Redesign the Blueprint for Your Animal’s Health Through Diet

We began our journey in the early 1970’s, when little attention was paid to the importance of a nutritious diet and the role it plays in the animal’s quality of life and longevity.

In the early years of our veterinary practice, over 35 years ago, we were frustrated and disillusioned. Our office was a revolving door for ever-sick dogs and cats — young ones, old ones, different breeds — it didn’t seem to matter. “There must be more to veterinary medicine than this,” we told ourselves. “There must be a better way to return these animals to health than to wait for a sick animal to show up and then do little more than medicate their symptoms.”

Our personal epiphany came as a result of an experience we had with our dog, Leigh. Leigh was a golden retriever trained by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, where we lived and operated our first veterinary clinic. During the years between 1970 and 1977, Leigh became our dog “son,” teacher, and founder of our work. Leigh had been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a condition that often leads to crippling, degenerative arthritis and shortened life expectancy.

By seven years of age, Leigh was already beginning to lose mobility. He was no longer responding to conventional veterinary care of painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication; cortisone treatments were no longer keeping him comfortable. Faced with the painful dilemma of choosing invasive hip surgery — highly risky due to Leigh’s advanced arthritis — or euthanasia, we sought another path.

Susan had been volunteering with the Foundation for Alternative Cancer Therapies (FACT), a group in New York City that helps people locate complementary cancer therapies. It was part of her mission to honor her mother’s request to help find a cure for this most-feared disease before her premature death at the age of 41. It didn’t take us long to notice that all of the alternative dietary therapies for human cancer patients relied on enzyme-rich, nutrient-dense, uncooked foods and juices. If such a diet worked for people, we wondered, why not animals?

The light bulb snapped on and soon we were in the kitchen, preparing fresh meats and chicken, cooking up pots of whole grains, grating carrots, celery and parsley, extracting fresh carrot and celery juices, drizzling small amounts of olive and fish oil, and adding vitamins and minerals from our local health food store. We topped it all off with distilled water designed to flush inactive decaying minerals from the joints. Our beloved dog responded dramatically. Leigh’s turnaround and healing lead to his long life (to age 17) — and to our life’s work. Leigh and the other chronically ailing animals in our practice did so well that we began recommending better nutrition for other patients who had milder complaints, such as dull fur, frequent infections, itchy skin, or simply lack of vitality. The results were stunning: sluggish dogs and cats moved with new ease, dander disappeared, eyes sparkled, energy returned. Along with our brother Marty Goldstein, veterinarian and author of The Nature of Animal Healing, and a handful of fellow veterinarians and health-care professionals, we began to challenge and change the way animals had been fed for the last 40 years.

Back then, you see, most people believed that their animal’s nutritional needs could be met by opening up a bag, can, or cellophane bag of any brand of pet food sitting on their grocery store shelves. As part of this deeply rooted, marketing-driven belief system, folks were routinely chided to never give table scraps to their animals and were assured that any sort of vitamin and mineral supplementation was unnecessary because of a magical process called “fortification.”

Madison Avenue had folks eating out of their hand. They had been convinced that the “complete and balanced” ingredients in the bag met their animal’s dietary needs. Although this official analysis revealed the levels of protein, fat, minerals, and moisture in a food, it paid no attention to the quality of the source. As far as food producers were concerned, a protein was a protein, whether it came from beef or shoe leather, from chicken or feathers.

Perpetuating An Illusion Of Health

redesign-the-blueprint-for-your-animal-smallPet food companies managed to perpetuate this illusion through the early 1970s while companion animal health steadily continued to degenerate. Cancer, kidney and liver disease, allergies, and arthritis became rampant among pets. What took so long for folks to recognize was that these and many other degenerative conditions were connected in a large way to diet. Other culprits, such as genetics, environmental and household toxins, over vaccination, medication, and emotional stress would also play out their roles in this drama.

Fifty years ago, most dogs and cats dined on farm-fresh meats, fertile raw eggs, dairy, and produce — all free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Grandma’s wholesome communal soups and stews were the staple for both animals and humans. Then along came the commercial pet food industry. The modern companion animal diet would be based almost entirely on human food chain waste and by-products, including those classified as “4-D” — animals that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled and therefore not considered fit for human consumption. As manufacturing technology evolved, the pet food industry continued promoting highly cooked foods composed of rendered and rejected meat by-products; low-grade, milled bits of grains, synthetic vitamins and minerals; chemical additives, preservatives, artificial flavor enhancers, and dyes and coloring agents.

