Posts Tagged ‘diet’

Managing Cushings disease in dogs holistically

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Over the years of practicing holistic medicine I was gone from thinking I could help control the symptoms of Cushings disease in dogs to now having dogs in my care who are completely controlled with diet, herbs and acupuncture.

What do you do if your dog has Cushings disease?

  1. Pull all grains and most of the carbohydrates out of their diet. Feed them the least processed diet that they can tolerate. Raw high protein diets are best. If raw is not possible feed them a grain free, potato free, high protein, high quality canned food such as Instinct. Home cooked diets like the diet I use for animals with cancer are also great. See Diets for cancer in cats and dogs. The same dietary approach to cancer is also good for Cushings disease. Do not feed these dogs dry food!

    I have found that changing diet alone can make a huge difference in these dogs so if you can only work with diet you can still help your animal friend.

  2. Treat the dampness and inflammation. This is the best way to get their endocrine system back to normal regulation. In most dogs, the best Chinese herbal formula for this is called Si Miao San. This formula helps to decrease inflammation in the body, regulates insulin, and improves digestion. I sometimes add corn silk to this formula to help with problems with insulin resistance. Not surprisingly this is also one of the main formulas I use for diabetes. Si Miao San is not always the best formula for all dogs with Cushings. Si Miao San works best for the hot, panting, overweight Cushings dog. When I work with thin, weak dogs there are other herbals that work better. If at all possible find a veterinary herbalist to help you with this.
  3. Acupuncture. I have so much more success in those dogs I can treat with needles. Acupuncture helps to regulate the endocrine system and reduce inflammation in the body. I have found that many dogs will only need acupuncture about every two months once we get them stable unless we are treating other health issues as well.
  4. Ginkgo biloba can be helpful in treating Cushings. Ginkgo slows the release adrenal hormone and can help to control Cushings disease. I do not use this herb with all the dogs I treat as I have found it not to be as effective as Si Miao San, acupuncture and diet change. However it does seem to be the herb that can be added to the protocol if you are not getting as much symptom control as you think you should be. It is very much my tipping point herb and sometimes it makes the difference between good control and mediocre control of this disease.

    Ginkgo is also a great herb for helping with dementia, high blood pressure, and protecting against heart disease and stroke. Because of this I often recommend it in my older animals. One of my favorite ginkgo product is made my Animal Apawthecary and also contains hawthorn. It is called Animals’ Apawthecary Hawthorn Plus
    . I also make a powder version of this formula called Heart and Brain Support through my etsy shop.

  5. Be aware that a natural approach can change the amount of Trilostane and other drugs that are needed to control this disease. Work with your vet to monitor signs of drug overdose if your dog is already on Trilostane or Lysodren, when they are being treated naturally. If your dog stops eating, becomes lethargic, or has sleep disturbance or vomiting and diarrhea contact your vet immediately. This could be a sign of overdose.

I have had a number of dogs who we have gotten completely off of Trilostane (the main drug to treat Cushings disease) or significantly reduced the dosage. If I can catch it early many dogs never need to use the western drugs.

One of my favorite dogs with Cushings disease is a cute little Cairn Terrier I treat named Clancy. He’s a fun little guy with a lot of spunk. We were able to catch his Cushings disease very early about a year and a half ago, just after he was diagnosed. His main symptoms were increase in weight, panting and that he was much more jumpy when touched and startled easily. He also drunk a lot of water and was always hungry. Through acupuncture, herbs and diet we have been able to keep Clancy happy and symptom free. Occasionally he will have a little flare up of symptoms but so far we have been able to treat those flare ups with acupuncture and some herbal and dietary changes. I’m hopeful that Clancy will never need Trilostane or other western drugs.

So what is Cushings disease?

If you have found this article you may already know about Cushings. For those of you that don’t here is a short explanation.

Cushings disease is caused by an overactive adrenal gland which produces too much adrenal hormone. Most of the time this is caused by a benign pituitary tumor in the brain which signals the adrenal to produce more hormone than it needs. Occasionally this is caused by an adrenal tumor in the actual gland. Usually with an adrenal tumor, removal is recommended. However with pituitary tumors removal is too difficult and the treatment of choice is to use a drug such as Lysodren or Trilostane which stop the production of adrenal hormone through destroying the cells that make it or blocking its release. This can be risky because if too much gland is destroyed or if too much hormone is blocked the animal can die, become seriously ill, or develop Addison’s disease (not enough adrenal hormone) which is much more dangerous. Both these drugs can permanently damage the adrenal glands.

