Basic nutritional guidelines for improving the overall health of patients and lessening the chance of illness – including dermatology cases.
Transitioning an animal with skin problems to a fresh food diet can sometimes bring about a rapid improvement in itchiness. More commonly, however, the inflammation reduces slowly and gradually, which over time lessens the need for conventional medication. If a pet is itchy year-round, then a diet change might bring about a gradual resolution; if a pet is seasonally itchy, then altering the diet may reduce the level of allergens in the body, necessitating less medication when that season arrives. We have seen some skin cases completely clear up with diet changes. In the first month, most itchy animals show a 30% to 50% improvement, which can still leave enough itchiness to require additional alternative treatment. In our office, this treatment might include homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, chiropractic or Nutrition Response Testing. Some skin problems are related to internal problems other than food or environmental sensitivities, so a full diagnostic laboratory workup is always important. This allows the client to make an informed choice from conventional and/or alternative therapies.
The purpose of this article is to provide some basic nutritional guidelines to improving the overall health of patients and lessening the chance of illness, including dermatological conditions. Each animal is unique and may require additional nutritional supplementation in the long run, but the basic food changes covered in this article can be a good start for many.
Exceptions to these guidelines must always be considered depending on the severity of clinical pathology that may exist when the case is presented to you. Skin conditions in conjunction with advanced kidney, cardiac or liver disease, for example, may require further conventional and/or alternative treatments to initially stabilize the case, and may require particular considerations for nutritional supplements. Above all, it is important to keep the basic food changes and preparation simple enough so that clients can and will continue to comply over the long-term.
Keys to getting clients started
1. Food quality is very important.
a) Fresh: We discuss with clients the incredibly improved nutrition of fresh food over processed foods.1,2,3,4 We also provide a one-page synopsis of the book Pottenger’s Cats, which helps clients understand the value of raw diets.5 You can request a copy of this synopsis page by emailing our office.
b) Clean: Many chemicals are used in animal and plant farming.6,7,3 The term “natural meat” is defined as containing no antibiotics or hormones, but it will still have pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in it.
c) Cost: The client’s financial situation will determine if organic or natural meats are affordable.
d) Availability: The Weston A Price Foundation8 produces a compact paperback Shopping Guide, updated each year, that lists reliable meat sources around the country. You or your clients may know of local community-supported farms with organic or minimally chemically-treated meat and produce. There may also be local pet food co-ops that your clients can join to purchase meats less expensively.
2. The basic diet for dogs is 50% to 75% meat and 25% to 50% high calorie cooked vegetables.
a) Protein: This makes the diet about 17% to 25% animal protein, a minimal amount and also suitable if the pet has renal disease. We can increase the percentage of meat for growing, athletic, cachectic and pregnant or nursing animals.
b) Vegetables: Fresh food contains approximately 75% water, whereas dry foods are without moisture. So we need high calorie vegetables along with the meat. The harder the vegetable is, the more calories it contains. Examples would be potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, beets, winter squashes, turnips and parsnips. If a dog has arthritis, we stay away from nightshade vegetables in case he has a sensitivity to glycoalkaloids or steroid alkaloids. Nightshade vegetables include white potatoes, all types of tomatoes and peppers, and eggplants.
The basic diet for cats is 100% meat. One can add some well-cooked vegetables for variety if the cat likes them. Some cats are so conditioned to the taste, texture and smell of dry foods that it can take time – sometimes months – to change their diet. If a cat will not eat any type of fresh meat at all, the client is advised to ever so gradually add water to the dry food. Once the dry food is soft enough, we start adding minute amounts of cooked minced meat, gradually increasing the amount of meat and decreasing the dry food. Then over time, the client can cook the meat less and less. Some cats will eat canned or cooked minced food when the dry food is powdered and “salted” over the top.
