Nutrition’s Role in Senior Pets, Cognitive Dysfunction, and Longevity

March 2, 2016


How old do dogs get?

Most people can expect around a dozen years with their companion, as the average age at death is around 12.5.  Smaller dogs generally have longer lives than their larger cousins, with some giant breeds rarely making it to double digits.  Still, the record books have dogs living twice as long.  One of the oldest living dogs is a 27-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, a bull terrier mix named “Jerry” who lived with his family in the Australian outback. When his family was asked what they believe contributed to his longevity, they replied “his raw diet of outback wildlife”.

Substantial research is deepening our understanding of the aging process, leading veterinarians and pet parents toward best practice guidelines, including nutritional interventions and lifestyle decisions that should promote healthy longevity.

Welcome Letter ImageScience and Seniors

Dr. David J Waters DVM, PhD, is Director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation based at the Purdue Research Park.  The Murphy foundation is home to the Center for Exceptional Longevity Studies where Waters leads a research team that is studying aging and cancer in pet dogs. In 2005, he established the Exceptional Longevity Database, representing the first systematic study of successful aging in pet dogs – specifically Rottweilers.  The dogs in this study have lived to be at least 13 years – the equivalent of a human living to 100 and at least 30% longer than average for their breed.

Dr. Waters doesn’t study these dogs from a comfy chair in his office or a lab – he has traveled on a scientific adventure he calls “The Old Grey Muzzle Tour” since 2010.

Every year he has visited each of th ese dogs in their homes and gone muzzle to muzzle, learning what he can from them and what makes them the exceptionally long-lived dogs they are.  Results of his findings are eye opening.  In his mind there is no doubt that nutrition can have a profound influence on physiology, disease, and increasing longevity. “While Genetics typically claim 30 percent of the blame for why we don’t live as long as the next guy, up to 70 percent revolves around lifestyle decisions… The choices pet parents make for their dogs may meaningfully contribute to longevity – whether it is diet, vaccinations, to spay or neuter, or even exposure to lawn chemicals.  Ultimately, we want to get at the root of highly successful aging.”  Our Director of Veterinary Consulting, Shantel, worked closely with Dr. Waters for several years as he studied her own dog, pictured here. She lived to be 13 years 10 months old on a raw-fed diet.  That would be well over 100 in human years!

10953869_10202417345434514_8553648579459941393_oUnfortunately, just like people, dogs are susceptible to a degenerative disease linked to aging similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. It is known as Cognitive Dysfunction, but unlike humans, signs of our pet’s mental decline tend to go unnoticed until the condition is too far advanced to intervene. Studies have shown that 40 percent of dogs at age 15 have at least 1 symptom indicating this disease.  Researchers also estimate that the prevalence of cognitive dysfunction in geriatric dogs is as high as 68 percent. For their feline counterparts, it is estimated that a third of all cats between 11 and 14 years of age have related cognitive decline.  That number increases to 50 percent for cats 15 years and older.

Managing The Aging Process

Fortunately, there are many things pet parents can do to help maintain good mental function for as long as possible, and delay the onset and progression of cognitive decline. As with all holistic philosophy, prevention is the best medicine.

The foundation for good health and vitality for pets of any age is a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet. It must include omega-3 essential fats, which are very important for cognitive health.  Furthermore, aging pets need a low-stress metabolic diet.  Foods that generate the least amount of stress are whole, raw, unprocessed, and in their natural form.  Medium-chain triglycerides have also been shown to improve energy metabolism.  Coconut oil, like that found in the Steve’s formula, is a rich source of medium chain triglycerides.

IMG_0767Another important factor in preventing cognitive dysfunction is keeping a pet’s body and mind active. Regular exercise, (swimming is a great low-impact exercise) mental stimulation, keeping them engaged with such things as puzzles, treat-release toys, or even teaching them some new tricks that you might be teaching your younger dogs can all contribute to keeping their minds healthy.  Make sure they have the opportunity to socialize with other pets and people, and be creative with ways to enrich their environment.  Many times pet parents will get their aging dog a sibling to help create the social environment and increase activity.

Some supplements can be a safe and effective way to stall or improve mental decline.  SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) can be found in many products such as Denamarin (Nutramax) and can help keep your canine’s mind sharp. Resveratrol (Japanese Knotweed) can protect against free radical damage.  These and other nutritional supplements can inhibit age-related cognitive deficits.  Always consult with an integrative or holistic veterinarian for proper dosing guidance.

1167626_4583492684914_1624803291_oWe all know as humans our own dietary needs will change as we age, so we can assume that dogs and cats also have special nutritional needs as they grow older.  However, as in the case with people, your dog’s diet should be tailored to meet their individual nutritional requirements, which may or may not be similar to other dogs their age.  Your dog’s body condition and any underlying diseases or issues are far more important considerations than age.