The main symptoms of Cushings disease are a pot bellied appearance, excess hunger and water consumption, and hair loss on the sides. Many dogs have a tragic look to them. In addition Cushings disease can cause weakness and panting. These dogs have a weakened immune system and are prone to infections and cancers. People will often times describe their dogs with Cushings as more agitated and some dogs will have issues with sleeping through the night.

Here are a couple other good articles about Cushings disease and it’s treatment
Cushing disease
FDA cushings disease and Trilostane

An amazing things I recently learned about Cushings disease is that it appears to be closely related to type 2 diabetes. In fact there are those that believe that both diseases are the same syndrome, just manifesting differently. When brain scans were done of cats with insulin resistant type 2 diabetes, it was found that in those cats with insulin resistance had pituitary tumors characteristic of Cushings disease. Wow!
Prevelant of pituitary tumors among diabetic cats with insulin resistance

Both diseases seem to be induced by an overload of nutrients of the carbohydrate variety. Animals with Cushings disease and diabetes develop what is called metabolic syndrome. There body can not handle the amount of carbohydrates and high glycemic index ingredients in many of the processed diets we feed them. These high glycemic index diets cause high levels of inflammation in their bodies, which lead to problems in the endocrine system. This can lead to insulin resistance, development of pituitary tumors, or other inflammatory diseases.

You can pull up a great lecture on the subject of inflammation, diet and the endocrine system by one of my herbal teachers, Dr. Steve Marsden by following this link (brings up a PDF).
Management of inflammation using chinese herbs and diet

While I have not been able to get all dogs controlled without western drugs, usually we are at least able to significantly reduce clinical signs and/or reduce the dose of drugs needed to regulate this illness. In a disease with not many good safe options for treatment, I love having effective natural options to offer the animals I work with.

As with all advice offered on this website please check with your animal’s veterinarian before changing your animal’s medications or adding any herbals.

Lymphoma in dogs and cats – integrative medicine – chemotherapy and herbs with a side of acupuncture

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Lymphoma is one of the fastest moving cancers out there. Because it is so fast moving, it is also the most responsive cancer to chemotherapy.

The prognosis with this disease can be very bad, especially if no treatment is used.

However the good news is, with chemotherapy and holistic medicine we can often get 18-24 months and occasionally ongoing remission. Integrative medicine clearly is the best way to go with this disease.

With no treatment I have seen animals die within one week of diagnosis. The average is 4 weeks with no treatment. With using natural medicine, I have found usually I can move that out to 2-4 months. Chemotherapy alone pushes that even further with average survival at around a year.

When a dog or cat comes to me with lymphoma, I highly recommend they consult with an oncologist or a vet who does a lot of chemotherapy work. If you want remission with this cancer you need to do chemotherapy.

The most widely used chemotherapy protocol for this cancer consisted of a multiple drug approach and is given over approximately six months for dogs. In cats the protocol is shorter and the main vet I work with believes that one to three chemo treatments can significantly slow down this disease in felines.

Full chemotherapy for dogs can also be quite expensive, around $4000. Shorter durations can be given for this cancer as well if cost or tolerance of chemotherapy is a concern.

Because so many people choice to do chemotherapy for this cancer I divided this article into four sections.

  • Treatments I recommend regardless of western treatment
  • Treatments I use with chemo
  • Treatments to give if no chemotherapy is used
  • Cats

So first what do I recommend for all cats and dogs with lymphoma? (Follow the links for more information on the supplements and dosing information.)

  1. Weekly or every other week acupuncture. I have seen this make a large difference in survival times and in keeping white blood cell levels within normal range during chemotherapy. Usually just with acupuncture alone I can double any prognosis. Please see Acupuncture for animals with cancer – stoking the healing power within
  2. Artemisinin can reduce node size and make animals feel better.
  3. A good cancer diet without grains. If you are using chemo do not feed raw food, make sure it is cooked. For more information on the diets I recommend seeDiets for cancer in cats and dogs.
  4. Xiao Chai Hu Tang – Sometimes I add indigo and others herbs to this formula for dogs I see in person to customize it but the straight formula works well also. If you are working with a holistic vet ask them about additions.