3. We usually start with cooked meat since the pet’s intestinal microflora have been conditioned to processed food and might not easily digest raw meat at first. This can result in loose and frequent stools. We gradually cook the meat less and less until it’s being served raw. Not every pet can eat every kind of meat protein. We tell clients that if any observable problems occur after their pets eat a particular type of meat, not to feed that meat. If a pet cannot digest any meat, we recommend alternative treatment to correct that problem.
4. We provide very basic supplements for most pets. We use reliable whole food product companies such as Standard Process9 and Animal Essentials6 for nutritional supplementation. Their quality controls are excellent and Standard Process’ facilities and products are annually FDA inspected at the company’s request.
a) Calcium is needed to balance the high phosphorus content of meat. Animal Essentials’ Natural Calcium comes from seaweed; a heaping half-teaspoon provides 600mg calcium to balance the phosphorus in each cup of meat. The high sodium in seaweed may be contraindicated. Standard Process has many concentrated beet calcium products for specific health issues. Processed bone meal and other calcium carbonate products may be indigestible for some animals and the company should ensure the bone meal is clear of heavy metals. I have seen two dogs that were fed meat with bone diets whose incisors looked like glass, with a line of pink pulp inside clearly visible. The teeth became white again after some months of providing a more bioavailable calcium supplement for each dog (Standard Process).
b) For vitamins and minerals, we advise whole food products in which you will see only food names listed in the ingredient list – not chemical names for vitamin fractions. Daily doses vary with the size of the animal and consultants with whole food vitamin companies can advise you. Most commercial diets have artificial fractions of vitamins and non-chelated minerals added after cooking. These are not usable by the body unless it adds the missing phytonutrients to create the complete biologically-active vitamins we get in fresh foods.1,2 And in some cases, these artificial fractions can be toxic to the body.1,4
c) Omega 3 fatty acids are very important for itchy dogs as they are needed to modulate inflammatory conditions. If the client can afford to feed pasture-raised animal products, there may be sufficient Omega 3 in the food and additional supplementation won’t be needed.
5. The water we provide should be filtered through activated charcoal, at the very least. Pitcher-type filters can be found in many department stores. Tap water contains many chemicals, metals and unhealthy organic compounds.8,6,10,11 Helpful information about different water filtration systems can be found at mercola.com and idealearthwater.com.
6. We ask the client to keep a log of weekly body weights and to call us if there is any weight loss. We then increase the food volume. It is also a great idea to keep a record of the pet’s clinical illness signs. For example, the client can rate the animal’s itchiness on a scale of 0-10 (none to horrible) on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This is very useful for deciding when to add alternative therapies and for tracking progress. One useful resource for keeping such records is the Healthy Pet Journal.9
7. One more very important point. The doses of products chosen for basic support or for specific medical conditions may need to be reduced over time. Comparing excellent whole food nutrition support products containing concentrated vitamins and minerals with non-whole food supplements, is like comparing espresso coffee to decaf. For example, if a person who needs espresso each morning to get going began a health improvement program, that caffeine pick-me-up would eventually no longer be necessary. At that stage, drinking a morning espresso might cause shaking and other side effects of too much caffeine. Similarly, once the pet’s body is in a healthier condition and builds up reserves, the concentrated nutrient product seems to overstimulate the system, so a dose reduction may be required. We are not yet aware of the mechanism for this phenomenon.
Whole Food Diets
Pet supply stores now carry many frozen meat, meat/ vegetable or meat/vegetable/bone diets. Varying the nutrients is more difficult, though one could rotate different frozen diets. The amount of each nutrient required by a given animal is determined by many factors, including whatever inflammatory or disease processes the pet is experiencing; the lifestyle and financial capability of the client; the animal’s genetic predispositions; the microbiome of his intestinal tract; and any stressors in the household.
Consuming adequate protein and healthy fats with a variety of fruits and vegetables, while staying away from processed foods and refined sugar, is still the healthiest way for both animals and people to eat. Fresh diets help maintain great health. They can heal skin conditions on their own, or become a key part of an integrative approach. Over the past 15 years, we have had success in our clinic using the strategies discussed in this article.
