Is Your Dog Ready to Go Paleo?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Today, Dr. Becker once again interviews one of her regular guests, Dr. Jean Hofve. Dr. Jean, who is best known for her work with cats, has just released a new book called Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf.
  • Dr. Jean explains that in Paleo Dog, she advocates not only for a Paleo diet for canine companions, but a complete Paleo lifestyle. The lifestyle includes training, energetic exercise, proper rest, grounding, avoiding unnecessary toxins of all kinds, and reducing stress.
  • Dr. Jean discusses the inevitable criticism she’ll receive from processed pet food promoters who make it a point to bash any and all raw diets for pets. She explains the motivation behind the campaign against raw pet food, and why it’s smart to simply ignore the tired old “scary bacteria” warnings.
  • The doctors also discuss a study published last year that suggests dogs have evolved to eat high-starch diets, why it’s not true, and why the study results are more a testament to the ability of dogs’ bodies to adapt to biologically inappropriate foods than proof that starchy foods are the “new” evolutionary diet of canines.

By Dr. Becker

Today, I have a wonderful phone guest chatting with me, Dr. Jean Hofve. Dr. Jean has a brand new book out called Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf.

Regular visitors here at Mercola Healthy Pets will know that I’ve interviewed Dr. Jean several times, usually about cats. I was excited to learn that she’s written a book about our canine companions, and I asked her to share her motivation to write about dogs, and on the Paleo diet specifically.

Dr. Jean explained that she was actually recruited to write Paleo Dog. She and her writing partner, nutritionist Celeste Yarnall, PhD, wrote an award-winning book on holistic cat care that covered much of the same material, but from a feline perspective. She and Dr. Yarnall were very pleased to have the chance to write about dogs, and in fact, when they were writing their holistic cat book, they kept thinking, “We really need to do this for dogs.” So it’s almost as if the universe one day said, “Okay, here you go. Here’s your opportunity. Go for it!”

Paleo Dogs Not Only Eat a Paleo Diet, They Live a Paleo Lifestyle

I asked Dr. Jean to first talk about the Paleo diet, since not everyone is familiar with the concept – especially as it pertains to dogs.

She explained that the Paleolithic period in history was populated by a pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer society. The Paleo diet for people is also sometimes called the Caveman diet. It includes only items that were available before humans began planting, including meat, fish, eggs, veggies, nuts, mushrooms, fruits, and occasionally honey. What the diet doesn’t include are grains, dairy, or processed foods.

In her new book, Dr. Jean advocates not just a Paleo diet for dogs, but a Paleo lifestyle. The principles of the diet are that it includes only fresh whole foods, and as much raw food as possible, but raw in a way that mimics the natural canine diet. For example, raw meat is a food that dogs, cats, and humans of that period ate a lot of. They didn’t eat a ton of fruits and vegetables (except for certain wild canines like foxes and coyotes, who did and do eat a lot of fruit). Today’s Paleo diet for dogs calls for fruits and veggies to be in a digestible form, which often means cooking or pureeing.

What Is a Paleo Lifestyle, You Ask?

The Paleo lifestyle for dogs involves training, exercise, and good, proper rest (which is discussed in Paleo Dog in a way that might surprise a lot of people). The lifestyle also involves grounding or Earthing (Dr. Jean calls it “getting your dog out of your purse and putting her on the grass”), avoiding unnecessary and inappropriate vaccinations and medications, protection against environmental toxins, and perhaps most important of all, reducing stress.

I’ve read Dr. Jean’s new book and love it. One of the things that resonated with me was the idea that dogs need more than to just move their bodies – they need to really exert themselves. They need to run, sprint, jump, and work every joint and muscle on a regular basis. Canines are natural athletes and they need to express their athleticism daily. In Paleo Dog, Dr. Jean really breaks down canine physiology and explains why a 20-minute walk on a four-foot leash isn’t enough activity for most dogs.

The Paleo diet and the Paleo lifestyle are different concepts, which I think the book illustrates really well. Dr. Jean points out that, while your Pug or Bulldog will never climb Grand Teton with you, he still needs adequate, appropriate exertion in order to be healthy.

Not only does physical exertion in sunshine and fresh air keep our dogs’ weight normalized, it also provides tremendous mental and emotional benefits. And there’s good science behind all this. Dr. Jean says one of her goals with Paleo Dog was to back up every statement with science, so readers know she’s not just offering her opinion.

