Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How do I get thee to eat? Let me count the ways…..Part I

I see so many pets presented for a picky appetite, you’d think I could make a living recommending a diet they will eat, right?

The overriding theme among the owners I talk to is that their pets won’t eat because they are tired of their diet. I think dogs and cats are honest and plain-spoken in their own ways, and I’ll break it down for you. They are either overfed, or sick. Repeat after me – if my pet isn’t eating s/he is either overfed or sick.

Let’s start with the overfed pets. I’ve talked a lot about body condition scores in the past week or two. What is your pet’s body condition score? If you don’t know, please go to my website and look at the body condition score charts from Purina:

So if your dog or cat is overweight, let me suggest a way of thinking from their perspectives. Lessee…..”I spend a bunch of time around the house hanging out, not doin much, not enough trips outside…….I get fatty meals that taste great and lots of them……I’m feelin a bit full and need to cut back…..now my bowl has even yummier stuff – this is great and I’m gonna eat all of it!......oh man I’m full – I’m gonna cut back…..Oh wow, now she’s putting the real gourmet stuff in front of me – what’s a dog to do?– I’ll eat it all….for awhile…. And why has it become some darn difficult to jump up on the bed or take long walks?”

Now the interesting thing here is that we make some assumptions about what dogs and cats understand about food. Let’s take a 5 month old puppy adopted from the shelter – this pup has probably never had anything but cheap dog food, may be enough of it and maybe not. We adopt him, put too much food in his bowl, and when he leaves some behind, we assume it’s because he envisions some delicious meal that he’s never had, but that must be perfect. And he’s holding out for it. Where’s the logic?

So we note that they eat less and less, but we ignore the fact that the ounces and pounds are piling on while we try to find foods they like even more! All the while, this lovely dog or cat has been trying to stay trim and we sabotage them every step of the way!

Here’s my advice: feed your pet a diet that is high in variety – different manufacturers and different ingredients (just avoid the exotic ones like venison, duck, rabbit, pheasant etc – more on that at a later date). Learn what your dog or cat likes and looks best on. Feed the amount that maintains him or her at a perfect body condition score. If the body condition score goes over 5/9 (or 3/5), don’t feed so much.

There are times these rules don’t apply. Dogs and cats who refuse to eat anything for more than a day or two, or who LOSE WEIGHT while refusing to eat aren’t healthy – they should be checked out right away. Dogs and cats with confirmed diagnoses of chronic conditions like kidney disease or pancreatitis need to be checked out if they don’t eat for a couple of days. More on this in the next post.


  1. Just wondering why no venison, duck, rabbit, pheasant, etc.?

  2. First,if we think about variety, why aren't chicken, turkey, fish, beef, lamb, pork and egg enough?

    Secondly, naturopathic practitioners (including holistic veterinarians) frequently use novel proteins to treat many diseases that involve the immune system. The word novel presumes that a patient's immune system has never been exposed to that protein before.

    So, as is typical in my clients who are raw feeders, if they have already used chicken/turkey/beef/pork/fish/egg/lamb AND venison/duck/rabbit/pheasant, what are we left with if your pet develops allergies, autoimmmune disease or other immune mediated diseases?

    I'll tell you - kangaroo (there is one commercial diet available that is kangaroo-based), emu or ostrich (your on your own finding it), alligator (ditto) or other novel protein that you can kill and dress on your own. And if you have a large dog, this is going to get very expensive. What am I saying? It's expensive for small dogs too!

    The next question that usually comes up is whether we can use bison or caribou. The answer is maybe - they are potentially cross reactive with beef, but this is an individual thing.

    So the other objection from raw feeders is that rabbit and duck, for instance, is easy to provide in the context of a carcass-based version of a raw diet. That's true if this is your focus. We can have a discussion about the longevity of these pets later, but in the meantime, I would just say that the convenience argument should be taken to its logical end - then use what you can get locally and in a paleolithic mode - shun the commercial beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish etc so we can use THOSE as novel antigens should the need arise.

    Will your pet be able to avoid the development of immune-mediated diseases by having a diet that is extremely high in variety? No one knows. And if you want to take that bet, spending giant chunks of time sourcing unusual meats as well as the common ones from your health food store, just be prepared when your holistic vet starts to talk about changing the dietary elements dramatically for a short, diagnostic period of time.

    After all that, I have to ask again, does any dog or cat really need more variety than chicken/turkey/fish/beef/lamb/pork/egg or alternatively, your locally sourced rabbit/duck/chicken/turkey?