By Paula Terifaj, DVM

Once upon a time, I was your average dog owner. I felt guilty when I spoiled my dog with "people food". This concept was reinforced during my veterinary training, with terms like table food gastroenteritis. Oh, the horror of clients feeding table scrapes to their dogs! After the reprimand, instructions to feed only commercial dog foods were made and the deal was done. Poor Fido was banned from the family dining room and forced to eat the same boring dog food everyday.

Before the advent of commercial pet food diets some 50 years ago, family dogs thrived from the benefit of common sense and our grandmother’s cooking. Before the craze of pre-packed convenience foods, the relatives of today’s modern dog enjoyed and prospered eating the same foods we did. That’s right folks -- those dogs belonging to your grandparents ate real people food and thrived. We are not talking Big Macs and French fries, just fresh meats, whole grains and all the vegetables that a dog could dig up in the garden. Sadly, today’s modern dog suffers from the economics of food technology, which has failed to live up to its claims of being a “natural” and “nutritionally balanced” diet.

So, let's first ask the question, what is an "all natural" dog food? I believe the meaning of “natural” would have its roots in Mother Nature herself and therefore be something that exists in nature. Bags of kibble and cans of dog food only exist on the shelves of pet food supermarkets! So, the next time you are hunting down the aisles of your favorite pet store, don’t fall for hyped-up advertising claims of dog food being “all natural” or their newest buzz word, “holistic”. Instead, grab hold of your common sense and think about it. Is this how you eat? Furthermore, there is nothing natural about forcing your dog to eat the same diet day after day. And Mother Nature herself never stopped to read the ingredients on a label. She simply designed the ancestral dog to catch and kill prey animals. Remember the advertising slogan used in a popular ad for margarine, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It carried a warning not to try and imitate her genius!

Keep this warning in mind the next time you visit the supermarket and do your dog a favor by picking up a real bird! Still not convinced? Ask your dog what he wants, baked chicken or the stuff in the bag? Without a doubt your dog will gladly pass on a bag filled with inferior protein sources, processed by-products, and preservatives. And for you die-hard skeptics out there, ask yourself why you don't eat the same engineered diet that has been formulated to "meet all your nutritional needs" every day? Do you know how many grams of protein, units of vitamin E, milligrams of calcium, and number of calories you eat every day?

Let's face it folks, the billion dollar pet food industry is thriving because of attractive ads, endorsements by veterinarians who fail to recognize that people are smart enough to cook for their dogs, and the sad fact that convenience itself has become too popular in our everyday lives. Remember the basic tenets of good nutrition: go for variety, choose fresh wholesome ingredients, and avoid processed foods. Commercial pet foods violate all the basic principals of this sound nutritional advice. For my dogs and the clients that I council, the conversation pretty much ends when I pop the final question: Would you eat anything labeled as dog food?

Not only do pet foods contain ingredients that dogs and cats were not designed to eat, there is documentation that pet foods can contain toxins and harmful bacteria and can make your dog sick!

Thanks be to those who challenge the status quo and then prove it wrong. When I learned that Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD, a professor of mine who taught gastroenterology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at U.C. Davis, CA, had written a book entitled Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets—the Healthful Alternative, I knew he had something sobering to say. At first I was simply reassured by his statement that diet is one of the most important considerations in a pet's care and that it is a major determinate of health and life expectancy. Wow, after 40 years of his work in gastroenterology, my professor confirms the connection between diet and health. He then goes on to blow the whistle on the pet food industry! Not only did he report that pet foods are not nutritionally complete and balanced, but sited nutritional deficiencies that result from feeding prepared diets that are very different from the diet of a foraging animal. Not only do pet foods contain ingredients that dogs and cats were not designed to eat, there is documentation that pet foods can contain toxins and harmful bacteria and can make your dog sick!

How can this happen? Because of the failure to regulate the pet food industry and set minimum standards as to quality of ingredients used in the manufacturing process. Bottom line: your dog is not protected from ingesting harmful and even deadly contaminants. In short, our food supply is under the watchful eye of the USDA . Anything labeled as pet food also carries the warning: Not for human consumption! Is it any wonder why veterinarians are called to treat so many mysterious cases of vomiting and diarrhea, often labeled as inflammatory bowel disease or food intolerance, which magically resolve when they are switched to homemade diets…

If you truly value the health of your dog, you cannot afford to ignore the importance of good nutrition. What you choose to feed your dog will ultimately decide his fate in terms of health, longevity, and the quality of his life. So, add some extra people food (poultry, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, brown rice and veggies) to your grocery list and invite your hungry dog back into the kitchen!


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