Pet Health and Cooking 101

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Pet Health & Cooking 101

By: Dr. Judy Morgan, holistic veterinarian and author of

“Yin & Yang Nutrition for Dogs” a book about pet health.

Dr. Judy in front of her vets office

As an aging Baby Boomer, I’ve found myself spending more time doting on my pets since my children have moved out and have started lives of their own. Since I’m a veterinarian, a lot of my focus revolves around the health and nutrition of the four-legged kids. I also find that my clientele, which consists largely of Baby Boomers, falls into the same category. We’ve become more health-conscious for ourselves, deciding to improve our diets and daily routines. Once we commit to better health for ourselves, we extend those same desires to the fur-kids. When we travel, we want to take our dogs with us, which requires more research into pet-friendly lodging and venues.

Deciding what to feed pets has almost become an obsession. Is it better to feed only organic? Home-cooked? Raw? Everyone has an opinion and it’s easy to find those opinions on social media. Unfortunately, those opinions can be very strong, and friends can become enemies while debating this topic. I have spent the past twenty years devoting my time to pet food research and the effects of diet on the health of my patients and my own pets. One thing is certain: highly processed food filled with dyes, preservatives, and fillers is just as bad for our pets as it is for us.

Check the Ingredients

When looking for the best food for dogs and cats, it’s better to choose food that does not contain dyes and chemical preservatives. Dye provides no benefit to the dog or cat; the dye is there to appeal to the consumer. Sugar has no place in pet food – it’s used as a preservative. Pets don’t have strong taste receptors for sweet ingredients. Propylene glycol is another ingredient to avoid. Chemicals such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and propyl gallate have been linked to cancer. Unfortunately, the terms natural, holistic, and premium have no definitions in the pet food world and are commonly used as advertising gimmicks.

The FDA and Pet Food Regulations

Pet food companies are regulated by FDA and individual states, but the regulators do not follow their own laws. Meat sources in pet food are often sourced from diseased animals, even though this is not legally allowed. It is almost impossible to know whether the meat in the product being purchased is high or low quality. One pet food company advertised the meat in their products as human-grade; they were later found to have pentobarbital (euthanasia solution) in their food. No human-grade meats would contain this chemical.

Since the pet food debacle in 2007, when melamine added to many foods resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of pets, navigating the pet food aisle has become so difficult that many pet parents have resorted to making pet food at home. By making the food at home, the quality of the ingredients is up to the pet owner. If organic meats and vegetables are preferred, that option is available. But making food at home requires knowledge to provide balanced meals that contain the nutrients dogs and cats require. Cats are obligate carnivores and have special dietary needs that differ from dogs and humans. Both dogs and cats require added calcium and vitamin D for strong bones and teeth. Diets low in certain amino acids, such as taurine and carnitine, can lead to heart failure. Fatty acid requirements differ for cats and dogs.

Pet Health and Cooking 101

Pet Health and Cooking 101 diets for pets

Preparing Your Own Food

For those wanting to prepare home-made diets, there are online classes, books, and seminars to learn how to balance the meals. Generally, some supplementation will be required, although it is possible to balance a diet using whole foods. Finding all the ingredients necessary to make complete diets can be challenging. Having a relationship with a local butcher that can supply ingredients such as liver, heart, kidney, pancreas, and ground bone is helpful. It is not recommended to make your dog or cat eat vegan diets, as these are very difficult to balance. Cats suffer greatly when vegan diets are forced onto these little carnivores.

The Health Issues

Health issues facing aging pets are similar to health issues facing aging Baby Boomers. Arthritis, heart disease and failure, diabetes, and kidney disease afflict many older dogs and cats. Veterinary medicine has grown exponentially in the past two decades. Physical therapy, acupuncture, open heart surgery, joint replacements, stem cell therapy, and other novel treatments are becoming more commonplace. Pet health insurance coverage is on the rise, making it easier for pet parents to opt in for extended care.

Specialists exist for ophthalmology, neurology, endocrinology, internal medicine, oncology, surgery, nutrition, and many other ailments. Specialty treatment centers are abundant in urban and suburban areas.

The Consequences

Unfortunately, just as the trend for cancer diagnosis is on the rise for people, the same applies to our pets. For dogs over age ten, 1.6 of every 2 will receive a cancer diagnosis. The statistics are staggering. While the average life expectancy for a medium size dog was seventeen in the 1970’s, that age has now dropped to ten! Increased reliance on chemicals for parasite prevention, over-vaccination, and processed foods may be contributors to this cancer epidemic. For decades, annual vaccination of dogs and cats has been recommended; newer research has shown that vaccines may last for years and possibly the life of the animal.

Our Solution

As far as travel is concerned, my husband and I decided to purchase a class A motor home so that our dogs could travel anywhere we could drive. It’s been a grand adventure; the dogs love the trips. We’ve outfitted the RV with dog beds, blankets, bowls, portable fencing for campsites, and bottled water from home. We also carry freeze-dried food that is easy to re-hydrate when we are on the road. When taking pets on trips, be sure they have identification with collar tags. Our dogs have also been microchipped in case their collars come off. Having proof of rabies vaccination is important, as this may be required at campgrounds or hotels. We carry a small first-aid kit with natural remedies for diarrhea, nausea, and anxiety. More pet-friendly venues are available than ever before, making travel easier than ever.

Moving toward retirement, being able to spend more quality time with our pets, is providing increased joy in my family. Most of our animals are teenagers, requiring a little more care, but they are certainly worth it!

ABOUT DR. JUDY MORGAN:Dr. Judy Morgan, the 2018 Woman of the Year in the Women in the Pet Industry Network, is a certified and accredited veterinary acupuncturist, chiro practitioner, and food therapist. Based in southern New Jersey, she currently operates two award-winning veterinary hospitals. She is a sought-after speaker at dog shows, pet expos, and veterinary conferences, as well as a best-selling author of four books on holistic pet care and feeding including the recently released title Yin & Yang: Nutrition for Dogs, a holistic cookbook for pets that encourages the healing power of whole foods.   Her weekly Naturally Healthy Pets radio show can be heard on DreamVisions7Radio. She can be reached at

Pet Health and Cooking 101 natural pet diets

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