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Eating Right for Pets and People

Jack in the back.

A few days before Christmas I popped into the Humane Society to drop off a donation but I’m sure you can guess how that works; I did leave a donation but I also picked up a dog! It was simply love at first sight and on the way home I promised to do the best for him I could. So I bought the best bed (he has issues with his back legs due to spending 10months of his life in a little cage), the best toys, the best collar, but most importantly, the best food.

With the right t.l.c. the cold he had at the shelter went away, his spirits were good and he began to walk so much better. However, about two months later, I noticed that he had become hyper, had more puppy-like behavior, and would seem to tire so much faster after play. I thought perhaps this was because I was out of town for a week and all the training I had put in went out the door or that he was just becoming comfortable and showing his “true colours.”

Today I took him to a wonderful Doggie Daycare for an evaluation to see how he would be for boarding while I’m gone for the next couple of weeks (a side-note: it felt like dropping a child off for the first time at Kindergarten. Traumatized me more than I thought it would!).

Everyone ooh’d and ahh’d at how cute and sweet he is but when I picked him up, one of the handlers mentioned that he had far too many puppy qualities for a dog his age (now 12 months) and that he was just a little hyper. She asked what I fed him and when I told her, she said that a lot of dogs that come in on that diet seem to be hyper and listen less. They handed me information on understanding your pet’s diet and suggested I make some changes.

This made complete sense to me since, for the first month, his behaviour was great and then, when I ran out of food and had to pick up some generic Iams (the store where I bought the good food was closed), his behaviour changed.

I’ve seen how food can affect health (mental and physical) first hand as I have a severe food allergy to gluten as before being diagnosed a year ago with this allergy I was literally about a month away from being dead. Numerous things happen to my body and brain when I ingest gluten but one of them is that I almost instantly become hyper, angry, with a very short attention span. This goes away after a few hours when other physical symptoms take over as my body literally shuts down. There’s nothing that can make this better except to avoid gluten. So if food can change me like that, why not my dog?

There’s been so much information about food lately; organic, local, eating healthy, avoiding saturated fats and corn syrup etc. but it all relates to people. So even though I thought my dog needed really good food, I still didn’t really connect it as important as me needing good food. I figured a dog eats dead things in the year, I’m sure they’ll be OK with Iams!

But today I am changing my thoughts and giving him good, healthy food once again (California Natural), as well as some fruits and veggies to incorporate into the diet. For some, this might seem like extra money or effort but I think of the value of this and not the cost – same as with myself. It perhaps costs me more in money and time to eat organic, to eat healthy, to really read labels and avoid so many foods, but the upside is that I’m not sick, I don’t go to the doctors, I don’t have to worry about hospital bills or having brain fuzz or dying because my body has shut down. I don’t worry about weight or long-term problems because I take the time to invest in myself now and there’s value to that. Besides, I really think once you eat naturally, you can’t go back to overly sugared stuff.

I’ve noticed that when I talk about organic food a lot of people are put off. There seems to be an idea that it’s only for hippies or granola girls or for the very snobby food elite. It’s interesting that Whole Foods stock has been consistently dropping over the past four years because it’s too “posh” for the “alternative” people and not elite enough for the gourmands; mainstream is still shopping at Albertsons, not paying attention to the labels but to the prices. And while I understand having to manage your money on a budget, I don’t understand high fructose corn syrup in everything and food so far removed from nature that you forget how good natural is.

Megnut offers a lot of great information on food and in one post she blogged about Michael Pollan’s article The Age of Nutrition in the New York times with his points followed by her notes. And I share this with hopes that you’ll think of food in a new way if you haven’t already. Not only for yourself but for your pet. That you won’t think of “natural” as “weird” or “flooty snooty.” That you’ll see a value to eating things without antibiotics and hormones (this is especially important for women) and that if you or your pet have any kind of issues (from ADD to stomach upset) that instead of reaching for medication right away, you might just consider changing the diet and looking into that.

Here’s an excerpt from Megnut & Michael Pollan:

1. Eat food. Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Non-dairy creamer? You’re out. You too, breakfast-cereal bars.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims.
Science keeps changing, so trying to follow fads won’t guarantee health. You have a better chance at health by just eating a well-balanced diet.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
All those signs point to food that’s been processed. More process = less nutrients and vitamins, never mind the environmental costs of producing the food.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
Buy food at farmer’s markets and you can avoid the foods listed in #3 very easily.

5. Pay more, eat less.
Pay for that grass-fed beef, but reduce your over-all beef consumption and it’s not an exorbitant expense. Interesting figure from the article: “Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation.”

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
You don’t have to turn into a bunny, but make sure you’re getting greens. They pack a nutritional wallop, but science still can’t tell you exactly what inside is so good.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are.
You know, that whole Mediterranean diet, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” thing.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden.
Duh. If you cook from scratch, it’s unlikely you’ll add ferrous sulfate or sodium tripoly-phosphate to your dinner. See #3 above.

9. Eat like an omnivore.
Variety is important, and we’ve been reducing the diversity in our diets over the years. Plus “biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields.”

I’d like to offer yet another perspective from the Gluten-Free Girl on food, eating well and how money ties into it all. It’s beautifully written with many great points about the costs and value to eating well.



  1. February 10, 2007 / 5:05 PM

    I loved that NY Times article! I too am horrified by the prevalence of corn syrup in everything. If people ate less quantities of more satisfying quality foods we wouldn’t need an over the counter diet pill.

  2. February 10, 2007 / 5:31 PM

    Oh my goodness – we’ve had the same experience! When we switched our dog to a higher quality, more natural, and lower protein level food, her behaviour changed *drastically* for the better. Of course we see that in ourselves and our children, but you’re so right that the same theory applies to our pets as well. The Pollan list is wonderful – thanks for sharing!

  3. BethanyNo Gravatar
    February 11, 2007 / 1:25 AM

    It is really all common sense, isn’t it??!
    My mom always says that you should shop the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s where all the fresh food is and just avoid the middle, processed sections. And my husband is totally anti-hfcs. It’s in EVERYTHING!! Thank you for writing about this and enlightening people!!!

  4. February 11, 2007 / 4:12 AM

    I wholeheartedly agree! I am always amazed when I read food labels and see HFCS – it drives me crazy trying to weed out the foods that don’t have it now. It’s worth it though – putting good food into your body really makes a difference.

    Safe travels and congrats on your new love – what a sweetie!