Dr. Nelson advises that a Whole 30 diet may be a better fit for dogs than the keto diet.
But is this trendy diet right for your dog or cat? Should a pet’s meal be based off human diets at all?
To help set the record straight PEOPLE talked to veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson, who works at BellaHaven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia.
After years of helping pets get healthy, Dr. Nelson knows which diets, whether they are trendy or not, are best for cats and dogs. Whole 30, Keto, Atkins, Dr. Nelson has been asked about it all.
Here is what she has to say about how human dietary fads could affect your pet.
Have you noticed an increase in pet owners trying human diets out on their pets?
People are becoming more and more wary of commercial diets as the number of pet food recalls in the last few years have increased exponentially, and due to concern over the FDA’s warnings about grain-free diets in dogs and their link to heart disease. Many people are opting for fresh cooked foods, like Freshpet (similar to Whole 30), fresh cooked delivery diets (similar to HelloFresh), or cooking for their pets at home (which has numerous challenges, the largest of which is assuring the diet is complete and balanced).
What (if any) trendy human diets are safe for pets?
For cats, an “Atkins” approach is preferred. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning the only carbs they’re accustomed to eating in the wild are those found in the belly of their prey. They must have meat in their diet as there are numerous essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals that their body is unable to produce on its own, it must come from meat. The higher carb diets in cats lead to obesity, which leads to a higher risk of diabetes, heart and skin disease, gastrointestinal and urinary issues, and even a higher risk of cancer.
For dogs, a balanced diet of healthy meats and vegetables is preferred, much like the “Whole 30” diet in humans. Whether you’re cooking at home, having it delivered, or purchasing a commercially available diet like Freshpet in the store, ensuring you’re able to pronounce the ingredients and that real meat, vegetables and grains are included is incredibly important for your dog’s overall health.
What are the most dangerous trend diets for pets?
Vegan diets are not recommended at all for pets, especially cats. While dogs are able to survive on a diet of vegetable proteins, they do not thrive as they do with real meat. Cats, however, are unable to survive on a vegetable-based diet. In order for vegan pet foods to be able to sustain life, there have to be numerous synthetic vitamin and mineral sources included to ensure health issues do not develop over time. Unless your pet has proven, severe allergies to meat proteins, there is no reason to use vegan diets for pets. If people live a vegan lifestyle, they must understand that this is a choice that they are making for themselves, but that pets are not herbivores and therefore should not be fed as such. There are numerous humanely sourced diets on the market and they should look into those before making an unhealthy choice for their pets due to their belief system.
Is a Keto diet safe for pets?
Keto diet is not safe long-term for humans, nor is it safe for pets. Keto diets include large amounts of heavily fatty meats, oils, processed foods, and dairy with little to no vegetables or fruits. It is much healthier for people, as well as pets, to eat a balanced diet with lean meats as protein sources, as well as vegetables, fruits and healthy grains. It has been hypothesized that a Ketogenic diet is useful in treating certain diseases, such as epileptic seizures and certain types of cancer, this is still being researched in humans and in pets.
What “trendy” human foods are healthy for your pet?
Some trendy foods that are okay for dogs to consume include flaxseeds, turmeric, coconut oil and hempseed oil. Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids (powerful anti-inflammatory fats), lignans (which have estrogen and antioxidant qualities), and both soluble and insoluble fibers. In dogs, these anti-inflammatory properties can help ease symptoms of arthritis, lower blood pressure, improve kidney function, maintain healthy skin and coat, and potentially even fight cancer. Another trendy food right now is turmeric. Turmeric contains the chemical “curcumin” which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and possibly even anti-cancer properties. Unfortunately, when eaten on its own, the curcumin in turmeric can be hard for your dog to absorb. This is why if you do choose to give your pup turmeric, it’s important to combine it with a healthy oil like olive or coconut oil. By doing this, you will increase the absorption significantly. While coconut oil doesn’t provide the daily fat requirements that your dog needs (like hempseed or flax seed oils do), it can be used topically to help improve your dog’s skin or orally to help deliver supplements or medications that require fats to metabolize. Finally, owners who give hempseed oil have reported seeing improvements in their dog’s pain levels, arthritis, seizures, anxiety, appetite, cognitive function, and more. Due to the limited number of peer-reviewed scientific studies, some veterinarians are hesitant to recommend hempseed oil, but I have seen success with it in both my patients and my own pets.
What is the best way to figure out the best diet for your pet?
Working with your veterinarian is the best way to choose a diet for your pets. They are not only able to guide you to the best food for your pet’s specific age, weight, health conditions, spay/neuter status, and lifestyle, but they will also be able to help you figure out a daily caloric requirement to ensure proper portion control.
What are some signs your pet might need a change in diet?
If your pet is overweight, underweight, is suffering from allergies, chronic vomiting or diarrhea, has urinary issues, poor coat quality, chronic ear or skin infections, or severe dental disease, it may be time to change diets. Talk with your veterinarian about what food would be appropriate for your pet, taking into account their age, weight, health conditions, spay/neuter status and lifestyle.
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What are some popular misconceptions you have heard about pet diets?
The most common misconception is that all pets should be fed grain-free diets. As the FDA has warned, this is not the case. There have been hundreds of dogs presenting with cardiac disease in the last couple of years that has been linked to feeding grain-free diets. Unless your pet suffers from food allergies to grains, then feeding a grain-free diet is not only unnecessary, but can be dangerous.
Another misconception is that you must feed crunchy food for dental health. I explain this to people this way: if you eat granola every day, do you still need to brush your teeth? Of course, the answer is yes. Dental health for pets is dependent upon routine care, just as it is for people. Regular brushing, intermittent professional cleanings, and chewing on appropriate toys is much more effective than simply feeding kibble. There are specific dental diets out there, but they include more than just crunch in order for them to be labeled as such.