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Pet health - when did it become an oxymoron?

You want me to eat WHAT?!
You want me to eat WHAT?!

Yet another pet food-related recall was announced this week and it made me wonder why we have this downward spiral suddenly and with as much negative effect on our pets’ overall health. Reading the excellent blog posting from Dr. Dodds, who is considered one of the foremost experts in pet healthcare, made me realize that it’s less a perfect storm than a long-term cumulative effect that is harming our pets.

In her blog posting, The Pet Food Dilemma: Why do Many Pets React to Commercial Pet Foods?, Dr. Dodds talks about wholesome nutrition as the key to a healthy, balanced body and a strong immune system that is able to resist disease.

“One big drawback of commercial, mass-market pet foods is that they are highly processed. So, even a company that uses “premium” ingredients (look for more about what that really means in future posts!) is still altering them beyond anything our pets’ bodies can normally identify. Processing exposes more antigenic sites on the foods’ molecules, which alter the body’s immune surveillance and recognition responses. In other words, our pets’ bodies view much of the “wholesome nutrition” we are feeding them like “foreign invaders”, setting off classical defensive immune responses. These defenses are typically manifested by a host of food sensitivity and intolerance symptoms suffered by our pets.”

“Kibble is the main culprit. It is a conglomeration of many ingredients (just read a typical package) that are ground up, mixed together and “extruded” into those dry nuggets you pour into your pet’s bowl. Since many common ingredients in kibble (i.e. proteins of poor bioavailability along with glutens such as wheat, corn and soy) may be reactive on their own, just imagine the effect when several are combined into one food! Moreover, the high temperatures used during extrusion further release the reactive molecules of the food. Extrusion also kills valuable enzymes and probiotics (“good” bacteria) that are vital to a healthy digestive tract and immune system [remember that much of the body’s immune surveillance system is contained in the gut, so a compromised GI tract means a compromised immune system). In addition, dehydrating the kibble – whereby all the water is removed – actually concentrates the reactive molecules. Then, to top it off (literally), the kibble may be sprayed with all sorts of chemical flavor enhancers, colors and preservatives! Is it any wonder that are pets become progressively intolerant of these foods over time?

“Canned foods tend to be less reactive than kibble, if only because each can contains about 75-80 percent water, which both “takes up room” in the can and dilutes the antigens in the food. But, pets who eat “wet” instead of “dry” are still at increased risk of food sensitivities. Several reactive ingredients – such as beef, corn and soy – may be combined into one can. And, canned foods are highly processed. Although chemical preservatives need not be added here, once filled, each can is sterilized at temperatures close to 250 degrees for at least sixty minutes. As discussed above, this processing increases the food’s antigenic qualities, turning it into a foreign invader in our pets’ systems."

I switched my dogs over to a raw food diet after doing my research and have seen many different benefits to their overall health and well-being. I recommend raw, but do have some premium kibble products that I suggest to my clients that don’t want to make the switch. It does make me rethink that strategy after reading about the scientific data and information about what goes into kibble – I always considered premium kibble a “safe” alternative to raw.

It concerns me that most people are getting nutrition advice from the marketing campaigns of the big pet food companies or veterinarians that may not have had any education about nutrition that doesn’t come from the pet food manufacturers, and may never realize that their pet’s health could be damaged by the food that they eat – food that is marketed as being safe and completely balanced for their pet’s nutritional needs.

Please do your research – there are many more sites out there now that provide information about what is in your pet’s food and give detailed lists of the ingredients and their effects on the body. The site for breaks down the ingredients of the kibble, ranks the brands, and tells you what all those added chemicals are and what they really do.

You can also be an informed consumer in other ways - check the recalls that are listed and subscribe to stay updated. Be aware, however, the jerky treats made by most manufacturers in China are still making pets sick and killing them - since 2007 - but the FDA has not issued a recall for those products because they can’t identify the precise ingredient that causes the problem – that doesn’t help the thousands of pets that have gotten sick or died since 2007.

Healthy Pets with Dr. Becker

Traci Murdock, CPDT-KA, is a Master Trainer, Canine Behavior Specialist, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and she is a Talent Scout and Wrangler. She has trained dogs and their humans for over 11 years. Traci's expertise includes pet dog issues, nutrition, behavior issues, dog sports and activities, and rescue and adoption, and she has experience in just about any dog-related subject. Traci volunteers as a behavior consultant and trainer for rescues and shelters.

For more info: If you are interested in learning different ways to solve problems and communicate with your dog, you can go toTraining Spot or send an email to with any questions or comments or for help with specific issues that you are having with your dog.


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