By Dr. Becker
Welcome to the conclusion of my chat with Steve Brown, my good friend and creator of the first commercial raw food for pets, Steve’s Real Food. Yesterday, in part 1, we discussed Steve’s incredibly comprehensive pet food nutrition database that led to the launch of his raw diet in 1999. He shared an example of the kind of backlash he has faced as a pet food industry “upstart.” And we also discussed some of the challenges the raw pet food industry faces.
Most Kibble Is Too High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Which Cause Inflammation
As I mentioned in the first part of our discussion yesterday, Steve and I are at a meeting of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), and this morning in his presentation one of the topics he covered was the importance of balancing fats in pet diets. A big problem with kibble is there are too many omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3s.
As Steve explains, when the ratio of fatty acids is wrong in pet food, which usually means the total omega-6 amount exceeds European or AAFCO’s new (2014) standards, it causes inflammation throughout the body. Twenty years ago before we knew better, Steve realized his dog’s skin was dry and flaky despite all his efforts to offer a balanced diet. He analyzed the problem and realized that if he optimized the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, he saw improvement in his dog’s skin and coat condition.
Vitamin D is another tricky area because the tests are very expensive and often inaccurate. For example, back in the day, USDA data listed chicken liver as a source of vitamin D. The latest USDA data, however, shows no vitamin D in chicken liver – because factory farmed chickens never get outside. Which of course makes us wonder about the overall health of chickens, but that’s a subject for another day.
Because of these and other inaccuracies in diet formulation data, Steve believes what most processed pet food producers do these days is throw in a special supplement mix, an AAFCO premix, containing all the vitamins and minerals.
Steve’s Recommendations for Feeding Your Dog Well on a Tight Budget
Steve has some suggestions for pet owners for how to help their dog get all the essential nutrients he needs. Let’s say you’re on a tight budget, you have a small dog, and you’re unable to feed a fresh food diet. Steve recommends finding a basic baked dog food in a well-packaged small bag. By “basic,” he means no additives like fish oil or any of the other things processed pet food manufacturers throw in so they can market their product as more special than the competition.
You take your basic dog food and add human food from your kitchen to enhance its nutritional value. Things like eggs, krill oil, sardines, blueberries, and perhaps some leftover vegetables. The people foods you add to the kibble can dramatically improve its nutritional value at no extra cost, presuming you have them on hand or buy them regularly.
The trend in the processed pet food industry is to add more and more “features” to a bag of dry food. Each of those overpriced additives drives up the cost of the food, increases the potential for chemical interactions as we discussed yesterday, and shortens product shelf life. Steve would prefer that manufacturers produce a very basic kibble and let dog owners add in fresh goodies at the time of feeding.
If you’re able to spend a bit more on your pet’s food, Steve recommends feeding a diet containing more fresh meat, either raw or lightly cooked. He recommends maybe one or two days a week of a homemade or commercial fresh meat diet. The rest of the week can be the basic dog food described above, and it’s important to use it up quickly once the bag is open. It’s not a good idea to keep a bag of open dog food for more than two weeks.
If money isn’t a concern, Steve recommends buying a commercially available raw meat diet, or making your own balanced pet diet, skipping the kibble altogether.
Why It’s So Important to Offer Your Dog People Food
You’ll note Steve recommends adding human food to your dog’s diet. Many people are still convinced pets shouldn’t eat table food or human food, and that they should eat just one type of processed dog food day in and day out. This misconception shows the power of billions of advertising dollars spent by pet food companies to keep consumers buying their products.
Steve references a study done in Sweden about 10 years ago – just one study, never replicated. Pregnant dogs were fed a diet of either just processed dog food, or dog food with table scraps of all kinds. The researchers tracked the health of the litters of those dogs, and eight years later, the offspring of the mothers fed table scraps had significantly fewer allergies and inflammation-related health issues than the dogs born to the mothers fed nothing but dog food. That study suggests that just a small amount of random table scraps in a dog’s diet makes a significant difference in her health and the health of her offspring.
