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754: Real Food for Pets & How This Can Reverse Health Problems With Dr. Ruth Roberts – Wellness Mama

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Hello and welcome to The Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode talks about family members who are not often included in the health and wellness conversations, and that is our pets. And this episode is about real food for pets and how just like in humans, this can really contribute or reverse a lot of the health problems they might encounter, and I’m here with Dr. Ruth Roberts, who is a pioneer in the pet health coaching and the visionary behind the original Crockpet Diet. She’s been a guiding light for thousands of dogs and cats on their path to health and wellness with her natural approach to healing. And she’s empowered pets and pet owners to conquer formidable health challenges, everything from chronic kidney disease to GI illness, allergies, cancer, and more. But now she’s taking her mission even further to democratize this knowledge and make it accessible to all of us. Her latest endeavor involves training and certifying holistic pet health coaches who can work with pet owners for guidance on their food options, holistic lifestyle treatments, and much more.

And in this episode, she shares her wisdom from years as a vet and also from working with pet owners on what to actually feed our pets, including things like supplements and debunk some of the myths of what pets can and cannot eat and talks about some of the incredible results that pets have had from making dietary changes just as humans do. So as I said, these are not family members that are normally included in these conversations, and I’m glad we get to talk about them today. So let’s join Dr. Roberts. Dr. Ruth, welcome. Thank you so much for being here today.

Ruth: Hey, Katie, I am so delighted to be here. I just cannot begin to tell you.

Katie: Well, today I’m excited to chat with you because we’re going to be talking about health and wellness for family members that I don’t often talk about on this podcast, which are our pets. Especially, I have two dogs and three cats at my house. I know many people listening have house pets as well. And while I think a lot of it, we have a lot of conversation about health and wellness for humans, there’s a lot that we don’t talk about related to our pets. And it seems like, thankfully, a lot within our control that we can do to help them have long and healthy lives as well. And you and I got to have an in-person conversation about this earlier this year. And I was blown away with your knowledge and knew I wanted to record with you and get to share this conversation with everybody listening.

So thank you, first of all, for the work that you do. And to start broad, I would guess most people are familiar with the concept of eating real food as humans. But this extends to our pets as well. And I think perhaps maybe some people haven’t considered that what we are just naturally told to feed our pets might not be the best option for them. So can you explain to us what does whole foods or minimally processed foods for pets even look like?

Ruth: Well, so, I mean, there’s a couple of ways to go about it. And for me, I’ve been teaching home cooking for pets since 2006, so right before the first pet food recall that killed so many pets. And what that looks like, in my mind, is healthy proteins, healthy vegetables, carbohydrates in the form of slow-burn carbs, so beans, grains, things of that nature, and then healthy fats. And then we modify that basic concept based on what the pet is sensitive to, if they have food sensitivities, and then also if they have difficulty digesting particular classes of food. There are some pets that just cannot tolerate beans, just as there are some humans. And, you know, some dogs do really well with raw diet. Others don’t. But I think there’s a myriad of options. The raw movement is very strong. For me, I think that’s maybe not truly the ancestral diet. And in fact, it looks like the dogs grew up eating or grew with us eating what we eat, which has been hunter and gatherer, yes, protein, animal protein, but also berries, nuts, all of that good stuff. So it’s kind of whatever you want it to be, just not the kibble, please.

Katie: Well, and I think this is such an important topic because I know at various times I’ve been told not to give dogs, for instance, people food. And so I would guess for some people, the idea of feeding their dog fruits and vegetables is an entirely new concept. And it seems like maybe some of us have been scared with certain foods that are super dangerous for dogs. And so we just sort of avoid anything that could be categorized people food out of fear. But you just touched on the ancestral side of this. And it makes sense to me that in nature, I mean, certainly dogs were not eating kibble, but how what were they likely eating and what amounts in nature? And how can we begin to sort of understand their nutritional needs and let go of that fear of feeding them people food?

Ruth: Well, I think part of it is my profession has done a really good job of scaring the bejeebers out of everybody. And like when I first started talking to my clients about cooking, I was terrified. Like I was afraid the AFCO police were going to come get me. But the deal is, is that what did we ate? And so I think you have to look where we is from, so to speak. So are you descended from an African Maasai tribe? Are you of Scottish ancestry? Are you of German ancestry? And so look at where you came from, and that’s going to tell you a lot about maybe what would be a good plan for that dog. So, for instance, my ancestors were Irish and German. I guarantee you that they were eating a lot of cabbage, and so were their dogs.

