There’s a lot of advice out there on how to keep your dog healthy. These tips are typically broad and simplistic like:
- Feed your dog a better diet
- Exercise your dog more
- Provide a vitamin supplement
These are all well and good, but what do they mean? What does “better” or “more” mean? In this article, we will go into a little more detail.
1). Feed Your Dogs Quality Meat Protein
Dogs have evolved to eat meat. Even though they have omnivorous tendencies and can adapt to eat all sorts of foods, the lack of amylase in their saliva (a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme) is a clear anatomical sign that they are primarily carnivores.
The only way to truly feed a high-quality, meat-based diet is to feed your dog a diet comprised of whole, unprocessed foods. This can be prepared raw food, a premix to which you add your own raw or cooked meat, or you may home-prepare your dog’s food. Home-preparing is becoming more and more popular as consumers grow more educated and lose faith in manufactured pet foods.
2). Avoid Meat Protein Substitutes
Pet food manufacturers are aware that consumers look for a meat source as the first listed ingredient on the dog food ingredient panel. However, many of the ingredients that follow are not meat, yet are included in the nutrient profile as a protein source. Together these ingredients are often a much larger portion of the formula than the meat is.
The inclusion or peas, lentils and other legumes in dog foods are plant-based sources of protein, and while perhaps healthy in general, they have a lower biological value than meat and do not supply all 10 essential amino acids, or in what is considered the optimum ratio, for a carnivore.
3). Avoid too many Starches
Excess starches that aren’t used for energy, or aren’t able to be stored as glycogen for later use in muscles or the liver, are stored as fat. These excess starches can be blamed for the dramatic rise in obesity, cancer and type 2 diabetes that we are seeing in our pets. Dogs have not evolved to eat a diet high in carbohydrates and not to pay attention to this fact can be very detrimental to their health.
When looking at a dog food label, you will see grains, potatoes, legumes or other sources of carbohydrates. These not only provide a less expensive source of protein for the pet food manufacturer but also serve to bind the kibble together. Dry, kibble pet foods are very high sources of carbohydrates, and you may be surprised to learn that the grain-free pet foods may even be higher in carbohydrates due to their reliance on peas, lentils, and potatoes.
4). Provide Proper Supplementation
Most daily vitamin supplements contain the very same synthetic vitamins and isolated minerals as your dog’s food. Why duplicate the exact same nutrients that are found in your pet’s food, especially when nutrients provided in their synthetic form, especially fat-soluble ones like vitamin D, can cause toxicity at higher levels?
Instead, try a whole food multivitamin supplement for dogs like Daily Multi Plus, that contains nutrients from organic, whole foods. These nutrients are better assimilated by the body and excesses are easily and safely eliminated without additional stress on the liver and kidneys. Vital anti-cancer nutrients like flavonoids and carotenoids are found in many of these whole foods.
5). Avoid Over-Vaccination
Dog vaccinations can be beneficial when selectively chosen. But you should weigh the rewards with the risks. Not all vaccinations are necessary, and ALL vaccines carry the potential of severe side-effects. The Rabies vaccine is mandated by law, but other vaccinations are not. Instead of getting booster vaccinations, request a titer. Often your dog’s antibodies will be sufficient, making the booster unnecessary. Most vets are willing to do a titer in lieu of vaccines if asked. You can find more information on a safer, modified vaccination schedule from Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM that can be found at https://www.hemopet.org/dodds-vaccination-protocol-dogs-2016/
“Routine vaccinations are probably the worst thing that we do for our animals.”
-Dr.Christina Chambreau, DVM
6). Don’t Misuse Antibiotics
Sometimes antibiotics for dogs can be lifesaving. However, antibiotics are often misused. You should ONLY use antibiotics when absolutely necessary; they should rarely be used “just in case.” The over-reliance on these drugs will weaken your dog’s immune system over time resulting in more frequent infections. The chance of creating resistant organisms from repeated use of antibiotics is very high. Also, when common broad-spectrum antibiotics are used the beneficial flora is destroyed from the mouth to the anus resulting in imbalances like IBD, UTI’s, poor digestion and lowered immune response.
