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Newsletter - February 2012

The News at Home

I hadn't seen Tori's waist for quite some time. The little butterball was on mega-doses of prednisone, so weight gain was to be expected, but she wasn't losing weight even when pred had been drastically reduced. I reformulated her diet to cut back on calories while continuing to provide all the nutrients she needs, but it got so that she was genuinely hungry due to so little food. What to do?

The dog is never the problem since s/he can't go into the fridge and take food. Well, maybe a smarty-pants Border Collie can, but Cavaliers aren't geniuses. No, this wasn't a Tori problem. It was a daddy problem. I talked about the dangers of being overweight, focusing on pancreatitis, heart, joints...and Morley would agree politely just before feeding Tori yet another treat. So, treats turned into thin slices of carrot, and guess what? Butterball has a waist! She's finally at a good weight. Her dad grumbles about carrots not being very exciting treats, but that's his personal opinion. The way Tori's eyes light up when she sees a carrot slice and the joy she has when crunching on it suggests that she feels differently.

Take home message: when you can't train your significant other, give a polite correction - to the person, not the dog. I'm just saying.

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The Best Quality Fresh Foods For Your Dog

The goal is a balanced diet, of course. How you go about providing that is based on your preference (raw, cooked, combination diets) and the dog's tolerance of that choice. Dog owners have raised the bar these days. My in-box is full of questions about what the best quality foods might be. Should they be organic? Naturally raised? Locally grown? Does it matter if it's organic, but not locally grown or is it better to skip the organic label and just buy local foods? What if you can't afford organic foods for yourself much less your dog?

Isn't it interesting (sad, but interesting) that there's an epidemic of confusion about something as basic as fresh foods? Welcome to the marketing machine which is alive and well even as regards food. The organic movement has become strong and marketing folks know it. As a result, there's organic - and then there's organic. Huh?

I had a conversation with a butcher who said something that I couldn't have said better, so here it is "From organic to "natural”, "naturally raised”, "farm raised”, "pasture raised”, "grain fed”, "Corn fed”, "Grass fed”, "Free range”, "Previously breathing” (the last one I haven't see yet, but it's only a matter of time before some marketing guru starts using it)."

Let me try to make this as simple as possible, but it's hard to do because terms can mean different things in different places.

"Certified Organic": all the feed is organic (no GMO, no pesticides, etc.) and usually, the animals have space to roam indoors and outdoors, humane treatment at all times and the farm has to be certified by a 3rd party agency. This is key because "Organic” is the only term that has any legal meaning. To be called "Organic”, there was a certain level of auditing done on the farm. Would you buy shares in a company that had only unaudited financial statements? Same principles apply here. The certification provides legitimacy to the process.

"Natural" means nothing to your dog's (or your own) health, because even arsenic is natural. "Naturally raised" can also be meaningless, as can "farm raised" (we don't raise cows in the heart of a city - at least, not yet), so of course, the animal was on a farm! But was it a picturesque farm with lush grass, or a factory farm where cattle are knee-deep in their own manure? Both are farms, after all. And if there was grass, did the cattle get to eat it or just look at it during confinement?

On the other hand, "naturally raised" can mean something a bit more positive. Organic foods are expensive, so some farmers are raising chickens in large barns that give the birds more freedom, and feeding them soy that isn't organic. In other words, organic chickens are fed organic soy whereas these other chickens aren't. The seeds are GMO, but the chickens may very well have a lot of space to roam around, and access to the outdoors. Conventional birds are fed bone meal from beef and have no access to anything but the cage they share - sometimes with so many other birds that they can't move. The only way to know what "naturally raised" really means is to ask and verify. Your butcher should be transparent about it. If s/he is not, you might want to find one who is. The butcher we buy from (Morley thinks he's a carnivore), Mario at The Healthy Butcher is so transparent about everything that he provides tours to the farms he buys from. Now that's ethics!

"Grass Fed" is a big one. Just about everyone I speak to wants "grass fed" meats, but it may not be what you think. Unfortunately in many parts of the world, we only get great quality grasses for about 4-5 months of the year and so the other 7-8 months is where the challenge lies. In the case of the organic beef, cattle will be on pasture and they are given some grains in their diet as well so that the finished result is of a certain quality that appeals to the consumer. Every aspect of this beef meets the national standard of certified organic cattle raising. Many farms grow these grains on their own land, making the feed organic, while other farmers buy organic feed as necessary. But! - don't assume that grass-fed is the same as organic. Technically, you can walk into any butcher shop, ask for grass-fed beef, and be told, truthfully, that all of their beef is grass-fed. That's because grass can certainly be a component of the feed during the lifetime of cattle. During the winter, farmers who are amazing might feed combination of hay with more fibrous grass and haylage with higher protein content from the legumes. That might be hard to find, but it's worth asking because "grass fed" isn't as meaningful a term as we'd like it to be.

And then we have vegetables. Certified organic means no GMO and no synthetic fertilizers or pest control. I had an interesting choice this week: buy organic tomatoes from Israel (per the label), or regular ones from the U.S. Now, I'm a big believer in organic farming, but there's something about tomatoes being flown half way around the world to satisfy my whim-of-the-day that turned me off. I skipped the tomatoes this week. We didn't die. Sometimes, the answer to what the best quality food might be is based on your belief system, but that belief should also be based on facts. Vegetables that are grown organically, but aren't fresh or ripe when you buy them may not be the healthiest choice. We did, however, buy organic carrots (from the U.S.) for Tori.

If you can't afford organic meat for your dog, I suggest that you try and find a happy medium. For example, organic eggs are expensive, but not all that much more than regular eggs. How about eggs being fed as 1-2 meals per week, in that case? It's still cheaper than a regular meal comprised of meat or poultry and you're feeding a top-notch protein source. Organic veggies may or may not cost more than their conventionally gown counterparts. Don't assume it and walk by the organic section without checking it out. I found organic broccoli for the same price as the conventional, and a few weeks ago, the organic ones were cheaper! Organic rice is another. Once on sale, it can cost less than regular rice.


If you get to thinking you're a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around. ~ Will Rogers



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