What We Can Learn About Food From Our Pets

Our dog Kiki, a Husky mix, with a life-span of 13-14 years, is still going strong at 17.

Our pets live really long lives. Really, really long. "Ripper," a sweet Grey Tabby, and "Chico," a Chihuahua rescued in Jefferson's Parish after Hurricane Katrina, are tied for longest-lived. They both made it to the ripe, old age of 21. Our current dog is "Kiki." She is a Husky mix who should have a live expectancy of around 13 years. She is currently 17 and still going strong.

Bella, our beloved Wirehair Terrier mix

Kiki lost her best friend, "Bella," a beautiful Wirehair Terrier mix, who left us earlier this year at the age of 16, which was particularly amazing given that Bella came to us as an adult dog with a very broken body. She was unable to digest or process food due to liver and pancreas issues cause by poorly managed diabetes, from which she had been suffering for years. By the time we got her she would eat large amounts of food but was - at the same time - starving to death. All of the food she ate would come out the back end largely undigested. She looked like a skeleton with a loose bag of skin hanging over it. We did not expect her to live long at all. Even with high doses of insulin, which we gave her 2 times per day, her blood sugar would spike in the danger zone, resulting in even more damage to her already compromised little organs. The small amount of her food she was absorbing was slowly killing her.

Schatzy suffered food-related epilepsy.

Fortunately for Bella, we had learned a bit about food from our first dog, "Schatzy," a Rat Terrier mix. Until she was about 8-years of age, Schatzy suffered from idiopathic epilepsy. She would periodically suffer from relatively mild seizures. They were not frequent or severe and were not in and of themselves very problematic, except that during a seizure, she would sometimes throw her back out of joint which would result in pain and mobility issues.

After a seizure, if Shatzy did not return to normal movement quickly, we would take her to the vet who would give her steroid injections to help with the pain and swelling and then she would slowly return to normal. That all changed one day.

The day Schatzy's life changed she had a seizure, threw her back out and her normal veterinarian was not available to see her. As a result, we made an appointment to see a new vet where we quickly learned that we were in for a very different kind of experience.

Rather than the quick in and out for a steroid shot we had gotten used to, this vet sat us down, showed us which vertebrae in her back was misaligned and showed us how to gently adjust it to get it back in place without drugs. Instead of the slow recovery we normally saw, she was back to herself immediately. It was an easy, safe and drug-free fix. Then, he set out to lecture us about the horrors of her food, which was kind of shocking to us, because we were buying what we thought was the "expensive," (aka "premium") Science Diet.

He explained to us that pet foods are made with left-over waste from industrialized human food manufacturing. He said that the foods being made for people were not even good for us and that the waste products used in pet foods are even worse for pets. That was why we saw so many ingredients in pet foods like "corn gluten meal" and "wheat middlings." He also said the foods were preserved with things like BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin and other known neuro-disruptors and carcinogens. We later learned that things in the pet food industry are even worse than that. Many pet foods contain sodium pentobarbital, the drug used to euthanize dogs and cats at veterinarians and animal shelters, because those places send their animal carcasses to rendering plants where they are then processed into pet foods and listed on the pet food labels using generic-sounding ingredients like "animal byproduct meal," "animal fat," or "meat and bone meal." Watch the video below if you are having trouble believing that.

After speaking with Schatzy's new vet, we got rid of the Science Diet dog food and began making our own homemade pet food. Schatzy went on to live to the ripe old age of 16 and never had another seizure again.

Because of that history, when we first met Bella, we immediately looked at the ingredients list of the expensive "prescription diet" veterinarians were giving Bella to help manage her diabetes. We found that it was mostly made from sugary grains like corn and wheat parts. In other words, veterinarians were feeding a diabetic carnivore a food that was packed with sugar. Let that sink in for a minute. Humans are not carnivores. It is more natural for us to eat sugary plants, grains and fruits than it is for dogs to eat them. Yet, veterinarians were feeding a diabetic dog a food filled with ingredients a diabetic human should avoid.

We immediately took Bella off her the expensive prescription food and started making her food ourselves, using ingredients that we would eat. Her recovery was astonishing. We cut her insulin dose in about half and her blood sugar stabilized. She began gaining weight right away and she ended up living to the ripe old age of 16, even though we thought she might only live a matter of weeks when we first brought her home.

Now, Bella's best friend, Kiki is 17 and though still going strong, she has slowed down a bit. She needs a diet that is less rich so that her old organs don't have to work hard to digest it. But, the fact that she is still with us, in a long line of long-lived pets (more than we could reasonably mention in this one blog post) is a testament about the importance of good food and nutrition.

Fresh, organic and natural foods, not commercially processed, is key to living long and healthy lives for us and our pets.