By Dr. Becker
Welcome! This video is my very first Facebook Live in honor of reaching 1 million friends and followers on my Facebook page! I can't tell you all how excited I am that a million people are passionately empowered to provide better care for their dogs and cats!
Recently, we asked visitors to my FB page to ask questions they'd like me to answer during this session. We received hundreds of questions, and so we picked the ones that came up over and over, as well as a few that I thought were especially interesting.
I'll get to those in a minute, but first I want to introduce myself to those of you who may not know much about my approach to veterinary medicine.
My Practice Philosophy
Firstly, I'm a proactive vet, which means my goal is to identify and remove lifestyle obstacles before disease occurs.
There are two ways to approach the practice of medicine — reactively and proactively. Reactive veterinary medicine means waiting until symptoms and/or disease occurs in a dog or cat before taking action.
It's the approach taught in both medical and veterinary schools. Wait for the symptoms of disease to appear, and then attempt to treat them with pharmaceuticals and/or surgery.
My approach, which is proactive, is entirely different in that my goal is to guide pet parents in making wise decisions so they can help prevent illness from occurring. It's sort of like how you approach keeping gas in your car.
You can wait for the tank to run dry before you put more gas in, but that's a pretty risky approach. You have to have a portable gas container on hand and someone to take you to the gas station to fill it, then take you back to your car.
It's a huge hassle, can be dangerous if you're relying on help from strangers on the road and can damage your engine.
Alternatively, you can wait until the little "low on gas" light goes on, and we've all had that happen, but doing it all the time is a bit risky. What if the light goes on and you're miles from the nearest gas station?
Your third option is to keep an eye on your gas gauge and fill up before you ever run low enough for the light to go on. That's the best approach to caring for both your car and your own safety.
When it comes to helping you care for your pet, my goal is to remove lifestyle obstacles to vibrant health.
In other words, you want to keep plenty of gas in your pet's tank at all times so he never runs dry. If your dog or cat develops symptoms of an illness, or if we see a change in a bloodwork value, it's a warning similar to the "low on gas" light in your car.
Just as we don't ignore that light, we also don't want to ignore symptoms or bloodwork abnormalities, no matter how minor.
As a proactive practitioner, I want to partner with you to identify potential weaknesses and disease tendencies in your pet's genetics. Then together we can design a specific protocol to prevent those diseases from occurring.
What we're really designing is a health and wellness plan versus a disease treatment plan. Doesn't that sound like a much better approach? So with all that said, let's move on to the question and answer portion of my Facebook Live appearance!
Question: Why Is Dr. Becker so Into Fresh Foods?
It's a never-ending frustration to me that veterinarians are the only healthcare professionals that advocate against feeding living whole fresh foods. Medical doctors, pediatricians and human nutritionists recommend consuming more fresh foods, but not veterinarians.
Instead, vets tell pet owners things like "Fresh foods could be toxic to your dog or cat," "We don't know enough about fresh food for pets," "It could be risky" or "I didn't learn about it in vet school," and "You should only feed processed foods to your puppy or kitten from their first day on earth to their last."
It's nuts, when you think about it. The pet food industry and processed dog and cat food is a fairly recent development. Prior to the 1920s, dogs and cats evolved to eat a living whole fresh food diet. They either hunted prey themselves or were fed leftover scraps from the dinner table, or both. Nowadays, it's mostly all processed food, all the time.
The ancestral diet of dogs and cats contains less than 10 percent carbohydrates and starches, whereas the average processed pet food contains anywhere from 28 to 65 percent starch, such as potato, corn, wheat, rice or soy. That reality has created a whole host of metabolic problems in today's pets.
When we feed dogs and cats a grain-based or starchy diet they were never meant to eat, they frequently end up overweight or obese, with diabetes, joint issues, organ dysfunction and liver disease from processing all the added chemicals that go into processed foods to stabilize and preserve them.
Processed foods are not only biologically inappropriate, they're low in moisture, high in carbs and have been processed to last on store shelves for two to three years. This means the nutritional value is very low. The right nutrition in the form of living whole fresh foods provides the raw materials to help pets remain healthy throughout their lives.
Question: How Do I Incorporate Fresh Foods Into My Pet's Diet?
If your dog or cat has been eating an entirely processed, dead, inorganic dry food diet every day, day in and day out, and you switch foods suddenly, she can end up with loose stools and GI upset. We don't want to cause that.
