Miracle elixirs. Revolutionary nutrients. Superfoods. Each day new products, new miracles, new recommendations propel us into seeking a better magic bullet. As a homo-sapien, with a sizeable brain, we can choose to imbibe in one of these latest super nutrients, supplements or therapies. However, as our wards, our pets depend upon us to use that sizeable brain and to identify and qualify a newly proposed health miracle for its appropriateness and application.

Even so, two barriers may stand in our way: 1) understanding the capabilities and limitations of a miraculous therapy you want to bank on; and 2) respecting the nutritional needs of individual species whether cat, dog, horse, rabbit, bird or reptile.

I am continually reminded of these issues when discussing health problems with owners. A dog owner assumes the flax oil and a gluten free diet used to treat her own health issues was what her itchy, smelly dog required. Or the cat owner who went on about her cat’s love of vegetables and edible seeds and how beneficial these were for her indoor cat—yet, she had been referred to me because the cat’s fierce chewing had already landed him in surgery to remove a foreign body.

Fortunately or unfortunately, information on breakthrough miracles is cyberspace years ahead of quantifiable uses with companion animals. What I mean by this is, is that while many of these revelations show promise, to assume the latest and greatest is appropriate for all species can be a dance with disaster. Historically, we are decades behind in recognizing our foibles.

It was almost two decades following the introduction of dry cat food, when a cardiologist showed the lack of taurine in these foods was the cause of heart and eye disorders and even fatalities in cats. Then it was almost thirty years later we finally recognized the high carbohydrate levels in dry food were the inverse of what our household carnivores needed to thrive.

Given these examples, should we assume the latest elite superfood or revolutionary supplement is appropriate for our pets? Yes, dogs can eat a diet closer to our omnivore diet, but there are limitations. However, cats require foods that fulfill the higher meat protein requirements of an obligate carnivore, even more so, restrictions of nutrients their bodies cannot utilize and convert.

Take for example the cases I mention earlier. With regard to the itchy, smelly dog, flax seed oil is a source of Omega 3, a fatty acid credited with reducing inflammation. However, the Omega 3 in flax seed oil is from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and must be converted to EPA or DHA to treat inflammatory disorders. Many species—including dogs and cats (and some people) cannot efficiently convert ALA to EHA and DHA, resulting in less anti-inflammatory support than offered by a direct source of EPA and DHA such as fish oil.

In addition, with trying to offer a gluten free diet, the owner offered a potato rich grain free food. While potatoes offer grainless diets, they are in the night shade family; are high on the glycemic index–which contributes to inflammation and are potential allergen triggers of itchy skin and eruptions; and can cause digestive distress and joint issues.

For the cat being fed as an herbivore? My theory? His digestion was wound out of control. (Think a major case of heartburn!) I placed him on a high meat protein diet with very low to zero carbohydrate foods, canned and/or raw. You notice I didn’t say grain free. Just as in dog foods, potato is often the replacement carbohydrate, and a cat whose digestive system is all hinky with being fed foliage may not do any better with this replacement. (Stay tuned for an update, but I can tell you he loved the new foods.)

Yes, there are superfoods, super nutrients, and I have seen animals respond to some and none. I have also seen miraculous things happen with healthful diets, herbal therapies, acupuncture and other modalities. This is where you need to be your pet’s advocate. It is critical to understand when and if any of these products, protocols or therapies are appropriate and safe for your companion animal. That takes knowledge of your pet’s species specific diet and health requirements. Talk with your holistic veterinarian or animal health care practitioner on recommendations and where to learn more.


Previously published in PetSage blog, 11/21/2013.
© Terri Grow, 2020
Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.