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One of the most heart aching aspects of having a dog companion is to have him become old. Aging and its accompanying infirmities may, in many minds, be inevitable; it's just something all creatures have in common. Such a belief may have been somewhat true years ago but with the tools research has provided, aging is a part of life we do have some control over.

Aging can present a complicated picture; but scientists can now tell us there are only a few main causes of age-related problems. One of these major theories is that of nutritional deficiencies. A disease builds slowly, beginning at the cellular level with few or no hints as to its progress. When it finally reaches the symptomatic state, it is full blown and at a level often too destructive for a medicine to heal. Subclinical nutritional deficiencies and imbalances do not show up in blood tests or x-rays. Below the radar they silently and furtively do their destruction. It is vitally important to start at this level, identify these imbalances and correct them early.

Slowing down aging doesn't then start at mid-life, it starts at puppyhood, and it begins with food. What you feed your dog will be a big part of how he will thrive throughout his life. Providing a dog a lifetime of wholesome food is one of the best gifts you can give him. The work you put into planning the best nutrition for your dog offers rewards in personal fulfillment and empowerment: you choose the ingredients, their quality, the quantity, the combinations.

On my walks with my dog Chessie, I am often stopped and asked how old he is. When I answer fifteen, people are amazed. But not one person has ever asked what I have done to keep a 90-pound Chesapeake Bay as healthy as he is. If they would ask, I would say that Chessie enjoys home-cooked meals and occasionally top- of- the- line dog food, is given supplements for his needs as they have varied through his life, has acupuncture treatments for wellness and mobility, and herbal medicines for age-related conditions. I would say he receives better health care than many humans I know.

Of all these, I believe the food he eats is the foundation of his slow aging and continued good health. Most dogs who are fed exclusively on commercially-processed food will develop a failure to thrive. These diets even the most expensive, can actually cause severe nutritional deficiencies and consequent illness. This sad state comes about because most commercially-processed foods are put together with little or no regard for quality of ingredients and are prepared in such a way that most of the nutrients are destroyed. At the end of the whole process, the food is severely adulterated with chemicals.

Check the label on any commercially-processed pet food and you're likely to find that it includes hormones, antibiotics, hydrocarbons, colorings, starches, fillers, flavorings, acids and bases, preservatives, anti-caking agents, synthetic antioxidants, solvents, buffers, emulsifiers, bulking agents, stabilizers, flavor modifiers, sweeteners, freezants and gases - potential toxins all. The type of food makes little difference. Soft and moist commercial canned food is no better than the kibble variety; it has in fact, anti microbial preservatives to prevent bacterial spoilage and 1 mold. Even the water used is suspect because it's likely to have been treated with chemicals such as chlorine, aluminum salts, and fluorides.

If you wish to stay with commercially-processed dog food, make sure it has at least one, even better two, quality animal protein sources. These will be the first two or three ingredients on the label. A good quality food source will also be listed as “human grade” . The food should have only enough water for processing along with a grain and perhaps vegetables. There should be a simple preservative such as vitamin E.

A good commercial food should give your dog two or three small, well-formed stools a day. If the volume of what goes in is the same as what goes out, the digestibility of the food and the absorption of nutrients is poor. Although there are a few fine dry and moist dog foods on the market, they are not usually sold at a supermarket. They can be ordered and shipped from on-line sources. Whatever your source, buy in small quantities for quicker turnover to minimize the possibility of rancidity.

You could go a step further and prepare your dog's food instead; you will know exactly what your dog is getting for his over-all nutritional needs. A typical dog's diet should consist of 60 to 80 % protein. Among the best choices are chicken and turkey or cold-water fish such as salmon. Use organic varieties of meat and wild varieties of fish. Carbohydrates can make up the remainder of the meal: 10 -20 percent vegetables and 10 - 20 percent grains. When possible, choose ingredients in season and freshly cooked to ensure the nutrients are retained. Plus you can supplement home-cooked meals with herbs and remedies to target a problem.

When starting your dog on a home-prepared, cooked diet, remember that variety and simplicity are the keys to success. Start cautiously. Begin with a very few ingredients, simmer them in a broth and as your dog adapts to the new foods you can gradually add more and different ingredients.

Let's set up some guidelines. Every day your dog's food should include one part protein to two parts vegetables and fruit with whole grains. Sources of protein are chicken, turkey, beef, lightly cooked eggs, cottage or ricotta cheese, and tofu. Meats can be stewed, baked, or stir-fried. Two or more cooked or raw vegetables such as a cole slaw of shredded carrots and cabbage, a mix of chopped greens, or a stew of vegetables are great beginnings. Vegetables can include squashes, sweet potato, peas, beans, broccoli, cabbage. virtually any vegetables but onions and very limited garlic. Make sure the vegetables are finely grated if served raw, or if cooked, steamed lightly.

