As an advocate of biologically appropriate nutrition, I come face to face with naysayers and disbelievers of raw food diets for our companion animals every day. To them I ask, “What do dogs eat in the wild?” “What does a wild dog mother feed her pups?” “Why do we insist on feeding our pets foods that are against their natural pattern of eating?”
I had the pleasure of interviewing world-renowned animal nutrition consultant, Dr. Richard Patton to help answer these questions and get a bit more insight into this hot topic.
Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and what you do?
“I am an animal nutrition consultant – this has been the case for 35 years now. I see myself as an interface between the source of the technological insight and its application in the marketplace to recommend the best interest of the animal and the animal’s owner, no matter what else is going on in the background. I inform people’s decisions. I explain to people, “If you go this way: this will be good and this will be bad. If you go the other way, then this will be good and this will be bad” and people make the decision that will make the most sense for them.”
Who do you normally do consulting for?
“I have a pretty diverse clientele: there are companies that make pet foods then there’s the occasional pet owner. I do a lot of work for horse barns, agriculture dairies, NGOs (nongovernmental organization) out of Washington and foreign governments, zoos and companies that make food for zoos. I make the world safe for the polar bear and the puppy and the Holstein cow.”
I love that – that’s beautiful! So what made you decide to become an animal nutritionist?
“It actually happened early on – I think I was a sophomore in college and I took a course (in animal nutrition). I felt particularly comfortable with the instructor and his approach. I think there was a subconscious wisdom…that I could be a scientist and a cowboy at the same time – and its proved itself so. I’ve been all over the world almost invariably in boots, jeans and a sports coat.”
You’ve must have seen a lot of different cases of health ailments in animals. What is the most common one that you see in regards to the small animals – mainly dogs and cats?
“I’ll answer your question but first I’d like to preface it with this: my job is to keep healthy animals healthy. When you’re in the nutrition end of it, that’s the approach. You do tend to constantly be thrown up against the veterinary side of it and they are dealing with pets that are sick and trying to get them healthy.
Now to answer your question: what I run in to most often is skin problems in one sort or another. It also tends to be where I am not the nutritionist.
I think that these skin problems are becoming more prevalent for a number of reasons. You’re getting more people with inbred animals and you’re getting more people with large dogs and they’re not willing to consider a natural, raw, or a freeze-dried diet because of the expense. Many of these skin problems are set up by excess soluble carbohydrate from the kibble.”
Do you think it’s possible to reverse these skin and coat problems using nutrition?
“I’ll answer that this way: if a dog presents with a skin problem, the first thing I’ll do is try to get them on to a raw, natural diet. Not because I’m convinced that a raw, natural diet is better – I am convinced of that – but the reason I want them on that diet is because that’s the one way I know that is best to minimize excess soluble carbohydrates.”
Which is one of the biggest things that really does deteriorate our pets health.
Oh, I think so! And I’m not just a voice in the wilderness. There’s a refereed journal proof of efficacy ironically funded by Purina.
Yeah. What Purina did was they took – I believe it was 100 golden labs – and they sent 50 to homes to be pets to grow to live until they died and they were considered “control”. Then they sent another 50 to homes to live as family members until they died and they called them “experimental”. What they did was they fed the control animals whatever people wanted to feed. And then they fed the experimental animals 20% less of the same food – in order words they were calorically restricted.
It took 15 years for this study to wrap and what it showed was that the animals that were calorically restricted lived an average of two years longer – and furthermore, their vet bills were dramatically less (than the control group).
The calorically restricted animals had a lower metabolic rate. This principle has been demonstrated in anything you look at: they’ve looked at in insects, in roundworms, and in mice. In every case caloric restriction extends life – and now it has been proven in dogs.
Now here’s the rest of the story – and it won’t surprise you in the least.
During the marketing, they pointed to this research and said, “See, feed Purina and live longer.” And that to me is so irritating and such a half-truth that you could just effectively say, “See, feed Purina and die sooner.”
So that is just caloric intake – it has nothing to do with raw. Who knows what they would have seen if it had been a third treatment of a natural, raw diet. But the point is a lifetime of wrong nutrition ends up being shorter than it needs to be and more expensive. You can’t get out of a vet trip for less than $1,500 it it’s a serious metabolic problem.”
I think now it seems like people are more aware. Before we would just blindly follow the leader and so now it seems to be that consumers are a lot smarter. Unfortunately, it’s because they’ve been tricked and are now looking for the whole truth. That’s what we find when people call us and are doing their research – they are not just satisfied with the truth that they’re getting from these commercial pet food companies anymore.
When did your realize that it was raw food which was ideal as opposed to cooked foods?
“I don’t think there was a specific moment of epiphany. It’s just comparative nutrition over so many decades. If vitamin supplementation is so important, then how do you explain the dingo and the coyote and the wolf and the wild dog that reproduce like rabbits and never seem to face a store-bought vitamin? You see, there are fundamental gaps in the logic.
The gut actually needs a regular flow of bacteria of different kinds. I think the worse thing you can do is feed canned this or that because it’s legally and literally sterile and I think this sets up problems. Now I’m not an advocate that we should all go live like vultures. But I do think that we can be obsessive about our need for sterility and that is actually setting up problems.”
Speaking about wild dogs, what lessons can we learn from them in regards to longevity and nutrition?
“Maybe you don’t know what their requirements are, but at the very least you can say, “Well, what do they eat in the wild?” and let’s get as close to that as we can. I think that is what BARF wants to do. That’s what I like about the approach that you guys have. It’s more back to, “What did evolution throughout 4 billion years set us up to thrive on?”"
I have another question – a little more personal. Do you have any pets?
Oh yeah. I am privileged enough to be allowed to live in the doghouse.
That’s funny – usually men don’t want to live in the doghouse.
We have very expensive couches in the living room that are covered with sheets and people never sit there – the dogs do.
How many dogs do you have?
When I got up this morning there were three. Who knows where we’ll be at the end of the day. My wife is a devout “humaneiac”.
Don’t you mean “canineiac”?
No, there’s also a cat.
What do you feed them?
They get bones at least twice a week and every night they get a little natural raw or raw chicken necks and backs.
Amber Keiper is the Marketing Coordinator and Raw Diet Educator for BARF World Inc. She and her husband have two former rescue animals that are now healthy and proud “BARF brats” – a terrier mix named Chewbacca (“Chewy”) and a tabby mix named Chiquita (“Chiqui”). For more articles like these and to learn more about the benefits of raw food for your pets, sign up for The Intelligent Pet monthly e-zine at www.barfworld.com.