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Common Sense and Nonsense Feeding

by Marina Zacharias

(Reprinted with permission from the Natural Rearing newsletter -- Volume I, Issues 10, May 1996)

There is little doubt that the vast majority of health problems in animals are a direct result of poor nutrition. This is not because well meaning owners intentionally feed their companions a diet they were never meant to eat, but rather is based on a series of "beliefs" initiated and fostered by commercial interests in the nine billion dollar a year pet food industry.

In the past issues we have briefly touched on this vital subject but now that you have a little better understanding of enzymes, the immune system, etc., I would like you to give some serious thought to some common sense principles in feeding your dogs and cats.

A good starting point is to examine some of the widely held "beliefs" to see if they make sense or are more or less nonsense.

Everybody knows that -- The digestive system of the modern domestic dog is much "weaker" than a wild dogís and that is why modern dogs have to be fed differently to their wild counterparts.

NONSENSE!! This belief is based on nothing more than somebodyís opinion. There have been no scientific studies to back it up. Although mankind may have changed the outward appearance of the dog over the last few thousand years, and developed a large variety of shapes and forms for practical or esthetic reasons, THE INTERNAL WORKINGS, INCLUDING THE ENTIRE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM, AND THE WAY FOOD IS UTILIZED FOR GROWTH, MAINTENANCE, REPAIR AND REPRODUCTION, IS FUNDAMENTALLY THE SAME IN ALL DOGS -- BOTH WILD AND DOMESTIC.

COMMON SENSE -- If the internal workings have not changed, then a study of the foods eaten by wild dogs, should provide us with a sound basis for feeding modern dogs!!

Everybody knows that -- Dogs should not eat raw bones and all dog food should be COOKED to kill all the bad bacteria.

NONSENSE -- Dogs fed only cooked and processed food will always develop a weakened immune system and poor dental health.

COMMON SENSE -- From centuries of practical experience dogs thrive on a RAW diet.

Everybody knows that -- Each meal you feed your dog should be complete and balanced,

It is impossible, without a university education in dog nutrition to be able to successfully feed a dog,

And, of course -- the best way to ensure proper nutrition is by feeding only (fill in appropriate brand name) commercial dog food.

Do I really have to say it?? O.K. -- NONSENSE!! This "modern" idea was devised for no other reason than to enable the sale of pet foods. Massive "education" campaigns inundate the media to convince you that "You cannot feed your dog properly ... but we can." Even many vets have become convinced that feeding a dog is a very complicated process and best left to the "experts."

The major "fear" that is exploited in the pet food industry is centered around the concept that "every meal must be completely balanced." Unfortunately, even "holistic" animal lovers and some authors of "how to" books have fallen into this trap.

COMMON SENSE -- Ask yourself the question .... is that the way you design your own meals? Each of them totally balanced with every conceivable nutrient present that you require? Of course you donít. No creature since life began has eaten that way!!

You donít have to be a rocket scientist to realize that in nature, a "wild" dog will achieve a balanced diet over a period of time that can range from a few days to a few weeks. Never at each meal and never consistent. The attempt to put all the nutrients a dog requires into one commercial product is responsible for much unnecessary suffering and poor health. It is an insidious way of slowly ensuring a shorter life span for your animal and is guaranteed to sooner or later make your veterinarian a little richer.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst in Australia provides an outstanding insight to confirm this concept. In his words:

"As a veterinary student in the early seventies, I found it hard to understand why Aussie vets had fewer and simpler dog and cat diseases to deal with then the Americans. It seemed to make the Aussie vet somehow inferior. We did not need to be trained to the same high degree of complexity and sophistication.

There was a simple explanation. At that time, more than seventy percent of Aussie dogs were still fed raw bones and scrapes. They were still pretty healthy.

American dogs had been eating processed food and no bones for decades. They had developed a wide range of problems. Their vets had been forced to develop a complex set of diagnostic and therapeutic tools to deal with them.

I need not have worried. Our dogsí disease problems are increasing on a par with their increasing consumption of processed and cooked foods. We Aussie vets now have to be as good as our American counterparts to deal with them."

