Do you worry you’re not giving Fido or Felix the most nutritious meals?
WA Dr Clare Middle believes that changing the way you feed your pet can lead to more energy, a glossier coat, cleaner teeth and a longer life for your pet.
She’s just written a book, Real Food For Dogs And Cats (Fremantle Press) based on 40 years of knowledge in both conventional and complementary veterinary medicine.
She chats to The Starfish:
Tell us about your career as a vet, and how you became interested in natural therapies for animals?
I was in the first year of veterinary science graduates in 1979, from the then brand new Murdoch University in WA.
A year later, an acupuncture course was available for vets, and my boss at Cottesloe Animal Hospital swore acupuncture didn’t work, but paid for me to do the course. I treated many dogs and cats with acupuncture for paralysis, intractable back and limb pain, vertigo and other chronic diseases that vets hadn’t been able to help with, and saw most of these patients get better with acupuncture.
In the 1980’s when my two children were babies, they both had separate conditions the doctor said they would need ongoing antibiotics for. I took my first child to a herbalist, and she was better in 2 days from a diet change and herbs. Later, I took my second child to a homeopath, and he was better in 2 days with homeopathics. So I took a postgraduate course in homeopathy, and found it helped my children recover quickly from ear infection, croup and a sporting injury. I joke that I decided that if homeopathy was safe and effective for my children, I would now be happy to use it on my clients’ pets.
You owned East Fremantle Vet Clinic?
Yes, I bought it from my boss in 1992 and it became an integrative vet clinic, with vets using acupuncture, homeopathy and herbs, chiropractic and craniosacral therapy.
By 2004, I no longer needed to be in a vet clinic as I was busy using mainly natural therapies to treat cases not helped by normal vet treatments, so I sold East Freo Vet Clinic and worked from the front of my house, as a registered vet consulting room, in Bibra Lake. I now also have qualifications in Chinese Herbs and Traditional Vet Chinese food therapy. A year ago I moved to Balingup and I am continuing to work in the same way from a free standing registered natural therapy consulting room.
What do you mean by “real food” when you’re talking about pet food?
I mean fresh, whole foods, fed raw or simply and minimally cooked as needed. We human beings are healthier if eating fresh whole food, instead of highly processed food, and so are our pet animals. Science is increasingly confirming that.
As a vet, what turned you away from processed pet foods?
Back in the 1980’s, diet wasn’t really ‘a thing’, and we hadn’t been taught much about diet at uni. However I just noticed that the pets on fresh food diets seemed healthier than the pets fed processed, especially kibbled dried, foods. I remember one weekend I was on emergency call, when dried kibbled food was rapidly increasing in popularity, I treated five dogs that weekend with emergency stomach bloat caused by a diet change to dried kibbled food. I remember having one dog tied to the surgery table waiting its turn for surgery while I finished off operating on the previous dog with bloat.
I noticed that if I suggested a change in diet to a fresh balanced raw or partly cooked diet that many dogs health problems, such as skin allergy, ear infection, gut upsets and urinary tract infection, lessened or cleared up. I wrote an A4 pamphlet called “Natural Diet for Dogs and Cats” which saved me time when explaining it to my clients. Over many years I printed tens of thousands of these leaflets. I even had pet owners who weren’t my clients tell me their friend had given them my diet pamphlet and the diet change had cured their dog’s skin issues, their cat’s urinary infection etc.
Why is homemade food healthier for our pets?
There are many antioxidants and other nutrients that are present and bioavailable in fresh food that can’t survive the high temperature and pressure of the dried extruded kibble food making process. The artificial nutrients put back into the final processed food have been shown with research to not be as helpful to the body as the original nutrients in fresh food that often need to be combined with other nutrients for optimal uptake, as only nature knows how. Most kibbled dried extruded foods are inflammatory and carcinogenic due to the Maillard process from high carbohydrate and protein going through intense temperature and pressure, creating harmful acrylamide and other compounds.
What are some of the financial benefits of creating your own pet food?
Almost always a home prepared balanced natural diet for pets is less expensive than premium brand dried kibbled foods. Owners can also choose to use foods that fit in with the family’s own preferences, making it easier and less expensive to feed their pets.
How does feeding your dog and cat home cooked meals help lessen environmental impacts?
Using fresh local produce from farmers you can trust to use minimal chemicals, sustainable farming and soil care, and humanely fed production animals can contribute greatly to environmental impact.
If you had three top tips to give dog and cat owners from your book, what would they be?
If you feel daunted by a big change to feeding your pets fresh food, start by adding one new food at a time to their existing food. For example you can just throw cooked veg such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, cauliflower or broccoli onto your dog’s existing food. You can cook up what you may otherwise not eat yourself such as broccoli stalks, carrot tops, cauliflower leaves.
Cats do well on a high raw healthy fat diet, so give them your raw fatty meat offcuts to see if they like raw meat. Dogs are better with leaner meat, so just add a bit of raw lean meat to your dog’s existing meal to see if they like raw meat.
In time, you can compile ingredients to balance the whole diet with fresh food (see my website www.claremiddle.com for balanced fresh diet template recipes under heading “Natural Diets for Dogs and Cats). Some owners prefer to buy ready made completely balanced raw BARF diets, which you can buy frozen from pet food shops. Just defrost and serve.
We have three copies of this wonderful book to give away to Starfish readers. Just like or share this post, and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address. Good luck!