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Guest Blogger: Veterinarian Michael W. Fox on Feeding Your Dog

Maria here, at least for a few moments. Whenever I write about anything related to feeding our best friends, the dog blog gets quite a...

Maria Goodavage  |  Sep 8th 2010


42-15600414Maria here, at least for a few moments. Whenever I write about anything related to feeding our best friends, the dog blog gets quite a bit of reader interest in the form of comments and page views. With all the recalls of late, many people have used the comments to talk about the benefits of the diet they feed their dogs. Some won’t feed their dogs anything but a raw, organic diet. Others swear by traditional kibble in a bag. And there’s plenty of ground in between.

You may recall the interview I did a couple of weeks ago with veterinarian Michael W. Fox on dogs grieving after the loss of a loved one. When I was researching his background for his bio, I notice that he had written a book called Not Fit For a Dog. It’s about manufactured pet food. I thought Dr. Fox might provide an interesting perspective on dog nutrition for Dogster’s readers, so I asked him if he could write a guest blog exclusively for Dogster. He kindly consented, and his very interesting, informative article is below. (Jake particularly likes the part about how dogs should get suitable table scraps with their regular food.)

(To balance things out on the dog blog, I’m willing to post a guest blog by a veterinary nutrition expert not affiliated with a dog-food company on why he or she thinks manufactured dog food is ideal for dogs. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.)

A little about Dr. Fox: He is a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, London, and holds doctoral degrees in medicine and ethology/animal behavior from the University of London, England. He is author of more than 40 books, writes the nationally syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor, is a member of the British Veterinary Association, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and Honor Roll Member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The publisher of Not Fit For a Dog is offering an excellent, limited-time deal especially for Dogster dog blog readers, but available to anyone. At $14.95 including shipping, it’s even cheaper than Amazon. Click this link to find out more or order, or phone 800/345-4447.

Dog Food and Feeding Issues: Myth and Reality

By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Dr. Fox and a friend

There are several myths and truths about what we feed our dogs which I want to share because there are many health problems that could be prevented since the best and first medicine is good nutrition. We will look at these myths first, and then each will be dispelled in turn for dogs sake, and for the sake of dog caregivers who want to avoid the harmful and costly veterinary consequences of feeding their dogs the equivalent of junk and virtual convenience foods that are not fit for a dog.

One long-standing myth was that manufactured dog food was good for all dogs, and that you just give more of the same the larger the dog may be. The industry dispelled this myth several years ago, coming out with new designer diets especially tailored for breeds of different ages, sizes and activity levels. But there are other myths perpetuated by the industry and by ignorance that should not enjoy such a long life as the aforementioned.

1. The first myth to be dispelled is that dogs should not be fed human food, because dog food is made for dogs. Food is food, but what is often put into manufactured dog foods is neither fit for human consumption nor nutritionally complete as a whole food. More details on this pivotal issue will be given shortly.

2. The old myth that one kind of dog food is good for all, long promoted by pet food manufacturers, has been replaced by three new ones. One is that modern dog foods are scientifically formulated and balanced, and therefore provide complete nutrition for health maintenance.

(Photo: Matthew Wegner -- www.matthewwegner.com)

3. Close on the tail of this myth is that dogs should never be fed table-scraps/left-overs from the dinner table because that would upset the balance of their specially formulated diets.

4. Another myth promoted for obvious reasons by many dog food manufacturers is that dogs should be fed the same kind and brand of manufactured dog food day in and day out because varying what they are fed will cause digestive and other health problems, and anyway dogs are not like us and do not enjoy or particularly need variety.

5. Yet another myth is that dogs, just like humans, really dont need to take vitamin, mineral and other supplements because modern foods are nutritionally fortified with supplements and additives.

