Happy 2013, everyone!
I woke up on this first day of the New Year, and thought, well this is a good time to begin. One of my strongest resolutions for the year is to update this blog more regularly. Between client work, my thesis, and teaching it can be a challenge to keep things running here as well; that said, I have a wealth of topics to discuss and share with you, as always seeking to simply present the facts about any area of nutrition, and empower my readers with reliable information from which you can make well-informed choices. Over the past year I have – sadly – seen a plethora of misinformation circulating around the net in a variety of places. Sometimes, it’s theory presented as fact; sometimes it’s a defensive stance taken by a proponent of a specific way of feeding, sometimes it’s fear-mongering about herbs (or worse yet, people passing along information that could literally harm your dog, like the individual who casually advised owners to give copious amounts of cleaver’s tincture to dogs ‘for skin issues’ – irrespective of their health status or actual condition – yikes). The struggle to provide sensible, science based and experience-proven information can be somewhat draining. That said, I feel quite invigorated after my holiday rest and decided – well today – let’s start the year off by clearing up a couple of misconceptions – about me! What I do, believe in and why I am, at times, a vociferous defendant of The Facts.
The first misconception I would like to address, is one I hear occasionally from detractors; quite simply, that I believe my way is the “only way” and that while I do have good information, there is “room for other viewpoints”. This is an egregious misunderstanding of my stance on nutrition and I feel a need to clear it up. First, I have never, nor will I ever, claim that only one method of feeding is beneficial! While I have an opinion about this – I stand by a home prepared diet as long as it is properly formulated and uses the best ingredients obtainable – I also have worked in this field for fifteen years and studied nutrition since I was 18 – I’ve seen many, many diets work. Sometimes, to be fair, they “work” only short term as therapeutic support or to redress an imbalance in a previous diet – but overall, all things being equal, I’ve seen dogs thrive into a healthy old age on kibble, on raw diets I consider unbalanced, on home cooked food…and in my clinical practise, I often need to formulate diets much higher in carb, for example, and lower in fat (pancreatitis) than I would wish for, for example – but these dogs do fabulously well into old age, with vets often writing me to ask if I can take other clients from them – and can I work with cats? In therapeutic nutrition we see all kinds of things working well for the individual – given that many of my cases are multi-condition and have been failing to thrive on a wide array of diets by the time they come to me, I do see, firsthand, the HUGE range of diet plans that dogs can do well on.
Ok, this probably won’t work for more than once a year.
But – I have been told repeatedly, I am too attached to one method. (The irony here is usually it’s someone who would seemingly rather die than feed anything other than a raw diet or a veterinary kibble!) I have to say that on one level – I am, guilty as charged. I am open to using cooked foods or raw, as appropriate – open to using whatever energy-nutrients best suit the case, open to using recipes both simple and complex – I have a wide toolkit and I will use what need to. There is one thing I will not waver on – and that’s nutrient requirements. On this point I am totally unshakable. Home made diets must supply all required nutrients in the levels we understand to be optimal for dogs – VitaminA to zinc, and one cannot achieve this with “variety” or with food alone. In a healthy dog with good digestion, who tolerates a variety of foods we can get close; but even the best home made recipes I have analyzed over the years will still show low zinc, or calcium, or Vitamin D3 – often all these and more. Sometimes the terror of carbohydrates has resulted in a diet too rich in fat and protein to best serve the needs of the individual. I am absolutely adamant that vitamins and minerals, fats and fatty acid, protein and amino acids and carbohydrate/fiber needs to be present in the diet in optimal and balanced levels. On that I am unshakable. If you don’t think meeting requirements is important; let me ask you this.
If a healthy human decided to completely abstain from VitaminC for life, what would happen?
I use this example often, because almost everyone knows about VitaminC and scurvy. A nutrient that is considered “essential” is one for which a deficiency causes a specific disease state, it is required in the diet or identifiable pathology occurs. That’s the textbook definition. You might go a while with no C before you get scurvy, but there are numerous afflictions associated with chronic low levels. We can all agree that C is a required nutrient for humans (not for dogs!).
We may then, once we have this platform of knowledge beneath our feet, go on to discuss VitaminC in all it’s glorious detail; how much is optimal? What about high doses? What foods are the best source? Should we supplement at all? What about bioflavonoids?
Let me clear – I am all about this kind of discussion, after the decades I’ve spent in nutrition and the changes in scientific and popular opinion about nutrition, I enthusiastically support research and discussion on all of these aspects. But I will not waver on the foundational knowledge that VitaminC is a required nutrient and that we do know what level is minimal to prevent disease.
We know a lot of similar things about canine nutrition, too…and that is the place I come from that is unwavering. You cannot think outside the box if you don’t have the first clue what’s in it.
