My first introductions to questioning commercial foods came early in my veterinary career. Four years after graduation, I enrolled in my first acupuncture certification course and was exposed to raw feeding proponents, home cooking and the basic concepts of food as treatment in Chinese Medicine where kibble is seen as very imbalanced leading to digestive system disease. I also grew into my career in the days when ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT were heavily used in commercial diets as preservatives.I faced the same dilemma then as now, how do I carve out a position on nutrition for my pets and for my clients that recognizes the unique individuality of each creature, promotes food safety, and promotes overall well being of my patients and their human families?
I was slow to warm up to raw feeding. Veterinary students must take microbiology, so we know about food borne disease. When I was in vet school, I had a new kitten, Scooter, who contracted salmonella poisoning from chicken skin she hauled out of my garbage. I didn’t want to promote a way of feeding that might lead my clients to a night of agonizing on whether to euthanize a severely ill pet or not. In my case, I was lucky… on the very night I cried until I became willing to have her euthanized, she turned around and lived well for another 16 years. However, not all food borne illness stories have such a happy ending.
Fear of bones was also part of my experience, when I was a young teenager, our beagle ate a chicken carcass she had hauled home and buried in the back yard (dogs and children roamed much more freely in the 1960’s and 70’s). She had a bowel perforation and died. As a veterinarian, I have seen many bone related problems, ham bones caught over the lower jaw, bone wedged between the teeth in the upper palate, prematurely worn teeth from too much bone chewing, perforations and bone impactions in raw fed dogs getting too much raw bone. I learned a healthy respect for some of the problems possible with raw feeding.
Home preparing and cooking was another option. Over the years, I have always incorporated real food in my dogs diet plans. I tried the Pitcairn diets that were popular in the 90’s, used a general feeding plan developed by Dr. Robert Silver and other home prepared meals developed by veterinary nutritionists. My dogs never complained. I have also been gifted with dogs with iron clad guts and have rarely had food related gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea.
My cats have always been more difficult. Some would eat real food and some never would. We now know that you should expose your kittens to a variety of food stuffs if you want them to be easily adaptable later in life. My most recent cats got some real food as kittens and now that they are two years old, they will still eat dehydrated lamb lung, rabbit treats, bits of cooked and raw meat with relish.
Over time I became bold enough to try some local sourced raw food and fed lamb legs, tripe, ground veggies, chicken backs, and necks with a bit of extra calcium supplementation and regular multivitamin supplements. I continued to have microbiologic hesitancy but more about having the meaty bones around the house. And I could never bring myself to actually sell raw food in the clinic for liability concerns, although I and many of my clients sourced food locally.
In recent years, nutritionists have responded to the need for good diets for pets that reflect what we know about optimum nutrition and as a result we have multivitamin/calcium mixes that balance specific recipes. Pressure pasteurization has lead to raw food preparations that I can safely sell from my veterinary practice. And for my cats and clients that can’t or don’t want to home prepare or raw feed, a new Canadian owned veterinary medical commercial diet line has become available, using whole food ingredients, cooked at lower heats and backed up by the nutritional wisdom of the finest board certified veterinary nutritionists.
So what do I feed my dog now? Well, I like the Complete and Balanced Meal Maker recipes made with local Meadowbrook beef or pork, a bit of safflower oil, and Ascenta omega oil as Poppet’s base diet. (And did you see the fantastic lobster dinner Poppet had for Valentines day?) We used to keep a bit of whole food California Natural kibble around for the times I ran out of baking steam, but lately we just keep some Nature’s Instinct raw patties in the freezer. And she gets bits of apple, blueberries and helps clean up the cats leftovers. My cats still eat a mix of canned and kibble commercial food. Currently, they are testing out the new whole food Rayne Sensitive GI as one cat has a tendency to soft stools. Any that show interest, are encouraged to eat dehydrated meats, real meat cooked and raw and one loves to clean up the yoghurt bowl after I finish. I hope that with regular offering and exposure to raw food that more of my cat clan will begin to eat this way.
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