Dear Dr. Dog: I want to give my dog, Dudley, the best possible health care, not just the usual vet check-ups. How can I keep him feeling really great?
There is a lot you can do to keep Dudley feeling his best. The basis for a healthy dog is healthy nutrition, so my number one suggestion is to provide a natural diet. Of course, the constituents of a healthy canine diet are a topic of debate. From my 22 years of veterinary experience I have found that most dogs thrive on an ancestral diet. In other words, if you want to know what to feed your dog, look at what they ate over millions of years of evolution.
A good estimation of such a diet can be achieved by looking at what wild canines eat. This would include raw meat (you don’t see them whip out a George Foreman Grill), bones, organs, and shredded vegetables (from the stomach and intestines of their prey). For me, no processed diet is truly natural, since processing destroys phytochemicals and other important nutrients. Nature’s Variety makes a raw food that is balanced for the needs of dogs. This is the specific food I recommend for my patients and is what I feed my own pets.
Number two on my list of tips is to reduce the number of vaccines your dog gets. I’m not against all vaccines, but there is plenty of research now -proving that dogs do not need the Distemper/Parvo vaccine every year. Vaccines protect animals from very dangerous diseases and all dogs benefit from the protection afforded by vaccination. At the same time, too much vaccine stresses the immune system and does not provide more protection.
One study showed that vaccinated dogs are twice as likely to develop a deadly autoimmune disease that attacks red blood cells. All the way back in 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association recommended that the Distemper combination vaccine should be given not more than every three years. Vet schools are on board with the new protocol, too. It is time to stop the madness and vaccinate as little as possible.
Third on my list of pet health tips is to keep your dog at an ideal weight. You should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs on the sides. Also, there is supposed to be an indentation in the body behind the rib cage – it’s called a waist. A recent study showed that overweight dogs die 1.8 years earlier than their thinner counterparts. They also show symptoms of arthritis and other chronic diseases an average of 2.8 years earlier. If you reward your dog’s begging by giving him food, you are reinforcing this behavior. Your dog will live a longer, healthier, and happier life if you ignore his pleas and keep him slim.
My fourth health tip is to supplement your dog’s diet with fish oil. Fish oil contains DHA, a very important omega-three fatty acid. Research has shown that when a pregnant dog’s diet, and then that of her puppies, is supplemented with fish oil, those puppies are twice as intelligent as puppies fed a regular diet. Other studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil can help with allergic dermatitis and arthritis. It even has an anti-cancer effect. The typical dose is 1000 mg per 25 pounds of dog. Higher doses are recommended for cancer patients.
My final tip for holistic canine health is probiotic supplementation. Probiotics are the good bacteria that belong in the intestine. Having the right balance of bacteria in the intestine can have broad effects on pet health. Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the walls of the intestine. In fact, the largest organ of the immune system is the GI tract. Giving a probiotic supplement can have broad beneficial effects on the pet’s immune system, even improving the function of the white blood cells.
Antibiotics and other medications can throw off the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut. When a pet gets diarrhea from taking a medication, it is often due to this effect. Just because the diarrhea eventually resolves does not mean that the bacteria are back in balance. Even healthy-appearing pets benefit from probiotics.
There you have it. My recipe for canine health is:
- Feed a balanced, raw diet;
- Reduce vaccines to the bare minimum;
- Keep your dog at a slim, healthy weight;
- Add fish oil to the diet; and
- Supplement periodically with probiotics
There is much more information about holistic health and alternative medicine for dogs in my latest book, The Holistic Health Guide: Natural Care for the Whole Dog, and at my web site, www.beaveranimalclinic.com. You might want to catch my lectures at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference at the Marriott Oakland City Center on October 21-25, 2009.
May you and your dog live long and healthy lives together.