Best Dog Food? Horsefeathers!

You want my feathers to feed your dog??

Searching for the best dog food, you may have run into this:

Feathers being fed to dogs, in high priced, “natural” dog food. That was a recent revelation first reported by Forbes which, if their article was all you read and you had your brain running on idle, you might say,

“My my, isn’t science a creative field?”

I kind of did this briefly, it all sounded so plausible.

In a nutshell, here’s what the Royal Canin company is sending up about putting poultry feathers on the market in a kibble. A very expensive, thought to be natural, “one of the best” dog food kibbles:

  • Lots of allergies out there!
  • Dogs who eat foods they are allergic to get sick!
  • Therefore, we’re using feathers as a protein source, it’s novel, and dogs won’t be allergic to it!

It’s spun with the “service to the suffering dog” frosting all over those feathery chunks of kibble and reads quite well to the uninformed. Or, maybe a better phrase is, “to the unthinking consumer.”

Deja Vu All Over Again

As a newly minted vet in the 80’s, I was seeing some itchy dogs, though nothing like I am today. As summer starts where I live, I expect I’ll see even more this year.

Sometime in the ’80s, a miracle appeared for the itchy dogs of the world: lamb and rice dog food. Dogs switched to eating this, and magically, within a few meals, they got to sleep again. Pure bliss! Best dog food evah! At last, we have the answer!!

Lamb and rice dog foods stormed the shelves, every dog food manufacturer who wanted to keep any meaningful market share rushed a lamb and rice “hypoallergenic” dog food out to the stores.

Everyone let out a collective sigh of relief. And the pushers of this food, manufacturers, vets, pet stores, smiled all the way to the bank.

Damn: Was That the Sound of the Other Shoe Dropping?

As no one had gone any deeper to cure the epidemic of allergic dogs, it wasn’t too long before this wonderful fix failed. Dogs eating these special foods became allergic to lamb. Or rice. Or both.

It was a runaway race then to find more “novel proteins,” food sources dogs were able to eat without wildly reacting. There was (and still is) turkey, and rabbit, and venison, and duck, and on and on.

Hill’s, the makers of Science Diet and other expensive junk food, came out with the first really laboratory engineered hypo-allergenic food after several years of diminishing returns in this race: Z/D. It was made of proteins that had been chemically altered, Frankensteined to be so different that no dog would have any allergy to them.

Here’s Z/D’s first five ingredients:

Starch, Hydrolyzed Chicken Liver, Soybean Oil, Hydrolyzed Chicken, Powdered Cellulose

(Last I checked, wolves weren’t eating much starch. Or sawdust, aka “powdered cellulose.”)

What Could Go Wrong?

Even with failure after failure, or at the very best, short term fixes, no one in this race to conquer the itchy allergic dog by feeding exotic foods stopped to ask,

Wait. Why are so many dogs allergic to so many things, including food? What’s wrong with this picture?”

Or, even better, the question I hope you’d share with me is,

“Are wolves or coyotes or lynx tearing their hair out, wildly allergic to things they eat or to the fleas that bite them?”

Yes, cats slowly joined this epidemic as well, paralleling their increase in popularity and, wait for it:

–Their increasing exposure to veterinary medicine.

“Prevention” that was sold as the responsible pet owner’s imperative began to create the crazily itchy cat. Armed with barbed tongues and sharp claws, the damage they can do to their own bodies in the name of itch is phenomenal.

As you can imagine, the wild cousins don’t suffer allergies. It’s purely a man-made disease, like all of the chronic diseases that you can name in man or beast.

A Prevention – Caused Epidemic of Allergies

The blame can be squarely laid at the altar of the mighty vaccine syringe. In tweaking the immune systems of our pets with multiple viruses slammed right into the bloodstream and bypassing all the natural barriers that exist to viral invasion, we’ve created a monster.

The monster is fed and empowered when you follow the insane logic that somehow, repeatedly vaccinating throughout life is both necessary and beneficial.

It is neither.

Nor is it safe.

The “Find the Best Dog Food” Game

So, the race is on, the cause is ignored, and there’s money to be made, chasing yet another exotic protein down yet another rabbit hole. Best dog food, here we come!

And now it’s denatured feathers, made “palatable” by the addition of God knows what “flavor enhancers.” Ever see the movie, Food, Inc? There’s $1.4 billion industry making chemicals that enhance flavors and fuel food addictions. It’s what makes pink slime and the greasy fries in the MacDonalds of the world actually addictive.