Begin by offering your pet small meat-based treats, fresh raw or gently cooked meats, throughout the day. Your dog or cat will love them, and they're much less expensive than commercially available junk food treats. They're also species-appropriate, unprocessed and unadulterated.
You can also consider buying commercially available balanced raw pet food and offering it as treats. The best thing you can do is feed the highest quality foods you can afford to feed.
If you can afford to replace one meal of dry food for one meal of balanced living whole fresh food, it's a great way to slowly increase and improve the nutritional status of your dog or cat. But if all you can afford is fresh food treats throughout the day, your pet is still receiving benefits.
In fact, a well-known study has shown that just removing a handful of kibble and replacing it with a handful of living, fresh, dark green veggies can reduce the risk of bladder cancer by 90 percent, which is amazing. That shows you the power of food.
If out of the 14 meals you feed your dog or cat each week you can replace two with fresh food, it puts you two steps closer to unlocking vibrant health in your pet. If you can feed a meal of dry food in the morning and a meal of fresh food in the evening, that's even better.
So yes, I'm a huge proponent of fresh food diets. The more unprocessed foods you can feed your dog or cat, the healthier their body is going to be.
Question: Is Coconut Oil Okay for a Pet on a Low-Sugar, Low-Carb Diet?
Coconut oil is a dietary fat — a wonderful, healthy fat that contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are highly absorbable and great for nourishing your pet's brain and cognitive health, as well as his immune system. Coconut oil is fine for diabetic pets because it's not a sugar and doesn't affect insulin levels. It's also really good for pets who are struggling immunologically. It contains lauric acid, which has a beneficial property found in mother's milk.
My recommendation is to provide about one-half teaspoon of coconut oil for every 10 pounds of body weight. I prefer raw, unprocessed, organic coconut oil. You can mix it into your pet's meals, or try dipping treats in it, or hiding supplements or pills in it.
Question: Where Can I Find a Proactive Veterinarian?
A lot of people have this question, and I know it's frustrating for you. I've dealt with dozens of pet parents over the years with the same problem. They don't have access to a veterinarian who shares their views on the best way to care for their pet.
If you're in this situation, the first thing you must do is become an empowered pet parent, meaning you take control of the health care your pet receives. You are in charge of making decisions about what vaccines your pet gets. You do your own research on any condition your pet is diagnosed with and the conditions she may be predisposed to.
I never, ever recommend giving away total control of your health to your medical doctor, or your pet's health to your veterinarian. You may even love your veterinarian, but you're still in charge of making decisions about your pet's well-being. It's your job to say, "Listen, Dr. Johnson, I love you, but I'm in charge of my pet's health. I want to be kept abreast of changes in my pet's bloodwork. I want to be able to dictate my pet's vaccine schedule. I want to talk about titers."
If your veterinarian is not proactive, not integrative, has no clue about pet nutrition or alternative therapies, you need to take the leading role in your dog's or cat's health care. This website is a great resource for videos and articles about all things pet-related, and it's an excellent place to start gaining knowledge about your pet's health so you can become empowered to make the best decisions.
The second thing I recommend you do is to find a holistic or integrative veterinarian who does phone consultations. Visit AHVMA.org for a directory. Develop a phone or online relationship with a proactive DVM who can review your pet's bloodwork, answer your questions and concerns and identify any potential underlying diseases as early as possible.
If your veterinarian objects to you taking control of your pet's health, you can say something like, "I respect your knowledge, and yes, you're the medical expert in our partnership, but I'm in charge of my pet's health. I want to partner with you to make the best decisions for my pet."
You may end up needing to find a different veterinarian, but that just goes with the territory of being an empowered pet parent. If your veterinarian is doing things that are frustrating, upsetting or the opposite of what you want for your pet, it's time to find a new vet to partner with.
Question: My Dog Has Hypothyroidism — Should I Change His Diet?
Generally speaking, cats develop hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid, and dogs develop hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid. The thyroid gland is the only endocrine organ that blends an inorganic mineral, iodine, with the amino acid tyrosine. Both must come from your pet's diet.
Dogs don't wake up one morning with hypothyroidism — it develops gradually. The normal range of T4 (a thyroid hormone measure) is between 1 and 4 ug/dl (I always recommend doing a complete thyroid panel and not just T4). We are taught in vet school to simply monitor a dog's dropping thyroid hormone level until it bottoms out, and then diagnose hypothyroidism.
