Bridging the Gap Between What Our Pets Need From Us and What We’re Able to Offer Them

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Today is the 7th and final day of our Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute’s (CANWI) Annual Awareness Week
  • To close out awareness week, Dr. Donna Raditic and I — as co-founders of CANWI — speak from the heart about our passion for the work we’re doing to improve the lives of animal companions and their humans
  • CANWI is involved in a number of projects and studies with the ultimate goal of showing pet parents and veterinarians how to use nutrition and integrative care proactively to prevent disease in dogs and cats instead of waiting for it to occur and trying to treat it

As we wrap up Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute (CANWI) Awareness Week, Dr. Raditic and I want to take a few minutes to say thank you to each and every one of you who has supported all the work we’re doing and our organization.

When Donna and I came together to create CANWI, we knew it would be a grassroots effort, and that we would need to ask people for their support. Thankfully, many of you responded, and CANWI has now embarked on several exciting projects to help improve the health of companion animals.

Why We’re so Passionate About the Work We’re Doing at CANWI

For me, it has been a dream come true to be a part of a nonprofit organization connected to universities, researchers and PhDs, and other organizations. We’ve all come together in an effort to provide real science and research that will make a difference for pet parents and veterinarians worldwide. I’m incredibly excited that we’re able to move forward with some really important studies.

“You know, Karen, when we met and started talking, your enthusiasm and all your hard work really touched me,” says Dr. Raditic. “I’ve had a long journey, just as you have, to become a veterinarian. This is our passion. But I think the one thing both you and I have realized is there’s so much more we want to learn.

And that takes funding so we can do the research necessary to answer so many of the questions we all share. CANWI is our opportunity to raise funds to design the studies that will produce real science and answers. We’re discovering how we can provide better nutrition to pets and how we can improve the quality of life and longevity of dogs and cats. And we’re going to share everything we learn. We’re going to educate.

Educating pet parents is something Karen has done throughout her career. We’re both educators, and one of the most frustrating things for me in both my veterinary and nutrition work, is realizing how much we don’t know. CANWI is a way for both of us to learn so that we can go to the next level in improving the lives of pets and share our findings with the world.”

CANWI Is Funding a Veterinary Nutrition Residency and Research in Natural Complementary Therapies

A huge part of what CANWI is doing with your help is developing sound, unbiased, pet nutrition research. But what some people may not know is CANWI is also involved in a variety of other types of education, as well as helping veterinary students become better educated about nutrition.

For example, CANWI funded a veterinary nutrition residency, actually one of the few residencies not funded by a big pet food company. That was a tremendous accomplishment, because we want veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians to think independently.

To produce independent thinkers, pet food industry monies should not be influencing nutrition education programs. We all must realize that the pet food industry spends a lot of money on marketing and often make claims that are presumably based in science and research.

It requires education and independent thinking to distinguish real science from claims and marketing. Marketing isn’t science; it involves using claims, statements and advertising to sell products.

CANWI has also funded two summer internships at the University of Georgia to investigate how herbs may benefit lower urinary tract disease. This may not sound all that important, but it actually is, because herbs and other natural therapies don’t have a lot of research behind them, and no one is very interested in funding that type of research.

Some of our research projects are small, but they’re very important to our goal of building a database of studies to support more natural therapies. Such studies help people feel more comfortable using complementary treatments and modalities.

Spreading the Word to Veterinary Students

Dr. Raditic has been involved in studying complementary therapies in her role leading an integrative medicine service at a conventional veterinary school.

“One example,” says Dr. Raditic, “is when my students and I were treating pets with cancer. The internal medicine and oncology teams put the animals on standard medications, and the owners would come to see us for dietary supplements, herbs and other treatments that support the body, or work with the medication, or help with some of the side effects.

The work we’re doing at CANWI will help build a database of natural therapies, the conditions they treat, dosing, and so forth. It really opens veterinary students’ eyes when there is research available that demonstrates the benefits of complementary treatments. They can then see beyond the conventional medicine model of surgery and drugs.

Treating a patient isn’t just a matter of diagnosing the disease and picking the right drug. It’s much more than that because the goal is to create wellness for the lifetime of the pet. That’s why herbs, dietary supplements, nutrition, and other complementary therapies should all come into play. This is what we mean by ‘integrative veterinary care.’

When veterinary students go through the process of conducting a study and getting results and presenting them, it’s very impactful and the word gets out. When I ran the integrative service, the word got out and we became quite a popular service. It’s another way we are positively impacting the veterinary community and it helps every pet parent looking for more comprehensive, integrative care.

How You Can Help Support the Important Work CANWI Is Doing

Our goal at CANWI is to cause a paradigm shift away from reactive veterinary medicine, which is the traditional model where we wait for pets to get sick and then try to find a drug or a surgery to treat the symptoms. As veterinarians and healers, we want to intervene before sickness occurs, which is what we call proactive veterinary care. We just aren’t taught how to do that in veterinary school.

We need to shift the paradigm in the direction of a more proactive approach. We want to help veterinary students conceptualize a proactive intervention process using nutritional and complementary therapies that prevent disease from occurring. Ultimately, we want to create a generation of veterinarians who are open-minded, independent thinkers with more tools in their veterinary toolbox upon graduation.

I believe CANWI’s future is very bright, not only because of the type and quality of the work we’re doing, but also because of the support we receive from people like you — pet parents who realize how important this work is for the animals we love. Without your support, these projects wouldn’t be possible.

I’m also thankful to Dr. Mercola for donating seed money to get Project Molly, CANWI’s feline advanced glycation end products (AGEs) research project, kicked off. We hope other organizations and companies will also step up and support this much-needed research as well.

“All of us pulling together is very important,” adds Dr. Raditic. “It takes money to conduct studies and to fund a residency program. Karen and I come to this with pure hearts, because we believe in what we’re doing as veterinarians, nutritionists, and pet parents.

We care, just as you do. I mean I want my own children to live longer, healthier lives, and mine are furry. They’ve always been furry!

We make a difference when we all come together for a worthwhile cause. The return on investment for you as pet parents, veterinarians, animal advocates and others will be invaluable. We’re all searching to answer the same questions — how to better care for our animal companions, how to provide them with better nutrition and extend their lives.

Every dollar that comes to us will come back to you in the form of the knowledge and help you provide the very best care of your furry companion. We need to come together, and we need to do it this week. I also want to thank Dr. Mercola. I want to thank the whole Mercola crew, and Karen, and everyone who’s involved, because you’re making a dream come true that will benefit every single one of us and our furry family members.

I think our dogs and cats more than deserve it. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s listening today who doesn’t know how much our pets need us to do a better job. So thank you.”

I want to thank Dr. Raditic from the bottom of my heart for not only embracing our CANWI mission, but for heading up all of our incredibly difficult and complex research projects. This could not happen without her. She works tirelessly and behind-the-scenes to provide this information to all of us. I can’t thank her enough for the invaluable work she’s doing.