Friday, October 30, 2009

Make Pet Feeding Mysterious and Difficult, and Owners Will Revert to Kibble and Cans

I finally figured it out. After reading a lot of dietary advice from certified veterinary nutritionists, it dawned on me why they make formulating pet diets appear to be rocket science.

First, of course, there's the usual guild reason to make simple feeding complicated. Only guild members' expensive advice can keep pets healthy and heal sick ones. Guild secrets keep professionals (and alchemists, who promised to turn lead into gold) in business. The more mysterious and hidden the information, the more they can charge to provide that information. Guild secrets have been jealously guarded since the Middle Ages.

Veterinary nutritionists are today's alchemists, turning pet diets into personal gold. For them pet nutrition is an exceedingly complex balancing act, with hundreds of nutrients to be juggled in each formulation, which they say must be concocted specifically for individual pets.

Here is how Dr. Korinn Saker, DVM and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, puts it:

"Owners who want to prepare their own pet food cannot just provide pets with people food. It is very difficult to ensure the pet's diet is nutritionally balanced if the receipe has not been appropriately evaluated. The Internet, articles, or self-help books cannot be relied upon for this information, because your individual pet has specific requirements for protein, carblydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. The wrong combination of human foodstuffs fed to your pet can create nutritional deficiencies or excesses that result in disease. If the animal is young and growing, the wrong diet can negatively influence musculoskeletal development."

Dr. Saker's first lesson is don't try to feed your pet yourself, because you'll get it wrong and do harm . Second lesson is don't trust what you read anywhere about pet diets, because no sources of information can be trusted. Further, pets are individuals with specific dietary requirements that owners cannot assess.

If inflicting that amount of self-doubt on pet owners is not sufficient to drive them to a dietary alchemist, requirements for preparation and storage of homemade diets will.

"Another issue is food preparation and storage. Ingredients should be thoroughly cooked to keep bacterias from forming and creating concerns such as Salmonella or E.Coli. Unless food is prepared fresh for each meal, appropriate freezing followed by proper thawing, heating, and then serving at room temperature are other steps that must be followed."

Remember, this advice is given for healthy pets. With the time-consuming consultation and exacting preparation of pet diets they say is required, it's a wonder any dogs or cats survived evolution. For many thousands of years, wolf/dogs ate whole prey and scavenged off rotting carcases -- not cooked, not balanced by a nutritionist, and not frozen or thawed properly to retard bacteria formation. In more recent centuries, dogs ate human leftovers, caught and ate small game, and scavenged in human garbage. How can so robust a species be so vulnerable to dietary imbalances and bacteria?

Dr. Saker is not alone in warning pet owners not to tinker with pets' diets without expert advice. Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN is a maven of dietary experts. For a hefty fee, her consulting business at offers tailored cooked meat. starch, veggie recipes with corn oil and vitamin/mineral supplements. Supplements are to be purchased from the granddaddy of veterinary nutrition consulting groups, DVM Consulting, out of the University of California -- Davis.

Dr. Remillard's home-cooked diet instructions for healthy pets run to three pages of gram-measured components, excruciating storage, heating, and monitoring requirements. In fact, ingredients in these professionally formulated diets are few and simple, but measuring and combining them precisely, as prescribed, would be nerve-wracking and time-consuming.

So, here's the second, and more important, reason veterinary nutrition "experts" make pet diets appear to be so complex and burdensome to pet owners: They are all paid consultants to commercial pet food companies. The first recommendation of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and its members is to feed pets "100% complete and balanced" commercial pet foods.

In the midst of the enormous 2007 contaminated pet food recall, in which thousands of pets died from renal failure, Dr. Remillard publically warned pet owners not to switch from kibble to homemade diets. On behalf of the ACVN, she raised spectres of dietary imbalances that were hard to accept, given the enormous harm commercial pet foods did to North American pets that year. And the 2007 pet food recall for melamine contamination was just one in a long and frequent series of pet food contaminations and deficiencies that have killed and sickened tens of thousands of dogs and cats in this decade. Nonetheless, the ACVN and it members swear by "100% complete and balanced" kibbles and canned mush.

Opening a bag or can and pouring junk into a pet's bowl is easy, time-saving, and requires no thought. By making it appear that only an alchemist can formulate a healthy substitute for kibble and mush, pet owners are deterred from feeding a better diet. As I have said many times, feeding raw-meaty-bones is quite simple and fast. All you have to do is hand your pet an appropriately sized hunk of meaty bone. Varying meaty bones from day to day gives pets all the varied nutrients they need, and keeps their teeth clean -- a claim the dietary alchemists cannot make.

The diet experts' message is: Let pet food companies do the thinking and formulating; they have hundreds of veterinary nutrition experts (like us) on their payrolls. Ignorant pet owners cannot compete with the nutrition expertise of pet food companies, nor can they find reliable information in books, articles, or on the Internet, a message I find most offensive. If owners dare try to choose foods themselves, we warn you of the harm you may do and, as a last resort, charge you a lot of money to concoct a cooked mush diet for your carnivorous pet.

As a University of Pennsylvania veterinary nutritionist said in the Pet Food Institute webinar, she questions clients who want to feed "unconventional" diets, discovers what motivates their preferences, and guides them back to commercial pet foods. Failing that, she gives them a homemade diet recipe that takes a great deal of time to prepare and store. No doubt, her clients soon return to kibble and cans.

There must be pet owners with sufficient self-doubt to engage the services of these contemporary alchemists. Let's remember, however, they are not turning boneless, skinless chicken breasts into solid gold nutrition for pets, who need raw-meaty-bones. They are turning cooked chicken & rice recipes into gold for themselves and for giant pet food companies.

What is Edible Defines What Owners Will Feed Pets

One presentation in the Pet Food Institute webinar focused on pet owners' perceptions of food and how that affects what they are willing to feed pets. A lot of research has been done on cultural differences in what people consider to be food. Fried insects, sheep stomachs (Scottish hagis), and snails are examples. For some people, these items are food, for others disgusting thoughts. We are all socialized from infancy to know what our culture considers edible and what is not. The idea of eating what we define as inedible evokes nausea and disgust.