What we learned when we began delving into commercially prepared food surprised us:

  • Most pet food is cooked at extremely high temperatures (actually sterilized — sometimes above 350 degrees), destroying most, if not all, of the living enzymes and most of the nutritional value that might have once been there. These high temperatures destroy bacterial contamination and extend the shelf life of the food (just like the pasteurization of milk extends its shelf life but destroys most of the benefits of the milk). Raw foods contain vital nutrients not present in cooked foods.
  • What passes for protein is often unsavory by-products derived from animal sources that have been rejected for human consumption. These protein sources can also contain by-products such as feathers, beaks, cartilage, lungs and other highly indigestible materials, such as poultry fat made from rejected chicken parts.
  • Pet foods also contain by-products of grains such as wheat and corn that have been grown with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides. Wheat middlings, brewers rice and soybean meal, which make up the bulk of many pet foods, are really the bits and pieces of stalks, bran layers, outer coverings, fines, and broken grains that cannot be sold for human consumption.
  • Most pet foods use rendered (highly cooked) poultry or beef fat. These fats are also derived from 4-D sources and require (especially in dry foods) harsh preservatives such as ethoxyquin to prevent the fats from being oxidized and becoming rancid.

“Guaranteed Analysis:” What Does It Really Mean?

Pioneering veterinarian Dr. Mark Morris, founder of the Hills Pet Food Company, demonstrated that pet foods are assessed by their chemical content (the actual levels of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals), rather than their biological content (the ingredients used to achieve these nutrient levels). This is done by the Guaranteed Analysis, listed on the label of all pet foods. To qualify as a pet food, the following four categories must be listed on the label. A typical guaranteed analysis required to qualify as a canned pet food may look like this:

  • Crude Protein 10%
  • Crude Fat: 6.5%
  • Crude Fiber: 2.4%
  • Moisture: 68%

But what constitutes those levels? As it happens, almost anything. Dr. Morris’s blend, which qualifies for the above “guaranteed analysis,” used these four ingredients:

  • 1 pail crushed coal (carbohydrates)
  • 1gallon crankcase oil (fat)
  • 4 pair old leather work shoes (protein)
  • 68 lbs water (moisture)

His goal was to dramatize that what’s important in pet food is not the chemical composition but the raw ingredients. The tag line on a popular brand of food reads: “The ingredient panel and chemical analysis on dog food labels are not guarantees of nutritional quality.”

This long-running dietary debacle is one of the main sources of a great deal of disease and suffering in companion animals today. The then multi-million dollar, now multi-billion dollar contrived message to abandon feeding fresh foods to companion animals may have worked successfully to sell a lot of commercial pet foods and build a powerful industry, but tragically it has also led to the downfall of our beloved animals’ health and quality of life.

The truth about pet foods finally began to surface as more and more animals became sick. As a result of growing awareness, the landscape of nutritional choices for animals has changed dramatically over the past decade. Certain segments of the pet food industry finally began to improve the ingredients and expand into producing so-called “premium” foods, riding the wave into the natural-foods market. Whole wheat, brown rice, and whole turkey and chicken began showing up on labels, replacing wheat middlings, brewer’s rice, and chicken by-product meal. “Naturally preserved” kibble began to replace foods laced with ethoxyquin and BHT, two controversial preservatives believed to be linked to cancer. Innovatively formulated supplements containing unheated, naturally derived vitamins, minerals, cofactors, essential fatty acids, and nutrients came onto the scene replacing cheap, inorganic minerals. Thanks to consumer pressure and healthy competition, many of the players are cleaning up their acts, but most have a long way to go.

The good news is that you can control your animal’s diet with choices and a clear path to follow. We’ve seen our share of heartbreaking cases through our 35 years of practice. But over and over again, we see health restored once animals are switched to a high-quality diet and anti-oxidant, vitamin and mineral-rich program. Also, toss out those plastic feed and water bowls and replace them with ceramic or stainless steel. Plastic bowls can leach petrochemicals into the water and can irritate the membranes around the mouth, causing irritation and depigmentation of the nose.

Our food plan is divided into three levels for convenience and simplicity. Switch your animal to a premium-quality, natural “base” food. Add a vitamin/mineral/antioxidant-rich supplement along with essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and fresh vegetables. Incorporate health protein-rich “people food” and other healing recipes into your animal’s daily meals.