We may disagree about VitaminC’s therapeutic use in dogs. We may disagree about what other antioxidants need to be boosted along with it. I may worry abut acidifying the urinary ph and someone else doesn’t. But the fact that dogs do not have a dietary requirement for it, is proven, it’s science, it is NOT my opinion– and it is not me foisting my overbearing opinion on anyone else.
When I post to a group or forum trying to help someone feeding a horribly unbalanced diet to a sick dog, when I encourage people to use www.nutritiondata.com and a good resource such as Monica Segal’s books or the Canine and Feline Nutrition text we use in my courses, when I (apparently, stridently) try to illustrate that the protein content by weight of a piece of meat does not equate to the percentage in the diet as- fed; all of that is not to boost my ego, win a petty argument or “be right” in any way. It’s to disseminate knowledge to help others grow and help their own dogs. That’s it, that’s all.
Stridency, while not my favorite thing, is sometimes called for especially when you see someone feeding a carb-free, all beef and bone diet to a dog in renal failure. Or a vegan diet without supplements. Or ANY home made diet without supplements. Or too much fish from polluted waters. My heart literally aches when I see someone about to euthanize an aggressive dog without even considering the protein levels and effect of no-carb diets on brain chemistry. I could list stories like this all day, but you get the point.
Diet is intensely powerful and can heal or harm your dog, as it can YOU. When somebody is just doing it wrong, and I can help, I will try. There are many valid opinions out there about feeding, but there are also facts. It behooves us to possess the humility to learn these facts and work from a place of knowledge, not speculation.
On that I am and will remain, insistent.
2) The second thing I feel a call to address – briefly – is the idea I am anti-raw. I plan to post a detailed entry about this, so I’ll keep it brief for now. I am not anti-raw, but I do feel it can be a problematic diet for many dogs. I see it as one potential method of feeding that has pros and cons – good applications and poor. One issue with it is excessive protein and fat. Another is lack of supplementation so chronic, sometimes subclinical deficiencies develop. A third is MRSA, and an alarming rise in these bacteria in raw meats. I use cooked diets more than raw, but I have and will use raw as indicated. …and I will, I promise, get to a full and thorough entry on this in future. Many of the reasons I see cited as supportive of a raw diet pose serious challenges when examined critically. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and research in more detail this year.
3) Lastly, I am amazed time and again to hear folks saying I may be well trained and all that, but I advocate feeding HUGE amounts of carbohydrate to dogs. Wow, I did four long entries on this – they might be buried in here but they’re all here! I normally use between 25 and 30% carbs, gluten free, healthy plant foods for a proactive diet. That means fully 75% of the dietary energy comes from protein and fat. In clinical cases I might be using any combination of levels at all depending on the case and the dog. But in no way does my plea for balance – and not fearing food groups! constitute an approach that emphasizes carbohydrates. I attempted to demystify them, and share knowledge. If this is a failure of mine, I’ll revisit it again and try to streamline my topic! I’m not “pro-carb” any more than I’m “anti-raw” – I’m pro-KNOWLEDGE. And in brief – “carbs” are not dangerous, They are useful in the diet in moderate amounts – for a wide variety of functions. Many are actually beneficial, not “filler”. It’s important to know your foods, different types of fiber, methods of preparation, and how to calculate a reasonable level in your own dog’s diet. An all- protein- and- fat diet can be VERY problematic for the majority of dogs. Please read my entries, if you haven’t and understand what I’m saying. Complex carbs/fiber contribute to bowel health, help provide energy while sparing protein for other uses, offer phytonutrients that can help protect against cancer, help offset acidity – used wisely, plant foods are healthful – overused, they can be (like anything) deleterious.
Whew! That was longer than I’d intended. I want to make my philosophy very clear – I use the science to inform my decisions and I respect the unique and sometimes idiosyncratic nature of individuals, I learn from my experiences and those around me as well as the textbooks. I have issues with adhering too tightly to either anecdote or research papers. I But I do feel the science we have should not be dismissed – I couldn’t do half of what I am able to do for dogs, without fluency in nutrients, requirements, food science – it’s essential knowledge. It’s beyond valuable, it’s our toolkit in nutrition. If your dog is in kidney failure, do you *really* want to guess at the calcium and phosphorus, sodium and Vitamin D in his diet? I’m betting – not.
My next entry addresses some popular supplements that pose problems if not used correctly – something I see almost daily in my work. Some are dose-dependent, others have specific contraindications, and a few are just downright not recommended (bentonite clay, colloidal silver). Hey – you use them both to good effect? I’ll explain why I don’t – in the next TPC update.
And again – Happy New Year!