The Twelve Days of Wellness Day Two: Diet and Digestion

Dog diet and digestion

by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)

Canine wellness.

Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.

Today, we are going to look at DIET and DIGESTION.

There is a Chinese proverb that says “He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skill of the physician.”

Optimising a dog’s wellness and increasing longevity includes lots of things but we can never ignore just how important diet is for health, prevention and cure.

To give you an idea of just how important food is for health and diet, here is another quote, this time from Hippocrates, where he states “let food be thy medicine and let medicine be in thy food.” So, food isn’t just about calories and preventing hunger. It has a much more powerful part to play than that; it is what nature has given us freely to be our medicine cupboard too!

Any mammal’s body is capable of knowing how to heal itself and exist in perfect health, doing so is a great sign that the body is in balance. Yet, with the exception of physical trauma, most physical conditions and diseases are a result of either emotional imbalances and/or dietary imbalances.

All animals are large biochemical factories that require fuel to function, stay well and heal. What is put in your dog as fuel has a direct impact on your dog’s health and wellness, as well as the immune system (it is very common knowledge now that there is a direct link between the digestive system and the immune system. However, when we consider wellness we are also aware that the entire body is a whole and that all the parts of the organism are connected).

Your dog’s body knows what it is doing when it comes to protecting itself as a whole organism, but we are responsible for providing the right support, tools and DIET for the dog to be able to keep itself healthy (like I say, there are other factors involved to optimise your dog’s wellness and I will tell you more about these throughout the twelve days of wellness); with every food and drink we give to our dog we are either supporting them as a whole organism or harming their body by increasing things like inflammation, oxidative stress, toxicity, biochemical interferences and imbalances.

It has only been in the last 40-50 years that our dog’s and their body’s have become subject to highly processed, foreign and unnatural food and this is having a great impact on our dog’s wellness; emotionally, physically, physiologically and spiritually. It is not a coincidence that more and more dogs are suffering with chronic illnesses that were almost unheard of until only relatively recently. This includes anything from digestive upset, ear infections to cancer.

What you feed your dog can also affect his/her behaviour. Behaviours are a direct response of the emotional state of a dog and some food can affect the emotional balance of a dog as some food has neuro-toxic, mood altering and hyperactive effects.

So, what should you feed your dog as a canine and what should you feed your dog to support his/her wellness and health? The answer really is a little more complicated than what I am summarising here, but to give you a start on the right path to do your own research and for you to start thinking about how the food you give your dog can have a direct effect on either promoting their health or harming their health, here are some foods (and drinks) to feed and also to avoid.

Your dog’s body (e.g. organs, tissues and cells) needs fuel to function efficiently. Most food compounds are most easily and effectively used (and have the most healing potential) when in their most natural state.

Your dog needs to be fed a diet that includes only or mainly whole, natural foods. These include:

~ Muscle meat (preferably organic or from grass fed prey). Being a canine, dogs enjoy and should be fed protein sources that come from prey animals. I am keeping it simple here as there is a reason why I suggest organic, if possible. However, a great interest I have also includes the emotional state of the prey animal that has been killed. From an energetic perspective, there is a big difference between a prey animal that has been well cared for, fed and looked after before being slaughtered compared to a prey animal that has been under-nourished, neglected and un-loved. It is time to start thinking about what we are putting in to our dog’s body in every way. That is all I am saying about food energetics…for now!

~ Heart muscle (preferably organic)

~ Liver and kidney (preferably organic)

~ Raw Bone (not weight bearing or cooked)

~ Fresh green tripe (from grass fed prey animal)

~ Vegetables and fruits (mostly vegetables with fruit in less quantity. Vegetables should include the green leafy variety and cruciferous vegetables, preferably organic). Whilst there is an on-going discussion about whether a dog should be fed vegetables and fruits, I am a big believer that they should be, so long as they are in their natural and whole form. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants, all of which provide healing and health benefits for your dog. If you are unable to source organic vegetables and fruits, whilst vegetables are very delicate organisms (nuts and fruits that are sprayed with fertiliser or pesticides often have hard shells or thick peels that produce a natural shield from these chemicals), given that plants are further down the food chain and have little to no fat consumption compared to animals, toxins do not readily accumulate in the cells of plants as much as they do in animals.

~ Nuts and seeds (preferably organic, but certainly whole seeds and nuts that have not been roasted or processed in any other way). It is suggested to avoid walnuts and macadamia nuts. It is best to soak the nuts you are using for several hours before offering to your dog. Soaking the nuts increases enzyme and nutrient levels and inactivates digestive inhibitors. Nuts can have a high fat and protein content so be mindful of this and perhaps offer as a treat or in your dog’s food bowl 2-3 times a week. Personally, I allow my dogs to do what I call self foraging, which I have done for several years. I scatter different fresh and whole food items on the floor (e.g. organic and soaked almonds, hazelunts, brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, fresh pumpkin seeds, goji berries) and allow my dogs to eat what nuts and seeds they want – you will be surprised at how selective they can be and how their preferences change from time to time.

~ Herbs and spices (fresh or dried). These are extremely healthy and rich in various vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and anti-oxidants. They can provide powerful healing and digestive qualities too. Always avoid rosemary and oregano if your dog suffers with seizures. The list of herbs and spices to offer is endless and I encourage you to do your own research. Common herbs and spices include nettle, thyme, peppermint, turmeric, nutmeg, milk thistle, dandelion root.