However, a proactive vet like me doesn't just sit by and watch the level drop. I ask, "What can I do about that? I don't want this dog to become hypothyroid. I want to prevent this dog's thyroid from petering out halfway through his life." There are many things we can do to address a brewing case of hypothyroidism.
Number one, we want to evaluate the iodine content of the dog's diet and correct both iodine and tyrosine levels if necessary. The second thing is to avoiding feeding "goitrogenic" foods, which include soy and certain foods in the brassica family.
About six months ago, I had a client who was feeding a homemade diet to her dog that was unbalanced, which is unfortunately typical of homemade pet food when people just wing it and don't follow nutritionally balanced recipes. She was feeding her dog edamame (soy), a half-cup of broccoli, some cooked chicken and a bit of rice. Her dog wound up hypothyroid. That diet, which was iodine- and tyrosine-deficient and included goitrogenic foods, was the problem.
Broccoli is great, but you can't feed it every day or as the only veggie source because it interferes with the production of thyroid hormone, as does soy. We transitioned the dog to a nutritionally balanced diet with the right amounts of amino acids, vitamin D and iodine from healthy whole food sources, and began rebuilding his thyroid hormone reserves.
Question: Is There an Easy Way to Tell the Difference Between Allergies and Yeast?
There are two types of allergies — food allergies and environmental allergies. Here's my quick allergy test. If you have a pet who is itchy from May till October or the first frost, chances are she has an allergy to something like ragweed, grass, pollen or mold — an environmental allergy. However, if your pet is itchy year-round, it's more likely being caused by either something in her diet, or something indoors like dust mites.
Dust mites are all over your home regardless of how thorough you are about cleaning. If your dog or cat is bald in spots, itchy and has red skin on her tummy but her back and sides are fine, think dust mites.
Food allergies cause year-round symptoms because we're putting those antigenic foods into the body on a daily basis. The symptoms are there every day, all day. However, just because your dog or cat has food allergies doesn't automatically mean also have a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are tremendously itchy, and so are allergies. The differentiating factors are what your pet smells like, as well as what her coat and skin looks like. A pet with allergies will smell normal and won't have any noticeable change in the skin or coat (other than self-trauma from scratching, licking and biting at the itchy spots).
However, a dog with yeast will typically have feet that smell like Frito corn chips and ears that smell like cheese popcorn. They also tend to have a musty, old wet sock smell.
I can't tell you the number of dogs who are brought to me for allergies but are actually yeasty. Once we get the yeast resolved, the allergies go away, which tells me they never had an allergy in the first place, or they're left with a mild allergy that can be managed with natural remedies.
The No. 1 dietary tip for managing yeast is to get the grains and carbs out of your pet's diet — no potato, no corn, no wheat, no rice, no starch. Carbs are starch, starch breaks down into sugar and sugar feeds yeast. Potatoes, lentils, garbanzo beans, pea protein, tapioca, etc. break down to 100 percent sugar in your dog's or cat's body. Removing them is a good place to start when it comes to managing yeast infections.
Question: Is It Safe to Add Fresh Food to Kibble?
Yes it's safe, just as it's safe for us to eat a piece of cooked salmon on a salad. However, your pet might be a little gassier with a mixed meal like that unless his GI tract is strong and resilient.
Meat tends to stay in the stomach longer than carbs. GI transit time is different for different foods, but there's no toxic reaction going on or anything like that. You're certainly not going to kill your dog by mixing fresh food with kibble. Give it a try and know that your pet's body will talk through symptoms.
Question: Can I Put Vicks VapoRub on My Bird's Beak?
No! Please do NOT put Vicks VapoRub on your bird's beak! You can put coconut oil on your bird's beak. You can put coconut oil on your dog's dry nose. You can put coconut oil on dry bird feet, dry cat feet and dry dog feet. But do not use Vicks VapoRub on birds!
Birds are extremely sensitive to any type of volatile oil. It's really important to not use petroleum-based products on birds in general. I'm not a big fan of putting chemicals on birds.
Question: What About Goat's Milk for Pets?