If your dog is subject to more frequent infections, consider the herb astragalus to increase deep immune response. Echinacea root is an excellent choice for acute onset infection. Try an herbal immune formula for your dog for a few days (if your canine is not in a life-threatening condition) and see if that works. If not, you can always resort to antibiotics later if necessary.
7). Avoid the Overuse of Steroids and NSAIDs
Steroids, when overused, can cause numerous side effects. The long-term use of steroids will decrease immune function and make your dog more susceptible to infection. Since steroids mimic hormones produced by the adrenal glands, overuse of these medications will suppress normal adrenal gland function. Their effectiveness will fade over time leaving the unfortunate canine worse off than before. If their use is necessary, provide for a period that doesn’t exceed 7 – 10 days at a time.
NSAIDs, on the other hand, were meant to avoid the side-effects of their steroid counterparts; however, this hasn’t turned out to be entirely true. If used to reduce joint pain; for instance, they interfere with the uptake of nutrients actually causing the cartilage to shrink and arthritis symptoms to gradually become worse! If your dog has gastrointestinal issues like IBD, these medications will damage the ecology of the digestive tract over time eventually making symptoms worse, not better! These medications also inhibit the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins that protect the gut, and the result is ulceration. This can become serious, and dogs can die from internal bleeding due to these medications.
8). Don’t Use Flea and Tick Pesticide Products
Chemicals contained in these products are known to affect the heart’s valves and can lead to heart failure. The chemicals are known neurotoxins, and seizures are one of the more serious, but not uncommon, side effects. Life-threatening conditions like Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, an autoimmune condition caused by exposure to the toxins in these products, have also been linked to the use of these treatments.
Canines have evolved to handle tick-related illnesses quite well. Instead of applying these dangerous chemicals to your dog, focus on improving your dog’s immune system by using a product like Tick Protection and limiting their exposure as best as you can with natural herbal sprays. Be sure to inspect your dog after walks and remove ticks when you find them.
Fleas prey on weakened hosts so feeding a whole food diet, without all the excess carbohydrates that can make your dog more attractive to these pests, is a great natural approach in itself. You can also provide a supplement like Internal Powder that provides organic herbs that not only strengthen your dog but help to make him a less tasty target for fleas.
9). Provide Appropriate Exercise
Dog exercise is important for the movement of lymphatic fluid throughout the body. The lymphatic system relies on the motions of muscles to move lymph along. Dogs that don’t get much exercise will not only suffer from poor cardiovascular health but may also succumb to more frequent infections and the occurrence of fatty lipomas.
Exercise should be appropriate for the fitness level of your dog. Try not to bring your dog to the point of heavy panting, especially in hot, humid weather. Make sure he does not become overheated and always have water available. Be creative with your dog’s exercise!
10). Be Proactive!
Most pet owners begin treating joint issues when their dog starts displaying symptoms of pain. However, this is a little late as the joint has already been damaged. We always recommend you start joint support early in a dog’s life, beginning as a puppy for giant breeds and 5 or 6 years of age for smaller dogs. Doing this will help to prevent inflammation and joint damage as your dog ages.
The same can be said for kidney, liver, heart or any other potential issues. Speak with educated individuals that can recommend supplements or herbal remedies that can support your dog’s weak areas to prevent more serious issues in the future. Don’t wait for a blood test to show a serious acute condition before you act. Pay attention to changes on tests by comparing previous results, take behavior changes seriously and then be proactive!
Philip Reich is a certified Master Herbalist who specializes in formulating supplements and herbal remedies for dogs and cats. He is the co-founder of The Pet Health and Nutrition Center as well as a frequent contributing author of educational articles in the field of pet wellness.