In addition to this protocol if no chemo is used I often recommend –

  1. Prednisone. Yes it is a western drug, but it will work as a chemotherapy drug and shrink the nodes. Every animal I have treated for lymphoma has been on prednisone and I highly recommend it. If you are considering chemo do not start the prednisone before consulting with an oncologist or vet who knows chemo. If given before chemo the prednisone can significantly reduce the outcome of the chemo.
  2. SanSheDan ChuanBeiYe is great at slowing this cancer down and keeping it out of the lungs.
  3. Hoxsey-like formula or Cancer Detox Support Hoxsey can make some dogs sick, I usually only recommend using it if you are working directly with a holistic vet who thinks it is appropriate. I also use a similar formula I call cancer detox which is less toxic but still has some great anti-cancer properties.
  4. Si Miao San I use a lot less of this these days but still sometimes if the lymphoma is mostly in the nodes or gastrointestinal system.

If chemotherapy is given I add to my main protocol:

  1. Mushrooms – I give a mushroom combo with shiitake, maitaki, reishi and cordyceps There are many of these products. Mushrooms not only have effects directly against cancer but stimulate the immune system and help keep white blood cell counts up.
  2. Milk thistle – improves the outcome of chemotherapy and decreases side effects
  3. Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang – there is a great study out there at shows this herbal improves outcomes and reduces side effects during chemotherapy.

In cats

Cats have a hard time with multiple drugs and supplements. With cats I start them on my main protocol and then wait a week. If they are still eating well I will then add in one Chinese herbal formula in addition to my main protocol.

How do I decide which one?

The best I can tell you is usually this will either be Xiao Chai Hu Tang if this cancer is intestinal or centered in the spleen or liver, Hoxsey-like formula if the cancer is in the nodes, or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang if they are getting chemotherapy.

If at all possible find a good holistic practitioner to work with your cat. Cats generally do really well with acupuncture so if at all possible find someone who also does acupuncture.

Cats can get a disease called small cell lymphoma which is very slow moving. I treat this differently and will try to put up another article on it.

As with all advice offered on this website please check in with your animal’s primary veterinarian before using any of these herbals and supplements.

Return to Integrative and Holistic Methods for Treating Cancer in Cats and Dogs

Diets for cancer in cats and dogs – you are what you eat, a fighting cancer machine

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Good nutrition is very important in any animal fighting cancer. You are what you eat and with cancer we need a diet that feeds and supports the body but starves the cancer. In fighting cancer with herbs and holistic medicine, we are relying on the body to do the fighting. This takes a strong immune system and a lot of energy. You need good food for this.

Cancer cannot utilize fats but loves to use carbohydrates, especially processed ones. Protein is somewhere in between.

A diet high in protein, moderate in fat and with no grain or very low grain is ideal. Home-made cooked, or raw diets are best. If that is not possible then a good quality high protein, canned commercial diet or a hydrated freeze dried raw diet can be substituted.

If your animal is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation you should not use a raw diet (freeze dried is fine). However for these animals a great option is a cooked diet. After they are done with these treatments the food can slowly be transitioned to raw if desired.

If your dog or cat is very debilitated from cancer and has not been on a raw diet before stick with a cooked or freeze dried food.

Commercial raw diets can be cooked as a more simple way to make home cooked food for your animal.

Below are a couple diets I have been using for years for my clients who have time to home cook. It is not an exact science so feel free to play around with them. Scroll down to see some of the commercial diets I recommend (canned, freeze dried and raw).

Sample cancer diets

Dog (approximately for a 40 lb dog per day)

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or raw meat including liver and organ meat (if you use fish or pork make sure it is cooked)
  • 1 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1/4 cup yam, sweet potato or pumpkin, cooked or canned
  • 1/8 cup nuts such as almonds, walnuts, or cashews
  • 2 T yogurt with live cultures
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil
  • a calcium supplement (see below)

Cat Cancer Diet See Making Crazy Awesome Homemade Cat Food

An alternative cat food recipe is Making Crazy Awesome Cat Food Part Two.

