Toxic foods to avoid:

Healthy Diet

There are many opinions on what the proper diet should be for our pet dogs and cats. Many animals do well on the generic and grocery store brands, and so the question becomes - are they thriving? What do they need to have "optimal nutrition"? With all the opinions out there, the one thing that most seem to agree on is that this answer is different for each individual. Just as with people, individual animals seem to have variations in nutritional requirements, perhaps some are better able to absorb the nutrients or put them to use in their body.

How do you know if your pet is "thriving"? Does he have a glossy haircoat, bright eyes, strong muscle tone and good energy? Is he a healthy weight? Not too fat, not too thin? Some pet foods require so much food to supply all the required nutrients that our animals become obese when we feed the recommended amount.

We are told to look for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) endorsement on pet food labels. This is some of the best information that we have on nutritional requirements for animals, but it is still not perfect. Just as the exact requirements for the perfect human diet are not established, science is still trying to sort out what is optimal for a Chihuahua, a Great Dane or a cat.

Whole Nutrition

There is a current trend in human and animal health toward using whole foods to supply complete nutrition. This makes a lot of sense as we can miss important vitamins and minerals by eating an incomplete diet. The question is, what is a "complete" diet for a dog or a cat? The answer for each is different as cats are obligate carnivores (meaning they rely almost entirely on a meat diet), dogs on the other hand are omnivorous and require more fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates added to their meat diet.

When we think of "meat" we usually think of it in human terms - steak, boneless chicken breasts,... Animals would not eat just the meat, they also eat the bones, internal organs and sometimes the intestinal contents of their (often vegetarian) prey. So here "whole nutrition" becomes much more complicated.

Whole Nutrition with Commercial Diets

When you walk into a pet food store it can be overwhelming to try to choose which diet is the perfect one for your pet. There is such a huge selection and every bag is telling you that it is the very best. One thing to remember is that there is not one diet that is perfect for all pets (perhaps why we get such a variety of choices??). If your pet does not seem to be "thriving" on one brand, it might be helpful to switch to another, always making these dietary changes by gradually mixing the foods over 2-3 weeks time.

I do not generally recommend the generic or low-cost store brand diets, because though testing may show appropriate nutritional content, the quality of ingredients can be poor making the nutrients less digestible and available to the body. Along with a nutrient analysis, digestibility studies and feeding trials help in proving the worth of a commercial diet, though feeding trials are generally limited to a few months, not a lifetime, so their value is still limited. A good step up in quality are the companies that do have some research going into their ingredients including Purina, Iams, and Science Diet. Even these can use a lot of carbohydrate "filler" foods that may not be appropriate for all animals, especially cats, so be observant and consider changing if you do not feel your animal is doing the best that they can.

Holistic Commercial Diets:

There are many diets on the market now that say they are holistic, these can be difficult to sift through. Whole ingredients and real meat are very appealing and the idea is that better, digestible nutrition will be supplied with quality, high nutrient ingredients. One thing to be careful with is that these high meat diets can be higher in fat as well, so adjust the amount fed and watch your pet's waistline! My own cats and a number of my patients have flourished (with significantly reduced vomiting!) on the Wellness brand - remember that wet/canned is better than dry as a primary food for cats. Vomiting in cats can have many causes, but it is often due to inflammatory bowel conditions and dietary sensitivities. Dietary adjustments can help, but if it continues, a more comprehensive work-up is recommended. See the "
cat care" section for more info on cats.

Some specific diets that I have seen recommended by trusted holistic veterinarians are:

Evo / Innova
Taste of the Wild
Newman's Own
Solid Gold

Rotation diet:

A helpful approach to feeding commercial diets is the "rotation diet". Switch between 2-4 different foods, changing brands, not just flavors, to provide a more varied nutritional source. This has the added advantage of avoiding feeding one food exclusively if recalls for missing nutrients, bacterial contamination or other contaminants arise. If an animal is started with this method young, they adapt more easily to the changes in diet. Buy one brand one time, then a different one the next so that every few months you are switching to a different food, as well as keeping fresh food on hand. Remember that sudden changes in diet can cause diarrhea in some animals, so still make the switches over at least 1-2 weeks time and if your pet is quite sensitive to these changes, this method might not be for you.

Canned vs. Dry?

Dry food is very convenient to feed, not as messy and can sit in the bowl all day without going bad. For cats, especially, however, they need the extra moisture provided in a wet food. Cats are prone to diseases such as chronic kidney disease and diabetes that have both been reduced with the feeding of moist foods. Constipation is also an issue for dogs and cats fed exclusively dry food diets. Try adding a bit of canned either together with the dry or in a separate dish - it may take time for some animals who are not accustomed to eating a different form of food. Cats have a harder time changing their habits, but it is very much worth it for preventative health reasons and this versatility may come in handy if they ever become sick or require a special diet.

Homemade Diets

There are many recipes available for raw or cooked homemade diets. The goal is to provide complete nutrition, usually accomplished by adding in vitamin and mineral supplements. One key to the success of these diets is variety - not always feeding the exact same ingredients. Using different meat and vegetable sources to, over time, provide a more balanced diet, is similar to the ideal human diet. We do not eat the same food every day.

If you are like me, it is challenging enough to cook for your family and the thought of cooking for your pets is a bit overwhelming! There are ways that people accomplish this, making it easier by preparing large batches and freezing them in portion sizes to be fed throughout the week or month. Delving deeply into your pet's diet and nutrition can help improve your own and your family's diet along the way.


Preparing your pet's food is a commitment. Unbalanced homemade diets, whether cooked or raw, can cause serious problems. Deficiency or excess of certain vitamins and minerals can, over time, severely affect the health of your animal.

Homemade diets do not have to be raw, but if they are, here are some precautions to take in feeding raw diets:

  • Raw diets may not be the best choice for ill or immunocompromised animals.
  • Hygiene is very important - clean food preparation areas, utensils, and bowls after every feeding as well as the area around the food bowls.
  • Raw diets are not recommended in families with immunocompromised members, including young children and elderly people.

It is very important to have the help of a veterinarian who can evaluate the diet and the pet at regular intervals, especially when starting out. An unbalanced diet can lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies and serious disease. If you are interested in exploring homemade diets, feel free to contact me. We can work together to decide what is best for your individual animal and lifestyle.

Supplementing Diets

Adding fresh fruits and vegetables to commercial diets is sometimes recommended for dogs, to supply some added fresh whole nutrients and antioxidants. This should not exceed 20% of the entire diet consumed or it will interfere with the mineral and other supplements already added to the food. Go slow with this as well, adding one food at a time in small amounts, as some animals can react to sudden dietary changes. Be sure to chop or grate carrots and other hard foods that might be choking hazards. See the list to the side as well for foods that can be toxic to animals.

nutritional supplements recommended by veterinarians that can further support the immune system, skin, nervous system, gastrointestinal system, joints and more include fish oil, glucosamine/chondroitin, and probiotics. There are also herbal supplements that have been found to be very helpful for patients with liver disease, arthritis, and other specific conditions.