This Brave Young Brazilian Veterinarian Is a Trailblazer

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dr. Sylvia Angelico is a veterinarian who practices wellness medicine and is passionate about feeding fresh food to pets, which makes her a trailblazer in her country of Brazil
  • While still a student in veterinary school, Dr. Angelico began publicly sharing her knowledge of how to responsibly feed fresh diets to pets, and was quickly shut down by Brazil’s pet food industry
  • Dr. Angelico is now fighting a civil lawsuit filed against her for recommending raw feeding
  • Forging ahead despite setbacks, Dr. Angelico also offers a well-attended course on therapeutic fresh diets for dogs with chronic illness
  • Even losing her veterinary license will not stop this courageous leader of Brazil’s fresh food movement

My very special guest today is Dr. Sylvia Angelico, a fellow veterinarian I met while I was lecturing in Brazil not long ago. I found her very inspiring because her focus is wellness medicine. I asked her to tell us a little about herself.

“Since graduation in 2011,” Dr. Angelico explains, “I’ve been teaching pet parents about home-prepared, raw and cooked diets for dogs and cats. Back in 2008, my partner, Vanessa Fermino, who is a brilliant digital artist and I created a little blog called Cachorro Verde, which means ‘Green Dog’ in Portuguese.

It was about our experience feeding raw food to our dogs. We made a lot of mistakes back then, but we just wanted to share the experience with other people who might be curious about it in Brazil, since there was no website on the matter. When I was in my third year of college, we began to put together guidelines on our blog — free guidelines on how to prepare fresh food diets for healthy dogs and cats. That was the start of everything.”

Veterinary Students Worldwide Aren’t Taught About Fresh Diets for Pets

I asked Dr. Angelico how she was introduced to the concept of fresh feeding.

“Actually, it was by chance,” she replied. “I was in my third year of veterinary school and I started studying nutrition on my own because we weren’t being taught about fresh food. We were only getting lectures from people in the pet food industry. Some of my colleagues loved it because they got free stuff and paid internships, but I wanted to learn about fresh feeding and they weren’t teaching it.

So I bought a lot of books by Dr. Ian Billinghurst and Dr. Tom Lonsdale. I even talked to Dr. Lonsdale and received his permission to translate his book into Portuguese and put it out on the Internet. I also bought books by Dr. Richard Pitcairn.”

Good Things Happen Fast for Dogs Switched From Kibble to Fresh Food

Next I asked Dr. Angelico how quickly she put her own pets on a fresh diet once she began learning about fresh food.

“Immediately,” she explains. “I did a lot of weird and bad stuff in the beginning. For instance, I didn’t process the veggies. There were huge chunks of kale on their dish — stuff like that. I didn’t pre-freeze the meats, which is important here in Brazil, because we don’t always have [high-quality] meats like in more industrialized countries.

But even with an imperfect version of raw food, my dogs did a lot better really quickly. They started shedding less. They all slimmed down. It was really hard to keep them at the right weight on kibble. And they had a lot of bad breath and gunk coming out of their ears on kibble. I saw a lot of improvement in just three or four weeks.”

The rapid improvement of Dr. Angelico’s dogs was exactly my experience during veterinary school when I started making my dog, Gemini's, food. The change was quick and dramatic. And like her, I started out doing it wrong, and yet my dog was still healthier than she’d been on highly processed kibble.

Here’s What Happened 10 Years Ago When Dr. Angelico Dared to Share Her Knowledge of Fresh Homemade Pet Food With the Public

I graduated vet school knowing I would be recommending fresh food to pet parents. Since Dr. Angelico felt the same way, I asked her what kind of response she received from her veterinary peers. Were they supportive?

“I had problems with my peers and with the pet food industry long before that, before graduation,” she answered. “I was in my third year and in love with the concept of raw feeding, of natural nutrition and bio-appropriate diets, so I put together the blog I told you about, Cachorro Verde.

I wrote an article that explained why feeding kibble might not be such a good idea. I used little bits and pieces of the books I’d read by Dr. Billinghurst and Dr. Lonsdale. The pet food industry really came after me because of that article, and I was still just a vet student!

They sent a letter to the Federal Council of Veterinary Medicine (CFMV) in Brazil, which is the organization that regulates our profession. They sent someone to my university to talk to the director of my course, to frighten him or something. I had to take my article down. This was what they made me agree to do so I could graduate.”

I’m really stunned to hear Dr. Angelico’s experience of such blatant persecution for simply sharing her opinion about fresh pet food online. I asked her if she was afraid she might be prevented from graduating.

“My course director at the time was very honest with me,” she said. “He told me, ‘You are a student here. You’re allowed to do anything you want to do. Do what you like, but hire a lawyer, because they mean business and they are really angry about your article.

I got a lawyer, and he recommend that I agree to take down the article on my website. But it backfired a little, because people knew about it and they started sharing the article like crazy. They just took my name off it so I wouldn’t be further persecuted. And then I started seeing the article all over the Internet. It was crazy!”

Wow! This shows that in the digital age we live in, much is possible. When Dr. Angelico was made to take her article down, technology was already ahead of the game. The article went viral anyway!

Dr. Angelico Now Faces a Civil Lawsuit for the ‘Crime’ of Recommending Raw Diets for Pets

Dr. Angelico’s Green Dog website is still up and running as an educational platform, so I asked her if she’s had any other altercations or run-ins with the pet food industry or with other veterinarians.