That study will never be replicated, because who’s going to pay for it? And the results wouldn’t be favorable to the pet food industry. Of course, we can’t base everything we do on a single study, but it does make clear how thoroughly consumers have been brainwashed by pet food manufacturers.
Many Vets and Veterinary Nutritionists Remain Vehemently Opposed to Fresh Diets
Unfortunately, many vets tell their clients not to trust any pet food unless it was formulated by a veterinary nutritionist. But as Steve points out, he’s seen enough diets formulated by veterinary nutritionists, including diets with excessive vitamin D, that he’s pretty sure most nutritionists have never formulated a fresh food diet. The nutritionist we discussed yesterday who accused Steve’s Real Food of containing too much vitamin D clearly had no clue that it’s impossible for fresh food to have too much vitamin D – which means she’s probably never formulated a fresh food diet.
I asked Steve why he thinks it is that most veterinary nutritionists are against fresh pet food. Is it because their lack of education in that area makes them defensive? Or are they so completely obligated to the processed pet food industry that they would never consider accepting, much less condoning fresh food for pets?
Steve believes they don’t want to know and don’t want to learn. Lots of vets make lots of money selling dry dog foods, prescription diets, and so forth. He feels they are brainwashed, and this is especially true for older practitioners, who don’t want to question what they’ve been recommending and selling to their clients for the last 30 years. They don’t want to find out they’ve been listening to the wrong pet food “experts” their entire career.
Many vets just assume a middle-aged or senior dog that is overweight, with flaky skin, poor coat condition, diabetes, and arthritis is “normal.” All those problems are supposedly “normal” for a dog of that age. They don’t make a connection between a lifetime of poor quality food and the poor condition of the dog as he ages.
The Sad Truth: Many Veterinarians Are Not Good Resources for Advice on Pet Nutrition
The good news is that in some veterinary schools, they’re beginning to at least mention the subject of fresh diets and admit there are options beyond processed dry pet food. That’s somewhat promising.
To date, Steve hasn’t been approached by any veterinary schools to give a presentation, but he would love to do it if invited.
Steve remembers once attending a meeting with a well-known scientist working for one of the leading dry pet food manufacturers. She was speaking against fresh food diets at the meeting, but yet she fed them to her own animals. She knew the difference. She was a brilliant woman, but she couldn’t build a career as a scientist researching fresh diets for pets because she couldn’t get funding.
When people use common sense, they realize fresh food is better for all of us, including our pets. But what’s sad is that if they mention the idea to their veterinarian, they often get a very negative reaction. Their vet tries to convince them fresh food will make their pet sick or even kill him. Pet owners have to depend on veterinarians to know what’s best for their animals, so the negative reaction by trusted experts to fresh food is confusing and discouraging.
I’m hoping my conversation with Steve will help clarify for viewers and readers here at Mercola Healthy Pets that there are pet food industry-driven issues that stand in the way of both scientific studies on fresh diets, and veterinarian viewpoints about fresh diets. The fact is veterinarians aren’t usually the best resources for learning about the nutrition your pet needs.
Thank You, Steve Brown, My Friend and Pet Nutrition Mentor!
Before I let Steve go, I asked him to talk a little about the books he has written. Back when he first introduced Steve’s Real Food, he did seminars. In fact, his first one was at my practice. He compiled the material for his first book, See Spot Live Longer, from his seminars.
Eventually, he sold Steve’s Real Food to focus on educating people about the mistakes they were making with homemade pet diets and even some commercial diets. His special interest was dietary fats. He spent several years studying the subject in great depth, and then wrote Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet.
That book was difficult for Steve to write, because it’s very technical. But it’s full of great information for people looking for in-depth information on canine diets. I think both books are great – there’s sort of a beginner book and a more advanced book for people interested in learning more about their dog’s health.
Steve has contributed enormously to the fresh pet food industry. His knowledge, passion, and crazy good database are invaluable to those of us who want to feed our pets an optimally nutritious diet. He’s added immeasurable value in promoting the health and well-being of dogs, and I thank him so much for all his hard work and dedication. It’s an honor to call him my friend, and I’m glad I was able to share his brilliance with all of you through this interview.