For homemade dog food (cats are hard to add extras to their food)

  • If possible I also recommend adding reishi, shitake, and/or maitake mushrooms to the diet. Mushrooms are strong immune stimulates and have anti-cancer properties. Add them in as some of the veggies. Mushrooms should always be cooked as the cooking releases their helpful properties and when they are not cooked they are mildly toxic. Alternatively Fungi Perfecti, in my opinion the best mushroom company around, offers a great powdered supplement called MUSH.
  • When picking vegetables, broccoli and other leafy dark green vegetables should be considered. Many studies have been done on broccoli’s effects against cancer. See the article Broccoli Fights Cancer.
  • I am not a large user of supplements, but I love Healthforce’s Vitamineral Powder and feel like it adds in both micronutrients and some added digestive support.
  • The pumpkin, sweet potato, yam, and cod liver oil are high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes mechanisms in the body that kill cancer cells and cause cell differentiation. Consider adding other sources of vitamin A such as liver and carrots.
  • A calcium supplement needs to be added to any diet made for cats and dogs. There are many ways to do this.
    • There are many commercial products such as Animal Essentials Natural Seaweed Calcium.
    • Bone Meal Powder can also be used. Use one teaspoon for an average sized dog.
    • Many people prefer to add a Centrum Silver a day for average to large sized dogs.
    • If you are feeding a raw diet you can feed raw chicken necks for calcium.
    • If you are using eggs in your diet consider smashing up the egg shell and adding it to the diet. One egg shell provides enough calcium for an average sized dog. 1/8-1/4 of an eggshell provides enough for a cat.
  • If you are making raw food make sure the meat is frozen for at least 48 hours to kill off any dangerous parasites.
  • Nuts such as walnuts, almonds and cashews are high in trace nutrients, minerals, vitamins and good fats. If possible include these in your diet. Cats sometimes do better with a little almond butter. Avoid macadamia nuts which are toxic to dogs.

If you are using a commercial canned food I recommend the following

  • Weruva is a great food that seems home made. They have many varieties so make sure you find a grain free one. I have found this food much cheaper on
  • Instinct is completely grain free and very high in protein.
  • Taste of the Wild is another quality food I use in a lot of the dogs I work with.
  • There are other good ones out there but make sure they mostly contain meat and are grain free.

If you are using a commercial raw diet ideally pick one local to your area. I really like Darwin’s for raw dog and cat food and Rad Cat for cats.

For commercial home cooked food and raw food for cats and dogs in the Seattle area, Natural Pet Pantry is a good option. Fresh and local food and run by knowledgable and kind folks.

If you are looked for a good freeze dried raw Stella & Chewy’s is my favorite and even picky animals including cats seem to like it. With any of the freeze dried foods I recommend hydrating them.

I hate to see dogs and cats with cancer on dry food but if that is the only option then a no grain high quality diet such as Orijen can be used.

Remember that any food in the belly is more important then the best food sitting uneaten. Sometimes animals with cancer are so sick that they have very little appetite. In that case give them anything they will eat. When they are feeling better, focus on trying to get them to eat what is best for them.

Return to Integrative and Holistic Methods for Treating Cancer in Cats and Dogs.

Kidney failure in cats – how Chinese medicine and diet can help

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Food sitting in a dish uneaten does not help a cat get better.

In other words, the best food left uneaten does nothing.

Yet many cats with kidney/renal disease are put on a low protein diet such as Science Diet’s K/D diet that they will not eat. And from my experience cats with renal disease should not be on K/D or other low protein kidney diets to began with.

Many cats get kidney failure as they age, yet western medicine does not have a good treatment to reverse or prevent this disease. The most common treatments involve a low protein diet and subcutaneous fluids.

So what do I recommend for cats with renal disease, if you know they do not have inflammatory kidney disease (explained later in this article)?

A high protein canned or home cooked diet made with good quality protein. I recommend using Instinct, Weruva, or Go/Now grain free if you use a commercial diet. Raw food is ok if they will tolerate it and are not severely sick.

What high protein?!
But my vet said I need to feed low protein!

Here is one of the commonly sited studies on PubMed that proves that high protein does not make kidney disease worse in cats.
Protein and calorie effects on progression of induced chronic renal failure in cats

So let’s talk a little about what is going on with renal disease and why I recommend the diets I do.

From a Chinese Medicine view we have two main types of renal failure, inflammatory and deficient/ischemic.

Deficient or ischemic kidney disease

This is the more common type of renal failure. These guys are usually thin, not great eaters and may or may not be vomiting. The inflammatory cats may also shift to this after you get the inflammation down.