- Maggie is a ten-year-old spayed Labrador retriever. For most of the previous three to ﬁve years, she had been on antibiotics and anti-inﬂammatory medications for interdigital cysts and inﬂammation of the feet and ventral abdomen. After a month of eating a fresh food diet and taking basic calcium, vitamin/ mineral and Omega-3 supplements, Maggie’s itchiness had decreased by about 50%. More recent biopsies showed yeast in the tissues of the feet, so we started her on two products from Standard Process – Zymex capsules and Lact Enz. The swelling in Maggie’s toes gradually reduced and the licking and itchiness lessened. However, after some weeks, the licking increased again. It is standard practice in our ofﬁce to be sure the client knows to stop the adjunct treatment products if they see an increase in physical or mental signs, and to let us know. Maggie’s owner stopped the Zymex and Lact Enz, and in two days the licking subsided again. She is off all conventional medications and her owner does not feel additional alternative therapy is needed as yet.
- Duke, a neutered male boxer, came to us at six years of age with chronic diarrhea and constant scratching of the ears, neck and chest. Two weeks into the diet transition, his diarrhea resolved and the itchiness reduced to the point where he could sleep through the night. The client saw this as a 50% decrease in itchiness. However, Duke was still so itchy during the day that his owner wished to hurry up the process. So we gave him Nutrition Response Testing and found he had mercury poisoning. Mercury, arsenic and aluminum toxicity commonly underlie skin conditions in Massachusetts, where Duke lives. We gave him concentrated cilantro (Nature’s Balance), and the mercury in Duke’s body’s gradually decreased over the next six weeks; as well, his itchiness gradually subsided and has not returned over the past three months. Duke’s owner will monitor him over the next year for any seasonal return of itchiness.
- Oliver, a male neutered seven-year-old Bichon/ Shihtzu cross, presented with a diagnosis of atopy and recurrent ear inﬂammations that started when he was 1½ years old. Spring and fall brought on more itchiness. By the third week of diet transition, Oliver no longer needed Benadryl, and the client reported an itchiness rating of 2/10 to 3/10 compared to the initial 10/10. Two weeks later, the itchiness increased to 6/10 and Nutrition Response Testing showed his medications to be a problem. Solidago (Marco Pharma) was used to start the detoxiﬁcation process. Six weeks later, Oliver’s itchiness had reduced to 2/10 to 3/10 again – this was signiﬁcant as the fall had been particularly problematic for him in previous years. A few weeks later, the itchiness increased so the Solidago was discontinued and the itchiness subsided over the next two days. Currently, the owner feels Oliver does not need any alternative treatment. His itchiness is still 3/10 but she feels this is tolerable. We will continue to monitor him.
1DeCava, J. The Real Truth About Vitamins & Anti-Oxidants, Selene River Press, Inc., 2006.
2Medford, L. Why Do I Need Whole Food Supplements? LDN Publishing, 2002.
3Pitcairn, RH. and Pitcairn, SH. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Holtzhrinck Publishers, 2005.
4Shayne, V. Whole Food Nutrition – The Missing Link in Vitamin Therapy, iUniverse.com, Inc., 2000.
5Pottenger, FM. Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition
6Cimperman, S. “Environmental Toxins and PreDiabetes”, Well Being Journal, March/April 2014.
7Jensen, B. Empty Harvest, Avery, 1990.
8Bryson, C. The Fluoride Deception, Seven Stories Press, 2004.
9Chambreau, C. Healthy Animal’s Journal, TRO Productions, 2003.
10Moody, J. Water, Water Everywhere But Is It Safe to Drink? Wise Traditions, Spring, 2014.
11Teller, M. Lead in the Water: Flint’s Cautionary Tale, Wise Traditions, Spring, 2016.