Who owns Royal Canin? Mars, in New Jersey, heart of the food additive industry, also parent of Banfield, one of the biggest purveyors of vaccinations on the planet. Hmmm. I see a Part Two brewing in my brain cells…

What concerns me most is that this idea of changing the diet being the cure is now so pervasive in our society, that pet owners think their too itchy dog is their fault because they’ve not found the right diet! And the best dog food must be just over that hill…

Have you played this game?

First: “Jasper’s itching like crazy. I’d better switch to grain-free dog food.”

Later: “That worked, sort of, for a week or two, but now he’s itchy on this grain-free food. Better try something else. This emu and quinoa diet is getting good reviews, let’s give it a try!”

Still later: “Jasper itched less, way less, but it only lasted for three weeks, and he’s back to waking at night. I’m getting tired. But there are so many diets out there. Wait, maybe it’s fish oil. Or coconut oil. I’ve heard those are good for skin!”

Reality: Allergic States Are Not Cured by Diet Alone

While I’d never hesitate to improve on diet, especially if you are willing to dump the kibble and get on balanced raw food, I’d be very surprised if that alone will truly cure your itchy, allergic dog. It may temporarily improve things, sure, but that’s not the same as cure, a permanent state of health.

There will always be things to get allergic to that are not diet-related, right?

Flea bites, molds, tree pollen, grasses, the list goes on. I’ve had people seek me out as the DLR (Doctor of Last Resort) after they’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and they bring a shopping list of things Jasper is allergic to!

The list is full of normal things the average dog would never be able to avoid unless he lived in a bubble!

Go For Cure!

I’m speaking as a homeopathic vet, a subset of the holistic vet realm. And from my perspective, the goal is cure of the allergic state. The goal is not to find yet one more novel protein to feed or to get allergy shots, or God forbid, steroids or Apoquel, the drugs that turn off the immune system.

The allergic state is a chronic disease state, and is best managed by your veterinary homeopath. It’s not as simple as reading about remedies, finding a “fit” for your pet’s symptoms, and giving a dose.

These chronically ill guys need to be managed, and carefully. It’ll take more than one remedy to get to cure, but only appropriately chosen, given at appropriate intervals after a response to a prior remedy is fully evaluated. This isn’t easy, even for those of us doing it for years! But it can be done.

Homeopathy can cure chronic disease like nothing else I’ve ever seen, including your itchy allergic dog. It takes time, but when cure is reached, you’re done.

And then you can feed whatever you like and toss the chicken feathers to the wind.

What a concept.

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  1. Hiro on October 23, 2023 at 6:18 pm

    My dog licks his paw till raw.
    Vet told me cytopoint has no side effects and it would help him so I agreed to give him this shot.
    After less than one month he had a lump/tumor on his paw.
    Then I found out cytopoint has been killing many dogs horribly.
    Vet said never heard anything of such things.
    Vet cut off the tumor luckily it was not cancer.
    I told vet no more cytopoint so vet said only option is apoquel and Royal Canin SkinTopic.
    Have not giving my dog any medication for itchy because of fear but licking/biting get so bad so I have been thinking maybe I have to give him apoquel but I reached this site and stopped.
    Here in Australia, we do not have rabies but you can’t take unvaccinated dog to dog school/training and can’t board dog without kennel cough vaccine.
    It’s been so tiresome experience.
    I’m going to read your site more and hopefully I can get some answer.
    Thank you.

  2. Anne McCormack on October 21, 2019 at 4:41 am

    I won’t say that I agree with the efficacy of homeopathic remedies but I and my contemporaries have discussed the vast numbers of younger people suffering from so many allergies. When I was at school in the 50s and 60s no one had eczema, dairy allergy, peanut allergy. I do wonder what has happened to our food to produce these ailments. The same for animals too.

  3. Jane Jones on August 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I just want to say Thank you for being so kind and helpful to the people who respond to your articles! Please keep up the good work!

  4. Elisabeth on August 21, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Great and very interesting article. I can only see one problem, at least for me. Where I live, in the south of Spain, homeopathic vets just don’t exist.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on August 21, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Fear not, many homeopathic vets fill that need via telephone consulting. Visit the AVH list on my Resources page, and you’ll be able to see who you’d like to work with, based on 1. the amount of their practice that’s homeopathic, 2. whether they offer phone consulting, and perhaps, 3. are they certified by AVH or not.