I really hate to see these guys on K/D or low protein.

In this form of renal failure there is not enough blood going to the kidneys and the cells are dying from ischemia (lack of oxygen). They may also have renal hypertension (high blood pressure) which causes even more damage. Many of these cats are also anemic making the problem even worse.

These cats need protein both to increase blood flow and blood volume (you can’t make blood without protein) and to repair the damage to the kidney cells (you can’t repair cells without protein).

And yes many of these cells are not dead and can be repaired once you improve blood flow.

  • I recommend a high protein canned food such as Instinct, or grain free Weruva or Go for these guys.
  • I highly recommend acupuncture for deficient cats. They not only feel better, eat better but often we can reduce their kidney numbers or get them back to normal
  • Infrared light therapy can be very helpful for these kitties and can be done at home. Infrared light helps to improve blood circulation into the kidneys and wake up kidney cells that are still alive but don’t have enough blood flow. See my article Infrared light therapy for instructions on how to use this therapy.
  • I also often put these cats on a Chinese formula containing Shu Di Huang (also known as rehmannia). Shu Di Huang formulas help repair kidney cells, lower kidney numbers on blood work and lower blood pressure. It is best to find a holistic vet to help you determine the best formula. If you can’t find someone to help you the base formula Liu Wei Di Huang Wan can be used. This formula is now available in powder form that can be made into a tea from my etsy shop Kingdom of Basil

I’ve had many cats convert back to normal through diet, acupuncture and herbs.

From my experience, if they stay on K/D, I can not convert them back. They need to be on high protein if they have this type of kidney disease to improve numbers. If they are inflammatory we get rid of the inflammation and then put them on high protein even if the numbers are normal to keep them stable and out of renal failure.

Although it is not my favorite approach, I have maintained cats with ischemic renal disease on dry Orijen or high protein/no grain diets. If somehow they have to be on dry I always go with a high protein. They tend to stay stable on high protein dry and sub-Q fluids. I also find sometimes you need a little dry in the old guys. My old cat Basil needs a little dry to maintain his weight because he just didn’t eat enough canned.

So why does my western veterinarian recommend a low protein diet?

We do know that high phosphorus can be bad in renal disease. There is higher phosphorus levels in protein so it is hard to get low phosphorus without doing a low protein diet. So low phosphorus has translated into low protein. My experience has shown me that the higher phosphorus doesn’t seem to cause as large an issue as the low protein does in cats with kidney failure.

Inflammatory kidney disease
We do not see much inflammatory kidney disease in cats and most of it is in cats younger than 10 years old. In inflammatory kidney disease, there is inflammation in the kidneys that causes the the kidneys to not function well and reduces the blood flow to the cells.

It can be hard to tell these cats from deficient kidney kitties as there is much overlap in symptoms. These cats tend to vomit a lot but still have a fairly good appetite. They almost always have a high cholesterol on blood work and tend to have kidney numbers that are just barely elevated. They also may have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, elevated liver enzymes, chronic pancreatitis or vomiting. And these cats tend to be younger, usually the old thin kitties are not inflammatory.

Usually with acupuncture and herbs we can clear this stage up in a month or two. If it is mild and recent their kidney numbers may go back to normal. If they have had it awhile we then see the ischemic renal disease underneath.

These guys should not have high protein but also should not have high grain (which causes inflammation).

  • I recommend a normal to moderate protein canned food such as Avoderm, Pinnacle or Nature’s Variety Homestyle. High protein increases blood flow which will cause more inflammatory cells to go to the kidneys, we don’t want that but also we need some protein to maintain the cells
  • I also recommend acupuncture for these cats to reduce the inflammation and support the kidneys
  • For inflammatory kidney disease herbal treatment can be amazingly effective. It is best if you can work with a holistic vet to determine the most appropriate formula.
    • So what do I do if I can’t figure out if my cat has inflammatory or ischemic kidney disease?

    • 1. Find a holistic vet who can help to make that determination.A holistic vet can also help you get your cat on an appropriate herbal formula and do acupuncture to help support the kidneys .
    • 2. If you can’t find a vet to work with, feed a moderate protein canned food.
    • What can I do to prevent kidney failure in cats who are currently healthy?

