Back in 1991, I had four beautiful Golden Retrievers; they were the loves of my life. But then life started to go horribly wrong. One after the other, my dogs started to get ill, and some died. Our house became an ER room, and I found myself nursing sick dogs around the clock. They went through thyroid disease, ruptured cruciate ligaments, cancer, leukaemia, allergies, and autoimmune disease.
Grief and tragedy apart, these experiences led me to question the state of health of modern dogs – because we found that we weren’t the only multiple-dog household facing problems. From this, Canine Health Concern was formed. It is a not-for-profit organisation (which means my husband Rob and I do it without pay). We have nevertheless effected some significant changes in the canine world.
The first of these is that we have called repeatedly for an end to annual vaccination. I have written two books on the subject, and our work was cited by veterinary bodies in America when they announced in the early 2000s that annual vaccination was neither necessary nor safe. We’re still working in this corner, since the science has been very slow to be acted upon by vets, and slow to be heard by dog lovers. All the while, the veterinary vaccine industry is still trying to tell us that annual shots are necessary.
A second strand of our work relates to canine diet. When my dogs were sick and dying all around me, I became perhaps the first person in Europe to follow Dr Ian Billinghurst’s raw meaty bone diet. Within a couple of months on real food, our vet bills had dropped by 65%. We imported Dr Billinghurst’s book, Give Your Dog a Bone, into the UK and marketed it heavily. We then surveyed people who had changed their dogs to the raw diet, and they reported an 85% drop in veterinary visits. Feedback included dogs with more vitality, healthier coats, cleaner teeth, sweeter breath, and in some instances veterinary medication was no longer required.
The trouble with common sense is that it’s not so common. You’d have to be on another planet, for example, not to know that children get ill and hyperactive on processed food. As Jamie Oliver’s TV programme showed, children just can’t develop properly if they’re fed junk food and no fresh food. It’s the same with our dogs, except that we’ve believed the advertising sales slogans far too readily. We believe that such and such a brand has been scientifically formulated to be all a dog needs in order to remain healthy. In which case, why are so many dogs suffering from skin problems, allergies, epilepsy, arthritis, cancer, and so on?
I have to ask: if our farming ancestors had such sickly dogs, would they have been able to keep them?
In fact, if you knew what it was made of, then you simply wouldn’t give them pet ‘food’ to eat. Most pet food is literally junk food. It’s garbage, lavishly packaged and persuasively sold. The recent pet food recall in North America, where thousands of dogs and cats died, offers another timely reminder of this fact. I took the following quote from the UK’s Pet Food Manufacturers Association web site just a few days ago; please note that many of its members are international conglomerates:
“The industry's use of by-products from the human food and agricultural industries prevents the need for, and the costs of, disposal.”
We are talking landfill sites. The human food industry dumps its rubbish, which would be dangerous or unpalatable to humans, onto your pets. The industry even boasts that it’s a friend to the environment: it saves on waste disposal and pulls in a tidy profit at the same time.
A few short years ago, five people were imprisoned for selling hundreds of tonnes of pet food as meat fit for human consumption. The condemned meat was sold to butchers, supermarkets and restaurants all over the UK. The prosecution said the criminals had caused an incalculable risk to human health. But what about the animals’ health?
Containers of smelly, badly-bruised poultry, covered in faecal matter, flies and feathers, were found by investigating officials. The crime was committed by a company whose main customers were international pet food giants Spillers and Pedigree. According to PFMA literature, “Member companies use only materials from animals which have been inspected and passed as fit for human consumption.” I suspect a shrewd use of language here.
Back in 1979, “Consumers Digest” stated: “There is mounting evidence that a lifetime of eating commercial pet foods can shorten your pet’s life, make him fatter than he ought to be and contribute to the development of such increasingly common disorders as cystitis and stones (in cats), glaucoma and heart disease (in dogs), diabetes, lead poisoning, rickets and serious vitamin-mineral deficiencies (in both cats and dogs).” Yet the pet food industry would have us believe, via their multi-million advertising budgets, that pets are living longer, thanks to them.
Wendell O Belfield DVM spent seven years as a veterinary meat inspector for the Department of Agriculture and the US Air Force. During this time, he was assigned to a number of major slaughterhouses….
“Condemned parts and animals that are rejected for human consumption are commonly used in commercial pet foods. So-called 4-Ds, meaning dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals are also used for pet foods,” he testified. This former government meat inspector does not recommend pet food.
In 1997, Canadian Ann Martin, in the book, “Food Pets Die For”, wrote, “A veterinarian in the United States advised me that the use of pets in pet food was routine practice. Rendering is a cheap and viable means of disposal for euthanized pets. Pets are mixed with other material from slaughterhouse facilities that have been condemned for human consumption, such as rotten meat from supermarket shelves, restaurant grease and garbage, 4-D animals, roadkill and even zoo animals.”
Ann contacted the Minister of Agriculture in Quebec. The minister wrote: “Dead animals are cooked together with viscera, bones and fats at 115 degrees Celsius. The fur is not removed from dogs and cats.”
In my own book, “Shock to the System”, I quote a 2000 announcement from the American FDA. Their report stated that almost half of all the dog food tested for pentobarbital showed the presence of traces of the drug. The survey included popular brands chosen at random.
The FDA suggested that pentobarbital probably came from disabled or diseased horses and cows, which are euthanized and rendered and allowed to be used in pet food products. The FDA, meanwhile, stated that it didn’t intend to take any further action. Dog food makers weren’t forced to notify consumers of the presence of pentobarbital, which is a potent hypnotic and sedative (Schedule 3 poison). It is toxic if swallowed and can be absorbed through the skin.
In short, if you feed processed pet food, you simply don’t know what’s in it. No wonder our dogs are ill.
So what is the raw meaty bone diet? Simple. In fact it couldn’t be simpler. In the morning, my dogs are given raw chicken wings or raw oxtail. In the evening they have raw meat (rabbit, chicken, beef, tripe, lamb, etc.) with steamed vegetables. They are also given vitamin C, which performs around 360 functions in the body, and an essential fatty acid such as linseed oil.
By feeding raw food and stopping annual shots, two of my Golden Retrievers lived to the age of 17. Gwinnie passed away last year at a respectable 16, without needing to see a vet for years. Edward is with me and still going strong at 13. This is not luck – it’s good husbandry. Gwinnie and Edward racked up an enormous £10 per year in vet bills, and this includes checkups, and the occasional blood test or sprain. I haven’t vaccinated a dog in at least 18 years, and my dogs are living to tell the tale.
Catherine O’Driscoll is founder of Canine Health Concern – www.canine-health-concern.org.uk. Telephone 01835 830273.
See also www.petparentsactiongroup.org