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.
"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."
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!
Author of MAGGIE the dog who changed my life
DWAA 2008 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award Finalist