“A little bit,” she replied. “I’ve had people tell me that when they attend congresses and symposiums, sometimes pet food industry lecturers speak very badly about me and Green Dog. But then sometimes, friends of mine are watching the lectures and they raise their hands and say, ‘I completely disagree. This person is trying her best.

She’s trying to get the message out there. She’s worried that people aren’t going to do this [feed fresh pet food] responsibly, so she’s always talking about supplementation and consulting your vet. It’s not what you’re portraying at all’.

Last year, someone filed a civil suit against me. I believe it’s the same person who persecuted me while I was a vet student. It’s a person linked to a huge pet food company in Brazil. He’s after me this time because I recommend raw feeding in Green Dog, which he believes is a threat to humans, and also because I offer online consultation. He wants to get me somehow.”

It can be difficult to keep going in the face of a lawsuit. I asked Dr. Angelico if she feels the popularity and knowledge of fresh feeding is growing fast enough that she has good backing and support from pet parents and other professionals like me. Does she feel confident that the movement has gained enough momentum that she has nothing to fear?

“I believe so,” Dr. Angelico responded. “When we created Green Dog, which was 10 years ago, there was almost nothing on the market. There were just two brands of commercial, officially registered fresh pet food, and they were struggling. But now, the public is much more educated. I believe I’m a part of that. And also, you are a part of that, because a lot of Brazilians follow your website and your orientations, and love you.

I think Brazil is now one of the top countries in the world that is interested in a healthier, fresh food option for pets. My lawyer is actually a good client I’ve had for many years now. She offered to help me fight the lawsuit.

She knows how I work. She knows about my passion for fresh feeding and doing it in the most responsible way possible. She put together a beautiful case for me. It’s almost like a lesson in fresh feeding from the beginning to today. So, I’m confident, but I know it can be a little arbitrary.”

We have a similar battle here in the U.S. The processed pet food industry does not look kindly upon the fresh feeding movement, because, of course, they see it as a threat. It’s good to have some legal minds on our side, as Dr. Angelico has.

Dr. Angelico’s Therapeutic Fresh Food Course Has Been Attended by Hundreds of Veterinarians and Other Professionals

Next, I asked Dr. Angelico if she knows other veterinarians and professional colleagues who are frustrated with their inability to treat patients in a way that truly helps them recover from disease. I asked her if she’s helping to educate other vets about fresh food.

“Since 2013 we’ve been offering an 18-hour weekend course for veterinarians and animal husbandry professionals,” she explains. “In the course, I share all the information I have about fresh feeding for dogs with chronic conditions. It’s a therapeutic fresh food course.

We’ve had hundreds of veterinarians take the course and we even started a network. There’s a page on Cachorro Verde called ‘Lista de vets,’ which is a list of veterinarians who have participated in my course, sometimes more than three times. Those vets know how to help clients make special diets for diabetic dogs, obese dogs, and dogs with kidney disease.”

This is one of the most exciting things Dr. Angelico does, in my view. She uses what she has learned about fresh feeding to help educate her professional peers, so they understand and do fresh diets correctly. I asked Dr. Angelico to share with us why the topic of fresh food for pets is so important to her. Why does she feel so passionate about it?

“Because I see the changes that occur when people start relating directly with food,” she explains. “Not only for their dogs, but also for themselves. People come to me and tell me that once they started making food for their pet, they started paying better attention to the way they eat. They started buying fresher food for everyone in the family.

And it makes a big difference in people’s mental health, because they treat it like a hobby. They get really involved with what they are eating and feeding to their family. The benefits are endless.

This is what feeds my passion — not only doing good for the health of my patients, but also for the health of their human family members, and maybe even the community. People are getting jobs, or different jobs, because they get inspired. They start little companies that make fresh food or treats for dogs. They go out and register them. Now, they have a job that inspires them.”

‘What We Share Open-Heartedly With Others Can Have a Huge Impact’

Finally, I asked Dr. Angelico if there is one thing she would like the whole world to know or think about — some words of wisdom she’d like to pass along.

“I would say that what we do and what we share open-heartedly with others can have a huge impact,” she answered. “It’s not always easy. You may face a lot of rejection. You may start doubting yourself. But when you really listen to the feedback from people, things like, ‘This is really helping me,’ or ‘This has really helped my dog or my cat,’ you know you have to keep going.

You have to continue to share and help. You also start to learn from people, so it’s not a one-way street. It’s very much a two-way street, which makes it all worthwhile. If they take my license from me someday — I don’t know if that’s going to happen, I hope not — but if it does, I’m going to continue studying and learning and sharing what I know with people.”

I have great admiration for Dr. Angelico. She’s ahead of the fresh food curve in Brazil, and the persecution she endures is real. I have great respect for her commitment to share her knowledge of healthy nutrition for pets with owners, veterinarians, and anyone interested in learning how to responsibly feed a fresh diet.

“Thank you so much, Dr. Karen Becker, for this amazing honor,” Dr. Angelico says. “You’re such a huge part of my continuous education as an integrative vet. I was blessed to have the opportunity to meet you in person last August and see for myself what an incredibly inspirational human being you are.”

Many thanks to Dr. Sylvia Angelico for joining me today!