Pet Nutrition Follow-up

If you could see me now dear readers, you would know that I am giving you a standing ovation! I anticipated my recent blog post about what to feed our pets might generate some heated discussion and bullying behavior. I thought I might have to be a cyberspace referee! I needn’t have worried- your comments, which can be viewed at were all so darned civilized! You reported how you feed your pets and what you’ve learned through your own experiences. No one was even remotely pushy! Better yet everyone agreed, as do I, that there is no single type of diet that is suitable for every dog or every cat. Hats off to you! I’m deeply appreciative.

Now, as promised, I will fill you in on my current philosophy about feeding our pets. I emphasize current philosophy because I am absolutely willing to change what I recommend pending the results of future research. While there is plenty of data telling us which nutrients and how much of them dogs and cats need to grow and maintain good health, there is a paucity of legitimate research comparing how those nutrients are delivered, particularly pertaining to raw versus processed foods.

Keep in mind I am not a primary care doctor (aka, family veterinarian). As a board certified small animal internist, the clients and patients I see are referred to me to address internal medicine issues. Invariably, my clients have already made diet decisions based on discussion with their family vets. My job is to determine if and when I should “rock the boat.” After raising three children and working with gazillions of devoted dog and cat lovers, I’ve learned that it is wise to choose my battles wisely. If a client is clearly devoted to a particular diet for his or her dog or cat, and I am convinced that their choice is causing no harm, I don’t go there. Here are some situations that will prompt me to recommend a diet change.

1. My patient is eating a diet that is not nutritionally balanced. Although this can happen with prepared foods, it most commonly occurs with homemade diets and well-meaning clients who don’t know that diets balanced for human consumption are not balanced for canine or feline consumption. If these clients wish to stick with home preparation, I recommend consultation with a board certified veterinary nutritionist and/or reliable references that provide recipes for balanced homemade diets.
2. My patient is eating a raw or processed food diet of dubious origin. If I am unfamiliar with the brand of food I encourage my client to share the package label with the family vet or me so we can provide a better sense of whether or not the food is of good quality and nutritionally balanced. For example, I am not keen on pet foods produced by the neighborhood health food store. How can such a business possibly have the financial resources and knowhow needed to create a quality pet food product that is nutritionally balanced?
3. My patient is eating a raw diet while receiving medication or fighting a disease that causes immune system dysfunction (i.e., their immune system is on the fritz). In this situation I recommend discontinuation of the raw diet. While there is no data (yet) comparing the incidence of raw diet-induced infections in healthy versus immunocompromised patients, there is data that clearly documents increased numbers of disease-causing types of bacteria in the feces of animals fed raw animal protein. Until proven otherwise, I am concerned that my immunocompromised patients are at higher risk for developing raw protein-induced infections. And this simply isn’t a chance I want to take. Please know that some veterinarians feel differently about this, and in fact, believe ingestion of raw meat will help bolster the immune system.
4. My patient has a medical issue that would best be served by a change in diet. For example, I will encourage diet transition for the patient with kidney failure who is eating a high protein diet, the diabetic kitty who is eating dry food only, or the obese patient with arthritis who is eating a high fat diet.

I firmly believe that most of our dogs and cats can thrive on a variety of different foods/diets as long as they contain high quality ingredients and are nutritionally balanced based on life stage (puppies/kittens, adults, and seniors all have different requirements). Whether you choose to feed a homemade diet or prepared raw or processed food is a personal choice; just as shopping for yourself at Whole Foods versus Safeway (the main grocery store chain in northern California) is a personal choice. Whichever style of diet you choose for your pets, your goal is to ensure you are feeding a high quality, balanced product. Here are some suggestions to help you hone in on some good choices amongst the literally hundreds of products at the pet food grocery store!

• Shop at your local independent pet food store. Yes, the prices may be higher (quality pet food is expensive), but the sales people you encounter are far more likely to be knowledgeable than those working at the big box stores. Additionally, pet store shelf space is limited so the brands of food stocked there will be those the staff truly believes in.
• Learn what to be looking for when you read the food label. The best resource I’ve found for teaching this is The Whole Dog Journal. Your dog and I strongly encourage you to get a subscription as soon as possible ( ! Editor, Nancy Kerns provides her readers with plenty of practical wisdom about canine nutrition. In fact the February 2011 issue contains a fabulous article called, “Choices, Choices- On What Criteria Do you Base Your Dog’s Food Selection?” Be forewarned, there is some nepotism going on at WDJ- you will find at least one picture of Nancy’s dog Otto in every single issue! Now, if only Nancy would begin working on The Whole Cat Journal!
• The American Animal Hospital Association Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats can be found at There is a lot of valuable information here. By the way, at the top of the page you will see that a major pet food manufacturer provided some funding for these guidelines to be made available in French, Japanese, and Spanish. Please don’t let this deter your learning.
• Talk to your veterinarian, let him or her know what you’ve learned, and discuss your pet food preferences.

