A while back I joined an online group of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lovers. They were a group of people totally committed to the welfare of their dogs. Once they discovered I was a holistic veterinarian they started asking questions like: Which heartworm preventative is best? What’s the best food? Which vaccinations should I get for my dog? Which flea and tick product do you recommend? Once I started answering questions, they multiplied. New people would join the group and ask questions that had already been discussed and I would repeat the answers or someone would find the old posts. Finally they started saying this all needed to be written down somewhere for access. So here you have it.
I have been a practicing veterinarian for over thirty years and I like to believe I’ve learned a few things along the way. I have formed many opinions and that is what this book contains: a collection of my opinions. Many of those opinions are backed by solid research, some are gut feelings, and some just come with experience. This book is by no means meant to replace visits to your regular veterinarian. It is written to give you some knowledge and tools for discussions with your veterinarian.
I am grateful to my parents and family for standing behind me along the way, especially my children who grew up in cages in veterinary clinics pretending they were dogs while I worked long hours. I appreciate every animal that has taught me something along the way and clients who have been gracious enough to allow me to treat their precious pets.
I am particularly indebted to all the rescued dogs and cats that have crossed my path. They are a source of inspiration, showing trust and love where many times it was undeserved. I’m so lucky to have my partner in rescue, Hue, who has a bigger heart than any person I know. If I left it up to him we’d have every sad puppy face in the kingdom camped out at our house. As my mom says, “You can’t save them all”. But we are going to try our hardest!
When I arrive there is already a long line of dogs straining at the ends of their leashes. Some are barking and carrying on while others cower behind their owners. Cats in boxes and cages are hissing and growling, unhappy with the crowd of dogs. I am loaded down with boxes of syringes and vials of vaccine. Today, I am the veterinarian in charge of the Rabies vaccination clinic in a small town in rural southern New Jersey. I chuckle as I struggle to open the firehouse door, remembering the first vaccination clinic I ever attended; I was a small child standing in line with my mother, sister, and our Cocker Spaniel/Irish Setter mix, Toby. Looking back on my first few experiences with veterinarians, I still marvel that this is my chosen profession…
LABEL READING FOR LIFE
I am not allowed to walk down the pet food aisle in the grocery store. When I see the aisle, Hue quickly steers me away before I can get started reading labels on popular pet foods while loudly proclaiming how horrible they are. I can be an embarrassment and someday I will probably be kicked out of our local grocery store and told never to return. It takes a lot of restraint to keep me from chasing down people who have large bags of awful foods or boxes of chemical laden treats in their carts. When I take my mother to the big box store to buy groceries in bulk, she has learned to just allow me to pick out the treats for her dog. She’s too afraid to pick something herself and have to listen to my tirade. All I want to do is educate people so they will feed their pets a healthier diet. And don’t even get me started on the crap food they have in their carts for their kids and themselves.
In order to choose the right pet food, you must be able to read the labels on the bags and cans of food that you buy. Ingredients are listed on the label in decreasing quantities, meaning the first ingredient listed is found in the highest quantity. Cats are carnivores, meaning they need to eat meat. Dogs are either carnivores or omnivores, depending on who you ask. Either way, they should all be eating a meat based diet. So it stands to reason the main ingredients in their foods should be meats. If you read a food label and the first ingredient is not meat, do not buy the food.
I do have some vegan clients who will not feed meats to their pets. Dogs can adapt fairly well to a vegan diet (although it is not ideal). In my opinion, cats should never be fed a vegetarian or vegan diet. I have lost many feline patients to heart disease because their owners refused to feed meat. No matter how many vitamins you add to the diet, you still cannot achieve the amino acid and vitamin profile that an obligate carnivore needs without feeding meat.
I prefer the first ingredient to be a whole meat source, not a meat or fish meal. Others argue that a meat or fish meal is a more concentrated protein source and will add more protein to the diet. In the first five ingredients in a dry food, I want two, preferably three, to be meats (unless you are using a grain-free product, in which case there may be more meat products listed). In Orijen Regional Red dry dog food the first sixteen ingredients are meats. I love this company. When adding up the percentages each of the first five ingredients contributes to the ingredient list, remember that three grains will outweigh two meats, so you are feeding a high grain product.
I never want to see meat by-products in the ingredient list, only whole meats. By-products are the parts of the animal that are not fit for human consumption and do not include muscle meat. If organ meats are used, which are fine, they should be listed as the whole organ, not as a by-product. I want the meat protein source listed as chicken, beef, lamb, sardines, etc, not just as “meat” (mystery meat?).
Things like Animal Digest, Animal Fat, Dried Egg Product, Meat and Bone Meal, Beef Tallow, generic Fish Meal, Fish Oil, or By-Product Meal will never appear on the label of a good quality food. Animal Digest is a slurry made from enzymatic or chemical hydrolysis of rendered animals and animal parts. FDA studies have found detectable levels of euthanasia solution in meat and bone meal, beef and bone meal, animal digest, and animal fat, meaning euthanized animals were used to make the product. Our pets are consuming euthanasia solution on a daily basis. Bone meal is a poor quality product used to increase the protein content in foods. “Animal fat” is sometimes added as a cheap, unspecified fat source, and can contain high quantities of chemicals that can be found in diseased animals. Ol’ Roy, Pedigree, Big Heart Pet brands, Kibbles N Bits, Purina, Beneful, Chef Michael, Cesar, Alpo, Whiskas, and Special Kitty are some of the foods that commonly contain these ingredients…