THE BLOG
10/30/2012 06:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2012

Trick or Treat for Animals

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. -- Ghandi

Animals are always making the news. When I hear that a captive baby panda is born with liver disease and cows are being fed chocolate, I wonder about how we are treating our animals. I also wonder if that means those cows will give chocolate milk?

But seriously, my heart goes out to the farmers who are struggling in drought conditions. I realize they feel forced to come up with alternative solutions to the high-cost and dwindling supply of corn in order to feed their cows. I have heard the "creative" solutions include feeding the cows not only chocolate, but also gummy worms, leftover tacos, French fries and other sub-par candy and foods that companies would throw away. Really? Are we going to condone giving our feed animals food that even a junk-food loving nation doesn't want -- food that we find inedible? As a veterinarian, I must object.

In regard to the panda, it troubles me to think there may be a connection with the toxicity of our world and a newly-born panda liver. I know how dedicated zoo keepers are, having worked with them. They tirelessly recreate a wild habitat for the animals in their care. Yet I have seen zebras noshing bagels, gorillas downing donuts, camels craving salt, bears lured by baguettes, and dogs and cats eating carcinogens and fillers. (Read more about all of these in my book The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets.)

We are the only species of animal that has developed a diet that is essentially toxic for us. We are now giving this "nutrition" to our pets, livestock, and zoo animals, not realizing that we are dooming them to follow us on our path to poor health. According to the findings in the December issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented if half of the U.S. population would increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables by one serving per day.

I am sad to say that I treat many preventable cancers in pets every day. Despite the Mad Cow epidemic in Britain in 1997, pigs and chickens are still in a pitiful condition in factory farms where they are fed the bones, brains, and feces of their own species. It is heartening to see that more and more Americans are becoming aware of the cruelty and suffering of animals involved in our modern meat production.

I would not recommend feeding an anemic hummingbird a steak any more than I would suggest giving chocolate to a cow. Nor would I feed mustard to a hot dog. "The cows love chocolate -- they root around and go for the chunks," said one farmer. (It sounds just like what I would do in a barn.) No matter how much the farmer thinks the cows love chocolate treats, it still shouldn't be fed to them, even if they arrive at the front door in a human costume on Halloween.

A cow's many stomachs and fermentive intestinal tract is not adapted to this type of food option, if you can even call this a food. A cow or sheep may seem partial to candy corn or perhaps to Chardonnay, but that doesn't mean these should be offered to them. Perhaps they would root around for crack/cocaine too if it were in their feed. We humans, as their stewards, must provide "real" options for diets within the context and confines of each species, keeping in mind their gastrointestinal biology.

For us omnivores: We can no longer blindly believe the food chain goes untainted. We know that every link in the food chain depends on the strength of every other link. Good soil produces a good crop. A good crop provides healthy nutrients for thriving herbivores and omnivores. In turn, carnivores thrive on healthy meat that lived on healthy vegetation. When we eat meat from improperly-fed cows, we are a link on a degraded food chain that can lead to poor health. We don't need a double-blind study to logically sort this out.

I have treated hundreds of species. All species are healthier when fed an appropriate diet based on their evolution. An appropriate diet is a species-specific diet. Many animals are resilient enough to make do with nutritionally-unsound foods for a while. Again, what choice do they have? However, poor nutrition will eventually cause signs of adverse health.

It is in the interest of zoos, farms and pet owners to maintain healthy, active animals. In fact, it is everyone's interest to keep the world healthy, even if currently it seems more and more difficult. These days it is easier to follow a diet that will eventually cause disease than to find one that will lead to true health. But ignoring the effects of diet in a treatment plan is one of the biggest mistakes a veterinarian or any doctor can make. I tell all my clients, "The most important decision you can make is what you put in your pet's food bowl." For myself, I believe offering sound nutrition is a Hippocratic mandate of my profession. Without it, the foundation of optimal animal health is not possible.

Happy, Healthy Halloween!

He who takes his medicine but neglects his diet, wastes his doctors time. -- Chinese Proverb (Recently quoted in the wonderful movie Forks Over Knives -- see http://www.forksoverknives.com/.)

Tricks and Treats for Your Dog or Cat:

Feed treats that make sense -- meat and protein based treats are the best.

Top Four Tricky Things to Avoid in Treats for Your Dog or Cat:

1) Wheat
2) Corn
3) Soy
4) Peanut Butter

And as for tricks, feed them excellent nutrition and teaching them tricks will be easier!

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Chocolate a human treat or a bad trick for animals? Lets keep our junk food to ourselves...

Go to the Royal Treatment Vet Center website and see fun tricks owners have taught their dogs and cats! http://www.royaltreatmentvetcenter.com

Do you know what a true pet emergency is? Are you aware of which vaccinations are safe? When to start and stop heart worm medications? What a giraffe looks like when it is born? Do you know how to get the most out of a vet visit? The best way to apply tick meds? Which snacks and foods are truly healthy for your pet? Need easy-care pet tips on a variety of subjects? Please check out my new book called The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets, Emily Bestler Books/ATRIA (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). It's a great way to educate yourself about your pet, and read some wild stories about all kinds of animals. And, as a pet owner, you might learn some new tricks yourself.

To order the book, click here.