Katie: That makes sense. And I talk a lot about the personalization and individualization side for humans when it comes to figuring out our optimal diet. And it makes sense that this would be true for pets as well. And with humans, of course, we see people who seem to thrive on a carnivore diet, people who seem to thrive on all kinds of modified diets in between all the way up to vegan diets. Or you mentioned, I didn’t even know this, raw diets being a thing for animals. I know it seems like there has been a trend toward raw, only meat-based diets for pets. Is that a trend you’re seeing as well? And is that good for them? Or is it a both/and they need something else as well?

Ruth: I think it just, again, it depends on the pet. So the raw thing has been around, well, Dr. Ian Billinghurst wrote the first book 30 years ago. Actually, he wrote the second one, but it’s been around since mid-1800s. And to be honest, too, I mean, think about it. How much animal protein has been available for us as humans to eat? And then secondarily, the dogs and cats. And I would argue that that’s not been the case for, you know, since this last hundred or so years. But, you know, dogs came up with this as hunter-gatherers. And so they were eating what we were. And so sometimes the hunting was good and sometimes not so much. So the honest truth is, is they were eating our garbage first, then our leftovers, and then finally what we fed them. And so it just depended on where we were in the cycle of the season.

Katie: That makes sense. Well, and I mentioned the fear of, I know I’ve heard all kinds of things about certain foods being overtly toxic to dogs. Is that true? And are there certain foods, before we talk about what goes into a diet that is good for dogs and cats, are there certain foods to always avoid for pets?

Ruth: Really, the only hard and fast ones are macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts. So everything else is dose-dependent. Like in the Crockpet diet, we include a clove of garlic. And that freaks people out because my colleagues are all saying, oh, my God, you’re going to kill your dog. Well, garlic and onions are toxic to us as well if we eat 10 pounds of onions. So it’s dose-dependent. I mean, there’s plenty of Labradors that have eaten the Hershey’s Kisses bag, economy-sized bag, and the worst they have to tell for it is diarrhea. So, again, it’s dose-dependent. If they ate that same amount of Baker’s chocolate, that’s a problem. So very few actual toxic foods.

Katie: That makes sense. And good to know, because that way we don’t have to be as worried if pets accidentally get into something in the pantry, less cause for concern. And it makes sense that just like with humans, the dose would matter. I love that term that you have, Crockpet diet. And I think it’s such a great introduction to the idea of, oh, you can actually cook at home for your pets also. For people who this is a new concept to, I know I’m learning from you as well, what are some of the core things that you recommend starting with and including in that? I would guess we’ll have to figure out the personalization relative to each pet, but what are the starting points?

Ruth: Well, first of all is if you know you’re pet sensitive to something, then don’t include that in the diet. For many people, that’s chicken or beef. And then what do you want to include? Healthy, lean cuts of protein and brassica vegetables, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, other veggies. So carrots, zucchini, all of the good stuff out there. And then beans that are well cooked. Again, legumes are a really great source of protein, great source of fiber. We’re, you know, part of the deal with all these veggies and the legumes in particular, is we’re trying to feed the microbiome, and the microbiome needs fibers in order to really be diverse and thrive. So healthy oils, so we’ll generally add those last, so things like olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and then finally, if your dog is tolerant of them, healthy grains. And I would choose things that are really more grasses than grains. So amaranth, quinoa, that sort of stuff.

Katie: And I think the other side of this is, I don’t know that I’ve ever looked and I would guess some people listening haven’t either. Most pets in America seem to just get fed the kibble pet food that we buy at the grocery store. I’ve never done a deep dive, but what is in that? I would, is that kind of in the category of processed food? Would that be similar to humans eating like basically cereal for every meal that maybe has a little bit more protein in it than average cereal? Or it seems to me when you explain it, like that would be a processed food, but what’s actually in it?

Ruth: And that’s the scary thing. It just depends on what you’re looking at. But for instance, many of the prescription diets, one of the top five ingredients is cellulose, which is paper. So it’s like, really? But it is. It’s highly processed. And most often, so some of the higher quality ones may include the whole of whatever it is they’re putting in the diet. But in many cases, it’s something like corn middlings or wheat middlings. And in fact, that’s how the first pet food recall happened. They put melamine, a plastic, to falsely increase the protein content of wheat middlings. So it’s just insane. You really have to read the ingredients. And when you do start doing that, you’re going to be horrified.

Katie: Wow. I had no idea about that. And when that happened, I didn’t have any pets at the time to worry about the recall, but I remember seeing those stories. And I would guess that’s not as tightly regulated as human food. And so probably they can get away with a lot more in pet food than they could with human food.

Ruth: Sadly, it is more tightly regulated than human food.

Katie: And they still allow it?

Ruth: Which is scary. Well, and when they catch them, it’s a problem. But the thing is, is that it takes a long time to catch this kind of adulteration, they would call it. But, I mean, it’s our food supply chain is very fragile. How about let’s put it that way.

