Delilah had an upset stomach last week, so she’s been getting Kefir daily with her food, and she loves it. I’ve now started adding it to everyone’s food, since it is such a rich, healthful and relatively inexpensive way to add nutrition to their diets, and to support immune and digestive function. Similar to yogurt, Kefir is made by fermenting milk (goat, cow, sheep or even coconut) with a bacterial and yeast starter known as ‘kefir grains’. Read more
We might all get tired of Pumpkin Spice everything, but the common pumpkin is healthy and beneficial for cats and dogs in lots of different ways.
I have a few go to things in my arsenal that I suggest for dogs who have sensitive stomachs, food intolerances, leaky gut or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Tops on that list? Plain old pumpkin, a food that has an almost magical range of benefits for dogs with stomach issues.
Pumpkin is rich in fibre, and low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and it’s a good source of Vitamin E, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium. A 2010 study in the “International Journal of Pharmacology” shows that pumpkin contains powerful antioxidants – compounds that protect cells from free radicals, and help the body to fight immune disease. This same study shows that Pumpkin acts as an anti inflammatory, soothing the stomach lining and reducing inflammation in the gut.
Pumpkin fibre has an equally beneficial effect for both diarrhea, and constipation. For dogs with loose stool or diarrhea, the fibre in pumpkin helps to bind stool, while it also absorbs water from the gut. Pumpkin’s anti inflammatory properties soothe the stomach and the intestinal lining. The same fibre helps constipated dogs, by bulking up and softening stool, and improving intestinal motility. For cats, pumpkin can help to prevent and eliminate hairballs, and (just like with dogs) it eases both constipation and diarrhea.
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are very much in the news at the moment, especially after the Dr. Oz show did a segment touting the effectiveness of pumpkin seed and pumpkin seed oil at combatting everything from prostate problems to skin issues. This isn’t just hyperbole, either – a clinical study at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) showed Pumpkin seed oil is beneficial in treating overactive bladders, urinary tract infections and bladder inflammation – common conditions in many dogs, especially elderly dogs and spayed bitches.
If Fido is a bit on the fluffy side, you might be feeding him a specialized weight control kibble. The ‘weight control’ in most kibbles come from simply adding more fibre to the kibble recipe used in non diet foods. This fibre source can be anything from beet pulp to cellulose from pine trees (yes, really). Skip the garbage fillers, and add bulk and flavor to your chubby dog’s diet with the simple addition of a few tablespoons full of pumpkin.
You can purchase canned Pumpkin puree at pet food specialty stores, or in the grocery store. If buying canned pumpkin at the grocery store, make sure to choose plain Pumpkin, and not sweetened and spiced pumpkin pie filling. You’d be surprised how much canned “pumpkin” contains large portions of much cheaper squash varieties. Libby’s Brand canned pumpkin is certified 100% genuine pumpkin, but in fall, when fresh Pumpkins are everywhere, it’s super easy to make your own homemade Pumpkin puree, and it easily freezes into individual portions.
To give your dog the benefit of pumpkin seed oil, take the seeds you retained while cleaning your pumpkin and lightly roast them (directions below) and then feed either whole, or give them a quick puree in your magic bullet or food processor.
Easy Pumpkin Puree Method (from the Farmer’s Almanac)
- Cut a pumpkin in half and then into fourths.
- Use a large spoon or scoop to remove the seeds, and set aside (Seeds are edible and nutritious too. Save for roasting.)
- Place the pumpkin skin-side down in a roasting pan. Add a little water to cover the bottom of the pan and cover.
- Place in a 300°F oven. The pumpkin will take about 1 hour to bake, unless you are working with a small one.
- Test the center of the pumpkin for softness with a knife. When the pumpkin is done, it will slice easily.
- Remove pumpkin from the oven when it’s ready and uncover.
- Allow to cool slightly to the touch.
- Cut the fleshly part away from the hard outside shell. Chop the fleshy part into 2” to 3” inch chunks.
- If the pumpkin will be used solely for pies or breads, process the pumpkin cubes in a blender or food processor until smooth.
- Store pumpkin in the freezer for future use. Freeze in storage containers or pressure-can in pint-canning jars.
Lightly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Preheat oven to 400°F
- Rinse pumpkin seeds in colander under cool running water to remove pulp
- Lightly oil baking sheet or roasting pan with 1 TBSP olive or coconut oil
- Spread seeds in an even layer on pan, tossing to coat in oil
- Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, until seeds are just golden
- Cool and store in airtight jars or plastic containers
- Feed whole seeds by adding to food, or to pets as a snack
In case you’re not yet scared enough of pet food, here’s a fun article about mycotoxins in pet food, featuring Dr. Trevor Smith, University of Guelph Animal and Poultry Science Professor, and world leader in the field of research into mycotoxin contamination in animal feed.
“A shift in pet food ingredients is on,” says Animal and Poultry Science professor Trevor Smith, who, after 35 years of mycotoxin research at Guelph, is a world leader in the field. “Instead of worrying about bacteria spoilage or disease contamination, like we have in the past, we now have to focus on removing mycotoxins.”
Why are mycotoxins suddenly an issue, you ask? Because they come from NON meat/fish/poultry ingredients, ingredients like vegetable cereals, corn, wheat and rice – cheap fillers that allow manufacturers to pump up protein levels, at a fraction of that cost of ‘real’ proteins.
The ingredient that should raise the most alarms, according to Dr. Smith, is the innocuous sounding rice bran. “That’s the ingredient that’s often contaminated,” he says. FYI, search results on Dog Food Advisor show several pet foods with rice bran high on their list of ingredients, but any dog food with significantly high levels of plant based protein should be avoided (this list of one or two star rated foods is a good starting point for brands to avoid).
