Four Paws, Five Treasures LLC
Linda Vognar, DVM, CVA

Integrative Veterinary Medicine
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese
Veterinary Medicine



Have you ever heard the saying " you are what you eat"?  Our diets provide the building blocks of health.  But how healthy would we be if all we ate was the same highly processed diet from weaning until old age?  The answer to this question may seem obvious and yet most of us have been told that we should not vary our dog or cat's diet, and to feed the same highly processed commercial food exclusively for years at a time.  "Buy a good quality pet food and feed only that" has been the advice that pet food manufactures and veterinarians have given for the last 50 years - since kibble has introduced on a large scale.


Dogs and cats need fresh unprocessed or minimally processed low or no grain food in their daily diet to stay in the peak of health.  This may be provided through commercial diets or made at home in your kitchen.  In terms of food energetics raw diets provide the most available nutrition for your dog or cat, followed by pasteurized diets, canned diets and dry diets.  Dry diets are cooked at the highest temperatures in order to extract the moisture from the food so while they are the most convenient diet to feed and store, they are the least energetically available  (for more information on the extrusion process that dry foods undergo and the energetic changes this process produces see: http://foodmatters.tv/_webapp_516270/Dirty_Secrets_of_The_Food_Processing_Industry ). If dry diets are served they should always be mixed with water prior to offering them to your pet and should be a complement to other foods, not a sole diet. 


Raw diets are most suitable for young animals and most closely mimic the diet your pet would choose in the wild, but many older animals prefer and benefit from raw diets also.  Your pet's digestive system is able to handle raw food because in the wild all food eaten is raw, and the bacteria that cause disease in humans is generally not a problem for dogs and cats.  In fact many chronic digestive issues in our pets disappear when the only environmental change is moving from a commercially made cooked to a raw diet.

However cooked diets also have their place in our pet's life.  Many animals need the digestive help that cooking provides as they age.  Chinese principles teach that it is important to move into a cooked diet gradually as our pets approach their old age.  Generally our pets let us know when it is time to introduce some cooked food by changes in appetite when the raw is presented to them.


Why do grains matter?  In the wild canine and feline diet there are few grains. Dogs and cats digestive systems did not develop to handle the abundance of grains found in many commercial diets, and so the grains cause inflammation.  This chronic inflammation from feeding high grain diets for years is the foundation of many of the ailments we see in our pets as they age:  arthritis, digestive issues,  gum inflammation and obesity.  Pets of any age can benefit from a change to a low or no grain diet, but the health benefits are particularly noticable when our animal friends are fed these diets from puppy/kittenhood into old age.


Many people enjoy preparing their pet's food and real food is always healthier than processed food.  But home preparation of pet food is not something that should be undertaken without guidance.  I recommend that anyone thinking of preparing pet food at home, raw or cooked, read "Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats" by Taylor & Becker.  This book covers the basics of successful preparation of pet food from A to Z, and contains large and small batch recipes that are easy to follow and portion guidance that will be invaluable when feeding your animal friend.  It also introduces the Chinese principle of dietary rotation through hot, neutral and cold food energetics to achieve dietary balance.  It is reasonably priced and available through Amazon.com. 


Do your food preferences change with the seasons?  Are your comfort foods different in winter and summer?  Seasonal appetite variations are an important way that we balance our energy to achieve comfort and health.

The Chinese have used food to treat illness for millennium, and have developed a system that classifies food by its energetic qualities.  Foods are basically divided into three types:  heating, cooling, and neutral.  These counterbalance environmental heat (summer), cold (winter) and the transitional periods of spring and fall.  Those of us who practice Chinese medicine often use these food qualities to counteract internal imbalances, but they can be used by anyone to counteract environmental imbalances (seasonal variation). So try adding some real food to your animal friend's diet and see the benefits for yourself.  These simple changes can help your pet be a healthy happy companion to you for many years to come.


 Warming foods are basically Yang in nature and can be used to correct deficiencies in Qi (life force), but can also help create body heat during winter when we need heat to counteract environmental cold.  Warming foods include chicken, lamb, venison, and egg yolk .  It is good to include some of these foods in your pet's daily diet when the days are short and cold.


Cooling foods are basically Yin in nature and can be used to correct deficiencies that result in internal heat, but they can also cool the body to counteract summer heat.  These foods include white fish, turkey, duck, egg white, barley, celery and lettuce.  Just as we feel best in summer eating lots of lettuce salads rather than venison stew, your pet will also benefit from additions of turkey, duck, egg whites and whitefish to their diets as the days grow long and the weather grows hot.


Neutral foods are often fed during fall and spring as we transition from one seasonal extreme to another.  They include pork, beef, milk, salmon, sardines, tuna and whole eggs.  They can be used for variety in the diet without fear of compounding existing environmental imbalances.