Before dispelling the above myths, I want to stress that there are some good quality manufactured dog foods on the market, including some with organically certified ingredients, and ranging from raw and freeze-dried to canned and dry. Unfortunately, along with all the junk breakfast cereals, processed and convenience foods, snacks and sodas taking up shelf-space for people, they are given little space in most grocery stores that continue to sell big brand, TV advertised, over-priced, and all too often inferior quality pet foods. Specialty pet stores and health food stores provide better choices, and for a list of some dog foods that I have researched and endorse, check my website.


full-dog-bowl-w-puppy1Now some pet owners will say that they never had any problems with their animals being fed the same food every day. While it is true that animals can adapt to some degree to deficient diets, it is also true that many health problems that could have been prevented, and which are soon cured with a proper diet and certain supplements, are not actually recognized as being diet-related. These include chronic skin, anal gland, eye and ear inflammation, periodontal disease, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, allergies, and serious conditions involving internal organs such as the kidney and urinary tract, heart, and pancreas as well as the digestive and related immune and endocrine systems.

These and other diet-related health problems, rooted in part in the consequences of raising pups and feeding their mothers on manufactured dog foods, have spawned the lucrative business of prescription and medicated veterinary diets. These have been critically examined in my book, co-authored with two respected veterinarians, nutrition Prof. Marion E. Smart, and former director of technical affairs with Hills Pet Nutrition, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, entitled Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food.

Good nutrition from puppy-hood on, and indeed for their pregnant and nursing mothers, is a far better health insurance than lots of vaccinations and frequent treatments for internal and external parasites which may not actually exist, but do thrive on poorly nourished animals.

Dog FoodIt should not be forgotten that many of the basic ingredients in these special prescription diets are the same as in far too many regular dog foods, the manufacture of which, using human food and beverage industry byproducts, some being frequently imported from third world countries, has become a multi-billion dollar recycling enterprise. The competitive nature of the multinational pet food industry has lead to a down-spiral of lowest cost ingredient formulations to maximize profit margins, tests being conducted on caged dogs and cats to evaluate digestibility. But every manufactured batch of products is never fully tested since this would be cost-prohibitive. Subsequent recalls are therefore frequent due to ingredient and supplement deficiencies, excesses, and bacterial and fungal contamination from poor quality ingredients. The massive pet food recall of 2007, where several brands of pet food were contaminated with melamine, imported as fake soy protein from China, resulted in the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats from kidney failure.

Knowing the risks of feeding big-brand pet foods, many dog and cat owners are choosing instead some of the brands listed on my website which contain whole food ingredients from reliable sources, often organically certified, minimally processed, and frequently manufactured in the smaller companys own facilities where contamination is better monitored and controlled. Alternatively, people are preparing their own pet food and treats, as per the recipes on my website, or purchase from a local home- cooked pet food provider. Veterinarians are also providing their clients with basic recipes and utilizing the services of the veterinarian-run company Balance IT. They offer special diet recipes for animals needing to go on prescribed diets for various health problems as an alternative to the costly and often unpalatable manufactured prescription diets.

Now to dispel the above myths and see through the advertising propaganda on TV and in too many veterinary clinics promoting those manufactured pet foods which may not be fit for a dog.

1. Food is food, be it for humans, dogs, or other species. Food and beverage industry byproducts, including beet pulp, brewers grains, processed corn and soy meal, poultry remains (byproducts)meat and bone meal, discarded restaurant grease, and rendered proteins and fats from small processing plants are incorporated into many manufactured dog foods. Pet foods labeled as containing meat meal and meat and bone meal may include dead and diseased livestock, road-kills, and can included barbiturate-loaded, euthanized horses, and dogs and cats from animal shelters.

Far too many manufactured pet foods are nutritionally deficient either because the poor quality ingredients have been variously processed to remove desired nutrient components for human consumption: Or because other nutrients are destroyed or denatured by heat-processing and extraction methods that can leave various chemical contaminants and adulterants. Synthetic additives to correct for nutrient deficiencies, along with chemical preservatives, stabilizers and coloring agents, make for a chemical mash that at best is an analog of real food.

