Recently I was contacted by a client with two dogs. Both of these pups presented with itching skin and a constant propensity for licking their feet. Most traditional veterinarians would diagnose these behaviors as “seasonal allergies”, and recommend either Benadryl, or they will most likely prescribe a steroid. Worse yet, they may prescribe either Atopica or Apoquel. I strongly caution dog owners when this is the course of action recommended, as both of these options impair necessary life functions within your dog’s system. RARELY, in a traditional veterinary situation is diet discussed at length as a viable reason for this very treatable condition.
[Apoquel's function, specifically, is to disrupt the communication method within cells necessary for survival. Those pathways targeted to fail by Apoquel actually perform some very important work - they are responsible for protection within the body against tumor formation; they regulate blood cell formation (both white and red); they regulate overall body growth and development; and, when functioning properly, they provide immunity support through proper functioning of the production of antibodies, thus modulating inflammation. While this medication is effective as an allergy suppressant, it also suppresses the immune system's ability to perform properly as well as the body's ability to regulate inflammation on its own. In doing so, these systems will cease to perform with prolonged usage.]
When I asked Chris (my client) what she was feeding her dogs (Winston & Sarge), she was excited to say “Fresh Pet”. This is not an inexpensive food, and is touted as a far better option than kibble or canned food. It sounds great, after all FRESH is the first word in the name, so it must be good. This food is advertised as fresh meat and fresh veggies which are cooked and then refrigerated. It is packaged in a rolled-up food log in a refrigerator in the grocery or pet store. So I looked into this food for client...
This was no small task. My first search was of the company’s website. I will give them credit for explaining the ingredients in the food. I was looking for clear and concise transparency; I struggled to find even truth in the information provided. Nowhere on the website does it provide just how much real meat is in this food. Reputable dog food manufacturers will always tell you the percentage of actual meat is in their products. The next red-flag concern for my client were three very concerning ingredients - CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL FLAVORS, and SALT.
Carrageenan is red leaf algae. It is an additive which, when added to foods including pudding and dairy products causes gelling and thickening. Carrageenan has been found to be highly inflammatory and toxic to the digestive tract, and some claim that it may be responsible for colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and even colon cancer. In animal testing, it has been found to be a massive inflammatory to the digestive system and known to cause cancer or stomach tumors. When this ingredient mixes with the high acidity in a dog’s stomach, the resulting compounds can become quite toxic. It has been banned for use in food products in many countries in the world, as studies continue to be conducted on its safety, yet the US has yet to make that leap.
Chris feeds her dogs nothing but Fresh Pet – no treats, no table scraps, no other foods that could produce an adverse reaction in their systems. The concern here is that it has caused extremely high alkalinity. Alkalinity at this level can cause struvite kidney stones - extremely costly or deadly urinary stones that are very common in smaller dogs and/or dogs with hair rather than fur. Small-breed dogs are the target demographic with Fresh Pet pet food.
The next ingredient to cause me to pause is known as “natural flavor”. This is a widely-recognized euphemism for monosodium glutamate, or MSG. While MSG is added to human food commonly in Chinese food, canned soup, processed or frozen foods as a flavor enhancer, it is added to dog food in much the same way. MSG in the long term is addictive and has several additional harmful effects on both humans and pets alike. MSG contributes to obesity in animals and is a known irritant to a dog’s system, causing itching and irritation. It can triple a dog’s insulin levels and is a suspected neurotoxin, associated with chest pain, headaches, mood changes and other severe reactions in humans. The makers of Fresh Pet do not disclose at all what this is or where it comes from.
Simply stated, MSG is an unnecessary additive used to ensure the continued palatability and attraction to the food we feed our pets.
In the pet food industry MSG is hidden under many ingredient names. MSG gets by the FDA and USDA because it is indeed "natural." While it is a “natural” flavor enhancer, MSG can also appear under other names, including:
Salt is never a good product in any daily-fed pet food. Salt is unnecessary to dogs for palatability and in fact causes skin irritations and seborrhea and dermatitis – more commonly known as dandruff or dry coat - as well as a long list of other health concerns related to the heart and internal organs. Inclusion of salt in a food of this type ensures frequent urination in an effort to counter-balance the effects of the high alkalinity (and possibility of kidney stones) brought on by the carrageenan. It creates quite a merry-go-round of symptoms and placebo-like panaceas to counter-act them.
After consultation on these findings, Chris and I agreed to transition her dogs to a raw frozen diet that is clearly listed as 90% real meat and 10% veggies, with no added synthetic vitamins, preservatives, artificial flavors, natural flavor, or harmful fillers. The high alkalinity was found from a simple urine test that we routinely provide free of charge to all of our customers. This is an immediate and highly accurate way to detect very simple skin and common licking issues that are almost always related to diet. Additionally, we recommend some simple, natural supplements to adjust the pH of both Winston and Sarge to the proper pH level of 7.5. These supplements are simple dietary products; they are safe and very effective for the long-term health of her dogs.
Chris stated that both Winston and Sarge simply “have allergies”, when in fact, both of her dogs have a weakened or compromised immune system from the food they have been fed day in and day out. Because a dog’s diet rarely varies, there is a cumulative effect when the food includes harmful ingredients. Over time, what started out feeding very well can compromise the dog’s entire system and cause them to become intolerant to their own environment or even certain foods. This will manifest as skin, ear, or digestive issues, hot spots, open sores or feet licking.
Ask yourself a few simple questions, like: did your pet have this when you brought them home as a young puppy? Were they fine for several years of life and this is now a recent issue? Were they dropped at a rescue because of these behaviors or their health issues? So often, the answer you will find to this is NO, they were fine for years. Not much (if anything) has changed when it comes to their environment. Or YES, they were sick when I got them. Allergies would have manifested nearly since birth; anything that “develops” over a long period of time would be the result of a weakened immune system caused by improper and deficient diet.
Unfortunately, the pet food industry has become a landmine field of false information and non-transparency. Your pet deserves better! Because they cannot speak for themselves, we are the best advocates for our pets. We are here to help you navigate the myriad choices when feeding your pets and provide safe, informed options for all your pets’ needs. We seek only to provide you with natural solutions to get and keep your pets’ immune system on a healthy path using a balanced, healthful diet as well as ethically-sourced treats, supplements, vitamins, and products which can easily be fact-checked on the internet. While we appreciate and support the holistic veterinary medical community, we also believe that expensive office visits and prescription drugs may not need to be the only answer or your first course of action to address easily-corrected issues. Many of the pharmaceuticals you may be recommended have very negative side effects or other lasting and detrimental influences that compromise your pets’ life span. All-too-often, for example, “seasonal allergy medicine” isn’t just seasonal; your pet may be left on it for months or even years, compromising and eventually destroying their sensitive digestive biome and skin.
Chris has provided the photos of her babies, as well as their urine strips as a reference for this article. She has also agreed to partner with us so that we might continue to share the progress she and her boys make through their healthful journey. We invite you to follow their progress too.