by Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA

Oftentimes, our pet's disease is wholly or partly due to severe nutritional deficiencies. We have learned that what we eat is central to our health and well-being, and so it is for animals. 

I was very much taken by a lecture given by a colleague of mine on some differences she found between wild animals and our domesticated friends. She was married to a wildlife veterinarian, and when she went on calls with him into the wilderness to seek out injured or dead animals , she said she was struck by the fact that not one of these animals was afflicted with any of the degenerative diseases that we so commonly find in our companion animals - no skin disease, no ear infections, no dental or gum disease or chronic arthritis or paralytic or wasting diseases. I feel that the answer to this situation is two fold: one is that these animals were eating only what nature intended them to eat- fresh raw food, and two, they had not been subjected to the harmful effects of vaccinations or drugs.

It hit home again for me, as I watched a nature show on captive dolphins. We are so used to watching them being fed fresh whole raw fish. Again, exactly as nature intended, as they ate in the wild. The idea of feeding them fried fish, or boiled or sauteed fish, seems absolutely ludicrous. Even more so, dolphin kibble and the like. Again with the lions and the tigers in captivity- we are also used to watching them eat chunks of raw meat. Do we REALLY think these animals can achieve optimal health on a processed cooked diet?

Over time, we have gotten used to the idea of feeding our pets the waste products of the human food industry in the form of kibble and canned food. But this doesn't mean it is what they need. Dogs and cats along with their wild brethren evolved over thousands of years to be predators and scavengers (mostly dogs). This means they eat the whole raw carcass beginning with the intestinal contents filled with partly digested vegetable matter, to the viscera, and finally the flesh and lastly the bones to crunch on and keep their gums and teeth healthy. We, as holistic veterinarians, try to approximate as closely as possible their natural diet. I recommend hormone and antibiotic free raw meat and viscera, raw bones , raw chopped veggies, some fruits, and possibly some cooked whole grains.

In the l980's cats were going blind and succombing to heart disease, and that is when we discovered it was due to a lack of taurine- which is an amino acid (protein) that is destroyed in the cooking process. We have all by now heard of the beneficial effects of glucosamine and condroitin sulfate which are ingredients in raw cartilege, a natural component of an animal's diet. It may take decades of research before we truly understand the deficiencies and subsequent damage done by giving animals a cooked and processed diet.

The raw food still contains enzymes and vitamins so important to life. Can we plant a cooked vegetable in the soil and expect it to grow? Then how can we expect to give dead food to our animals and expect them to achieve optimally functioning healthy tissue.

We are only just beginning to understand the importance of these ingredients. In the meantime, let's follow nature's lead and give them what they need to grow and thrive!

I do understand, due to extenuating circumstances, for example, owning a large number of animals and having little freezer space or economic constraints or the like, it may not be feasible to give your pet an exclusively raw fresh diet. Although it is not optimal, one can use partially or totally good human grade commercial dog or cat food. Remember to read the labels, just as you would for yourself. As a general rule, don't feel them anything your wouldn't eat yourself and things that you can't pronounce!