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Diet and Supplements: It All Starts Here

As a holistic veterinarian, I take the time to review all aspects of a patient’s lifestyle and health care. Many of my clients are “first-timers,” coming to me for either a second opinion, for help with a chronic problem that conventional medicine has not solved for them, or (ideally) with a new pet that they want to raise as “naturally” as possible. As part of my evaluation, I take the time to discuss the pet’s diet and any supplements the pet might currently be taking. When it’s time for me to detail my treatment (or disease prevention) plan, recommending the proper diet and supplements is high on my list of health care priorities. In fact, feeding the proper diet and using the correct supplements are so important to my health care plan that these 2 areas of pet care each have their own separate week in my book, 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog.

While many doctors often overlook diet and supplements, I believe they are critical to any health care plan. Truthfully, feeding the proper diet and using the proper supplements are 2 easy parts of a health care plan that owners can control and follow. In this article, I’ll highlight some of the things you need to know about diet and supplements to help you get started on your own health care plan.


When it comes to diet, you really have 2 choices. First, you can prepare food at home. About 25% of my clients make food for their pets, either a raw diet or a cooked diet. There are some great homemade diets in my book, The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats (Prima.)

The other 75% of my clients choose to feed one of several brands of food I recommend to maintain health and fight off disease. The choice is of course up to you. If you choose to use a prepared food, it’s important to know what you’re feeding. Learning to read the pet food label will help you decide if the food is a good, wholesome diet for your pet. I suggest you use the guidelines presented in the following table when making your decision. Since your pet really is what he or she eats, and since everything else a veterinarian does builds upon a solid foundation of a good diet, try to find the best diet possible for your pet!

Here are some guidelines to help you learn some of the ingredients that you may find in your pet’s food. These definitions are adapted from the AAFCO definitions as explained in my award-winning book, The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats.


Preservatives to Try and Avoid if Possible:

  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) is a chemical preservative and antioxidant that, while listed as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) in low concentrations, may cause allergic reactions and affect liver and kidney functions.
  • BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) is a preservative and antioxidant that is also listed as GRAS but may cause liver and kidney problems.
  • Ethylenediamine is a solvent, urinary acidifier, and color promoter that can irritate the skin and mucus membranes and may cause asthmatic reactions and allergic skin rashes.
  • Sodium metabisulphite, another chemical preservative, has caused weakness, loss of consciousness, difficulty swallowing, and brain damage in people.
  • Sugar, sorbitol, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol are used as preservatives and sweeteners that may contribute to diabetes and obesity.
  • Ethoxyquin is a preservative, rubber hardener, insecticide, and pesticide. Depending upon the dosage it may prevent cancer or cause cancer.


Food Terms You Must Know:

Clean flesh from slaughtered animals (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs) limited to skeletal muscle or muscle found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus, with or without accompanying fat, sinew, skin, nerve, and blood vessels. This can be from any animal species such as pigs, goats, rabbits and so forth. If meat is of a descriptive name (example, chicken,) it must correspond to that species (if the label says chicken, the meat should be chicken and not another animal species.)

Meat meal (e.g., lamb meal):
Rendered (a process where the fat and water are removed) mammal tissue without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It can contain meat from "4D" animals (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled,) which comes from animals condemned for human consumption. However, meat meal can also come from dehydrated meat (meat without the water content) and can be of high quality (some manufacturers of higher quality natural dog and cat foods make their own meal,) making this designation somewhat nebulous and confusing. As a rule, it should be avoided unless you contact the manufacturer to find out what exactly is in the "meat meal."

Meat and bone meal:
Rendered (fat and water removed) mammal tissue including bone without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. This is a by-product with variable amounts of meat and bone (differing between batches) and variable protein quality. Like meat meal, it can contain meat from 4D animals (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled,) which comes from animals condemned for human consumption.

Meat by-product:
Nonrendered (contains fat and water) clean parts other than meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomachs and intestines freed of contents. Meat by-products cannot contain hair, horns, teeth, and hoofs. While this protein source may be more wholesome than meat meal or meat and bone meal (since it comes from nonrendered tissue and from slaughtered animals rather than from carcasses of already dead animals,) there is no way to tell by reading the label how much of which "by-products" are included in the food. Once again contacting the manufacturer is needed to determine what is contained in the meat by-product. Sometimes the by-product is healthy organ meat (liver,) and sometimes it might simply be intestines (not so healthy.)


Similar definitions apply to poultry (any type of fowl):

Animal by-product meal:
Rendered mammal tissue without added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. This definition is used to cover tissue products that do not meet other definitions and is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.

Here are a couple of final points to consider regarding the type of food you feed your pet.

The diet should contain minimal or no "by-products."

Chemical preservatives and additives really have no place in your pet's healthy diet. Instead, look for food with natural preservatives such as vitamin E and C.

The type of protein used in your pet's food, beef, chicken, or lamb, really makes no difference to the pet. And despite advertisements to the contrary, "lamb and rice" diets are not hypoallergenic and offer no special benefits to the pet.

Slowly introduce your pet to the better, healthier diet. I recommend adding about 10-20% each week (and decreasing by 10-20% the amount of the former diet) until your pet is eating the new diet and is not showing digestive upsets (vomiting or diarrhea) that may occur if the food is switched suddenly.


I believe that every diet can be improved with the addition of high quality supplements. I begin every pet health plan, whether treating a specific condition or simply starting a health maintenance/disease prevention program on a healthy patient, with a good health maintenance formula. The specific formula I use, Vim & Vigor by PetCentrx contains the vitamins and minerals your pet requires. It also contains colostrum (to support the immune system,) coenzyme Q-10 (a potent antioxidant that also supports the immune system and supports healthy teeth and gums, the heart, and is one of many supplements useful in treating cancer,) enzymes such as amylase, protease, and cellulase that improve your pet’s digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet, glucosamine (necessary to support normal joint function,) Siberian ginseng (which helps your pet adapt to various stressors,) and L-tryptophan (an amino acid included in the evening dose which helps ensure restful sleep.) This is my basic supplement, and I add others as dictated by a variety of factors, such as the age of the pet, wholesomeness of the diet, breed of the pet, and presence of disease. Additional supplements I commonly add to the diets of my patients include omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils, designed to reduce inflammation in the body,) choline, and antioxidants (great for decreasing damage to cells caused by aging or toxins.)

Feeding the proper diet and using the best supplement for your pet are so important in fighting disease as much as trying to prevent or minimize health care problems. There is no one best diet or supplement for every pet. Veterinary medicine is as much an art as a science. By carefully talking with each owner and evaluating each pet as an individual, I can recommend the best combination of diet and supplements for each patient.



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