Some pet owners feed companion animals like other family members. Although they may recognize pets do not need starches and sweets, the meals they feed pets are much like their own plates of meats and vegetables. Other pet owners view carnivorous pets as different from human omnivores and honor pets by feeding an appropriate carnivore diet of meats and meaty bones. In both cases, however, what owners consider to be food directly affects their choice of food items for pets.

When I learned how much beef goes to the local landfill, because 50% of cows is not considered human food, I realized that some of these parts could be raw pet food. The USDA inspector at the local meat packing plant agreed and offered to approve some beef parts as healthy for pets only -- spleens, lungs, tracheas, esophagi, noses, ears, and tendons. With enthusiasm, the meat packing manager and I set out to popularize waste beef parts as raw pet food. I fed my own dogs spleens, lungs, tendons, tracheas, esophagi, noses, and so forth. Through Kona Raw, my local raw-meaty-bones co-op, I offered samples of these parts to pet owners free of charge.

A few pet owners tried tendons once. No one would even try to feed their pets the other beef parts, because they find them disgusting. The idea of feeding lungs, spleens, and tracheas was just too revolting, even if they recognized their pets might find them perfectly edible. Even tendons were found to be too disgusting to feed more than once, because you can see the cow's five toes that hide inside the hoof (which fascinated me -- mammalian evolution retains the basic form, even where outer adaptations have changed feet into hooves). Problem is these beef parts are not human food, and many people cannot bring themselves to feed pets foods they would not eat themselves.

Commercial raw pet food companes grind meats and bones into an unrecognizable mince. By grinding up bones, they destroy their teeth-cleaning function -- a major benefit of feeding raw-meaty-bones. That aside, by grinding up all meaty parts into an amorphous mince, they destroy the identity of the parts. More people can accept the idea of lungs, spleens, and tracheas in pet foods if they can't recognize the parts.

Green tripe is a good example of how grinding makes the food acceptable. I feed my dogs raw green tripe, cut into large hunks they have to chew. Kona Raw Co-op members feed ground tripe, but not whole tripe, because it's texture and appearance are disgusting to them.

They feed raw beef hearts and livers, because these are human foods. Spleens and lungs are not food, even though their appearances and textures are not very different from items they consider edible. Nutritionally, spleens and lungs are good organ meats and less expensive than hearts and liver. Intellectually, co-op members agree they should be able to feed spleens and lungs, but they just can't.

Tracheas are featured in Indian cuisine, but not in European or Polynesian cooking. Indian pet owners probably can bring themselves to feed their pets raw beef tracheas, whereas most Americans cannot. Cooking also helps to reduce the identifiability of parts not considered edible, although most people want to know the identity of what they eat.

The mindset required to feed pets foods we don't eat is that dogs and cats are not human family members but carnivorous pets with different dietary needs. If they could picture wolves feasting on the carcass of a cow, they would see wolves tearing open the abdomen and consuming the internal organs -- all of them. Fido and Fifi would do the same, if given an opportunity.

I have to figure out how to desensitize my fellow pet owners to raw pet foods they would not eat themselves. The probems are not intellectual or informational. Emotional reactions to food are powerful feelings that define edibles and inedibles very early in life. A more positive approach is to differentiate pets's diets from our own by categorizing pets (accurately) as carnivore species that will eagerly eat foods we would not consider edibles.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Turn Food Waste Into Good Pet Food

Most pet owners know that commercial pet foods are manufactured from human food waste. The reason Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Nestle, Heinz, and DelMonte are dominant, global pet food companies is the synergy with their human food businesses. They do not have to pay to dispose of waste from human products. They package it for pets at considerable profit.

Not all human waste products are bad for pets. 50% of each beef cow is not used for human consumption. 30 to 50% of pigs, sheep, and chickens are also considered waste. This huge amount of animal waste would overwhelm landfills and innundate agricultural communities, were it not for rendering plants that reduce animal waste to byproducts. Every part of the animal not put into the human food chain goes to the rendering plant -- skulls, brains, intestines, hooves, beaks, feathers, parts of hides, and so forth. It's all cooked into various kinds of meals, oils, and dehydrated byproducts.

Animal byproducts are the primary animal protein and fat ingredients in pet foods. Animal byproducts are regulated in the US to meet nutritional standards for protein and fat contents and to be relatively free of certain contaminants (not all pharmacuetical contaminants, however). Euthanized pets, sick and recently dead food animals, and other rejected meat sources are all part of rendered animal byproducts. Drugs used to euthanize pets and antibiotics, used with great abandon to keep livestock alive, are detected in animal byproducts -- at levels we are assured are safe for pet consumption.

Pet foods that contain animal byproducts may actually have more proteins and fats than pet foods that list "meat" as the first ingredient. Byproducts are already cooked and dehydrated before they are added to kibble. Fresh meats are mostly water that is removed in kibble cooking. A major deception in pet food labeling allows manufacturers to list products in order of weight before processing. Meats lose 75% of their weight when water is removed. If meat (or beef or chicken) is listed as a first ingredient on a pet food label, be assured there is very little meat in the kibble you buy.

Although animal byproducts in pet food are not necessarily bad nutrition, grain byproducts are truly chaff instead of wheat. Generally, waste grain products have less nutritional value than whole grains, but then grains are not good food for carnivorous pets in the first place. Cats and dogs did not evolve to digest or benefit from cooked cereals, potatoes, soy, tapioca or any other kind of starch. Starch is not an okay pet food ingredient, yet kibble is predominantly made of starches. Grain byproducts are bad pet food ingredients.

Let me suggest another way to use some animal waste as pet food: FEED IT RAW. Carnivorous pets will eat stomachs, espohagi, tracheas, spleens, lungs, and other animal parts that are not considered human food. Perhaps, 20% of food animals could be fed raw to pets.