Goat's milk is a universal liquid protein source and can be very nourishing for animals under certain circumstances. However, if the goat's milk has been pasteurized, the ability of your pet's body (or yours) to process it is diminished. If you feed any pasteurized milk products to your pet, you're going to have a gassy pet.
Raw, unpasteurized, organic goat's milk can be a very nourishing and healing food in some instances. It's a great way to start a ketogenic diet. It's a great way to fast an animal to try to get blood sugar under control. It's a great way to do an allergy elimination diet.
It's also a great way to give the GI tract a break while providing a highly nutritious and absorbable liquid food for a day or two. Keep in mind the only time your dog's or cat's GI tract can rest is when he's not eating. It's during GI rest that the microbiome is rebalanced and the pancreas gets a break from producing amylase, protease and lipase to digest food. It's also the only time stomach acid and hydrochloric acid can be regenerated in the stomach.
If your dog doesn't eat his breakfast, don't add shredded cheese to it to make him eat. Dogs and cats are wired to know what their bodies need. Their natural instincts are profound, and we need to honor them. However, if your pet is showing symptoms of illness and doesn't want to eat, call your veterinarian.
But if you have a healthy, thriving animal that occasionally decides to skip a meal, no problem. Their GI tract is telling them it needs to rest.
Question: What Are Novel Proteins and When Should I Feed Them?
Novel proteins are those that a pet hasn't eaten before, and are fed when a cat or dog is having an allergic reaction to their current food, or when we're trying to address a specific illness like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). For allergic pets, we choose novel proteins such as goat, rabbit, elk and others — proteins you don't typically find at your local grocer.
It's also important to remember that it may not be the protein source that's the problem, but chemicals in the meat, such as antibiotics or hormones. If you switch your pet to a novel protein diet and decide in three months to reintroduce the original protein, I highly recommend you go with clean meats that are devoid of chemicals, organic, free-range, etc., to avoid putting those chemicals back into your dog or cat.
Often when we reintroduce a clean source of a previously problematic protein, the animal does fine, which means the issue wasn't so much the protein source as the way in which the food animal was raised.
Question: How Should I Deal With My Dog's Lipomas?
Lipomas are benign fatty masses or tumors that many dogs get when they gain a little weight. The Traditional Chinese Medicine explanation for lipomas is "stagnant phlegm" and stagnant energy (lymphatics, in this case) in the body. What's interesting is that the things that help improve circulation and lymph drainage also help reduce fatty tumors.
There are certain dog breeds that are predisposed to lipomas, like the Labrador Retriever, and Labs also tend to be on the chunky side. If your dog has lipomas, there are a couple of different things to think about. Number one is body mass index (BMI). If your dog is heavier, it's a risk factor for lipomas. You need to look at the macronutrient content of your dog's diet. If she's eating a 50 to 60 percent starch-based diet, removing those carbs is imperative.
Carbohydrates are not a necessary part of a dog's diet. Feeding grains or a high-starch diet causes your dog to store that unburned energy as fat. Fat doesn't make dogs fat. Sugar and carbs make dogs fat. Eliminating carbohydrates from your lipoma-ridden dog is crucial.
Number two, adding lipolytic agents like apple cider vinegar to your dog's food can help her body process fats. Digestive enzymes can also be very beneficial.
Exercise is also very important. Think about how much your dog is moving. Dogs and cats are wired to be athletes. They need a tremendous amount of exercise. Your cat who goes from the couch to the food bowl and back to the couch may not look like an athlete, but I promise you deep within that kitty is a very athletic creature that would love to emerge.
All dogs and cats need daily aerobic, heart-thumping, muscle-building, tendon ligament-enhancing, lymphatic-detoxifying movement, a.k.a. exercise. It doesn't matter what your circumstance is, you've got to find a creative way to move your pet's body. Lack of exercise, along with an inappropriate diet, in my opinion, are the biggest reasons we see so many dogs covered in lipomas.
Question: Should I Feed My Pet Sardines and Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Fresh sardines are awesome, or if you can't get those, sardines packed in water is the best way to offer your pet a food-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are critical for dog and cat health. Omega-3s derived from marine sources are the only ones that are metabolically available for dogs and cats.
Those of you who are vegetarians or vegans know that things like flax and flax oil contain some vegetable sources of omega-3s and ALA. But dogs and cats lack the enzyme that converts vegetable sources of omega-3s to appropriate DHA. Giving your dog or cat flax oil is wonderful for ALA, alpha-linoleic acid, but it doesn't help their EPA and DHA levels.