As always, I welcome your comments!

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Be Sociable, Share!

10 Comments on “Pet Nutrition Follow-up

  1. Thanks for the references, and sorry this is tardy. However, I can’t leave it alone. I looked at the abstracts of all but the Nov 2001 article, which I couldn’t access, and was not persuaded. What % of the meat from the grocery store would test positive for e coli and salmonella? I have fed raw for a number of years to (at various times) 5 healthy and very happy dogs. I also know that at least several raw food producers now test their products prior to distribution. And for those who just don’t want to feed raw, home-cooking is an option. It’s not as complicated as it appears at first, and there are several good books out there. I like Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olson.


  2. Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to respond. No, I wish I knew of a resource for information about cat nutrition that was comparable to what Whole Dog Journal provides for dogs. Cats truly play second fiddle compared to dogs when it comes to health resources (I’m unable to find a publisher for Talking for Tabby because of the notion that medical care for cats won’t sell). If I learn of something, I will definitely blog about it.

  3. Thank you for sharing this information. You mentioned \Whole Dog Journal\ which I subscribe to. I’ve been searching for several years for something similar for cats…like you hinted! Do you know of anything similar or a good resource for cat food evaluation similar to WDJ’s annual food list?

  4. It seems to me that it is an error to assume one’s vet does not have a good background in nutrition…I know vet colleges are offering small animal nutrition courses taught by PhD animal nutriontists to vet students and to graduate vets too. On top of that, most vets have skills and information on many things that extend far beyond what was taught in vet school because they, just like many others, do continue to research, read, think and experience much beyond those levels of skills as they grown in their profession…so to in their small animal nutritional knowledge. Most vets have a very good science based approach to information and can apply their knowledge of physiology and biochemistry to the subject of understanding nutrition. It may be true each vet is not a nutritionist but many certainly have the bases for being a very good source of information on nutrition or a source to direct clients to small animal nutrition specialists in the various universities etc. …just my opinion that the rather old and over used thougth that vets are not taught about nutrition in school is not only not always correct but does not allow for knowledge gained beyond the school years. I find my vet to be a great souce of information on canine nutrition – interested and able to discuss it in depth.

  5. Do you have any comparative studies of feces of kibble fed dogs?

  6. Pingback: Tweets that mention Pet Nutrition Follow-up « --

  7. Judy asks a great question requesting references for the information about increased infectious organisms in the feces of dogs that eat raw protein. I’ve included the one documenting this, but have also included one that documents increased numbers of pathogens in the food itself (something that would create a recall in a plant that prepares processed foods). Here you go:

    1. The risk of salmonellae shedding by dogs fed Salmonella-contaminated commercial raw food diets. Canadian Veterinary Journal, January 2007; 48: 69-75.
    2. Evaluation of the risks of shedding Salmonellae and other potential pathogens by therapy dogs fed raw diets in Ontario and Alberta. Zoonoses Public Health. October 2008; 55: 470-480
    3. Evaluation of bacterial and protozoal contamination of commercially available raw meat diets for dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association; February 2006; 228: 537-542
    4. Public health concerns associated with feeding raw meat diets to dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; November 2001; 219: 1222-1225.

    Hope this helps.

  8. Nancy, would you please cite references for the info that feces of dogs eating raw meat have more disease-causing bacteria than those who don’t. Thank you.

    Judy Gee

  9. I totally agree that The Whole Dog Journal is an excellent source for all kinds of great information on dogs. I’ve been a subscriber for years. The latest issue breaks down the foods they have researched and recommend and why they picked them.


  10. “needed to create a quality pet food product that is nutritionally balanced?”

    I must first state that I love this blog and the challenge of this topic. Now, what is a balanced diet? Do you really think there is a food from any manufacturer that is?
    Balance happens over time. Let’s switch it to humans for example. What is the human formula that you can eat everyday that will give you balance? If there is one please let me know :-) Study the wolf and lion, you will see what they need.