Katie: Fair enough. Okay. So it makes sense if we understand that most pets are eating an extremely processed diet that might have ingredients we have no clue about, that they could be having some negative health outcomes related to that diet. I know in humans, we’ve heard of all these trends of all the health problems on the rise and the rise in chronic disease. Is that true in animals and house pets now as well? And if so, making a switch to a more real food diet for pets, I know that you work directly with pets, but what kind of results have people seen from switching out the dietary program for their pets?

Ruth: Oh, gosh. I mean, just crazy stuff. So pretty much anything you can think of on the human side in terms of chronic inflammation. Anything that ends in -itis like gastroenteritis, dermatitis, all of that stuff, that means inflammation. And so in the process of changing diets, I’ve seen dogs that all we did was difficulty getting up off the floor, getting onto the sofa, we changed the food so it’s just, I mean it can be just absolutely. Coaches and my own experience with dogs with skin allergies, the dogs on medication like Apoquel will switch the diet, add a supplement that includes quercetin to help relieve the itching, and within three to six weeks, they’re off of Apoquel and not itching. So there’s a terrific amount of chronic problems we can alleviate simply by using real food, with a lot of moisture in it.

Katie: That makes sense when you explain it. Is there a way to do, I would guess based on the name Crockpet, that it could be bulk cooked? Is there a way to do a bulk cooking method of this so that it’s not like, I can imagine most people might not want to spend three times a day cooking individual meals for their individual pets. Can we sort of like bulk prep this ahead to make it easier?

Ruth: That’s the whole plan because that’s the only way we’re all going to be able to be consistent about it. And, you know, and we had I had at one point five dogs and five cats. And my partner and I could knock out making food for them in four hours on a Sunday. We’d freeze the majority of it. So it really is doable. And that’s exactly what this is designed to do. Do a slow cooker. Put it in the oven. Do it on the stovetop. Do a big batch of it. Because if you’re going to make a mess, just clean it up once. And then that way you’ve got food for three weeks, a month, what have you.

Katie: That seems, yeah, even easier than human food prep and like something we could benefit from doing for our kids as well as more bulk meal prep in general. You mentioned, a minute ago, supplements, which is another category I would guess most people have not considered for their pets unless they’ve been given a specific recommendation for either a medication or a particular thing from maybe their vet. Is this something else that pets can benefit from sort of on a wide scale? And if so, what are the sort of universal things that maybe pets need that we aren’t giving them?

Ruth: So I think the thing is, is that the pet supplement industry is absolutely enormous. And again, this is a totally unregulated industry, just as on the human side. And one of the biggest ones, I think, is omega-3 fatty acids. So some really high-quality source there. Because most of the food is really high in omega-6s, which are very pro-inflammatory. We want to use omega-3s to bring that balance back and help reduce inflammation. I think that overall for most pets, especially if they’ve been on a kibble diet for a long time, a well-balanced multivitamin and multimineral is going to be necessary for a bit. Because often they’ve been undernourished because of the quality of the food or because they can’t eat what the bag says they should. And then it just depends on what else is going on. So quercetin I love to use to support both kidneys and as well as to reduce histamine and reduce itching. But there’s a ton of stuff out there. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s not very good. And so I think that’s where you really need help is to choose someone that you support and that you trust to help guide you to better options.

Katie: Got it. And so maybe just don’t give our pets the supplements we’re taking, but do the research, work with someone who knows what they’re doing to figure out what they need, just like you would for yourself and your health.

Ruth: Exactly. And it’s not that human supplements have anything wrong with them. And in fact, I will use many of them because many of the pet labeled stuff are really inferior core quality, but you do need to find somebody to work with. So you’re not like some of our consult clients that come in with their pet on 27 supplements. That’s going to just create a hot mess.

Katie: Yikes. Okay. Good to know. Is there a difference, I know we’ve talked a little bit more about dogs in this conversation. Is there a difference between dogs and cats and what their sort of baseline healthy diet looks like?

Ruth: Absolutely. So kitties are truly obligate carnivores, and they must eat enough animal protein to get adequate amounts of taurine, which is an amino acid. So their diet, cats will self-select a diet that’s a little bit more than 50% in protein, and then the majority of the rest of it in fats, and then a little bit in carbohydrate, which fits the idea of the fact that they should be eating mice and birds, right? So they really do require a very different profile, whereas dogs have developed the ability to digest starch since they’ve been hanging out with us.

