My interest in diet and natural healing approaches began in earnest when my toddler daughter joined the throngs of other American families struggling with chronic ear and respiratory infections. As a first time mom, I dutifully followed the pediatrician’s instructions, which included lots of trips to the doctor and pharmacy. I’m sure many of you reading this already know how this story goes, in fact, you could have written it. But what might be different is some of the decisions we made, that in the end…made a dramatic difference in how we would live the rest of our lives.
At about 12 months, she contracted chicken pox, which seemed to set off a never ending sequence of illnesses. The following few months were pretty miserable. It seemed we shared the same respiratory virus between the two of us for about 8 weeks. In fact, we were both sick almost the entire summer that year. When you’re feeling that bad, you don’t really think about the treatment you’re receiving…you just want to feel better. By fall, we finally got over the initial episode, but that was only the beginning. As cold weather came on, it was one thing after another. By spring, it became painfully obvious that the treatments weren’t really helping and I even wondered if they were making things worse.
Photograph by Pexels
Photograph by Pexels
The feeding bliss of breastfeeding came to an abrupt halt when she weaned herself at 12 months. It didn’t take long to discover that our baby was not going to be an adventurous eater…rather, she would be the pickiest of eaters. In fact, our little girl’s menu could fit on a Post-it note. We constantly tried new things, but like so many toddlers, she craved dairy, bread and pasta. That got me thinking about how diet might be influencing her overall health. This was 1989, so there wasn’t much literature on the subject, nor was the notion of “googling” the topic even an option. So, to the library I went. I pored over tons of books and finally found one that I latched onto. It introduced me to the concept of “leaky gut syndrome.”
Moms talk to other moms…it’s a fact. And I did exactly that. I talked to every mom I could find and asked them about their experiences and their doctors. Finally, I happened upon a colleague whose children had similar experiences to my own. We discovered they were under the care of a family physician who was pioneering research in food allergies, particularly those in children. He helped me understand how “leaky gut syndrome” can result in a host of chronic illnesses. At the end of the testing period, the results painted a pretty clear picture of the offending foods. In our case, dairy, corn, soy and gluten. Now mind you, in 1990, you couldn’t go to your local supermarket and pick up alternatives to any of these products. It required an immense effort to find things our picky eater would actually eat.
What does this have to do with dogs?
So why tell this story in a blog about dogs. It’s because I sometimes think I’ve had moments of brilliance only to be humbled by moments of complete ignorance. If all these alternative methods that I’ve practiced for 27 years now were so helpful, why did I never utilize them to the fullest with my fur-babies? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my veterinarian. I trust their opinions and the amount of money I’ve spent on them pays tribute to my belief in veterinary care. So why did I neglect to research my pet’s health like I did my children. After all, they are members of the family, not just pets. I continue to ponder why it took so long for the lightbulb to go off. So, perhaps you’re wondering what “event” triggered me to hit the light switch. Well let me tell you about him.
His name is Max
His name is Max, a crazy miniature schnauzer who captured my heart over 10 years ago. At the time we had a border collie mix that required a trip to the groomer once or twice a year when her undercoat needed to be removed. On that day when we went to retrieve Sheena I saw him. Max was hiding in the back of a kennel at the groomers shop. He looked so scared that I climbed into the kennel with him and just sat there comforting him. I guess you know the rest is history. Even at the age of 10, Max still only has 2 speeds, Hi and off. He is our comic relief and is so smart and observant, we have to spell certain words around him. We call him our “play-boy” because he is constantly pestering the other dogs to play. When they won’t cooperate, he even resorts to aggravating the cats. At least he gets a response out of them.
Except for 2 bouts of pancreatitis, and a nasty experience with Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever, Max has been generally healthy. Fast forward about nine years when we noticed a large lump on his shoulder. Dr. Katie performed a biopsy and some lab work. Fortunately, the biopsy came back with nothing more than a fatty lipoma…however, his blood work showed very high blood lipids, which Dr. Katie diagnosed as idiopathic hyperlipidemia. Apparently this is a genetic condition common in schnauzers. She recommended a prescription low fat diet, and a fish oil supplement.
When she said the word prescription diet, I was immediately taken back to a time when Sheena, the border collie mix, had some similar issues and was placed on the low fat prescription diet. I remember the look in her eyes each day when I placed the bowl on the floor. It was sheer disappointment and I could tell by her lack of interest that the kibble must taste terrible. That’s when the lightbulb came on…there had to be a better way for Max.
The Whole Dog Journal
When Max was a puppy I discovered an awesome publication entitled, the Whole Dog Journal. It’s a small newsletter style piece, published by some of the most notable “positive” training dog people in the world. One of the main features of the WDJ is their annual review of dog foods and manufacturers. In fact, that is one of the main reasons I have continued to subscribe. With that in mind, I pulled out my back issues and started looking for resources. I found lots of information on the subject, which pointed me to an article published in the December 2008 issue entitled, Healthy Low-fat diets for dogs – Feeding dogs prone to pancreatitis or who can’t tolerate dietary fat. The article was written by Mary Straus and is also published on her website. Not only did the article include a recipe that I have used for quite some time now, it also contains a wealth of nutrition information for specific canine dietary needs. I credit her and The Whole Dog Journal for launching me down this path toward all kinds of optimal diets for my fur-babies.
Wow! Food as Medicine!
I prepared the sample diet and started feeding it to Max. In six weeks I took him back for a repeat blood test. Dr. Katie called me in amazement. She said she rarely if ever sees the degree of improvement that she saw with Max and I should keep doing whatever I’m doing. The other interesting thing is the big lipoma has continued to shrink and is now about 50% smaller than it was originally with no signs of continued growth.
Join me on the journey?
The spark that I felt with our baby daughter was now rekindled in me. Where to go from here. I continued researching canine diets and quickly realized how polarizing a topic it is. The information I uncovered, some of it fact, some of it likely fiction, was startling to say the least. I didn’t realize the Grand Canyon size divide that exists between those that feed commercial diets, vs. prescription diets, vs. homemade and raw diets. I had no idea what a giant pile of poo I was stepping into.
MOM – Matter of Maxx Blog
The more I researched the more questions I needed to answer. In fact, many authors have written entire books on the subject. So what really constitutes a diet that promotes optimal canine health? Could our best efforts actually be harming our beloved pets? How do we discern fact from fantasy?
Subscribe to my blog (Matter of Max – MoM) if you would like to join me on this adventure as I uncover and share practical ways to promote optimal health and longevity for your furry family member.