The majority of commercial dog foods for seniors out there have a few things in common – reduced calories, reduced protein, decreased levels of phosphorus and sodium, increased fiber and added in supplements such as joint supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, and other antioxidants.  Let’s take a closer look at these and break them down, because, like yourself, age is just a number for dogs! How old you feel is just as important as how old you are, and a healthy octogenarian can be running marathons while another person the same age in poor health is barely able to walk.

400020_3525088465470_1989307908_nFirst, not all of senior dogs are overweight, so feeding a reduced-calorie food to a pet who may already show signs of a decrease in appetite, difficulty in chewing, or that have an underlying condition that increases their metabolic rate and muscle atrophy could potentially be very harmful.

In addition, findings in recent studies show that protein requirements do not decrease as your dog ages.  It is a misconception that senior dog food formulas must contain low protein.  The poor quality protein used in some commercial pet foods is very difficult for bodies of even young, healthy pets to process.  These poor quality proteins put chronic strain and stress on your dog’s kidneys and liver as their body attempts to digest them.

Increasing the fiber in your senior pet’s diet may make your dog poop more, but it also will block absorption of healthy nutrients if the fiber content is higher than their bodies can absorb.  Yes, it is common for older dogs to have some constipation, but adding the fiber from commercial pets isn’t the answer.  Feeding a well-balanced, moisture rich diet, supplements with digestive enzymes and probiotics, and appropriate amounts of exercise will benefit your old dog more than just upping fiber content.  If your dog is showing signs of constipation, some people recommend feeding them 100% pumpkin to address the issue, a natural alternative to lab-created fiber.

And lastly, let’s look at the omega-3 fatty acids and joint supplements. Omega 3’s are highly sensitive to heat, therefore, the heat processing of most commercial dry kibble makes the omega-3s useless. And many joint supplements that are added to commercial dog food are not included in high enough levels to be effective, and can be of low quality. If your older dog needs to have the added support of a joint supplement, there are some really good ones out there you should speak with your veterinarian about. Longevity and cognitive dysfunction do not have to go hand in hand.  If the brain is kept young, the body will, too, and you will be able to maximize the time you have with your loving pup. I just hope that the shift in lifestyle a raw diet was able to bring my Baxter happened soon enough to reverse any damage I did to him earlier in his life, and that I will get to have many, many more years of love from my little terrier.

Longevity and cognitive dysfunction do not have to go hand in hand.  If the brain is kept young, the body will, too, and you will be able to maximize the time you have with your loving pup.

Dog ownership is like a rainbow. Puppies are the joy at one end. And old dogs the reasure at the other.

–Caroyn Alexander

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The 4 types of Veterinarians

February 26, 2016

When it comes to raw food, veterinarians have an amazing span of opinions.  Some, like Dr. Karen Becker, are staunch advocates and have made careers promoting a species-appropriate diet.  Then you have veterinarians who believe wholeheartedly that raw food is will harm and possibly even kill your pets.  How is it possible that people with the same educational background can feel so differently about the same topic?

A lot of it has to do with the education the veterinarian receives.  In this blog, we lay out the four type of vets, so you can know what to look for when trying to find a veterinarian that can work well with your choice to feed a raw diet.

There are many types of Veterinarians, each with their own specific training, philosophy, and experiences.  The differences begin with different education backgrounds, extended specialized focus, and additional education such as extended internships and residency programs, but also extends to their philosophies of treatment, personal experiences and biases, and approach to medicine.

General Companion Animal Practitioners

These types of veterinarians trained at a 4-year veterinary school.  After school these doctors will usually practice in private medicine, treating a variety of diseases and disorders as well as providing routine animal care. Their Western medical training means they focus on the treatment of signs and symptoms one problem at a time, viewing the body “in pieces” and considering physical factors to determine care treatment options. These General Practitioners will have earned a Doctrine of Veterinary Medicine (DVM, or sometimes VMD) degree upon graduation. Most of these doctors are members of the AVMA (American Veterinary Medicine Association).

Veterinary Specialist

Like human medicine, there are numerous specialty fields in Veterinary medicine, such as Nutrition, Internal Medicine, Dermatology, Cardiology, Oncology, Ophthalmology, etc. These veterinarians complete their four years of veterinarian school, followed by a four-year residency program.  They then face a grueling two-day board exam. This elite group of specialists will have an extra letter after their DVM degree that is associated with their specialty field. They are usually part of the AVMA or the AHVMA, along with their specialty association.