Katie: That’s so fascinating. And since we’re having the conversation about real food for pets, it also makes me wonder, and supplements, et cetera, what lifestyle habits we can do to support our pets. The irony here is, as I think about it, I wonder if in some ways we’re actually better about this with our pets than we are with ourselves or our children, in that I know most pet owners take their dogs for a walk, for instance. Or pets in general, like dogs and cats, mine at least, seem to not have any trouble with sleep. They seem to sleep when they’re tired, wake up when they’re awake, they run around in the backyard, and get exercise. But are there things we can do from a lifestyle perspective that are especially supportive of our pets, or maybe even things in our environment that are not healthy for our pet that we might want to consider avoiding that we haven’t considered?

Ruth: Absolutely. So the really scary thing, I’ll start with the scary news first, and then I’m going to tell you the things that you can take care of on your own. So the scary thing is, is that if we’re toxic, us humans, ourselves, adults and children, the frightening thing is that dogs have 63X. And the reason is that they’re exposed to all of the dust on the floor. They go outside, they’re licking their feet, and they’re ingesting all of this stuff. So it’s super important if you’re using clean products to help protect yourself and your kids, super important you keep doing that for pets too. And so we want to limit their chemical exposure as much as possible. So the topical flea meds, the oral flea meds especially, that’s going to be critical to help keep them healthy.

And then as far as lifestyle measures, it’s the same thing we need to do. They need to move. They need to sleep well. They need to not have bings and bongs and electronic devices going off constantly. They need you to sit still with all that stuff turned off with them for two or three minutes a day. And just breathe and be present and pet them and show them how much you love them. I mean, wouldn’t that, how much better would our lives all be if our partners, our kids would sit with us for two or three minutes in peace and we could just chill?

Katie: Such a good point. I’m reminded, related to that of a parenting expert I had on here one time who said like, you know, we can get in our head with mom guilt and I’m sure there’s like pet owner guilt too when we aren’t spending as much time with our pets. But she’s like, really what our kids actually need when you look at the data is just 10 minutes a day of our focused present time. They don’t need our 100% presence 24/7. That actually wouldn’t be good for them. They just need that connection. And so it makes sense to me that pets would too. And I think I’ve seen some stats as well as pet owners actually tend to have some better lifestyle habits than non-pet owners, probably for those exact reasons. Like we take our dogs for walks. We want to be outside with them. They’re also little like dopamine factories because they are so fun to be around and petting them is probably great for us as it is for them. But that’s such a great reminder of just like unplug for a couple of minutes and be present with your pets and certainly with your kids if you have them too.

Ruth: I love that. That’s so awesome. Yeah, but exactly.

Katie: And is there anything else when it comes to, I know we’re going to get to do another episode that goes deeper on the more like if there’s an issue or if you’re working with a vet and all of those things, are there any other things on the diet, lifestyle, or habit side as pet owners that we maybe don’t consider or are definitely not getting right that we could improve?

Ruth: I think the biggest thing is, if your dog’s having a problem, your cat’s having a problem, you go to the vet, and the vet’s solution is, here’s this medication. And unfortunately, it’s really tough as a pet parent to know what else to do because it is difficult to find alternatives. So what I would suggest you do is find a holistic vet, find a holistic pet health coach, find somebody that can help you walk through what the issues are and offer you some suggestions before you’re committed. Like, especially with skin disease, I mean, it’s steroids, antibiotics, and then finally Apoquel, which is a medication, that is a, it’s a, which is a very fancy way to say that it really screws with the immune system. So before you commit to something like that, research the options. Give yourself permission to take a deep breath and say, thank you, doctor. I’m going to look into this. And then do the things you know that you can to relieve the symptoms until you get enough time to get some help with this.

Katie: That’s great advice. And I love that you’re being this voice in the healthcare for our pets’ space, because these are conversations I have often with people on the human health side. And it’s interesting how even the things we do, of course, for ourselves, we might not think to extend to our pets, like questioning medical decisions or independently researching these things, or even supplements like you talked about. So I feel like this is potentially a whole new world for research for a lot of pet owners. I know you have a ton of resources actually available around this, and I’ll make sure those are linked in the show notes. But for anybody who is new to a lot of the things we’ve talked about, where can they keep learning about these topics and helping their pets?

Ruth: Cool. So drruthroberts.com. And then we actually have a public group on Facebook called Holistic Pet Health. There’s 28,000 people in there just like, help me. And so what’s happening is they’re helping each other. The coaches are helping them. And it’s been just a huge wealth of information for so many people.

Katie: Awesome. And I will make sure all of those links as well. Some of your educational links that you have online that are so awesome are all available in the show notes for you guys listening on the go. That’s always at wellnessmama.com. Dr. Ruth, I’m so glad we got to delve into this today, because like I said, this is an area I have not talked about that much. And for many of us, pets are an important part of our family. So I love that you are giving them the same care that we try to take of ourselves and our children. And I think this conversation is so, so, so important. So thank you for your time and for being here.

Ruth: It is my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Katie. I really appreciate it.

Katie: And thank you for listening. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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