Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All About Food

My professional background, before dogs, was holistic therapy for humans, including nutrition, including a little dog/cat nutrition tied into the first course I took in Frankfurt/Germany. That led to me to make my own food for our first dog Cedric, which led to the founding of Baby Barks, our whole dog food business in Calgary, in 1995. Shortly after, and because I met so many dogs with so many problems, I became increasingly re-interested in behavior, and studied that to offer my clients a holistic solution to their dog problems. We cooked for hundreds of dogs of all ages and sizes, many with behavioral and physical problems, and many with allergies, and all those dogs taught us a lot.
We sold Baby Barks in 2007; I still make most of Davie and Will’s food, but rarely talk about nutrition anymore – until recently, that is. In the last few weeks the food topic comes up almost every time when I am with clients, hold a seminar or meet friends. So I thought I might as well post a "Silvia's opinion" summary for everyone to read.

In Calgary our dogs, guest dogs and foster dogs, ate what we cooked for our clients, and we measured everything; had consistent recipes. Here in Nova Scotia, I settled into the more laid back lifestyle quickly, and cook by “rule of thumb”, which is about 1/3 meat protein, including fish and eggs, 1/3 grains and 1/3 veggies and fruits.
I cook the meat, because in my opinion domestic dogs are not natural hunters, but natural human-waste eaters. And humans that cook have cooked leftovers, which makes cooked food the ancestral diet for dogs.
I cook the meat together with veggies that are nutritionally more bioavailable when cooked, for example carrots, beans and broccoli, scoop it all out and cut up finely, then cook the grains the broth, and then mix it all into a mush.
We use grains for the same reason we cook meat; it's a part of dogs' ancestral diet. Since the agricultural revolution, grains are a food stable for most humans, therefore also for domestic dogs. Grains increase serotonin uptake and are rich in calming B vitamins and magnesium. Glucose is the only energy source for the brain, is needed to produce body-own vitamin C in the liver and serves as “food” for beneficial intestinal bacteria. Grains means whole grains, not refined white flours and sugars.
After the food is cooled I add fruits and some raw veggies I put in the blender, and oils. I alternate between extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil and flax oil. At that point I might add plain yoghurt to the dinner, kelp or brewers yeast, tumeric or cinnamon. I might also add culinary herbs while the grains cook, for example parsley, oregano, thyme or sage. In Calgary, as required, we also added medicinal herbs.
I believe that feeding a variety of food is better for most dogs, and so we use all kinds of meats and veggies and grains, except the known toxic ones, for example onions and grapes. Here in Nova Scotia we have much better access to fresh produce, plus we grow our own stuff, and all of us love to be able to eat what’s in season. Right now the girls munch a lot on spaghetti squash that grew in abundance in our garden this year.

We are fortunate that our girls are healthy and not allergic to anything, but many dogs are. In our experience, chicken is the culprit more than any other food item, followed by beef.
Chlorinated water (and antibiotics) destroys beneficial gut bacteria, and that lack of digestive help contributes to allergies. Where we live now we have fairly decent well water; in Calgary we cooked the dog food in filtered water, and that is also what our dogs found in their water dish. I always recommend to put a dog who has allergies on a probiotic supplement for at least 6-8 weeks, sometimes longer.
Many dogs are also allergic to vegetables that belong to the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
We never use(d) soy, wheat or corn. Not only do they rank high on the allergen list, but a diet high in corn can lead to a serotonin deficiency, and that is correlated with aggression, obsession, learning difficulties, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and anti-social behaviors.
That was studied with people, but dogs and humans are physiologically very similar - all mammals are.
Another study with people showed that children that ate candy every day were more aggressive as adolescents and adults, including getting in trouble with the law.
Of course, it is difficult to determine if the sugar is cause or correlation. Perhaps parents that allow their children to have junk food every day also lack common sense in other areas of rearing youngsters, and that could be the cause why they misbehave.
In any case, nobody will deny that refined sugars are bad for an organism, and refined flours metabolize in the body like sugar.