Holistic or Alternative Veterinarians

Holistic veterinarians are doctors who have completed veterinary school and received their licensing, but who have a special interest in the holistic approach to veterinary medicine and has trained in holistic specialties.  These areas can include Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Clinical Nutrition, Chiropractic, Rehabilitation, Massage Therapy, and Homeopathy. This type of veterinarian will treat the pet’s initial issue, but also places a broader focus on prevention through establishing and maintaining a foundation of health in the pet’s body. They consider emotional, mental, and environmental factors in addition to physical factors when determining treatment options, and they will pay attention to lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction). These doctors will belong to the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Association) and usually have much more extensive nutritional training.

Integrative Veterinarian

This type of veterinarian is a blend of both worlds. Integrative veterinary medicine is a comprehensive medical approach to pet care that combines conventional medicine and complementary/alternative therapies.  This type of veterinarian has a focus on treating the whole animal, not just the current issue, practicing both holistic modalities and conventional care.   The integrative approach to veterinary medicine is designed to minimize adverse side effects, maximize successful treatment outcomes, and improve the quality of life.  Any veterinarian who uses therapies outside of conventional medicine in conjunction with traditional practices is an integrative veterinarian. There is an increasing number of veterinary practices that will include these doctors to serve their patients better.  Sometimes this may involve working with a team of veterinarians.

For the best medical care for your pet, it is recommended to find a doctor who is open-minded to holistic and complementary approaches. It is just as important that if you do choose a holistic veterinarian, that they are open to you making the choice for your pet, even if your choice is to turn to conventional options upon occasion.  Balance in all things matters, and Western Medicine has its place, so make sure, above all, you choose a vet that is willing to let YOU decide what is best for your pet.

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The Arduous Tale of Steve’s New Office Kitties

February 13, 2016

cat and the universeThere are people in the world who swear up and down that the Universe is listening, and that by declaring your intentions, goals, and dreams aloud you will help create them in solid form.  Whether something psychological happens that solidifies the goals in your intentions by verbalizing them, or some sort of cosmic energy is put forth, I do not know.  But what I do know is that in a meeting here at Steve’s Real Food headquarters on Friday, Nicole mentioned offhandedly, “I am thinking about getting a cat for the office.”

It’s Monday, and now we have two.

IMG_0440IMG_0449Leo and Callie  entered our universe as many things do – through Facebook.  Aspen was scrolling through her newsfeed and saw a post from a friend she hadn’t seen in two years, saying that he needed a temporary home for his two kittens.  It turned out their story was much more incredible than your usual kitten exchange.

This friend volunteers for a non-profit homeless outreach program, and he was out searching for someone to help. He found two someones, just in a different form than he expected.  Following the sound of mewing to underneath some bushes, he found three kittens, abandoned by their feral mother.  One of them had been attacked by a predator and killed.  The other two, whose eyes had just opened, were crying piteously over the dead body of their sibling, curled up to it as though trying to make it respond.

He called a friend who volunteered at the animal shelter for instructions, then picked up the two kittens still alive and put them in his coat pockets.  His life quickly became consumed with bottle feedings, veterinarian visits, trips to a surrogate mother cat 40 miles away, and, of course, adoration of cuteness. He saved their lives, and was rewarded as they grew into healthy, well adjusted, and incredibly beautiful, playful cats.

Quite the story for two little kittens only six months old! Unfortunately for him, eventually his landlords discovered the unexpected cats, and refused to let him keep them for the remainder of his time with them.  So he desperately posted to facebook, hoping against hope that he could find a home for them that would both keep th    em together and give them back to him when he was ready to make a home for them with him.

Look at their faces. How could we say no?


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Prebiotics and Probiotics

January 12, 2016

It seems more and more these days you hear the words ‘probiotic’ and ‘prebiotic.’  You may have a vague idea of what they mean, and that they are healthy for you or your pet, but do you know why they matter so much? 

First, let’s explain the difference between pre- and pro-biotics.  Pre-biotics are, essentially, a type of fiber that feeds the healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) in our digestive tract.  So the Prebiotics are the fuel, and the probiotics are the car if you will.  Prebiotics are fibrous materials that do fermented-foodsnot digest in the stomach but pass undigested to the gut, where probiotics feed on them and use them for fuel.  Inulins are one of the most important pre-biotics, and one of the few that meet the leading expert’s definition of a complete form of prebiotics.  Derived from Chicory Root, Steve’s Real Food contains inulins, a supplement that feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics, the healthy bacteria in your gut, keep your digestive system in check, balancing dangerous bacteria, promoting good digestion, and performing crucial functions that are just beginning to be understood.  Scientists have discovered thousands of strains, and they identify more every year. Thus far the balance of gut bacteria and probiotics have been linked to either contributing to or helping alleviate symptoms from IBS, allergies, lactose intolerance, immunity, anxiety, colic, constipation, cavities, eczema, and more.  Problems as far reaching from mental illness and Chrone’s disease are currently being evaluated to see how probiotics can lead to new treatment options.