Lift the Ban on Table Scraps!

redesign-the-blueprint-for-your-animal-small-2Despite what you may have heard, feeding table scraps can be good for your animal. This can be as simple as sharing portions of your own healthy meals with your friend or cooking up a big pot of meat, along with whole grains vegetables, and serving them all week. Or, if you are inclined, you can add to the natural base food a combination of raw or lightly steamed proteins (chicken, turkey, beef or lamb), along with high-quality fish or vegetable oil, fresh organic vegetables, and a moderate amount of organic grains like brown rice or oatmeal.

Reduce the amount of natural commercial base food (canned or dried) by 35 to 40 percent. (Most people feed dry food to dogs and canned food to cats, and this method works well for both canned and dry foods.) Then add back to the base food a 35 to 40 percent portion consisting of your own mixture of protein, whole grains, and chopped or blended vegetables in the following proportions, which can be prepared a few days in advance:

  • Protein: 65% for dogs, 75% for cats
  • Grains: 20% for dogs, 10% for cats
  • Vegetables: 15% for dogs, 15% for cats
  • To this mixture add flax or salmon oil for dogs (1 tsp per every 25 lbs) and salmon oil for cats (1-2 tsp) per meal

Mixing grated or chopped raw vegetables — particularly carrots — into the natural base food is the most important addition you can make if you want to do something easy. But if you’re already cooking wholesome food for yourself, why not share some with a friend, provided you follow some guidelines:

  • Treat table scraps or leftovers as a supplement to your animal’s base diet. Increase the amount of healthy “people” food gradually, especially if your animal has been dependent upon commercial pet food. In our household, we make sure there are leftovers from each meal. If we’re cooking up a batch of oatmeal or baking potatoes, for example, we make a few extras to share with our dogs, Pookie and Jack Harry.
  • Collect raw vegetables from your salad (oil-free please, unless you are using virgin olive oil alone) and any of the throwaway parts of vegetables (no moldy ones of course) and leftover steamed veggies. Chop or grate what you gather and store in your refrigerator. Keep raw vegetables separate from steamed — raw foods will spoil faster because of naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria. Try to use up the veggies within four to five days of preparation.
  • If you steam your vegetables, share the residue broth, which is mineral rich. You can add this broth to your animal’s food or to the drinking water. For example, if you are steaming fresh asparagus, the residue water will be a rich green broth consisting of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that will benefit the lower urinary tract and will be beneficial to the skin and coat.
  • Add a teaspoon or tablespoon of plain, low-fat or nonfat, preferably organic, live-culture yogurt — for improved digestion.
  • Drizzle on some cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, fish, sesame or flaxseed oil — all good sources of highly beneficial omega-3, -6, or -9 essential fatty acids — to enhance skin and coat health and quell itching from the inside out. For cats you should add a non-preserved fish oil, such as salmon oil, as cats need arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid), which is only found in animal fats.
  • Offer organic egg yolks, raw or poached, soft boiled or gently sautéed in a small amount of virgin olive oil — rich in sulfur and amino acids for cellular integrity.

Should You Go Raw?

One of the most talked-about areas of dog and cat health is the question of whether or not to feed commercially prepared or the so-called Bones and Raw Food Diet (BARF). Proponents of raw foods are often quite outspoken and say that the only method of offering your animal a healthy diet is by feeding a well-formulated, raw food program. Other animal health care professionals, including many holistic veterinarians, have concerns about the feeding of meat that could be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as salmonella, parasites, and perhaps even chemical contaminants (especially to a dog or cat that is immune compromised with a chronic degenerative disease).

Long before the first pet food was even thought of — and before Grandma’s cauldron of stovetop meat and vegetable stew was shared by the whole family (including dogs and cats) — animals were expected to hunt for their daily ration of food. If your dog or cat were to exist in the wild, he or she would be tracking live prey (mostly rodents) and ingesting their total body components, including organ meats, bones, the intestinal tract, even the eyes. The carcass, consisting of bones and meat, would then be buried in the earth only to be dug up and once fermented, savored as a delicacy. As unsavory as that may sound, there is something to be said for those instinctual flashbacks. In fact, your animal probably still recognizes and craves the nutritional value provided from eating raw meat enzymes, essential fatty acids, pure fresh protein, B complex, and other key vitamins and minerals.

There are two practical issues to face when deciding on whether or not to feed raw or processed foods: time and money. Many people who live with animals lead active lives that are filled with all sorts of responsibilities from the raising of children to busy work schedules and lengthy business trips. The sourcing and preparing of organic and free-range meats, grains, and vegetables takes more time and costs more than processed foods. Any plan that does not first address these two basic issues will eventually fail.

