Liz sent this in after reading one of my recent blog posts....
I was reading one of your recent blogs and a particular line caught my attention:
"They may offer ham, hot dogs, steak, hamburger, cottage cheese, rice, bread, and many other things, usually food items that we recommend never to feed."
Every item in that list (other than bread) is basically what comprises my family's dogs' diets. My parents were advised 20 some years ago by their holistic veterinarian to feed our dogs essentially the same foods we eat (with obvious exceptions such as toxic food items and things with excessive salt/sugar/fat contents). Our dogs are fed what is on your list of "no-no" foods, as well as lima beans (our bichon's favorite food!), other beans, pasta, sausage, brats, spam and cheddar cheese (these, in addition to your list, being the usual staples). And foods with a higher fat/salt contents are fed more sparingly than the others. We have always had small breed dogs (lhasa apsos, and more recently a shih tzu and bichon frise); none of them have ever had medical problems and have all lived to be 14+ years old and have died of old-age or old-age related organ failures, and none have been overweight, prone to overeating or had digestive issues. We also keep a bowl of kibble out for free-feeding when they want it, but generally they eat whatever it is we eat for dinner unless it is inappropriate- then we prepare food from the staple food list. Since my parents received this advice some time ago I was wondering what your opinion on this form of diet is? Has there been any recent research you are aware of that has proven this sort of diet to actually be harmful? Or is it just generally a frowned upon practice because it is usually not properly executed by clients? I will be starting veterinary school in the Fall and as of this point I am personally inclined to see nothing wrong with this diet if it is not abused and there is no medical need to use a special diet; but I'm obviously no expert and would love to hear your take on it! Thanks!
Let me begin by giving a little disclaimer. You will get a big difference of opinion on multiple subjects between holistic vets and traditional vets. I am speaking from a traditional Western medicine aspect so what I say may be at odds with someone who practices with more of a homeopathic or holistic style.
A dog's digestive system and nutritional requirements is very different than ours. Many things that we may get great benefit from are useless to dogs because of these differences. This is especially true of vegetable material. They are also much more prone to digestive and pancreas issues with highly fatty foods than we are. And there are some foods that are healthy for us but potentially toxic to dogs (grapes, raisins, chocolate, and potentially even garlic or onions). We should never assume that just because it's good or safe for us that it also is for other animals. That could be a deadly mistake to make.
Liz one of the things that concerns me about this diet you describe is that there are a lot of high-fat foods you're feeding and may not even realize it. Hot dogs, brats, sausage, and Spam are all typically very fatty foods and in my opinion should never ever be a staple of a dog's diet. Even hamburger and steak can be potentially dangerous depending on the fat content. These things can cause upset of the pancreas which can be a serious illness.
Dairy products give a dog little benefit because they are mildly lactose intolerant and don't absorb milk sugars and calcium very well. Rice isn't bad and neither are beans, both having good nutritional value even for a dog. Things like bread and cottage cheese are fine as treats or to aid in giving medications, but shouldn't be a main part of the diet.
The big question I would ask is how well balanced your own diet is. Are you getting the right amounts of trace nutrients and minerals? How are your own personal fat and sodium intake levels? Is anyone in your family clinically overweight? Have doctors told you to modify your own family's diet for various health reasons? Of course I don't expect you to answer these questions to me, but they are worth you thinking about. If your own diet isn't completely balanced and designed by a nutritionist, then what you're giving your dogs isn't balanced either. I'm not pointing fingers because I fall into that category myself!
If you do have a high-quality completely balanced diet we still go back to the situation that dogs have different nutritional needs than we do and have different digestive processes. What's great for us may not be for them, and I think it is wrong to assume that it's fine. If you look at dogs in the wild their main source of food is the meat, organs, and bones of prey. They typically don't eat grains or other vegetable items unless they are part of the gastrointestinal contents of their prey.
It is possible to make a nutritionally balanced and appropriate home-made diet. However, that takes a lot of work including using vitamin and mineral supplements mixed with their food. You need to do proper research and make sure that the source of your information is appropriate, such as a veterinary nutrition text book. I have never heard of a veterinary nutritional specialist that has ever advocated a pet diet that is merely feeding what you feed your own family. Yes, they may recommend certain human foods or diets, but that is part of a carefully designed nutritional plan.
So, Liz, that's my opinion on the subject. Just because nothing bad has happened so far doesn't mean that everything is being done right. It's like when people who are chain-smokers make it into their 90s we can't therefore conclude that smoking is healthy. Again, you may get different opinions on nutrition from a holistic vet.
Since you're going into vet school soon, be sure and ask your professors. I'm sure they can give you a much more detailed response than I can!