DEAR DR. FOX: Recently, I had reason to take Birdie, one of my Havanese, to a vet under emergency conditions. In the 18 hours prior to taking him to the vet, he exhibited signs of intestinal distress, with diarrhea and loss of bowel control.
During the office exam, the subject of diet came up, and I was asked what brand of food I feed my dogs. I provided the brand of kibble I use, Taste of the Wild, a label that I have been told is considered by the veterinary community to be a wise choice. I chose this brand because of its high protein content and the absence of grains. Grains have no place in a canine's diet; I have verified this in numerous sources. Birdie's vet suggested that Taste of the Wild's high protein content could cause harm to my 3 1/2-year-old Havanese, and a change in feed might be necessary.
After an examination, the vet advised me that Birdie's anal glands were not a contributing cause for his distress, but his upper G.I. had lots of gas. The vet suggested that it may be caused by his exposure to deer and rabbit waste in our yard. He prescribed several medications to remedy the problem.
The vet also sold me a bag of Hill's "digestive care" kibble and told me to feed it to Birdie for the next four to five days, and then transition him back to the Taste of the Wild kibble. I read the ingredient label prior to leaving the vet's office, and remarked to the staff that this Hill's Prescription Diet contained, in order as printed on the label: brewer's rice, cornstarch, corn gluten meal, whole grain wheat, chicken byproduct meal (we know what that is!) and on and on, including pork flavoring and chicken liver flavoring -- but no protein. The staff's response to my query was that I should call Hill's at the number provided on the bag with any questions. I have not called Hill's, as I fully expect their representative to do what is expected of an employee: that is, support the employer's product as complete and whole.
I am at a loss as to whom and what to believe. A protein-based diet for a dog makes a lot of sense to me, as this is what a canine would eat in the wild, not cornstarch, brewer's rice, corn gluten meal, etc.
Do you have any suggestions or guidance that you would share with me? Am I making an informed, wise choice by choosing a meal-based protein kibble? -- T.R., Washington, D.C.
DEAR T.R.: I am glad that you read what was in the bag of prescription food for your dog.
You should know that it was "scientifically formulated," and the attending veterinarian believed that it would be the best remedy for your dog. But where did the animal doctor get the information in the first place, having, at best, a short course in companion animal nutrition before graduation from veterinary school? At least you were fortunate that the veterinarian did not insist on costly diagnostic tests, though you made no mention of any fecal tests for parasites and infections, such as giardia and clostridia. Clostridia is a common cause of diarrhea during changes in the season or stress in dogs; giardia could come from deer feces or contaminated water. In general, dogs probably eat a small quantity of wild animal feces may as a natural instinct.
It is also possible that this batch of Taste of the Wild was not up to par; one way to avoid that is to feed your dog a variety of good-quality canned and dry dog foods. High protein content should not be an issue in an otherwise healthy dog. Try my home-prepared diet -- posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net -- and keep me posted as you transition your dog onto a wholesome diet of known ingredients.
The best medicine is prevention, and a holistic, integrative approach to companion animal health calls for a revision of vaccination protocols, cessation of feeding highly processed commercial pet foods, and reviewing medication practices, especially with so-called preventive medications like those sold to keep fleas and ticks at bay. For further information, contact a holistic veterinarian in your area. A searchable list can be found at holisticvetlist.com. Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at ahvma.org.
A friend took a stray cat to the local vet here in Minneapolis for appropriate tests, neutering and care with adoption in mind, and requested the cat be given a high-quality protein diet because he was severely malnourished. She was shocked several days later when she found out that the cat had been given Purina's EN Gastroenteric Feline Formula (dry) -- the first four ingredients were soy protein isolate, poultry byproduct meal, corn gluten meal and soy flakes. This is hardly the optimal diet for a carnivore! For more details, see my book "Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Foods."
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)