Complex grains should be added in very small amounts in each meal, then raised in small increments as the dog's digestive tract becomes used to the texture and taste, and he makes chewing adjustments. Complex grains such as bulgar, wheat berries, oatmeal, etc. affect the gastrointestinal tract and bowel evacuation. Because of their stickiness they help scrape and clean the intestinal walls. Although they have very beneficial in the digestive tract, they do need gradual adjustment into the diet.

Fruit sources should be considered from a wide variety of choices: bright, highly colored berries, melons, apples, pears, banana, are some suggestions. Use raw and finely diced.

The best foods contain a large amount of nutrients and very few calories. This balance is called the glycemic level. Broccoli versus bread, green beans versus pasta are examples of dense food which break down slowly and are transformed into sugars that enter the blood stream in an even, steady amount of energy for cells to use. If you cut back on the amount of grains and add one more vegetable instead, you have changed the glycemic level for the good. And if you use legumes such as dried beans, and fruits and nuts in the meal, you have changed the glycemic level again.

Cooking can be done by stewing meats and vegetables together in water and then served, broth and all. Stir-frying the protein part and adding vegetables briefly at the end or raw fruit and serving over the grain part is another option. A puree or stew is a good choice for puppies or seniors. Combining all in a food processor ensures your dog eats all of the food. Other guidelines you might find useful are: a dog of ten pounds needs 400 -500 calories a day; a 20-pound dog needs 700-800; a 40-pound dog needs 1,100-1400, and a 70-pound dog requires 1,750 to 2,000. But remember one size doesn't fit all. Keep in mind your dog's age, level of activity, body metabolism, and general health. Particular situations or stages of life also present times of adaptation. Pregnant and nursing moms need more food than usual. Competing and working dogs use more calories than dozing on a bed. An aging dog's diet requires adjustments in balancing of proportions; his needs are about 40-60 percent grains, 25 percent vegetables and the rest protein.

If the water used in commercial dog food processing is suspect, the water from your own tap could be just as bad. Almost all water sources are contaminated with pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, and petrochemicals. Always use filtered water for both drinking and cooking. If you don't want to use chemically treated water or even bottled or filtered water, consider using Willard Water as an alternative. Willard Water is unique in that it has a negative charge on its surface that allows it to remove toxins which have a positive energy. This special liquid speeds up chemical reactions without changing the natural result; it is very efficient for bringing nutrients to the cells and carrying away cell waste. You can give Willard Water for drinking, cook with it, bathe your dog, and even clean wounds with this liquid.

A dog's nutritious, home-cooked diet can offer plenty of variety. Fruit such as apples, melons, and even citrus help fend off cancer through their chemical breakdown into vitamins A, C, D, E, and P, plus their amino acids, minerals, and pectin fiber work on different systems - cell energy, cell nutrition, and intestinal motility. Vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels spouts, and cauliflower have anti-cancer properties and are good sources of vitamins A and C as well as calcium and potassium. Carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes, peppers and other brightly- colored choices are a rich source of the carotenes and fiber. Kale, spinach and other dark, leafy green vegetables contain chlorophyll that combats the tendency of cancer-causing agents to 3 wreak genetic damage at the cell level. All beans are high in minerals such as magnesium and iron. Fish especially the fatty or oily, cold-water, North Atlantic type, contains essential fatty acids and are great sources of protein, minerals and vitamin D. Nuts and seeds are a super source of zinc. These foods are protease inhibitors that prevent liver, mammary, and colon cancers. Sprouts are a good source of vitamin C and inhibit genetic damage to cells. Whole grains such as wheat bran, wheat germ, etc are excellent sources of fiber which benefit the colon as well as provide daily vitamin B.

The nutrients in food break down into vitamins, minerals, and other biochemical products that the body needs and uses: the body recognizes nutrients as “belonging” - bio chemically a part of itself - and uses them without forming harmful toxic byproducts. Think of your dog's body as being composed of millions of bio-chemicals. Working continuously day and night, singly and in unison, these bio-chemicals need fuel to do their jobs. This fuel comes from food. Bodies cannot live without the nutrients in food - the vitamins, minerals, water, enzymes, amino acids, and others. No nutrient works alone. Each is linked to other nutrients. If a dog's diet is severely deficient in one nutrient in the nutritional pathway, the whole chain of events in a process cannot come about. Doesn't it make sense to start your puppy off in life with the very best nutrition available? Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine expresses the concept well: ”If you have a good diet, of what use is a doctor? If you don't have a good diet, what use is a doctor?” Cooking can be fun as well as beneficial. If you are at a loss about how to start, here are simple but hearty recipes. The first which can be used as a side dish to good quality dog food or by adding some cooked meat, can be the whole meal.

