medical writing and editing for the animal health community
veterinary medical communications
Imagine if going to the grocery store to shop for yourself and your family was just a matter of going to the human-food aisle and selecting from the range of different flavors of dry or canned food: beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish...
(Come to think of it, I’ve stood behind people in the checkout line whose shopping carts were piled high with boxes and bags and cans of processed human-food, with no fresh food in their carts at all...)
Even if such foods were "nutritionally complete and balanced," as is the absurd claim on most dry and canned pet-foods, what are the chances that you’d stay healthy for life on such a diet, processed to have a shelf life of months or years, and never eating any fresh foods whatsoever? Certainly, one can survive on such a diet; astronauts do. But thrive? No.
Then, what on earth makes us think that dogs and cats can?
The simple truth is that most can't. I say "most" because you will come across animals who, despite such an unwholesome diet, seem to do OK. But in my experience, these individuals represent a triumph of good genes over bad diet. Or, as is most often the case, they just haven't lived long enough yet. For the most part, it’s young dogs who still look good on these artificial diets. And if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re not without diet-related problems after all.
Old too early, gone too soon
In veterinary medicine, 8 years is commonly accepted as the age at which dogs are considered to be “seniors” or geriatric, although it varies somewhat with breed (and mostly with body size). For a species whose average life span should be 15 or 16 years at least, that’s too early! It’s like saying that humans should be considered geriatric in their forties. Perhaps that was true at one time (and it remains true in the minds of teenagers), but now that I’m AARP-eligible, I object!
At first, I thought that this (to me) premature categorization of senior or geriatric was no more than a marketing ploy by the business experts and corporations who have insinuated themselves into veterinary medicine. Perhaps that’s part of it. It certainly helps a practice’s bottom line to talk owners of older dogs into running a “senior panel” of blood and urine tests every year, whether or not it’s medically indicated. (Seldom do the results of these tests change anything.)
But as I thought about it some more and looked more carefully, I realized that dogs on the typical dog-food diets are indeed starting to break down and show signs of the customarily age-related diseases by 8 years of age, often much earlier. And sadly, many are dying before they even make it into their ‘teens.
Diet and disease
The science of aging has revealed some common threads to the conditions we typically think of as age-related: arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth and gum (periodontal) disease, cataracts, senility, and cancer. Even just “slowing down as we age” is better understood at the molecular level.
Accumulation of oxidative damage and altered proteins and fats known as advanced glycation endproducts (AGE; how apt!) contribute to a state of chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunction which underpins these diseases. (More on AGEs in Chapter 4, on how cooking changes food.) This damage is diet-related, in that a healthy diet of species-appropriate, fresh foods can limit and even counteract it, and an unhealthy diet accelerates it.
But the problem many of us have with making this connection between diet and disease is that the consequences of an unhealthy diet often are insidious. There’s usually a lag between when the dog (or the human) starts on the bad diet and when signs of disease first appear. Sometimes that lag can be years-long, so the connection isn’t as obvious as it is with the typical case of food allergy or food poisoning.
Even so, my experience with Miss Lilly and with various domestic animal species in my work as a veterinarian supports the connection between bad diet and poor health—and its opposite: good diet and better health. Often, just improving the diet can be enough to improve the animal’s health and well-being.
Feeding dogs well
Scads of books and articles have been written about feeding dogs, and yet myths and misconceptions about how to feed dogs abound. Perhaps the most pernicious is that it’s beyond the ability of the average person to do it well. I hear this concern often from dog owners who’d like to be making their dog’s food but are too afraid to even try, for fear of getting it wrong.
Let me relieve you of that notion right now. Feeding dogs well is not rocket science. If it were, then dogs would have died out long ago. You don't need a degree in nutrition to feed yourself and your family well. The same is true about feeding your dog. You simply need to understand a few basic principles, and go from there.
Given how much information is available already, I thought what might be most useful is for me to tell you how I feed my own dog, Miss Lilly.
Copyright © Christine M. King, 2014. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1. Dogs are carnivores
Chapter 2. Carnivores eat the entire animal
Chapter 3. The more variety, the better
Chapter 4. Carnivores eat their prey raw
Chapter 5. Carnivores are meal-feeders
Appendix A: Recipes
Appendix B: Blogging Miss Lilly
I have a bookmark beside my computer which shows a tapestry of a flying chicken. On it is a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “...great boldness is seldom without some absurdity.” I don’t know how bold this book is, but it’s very likely not without some absurdity.
I wrote it in answer to the many questions I've gotten from dog owners about how to feed their dogs, and it represents my current understanding of canine nutrition, my clinical experience with dogs (and cats) on fresh-food diets, and my practical experience with home-making food for my own dog. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive textbook on canine nutrition nor medical advice of any kind; it’s simply about how I feed my dog and why, and what I’ve learned along the way.
No doubt, there are still some inconsistencies and downright absurdities in it, despite careful editing. For that, I beg your indulgence. As I tell my clients: don’t listen to me, listen to your dog; your dog is the best authority on what your dog needs. And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Feeding Miss Lilly
on feeding dogs a great, nature-inspired diet
by Dr. Christine King
Anima Books, 2014
softcover, 7.5x9.25 in., 140 pages
Currently unavailable - undergoing revision.