It's just one value and one that would be seemingly easy to put on the label, with the other listed nutrients that are perceived as beneficial. This makes me mad, so I boycott dry dog foods.
AAFCO: (Notice the wording - "Our members are charged by their local, state or federal laws to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies." What does that mean? We're all charged by our local, state or federal laws.) And don't forget non-profit means they don't pay taxes. It doesn't mean that the board members don't all pay themselves a million dollar salary (I have no idea what they get paid).
What about DCM from grain-free foods?
There's a significant amount of hype that grain-free dog foods are linked to heart disease in dogs. What dog foods are not on the list? Grain-free, RAW dog foods. So if grains are so important, why are dogs not developing heart disease from eating raw? To me it seems like the problem is not a lack of grains, yet an over abundance of other sources of carbohydrates such as potatoes, pea flour, legumes, etc. Carbohydrates fed to a carnivore = FILLERS - cheap sources of energy. What do potatoes, corn, rice and fast food have in common? They are inexpensive sources of energy. Healthy foods, low in carbohydrates aka sugars, are not inexpensive (Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck)
Here's a list of sources to research that link carbohydrates to heart disease in humans:
Everyone should know that the cardiovascular system in cats and dogs operates in the same way as the human cardiovascular system.
What about bacterial contamination in raw food diets?
Can raw food make your dog or cat sick? Yes. Any food can. So can soil, water and fecal contamination. So if you want to keep your pet away from bacteria, you're going to need a bubble. Listeria is a main bacteria found in raw diets, yet I've never heard of this causing disease in a dog or a cat. I've also not seen salmonella, another listed contaminant in raw food, cause disease in a dog or cat, but I've heard it's a "possibility". When I read about listeriosis in humans, I see that most contamination came from vegetables sold in the human markets. I've also read that you can culture listeria from your own refrigerator at any given time, unless you are extremely careful. (If you try this, please report back). Listeria is found in decaying plant material - commonly referred to as dirt. So we may want to avoid dirt as well.
But that level of avoidance is not possible, right? This level of impracticality seems like a tactic, which is causing many RAW diets to be recalled. Dogs eat their own poop, so I'm not really dying of worry when I think of my pet eating raw food. My dog didn't get diarrhea when she ate a three day old bagel with cream cheese, that I forgot was tossed in my truck. Think of all the indoor/outdoor cats that are not getting sick from salmonella or listeria, and are surely eating raw food they sourced themselves. So if thousands of pets are not getting sick from eating raw food, yet thousands ARE getting sick from eating contaminated commercial dog food, why the alarms on raw food? My guess: It's a desperate attempt to slow the progress of the raw pet food market that is taking over a billion dollar pet food industry. Raw dog food has a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for salmonella. Do you know what food doesn't have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for salmonella? Human foods. Because if they did it would take down the meat industry and make manufacturing meat for human consumption unsustainable.
Have you ever heard of an owner getting sick from feeding raw dog food? I have not, but I'm curious to know. I've searched every forum I can and have found little evidence of feeding a pet raw food causing illness. It's all just theoretical so far, "You could get sick from feeding raw". You could get sick from a lot of things, so this information is not helpful.
More about the Zero Tolerance Policy (Resulting in law suits):
Listeriosis - most common source of infection in humans? Vegetables NOT raw dog food - most people who feed raw, wash their hands well and know the risk:
Why did my vet say raw food is bad and harp on me for trying it?
Some (few) veterinarians are bullies. There I said it. I'm a veterinarian and I've met many veterinarians that are bullies when it comes to pet nutrition. I have also met many open minded veterinarians who advocate for pets as singular animals in a unique household. Bully vets say things with extreme sarcasm like "Yeah, feed your pug who lives on your couch, like a wild wolf. Great idea!" or "Gee, I wonder why your dog has diarrhea, maybe it's the raw food? You think?" Those are statements from bullies, not open minded doctors of veterinary medicine. I have listened to the arguments on both sides and what do I know about it?
Many veterinarians sell dry pet foods. So if your veterinarian derives income from selling pet foods, they may be less likely to recognize that these foods are not ideal. If your veterinarian makes money from selling pet food, do you really think that they can have an open mind on the subject? Probably not, as I stopped selling dog food for ethical concerns and that is when I found myself open to alternative opinions. NO one wants to be a hypocrite. I only wish I had realized all of that sooner, because then the animals that I love would be healthier today. I'm okay with admitting my mistake, from here on out. I'm human and I believed the lies fed to me by professionals, myself.
Final statement - Eating healthy is really simple for humans and pets alike. But it's not easy.
This is a truth that we cannot deny: Raw or home cooked, species appropriate food for cats and dogs are expensive and inconvenient to some (including myself). I used to just scoop my dogs dog food and feeding took less than a minute for about $80 every two months. NOW, my dog food cost $75 per week and I have to soak it before feeding, which takes at least 10 minutes. I made my life a hell of a lot harder and added quite the expense. This is the truth. It sucks, and sometimes I wish I could go back to the scoop because I hate dealing with raw food and cleaning up as well and I hate spending so much money. Especially since I'm a vet and I don't even have to pay much for vet expenses when my pets do get sick. So I have two options. Knowingly feed my pet's unhealthy food even though I can afford to feed them better OR bite the bullet, because I can afford it. I choose to bite the bullet, but I don't expect everyone to be able to do that. I'm only feeding 40 lbs of dog and it cost $240 per month. I can personally afford that. Many can not.
I understand this wholeheartedly, as I grew up below the poverty line and survived off of many a frozen meal and LOTS of love. Just do the best you can personally afford to do. If you can't go full on raw because you saved three pit bulls from death, that is OKAY. Find the lowest carb diet and stick with it. Canned food is better than dry in this regard. Maybe mix foods to help your ratio. I'm not judging, I understand that not all pet owners are as fortunate to be able to afford the healthiest food. A child raised on welfare is no less valued and loved than a child raised by a millionaire, and the same goes for pets, in my opinion. I get that wholeheartedly. We are all just trying to do the best we can for the ones we love. That's all I hope for and I don't judge people for doing the best they can. I just educate, lovingly, understandingly and with acceptance. Which is why I wrote this blog.
Written with love,