High Mineral Vegetable Broth

This is a recipe often served in health spas, modified from an original recipe of Gaylord Hauser.

  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes

In a large pot, combine carrots, parsley, and water. Cover and cook slowly for 30 minutes. Add tomatoes. Let it cook for 5 more minutes. Puree the whole mix in the food processor and pour over food.

A Berry Good Shake

During the late spring, summer months and partially into the fall, local fruits are easy to get and a shake or drink made from these is a yummy substitute for water. Nutrition-wise, the dog will be getting lots of vitamins especially the carotenes, the C family with bioflavonoids and anti- oxidants.

  • ½ cup berries, either strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries, or a combination. To ensure berries that are free from the toxins of pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides, etc., buy locally from a farmer's market or country stand.
  • 4 1 banana, almost ripe
  • 1 peach, ripe
  • ½ cup unflavored, live cultured yogurt
  • 1 cup apple or orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, optional

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and foamy. Serve half one day and half another. Of course, refrigerate left-over portion. You can use this drink as part of the daily food intake for a dog.

Doggie Treats

  • 1 cup whole wheat four
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl mix together the flour, wheat germ, and spices. In a small bowl combine the honey, molasses, oil and egg yolk. Mix well and add to the flour mixture. Knead dough briefly. Roll out to 1/4 inch think and cut with cookie cutter. Bake on un greased cookie sheet 15 minutes until lightly browned. Turn off the heat and let cookies dry out in the oven until completely cooled and quite hard.

If you have a cat:
Fish Cake Cookies

  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Blend tuna and bread crumbs. Add egg and mix well. Drop by ½ teaspoons onto greased cookie cutter and bake 7 to 10 minutes until done. Cool and serve. May be frozen or stored in airtight container in the refrigerator.

Roasted Root Vegetables

  • 4 cups fruit juice such as apple
  • 8 ounces turnips
  • 8 ounces parsnips
  • 8 ounces carrots
  • 8 ounces sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Boil juice until it is reduced to 1 cup (about 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 425 degrees Peel and dice root vegetables and place in roasting pan. Whisk the butter into the reduced juice and pour over vegetables. Toss together and roast until vegetables are golden and tender, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes. Allow to cool and serve with your main dish.

Aging is slow and steady for most dogs thus there is a need to stay a few steps ahead. A good place to begin is in the digestive tract with the use of probiotics or intestinal flora. Probiotics are some of the strongest weapons in the fight to keep the digestive system working well. Intestinal flora consists of millions of good bacteria containing a variety of enzymes to boost the functions of the intestines. Not the least among the effects of probiotics is the slowing down of the body's natural aging process, supporting the host's immune responses, and resisting infection. Daily supplementing with probiotics also has an anti-cancer effect. Probiotics improve metabolism to help both the kidneys and the liver; they can stimulate a weak appetite, relieve dyspepsia (low-grade nausea), and reduce the amount of ammonia and phenol build-up in the blood. Simply defined, probiotics are micro-organisms that thrive in the colon, acidify the local environment, and help destroy a huge array of disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens.

Dogs have their own special form of healthy intestinal bacteria and giving a dog human flora replacement such as bifidus does not work. Adding acidophilus or yogurt to a dog's life does help colonize the small intestine with healthy bacteria; but what is needed for the large intestine is primarily a strain called faecium. Use a product that contains a minimum total of 2-3 million microorganisms per dose and comes from the refrigerator section of a store. Probiotic supplementation should be done 15 -20 minutes before eating to allow passage of the micro- organisms to pass through the stomach. And if you do like to add yogurt to your dog's diet use only unflavored, live-culture brands. Much of what is sold today is yogurt made from poor quality and even dead strains and totally useless.

If you have given your dog good food and you have supplemented with helpful bacteria, do you need to do more? The answer is yes! There are supplements to help your dog thrive, to ward off disease or problems inherent in her breed or genetic make-up, to support your dog through any trauma - vaccinations, sprains and strains, even broken bones, etc.- in other words there is a marvelous world of nutrients waiting for you to try.

A supplement plan should be appropriate for your dog, tailored to his needs, taking into account his genetic and metabolic makeup, his breed's history, his family history if possible, and his lifestyle. A well put together plan will take into account the synergistic nature of supplements - how they work together to enhance each other's effects. As an example if you want to prevent cataracts from developing, you could use a combination of vitamin A or beta-carotene with the supplements lutein and zeaxnthin.

