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Taking dogs natural with a little dietary help

The tremors from the pet-food recalls of this spring are still being felt: Last month, Wal-Mart stopped selling two brands of its made-in-China dog treats after customers reported concerns that their animals had fallen ill, though the store chain did not formally announce a recall.

For my money, the best way to maintain control over what your dog eats is to make the meals yourself, following the instructions of your veterinarian and one of many reputable do-it-yourself books out there. (Kymythy Schultze's "Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats," available on dogwise.com or amazon.com, is a perennial favorite. So is Monica Segal's self-published "Optimal Nutrition, Raw and Cooked Canine Diets: The Next Level," available from monicasegal.com. Segal also does phone consultations and will formulate a diet tailored to your dog's special needs.)

Once you get over the "fear factor" of taking matters - not to mention meats and vegetables - into your own hands, you might want to explore some healthful and helpful additions to your dog's diet. Along with a good-quality multivitamin, here are some of the supplements I use, either daily or occasionally, on my four ridgebacks. Many also can be added to the diets of kibble-fed dogs.

As always, consult your veterinarian before embarking on nutritional changes. If you find that your vet is not supportive of your desire to change to a more natural, whole-food diet for your dog, seek out one who is. Many holistic veterinarians will do phone consultations; visit ahvma.org.

Fish body oil. All oils are not born equal. Oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-

inflammatory properties. They often are used as supplements for dogs with allergies and help support the immune system in general.

Fish body oil - which is not the same as cod-liver oil - is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. I add a squirt to my dogs' food daily. Look for human-grade oil, preferably from deep-sea wild salmon. One good source is the salmon oil sold at thewholisticpet.com. If you're on a budget, try the fish oil sold at Costco; for toy dogs or puppies, pierce the gel cap with a needle, then squeeze the oil on food.

Diatomaceous earth. This white powder is actually the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae. Diatomaceous earth's holistic claim to fame is as a natural insecticide: Its microscopically sharp edges pierce an insect's waxy exoskeleton, causing it to dehydrate and die. You can sprinkle it on dog beds to keep down fleas, or feed it as a natural wormer. (Be sure to use food grade.) I store it in a grated-cheese shaker. A 2-pound bag is $9.50 at wolfcreekranch.net.

Green foods. It's easy being green. These color-centric whole foods - including alfalfa, and seaweeds like spirulina and blue-green algae - are rich in vitamins, amino acids and trace minerals. Natural detoxifiers, they also have antioxidant properties. The forementioned Wholistic Pet sells organic powdered alfalfa, as well as kelp and spirulina.

Apple cider vinegar. Some food supplements earn the designation of "tonic": They just boost overall health and immune function. Apple cider vinegar is said to acidify the dog's system, making it less appealing to parasites, and can help alleviate itchy skin. Because of its acidity, feed with food. Buy an organic, unpasteurized brand that contains "the mother" - a reference to the bacterial culture that created it.

Coconut oil. This tropical oil suffered a blow to its reputation decades ago when saturated fats were deemed unhealthy. But now that hydrogenated polyunsaturated oils - and their trans fatty acids - are in the hot seat, coconut oil is seeing a resurgence. While the medical evidence is scant, its proponents offer a laundry list of benefits, including antimicrobial, anti-allergy and cancer-prevention properties. It can be used internally or topically - though beware of the "lick factor."

SeaCure. I always have a stash of this nutraceutical on hand. Originally developed to provide quick, easily digestible nutrition to malnourished children, this protein supplement, made from fermented whitefish, is often recommended by holistic vets for animals with malabsorptive, allergic or digestive problems. I use it any time one of my dogs is recovering from surgery and needs help with rebuilding tissue and wound healing. For more information, visit propernutrition.com.

Bovine colostrum. Known as "mother's milk," this micronutrient-rich supplement contains proteins called immunoglobulins, which help boost the immune system and have antibacterial and antiviral properties. New Zealand colostrum is considered top shelf because cows there are pasture fed and so are not at risk for mad cow disease. As with SeaCure, it's another supplement I reach for when I have a dog recuperating from injury or infection. One human-grade brand I have had good results with is Sedona Labs; Google around to find the best price.



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