Mycotoxins are dangerous to animals, and can result in “loss of appetite, sleepiness, lack of co-ordination, immune system suppression and vomiting”. Of note to breeders is that mycotoxins have also been shown to impair growth and reproduction, although the bulk of research so far has been on ruminant animals (citation). It’s important to note that mycotoxins are dangerous not only via ingestion, but also via exposure from handling or inhalation, putting the people who handle mycotoxin contaminated pet food at risk even if they do not ingest it themselves.
How do we avoid exposing our pets to excessive risk of mycotoxins? By feeding a diet that is heavy on animal, poultry or fish based protein sources, and NOT plant based. Raw diets, whether home made or commercial, are ideal for this, but so are quality freeze dried diets, dehydrated diets, or animal protein based kibble diets such as Orijen.
Oh, and I’d like to hope that this will give the people who insist that vegan diets are safe for pets food for thought – although I’m not holding my breath (but I would be if I was feeding that food – remember, mycotoxins can be inhaled!).
For as many years as I have been feeding raw, vets have been telling me the same thing – “Raw dog food is dangerous – commercial kibble is the only safe food for your pet”. A vet at the University of Guelph once insisted on sticking a dying French Bulldog rescue puppy into immediate isolation, because I mentioned having fed it some (commercially prepared under ISO conditions, from human grade ingredients) raw turkey dog food. One of my first vets essentially fired me from his clinic as a patient – told me to collect my pet’s records, and find a new vet – because I insisted on feeding raw.
I’m not the only dog owner with stories like these, and for almost as long as I’ve been hearing them, I’ve been fighting back with the same argument – that raw dog food is safe when prepared properly, from human grade ingredients, and that we face a greater risk from dry pet food, not least because people become complacent about its safety. People who would never dream of leaving a dish of raw meat on the floor for hours will leave a bowl of dry kibble sitting out for days, in hot summer weather. People who bleach every bowl, utensil and surface that their raw meat touches will hand scoop kibble out of a bag. And why wouldn’t you? You’ve been told for years (decades!) that dry pet food is safe. It’s inspected! Approved! Tested! It’s the safe way to feed your dogs and cats – and this in spite of the fact that not a year (or month) seems to go by without a recall, or a story of pets sickening and even dying from eating dry kibble dog and cat food.
Susan Thixton at the excellent Truth About Pet Food blog has been tireless in her fight against this complacency, and her search for the actual truth about just how safe commercial pet food is. Last year, Susan crowdfunded for an exhaustive project intended to hire outside, independent laboratories to test popular commercial pet food brands for dangerous levels of mycotoxins and bacteria, and mineral content levels above AAFCO guideline levels considered safe. The results of that testing are now in, and it’s not pretty. 8 out of 8 pet foods tested contained mycotoxins ( a serious risk to your dog or cat’s health, even at low levels). Six tested pet foods had dangerously high mineral content levels. Eleven pet foods tested had alarmingly high levels of food borne bacteria, bacteria that are not just a risk to cats and dogs, but to the people who handle their food. The infographic below shows the results of these tests, and full results are available via the Truth About Pets page.
These tests are not exhaustive – there are literally thousands of more foods on the market, far too many for an independent analysis. But consider this – all of the brands tested were nationally sold, heavily advertised, and in many cases strenuously vet endorsed (in fact, one was a “Prescription” diet, available only via veterinarians, and sold specifically for pets with specific health conditions. How scary is that?). If these foods, owned by large corporations with deep pockets, have such disturbing numbers of issues, then they can only be regarded as the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ – outliers of what is really going on in the food we feed our pets.
Read the rest of the testing on the Truth About Pet Food blog.
UPDATED 03-20-2014: article link via Dr. Patty Khuly on barbiturate trace levels in pets, due to rendered pets and animals in the pet food supply chain.
When I first wrote an article years ago stating that some pet food companies were using the rendered remains of euthanized pets in their food (under the ingredient designation “meat and bone meal”), I got some pretty nasty email from people telling me I was either insane, or a liar.
For those who were still on the fence, here’s a just released video of AAFCO’s president finally admitting, on camera, that it’s allowable (and, in fact, fairly common practice) for rendered pets to end up in pet food.
AAFCO, by the way, is short for The Association of American Feed Control Officials, and is the regulatory body that sets guidelines for pet food and pet food ingredients in the USA. They could quite easily ban the use of rendered pets as acceptable for inclusion in pet food – but they don’t, because pet food companies value the cheap protein count that comes from rendered meat and bone meal.
What else can be rendered and made into “meat and bone meal”? Euthanized pets, road kill, expired grocery store meat (including the packaging), kill floor detritus, dead stock… etc.
Ethical considerations aside (and they are numerous, in my opinion), rendered pets (and horses) bring something else along with them – trace amounts of the chemicals used to kill them.
This is no minor matter – the Veterinary Industry takes this risk seriously enough to have studied barbiturate levels in pet foods, and to have assessed them as a risk to pets who consume them. Trace barbiturates consumed by pets create a tolerance level which has decreased overall effectiveness of barbiturates, making dosing pets increasingly difficult for veterinarians. Additionally, the chemicals used in euthanasia are, obviously, deadly.
Dr. Patty Khuly has an excellent article on this topic here – http://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2010/oct/rendered_barbiturates-10474
As I’ve been saying for years — It really, really DOES pay to read the label.
H/T to the ever awesome Yesbiscuit for the video link