The Benefits of a More Natural Diet for Pets

In this interview, an integrative veterinarian says the pet food industry is so flawed that it’s hard to get decent nutrition out of a package.

natural diet for pets
Could your pet benefit from a more natural diet? Photo: Tony Alter

A while back, at a pet blogging conference called BlogPaws, I attended a session by Robbin and Joseph Everett, hosts of the popular live web radio show “Pets Teach Us So Much.”

Their session was engaging, highly informative and fun — hey, there was candy!

One episode of their radio show really grabbed my attention. They interviewed Dr. Michel Selmer, DVM, of Long Island, New York, who specializes in integrative care and pet nutrition.

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Dr. Selmer talked about how the pet food industry is “flawed in so many ways.”

I know Petful readers are very interested in nutrition, so I got Robbin and Joe’s permission to transcribe, edit and publish part of their interview here.

“A big YES!” they said.

“It’s all marketing,” Dr. Selmer says of the pet food industry. Photo: kalhh

The Benefits of a More Natural Diet for Pets

Robbin: Can you tell us, on a day-to-day basis, what you see when people come in for nutrition? What kind of advice are they looking for on better nutrition?

Dr. Selmer: Well, typically when people come in to see me, they’ve seen a number of veterinarians before and their main concern is that they have been given a lot of medications, and no one’s ever really gotten to the cause of the problem with their pets.

And what we have found is that you kinda are what you eat.

And when we analyze what these pets are eating, we see a lot of flaws — and those lead to weaknesses in the body’s metabolic processes and how things work.

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If you fuel a car better, the engine is going to run better. So the people come to me looking for their pets to be healthier.

Robbin: Then what happens when people come in, and what do they find to be the most surprising about pet food nutrition? Because it is confusing out there!

Dr. Selmer: Well, I think that the biggest surprise is the pet food industry itself. It’s flawed in so many ways that it’s hard to get your pet good nutrition out of a package.

Besides, most over-the-counter dog foods are marketed more toward human nutritional needs than dog nutritional needs — and it’s all marketing. They try to give you this perceived value. You see all the commercials on TV and how “healthy” it is.

But you know, a funny thing happened years ago: A veterinarian actually submitted to the FDA shoe leather — cranked it and had it pelleted into a food, and sent it to the FDA for approval for dog food — and it was approved!

Joe: Wow.

Dr. Selmer: Yeah, so what I’m trying to do is bring these people back to basics.

Joe: Exactly, Doctor. What do you feed your dog?

Dr. Selmer: My dog is actually on a raw food diet.

So basically, what we do is we do a food allergy testing to make sure we don’t have any allergies to any food items, and then we use the most wholesome, human-grade, organic-level food to give them the best possible nutrition that they can have.

Robbin: But what’s confusing about that to me — and I have to be honest with you on this one — is with the places where people can purchase manufactured raw food, we have seen recalls.

Not that we haven’t seen recalls with other food as well. But I’m always afraid that this is not really regulated.

Dr. Selmer: Well, think about it common sense-wise, what’s the safest food that we have available to us?

RobbinOrganic, natural fresh food.

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Dr. Selmer: Right. From the supermarket, right? Well that’s where my dog food comes from.

I buy food that’s designed for us. And just like the general rule, the closer to the Earth the food item comes from, usually the healthier and more bioavailable the nutrition is.

So, I wouldn’t feed my kids cereal 3 times a day. I try to give them wholesome, nutritional foods — which are the same things I try to give my dog.

Now, the difference is you need someone who is educated and can guide you in the proper path of designing that food, because it’s not the same as feeding your child.

And that’s what my fear is with people when I say to them, “Feed your pet a raw diet or a home-prepared human food diet.” They all go out and start buying stuff for their dog or cat, and they have no guidance.

So they really need to know that they need to be guided by a professional.

Happy Meals — definitely not. Photo: darkmoon1968

Robbin: So, like Happy Meals — definitely not.

Dr. Selmer: Right. Bad idea! But also bad idea for you and me, right?

Robbin: Right. So, what would you say is the best way to get better nutrition for pets?

Dr. Selmer: You need to find a veterinarian you can trust — one who has a background in nutrition and is willing to spend the time with you to go over it. Once you have that, that professional should be able to guide you properly.

So, for example, my clients, now we will give them an actual proportion diet to shop for. And if they don’t want to do that, we actually have companies we deal with that will prepare the foods for them and deliver them fresh weekly.

Robbin: That is cool.

Dr. Selmer: Right. And then what people don’t understand is that it may cost a little more per meal to feed your pet that, but think of the potential healthcare savings you could have if the pet’s healthier.

These days, companies exist that sell pre-made meals for cats and dogs.

Joe: It’s preventive maintenance, and it’s the same thing with humans.

Dr. Selmer: When people look at food, they have to look at it the same as a prescription.

Everything you put in your mouth or your pet’s mouth is going to have an effect on the body:

  • If you eat a cheeseburger, it’s going to have positive and negative effects.
  • If you pop an aspirin, it’s going to have positive and negative effects.
  • If you take something like white tree bark, it’s going to have positive and negative effects.

So what I try to tell everyone is let’s look at everything we put in the pet’s mouth as a prescription, and then it’s going to have an effect on the body —and that levels the playing field.

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past 10-plus years, and more than 30,000 pet parents are subscribed to his recall alerts — which often arrive faster than even the recall alerts put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Learn more about Dave and the rest of the Petful team here: Meet the Team.

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