There is a new book published on November 17 - The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats is based on the work and experience of DVM Paul McCutcheon, who might be the longest practicing holistic veterinarian in Canada. The book is authored by Susan Weinstein, who is also a member of the Mindful Leadership google group.
I haven’t read the book yet cause it’s not out yet, but can’t wait to get my copy, because it deals a lot with stress in connection with health, and my specialty is stress in connection with behavior, and because it includes nutritious recipes for dogs and people. That is brilliant, cause the main reason why many people don’t cook for their dogs is because they don’t have the time. Having recipes that are good for every family member means to simply cook one more portion for the dog, which hopefully means that many more dogs will be chowing down “real food” real soon. You can preorder the book on Chapters, I’ll get mine for free because yours truly provided a tiny bit of behavioral advice.

When clients ask me about food, I always tell them to get the best they can afford, and to read and investigate the ingredients list, and to research the manufacturer. Even small manufacturers often get their meat meals from large renders, and that means that the meat base can be processed to death and/or contaminated.
Dogs are what they eat – and what they are able to absorb and metabolize. Although I have seen healthy and old dogs who were fed the cheapest kibble, mostly it is either to spent money on good food, or having to spent it on mounting veterinary bills.


  1. We were so grateful to meet you at a time with our Miko that you could bring some light into our program to get her healthy. We are proud to say that we cook the girls food ourselves and they continue to be healthy pugs at a very good weight and we always get compliments on how soft their fur is. I want to thank you everyday for that!! I will pre-order that book too ;)

    Glad to hear you guys are enjoying life over there!!

  2. Thanks Amanda, for keeping in touch. I am glad that Miko and MeiMei are doing great - and Miko had so many issues.


  3. Silvia — thank you so much for your kind words about my upcoming book! The book is entirely about how stress affects the health of dogs and cats — it's full title is The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats: The Stress-Health Connection, by Paul McCutcheon, DVM and Susan Weinstein.

    I wish I could take credit for the brilliant idea of publishing recipes that both pets and people can eat, but I'm afraid our book doesn't do that particular thing! There's a whole section at the back of our book that promotes a keep it simple approach to the raw or gently cooked diet — in either case, home-prepared — but we provide feeding guidelines for pets and not for people. The brilliant idea of creating recipes for pets and people has been come up with by someone else, in a book that I think will contain recipes only. I don't know its title or publisher but it will come out after our book does. I'll try to remember to post here to mention it when it comes out. It happens that Dr. McCutcheon and the author of the other upcoming book know each other quite well — I believe the other author is a client of Dr. McCutcheon's. Anyway. Thanks again for the plug!

    For people in the Toronto area, we're having our book launch for The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats Monday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. at McNally Robinson bookstore in Don Mills. You're welcome to come! You can also visit our website at

    So glad you did a post on nutrition, Silvia. It's valuable and interesting, as all your posts are! I always learn from what you write. I've been feeding my Bouviers and my cats home-prepared, real food for over twenty years, and the difference in their health and well-being is almost beyond description. I've got a twelve-year-old Bouv right now who is so radiant that people can't believe he's twelve.

  4. I'm so happy you covered homemade food Silvia, as it is something I wanted to ask you about. I have been feeding some good quality kibble and some cooked. I have been looking for some good basic guidlines for providing cooked homemade food that will have all the requirements needed. Now I feel more confident in providing Taffy with more homemade doggy food. I have also ordered the book you recommended and I'm looking forward to comparing some of the info with Dr. Gabor Mate's book "When the Body Says No: The Hidden Cost of Stress." This is a people book, and is excellent! When reading it I couldn't help but think of Taffy, what I have you learned from you and how much this book most likely applies to animals too. I highly recommend it for everyone.

    Thanks Again!

  5. Thank you, Susan, for clarifying the recipe part, and forwarded the web address. It appears I was listening with a half-ear. And thank you for telling us that there will be a book with recipes out soon.

    Great Marjorie. I am sure Miss Taffy will be delighted. And thank you for mentioning Dr. Gabor Mate's book. It'll go on my Christmas wish list. And you are so correct that regarding stress, and many other things, what applies to people also applies to dog. We are physiologically so similar and share the same environment, with it's inputs and feedbacks.

  6. Silvia,

    Nah, you were listening with a whole ear. It's probably just that life's so busy and there's so much stuff goes on, that we can't hold onto every little thing. No problem!

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