  5. Dee on June 5, 2014 at 10:07 am

    My 2 year old Great Dane has just been through hell. Had a eosinophilic granuloma lesion in the floor of his mouth. Vet decided to remove as it was 4 inches long and infected and the dog had a bloody drool for several months. Biopsy had been done and no cancer just EG. However he been on a course of Baytril and amoxycillan along with prednisone 40 mg a day which I am now weaning off. They want me to put him on a “Hypoallergenic diet. Recommended Purina HA, Hills ZD or a Royal Canin which I am in agreement with none of those. My dog currently eats Dr. Tim’s Grain Free Kinesis and I had considered raw but Docs are vehemently against raw. He has to go back to docs soon for recheck and am laboring over what to do about food. They are saying if he come off pred that lesions can come back. Still not sure what even caused lesion. Dog was having other skin issues prior to lesion and on several antiobiotics for folliculitis. It was after a two week course of cephalexin that the drooling began and he has a sore throat and everted tonsil and then we noticed the big lesion under his tongue. They tell me that they have never had any experience with cephalexin causing a eosinophilic granuloma. all very mind boggling. IMO too many drugs have been given to a 2yr old dog.

  6. Gary Alan on February 10, 2014 at 5:36 am

    This is really an unacceptable diet for our pet dogs. With all the chemicals and the ingredients (feathers and some meat from animals dying from disease) included in making dog food in the dog food industry, we cannot afford to feed these to our pet dogs. Commercial dog foods use preservatives, dyes, chemicals, fillers, animal by-products, corn, soy, additives, artificial flavors, and so on. And it is these ingredients, as well as some others, which are making our pets sick and slowly killing them. That is why we need to avoid these products and start cooking for them. My dogs love my home made dog food way far from pre-made dog food. And I recommend this to everyone who loves their pet dogs.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 10, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Ah, dogs with intact good taste! Welcome to the conversation, Gary. You’ve got some lucky dogs there, and they’ll shine as an example for other animal folks to see.

      • Debra on July 2, 2023 at 4:45 am

        Can you provide me with a recipe for homemade foods for dogs?

  7. poppy on July 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    thought of another topic idea: your recommendation for books on natural pet care. there are so many choices and i do have quite a few, but always looking to add! thank you!

  8. Carol on July 2, 2013 at 4:00 am

    Hi Will,
    I waited to read your post on neutering until I had time to savour it:).
    Neutering is seen as part of ‘responsible pet ownership’ here in Australia and I believe we have a high rate of neutering/spaying.
    After a lot of research I chose not to neuter our female Australian Bulldog, Harriet. Evidence is emerging that sex hormones have broader roles than was previously understood, for example, heart health. If this is true for us, why not our furrier family members?
    I also found the concern about pyometra and mammary cancer unsettling, more cultural than scientific in its suspicion of female sex organs as ticking bombs. Why would a species evolve to have spontaneously deadly but biologically essential organs?
    Like most of my decisions about care for Harriet, such as no annual vaccination, no heartworm tablets or chemical flea treatment and a BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet, it ain’t easy. Thank you for your thoughtful articles on many animal topics. It helps keep me ‘keeping on’ and reminds me that I’m not a lone contrary weirdo:)
    Best Wishes

    • Will Falconer, DVM on July 6, 2013 at 5:24 am

      Hi Carol,
      I love your thinking process: “suspicion of female sex organs as ticking bombs. Why would a species evolve to have spontaneously deadly but biologically essential organs?” Brilliant!
      I’m glad you’re here, among like minded folks, and hope you can find a pack to hang with in Australia who thinks as you do. If not, we’re here for you!

  9. poppy on June 22, 2013 at 10:49 am

    in response to your request for topic ideas in your recent newsletter, i’d love health tips for senior pets and also specific natural remedies. with my raw-fed pets, i’m currently facing anemia, hot spots and idiopathic sterile cystitis, but welcome tips on any health issue. thank you for all you do for the animals!

    • Will Falconer, DVM on June 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Poppy,
      Thanks for the ideas. For specific problems facing your guys, I can’t think of a better fix than consulting the homeopathic vet of your choosing. See my Resources page for the AVH listing.
      I wish you the best, and will add your ideas to my folder: Blogfodder.

  10. Elle on June 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    This is a wonderful piece and so necessary for pet owners to know and understand. How does one get the word out since the big corporate mega-monsters seem to rule the media and advertising world?
    Thank you so much for sharing this much-needed info.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on June 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      You’re welcome, Elle, and the only hope I see is mass communication that takes place on places like blogs, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc, where people share valuable ideas and the corporate speak doesn’t really live.
      Grass roots, bottom up transformation. Because it’ll never come from the top down.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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