There are a lot of reasons why new customers come to our shop. Sadly, in many instances, their beloved pets have been diagnosed with something, and better nutrition is in order. Good nutrition is the foundation for true healing and is extremely hard to tack down. What does “good nutrition” look like?
My pup Wiley is a West Highland Terrier, a breed notorious for bad stomachs. Partly for my company, and for Wiley, I have spent countless hours online or with my nose buried in different books, and it is really difficult to get to “good nutrition.” I finally came to the conclusion that I was overthinking it and started using a more common sense approach.
There are some basic conflicts that can hinder a quest for proper nutrition. The first that I ran into was that most available advice is coming from people or companies with a vested interest in selling you good nutrition. “This kibble is the best ( … for my margin)!” “Raw food will give you salmonella (and it’s a pain in the ass to stock).” “My vet put Buster on a prescription diet.” Read that label, and you will start questioning your vet’s morals. Animal byproducts and cornmeal have no place in any living thing’s nutrition, never mind a prescription diet.
The next conflict was the one that took me the longest to get over, as it was me. In this topsy-turvy world of ours, once I find something that works, I stick with it. That is the enemy of good nutrition and something that I feel drives most people looking to change their pets’ diet back to whatever food they were on that worked the best.
Here’s the thing with always feeding what works — over time it does not work. If you ate the same meal every day, at every meal, from the same restaurant, be it the French Laundry or McDonald’s, you will be deficient in something.
If I change Wiley’s food, his stomach goes sideways for two to four days. This means my life gets exponentially more difficult as I now have to incorporate two nights of 2 a.m. grass-eating sessions and all that accompanies those, but it occasionally needs to be done. Nowadays, I can normally get it down to one night or none at all with the right stomach-soothing supplements.
With all this in mind, I stepped back and thought about what is good nutrition. I have seen a lot of well-intentioned bad nutrition. Par-boiled shredded chicken mixed with rice is not good nutrition. I give that to Wiley for no more than a day or two when a) his stomach needs some time or, more often, b) I forget to bring home food from work and only have a supermarket to work with.
I have also seen a lot of what I would consider massive overkill. Spreadsheets are great for expenses and such, but for a standard diet, you may be overthinking it.
My method now is to balance Wiley’s diet with a calendar, not a bowl. I give him a variety of different proteins from different brands that I trust. I like very basic ingredient lists of things that I can pronounce and that are real food. I will add supplements but don’t go crazy and only for very specific concerns — and even then, very sparingly.
I look at the bowl that I’m putting down and ask myself if that is a reasonable meal for my guy to thrive on. I now do that for my 3-year-old son as well. Is this real food? Is he getting good, basic nutrition?
All that said, the first place to start a discussion on your pet’s nutrition is with your vet. Not all vets are trained in nutrition, and if you feel you aren’t getting good advice, seek out better advice. Online forums are generally not good advice but can be good for specific questions. They normally come with their own biases and are moderated by people with little nutritional training outside of their own experience.
UC Davis has a Nutrition Service that can be very helpful, although Davis doesn’t support raw feeding. Know the brands that you are using and read the label. Always read the label. I assume that if there is something on the label that I have never seen, it’s bad.
I could be being ingrediophobic, but the words “natural flavor” cover a very large amount of disgusting things in both pet food and human food. And before you put down the bowl, ask yourself if you are providing good, basic nutrition in that one bowl.
Greg Mayor is the owner of EcoPawz, a raw pet food and treat company in San Francisco. He moved to the Bay Area from Massachusetts with over 20 years of experience in the seafood industry and opened EcoPawz in 2009. He recently moved from San Francisco to the East Bay where he lives with his wife, son, and Wiley, the Westie. Learn more at WileysTreats.com.
Main article photo by: Photos courtesy EcoPawz