Feeding raw animal parts to pets will not take care of all waste products that go to rendering plants, because cattle hooves, brains (remember mad cow disease), and herbivore intestines loaded with manure are not suitable raw pet foods. Certainly, euthanized pets and chicken feathers are not candidates for raw feeding. One could question if these byproducts should end up in the pet food chain at all. They will be rendered and added to dry pet foods as long as consumers do not revolt.

At least some animal parts that are currently sent to rendering plants can be safely fed raw to pets. Curiously, when investigating beef tracheas and esophagi as pet food, I found that many commercially available dog chews are made from dried beef tracheas. Since my dogs eat tracheas raw, I know how chewy they are. The Labrador retrievers love getting a whole beef trachea or esophagus. It takes at least 30 minutes for them to consume the foot-long tube and meaty end. Tracheas are more nutritious dog chews than rawhide, for sure, and even better fed raw.

My suggestion to feed more waste animal parts raw to pets could divert perhaps 20% of animal waste into much better diets for pets. Rather than cook it, treat it with chemicals, cook it again into kibble, and extrude it with starches from machines, why not feed some animal left-overs as raw-meaty-bones?

Why Not Kid Kibble?

Today I listened to a Pet Food Institute virtual conference on pet nutrition. Webinar sponsors were international manufacturers of nutrients and pet food ingredients, mostly European companies. They are proud of their contribution to pet nutrition. Since wheat and corn are the major ingredients in processed pet foods, adding minerals, vitamins, fats, and proteins is a good idea.

Acceptance of manufactured pet food as the nutritional standard for companion animals is illogical and absurd on its face. How can carnivorous pets be well-fed on cooked carbohydrates, even if the nuggets are sprayed with manufactured nutrients?

Human food manufacturers produce cereals and nutrition bars that are conceptually close to pet kibble. Many cereals and nutrition bars are advertised as nuritent rich, healthy foods. To wheat and corn bases, they add vitamins and minerals to increase the nutritional value of the food. Manufacturers promote cereals and nutrient bars as healthy -- perhaps, best considered as healthy alternatives to potato chips and candy bars.

Children are not supposed to eat processed cereals and bars at every meal, every day. Doctors, nutritionists, and grandmothers advise they also eat fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and fresh meats. Grains are only one component of an omnivore diet.

To my knowledge, no food manufacturer has had the audacity to propose that children be fed an exclusive diet of Kid Kibble. Even if reinforced with an enormous array of manufactured vitamins, minerals, and other additives, cereals are not a complete omnivore diet. Even if nutritionists showed the nutritional equivalence of Kid Kibble to a complete omnivore diet, most people would not accept grains as the only food children should eat.

So, why would we think that cooked starches are an appropriate, exclusive food for carnivorous pets? Carnivore foods are raw meats and bones. Even though wolves and dogs can survive starvation by eating some vegetable matter, the natural diet for wolves and feral dogs is whole animals. Two studies of feral dogs in African communities showed their stomach contents were 92 to 96% remains of small prey they caught. Very little vegetable matter was found. Wolves and dogs eat whole prey, unless none is available.

Pet kibble is an even more absurd concept than Kid Kibble. For omnivore children, grains are at least a natural part of their diet. For carnivore pets, grains are not a natural part of their diet, yet grains and/or other starches are the primary ingredients in the food they are fed, day in and day out. The National Research Council, which sets pet food standards, says that cats and dogs have no demonstrated need for carbohydrates at all. Yet, they approve minimally sustaining pet diets, based on grains and other starches.

It probably helps to spray pet kibble with manufactured nutrients, which by the way is a very profitable part of the pet food industry. Still, the resulting diet is a poor substitute for real food. Real food for carnivorous dogs and cats is raw-meaty-bones. Children should not be fed exclusively on Kid Kibble. Pets should not be fed kibble at all.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Evidence-Based Practice with Raw-Meaty-Bones

In medicine and in veterinary medicine, the current rallying call is for Evidence-Based Practice (EBP). EBP is supposed to replace out-of-date and intuitive practices that are based on prejudices, old-fashioned practices, and idiosyncratic ideas. EBP is accumulated evidence from the clinical experiences of many practitioners -- data that do not meet the standard of double-blind, scientific research, but provide helpful guidance where research is lacking.

One veterinary excuse to dismiss raw-meaty-bones is there is no research to show that rmb is better than manufactured foods. In an earlier blog, I explained why no research on this critical topic has been reported. Vets warn against dangers to pets from rmb -- choking, bacteria, bone splinters, broken teeth, and more (an August blog). Additional veterinary fears about rmb are bacterial infections of pet owners and their families from handling raw meats and cleaning up feces from raw-fed pets.

Well, I have an EBP to report. Personally, I have fed more than 43,600 rmb meals to 14 dogs and one cat over a period of 7 years. Actually, I fed more than 50,000 rmb meals during this period, because puppies under 6 months are fed 3 times a day, and puppies from 6 to 10-12 months are fed twice a day.

Just counting one meal/dog/day, I can report that of 43,600 occasions, when vets would predict problems from feeding rmb, I have experienced:

  • Zero broken or cracked teeth
  • Zero bacterial, digestive upsets
  • One chicken rib bone wedged across the roof of the mouth of Ben, a Papillon. Bone was removed by index finger.
  • Zero bone fragments caught in throats
  • Zero bone fragments in intestines
  • Zero trips to vet to have bones removed
  • Zero trips to vet to have dogs' teeth cleaned
  • Zero trips to vet for allergies
  • Zero trips to vet for "hot spots"
  • Zero trip to vet for obesity or any problem, other than accidents that require stitches
  • Zero personal or familial bacterial infections from handling raw meats (but we handle raw meats safely for ourselves as well)
  • Zero personal or familial bacterial infectons from cleaning up the small amounts of feces from raw-fed dogs or cleaning the cat's litter box.

As a breeder of Labrador retrievers, I have an average of 18 puppies a year. From 3 to 4 weeks of age, puppies are introduced to raw meats and soft bones. By 5 weeks of age, puppies are chewing up chicken wings and graduating to drumsticks and thighs by 6 weeks. Before they leave me at 8 to 10 weeks, puppies are chewing on meaty beef and pork bones and eating a wide variety of rmb.

