Tag Archives: health

…But Also, Please See Your Vet

I lurk in a few holistic groups on facebook, and  I see post after post from people looking for a remedy in order to avoid going to the vet. Many of these are from people who feed cheap, processed food and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice, but have decided that they don’t want to take Lucky to the vet for this pesky infection – surely there’s a natural remedy that someone on facebook can recommend, while they continue to feed cheap, processed food, and follow all of their conventional vet’s advice.  No, facebook isn’t exactly the pinnacle of awareness and intelligence in our culture, but I think this trend is far more widespread than it should be, and it’s harmful for at least a few reasons.

First, the approach of holistic medicine is not merely to utilize a “natural” remedy in place of an allopathic one.  Those who are looking for a natural ear solution to clean out gunk but are continuing to feed Nutro are missing the point, as are those looking for an herbal answer to anxiety, yet leaving the dog alone all day while they’re at work. It seems that people pop in to these groups to get a quick fix without ever realizing that there is a bigger picture or an underlying cause or a whole other concept of approaching health.  Unfortunately, a lot of the responses they receive perpetuate this by answering as though there really is a natural quick fix.  “Oh, your dog has IBS?  Give some Slippery Elm for that.”  Never mind looking at diet or antibiotic history or any number of other factors that could be contributing (or any of the other herbal options applicable to IBS!).  No, between turmeric and coconut oil, most of your problems can be solved easily on the internet.

Second, veterinarians are far more knowledgeable about your dog’s health than you or I or a group of people on facebook (where the saying “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large groups” has never been more true).  You think that you are looking at a hot spot when in fact your vet can look at it, see a staph infection or demodex, do a skin scraping, and voila.  By not recognizing the actual condition, the underlying reason is overlooked (such as immune function in the case of staph), and by treating it inappropriately, you could be fostering the growth of something far more harmful.  Or, yes, it is a hot spot, but your vet begins to ask many more questions and examines the dog and notices something off that you were not aware of.  “Did you see this tartar way up here behind the front canine?  Let me scrape that off before it gets worse and leads to gum disease, as well,” or “Hmmm, these SNAP test results do show anaplasma.  Let’s address that.”  In either case, you may not have noticed any evidence, but you can address it now so that it doesn’t become a health issue later.

Recently, a question was posted to a raw feeding group, asking if others take their dogs in for bloodwork.  I know that groups of raw feeders like to think that they can throw their dogs nothing but random body parts based on what is available at the time and their dog will always remain impervious to any health condition, but I expected some to answer responsibly and say “oh, yes, I do in order to ensure that the values are right where I want them,” or “yes, so that I can show it when critics of raw feeding voice concern,” or “yes, I think it’s important to have a vet do a full examination on occasion.”  But no. The general response on that group was that there is no need for bloodwork when you can see how healthy your dog is.  Sadly, I think that’s indicative of a lot of raw groups.

On the contrary, it seems that we who feed raw and utilize herbs and other natural health approaches and refuse to overvaccinate should be even more responsible in taking the steps necessary to ensure the health of our dogs – even if merely to prove the naysayers wrong (I’m stubborn like that).  Those who avoid vets and then insist that their dogs are healthier for it while in fact their dog is harboring a parasitic overload or a nutritional deficiency will only draw more suspicion and criticism – and rightly so.

This past Friday, I took my own dog up to see his vet.  (I try to do annual bloodwork near his birthday, but sometimes things get in the way and he goes much longer.  No big deal.)  She gave him a veterinary examination – something I am nowhere near qualified to do.  She looked in orifices and used instruments and machines and I was able to ask questions about things I am not learned in and she offered feedback based not only in her extensive schooling and experience, but on the countless other dogs she has seen.  No vaccines were given, no flea & tick, no heartworm.  Instead, she drew blood to send to Dr. Dodds for a full CBC, chem, and thyroid panel.  All in all, she said that he looks fantastic and to keep doing what I’m doing.  I paid a lot of money at the counter before we left; money that I would rather have in my pocket the week before Christmas.  But that money was spent on the wellness of my dog, which is far less expensive than disease.