If you're looking for a source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for your dog or cat, you must feed fish. But fish are toxic. That's why I like sustainably sourced krill oil. It's the cleanest ocean source of marine DHA and EPA you can find.
Make sure you're getting a brand that is Marine Stewardship Council-approved. If you can't feed krill, then feeding sardines packed in water is an excellent way to offer your pet omega-3 fatty acids.
Why do dog and cats need omega-3s? Omega-3s are in commercial pet foods, but they're inactivated by high temperature, heat and light. The high temperatures used to manufacture canned and dry pet food inactivate the very delicate omega-3s that are required for your pet's cognitive, skin, coat and immune system.
If you're feeding processed pet food, the best thing you can do is add in sardines or another marine source of omega-3s. If you're feeding a fresh, whole, living, species-appropriate diet, your pet is already getting some omega-3s.
Question: What Are the Benefits of Probiotics to Pets?
Probiotics are great for pets. The more we learn about the microbiome of dogs and cats, the more we realize the importance of reseeding pets' guts with beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that reseed your pet's GI tract. Gut bacteria is affected by emotional stress, mental stress, environment, boarding, kenneling, and obviously, nutrition.
If you have a dog or cat who's gassy, belches a lot, has IBD, IBS, colitis, gastritis, enteritis, etc., it's a given that probiotics will be beneficial. We're also learning that the microbiome is intimately connected to pets' behavior, so the health of your dog's or cat's gut affects how healthy she is emotionally, physically and immunologically.
Obviously, what you feed your pet is critically important. I would never tell you feed a cheap-quality food and then add in a probiotic. I'm going to tell you improve the quality of your dog's or cat's food to the best of your economic ability. If you are feeding the best food you can afford to feed and your pet is symptomatic gastrointestinally, probiotics are a really good choice.
Now, when it comes to the quality of pet probiotics, I recommend insuring they're processed at a good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility. Also, you can give human probiotics for dogs and cats, but there are some strains that are more suited for dogs and cats, and you won't find those in human probiotics. Using a pet probiotic if your dog or cat is symptomatic can be very beneficial for gastrointestinal health and well-being.
Question: Can You Recommend Supplements for Pets on a Raw Diet?
If you're feeding a commercially available raw food diet that you're sure is nutritionally balanced, you may not need to supplement except maybe some omega-3s in the form of sardines a couple of times a week.
However, if you're preparing a homemade diet, it can be the best or worst food you feed your pet, depending on how nutritionally balanced it is. When I say balanced, I'm not talking about supplements, I'm talking about making sure your pet's food contains the right amounts of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients coming from the food itself.
Following a recipe that has been designed appropriately and specifically for the dog or cat you're feeding is extremely important. I'm a big believer in feeding ancestral diet standards, which are significantly higher and more nutrient-dense than AAFCO's minimum standards, which are designed to simply sustain life.
I want to go beyond simply sustaining life — I want to feed dogs and cats to thrive. There's a huge difference between surviving and thriving. I'm all for homemade diets if you're following a recipe that insures you're meeting not just minimum nutrient standards, but optimal nutrient requirements that help prevent disease, and also unlock the healing potential of pets who get sick.
What supplements to add? You don't necessarily have to add any supplements if you're feeding a balanced whole food diet. I select supplements based on each pet's individual health picture. For example, a supplement I would probably recommend for an aging pet with eye or vision issues is astaxanthin.
For a pet with mitral valve disease or a grade 1 heart murmur, I would recommend ubiquinol, which is the reduced form of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). When dogs and cats are young, they produce some CoQ10. But as they age, just like humans, their CoQ10 levels diminish. CoQ10 feeds mitochondria and nourishes pets on a cellular level.
Thanks to Everyone Who Joined Me on Facebook Live!
There's no cookie cutter protocol for every pet, and there shouldn't be. That's where you, as an empowered pet parent, become the force behind your pet's health and veterinary care. It means you're able to make wise lifestyle decisions for the pets you love. That's the level of knowledge and commitment I wish for all of you.
Thank you, everyone! Thank you for joining me on this wonderful, exciting journey learning to improve the health and well-being of the animals we care for. We'll do it again. We'll cover more topics, ideas, thoughts, concerns and anything else you want to talk about!