    • 1. Do not overvaccinate. We now know that the FVRCP causes many cats to have antibodies against their own kidneys. See the article To vaccinate or not to vaccinate that is the question.
    • 2. Do not feed your cat a dry food only diet. Make sure your cat is on a high protein, good quality diet of canned food, home cooked or raw food. Cats on dry food only diets are always in a mild state of dehydration. Long term this dehydration can hurt their kidneys. See How do I pick the best food for my cat’s health.

Itchy dogs and cats, the link between inflammation and diet

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

One of the most frustrating problems in veterinary medicine is the chronically itchy dog or cat.

So how can be get these guys so they are comfortable without getting stuck in the constant swing between steroids and antibiotics and without spending a small fortune?

Lets look at what is going on.

Why do dogs and cats itch?

Most itchy animals are allergic to something, be it food, plants in the environment or some other thing in their world such as dust, molds, or chemicals. The hard part is finding out what it is and even harder being able to do something about it. I have a number of dogs in my practice who are allergic to humans, dust, or grass which are all impossible to eliminate from their world.

Allergies produce inflammation in the body. In people this often presents as nasal congestion, in animals the most common way inflammation presents is through the skin.

So if they are allergic to something we can not eliminate this is an impossible problem, right?

No, there is hope.

Most animals and humans have some mild allergies or sensitivities. Most of the time we do not have any problems from them but if we are suddenly exposed to everything we are allergic to all at once or a very large amount of something we are allergic to we have a reaction. This is because we only have a reaction if the inflammation in our body reaches a certain threshold. Below that threshold nothing happens.

But my dog is allergic to everything and always itchy. How do I possibly get his body to be below the allergy threshold so he doesn’t itch?

Through using a diet that reduces the inflammation in his body! This means we need to feed a diet that is not processed, doesn’t have grain and takes a little longer to get absorbed and assimilated through the gut. A slow assimilation assures that there are not large spikes of nutrients and proteins that come into the body all at once and overtax the pancreas and liver creating inflammation.

Most commercial diets are too high in grains and carbohydrates and too processed for our companion animals. They create inflammation which overtaxes the body and leads to not just skin inflammation but also other inflammatory conditions such as colitis, pancreatitis, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and ear infections.

In addition many of these diets are not high enough in protein causing a decreased blood reserve in the body in some of these animals which leads to the skin not being properly nourished and a cycle of chronic skin infections which produce more itching.

Commercial high grain processed diets often make our animals overweight. Fat reserves in the abdomen cause more inflammation in the body, by producing free radicals, adding to the problem.

So what are the steps needed to raise the allergy threshold and stop or eliminate the itch through diet?

  1. Cut all grains out of your dog or cat’s diet. If for some reason your animal can not tolerate a no grain diet add in small amounts of brown rice or whole oats.
  2. Feed the least processed diet possible. Raw is best. From my experience I get the best results when I put animals on raw diets. If your animal can not tolerate raw or you can not feed it for some reason then home cooked or good quality grain free canned is best. If for some reason you can only feed dry, feed Orijen brand. The folks at Orijen have made their food so that it has a lower glycemic index and is processed by the body slower than other dry foods. (Remember if you feed raw to make sure it is frozen first) .
  3. If your dog or cat has more itching along the top of their back and on their sides add in a fish oil supplement. Fish oil helps to decrease the itch and heal skin lesions.
  4. Find a veterinary Chinese herbalist to work with in your community. Chinese herbs can work with the body to help to decrease the allergy threshold even more than with diet alone. Most of the animals I work with are on a program of Chinese herbs and diet change.
  5. Nettles extract can help with itching. Make sure you use a good quality alcohol based extract. Nettles needs to be given at 0.2ml per 5 lbs of body weight and works best if given at this dose three to four times a day. Nettles not only helps directly to decrease itch but also works over time to desensitize the body to allergens helping to reprogram the immune system.
  6. Eliminate anything you can that you know your animals is allergic to. If they flare up with certain foods or chemicals in your house get rid of those things.
  7. Make sure there are no fleas! These buggers make even the normal animals itchy but can quickly push an allergic animals over the edge

Remember that resolution of itching can take a long time. Many animals, especially the ones with severe skin disease, take up to a year to get better.

Please also see part two Treating Severe Skin Disease Herbally.

How do I pick the best food for my dog’s health?