InflammationFor pets and humans alike, our high-carb, high sugar, and high dairy, processed diets leave our digestive systems in a state of chronic inflammation.  The number of diseases linked to inflammation is numerous as well – ADD, chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dental issues, cancer, thyroid issues, obesity, and more.  When we or our pets eat processed, high carb foods, we cause irritation in the stomach lining, which weakens the intestinal lining. This downward spiral results in more toxins, yeast, etc. to pass through. As this trend continues, the cell’s ability to process them becomes overloaded and worn out. After years our pets’ bodies being stressed by the food they eat, they are left with a weakened immune system and a broken digestive system. There are dozens of diseases that have been proven to have inflammation at the root. Unfortunately, Western medicine focuses on suppressing the immune response to reduce inflammation, rather than addressing the causes of inflammation themselves.


Inflammation and probiotics are tied closely together because inflammation begins in the gut, and that is where treatment begins, as well.  If the bacteria in our gut are out of balance, inflammation can run rampant.  Certain strains of probiotics can strengthen the gut barrier, lower inflammatory response, balance our pH levels, enhance mineral absorption, and neutralize harmful bacteria in our gut that can lead to illness and produce toxins.  Probiotics can also help make other minerals and nutrients more bio-available, increasing our body’s ability to absorb essential building blocks for good health.

Prebiotics can be found in more than just chicory root though this is the best source of them.  Fibrous foods are the best sources, and it is most bioavailable when raw.  Things like Garlic, Dandelion Greens, Leeks, Onions, Asparagus, Wheat Bran, and Bananas are all excellent sources of prebiotics.

Vector illustration of digestive system of the dog anatomyProbiotics can be found most readily in fermented foods – pickled vegetables, kombucha, kefir, and yogurt.  Our goat milk yogurt contains six strains of wonderfully healthy bacteria:

  • Lactobacillus Delbrueckii
  • Lactobacillus Bulgaricus
  • Streptocccus thermophilus
  • Lactobacillus Acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium longum
  • Bifidobacterium Lactis

Healthy Food Diet: Probiotic Food including sour dough bread sauerkraut yogurt Parmigiano-Reggiano and Camembert cheeses on wood chopping boards against a blue background.

Raw Goat Milk (unpasteurized, like the goat milk in all our products) is another wonderful source of probiotics, and while federal regulations make raw milk illegal, the health benefits are numerous for those who can find and purchase it from local farmers.  Those that can access it enjoy over 200 strains of probiotics that are naturally occurring as well as the prebiotics.  Add in the digestive enzymes found in raw food, and you have great building blocks to promote a healthy gut and digestive health.

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Guest Blog – Kimberly Gauthier

January 6, 2016

Kimberly-Gauthier-top-benefits-of-rawBenefits of Raw Feeding

With the growing popularity of raw feeding, it’s easy to forget that the concept of raw feeding is new to many people. Raw feeding is an attempt by pet owners to feed their dogs and cats an ancestral diet that is natural and species-appropriate. Raw feeders believe that feeding commercial dry and canned pet food has lead to the growing number of pets diagnosed with allergies, diabetes, and cancer.

I transitioned our dogs from dry dog food to raw in April 2013 and immediately saw the benefits in my dogs. Now, more than two years later, I can provide a long list of benefits to our dog’s health thanks to a diet of raw dog food.

Click on the infographic for my fun top ten list!


You Might be a Raw Feeder If…

When I first transitioned our dogs to raw feeding, I quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of information available and felt intimidated by the raw feeding groups. Today, I’m one of those crazy dog moms who quietly (not really) obsesses about her dogs’ diet.

Recently, I was thawing out 200 pounds of raw meat to make meals for four dogs and I started thinking about the life of a raw feeder and developed an infographic inspired by my experience and that of my raw feeding friends.

What can you add? Join the conversation on the Steve’s Facebook page, and come on over and visit my blog.

Author’s Bio for both Infographics…

Kimberly Gauthier is the blogger behind Keep the Tail Wagging, a blog about raw feeding, dog supplements, and raising littermates. Kimberly and her boyfriend are raising two sets of littermates in the Pacific Northwest where they enjoy a property with plenty of room to run and explore. Kimberly finished her first e-book on raw feeding called Raw Feeding from A to Z. Rodrigo, Sydney, Scout and Zoey are all herding mix dogs, including Blue Heeler, Border Collie, Catahoula, Australian Shepherd, and Labrador (a lover, not a herder).

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