My experience with more than 100 puppies fed rmb from 3 to 8 weeks of age includes approxmately 100 meals/ puppy or 10,000 puppy meals. In 10,000 rmb puppy meals, I have seen:

  • Zero choking
  • Zero bone fragments caught in throats
  • Zero bone fragments lodged in intestines
  • Zero intestinal upsets
  • Zero trips to vet to have bone fragments removed
  • Zero trips to vet for food-caused illnesses
  • Zero trips to vet for allergies
  • Zero trips to vet for "hot spots"
  • Zero personal or familial bacterial infections.

Combining rmb meals I fed to adult dogs and to puppies, my EBP is based on more than 58,000 data points. My EBP of feeding rmb says a rmb diet is not dangerous and offers far better, more species-appropriate nutrition than any other diet.

Most critical: Puppies fed rmb do not develop foul mouths and periodontal infections that affect 85% of kibble-fed dogs.

My rmb experience is repeated by tens of thousands of pet owners around the world. Millions of rmb meals are fed without problems.

Vets could pay attention to this vast amount of EBP with rmb and stop their fear-mongering. Of course, if they adopted rmb as their EBP, their kibble-and-cans business, and revenue, would fall off. Because they are thoroughly indoctrinated to recommend and sell commercial kibbles and canned mush, vets are unlikely to listen to the EBP of tens of thousands of pet owners who feed rmb.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pet Food Must Be Manufactured

Before the 20th century, and still in many parts of the world, food was grown locally and processed at home. Food was animals, vegetables, fruits, and grain products combined in recipes and cooked in the home kitchen.

Today many families' diet consists of pre-processed and precooked foods in cardboard, plastic, and foil containers. We know that packaged processed foods are not as good nutrition as fresh foods, because a lot of nutrients are lost in processing, and added preservatives that are required for long shelf-life are not necessarily good for us.

Pet food followed the same pattern. Before the 20th century, pets ate family leftovers, hunted small animals, and scavenged for themselves. Today, nearly all pets in the developed world eat pre-processed, precooked concoctions that come in cardboard, plastic, and foil containers.

To counter the 20th century move to unhealthy processed foods, physicians and dieticians urge consumers to eat fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- the essential ingredients in a human omnivore diet. They advise people to eat whole, fresh foods, not highly processed products.

Pets are not so fortunate. Veterinarians promote and sell manufactured pet foods. Most vets do not recommend fresh meats and bones for their carnivore clients. Why? The short answer is that vets are taught in school that feeding processed pet foods is the only way to assure pets will receive a "100% complete and balanced" diet. The longer answer addresses how processed pet food captured the entire veterinary enterprise.

In vet school, small animal nutrition is taught as nutrient analyses of precooked, processed, bagged and canned foods. Courses on pet nutrition are often taught by pet food company representatives. You have to understand the mindset: Pet diets are always precooked and processed, manufactured foods, never fresh ingredients to be combined at home. Pet diets do not include fresh meats and bones, because pet owners cannot be trusted to learn how to feed pets a healthy diet. Vet students learn that the most nutritious foods for pets are manufactured by Mars, Nestle-Purina, and Proctor & Gamble.

Carnivore diets are amazing easy to understand. Carnivorous wolves and cats eat WHOLE PREY. Whole prey consists of muscle meat, edible bones, and organ meats. Wolves and wild cats do not cook their food, and they do not eat vegetables or grains -- just meats and meaty bones. A healthy diet for dogs and cats consists of meaty items that can be purchased at local stores, or grown at home, if you live on a farm. Whole chickens, rabbits and small game, and hunks of meaty bones from beef, pork and lamb are a complete diet for dogs and cats.

Unfortunately, no large corporations sponsor raw-meaty-bones in veterinary schools' teaching and research. Meat purveyors do not support veterinary students. No buildings or small animal professorships are endowed by meat companies. Meat producers do not underwrite veterinary continuing education and professional meetings. Pet food manufacturers contribute tens of millions of dollars annually to fund all of these things.

Further, pet food manufacturers provide practicing vets with a major source of revenue. Vet clinic shelves are piled high with manufactured pet foods. Vet clinics do not have freezers and refrigerators stuffed with whole prey.

So, vet students are taught that manufactured foods are the only safe, healthy diet for dogs and cats. Most vets advise pet owners that commercial kibbles and canned mush are the only foods pets need for their lifetimes. Vets recommend manufactured pet foods, both because they have been taught exactly that, and because a substantial portion of their incomes depends on continuing to endorse this myth.

Somehow, I suspect that many vets know that commercial, manufactured foods are not the best pet diet, but they are trapped in a system that is competely beholden to the largesse of global pet food comanies. Not only are their own incomes dependent on pet food sales, all of their professional organizations are similarly corrupted. Individual veterinarians are not equipped intellectually or economically to fight for pets' welfare. And the major animal welfare organizations are all supported by the commercial pet food juggernaut.

Pet owners are the only group who can understand and act to feed carnivorous pets a species-appropriate diet that approximates whole prey. Instead of spending billions of dollars annually to buy manufactured foods and to pay veterinarians to treat the resulting illnesses, pet owners can spend fewer dollars to buy raw-meaty-bones. The payoff for pets will be better health and longer lives.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dogs at the Vet Office

Yesterday a friend and I took 6 adult Labrador retrievers to a veterinary office 60 miles away, because that was the only place we could meet Hawaii's only veterinary opthalmologist.

Dr. Yamagata provides CERF exams that certify breeding animals with clear eyes, an important health guarantee. Based in Honolulu, she visits Neighbor Islands every three or four months, and getting appointments for all the dogs who need her attention is a challenge. We had to travel to Kamuela for appointments.

Picture 6 eager, excited Labs on a field trip. They were delighted to visit a new vet office and to explore all the shelves of kibble in the waiting room. Keeping them in some kind of order was as hopeless as it was funny. A good time was had by all.

The only other dog waiting to see Dr. Yamagata was a pale yellow Golden retriever. We overheard the owner talking with a local vet about her dog's skin problems. He scratches and bites his skin, and he has "hot spots", she said. My friend and I looked at each other meaningfully and waited for an opportunity to tell her about the fail-safe cure for her dogs' allergy problems -- a diet of raw-meaty-bones. That opportunity never came, and she left with prescribed steroids and topical solutions. I wish I knew her name and telephone number.

Every day, probably several times a day, veterinarians are presented with dogs that itch, scratch, chew and claw at themselves. They are miserable with an overall itchiness that drives them crazy. Vets diagnose this conditon as caused by allergies, and they prescribe pharmacueticals and palliatives to reduce the inflamation. They may allude to possible seasonal or other environmental causes, or they may suggest the pet's diet as a possible cause of the problem.

If diet is a suggested cause of the pet's allergic responses, the vet will likely prescribe an elimination diet, beginning with very restricted ingredients. The suffering dog will be put on a diet of salmon & potatoes or chicken & white rice -- all cooked. Meanwhile, the dog will be prescribed prednasone, antihistamines, oatmeal baths, and other symptomatic approaches. Most unlikely is that the vet will take the dog off commercial pet food and suggest a diet of raw-meaty-bones, which would eliminate the cause of the problem and the symptoms.

If your dog or cat has allergic symptoms of itchiness and "hot spots", consider commercial pet food as the most likely cause. To eliminate his allergic response, remove the cause -- stop feeding kibble and canned mush. Give him raw-meaty-bones and see his problem disappear.

So simple, and so reasonable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gene Mapping: Opportunity to Improve Dog Breeds or to Breed Irresponsibly

I got a blast from a well-know breeder of Labrador retrievers. Turns out her line of champion Labs is riddled with PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), a recessive, single-gene trait that is unfortunately common in some breeds. Dogs with two PRA genes become blind. With the new genetic test, she knows which of her dogs are PRA carriers, and she can "safely" breed them to PRA normals and thereby avoid producing blind puppies.

The canine genotype was usefully mapped in 2004. Work on this massive project extended from 1997 and continues today. Genes for some dog diseases have been identified and located. After the PRA gene was found, a test was developed to identify dogs who carry it.

A dog with two recessive PRA genes will become blind. Carriers with one recessive PRA gene will not be blind, but they will pass on the PRA gene to half of their offspring.

Being able to identify carriers could be used to reduce the frequency of the PRA gene in dog breeds. Before the PRA test was available, PRA blind dogs were not bred, but unaffected carriers were bred by unsuspecting owners. Breeding carriers kept the gene frequency high. Now, if carriers are identified and not bred, the number of PRA genes in a breed could be rapidly reduced and eventually eliminated from the breed.

On the other hand, a test to identify carriers has given unscrupulous breeders a new tool to avoid producing PRA blind puppies by breeding their PRA carriers to PRA normals. Half of the puppies will carry on the PRA gene to the next generation, and beyond. But, no matter, they think. None of the current puppies is blind.

The excuse for breeding PRA carriers is they have other splendid breed characteristics, which is doubtless true. They win championships in the show ring, because judges cannot see the genetic liabilities of carriers. Many conformation winners are probably PRA carriers and carriers of other genetic diseases.

Conformation shows are limited to reproductively intact animals, because show dogs are supposed to be the parent stock for the next generation of the breed. Show champions are the most frequently used stud dogs, who sire hundreds of puppies and whose genes are carried to thousands of puppies in future generations. If champion stud dogs carry genetic disorders, the gene frequencies of these disorders will be increased in future generations of the breed.

The health of a breed cannot be improved until breeders use new genetic information to reduce the frequency of genetic disorders, not to increase them by breeding carriers.

Here's an idea: Dogs in conformation shows, which are held to identify the best breeding stock, must have clearances for PRA, exercise-induced collapse, identified heart, eye, kidney, and skeletal disorders, and other genetic diseases as they are identified. Carriers should not be eligible to be shown as future breeding stock, because they should not be bred.

The AKC claims to care about the health of purebred dogs. Healthy breeds are not riddled with genetic disorders. The AKC can take a proactive stance to limit conformation shows to genetically sound dogs. Even if the have staight backs, fine chests, handsome heads, and so forth, dogs who carry genes for serious genetic disorders are not a credit to the breed.

I was blasted by a well-known Labrador kennel owner for suggesting she not breed her PRA carriers. Because famous breeders, such as this jewel, have huge influence with the AKC and its stable of judges and show organizers, nothing will change. As more genetic information becomes available about serious canine disorders, that information will not be used to improve the health of dog breeds, because influential breeders' dogs carry those genetic disorders.

In my opinion, the number one priority for popular dogs, such as Labrador retrievers -- the world's most frequent breed -- has to be health. 95% of Labs are family pets. People want a sound companion, who will live a healthy life. They do not deserve to lose a cherished pet to hidden genetic disorders that show up after two, five or even 10 years. The only way to assure a healthy breed is to breed responsibly to eliminate genetic disorders.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pets' Food Allergies

I'll bet your dog and many friends' pets have had symptoms from food allergies. Signs are itchy skin, ear irritations, and hot spots. Dogs scratch sides, rub ears, chew and lick at paws for hours on end. Some dogs develop more serious symptoms from food allergies that may require steroids and antihistamines to improve. Most food allergies, however, have a simple cure -- elimination of manufactured, cooked carbohydrates and feeding a species-appropriate diet of raw meats and meaty bones.

If you bring food allergy symptoms to a veterinarian's attention, chances are you will be advised to put your dog into a months-long, ingredient elimination trial. What in the kibble you've fed daily for years, may be causing your pet's food allergies? Because kibbles are complex concoctions of grains, by-products, and preservatives -- any one of which could cause your pet distress -- the process of eliminating one ingredient for a week at a time, will consume months of your time and your pet's suffering.

Eventually, your pet may be put on a limited ingredient, prescription diet the vet sells. Not only is the diet expensive, it will make your poor pet sicker in the long run.

What if you simply gave your pet a raw-meaty-bones diet -- no kibble, no canned mush, no prescription crud? Guess what? His food allergy symptoms will disappear within days.

Lots of ingredients in kibble and canned mush can cause your pet's allergic responses. Cooked carbohydrates are not a natural diet for carnivorous pets, and they prompt their immune systems to react. Symptoms of itchiness, hot spots, and ear irritation are immune responses to inappropriate foods.

Many pet owners have told me about their dogs' allergies and veterinarians' approach to the dogs' symptoms -- steroids, antihistamines, and dietary restriction. Now the dog is on a exclusive cooked rice and cooked chicken diet. Allergic symptoms improved, but the dog is listless, coat is dull, and he seems sick. Well, yes, he probably is sick, as sick as you would be if your diet was restricted to two foods, one of which is species-inappropriate, and both of which are inappropriate prepared.

Many pet owners are afraid to switch their dogs' diets to RMB, because they have spent months and years trying to reduce allergic reactions to earlier foods. Now the dog is not scratching and chewing himself raw, but he doesn't seem happy or healthy. The vet admonishes the pet owner to keep the poor dog on this prescribed diet, advising that this state is the best the suffering dog can achieve.

The veterinary approach to pet food allergies is based on their training to look at ingredients and partial nutrients in manufactured foods. They have not been taught the benefits of species-appropriate foods and the cures appropriate diets produce in allergic pets. A good diet prevents pet diseases and often cures those sickened by an inappropriate diet. Given the high frequency of food allergies in their practices, one could think vets' advice is criminal neglect of the obvious solution.

For more information on food allergies and raw-meaty-bones, visit and read Tom Lonsdale, Work Wonders: Feed Raw Meaty Bones, available from

Doggie Breath = Infected Gums

When she came to pick up her order, a Kona Raw co-op member told me she was surprised at what the raw-meaty-bones diet did for her dog. She was amazed that he no longer has "doggie" breath. She said she was used to adult dogs having that familiar, unpleasant breath odor and was amazed he no longer had it.

Like most people, she fed her dog kibble for his whole lifetime, until she discovered the health benefits of RMB. Gnawing on meaty bones had cleaned his teeth, allowed his gums to become healthy, so his breath now had a sweet, healthy smell.

An amazing story comes from a police officer with a drug-sniffing dog. The local police department uses Labrador retrievers to sniff for illegal drugs at the airport, in shipping facilities, and in suspected drug-dealers' residences. Research shows that dental plaque and gum disease reduce dogs' ability to smell. When I showed the officer a research study, she immediately started her dog on an RMB diet. Within two weeks, his breath smelled better, and his gums were less inflamed. Within a month, the dog's mouth was repaired, and his scenting ability was back to normal.

Trained police dogs are expensive investments (cost = $8,000 to $15,000). They receive excellent veterinary care, except vets don't know what to do about foul mouths, because all their kibble-fed patients have it. Annual cleanings under anesthesia do not prevent foul mouths.

The fact that pet owners recognize that foul smell as familiar "doggie" breath says we accept the inevitablity of dogs' developing diseased mouths. Diseased mouths are inevitable for pets fed kibble and canned mush. Even if owners get their pets teeth cleaned annually by a veterinarian (at about $250 to $300 per cleaning), the infection process begins again with the next junk pet food meal.

Accepting "doggie" breath as normal in adult dogs is like accepting rotting teeth and infected gums in ourselves. No, you say, of course, we don't accept bad breath, rotting teeth, and infected gums in ourselves! We clean our teeth daily or more often by brushing and flossing. Exactly, and your dog cannot brush or floss his teeth unless you give him Nature's tooth brush -- raw-meaty-bones.

Veterinarians pass responsibility for pets' foul mouths to owners, by mandating daily brushing of pets' teeth and by approving, and selling, manufactured dental products. The American Veterinary Dental Association has a panel of experts that review and approve various kibbles, treats, and chews that allegedly retard the development of periodontal disease. Greenies, rawhide chews, and kibble formulae with grittier textures are supposed to help, but they are inadequate solutions to the massive problem of poor pet dental health.

Veterinary dental experts know that raw-meaty-bones clean wild canids' and felines' teeth. Wolves and wild cats do not suffer from foul mouths until they are very old, very ill, and ready to die. Dogs and cats suffer from periodontal disease from puppyhood, because they do not have raw-meaty-bones to clean their teeth, as Nature intended.

Foul mouth "doggie" breath is no more normal for pets than it would be for you. "Doggie" breath is the sign of a diseased mouth.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why We Can't Study Kibble Effects, When All Dogs Eat Kibble

A friend who read the preceding post said it was (1) boring and (2) confusing. Evidently, I failed to make the scientific points interesting and clear. Let me try again. The key is variation in both predictor and outcome measures.

Let's agree that lack of sufficient amounts of calcium causes rickets, or bone malformations, in developing children.

Let's suppose we study the effects of calcium on rickets in a dairy-rich population. When children are weaned, their diet includes milk, cheese, eggs, and other calcium-rich foods. No rickets is found. We can't study rickets in this population, because all children receive calcium-rich diets and there are no cases of rickets. There is no variation in diet predictors and no variation in the rickets' outcome measure.

Now let's consider the same study in a malnouished population with calcium-poor diets and universal evidence of rickets. Again, the study will fail to show any connection between dietary calcium and rickets, because there is no variation in predictor diets and no variation in rickets' outcomes.

A meaningful study of a causal link between dietary calcium and rickets requres variation in both the predictor diets and outcome rickets. We need a population in which some individuals have calcium-rich diets and some don't and where some children have rickets and some don't. Then we can measure rickets and see if there is an association with amount of calcium in their diets.

That brings me back to kibble. When more than 90% of the pet population is fed exclusively on manufactured foods, it is impossible to show that these foods cause the many chronic dseases pets suffer in the kibble-fed pet population. There is no variation in the predictor diet, so there can be no association with chronic disease outcomes. No one can find the association between commercial pet foods and illness in a pet population that is fed exclusively on kibble.

To study the harmful effects of a kibble diet, we need a pet population in which some individuals are fed varied fresh foods, some are fed raw-meaty-bones, and some are fed kibble diets. Then, we can look for associations between diet and health. Unfortunately, this hypothetical population of pets with a variety of diets does not exist.

Every day in their clinics, veterinarians see cases of chronic diseases, cancers, and immune-system disorders. They don't connect these diseases with kibble diets, because all these dogs, and others in their practices that are not yet ill, are fed kibble. Diet is not a variable, so it is not associated with diseases in their clinic population.

If vets saw a lot of dogs that are fed raw-meaty-bones, they would see shiny teeth, healthy gums, and robust good health. But they don't see raw-fed dogs, because they seldom need veterinary attention.

Bottom line is there is no association between diet and health in populations where more than 90% of pets are fed kibble. Only when altenative diets are sufficiently numerous to create dietary variance will the association of kibble with ill health be found.

Kibble Can't Cause Illnesses When All Pets Eat Kibble

Here comes a scientific lesson that may be an A'HA experience.

Suppose that wheat gluten causes allergies in people (and it does cause allergies in some). Suppose that 100% of the population studied consumed the same amount of wheat gluten every day. We want to determine causes of allergies in this population. We look for differences between those who have allergies and those that don't. Even though wheat gluten is the cause of allergies in some members of this population, we won't find it, because consumption of wheat gluten does not vary in this population. Constants cannot be detected as causes of differences.

Instead, we find that the observed allergies run in families, that allergic parents are more likely to have affected children than non-allergic parents. Thus, the study will find that allergies are due to genetic differences among individuals, which is also true. Individuals do vary genetically in susceptibility to most or all major illnesses, but they do not become ill unless exposed to the illness-producing agent. We will not find the major culprit, wheat gluten, because there was no variation among individuals in the consumption of wheat gluten. To find the culprit, wheat gluten, we need to study a population in which consumption varies.

Even in a population where wheat consumption varies, there is a problem: Amount of wheat gluten consumed may be negatively correlated with allergic responses to it -- people who get sick from eating breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, etc.. are likely to consume less of these foods. We may find that people with allergies in this population eat less wheat gluten, not more. Based on the correlation between lower wheat gluten consumption and more allergies, some (scientifically ignorant) investigators might recommend that allergic people eat more wheat gluten.

Now let's look at pet disorders. More than 90% of dogs today are fed exclusively on commercial kibbles -- the same cooked carbohydrates at every meal for years on end. Even though kibble causes most canine diseases (and it does), studies of dog illnesses will not find kibble to be a cause, because there is too little diet variation in the population to be detected as a cause of illnesses. Even though cooked starches are the major cause of dogs' illnesses, the only differences between sick and not-yet-sick animals are genetic differences and non-dietary environmental differences. Effects of the culprit kibble cannot be found when all animals eat kibble.

It is easy to imagine how good studies of dietary effects on canine heath would be designed. For one, let's gather health data on three diet groups: (1) commercial kibble, (2) home-cooked BARF, and (3) raw-meaty-bones. We start with puppies at weaning and assign them randomly to one of the three diet conditions. For at least two years, and preferably longer, at frequent intervals we measure a variety of growth, behavioral, and health outcomes. Puppies are brought to a data collection site, where data collectors are blind to their diet assignment. Unlike people, dogs do not have hypotheses about their feeding conditions, so a single blind study is probably sufficient. At the end of data collection, we sort the measurements into the three diet groups and look at how well or poorly dogs fed on different diets scored.

Another study could sample existing groups of raw-fed, BARF-fed, and kibble-fed dogs, with histories of prior feeding documented. Histories could include the feeding background of the dogs' parents to detect trans-generational effects. Doubtless, there would be differences among the groups, other than feeding practices, such as amount of exercise, grooming, human contact, and so forth -- all of which could have health implications. Using naturally occuring groups to study the effects of dietary differences requires a sophisticated statistical approach to control for other differences that will occur, but the evidence against kibble diets may be so overwhelming, it is impossible to explain away with other "causes".

Such studies are "not rocket science" but a run-of-the-mill, scientific approach to a $15 billion a year question about the harm done to pets' health by commercial pet foods. Do you wonder why such straight-forward studies have not been done? Two problems: Funding and finding investigators. Pet food companies fund pet nutritional research, but they would not fund a study to compare their kibble concoctions with raw-meaty-bones or even home-cooked BARF diets. They already know kibble is a bad diet for pets, which is why they keep tweaking its nutrients and textures. Veterinary research investigators are so indebted to the pet food industry for research support, they are unlikely to risk that support and their careers to conduct such studies. So, without veterinary collaboration and funding, honest pet diet studies are not done.

An important aside: kibble fed animals are the baseline for all pet research studies. When dogs with infected mouths and long-term stressed immune systems are included as healthy subjects in a study of bowel or heart disorders, how valid can the results be?

So, what implications can we draw from this lesson in scientific follies? If you want to know what effects a junk-food diet has on human health, you'd better find a population that varies in its consumption of such foods. Very few people today eat only the recommended diet of fresh fuits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, so junk foods probably do not get as bad a rap as they should. If you want to assess the effects of kibble on pets' health, you need a population that includes a substantial percentage of non-kibble eaters -- virtually impossible to find in developed countries today. Experiments and small scales studies of naturally-occuring diet variation can be designed and conducted, but they won't be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Medicine's Public Scandals = Veterinary Medicine's Shameful Secrets

In 2008, three new books revealed how the esteemed medical establishment actually works. All three (1) explored the profitable alliances among medical schools, teaching hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies that distort the teaching, research and practice of medicine.

In brief, billions of dollars of drug company profits are invested in seducing medical students with gifts, free meals, free samples, and chummy visits to their schools. Many studies show that, when they graduate, their prescribing practices with patients are heavily influenced by relationships with drug companies, forged during their training.