In Issue #2 (Reporter Volume III/3, May 1995) we did outline some basic information on commercial pet foods. To totally cover the subject would probably take a book or two but there are a few additional thanks that you should know about, that will serve to give you a strong indication of the reason behind many of the health problems we are seeing.

At one time or another, most breeders become concerned with the kind of preservatives or chemicals contained in a particular dog food. Itís amazing however, that seldom (if ever) do they question the major faults found in almost every brand of commercial pet food. While on the "net" I have come across long winded discussions on the "right" percentage of protein, etc. for this or that, along with a multitude of opinions on lamb vs. beef or chicken, rice vs. wheat and on and on. To my mind this is an exercise in futility.

The label might say it contains meat and meat by-products. What does this mean? It could mean lots of meat, or lots of by-products. Which by-products? They could be liver and hearts. They could also be feathers and feet! How would you know?

Look at protein levels. Is that level good or bad? How would you know? Is it good quality protein? Is it easily digested protein? How would you know? (Actually, itís a pretty safe bet to assume the protein is low quality and poorly digestible).

What about fat? Is there enough? Is there too much? Is it the right sort with plenty of essential fatty acids? How would you know? What about added vitamins. Are there enough? How would you know?

Itís utter nonsense to assume that the pet food manufacturers make pet food for the sake of keeping your dog healthy. Common sense tells you that their prime motivation is to make money!!

I could go on but I think you get the point! You must realize that what is on the label is no indication of the actual nutritional value to your animal!! It is possible to produce a pet food based on shoe leather, used motor oil, coat and water, which if analyzed would meet the legal requirements necessary for it to be sold as pet food. By law, pet foods are not required to contain optimum or best levels of each nutrient. They can claim to be "nutritionally complete" as long as they contain certain minimum levels to prevent obvious deficiency symptoms. The law does not require that nutrient levels be kept below a safe maximum level either!

Consequently we see excesses of protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and sodium to be common in pet foods. So what, you may ask?

Letís take excess calcium as an example because it is probably one of the most common problems. The calcium combines with zinc, producing a compound which cannot be absorbed, resulting in a zinc deficiency. This lack of zinc is involved in skeletal and growth problems, skin problems, infertility in both sexes, sugar Diabetes, Pancreatitis, ... the list goes on and on.

The excessive calcium in dry dog foods is heavily implicated as a cause of bloat in the adult dog and of skeletal problems in growing dogs!!

Excess protein can result in kidney disease, excess sodium can cause heart disease, excess magnesium causes bladder stones ... and on and on and on!

Letís take a quick look at how mother nature designed the dog to eliminate the problem of calcium combining with zinc. In the "wild" a dog would obtain the zinc, copper, iron etc. when it eats the liver of another animal. Normally the liver will be eaten along with maybe the gut contents and perhaps some of the muscle meat.

The calcium is eaten at another meal when he eats the bones. Seldom, if ever, will both be consumed at the same time. Even if bones are eaten with the other foods, the digestion of the bones will be relatively slow, while organ tissue will be digested and absorbed much more quickly. This natural process of separating allows the kidneys to rest by not having to deal with the high protein levels with every meal.

So the lesson for today is really "donít mess with Mother Nature -- sheís the only one that truly understands what is best for your animal."

(Marina Zacharias is a breeder/handler of Basset Hounds and has been using natural methods of health care for all her dogs for over ten years. She is a Natural Rearing consultant, author, Editor of the Natural Rearing newsletter and founder of the NR Breeder Directory.

She has been a noted guest speaker at a variety of functions including the 1995 "Educational Symposium for Alternative Veterinary Methods." Although she is not a Veterinarian, she is certified in Homeotoxicology (homeopathic) and does regularly attend the annual conventions of the American Holistic Veterinarian Society. She is also an associate member of several European holistic health care associations.

If you would like further information on holistic care for your animals, including a sample copy of the Natural Rearing Newsletter please contact Marina, P. O. Box 1436, Jacksonville, OR 97530 Phone (503) 899-2080; Fax (503) 899-3414 or e-mail

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