Has your pet been receiving long term medication for a chronic (non life-threatening) health problem for months or even years, without a true cure ever taking place? Of course some health conditions do require long term drugs in order to be properly and safely managed – but if the medications for issues like itching and ear infections or GI upset are simply hiding the symptoms and not bringing about real healing at the root of the problem, it may be time to consider diet as the culprit. Open up to the idea of taking a fresh look at food, and the role it can play in wellbeing.
Several of the top reasons that cats and dogs are taken to the vet, are often directly related to the foods they eat. In this series of posts, we’ll take a quick look at how food and disease are interrelated, and some factors to consider in your journey towards complete and lasting pet health.
Often, a change in diet means a reduced need for medications like antibiotics, steroids and other drugs that are part of the long term ‘treatment’ protocol for many pets (but which in fact only suppress the symptoms and never actually bring about a cure).
Of course, it’s important to always get a vet’s diagnosis on what’s going on with your pet, but it’s worth considering Food as Medicine, if a constant supply of steroids, antibiotics and other medications only seems to suppress the symptoms without providing a long term cure.
1. Ear Infections are often caused by a buildup of yeast in the ears. Did you know that yeast usually ‘over-grows’ when there is an overload of sugar in the system? This sugar is usually caused by excess grains in the diet as well as an excess of sugary fruits and simple carbohydrates.
What should you do? Topical products from your vet (or a homemade blend of apple cider vinegar and water, or other natural solutions) should be used to remove any buildup from the ears. Then, think about removing all grain from the diet – including treats. You may see some improvement after just a few weeks of going grain-free!
2. Urinary Tract and/or Renal Problems plague a surprising number of cats and dogs. Extruded, kibble diets are starting to be called into question for their role in the ever-increasing rate of urinary tract problems including crystals, stones and bacterial infections of the balder and urinary tract as well as kidney disease and full-blown renal failure. The reason? These types of diets are not ‘biologically appropriate’ in the true sense of the word because they contain nowhere near the moisture levels of these animals’ natural prey. In fact, they are so devoid of necessary moisture that some pets become chronically dehydrated and thus more prone to urinary tract problems.
Pets on a canned, raw or other higher moisture diet tend to experience less urinary tract infections and crystals over all and holistic vets recommend a moist diet for cats in particular.
The pH (level of acidity or alkalinity) can also play an important role in maintaining urinary tract health. Urine that is too alkaline can allow bacteria to over-grow and struvite crystals to develop; urine that is too acidic can cause calcium oxalate crystals to develop. The balance of minerals as well as total protein, are also important factors to consider when choosing a diet for an animal prone to urinary tract problems.
3. Itchy skin, as well as hot-spots (pyoderma) and chewing at the feet, are classic side effects of food intolerances. Some of the most common allergens for pets include glutenous grains like wheat, as well as corn and soy and ‘warming’ meats like lamb.
If hot spots and other skin irritation just suddenly occurred, think back to whether you recently changed to a new food. If you’ve been battling the problem for a long time without improvement, consider a switch to a very simple diet with no grain, a few veggies and a cooling or neutral meat like duck, turkey or beef.
Diets made with lamb should be avoided for pets who are prone to hotspots and generally hot, itchy skin conditions. In traditional Chinese medicine, lamb is a warming (yang) food that can aggravate these issues. Instead, a cooling (yin) food should be fed.
If you have a pet with a condition that’s among the top reasons pets visit the vet, do look at diet as a possibility. And stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll take a look at gastro-intestinal upset and vomiting, and how diet can help.
Lucy Postins is a companion animal nutritionist and the founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen, a producer of dehydrated human-grade foods that promote wellbeing in dogs and cats.