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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lack Of Problems Doesn't Make It Right

The week before last I received an email from Paul, responding to my comments on a recent post about table food for dogs.  Here are some snippets from his letter.

I liked this post -  it spoke to me.  For 19 years I had a border collie – a wonderful healthy and active dog all his life; dying of old age coming up to his 19 birthday – missing the day by a week.  This border collie drank – a pint of milk a day – diluted with water – sometimes with osterfeed thrown in for good measure (my brother was an infant and ends of his formula feed was sometimes added to the water and milk mix that my collie loved).  Never a problem – he never was sick after drinking it and although he also had a bowl of water always he rarely drank much of it.  He ate raw marrow bones regularly – several a week.  He got scraps from the table – only what we knew was not harmful – mixed with porridge, brown  bread,  potatoes, left over meat from meals (steak, chicken, liver, mince etc), cooked vegetables (his were always taken out before salting)  – mainly turnip, cabbage and carrots – he hated peas and parsnip!! – so he didn’t get those.  He had an egg every day and either braised chicken breasts or cooked offal  all in this mix.  He also got a bonio or two every day and every week  “bob martins – vitamin supplements”.  This dog had wonderful energy, fantastic coat and was never sick..........I am not saying I disagree with you with regard to feeding a dog non commercial dog  food (quite the opposite - animals need to be fed properly - correct quantities and right kind of stuff)  but I can understand where your original poster is coming from........As I say this dog lived to be 19 years old (well missing it by one week)and died of old age.  My dogs are now fed high end commercial foods - science plan - but the oldest they have lived to have been 11 and 12 - and that was with health issues a year or two before they died. So I can really understand where your poster Liz is coming from with her question - and while I agree with you that lots of people smoke and don't die of cancer - I have not come across many dogs living long and healthy lives - with no health issues like my collie did.

This is actually a great point for discussion as it addresses a situation I commonly deal with in all aspects of medicine.  I often get clients who think and even say "Well, I've never done it that way and my dog/cat has always been healthy."  I've had clients virtually gloat when their dogs come up negative on their annual heartworm test despite not being on preventatives.  There have been similar responses from people who have only ever had their dogs get rabies and have never seen them get sick from parvo.

Unfortunately people often assume that if the do things (or don't to things) a certain way and nothing bad happens it means that they're doing the right thing.  This couldn't be farther from the truth.  A similar situation would be have someone walk across a four-lane major highway, making it to the other side without injury.  Since they performed this task and weren't run over by a car or truck, they can conclude that it's safe to walk across highways.  Right?  Obviously not.  But that's the kind of logic some people are employing in regards to their pets. Just because someone isn't killed going across a highway doesn't mean it's safe.  And just because someone's dog doesn't get heartworms when they decline prevention doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do.

Heartworms really do infect pets and kill them.  People food and table scraps really do cause pancreatitis and gastrointestinal distress.  Home-cooked food really can be an unbalanced diet.  Parvo really does kill dogs.  All of the things we veterinarians try to talk to clients about really are intended to let pets live longer and healthier.  Discard and ignore our advice at your own peril.


  1. I'd say Paul is looking at the past and NOT remembering the bad bits - like when the dog or cat's teeth and gums are so infected they get pulled out with some tweezers or pliers, the fact the animal was so arthritic they never went up stairs anymore, when they could no longer go outside or use the litterbox, they were so blind or deaf you brought their food to them - stuff like that.

  2. Honestly, I think Paul is remembering correctly. One of the frustrating things about being a vet is when a pet does well and appears healthy in spite of the wrong things done by owners. That's my many owners doubt our recommendations. My point wasn't to pick on Paul (who seemed very nice based on the entire email), but to point out that just because nothing bad happens doesn't make an action (or inaction) the right thing to do.

  3. So true. Never fails-dog gets no medical care, lives to be 17 and the owner runs over it in the driveway.

  4. I'm glad to see further discussion on the topic! I inquired knowing full-well that your views may not match up with that of the holistic vet's, but was just curious what your take on it was (although I assumed it would be along the lines of what you responded with). If my parents had not been given any veterinary advice and were feeding "people food" diets on their own whim I would certainly try to persuade them otherwise, but they prefer a holistic approach and that's fine by me as long as there was guidance from a licensed vet and they aren't experiencing diet related health-issues. But absolutely, a lack of problems doesn't provide support for the theory- that's just bad science.
    Thanks for all your great replies Dr. Bern!


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