The raw dog food movement is a reaction to this, the acronym BARF diet meaning a biologically appropriate, raw food diet, not simply bones, which can harm dogs, and raw foods. Lightly cooking most ingredients for some dogs is advisable, however, and the risk of Salmonella and other bacterial contamination of meats calls for careful handling and preparation.

2. Scientifically formulated dog foods are not necessarily biologically appropriate, the science of pet food nutrition being limited in its mandate by corporate interests to maximize profits from lowest cost ingredients, and to minimize risks. This is a far cry from veterinary nutrition, advances in which were stalled for many years by the pet food industrys assurances to veterinarians that their products were science-based, and by their continuing influence both financially and educationally on veterinary students around the world.

dog-licking-lips-13. I advocate giving suitable table scraps as treats ( no cooked bones or high- fat scraps) to dogs after they have had their regular food, or mixing no more than 10 percent with their regular food. If they become picky eaters it may be time to stop feeding table scraps, or give a better quality dog food. Many dogs are constantly hungry and can become obese because they are never nutritionally satisfied by their regular junk dog food. Dogs enjoy sharing what we have been eating, and I see this as part of the pack ritual when we share our lives with them.

4. Dogs enjoy variety, and in nature most carnivores and omnivores enjoy a varied diet. I advocate feeding pets different animal proteins like lamb, turkey, fish, beef, on a 3 or 7 day rotation. This can help both identify and avoid food-hypersensitivities/allergies, and is one way to reduce the odds of nutrient deficiencies and imbalances feeding just one kind of manufactured pet food. Sticking to one or two good brand with several different kinds or varieties, as per the selection on my website, may be wise. Animals should always be transitioned gradually over several days onto a new diet to avoid possible adverse reactions or rejection, by adding a little more of the new food mixed in with less and less of the old. Giving probiotics during this transition can be beneficial.

5. Supplements are called for especially if all ingredients are not organically certified, because the soils of conventional agriculture are nutrient deficient, and almost toxic with synthetic agrichemical fertilizers and pesticides which also contaminate crops. Produce from poultry and livestock fed these crops and their byproducts can also be nutritionally deficient and contaminated with agrichemicals.

These problems are compounded by the fact that most of the corn, soy and sugar beet derived ingredients in processed human foods and pet foods have been genetically engineered or modified (GM). ( For a review and links documenting the health and environmental risks of GM crops and foods, see my website.).

Beneficial supplements for companion animals include Brewers yeast, fish or flax seed oil, organic butter from grass-fed cows, and chondriotin, glucosamine, probiotics and prebiotics (like inulin). Some pet food manufacturers are touting these on their ingredient lists, thus indirectly acknowledging that supplements are of value and are not just hype or some consumer fad. They are key ingredients in prescription diets for various pet health problems.

Consumers are becoming more health conscious as the obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health problems reach epidemic proportions while government efforts to address these and related issues of food quality and safety issues intensify. But these efforts will continue to founder so long as government panders to the corporate interests of the transnational food and drug industrial complex. The parallels between what people are feeding their pets and eating themselves and the health-related problems they share as a consequence are striking indeed. I find it just as absurd for veterinarians to be selling high carbohydrate and by-product filled pet foods to the caregivers of carnivorous companion animals as it is for health authorities to permit the sale of high fructose, fortified junk breakfast cereals, snacks and beverages for children to consume and then rationalize putting them on Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs to correct diet-related cognitive, emotional and behavioral impairments.

Making informed choices in the market place for oneself and family, including companion animals, is now part of the healthful eating revolution that recognizes good nutrition is the best medicine. My slogan for this long overdue revolution is Kitchen Anarchists Unite! The politics of the plate and the power of the fork are now being utilized by civil society to restore dietary sensibility and the ethics of eating with conscience. This will ultimately change agricultural practices for the better, and will do more to help insure food quality and safety for ourselves and for our companion animals than more government regulations and oversight at tax payers expense.

To find documented evidence of the nutritional superiority of organically certified foods and the prenatal (epigenetic) risks of poor nutrition and agrichemical contaminants, visit the Organic Center.