Dogs of any size can develop arthritic conditions and it would be a boon to any dog to have strong joints through his life. Now there are supplements biochemically made of sulfur derivatives that can do that: maintain the cartilage between the big joints; lubricate the soft tissue; and keep the joint flexible. A combination of glucosamine sulfate and chondrotin sulfate with the mineral manganese and vitamin C give the joint most of what it needs to keep on 1 working indefinitely. These nutrients should be started earlier than most people think. Wear begins early and supplementation needs start when a dog is about 3 or 4 years of age in large dogs, later, 7 or 8 in small dogs. A clean, well-working liver can sustain a dog for years. The liver is a primary detoxification site. It must deal with an ever increasing barrage of primary and secondary toxic substances: the xenobiotics from the environment; the chemicals, radioactive substances and genetic manipulation of food products; the breakdown of repeated vaccinations and the use of therapeutic drugs. Cleaning chemicals used in the house, pesticides and herbicides used on the ground outside, and giving medications for problems such as heartworm, prevention or fleas and ticks slowly but surely kill off healthy liver cells. The best counter- measure is to detox and clean the liver on a yearly basis. This means you give the dog herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion, and artichoke for a month (preferably a combination of these). Early spring is a great time to detox and late fall another. However, it is important to complement these herbs with orally ingested reduced glutathione. A detox takes place through the intestines and glutathione has the colossal task to cope with the chemical onslaught.

Just living and using oxygen leads to the production of substances highly detrimental to the body. These are called free radicals. Free radicals are the products of chemical change - oxygen wastes turning into hydrogen peroxide ( H2O2), the hydroxyl radical ( OH), or singlet oxygen O3, and others - all composed of one or more free ions or electrons anxious to bind to anything. These oxidant products are neutralized through the sopping up action of anti-oxidants in the form of specific enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, or SOD, vitamins such as C and E, and anthocyans such as the carotenes, flavonoids, and flavones in food or in supplement form.

Combinations of these nutrients play a key role in enzyme repair, gene regulation, metabolic reactions, and prevention of destructive radical build-up. They can prevent vascular disease such as blood vessel sclerosis, heart disease such as cardiomyopathies, hypertension, diabetes with complications such as gangrene, optical nerve and retinal damage, inner ear damage, neurological disease such as vertigo, nervousness, neuromuscular disorders, autonomic nervous system disorders such as seizures or spasms, hyperthyroidism, tachycardia, hyperaldosteronism, chronic liver and chronic heart disease, skeletal and joint disorders, heavy metal poisoning, and premature aging.

You can purchase products individually or in an anti-oxidant mix that will protect your dog from the majority of degenerative and destructive diseases. Some excellent choices are:

Alpha lipoic-acid, referred to as “the mother of all anti-oxidants” and one of the most powerful selenium, the mineral for any dog and zinc especially for male dogs coenzyme

Q 10 for nearly complete cardio-vascular protection

Carotenoids such as beta-carotene for such organs as skin, eyes

Brain Curcuminoids such as tumeric root for cancer prevention

Saponins such as lycopene or tomato extract for organ tissues

Flavonoids such as silymarins or milk thistle for the liver

Ginko Biloba for the brain

Grape Seed Extract or resveratrol, the anti-aging nutrient

Polysaccharides from medicinal mushrooms or other herbal products for cancer prevention and to enhance the immune system (Consulting an herbal expert is highly recommended) organosulfurs as found in cabbage, broccoli, kale

Before we leave the world of nutrients, there is one very important addition almost every dog can use: essential fatty acids. A family of several members called the Omega series these are required for proper metabolism, reducing the risk of heart disease, and playing an important role in keeping inflammation everywhere in check. Because these EFA's cannot be made by the body, they must be supplemented. Omega-3 is perhaps the most important and comes primarily from cold, North Atlantic fish oil. Dogs can be given fish oil capsules as well as fed wild salmon. However, dogs do not do as well on the plant sources of omega-EFA's such as flax seed. Omega-6 comes from grains and Omega-9 can be gotten from drizzling a small amount of pressed, virgin olive oil on food. There are new versions of omega series including 5, 7, and others.

This is by no means a complete list. If you have a young dog, you may want to begin with a straight forward vitamin/mineral supplement or a product such as Missing Link. As the dog grows older, general supplementation with glutathione and other enzymes could be enough. Dealing with individual concerns such as genetic predispositions to cardiovascular problems, adverse vision changes, musculoskeletal degeneration, and even cancer need to be addressed specifically and best begun with a visit to a good holistic practitioner such as a naturopath or an herbalist . Together you can set up a program tailored to your concerns and your dog's needs. With all the information available from research in nutraceuticals, you can plot a course for your dog's whole life. A great diet and using nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, supplements, and herbs is empowering. Taking those first steps into this world of medicine is a journey not an end, for you and for the happiest, healthiest dog ever.

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