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Natural Nutrition and Health for Your Dog



We’ve all heard the saying "you are what you eat". It’s true. And it’s equally true for our pets. Research from around the globe demonstrates the relationship between a poor diet and skin allergies, gut issues, heart disease, obesity and many diseases in our pets. As owners become more aware of the dangers of feeding a highly processed, nutrient poor diet, a growing number are now choosing a more holistic approach through fresh food and natural medicine.


This week we chatted with Canine Nutritionist and Naturopath Narelle Cooke from Natural Health and Nutrition. An experienced research scientist and human naturopath, it was her personal experience with her own dog years ago that started her journey into health and wellness for dogs. Two German Shepherds and three Frenchies later, she now does consults for dogs and people, and has formulated a line of herbal tonics for common health issues in dogs.



 


Where did your journey in canine nutrition and naturopathy begin?

I always wanted to be a vet, but when I did work experience as a teenager, I kept fainting during the surgeries, so I went on to do a Bachelor or Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne, with the aim of becoming an animal geneticist. But life takes interesting twists and turns, and half-way through my degree I fell in love with fungi and bacteria and the diseases they cause on the food we eat, and so I became a plant pathologist.


I worked in that role for around 10 years, then experienced a massive personal upheaval in my life, which was the catalyst to me becoming a professional dog trainer! I’ve always had dogs since I was born and at that time, I had two Dobermanns. But after a couple of years of training other people’s dogs, I realised that I missed the science and went back to work for a large pharmaceutical company as a Regulatory Affairs Associate. After 5 years in that role, I realised that what I was doing didn’t align with my core principles and started considering my other options. Throughout this time, I had been suffering my own health problems that the doctors kept dismissing, and it wasn’t until I found a Naturopath to work with that everything changed for the better in terms of my health – so that motivated me to study natural medicine. I completed an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy, and Advanced Diploma in Nutritional Medicine and an Advanced Diploma in Western Herbal Medicine, before going on to complete the Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy).


Because my clinic is based on the business site of a boarding kennel, it would often trigger my human clients that I was seeing to tell me about their pets. And if I was helping someone with their gut problems or skin problems, they would then often say – oh by the way, my dog also has gut and/or skin problems, can you recommend something for them too! So that got me thinking about doing further study into animal health and nutrition. I’ve since completed several qualifications in this area.


At this point in time, I also had five dogs of my own and one of my French Bulldogs suffered a spinal injury and we were told that she would never walk again or be able to use her bladder, and so the best option would be to put her down. But my husband and I refused to give up and so I went into overdrive researching how I could help her from a holistic viewpoint. It’s been 18 months and she’s now running around like a lunatic and loving life. She also has full bladder function. This experience really motivated me to move more fully into working with dogs rather than their owners! I’m still currently half-half, but the plan is to stop seeing human clients at some point so I can focus more fully on the dog health and nutrition side of things.


What are some of the things you wish more pet owners understood about the role of nutrition and natural remedies in canine health and wellbeing?


Although a cliché, we literally are what we eat. Fundamentally, what impacts our dog’s health and behaviour are the thousands of biochemical processes going on in the body at any given moment. And what drives these biochemical processes are the nutrients that come from the foods they eat.


What this means is that almost everything you choose to feed your dog will directly or indirectly affect their health and wellbeing. And any dietary factor that affects the biochemistry and physiology of the body, will also impact on behaviour. I love the quote by Ann Wigmore “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” This applies to our dogs just as much as it does to us.


So when it comes to kibble, there really is only the option to choose the best of a bad bunch. By the very way that kibble is manufactured, it’s an inflammatory food. The use of high temperatures creates what’s called the Maillard reaction, which then results in the formation of toxic compounds such as Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) and acrylamide, just to name the main two.


AGEs are pro-oxidants that can damage tissues and delay tissue healing and repair. AGES can also cause damage to DNA and negatively impact gene expression, and have been linked to diseases such as diabetes, obesity, kidney and cardiovascular diseases, vascular dysfunction, skin issues, allergies, cataracts in the eyes, osteoarthritis, and more. Definitely not what we want for our pets. The scary thing is that it’s documented that AGEs occur in the foetus based on the diet of the mother, and then just continue to accumulate over a lifetime because of the kibble diets most dogs are fed. So it’s no wonder that so many dogs are suffering from so many different disease states and dying of cancer, because if you think about it – our dogs are exposed to AGEs in utero, then from about 6-7 weeks of age they’re weaned onto, for the most part, a commercial kibble. There’s really is no avoiding it. And all of that is initiating the process of chronic inflammation right from the very beginning of our dog’s lives and then that onslaught of toxicity never stops.


Acrylamide is classified as a Group 2A carcinogen, [which means that compound is probably carcinogenic to humans, but there is a lot more evidence of carcinogenicity in animals]. In human studies, acrylamide has been linked to certain cancers, low birth weight and reduced foetal growth, and increased risk of disorders to the nervous system. Studies on laboratory animals (including dogs) have shown that exposure to acrylamide through the diet greatly increases the likelihood of developing gene mutations and tumours in various organs, neurotoxicity, adverse effects on male reproduction, skeletal muscle weakness, ataxia and developmental problems. What’s concerning when it comes to what we’re feeding our dogs is that the highest levels of acrylamide tend to occur in starchy foods like grains and potatoes that have been extruded – which is exactly what’s in most kibbles.