~ Occasional beans and legumes. It is suggested that dogs can only have beans and legumes added occasionally to their diet because they can contain lectins (these can cause digestive imbalances). However, soaking beans and legumes can reduce the lectin content. Beans and legumes contain high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and phytonutrients. They also contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which is valuable for optimal digestion and a healthy colon.

~ Fungi. Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses and can have great healing potential. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and are believed to offer protection against infections and cancers, boost the immune system and provide digestive support. Mushrooms are also reliable sources of vitamin D when exposed to UV light (vitamin D is not present in most other vegetables and fruit). Given its healing potential and no apparent contraindications, I always give my dogs a sprinkling of reishi mushroom powder on top of their food on a morning.

~ Fermented foods. Whilst it is suggested that foods should be fed in their most natural and raw forms, there is only one form of processing food that is believed to be highly beneficial for health and wellness. This is fermented foods. Suggested health benefits include improved digestion, improved absorption and enhanced immunity. Fermented foods include healthy micro-organisms, like prebiotics and these have been known to contain both antibiotic and anticarcionogenic properties. However, it is best to use fermented foods that have been fermented using water and salt rather than vinegar. I am mentioning more on probiotics or prebiotics but you may want to read up on these too.

~ Filtered water. Water is required for the cells in your dog’s body (and therefore for your dog as a whole organism) to perform thousands of reactions, processes and functions. The most beneficial water for optimal health is pure, natural spring water (and not most of those that come in plastic bottles, so avoid those too!). Of course, most of us will not have the luxury of supplying both ourselves as well as our dogs with natural spring water on a daily basis, so I would recommend getting your dog’s water from properly filtered tap water. There is only one other drink I would recommend to offer (notice how I said offer and not give!) your dog and that would be fresh herbs made in to a tea, or high quality organic teas (I use powdered herbal teas or tea from the company Pukka Herbs). I make a tea as normal but allow this to go luke warm in a bowl and offer it to my dogs. On occasion, my dogs have taken turmeric tea, manuka honey and chamomile tea, schishandra berry powder tea.

~ Supplements. Many people add supplements to their dog’s food but supplements typically include vitamins, minerals, herbs, phytonutrients, certain oils and homeopathics. Most of these have already been listed above given they are present in vegetables, fruit and herbs. However, there are some good choices of supplements for your dog available today that you may choose to add to your dog’s food. Pet Plus or Smart Barf are two good examples. I also like to offer spirulina and rosehips to my dogs.

~Other foods. By now you have probably realised the long list of food items that can be beneficial to your dog’s health and there are other foods that I haven’t even mentioned here! Other good choices can include local, raw and organic honey (give 1-2 times a week), an organic quail or chicken egg (once a week) as well as a daily helping of coconut oil (so long as your dog chooses to have it). You can just offer this on a spoon.

Time to mention two last things: what not to feed and why I am a big believer in raw food.

Whilst I have spent some time listing what we should be feeding our dogs, I just want to mention what we should really avoid feeding our dogs. I don’t mean this in terms of a list of individual food items, but the one food that, through my own reading, research and belief should not go inside the gut of any animal. This is processed food. The reasons why I would not feed processed food in any way to a dog is a story in itself and I really have run out of time (and I am sure this is long enough for you all already). So just quickly, even if the ingredients used in the processed food is of high quality, given the process in which this food is made, the food to me is dead, stagnant and has no healing properties left in it. In fact, processed foods are one major cause of creating illness and disease inside the body because they can cause:

~ Inflammation

~ Weight gain

~ Toxins

~ Oxidative stress

~ Biochemical changes that cause imbalances

~ No nutritional value (they provide lots of calories but with little nutrition)

Oh yes, and just a quick note on grains. I think it is common knowledge now that all animals, including us, should avoid adding grains to our diet given that grains today are highly processed, calorie rich and nutrient poor and can cause chronic illnesses. The exception of this is where we may choose to add some whole, unprocessed grain in to our dog’s food. The healthiest way to offer these are when they have been soaked, sprouted or fermented as they tend to be higher in micronutrients. Whilst there is no imperative or desperate need to add whole, unprocessed and organic grains to your dog’s diet, I have certainly added soaked organic, gluten free oats, buckwheat or quinoa to my dog’s raw food.

So, the final question, then (if you haven’t already got the gist from the list above of what to feed your dog), is why raw? I am a big believer of feeding all animals (including us) a raw food diet because of the healing benefits that food in its natural form offers. This includes:

~ Enzyme availability. Your dog’s body relies on biological processes necessary for optimal body functions. There are thousands of biological processes that your dog’s body needs to achieve and it can only do this with the support of enzymes. Enzymes are naturally present in raw foods and their power and function is significantly reduced when heated, creating the enzymatic bonds to denature. In some cases this can lead to your dog having enzyme deficiency, causing poor digestion, poor nutrient absorption, bloating, acid reflux, gas or constipation.

~ Reduced inflammation. Cooked foods are suggested to cause inflammation throughout the body, including your immune system.

~ Reduced oxidative stress.

~ Reduces the production of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) linked with inflammation throughout the body.

If you are not sure if your dog’s digestive system can cope with raw food (and some dog’s are already that poorly that they really can’t) then you can improve digestibility by blending the raw food first rather than or before trying to cook it.

I will leave you with this, from the words of Evita Ochel : “living bodies require living food; allow your [dog’s] food to nourish, heal and protect [him/her] from inflammation, invading organisms, environmental damage and breakdown”.

On our third day of wellness I will be looking at yet another aspect of wellness and how we can improve this for our dog’s health, longevity and balance of body, mind and spirit.


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