Humans tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. So often the answers are right in front of us but instead we look for some huge revelation or scientific breakthrough.
The other day I visited my friend who’s a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor. I mentioned how I was trying to think of something to write about for this nutrition issue. I know there are going to be a million different amazing views on food, herbs, vitamins and more.
I felt the subject of health and nutrition has and always will be an ongoing educational process. We’re constantly learning and unlearning what helps and what hinders and what are the most fabulous things that we can feed our dogs to create wellness and prevent disease.
(If you’re starting your dog off on a raw diet and don’t know where to begin … start here.)
Feeding The Unhealthy Organ
Our talk moved to glandulars. In Chinese medicine we feed the animal organ to the person whose organ is lacking energy or needs to be healthier. For example, if my kidneys needed support, I would be advised to eat kidney.
If my adrenal glands were compromised, I would need to eat the adrenal gland … and so on. I’m always looking at skin issues. Skin disease plagues so many of our dogs.
In the long run it can be as detrimental as cancer because many dogs live a lifetime in distress – and thousands of dogs are euthanized because of it. There are many shelters where the number one reason for animals being surrendered and euthanized is skin disease.
I truly feel most skin disease is autoimmune and causation is predominately an unhealthy gut. Then I thought of the conversation I had with my friend and started to apply it to skin. After all, skin is the largest organ in both dogs and people. If the skin is compromised, then you could conclude they should be eating the vital organ that causes skin to be healthy.
Bits And Bites
This brings me to a touchy topic, which I’m going to call the bits to try and make it less grotesque for squeamish people.
Because we have no real classification for them, the bits to me are the things that get thrown out during butchering … parts like skin, brain, eyeballs, testicles, feet, beaks, hooves, feathers, hair, thymus, thyroid, uterus, penises…
In animal medicine we often follow human trends and likewise with nutrition. Eating sweetbreads (pancreas or thymus gland), brains, tongue and fish eyes is becoming a very hot trend in many upscale restaurants and with health conscious people, especially bodybuilders.
It’s not surprising when you look at the nutrients they contain:
- CoQ10, which is vital for energy production and cardiac function, as well as a potent antioxidant
- B complex vitamins, including B12 and folate
- Minerals, including iron that’s easy to absorb, as well as copper, zinc and chromium
- Quality fats
- Excellent protein
- Choline, another B vitamin, important for cell membranes, brain and nerve function, heart health and prevention of birth defects
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E, for circulation, tissue repair, healing, deactivation of free radicals, slows aging
- Vitamin K2
- Amino acids
Other Important Bits
Now what about the other bits: skin, hair, beaks, feet and feathers? How many of you have heard about collagen, elastin, keratin and melanin?
Let’s think of all the issues related to a lack of collagen in your dog’s diet.
Collagen is a part of the connective tissue in the skin that helps in firmness, suppleness and constant renewal of skin cells. It’s vital for skin elasticity and health.
Hmmm! It’s also paramount in the health and strength of ligaments, which is another type of connective tissue that attaches two bones and holds the joints together. Do torn cruciate ligaments come to mind? Collagen is found almost everywhere. It’s in muscles, bones, blood vessels and the digestive system.
It’s the most abundant protein in the body. It’s the substance that holds and weaves the entire body together, providing its strength and structure. Elastin is just like it sounds. It’s the protein that gives the skin the ability to stretch and bounce back. How many of you have allergic dogs and the second they scratch they’re bleeding?
They’re lacking elastin. Keratin is a fibrous structural protein that protects epithelial cells from dam.age or stress. Epithelial tissues line the cavities and surfaces of blood vessels and organs throughout the body.
There’s a skin disorder in dogs called keratinization – it’s black, thickened elephant-like looking skin. Keratinization can be classified into hereditary, idiopathic and nutritional but my opinion is that almost anything can be classified into those categories so it’s the susceptibility of the individual that matters.
But if a dog is lacking nutritionally in the components that make up skin health, it would make complete sense that it could be the underlying factor even in hereditary and idiopathic categories.
When we think of bits, most of us think about byproducts but that’s not really the case. They’re important parts of the whole animal. You wouldn’t say your foot or your liver is a byproduct of your body, would you? Society or butchers have named the internal organs offal, yet in the wild, a wolf or coyote will eat those parts first.
What do they know that we don’t? Why have we imposed our historical ignorance on our dogs?
Basically it’s the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that humans follow when we don’t want to think of something that makes us feel bad. But here are the hurdles and why we need to get over them.
The abattoir offers a few categories behind its doors. Door number one is human grade, but what we have to remember is that there are still plenty of bits coming from healthy animals. Yes, that’s correct!
All those steaks and chicken thighs you are grilling had hooves and brains and testicles, beaks, feathers and feet….
Door number two is not fit for human consumption. We’ve heard nightmares of the 4Ds: dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals. 4D meats should not go into anything, but they do. They’re used in many commercial dog foods, causing us to proclaim “byproducts are bad.”
Getting Over Hurdle One
Please hear me when I say I am not making light of this.
I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years and have been fighting against factory farms since I was old enough to voice an opinion; I’ve been a political advocate for the ethical treatment of farm animals for just as long!
I can’t stand when people see meat in a store without making the connection of what happened to the animal to get it there. And they’re grossed out by the thought that it came with other parts like a head and feet.
How amazing would it be if they could honor that animal by insisting the entire animal be used and not selfishly wasted because of human stupidity? There is so much waste to the lives of these creatures who give their lives to feed people and our dogs.
As a society, we need to stop being ridiculous prudes and start looking at the ethics, the environment and the actual health benefits of consuming the entire animal.
Percentage. The reason “byproducts “ are so bad is that many of them come from door number two at the abattoir where the 4Ds are found; and nothing should be 80 percent beaks and feet!
Just because they’re cheap, many dog food companies use byproducts as their main ingredient. If bits are used then it should be in proportionate amounts to the animal it’s coming from. In other words, a chicken has two feet, a beak, one brain; cattle have four hooves, a brain, two testicles or an udder.
Jumping Hurdle Two
Make sure that if you purchase food that has the bits included, it’s the correct percentage. If you make it yourself you can grind up an entire chicken, or you can ask the butcher to save you chicken feet, organs, cow or sheep hooves that they can chew on … and you can add them in the right proportions.
I’m not saying that tomorrow you should start putting feathers, fur, eyeballs and brains into your dog’s food. What I am saying is that it’s food for thought and we should be looking at a third or fourth classification at the abattoir.
In this way we’ll create less waste of food animals’ lives and a better environment, while giving our carnivores a really complete species-appropriate diet that supports the skin health of our dogs.
Things can be so simple if we just look to nature for our answers. As a society, we need to stop being ridiculous prudes and start looking at the ethics, the environment and as outlined here, the actual health benefits of consuming the entire animal.