One of the best things pet owners can do for their dog’s health is to add some fresh whole foods to their diet. There have been studies showing that even adding vegetables to your dog’s diet at least three times per week can reduce the risk of cancer by up to 80%. Other studies have shown that adding even 20% of various raw foods such as raw meat, fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the incidence of atopic dermatitis. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or an all-or-nothing approach. There’s a lot that pet owners can do to improve their dog’s daily diet without much hassle or expense.


Given the world that we live in, I think most dogs need liver support. On a daily basis, our dogs are exposed to a wide variety of toxic chemical compounds from the environment and even from the food they’re eating day-in-and-day-out. So even if a dog is not showing obvious signs of liver problems, the burden of constantly needing to metabolise and excrete prescription medications, monthly flea, tick and worming products, environmental chemicals, and artificial additives and preservatives (just to name a few), can be very damaging to their liver. I also recommend adding pre- and probiotics to a dog’s daily diet to support gut and immune health.

What are some key ingredients in a healthy balanced diet that are particularly beneficial for the skin and coat?


Technically all nutrients play a role in promoting healthy skin and coat, but some of the key ones include:


Zinc – which is often lacking in home prepared raw food diets. And because zinc doesn’t get store for long in the body, dogs need a regular dietary supply. The best source of zinc by far is oysters.


Biotin – which most people don’t know about, but which is fundamental in supporting skin, coat and nail health. Egg yolks and liver are particularly high in biotin.


Essential fatty acids – which includes both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Our dogs need both types for healthy skin and coat, but most dog diets are disproportionately high in omega-6 fats, which can have a pro-inflammatory effect over time and contribute to chronic disease, whereas omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect. For this reason I usually recommend supplementing with a high quality omega-3 source.

Tell us about your range of herbal tonics… how did they come about? What are some of the herbs you use that are particularly effective in supporting skin and coat health?


I love using liquid herbs for both my human and dog clients. Liquid herbs are extremely concentrated and have a power medicinal effect in the body, which is why they should only be prescribed by a qualified healthcare practitioner.


I started prescribing liquid herbs for dogs because you only need to add a tiny number of drops into their food rather than large tablets or powders, so it’s easier to hide the taste. I only advertise a small number of liquid herbal formulas on my website because the possibilities are endless! Which is another benefit of using liquid herbs - they can easily be custom blended to suit each individual dog (or human).


When it comes to skin and coat health, a couple of my favourite herbal blends are the Skin, Coat & Nail Recovery for Dogs and the Tissue Healing and Repair for Dogs.


Skin, Coat & Nail Recovery for Dogs contains a synergistic blend of herbs providing key minerals and blood cleansing properties to aid in the relief of dry skin and coat. It also helps heal brittle nails. This formula includes Rehmannia, horsetail, red clover, burdock and bladderwrack. Rehmannia has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce urticaria, skin rashes, pruritis and other signs of atopic dermatitis in both humans and dogs. Burdock has traditionally been used as a tissue cleaner to eliminate accumulated toxins in cases of chronic inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, urticaria and acne, and Bladderwrack is particularly important as it’s a great source of iodine, which is fundamental for skin health – I should probably have added it to the previous question!


Tissue Healing and Repair is my absolute go-to product for any human or dog post-surgery to optimise recovery. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant formula to support wound healing, skin regeneration, circulation, blood vessel and connective tissue health. The key ingredients are gotu kola, maritime pine bark, rosehip and grapeseed extract. Gotu kola is recognised for its rapid healing and anti-inflammatory qualities and is one of the chief herbs for treating skin problems, venous insufficiency and to heal wounds. The other ingredients are all potent antioxidants that reduce inflammation and promote cell regeneration.


What advice would you give to pet owners wanting to improve their dog’s health with nutrition and herbs?


In terms of diet, it’s always best to start simple and only add in one thing at a time. This might mean adding in some left-over cooked veggies that the kids didn’t want to eat (making sure that they’re safe for dogs), adding in a few fresh or frozen berries, adding an egg once or twice a week, or adding in some tinned sardines a couple of times per week. There are some really great and easy to use commercial raw options now. For example, I’m a big fan of the Big Dog raw patties. So even if someone is feeding kibble once or twice a day, they may aim to add in some raw food as well. And by using the pre-made patties, they don’t even have to think about what they’re feeding from a nutritional standpoint, as all of that has been figured out for them.


In terms of herbs, pet owners do need to be careful. And while there are some very safe herbs for dogs, there may be an underlying reason as to why it isn’t suitable for your individual dog. For example, turmeric is hugely popular, but if a dog has a history of gall stones or gallbladder disease, then turmeric may make things much worse. Always seek professional advice if you are unsure, particularly if your dog has a pre-existing medical condition.


Tell us about your fur family? What is the number one quirk or weird habit your dog/s has that always gets a laugh?


I have a very special fur family. I have 3 French Bulldogs, 2 German Shepherds and a Burmese cat, and each has their own unique quirks! But the one that makes us laugh the most is Opie our male Frenchie. He has these moments where he acts as though he’s hearing voices around him. It’s too hard to explain in writing, suffice to say it’s hysterical to watch.


 

If you would like to learn more about natural health and nutrition for your dog you can follow Narelle on Facebook @ Natural Health for People and Pets or visit her website at www.naturalhealthandnutrition.com.au. You can check out Narelle's podcast at Natural Health for People and Pets


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