After considering these more practical issues, it’s time to look at the issues of health, disease, and the comparison of the lifestyles of wild animals versus the domesticated lifestyles of our dogs and cats. For simplicity, we have listed the opposing views on many of the main issues you should address when making the decision between feeding raw or processed food to your animal.

Contamination Concerns

Pro: We should feed our domesticated animal exactly what their ancestors and living counterparts eat in the wild. After all, our modern day canines’ and felines’ digestive tracts are well equipped and will not be affected by, nor become diseased with parasites or bacterial contamination such as salmonella.

Con: Our inbred domesticated animals really are not very similar to their ancestors. Years of inbreeding and feeding highly processed “dead” foods have led to domesticated dogs and cats who are much more prone to degenerative diseases, and caution should be followed when feeding raw food diets.

Raw Bones

Pro: Raw bones are softer and less likely to cause problems such as splinters.

Con: Raw bones do splinter occasionally, and again the intestinal tracts of our domesticated dogs and cats are not as strong and powerful as their ancestors. While many holistic veterinarians say that in most instances there are not problems feeding raw bones, there are many reports of impactions of bones in the mouth, throat, and in the large bowel, as well as perforation of the intestines.

Nutritional Balance

Pro: Raw food diets contain all the nutrients, food groups, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that your animal needs for growth, health, and the maintenance of wellness.

Con: Nutritional balancing of the raw food diet is critical, particularly the preparation and addition of the proper amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Small, undetected deficiencies in the meal preparation can show up as major deficiencies and even serious disease if the meal plan isn’t balanced.

Why Raw Must Be Organic

We are invariably asked by subscribers of our Love of Animals newsletter and our clients for our opinion of feeding raw foods. Our take on raw meat is quite simple: “Go raw if it’s pure.” This means organically raised and grown. Here’s why:

  • We are staunchly opposed to the contemptible way livestock are factory farm raised and slaughtered these days, both from health and ethical perspectives. From a health standpoint, regular supermarket meat can be laced with hormones, antibiotics, and other toxic contaminants. In addition, “modern” methods of farming often precipitate depression and aggression, which has a definite biochemical effect on the animal’s health and well-being and can translate into toxicity in the meat.
  • If you cannot locate a source of raw protein in the pure state, we prefer that you seek out an alternative source such as raw, organic egg yolks which will provide your dog or cat similar protein and fat value as meat, plus extras such as lecithin, a nutrient that is good for the skin, brain, and nerves, and is also a good metabolizer of fats.
  • You also should know that there is another acceptable option — protein sourced from range-fed animals. Although organic is by far the best way to go, range-fed protein sources are usually acceptable due to their producers’ high environmental and nutritional quality standards. Range-fed animals are permitted to roam and graze freely as opposed to the complete lack of freedom imposed by traditional, crowded factory farming. If you’ve located free-range food, it’s a good option. You may want to lightly steam the meat, thereby reducing the potential for surface bacteria contamination.
  • Never feed organ meat, especially liver, if the source is not certified organic. Organ meats are the detoxifying agents of the body and usually contain high levels of toxins and metabolic wastes, due to their inherent function. These body parts are the centers of waste for additional poisons due to hormones, antibiotics, steroids, vaccines, and pesticides. The chemical factor is dangerously high and should be avoided by your animal at all costs. It’s a good idea to avoid feeding raw pork due to the potential for trichinosis. Pork is also difficult to digest.

We agree in principle with raw food diets, but like many of our colleagues are also greatly concerned with the potential for contamination from bacteria, handling, parasites, etc. In our position of dealing with many animals that are in a state of degeneration — often suffering from serious diseases such as cancer, liver or kidney failure, diabetes, Cushing’s, and autoimmune diseases — we often recommend a middle-of-the-road approach. Since there is no guarantee that your dog or cat won’t contract food poisoning from eating raw food, we generally recommend slightly steaming all meats and poultry, and soft boiling or poaching all eggs to reduce or eliminate surface contamination.

Excerpted with permission from The Goldstein’s Wellness & Longevity Program by Robert S. Goldstein, VMD and Susan J. Goldstein. ©2005, TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ.

Robert Goldstein, VMD, has been a holistic veterinarian for over 30 years and specializes in treating canine and feline cancer and other immune-suppressive diseases. Susan Goldstein has been an expert for over 25 years on the holistic approach to the emotional, physical, and nutritional needs of dogs, cats and birds and is the founder of Earth Animal, a retail and healing center for animals in Wesport, CT.