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Gone are the days when we jumped at the chance to get a three cans for a dollar deal on Alpo at the local grocery store and a bag of Kibbles and Bits. Most dog folks know that feeding good quality food can be one of the most important decisions you can make for your animal friend. These days many people who come to my clinic are already feeding a high quality food.

So how do you choose?

While there are no set answers to this question, here are some rules of thumb to follow:

  • 1. Always feed high quality food – So how do I tell what is high quality you ask
    • Make sure meat is the first ingredient and that it is real meat. It should be chicken or turkey or some other recognizable meat (not animal which can be euthanized cats and dogs- yuck!) and it should not be by-product.
    • Make sure there is no corn, corn meal or other corn products. Many animals are allergic to corn and usually only low quality foods have corn. The one exception I can think of to this is that Weruva has a couple foods that have chunks of corn in them. I still think this is a high quality food.
    • Learn how to read labels. You want to see a list of foods you recognize at the top, and then a list of vitamin and minerals you may not, closer to the bottom. Avoid dyes, preservatives like BHA, BHT, and erythoxyquin, food stabilizers like propylene glycol and sugars. For more information on how to read a label see the article What is really in pet food? from Born Free USA.
  • 2. Here is a list of my favorite brands There are other good foods out there to but these are the ones I recommend most often.
    • Weruva This is the only dog food that looks good enough that I would eat it! Made with whole foods and there is no question when you open the can.
    • Wellness is a good solid food with good ingredients. In addition to their traditional and grain free lines, they have a simple ingredient line for dogs with food allergies which is a much better alternative to many of the expensive and low quality prescription diets
    • Homestyle by Prairie, Instinct, Nature’s Variety raw foods are all made by Nature’s Variety. Prairie is their main line, Instinct is grain free and they also make a great raw line I recommend under the Nature’s Variety name. I have been happy with all their foods.
    • Merrick makes a great line of canned and dry foods. I have used their canned line in many inflammatory bowl disease dogs with good success. And they have a very cute marketing campaign.
    • Avoderm and Pinnacle are both solid good natural foods. Avoderm is marketed for animals with itchy skin and can make a difference in dogs with environmental allergies.
    • Orijen and Acana are the best grain free dry foods out there for dogs. If you feed just a dry food or mostly a dry food these would be my top recommendations. They only make dry food but have their own packaging and processing plant for their food which gives them better control on keeping contaminates out of their food lines.
    • Darwin’s Pet is a great northwest company which makes raw diets. If you live in the Seattle area they will deliver to your doorstep. They have a very good quality product and because they are a small company a lot of control on what goes into their food. For raw diets in the Seattle area they are number one
    • Go! and Now! Moderate protein diets with grain free varieties, these two foods are good solid options. Tasty options if the higher protein Orijen doesn’t work and a very good canned option
    • Paw’s Cafe is another great local company in the Seattle area which makes homemade food, raw diets and custom diets. Great folks and very high quality diets. So far they only deliver to the Eastside but there is talk they may come over to Seattle soon. If they do they will be up there with Darwin’s.
    • Taste of the Wild is a newer food on the market. It is grain free with excellent ingredients and seems to be tasty.
    • The Natural Pet Pantry is located in Burien, Washington and makes a great product, both cooked and raw. They also will make special diets from scratch for your dog.
    • Update 5/20/10 Because of the recent buyout of Natura pet by Proctor and Gamble I no longer recommend Innova, Evo, California Natural, Karma, or Heathwise.

    I feed multiple brands of food to my own dog and switch flavors and brands daily. If your dog’s stomach allows it I recommend switching brands and varieties of food.

    If I have missed the food you feed your dog add a comment and I will give you my opinion on it.

  • 3. If you have an animal over eight years of age (or a younger geriatric animal) they should not be on an exclusively dry food. Ideally they should have little to no dry food. If your dog loses too much weight on a diet of no dry food try adding in an egg a day and canned sweet potato or pumpkin.

    Dry food can be hard on the kidneys of older animals. Home cooked and high quality canned food are the best option for these guys. Older animals can be on raw food although some older dogs have a hard time switching to raw late in life if they have been on processed food since puppy hood. If possible find a holistic vet to work with on diet for older dogs or move very slowly as you switch them.