The Benefits of Raw Diets for Paleo Dogs and Why the Skeptics and Naysayers Are Just Plain Wrong

I agree the information provided in the book is very well documented, which is great for anyone who may think the Paleo dog concept is a new creation or passing fad. Of course, there will always be skeptics – perhaps newly graduated veterinarians fresh off “nutrition” lectures given by major pet food manufacturers. Or the long-practicing vet who is convinced the correct diet for every dog is a lifetime of dry, over-processed kibble.

Dr. Jean points out the two usual objections veterinarians have to a raw diet: 1) it’s full of bacteria (and it is!), and 2) it’s not balanced. It’s a well-established fact that ALL meat is contaminated with bacteria. But dogs (and cats) are designed to eat bacteria-laden food, so the real concern is for the people handling the food. It should surprise exactly no one that a person can contract an infection from handling food contaminated with Salmonella. And it’s important to remember that it was just last year that several dozen people became ill with Salmonella from handling processed dry pet food.

Also worth remembering is that the constant warnings about the “dangers” of raw pet food are nothing more than a scare tactic heavily promoted by the processed pet food industry. The industry has a vested interest in working to destroy competition from high-quality homemade and raw meat diets for pets.

Raw pet food should be handled no differently than raw human food, which means using safe meat-handling procedures, washing all surfaces and utensils thoroughly in hot soapy water, and not letting your toddler eat your pet’s food (raw or processed). It’s using common sense, which people have been using for a very long time to handle their own food in their own kitchens. There is nothing “scarier” about raw pet food than the raw hamburger meat you’re about to put on the grill, or the raw chicken breasts you’re about to bake in the oven. Raw meat is raw meat, no matter who is going to eat it.

Dogs and Salmonella

Dogs, of course, have a different digestive physiology than humans in terms of the acidity of the GI tract, the length of the GI tract, and the ability to ward off bacterial invaders. According to Dr. Jean, and from my own experience and that of virtually all the raw feeders I know, there are very, very few documented cases of pets getting sick from a raw diet. There’s lots of documentation on bacterial contamination, but the animals don’t get sick from it.

Of course, we know that pets on raw diets can potentially shed pathogenic bacteria in their poop, but do we really need to mention that no one on two legs or four should be eating dog poop?

There’s also the fact that dogs fed a supposedly “clean” food like kibble are still going to lick their bottoms and sample the occasional piece of poop. This means there are all sorts of potential contaminants around every home, yard, and neighborhood. Also, before any dog owner ever heard of feeding a raw food diet, studies found that 36 percent of dogs were carriers of Salmonella. Salmonella is a common environmental contaminant that dogs are exposed to every day no matter what diet they’re eating.

Debunking the Notion That Today’s Dogs Have Evolved to Eat Starchy Diets

Both Dr. Jean and I advocate for a starch-free diet for dogs (starch means grains). We also don’t think dogs should eat complex carbohydrates (corn, wheat, rice, and soy). We believe these foods are simply not evolutionarily appropriate for canines. I asked Dr. Jean for her thoughts on a study that appeared last year in the journal Nature1 suggesting today’s dogs have evolved to eat a high-starch diet.

As Dr. Jean points out, evolution takes place over thousands and tens of thousands of years. It may be true that dogs have more genes to digest starch than wolves do, but those genes may never be used or needed or expressed. It’s a good thing dogs can digest starch a little better than wolves, because processed pet food is loaded with the stuff. So yes, they’re capable. But as Dr. Jean says, “I’m capable of jumping off a cliff. Does that mean I should do it?”

She did discuss the study in Paleo Dog because it had just been released while she and Dr. Yarnall were writing the book, and of course, the second the study was published, Purina came out with a press release saying, “See, dogs are supposed to eat corn.” But it’s just not true.

In my opinion, more than anything the study highlights just how dynamically adaptable dogs’ bodies are. If they’re fed an inappropriate diet, their bodies will attempt to adapt as much as possible to that diet. And thank goodness. But a dog’s ability to adapt to eating inappropriate foods doesn’t magically turn those foods into his “new” evolutionary diet. Dr. Jean made that point really well in Paleo Dog.

Thanks Again, Dr. Jean!

I’m so excited about Dr. Jean’s new book, which is available now in bookstores and online in several formats.

It’s an easy book to read and it’s full of common sense. I think it will be a great resource for people who are interested in improving their dog’s health, well-being, and lifestyle. I know it’s a great addition to my bookshelf!

Many thanks once again to Dr. Jean Hofve for spending some time with me today. I hope everyone listening and reading will check out her new book, Paleo Dog: Give Your Best Friend a Long Life, Healthy Weight, and Freedom from Illness by Nurturing His Inner Wolf. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

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