A 10 min read written by Dr Nick Thompson (The Holistic Vet)
As a vet I am frequently asked this question. “What is the best food for my dog who has ……….. (fill in the blank):
Anal gland issues
The list goes on………
My answer is always the same, a fresh, quality raw, whole food diet. We may vary ingredients and proportions to help a given disease, but the foundation is always a quality raw diet.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
The Greek founder of Western medicine focused much of his writings on the fundamentals of good health; diet and lifestyle. These principles are the foundation of human-based healing modalities such as ‘Functional Medicine’ and ancient practices such as ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’.
It is no different for our dogs!
Although, for our canine friends, the quote would read “Let Raw Food Be Thy Medicine”
Raw food is very good for dogs and cats. If you raise your pets on raw food, you will probably be unaware of this as they will likely be very healthy; this is certainly the experience of thousands of raw-feeding vets around the world.
Is the dog food you buy fuelling health or fuelling disease?
You may notice a difference if you speak to friends feeding processed kibble and tinned diets. Often they will complain of recurrent problems: hot spots, ear infections, diarrhoea, colitis, vomiting, anal gland problems, tooth and gum disease, hyperactivity, obesity and cancer. These diseases, alarmingly, are considered ‘just one of those things’ when you own animals and feed them conventionally with processed foods.
They are not ‘just one of those things’!
Raw fed dogs and cats are much less likely to suffer from this horrendous list of maladies. Therefore raw feeding can help remedy these problems.
Hot spots are a result of dogs scratching inflamed skin. Hot spots usually appear quickly, often overnight, producing a bald, wet red, sore area, usually on the head or rump. Cats and dogs itch for three main reasons: parasites, infection and allergies. Of the allergies, food allergies are common and, thankfully, are something about which you can do, unlike pollen or house dust allergy issues.
Wheat (gluten), beef (including dairy and tripe, sometimes) and chicken are the biggest allergy culprits, I find. One of the first things I’ll do with an itchy pet is to take them off wheat, beef and chicken for the first month. In many cases, this is all that needs to be done.
Is inflammation of the colon, the lower bowel. Enteritis is the name for inflammation of any part of the gut below the stomach. Parasites, infections and cancers can induce inflammation in these areas, but food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies are the most common.
Again, removing wheat, beef and chicken from this diet initially is sometimes just the job. If this is not sufficient, it’s worth removing all proteins but one, and doing an ‘exclusion diet or elimination diet ‘: giving just one unusual raw protein (e.g. rabbit, venison, white fish or sometimes lamb) for four weeks. Most healthy pets do well on raw beef, chicken and tripe foods.
Are two sacks in the wall of the anus, about the size of a child’s marble in medium-sized dogs, which produce a smelly brown liquid that they use to scent the stool to mark territory. Cats have them, too, but they cause much fewer problems.
If the stools are good and solid, the action of passing stools squeezes the glands to empty the scented liquid onto the stool, kind of like mustard on a hot dog sausage!
But, if the stools are soft for more than a day or two because the dog is ill, or if the dog is producing sloppy poop because they’re eating a less than perfect diet, then the squeezing action of passing loose stool doesn’t squeeze the glands. Thus, they over-fill and sometimes become infected.
Treatment involves the vet gently squeezing the glands, but if the stool quality remains loose, then they will just fill again quickly. Raw food suits most pets more than any other way of feeding, so moving onto a raw food diet, improving the stool consistency and therefore allowing them to empty their own glands daily.
Dental hygiene – A major part of raw food feeding is giving dogs and cats fresh boney items to chew. They range from chicken wings to neck of lamb, knuckle of beef or duck necks, depending on the size of your animal. They do three things: they clean teeth, entertain and delight pets and give much-needed minerals, cartilage and roughage for the gut.
Animals who do not receive these chewable items will get more dental problems than those who do, I find, whether they are on raw food or not. If a dog or cat had early or even moderate dental problems, raw food, including boney chewables clean the teeth, can negate the need for costly and risky anaesthetics to clean the teeth under general anaesthetic.
Lethargy and Hyperactivity
Strangely, both can be helped with an appropriate raw diet. I know hundreds of dogs who have been helped with either end of the energy scale. Raw food would be my first choice.
Studies in school children show that supplementation with omega 3 rich foods such as flax or fish oil can help with concentration and reduce hyperactivity. This applies to dogs and cats, too. I use oils like this to supplement all my raw food diets. Omega 3 oils ease inflammation such as arthritis, pain and stiffness, helping older pets who might be slowing down, well into old age.
If you think about it, most diseases involve some degree of inflammation. If the diet you provide is inherently anti-inflammatory, then this is bound to help with a myriad of problems, even if they are only niggles at the moment.
Overweight dogs and cats in the UK and USA are reported at over 65%. Pets have been eating high-carb foods for the last 70 years (as have humans whose obesity levels are similarly skyrocketing!).
Fifty years of nutrition studies have disproved the ‘low fat to lose weight’ story we have been told for generations. The current thinking, and scientists have known this since the 1960s, is that ‘fats don’t make you fat, carbs do‘.
Carbohydrates, like bread, pasta and cookies in the human diet are broken down in the gut into sugars. Sugars boost insulin, driving the body into storage mode; useful if you’re a hunter-gatherer gorging fruit in the autumn before a cold winter, but deadly if you’re living in modern society where you eat carbs morning noon and night every day, not to mention the in-between ‘snacks’.
Knowing that carbs are the major root of obesity, big pet food companies still make kibbled and tinned foods often with 30-60% soluble carbohydrates in the analysis. Is it any wonder we’re seeing an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cancer among our companion animals?
Or ‘Diabetes Mellitus to give it its Sunday-best name, is a disease where tissues are no longer responsive to insulin production in the pancreas. In healthy humans and animals eating well, insulin is produced in response to occasional starches and sugars in the diet. If these food products are eaten continually (as they are in kibble fed pets), insulin production is continual.
The tissues (muscle, fat deposits and liver) eventually ‘stick their fingers in their ears’ and go ‘La la la la la’ to the continual barrage of insulin messaging; as anything would if they were on the receiving end of this kind of cacophony. Sugars then build up in the tissues, causing excessive thirst, weight gain, lethargy, dehydration and various infections.
Cats and dogs moving on to raw food can be cured of type 2 diabetes. Obviously, cats were never made to eat high cereal diets. Moving them back to an ancestral diet improves metabolism extraordinarily.
Once dogs have typical diabetes, they can be helped with raw food, low-carb diets, losing weight and good supplement regimes, but it’s often not as easy as treating cats, unfortunately.
Is very prevalent in people and pets. It is described as a ‘multi-factorial’ disease; that is, caused by many environmental and metabolic factors working synergistically to allow or induce tumour growth.
These factors include quality of food, food additives, over-processing of foods, exposure to pesticides, obesity and long-term inflammation in the body. A well prepared, balanced and nutritionally complete diet avoids many of these pitfalls, supporting the body to function effectively, nourishing at a cellular level and therefore reinforcing the vital systems, organs and functions needed to fight cancer.
It is no surprise that a fresh raw food diet can help with the majority of today’s common illnesses. Some scientists argue that most modern ailments are created through lack of adequate nutrients and the strain caused by toxin-laden species-inappropriate food.
Dogs and cats evolved to eat natural raw whole food diets.
Going back to feeding foods as close to nature as possible. For me, they are the most healthy option to combat the diseases of domestication listed here.
‘Let raw food be thy medicine’!
Author – Dr Nick Thompson, The Holistic Vet BSc (Vet Sci) Hons, BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS.