MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Why I Turned to a Raw/Whole Food Diet for My Dogs

When Maggie, our black Labrador retriever, was diagnosed with a cancerous mast cell tumor at age 8, I was in shock as most of us are when we receive a cancer diagnosis regarding our pets. Maggie’s vet warned me that mast cell cancer recurrence was very common.  I was determined to find answers, improve her health, her quality of life, and do whatever I could to avoid another mast cell cancer. This led me into research about canine nutrition and the commercial pet food industry. I’d like to share with you some of my discoveries from Chapter 9 in my book, and what prompted me to change from dog food to a raw food diet.

Abbreviated Excerpt from Chapter 9: “What’s Really Best for Our Pets?” 

 "With our world rocked, I begin exploring new directions …

 I discover some eye-opening facts about diet. We have the difficult realization that we didn’t provide Maggie with the healthiest diet during these eight years. We were taught … that dog food was nutritionally balanced, and table food was not good for animals. We fed her a popular brand, recommended by most veterinarians. I learn it contains chemical preservatives, and much of its protein comes from grain rather than meat sources … The dog food industry representatives educate veterinarians about their foods in much the same way that pharmaceutical representatives educate physicians, … and nurse practitioners about new drugs …

What I discover about the dog food industry and its practices is nothing short of appalling.

…many pet foods contain inadequate quantities and qualities of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Most labels only list the amount of crude protein…Many manufacturers use inexpensive sources such as poultry feathers, fecal waste, and horse and cattle hair that provide pets with significantly less usable protein. Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids added to pet food are often destroyed by heat processing and during shelf storage.

Another shock was learning that the pet food industry is built on remnants rejected by the human food industry. This can mean slaughterhouse wastes such as spoiled meats and even tissues riddled with cancer. These discards also include moldy grains and rancid fats.

... I research further into problems associated with just one of the above discards—moldy grains. I learn they can produce mycotoxins, the poisonous residues of mold deterioration. These are very potent compounds that cause a variety of human and animal health problems at very low dosages. Aflatoxin, one of several mycotoxins, is a potent carcinogen and immunosuppressant … Grains often affected include corn, peanuts, wheat, and rice, all of which are used in various dog foods …

Dr. Gordon’s words from our follow-up visit still ring in my ears and are
incredulous to me. “Why are you going to change her diet? She’s done so well on it all these years.”

How can she overlook a possible link between Maggie’s cancer and her nutrition? Even human Western medicine is relating diet to cancer and other diseases.

There is no question that we are going to change Maggie’s diet …

Dr. Rupp spends a good hour with me during that first visit discussing the ingredients and proper proportions of a raw food diet ...

The diet change is worth the trouble. It adds energy and exuberance to Maggie’s already abundant supply. Her coat develops a shine and luster that becomes the topic of many conversations with people she stops in their tracks. After eight years of constant shedding, it just suddenly stops…I’m sad to admit that during her eight years of eating a well-known and highly recommended brand of dog food, Maggie’s coat was dull and she shed continually.

Recover Maggie does. Her quality of life surpasses her pre-surgery level. She maintains her new energy level. We are all about to enter the best times of our lives together. Oh, and Maggie never has a mast cell tumor recurrence."

 © 2001  MAGGIE the dog who changed my life. Reproduction in whole or in part of this excerpt must credit the author and book title. 

Many dry dog foods are high in carbohydrate

Since that first raw food diet for Maggie, I have learned and adapted the diet for Chloe and Maddie, our dogs we adopted after Maggie. I increased the meat and decreased the carbohydrate content. Unlike cats, dogs are omnivores, but they’re primarily carnivores. Above all, dogs need protein. 

Dry dog foods are high in carbohydrate and low in protein--the complete opposite! The first ingredient in many veterinarian-recommended and grocery store brands of dry dog food is corn, a grain that may be difficult to digest for dogs. Some holistic vets feel that the wheat gluten in many canned pet foods may cause diseases in dogs and cats similar to gluten-related problems that some humans experience.
The natural diet of dogs, like cats, contains little carbohydrate. 

Get ready for this statement from the veterinary textbook, Canine and Feline Nutrition: "The fact that dogs and cats do not require carbohydrate is immaterial because the nutrient content of most commercial foods include carbohydrates." (From the article "Do Dogs and Cats Need Grains”) 

Wow ... sad statement, isn't it?

A grain-based diet promotes insulin production along with other inflammatory chemicals. In addition to weight gain, this can lead to diabetes and other health problems. In retrospect, it is no mystery that Maggie struggled with weight gain despite not eating a lot. On her raw food diet, she lost 7 pounds and maintained her new weight.

All dog food is processed, even healthier brands, which means fewer nutrients than whole foods offer. If you’re unable to feed a raw diet to your dog, there are higher quality dog food choices available through natural pet food stores. Read the labels! Pick a brand high in meat (a specific meat like chicken, salmon, or turkey as the first ingredient, or a specific meat meal like chicken—not “meat” meal) and low in carbohydrates (or grain-free); and without meat by-products, which are parts derived from slaughtered mammals other than meat. By-products can include but are not limited to organs, blood, bone, stomach, intestines, and fatty tissue. Although some by-products would be consumed by a dog in the wild, they’d also get all the meat from an animal they ate. Meat by-products as a steady canine diet are a poor source of protein.

I encourage you to educate yourselves on feeding a properly balanced whole/raw food diet to your dogs/pets if you decide to switch from dog food or cat food. I consulted with a holistic vet to help me with nutrient balance and supplements for Maggie, Chloe, and Maddie. Like Maggie after taking her off of dog food, Maddie's shiny black coat is a conversation piece with most people we interact with when we are out and about!

Posted By:
Dawn Kairns  
Author of MAGGIE the dog who changed my life
2009 Indie Book Awards Finalist
DWAA 2008 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award Finalist


retriever farm said...

Nice post. I totally agree with the natural homemade diet if people spend the time and effort to do it right. I actually cook for my dogs sometimes, but unfortunately do not have the time to do it all the time. Something I hope to change in the future. Just a couple points. They have determined there is a genetic link in mast cell tumors, the research was done on labradors. They are hoping to identify the marker soon so genetic testing can be performed on breeding stock. Also one point on choosing a processed food. Just because the label reads chicken or beef first on the ingredient list does not mean that the food contains the most of that protien source. Most foods will also list other protien sources after that. Let's take chicken breast for example. The breast is weighed prior to processing giving it a higher weight than after it has been dehydrated and ground into the dry dog food kibble. As for things like by product meal it is already in dry ground form so even thought it may weigh less making it rank lower in the ingredient list there is actually more of it present in the food than the chicken breast. Point is research your foods carefully. BTW I lost my first lab to mast cell, and my second lab had it when he was 7 and it reocurred when he was 9 and had spread, but he lived on low dose pred for over 1 year before he died of something totally unrelated. It is a horrible disease.

Dawn Kairns, Author of MAGGIE said...

Lisa, thank you very much for sharing that a genetic link has been found with mast cell tumors. Interesting that the research was done on labradors. That will be so helpful when they identify the marker.

It's good what you brought out about the by-product meal -- that because of being dry, it can actually be more abundant than the first ingredient listed, chicken breast in your example. All the more reason not to pick a processed food with ANY by-products listed. The same, of course, is true with a specific meat meal. If chicken breast is listed as the first ingredient, and chicken meal as the second, there may be more protein present from the chicken meal than the chicken breast. But that's fine, because it's all actual meat we're talking about in that case.

Thanks so much for sharing your valuable and useful information.