More billions of dollars of drug company profits are invested in medical research to win approval for new drugs and to extend the uses of existing drugs. Too often drug companies design the studies, conduct the analyses, and report favorable results, simultaneously supressng any negative outcomes. Medical researchers' role is merely to obtain patient participants and gather data, which drug company employees spin to their advantage. Negative studies, even those reported to the FDA during a drug's approval process, are never published.

Pharmacuetical companies recruit leading medical educators at leading medical schools and pay them millions of dollars in consulting fees to promote drugs under development and to promote other uses for drugs previously approved. This obvious conflict of interest is receiving congressional attention, and new legislation may result.

Pharmacuetical companies are major sponsor of continuing medical education, which is required for most physicians to maintain their licenses. Too often CE credits are awarded for indoctrination into alleged benefits of drug company products.

In January 2009, Marcia Angell, MD, longtime editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote a stinging essay on the medical morass, of which few Americans are aware (New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009).

"No one knows the total amount provided by drug companies to physicians, but I estimate from the annual reports of the top nine US drug companies that it comes to tens of billions of dollars a year. By such means, the pharmaceutical industry has gained enormous control over how doctors evaluate and use its own products. Its extensive ties to physicians, particularly senior faculty at prestigious medical schools, affect the results of research, the way medicine is practiced, and even the definition of what constitutes a disease."

Commercial interests in drugs, medical devices, and other treatment modalities have insinuated themselves into medical training, research and practice to such an extent, the credibility of medicine is at stake.

"A few decades ago, medical schools did not have extensive financial dealings with industry, and faculty investigators who carried out industry-sponsored research generally did not have other ties to their sponsors. But schools now have their own manifold deals with industry and are hardly in a moral position to object to their faculty behaving in the same way. A recent survey found that about two thirds of academic medical centers hold equity interest in companies that sponsor research within the same institution. A study of medical school department chairs found that two thirds received departmental income from drug companies and three fifths received personal income."

A medical student organization has protested for a decade the undue influence of pharmacuetical companies on their training, medical research, and the practice of medicine. Just now are their protests about massive conflicts of interest in medicine coming to public attenton.

So, what do these relevations about medicine's corruption imply for veterinary medicine? Same issues, smaller enterprise.

Pharmacuetical companies spend millions to seduce veterinary students, pay faculty consulting fees, sponsor research that favors their products, and distort how veterinarians prescribe drugs and treat pet illnesses. Differences are the size of the enterprise and the patient population. The veterinary establishment is a fraction the size of the medical goliath, and patients are pets, whose legal worth is small, compared to human patients. Keep in mind, however, that 75% of the antibiotics prescribed in the US are for livestock, so drug companies have financial reasons to influence veterinary medicine.

Unlike physicans, veterinarians profit from additional conflicts of interest. Physicians are prohibited by law from selling or profiting from the sale of drugs, medical devices, laboratory tests, infant formula, and baby foods. Veterinarians make substantial profits from selling the drugs they prescribe, selling medical devices they recommend, requiring expensive in-house laboratory tests, and selling pet foods they stock in their clinics.

For veterinary medicine, pet food is the BIG ONE. Although it is impossible to get accurate numbers, it appears from my examination of finacial data from several veterinary schools that pet food companies contribute more millions of dollars to veterinary schools, conferences, and continuing education than even pharmacuetical companies do.

Giant pet food companies, such as Colgate-Palmolive (Hill's), Proctor & Gamble (Iams, Eukanuba), Mars (Pedigree, Royal Canin), and Nestle-Purina (Purina) sell $15 billion of pet food in the USA alone. Because these are global companies, their worldwide sales totaled more than $50 billion in 2008. These pet food giants, second-tier players, such as Nutro and Heinz, and wannabes, such as American Pet Brands (see Blog September 2009) invest millions of dollars annually to influence veterinary education, research and practice -- from the cradles of new vet students to the graves of millions of pets.

Just as medicine is dominated by the disease model (treat sickness, not promote health), so has veterinary medicine sold its soul to manufactured diets and treating the illnesses they create. Physicians and veterinarians are not paid to keep patients healthy; they are paid to treat illnesses with phamacueticals and, in the case of vets, with presription diets that often make pets even sicker. In both medical and veterinary schools, students are taught molecular biology, pharmacology, and diagnoses of diseases. They are not taught how to keep patients healthy.

Fortunately, for people there are countervailing voices to promote health through diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately for pets, there are only pet food ads that promise health and create chronic illnesses.

The collusion of pet food and pharmacuetical companies to distort veterinary education, research, and practice will eventually be exposed, just as the medical establishment is currently under public attack for gross conflicts of interest. But who will speak for pets and their owners?

To their everlasting shame, the major animal welfare organizations are equally compromised by reliance on pet food company dollars to fund their activities, so they cannot be counted on to expose lies about manufactured pet foods. The American Kennel Club is a particularly egregious example of selling out to commercial interests, to the detriment of dogs' health and welfare (See Blog in August). The few veterinarians who oppose pet diets of kibbles and canned mush are marginalized and ineffectual to fight the veterinarian-pet food alliance.

Change may come from grassroot pet owners, who realize their cherished pets are being sickened by the "100% complete and balanced" foods their vets recommend and sell. That's my story. On the Internet they may find rawfeeding groups and raw pet food purveyors (who miss the boat on the importance of food texture to clean teeth and keep mouths healthy). Perhaps, they will find books and advice on how to feed species-appropriate diets.

It is outrageous that veterinarians promote the very foods that make pets sick -- perhaps unwittingly, because they have been indoctinated to trust manufactured diets. Surely, as they have seen so many cancers and chronic diseases in their practices, many vets have recognzed the connection to manufactured pet foods. But where are they? I am afraid they are paying off their vet school debts by selling Iams and Hill's prescription diets.

Corruption and conflicts-of-interest in veterinary medicine are begging for exposure, if we can find enough people to care.

(1) Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial by Alison Bass, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 260 pp., $24.95

Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs
by Melody Petersen, Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 432 pp., $26.00

Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness by Christopher Lane, Yale University Press, 263 pp., $27.50; $18.00 (paper)