Both human and veterinary medical schools are horrible about teaching nutrition. I took an elective class in nutrition and learned nothing. It was mainly about calculating feed rations for livestock. There was nothing practical about feeding pets.

For years I didn’t do much with nutrition except occasionally switching animals to prescription diets for specific health issues. Once I started studying Chinese medicine though I started looking more at the diet of my patients. I was seeing a lot of animals with signs of “blood deficiency”. This isn’t anemia but it is a cluster of symptoms related to dryness in the body – flaky skin, dry and cracking pads, poor coat quality, etc. I started asking what these dogs were eating. The results were surprising.

Out all the hundreds of types of dog foods on the market about 25% of the people I asked were either feeding Kibbles N Bits or Beneful.

I went to the grocery store and looked at the ingredients. I admire the heck out of the marketing geniuses behind Beneful. The bag has a happy dog with all kinds of vegetables. The marketing blurbs on advertising for the food says stuff like, “Beneful® brand Dog Food Original helps keep your dog happy and healthy with a perfect balance of healthful ingredients, quality nutrition and superb taste. It’s made with wholesome grains and real beef, and accented with vitamin-rich vegetables.”

But what’s the reality?

Ingredients: Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, sugar, propylene glycol, meat and bone meal, tricalcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, salt, water, animal digest, sorbic acid (a preservative), potassium chloride, dried carrots, dried peas, calcium propionate (a preservative), L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2), DL-Methionine, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.

Wow. Real beef, huh? Sure there is some – way down in the ingredient list. You have to go even farther down for the vegetables besides corn.  There  are preservatives listed before the vegetables.

One of the first things we do when we see a dog with skin or ear problems is discuss diet.  We have handouts on how to choose a dog food (Basically, real meat as the first several ingredients and everything should be something that you’d eat.  Limited grains if any.  Get it from a pet store and not a grocery store.)  Getting onto a high quality diet is the best thing we have people do to help skin disease.

Seems simple right?  Oh, the arguments we get.  People are generally not open to the idea of treating disease with diet.  They want medicine to fix the problem.  It can take several visits of hearing the message before some people are willing to try. I talked to one person who was visiting the area and her dog was miserable.  She wanted temporary relief for the dog until she could get her home and start her allergy testing.  The dog was on Beneful.  I recommended switching her food and see what happens in 2-3 months.  The owner got nasty.  She was going to spend hundreds of dollars on allergy testing and treatment but would not even consider spending $10 more on a bag of dog food.

When we do get people to switch, the results can be amazing.  I’ve had dogs that I’ve seen that have been totally bald from the shoulders back.  Within a few months they have regrown a gorgeous coat.  Dogs who have had ear problems all their lives are off ear medication.  Some of the dogs get better but still have flare ups from environmental allergies at certain times of the year but they aren’t as severe.

Recently we’ve had a few dogs whose allergies were diet controlled come in looking awful.  In each case they went off the healthy food.  Either someone bought the wrong kind of dog food or the dogs had a friend who didn’t eat as healthy as they did and they ate the friend’s food.  That was the only change in their life.  It confirms that for some dogs it makes all the difference in the world to eat healthy.

Coming up…. How my dogs (past and present) have eaten and how it has affected them.