By Dr. Becker
As we kick off CANWI awareness week, I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the organization's co-founders, Dr. Donna Raditic. Dr. Raditic is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, as well as a certified veterinary acupuncturist.
CANWI, which is short for the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute, is the result of conversations Dr. Raditic and I have had over several years. We've talked a lot about pet nutrition and the lack of information available to pet parents who want to learn more about the food they're feeding their animal companions.
We're both frustrated with the lack of information on how nutrition influences the well-being and longevity of pets. "Nutrition information is inaccessible," says Dr. Raditic, "because it's used in the development of pet foods and pet products."
"The pet food companies certainly do nutrition studies to develop diets, but the focus of their research is product-based. They're not looking at the bigger picture, which is nutrition as the foundation of health, quality of life, and longevity issues for companion animals."
CANWI is the first organization of its kind dedicated to raising money for independent pet nutrition research.
Is There a Better Way to Feed Our Dogs and Cats?
I asked Dr. Raditic why she thinks the time is right for an organization like CANWI.
"For a long time, the pet food industry has been developing products that make it very convenient for pet parents to feed their dogs and cats," she responded. "But now, we're all starting to step back and look more closely at the health and wellness of our pets, and wondering what we can do better.
It will take independent nutrition research and funding to get the information we need to do a better job feeding our furry family members. Pet food companies' motivation for their studies is most often financial gain — they are businesses.
The focus of CANWI is to answer the question, 'Is there a better way to feed our dogs and cats?'
I had a client who wanted to talk to me about their pet's health and lifespan, and during our conversation it dawned on me that in my 25 years as a veterinarian, even with all the things we do to keep pets well, I haven't seen any real improvement in their lifespans.
So what's the missing ingredient? There's a common denominator and it's the diets they're fed on a daily basis — food from a can or a bag. Is there something better we can be doing?
Which brings us to CANWI's mission, which is to provide independent, unbiased, pet nutrition research. We want to take a look at these questions and see if we can find some answers."
The Answers Lie in Independent, Unbiased Pet Nutrition Research
I'm very excited to be a founding board member of CANWI because we're looking at the bigger picture. We're asking questions like, "What do dry foods do when fed to pets," and "What do canned foods do when they're fed to pets extensively?" And, "How about home-prepared diets?"
No one before us has conducted unbiased studies to get answers to these questions, which is why I'm thrilled about the initial study we're planning. But it will be expensive, so I asked Dr. Raditic to discuss the costs associated with a pet food study.
"Studies like the one we're planning often run hundreds of thousands of dollars," she explained.
"A lot of veterinarians are asking for the type of research we want to provide. That's where CANWI comes in — raising those funds so that we can make an impact with good research and solid studies that look at these issues."
Those of us who advocate feeding fresh foods to pets know the benefits. But there are currently no formal studies to prove what we know to be true. There are no studies to prove that feeding fresh foods is better than processed dry or canned foods.
"This is an opportunity for all of us in the veterinary and pet parent community to come together to research pet nutrition that promotes better health, wellness and longevity," said Dr. Raditic.
"But it's going to take money, and lots of it. If we can get our first study funded it will return the kind of information everyone who cares about pets is looking for."
Nothing Will Change About the Way Pets Are Fed Until We Prove, With Science, the Benefits of Fresh Food Diets
Nothing will change in the pet food industry or the conventional veterinary community until we can produce studies proving the benefits of fresh food for dogs and cats. The great thing about the study CANWI is planning is that as a board-certified nutritionist, Dr. Raditic can standardize the diets we test.
For example, we'll have a dry diet, a canned diet and a fresh food diet with the same nutrient profile.We'll look at how processing techniques impact the nutrition in each diet, as well as the by-products created during processing. We'll also look at how the diets impact the microbiome of dogs and cats, which will break new ground in terms of pet food studies.
"Our dogs and cats eat processed diets their entire lives," says Dr. Raditic. "I remember once during a lecture for a group of my veterinary colleagues, I looked out at the audience and said, 'Maybe all of us should just eat the same boxed cereal for 10 years and see what we feel like and what we look like.'"
Bottom line: Dr. Raditic and I, through CANWI, are engaged in a grassroots effort to raise funding to conduct unbiased, independent research on pet nutrition. We're not receiving funding from big donors, the government or the pet food industry. No one will help with this effort but pet parents like you. If we all contribute something, we all gain something from these study results.
"This is an opportunity, as a pet parent, to really support something that is very near and dear to your heart," says Dr. Raditic. "As our pets' guardians, we want to feed them the very best diet. If we have control over that, we have more control over how long they live, and how well they live. Maybe we can even prevent disease and extend lifespans. That's the goal."
Many thanks to Dr. Donna Raditic for organizing and facilitating the enormous amount of work our pet nutrition studies will require. I really appreciate her commitment to the cause.