Support your holistic vet.  If you are not comfortable with your current vet’s recommendations, or find that (s)he doesn’t agree with your choice of diet, or are tired of having to refuse unnecessary vaccines, find a vet who is more aligned with your approach.  One excellent source is the AHVMA’s (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s) search function at their website (www.ahvma.org).  Feeding raw or administering natural remedies is not license to avoid veterinarians.  Find one that you can feel comfortable with!  I travel an hour to see my vet; not only because I know that she supports me in my decisions, but because I only see her once a year, at most.  I think I can swing the hour once a year for the continuing health of my dog.

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Food as Preventive Care

ImageOne of the things that surprises me the most about dog care is the continued lack of awareness when it comes to dog food ingredients. We have learned to read ingredient panels for ourselves and our families, yet our dogs somehow don’t merit that same level of attention.  It also baffles me that so many people fail to make the connection between what goes into their dog and the resulting health of that dog, as though they’re little machines that just need refueling a couple of times a day rather than mammals with nutritional requirements.

I think of diet as a major part of preventive care.  As nutrition from food is digested, it sources the fuel for the cellular and chemical actions that drive the body, and influences gut flora, which has a huge effect on immune function.  Nutrition is the foundation of health.  Sure, cheap chain-store food will contain sufficient nutrition to sustain your dog, but if optimal health is your aim, you may want to try reducing some of the cheaper ingredients. Minimum guidelines that I use in advising food choices include

  • two forms of real meat (not by-product) in the first several ingredients
  • free of corn, soy, or wheat (they are the cheapest grains, not well-utilized by dogs and more likely to cause inflammation)
  • species-specific ingredients (e.g., “chicken fat” rather that “animal fat”)
  • no grain-splitting (when they list more than one form of a grain to avoid having to list it as the first ingredient); likewise, too many grains.  Combined, they may make up more of the food than meat

Not surprisingly, the dog foods which are owned by the big companies (like Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Heinz, Del Monte, Mars) are those using the cheapest ingredients and fillers (not to mention color dyes and carcinogens like BPA).  A very general (and grossly incomplete) breakdown of who own which foods is…

->    Nestle owns Purina, ALPO, Mighty Dog
->    Colgate-Palmolive owns Hill’s (Science Diet)
->    Del Monte owns Natures Recipe, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Gravy Train, Cycle
->    Mars owns Kal Kan, Nutro, Pedigree, Royal Canin
->    Procter & Gamble owns Eukanuba, Iams, California Natural, Evo, Innova

In contrast, an independent dog food manufacturer is focused on producing just dog food, and runs lots in smaller batches, generally making it more conducive to tighter quality controls and fresher ingredients.  Many were started by people with a passion for or background in canine nutrition.  When considering dog foods, go to the manufacturers’ websites to look up the ingredients, and you’ll see the difference. When you come to an ingredient that’s questionable, or one you can’t pronounce, google it.  If you have questions, call the manufacturer and ask.  I once called Royal Canin to ask the difference between their Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever formulas (it’s just a marketing ploy).  The Customer Service Rep didn’t know how to answer, but tried to talk her way around it.  I’m not suggesting that you call to harass companies, but that’s an example of how you can tell who’s producing a quality food and who just wants your money.  A trusted and unbiased online resource is The Dog Food Advisor, where the foods are rated and the rating explained.

A puppy will continue to do fine on a crappy food, much like the neighbor’s kid can continue to do fine eating Happy Meals and frozen pizza.  The young body is resilient.  As they mature, subtle signs may begin to develop which may not be immediately attributed to food.  Hot spots, itchy ears, gas, dull coat, flaky skin, soft poop, lipomas, fleas, and more are often considered a normal part of having a dog, but they should never be seen as “normal” –  they are signs that your dog is not in a state of health; usually, they indicate a diet that does not agree with or is not optimal for your dog. Every single one of those conditions can often be corrected (or prevented!) by merely upgrading foods rather than making another vet appointment to get more antibiotics or steroids or chemical treatments.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather put my money in prevention than in treatment.

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