    Dry food is cheapest and some people can not afford to feed anything but it. If dry food is all you can afford, adding a little water, chicken broth, wet food or good quality table scraps will help. There are also some animals that simply do not do well on anything but a dry food or will not eat anything but a dry food. If you feed only a dry diet make sure it is high quality.

    High quality dry food with water or broth is better than low quality wet food.

  • 4. Grain free foods vs foods with grain

    Our dogs should be on a diet with a high protein content and should be eating mostly meat.

    Animals with allergies, cancer, or epilepsy should ideally be on a grain free diet. Many animals with chronic vomiting also do better on a grain free diet or low grain diet.

    Some animals prone to diarrhea do better with a food with some grain.

    Healthy animals can be on a high quality diet with or without grain but if you feed just a dry food I highly recommend it being grain free.

  • 5. So if grain, how much grain?

    There should always be more meat than grain in the food you feed your animal.

    Meat should be the top ingredient but also beware of the multiple names for the same thing. If there are three corn or grain based ingredients right after meat then there is probably more grain in the food. Also stay away from foods with corn and wheat if possible.

    The more whole grain the better. Oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice are ideal grain sources. Corn, wheat and white rice are not as good.

  • 5. The least processed the food the better (also known as dry vs canned vs raw vs cooked)

    In the ideal world we would all have time to come home each day and cook for ourselves and our pets. However many people don’t have time to cook for themselves or their dogs.

    If you have the time and/or money start your dog on a raw diet or cook for them at home. There are also companies like Paw’s Cafe which make homemade dog food. If you are against feeding raw food or your dog doesn’t tolerate it, raw foods can also be cooked. Crock pots and steamers are ideal for this. Although you can always throw it in a frying pan.

    If you feed a raw diet make sure it is a frozen commercial product or that you freeze the meat or the food before you feed it to kill of any parasites that may be in the food. Pork and fish should never be fed raw to dogs.

    In general the less proceeded the food the better. With raw being on the top, followed by cooked, canned and finally dry. But do what works for your household.

    There are almost no overweight dogs on raw diets. If your dog is overweight get them off the dry food.

    My own dog, who is a cancer survivor, eats high quality canned food. He doesn’t tolerate raw and I don’t have time to cook for him. We found that he also needed some grain to keep his digestion healthy.

    While I have a number of animals on homemade or raw diets, many of my clients feed their dogs a mixture of high quality dry and wet because of convenience and cost.

  • 6. Pick the meat which is best for your cat or dog. If possible rotate meat sources.

    If your animal has obvious allergies then this choice is made for you. If not, I am highly in favor of switching protein sources routinely. This reduces your animals chance of developing allergies and adds some variety to your their diet. Imagine if you had to eat the same thing over and over again. Boring!

    Chinese medicine also has an energetic system for working with food. See my article The dance of life and the energetics of food for more information.

    I do not recommend feeding pork to dogs because of the way pigs are raised and the energetics that go along with that. Pork must never be eaten raw because of the diseases that pigs carry.

  • 7. Table scraps are ok

    No really, I know we as a veterinary community have told you they aren’t. But if you eat healthy food it is fine for your dog to have some. Just remember – no grapes, no raisins, no onions, no chocolate.

  • 8. For animals in kidney failure, the quality of the protein is much more important than the amount of protein.

    For years the veterinary community has recommended low protein for dogs in kidney failure. The new studies out however show that diets moderate in very high quality protein are best for these animals.

    Avoid the low quality, low protein prescription kidney diets and feed a canned or whole cooked food diet with moderate protein and some grain or potato instead. Try your best to not feed dry food to these guys.

  • 9. Do what is best for your dog and you.

    If all the diets I recommend give your dog diarrhea, find something else to feed. If you can’t feed a raw diet it’s ok. If you don’t have time to cook, well you’re just like me. These are recommendations, not rules that are set in stone.

    Do the best you can and try to have fun with it! After all you know your dog better than anyone else!

  • Helpful links
    Dog Aware’s dog food page More information than you could ever use about dog food!.
    Born Free’s What’s Really In Pet Food A great article about pet food companies and processing.

    Books about dog food and diet
    Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
    The Whole Pet Diet: Eight Weeks to Great Health for Dogs and Cats
    The Healthy Dog Cookbook: 50 Nutritious & Delicious Recipes Your Dog Will Love

    Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food
    Not Fit for a Dog!: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food
    Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative

    Also see How do I pick the best food for my cat’s health?.