Nutrition as Therapy

Natural Feeding

(general to all species)

A healthy diet is the foundation upon which we build health.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”
attr. Hippocrates (circa 460 – 357 B.C.)

We say:

Healthy animals need a healthy diet to maintain health.

Sick, injured or ill animals need a healthy diet to optimize healing capability.

Performance animals need a healthy diet for optimum performance and stamina.

Young animals need a healthy diet for optimum growth and development.

Older animals need a healthy diet to preserve their faculties and energy levels.

Each species, whether furry, hairy, scaly or feathered, needs a healthy, fresh species-suitable diet for optimum health.

In our opinion, manufactured diets and feeds are neither a natural option nor a healthy one, in most cases (see below). They serve a commercial purpose extremely well, however, which is not likely to be the top priority for an animal carer who is bent on optimizing an animal's health and longevity.

Natural Feeding – Horses (and Ponies)

Natural Feeding – Dogs

Natural Feeding – Cats

FAQ Natural Feeding

All patients at the AVMC are offered advice on feeding species-suitable natural fresh diets, as the basis of a health program (nutritional therapy) and as part of the holistic approach to a case. This is because there is no clear boundary between nutrition and medicine. In some cases of disease, we may raise certain nutrients (e.g. specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals etc.) in the short term, to achieve our medical and therapeutic objective, later relaxing back to a maintenance regimen, for the longer term.

The same principles apply, whatever the species. Only the detail is adapted to each species.

What is it? These by-words help to define it:

species-suitable : fresh : wholesome : variety : moderation

preferably organic : artificial additive-free

We have a very simplistic view, at the AVMC. Ideal nutrition derives from a fresh, varied and preferably organic diet, in keeping with the evolved needs of each species (i.e. species suitable), whether horse or dog, fish or fowl. Anything other than this will be detrimental, to varying degrees. Healing depends upon nutrition as the safe foundation and we believe there is no such thing as good medicine without good nutrition. This is positive health and, once a case has been cured, it makes good preventive health management. When a fresh, high quality, preferably organic diet is fed, there is little need for supplements. However, we often use herbs as a source of natural vitamins and minerals, including various seaweed supplements, brewers yeast and garlic, when considered necessary. We practice holistic veterinary medicine; advising on natural nutrition is an integral part of that approach whenever we are confronted with a sick animal.

The logic is, of course, that feeding such diets, before illnesses occur, makes good common-sense health preservation. We would also prefer to maintain health than to treat disease, rewarding though the latter can be.

An added bonus is that we find that older animals, who have consistently been fed in this way and not over-vaccinated or over-drugged, seem to find a natural, gentle and dignified way out of this world, in the time, place and manner of their own choosing. It seems that they are better able to order their own existence and function, from beginning to end.

Manufacturers hold a different view, because there is no money to be made from fresh food diets, sourced and prepared by the ‘owner'. They wish to push ‘product‘ (equine compound feeds, canned pet food or freeze-dried complete diets), with its massive and lucrative ‘add-on’ value, advertising in such a way as to make ‘owners' feel inadequate, guilty and fearful to do anything but feed manufactured products. The price that can be obtained by the manufacturers depends on the perception of value created by advertising, marketing, packaging, promotion and convenience.

This engineered cultural block leads to a mental inconsistency. ‘Owners' often feel that they and their families would be better on a wholesome, organic diet, yet many do not make the same connection in the case of their animals. Manufactured feeds generally suffer loss of quality in safety and nutrition, during the heavy processing involved, besides the possibility of inclusion of unsuitable ingredients. We believe fresh natural foodstuffs (preferably organic) to be a healthier alternative to manufactured products.

N.B.: Whatever a manufacturer may say, freeze-dried foods are not ‘natural' and seldom wholesome!

Practical Application

From a client:

“Suffice it to say that my two dogs have now made the change to ‘real’ food and seem to be enjoying it. B—-’s crusty nose is looking blacker and shinier than it ever has, if that is anything to go by. L— is slowly beginning to look a bit less spherical, so it’s worth the effort.”

When planning a diet for an animal, the simple rationale to follow is to look at a wild equivalent species and study its diet. Broadly speaking, such a diet or similar is likely to be healthy for our domestic species.

This clearly rules out animal or fish products from a herbivore’s diet. Nonetheless, a number of commercial feeds and supplements fly in the face of this simple wisdom. Added sugar, commonly in the form of molasses, also has an adverse effect on the bowel flora of horses, hence on digestion and metabolism and thereby on behavior, immune capability and physical health (horses are primarily fibre digesters). Wild horses would not encounter cow's milk in their natural habitat, the prairie, but it appears in several food and supplement products. Grazing should be on traditional pasture, not adulterated with agro-chemicals. The same applies to grass-based products (e.g. hay, haylage, dried grass, grass nuts), which should not have been fertilized with artificial nitrogen during growth.

The same logical thought process and biological principle can also be applied to the diet of a dog. We look at the wolf, the nearest obvious wild relative and use that as a model. Wolves are carnivores and scavengers, who eat killed prey and carrion but who also eat roots, fruit and herbage, along with the ingesta of their prey. This implies that the chewing of large chunks of raw meat and gnawing on bones is healthiest for dogs, in addition to other fresh dietary components e.g. vegetables (dogs have no nutritional requirement for grain starch and, in some, it may even be harmful). Depending upon the dog, the household and the family lifestyle, freshly killed animals from the road (fresh road kill) can also be used.

Cats are most likely descended from the desert-dwelling wild cats of North Africa. These animals make a useful model when discussing the ideal natural diet of a domestic cat. catch wild prey and drink little water. Their natural diet is therefore fresh meat, tissue, bone, offal and herbage-rich ingesta from freshly-killed prey animals. Given the opportunity, they would also catch fish. Unlike dogs, cats are very prone to food poisoning, depending upon fresh food to avoid that risk. This means that receptacles must be clean and food cannot be left down indefinitely. They are not scavengers or carrion eaters.

Tooth health of all species is critically affected by diet. Manufactured foods for dogs and cats permit or encourage plaque and tartar formation, resulting in gingivitis, gum recession and eventual tooth loss. Sugars in horse diets lead to enamel weakness and concentrate feeding can lead to tartar and to incorrect tooth wear – Teeth (Horses & Ponies) : Teeth & Teething (Dogs & Cats).

Whether feeding dogs, feeding cats, feeding horses or feeding ponies, the principles are the same. Only the special needs, susceptibilities and capabilities of each species have to be considered. Feeding animals is not difficult, until it comes to production animals, who have increased demand for certain critical nutrients. Particularly in the case of dairy cows, dairy sheep or dairy goats, production animals can live on a knife-edge. For this reason, I have studied the nutrition of farm species, allowing a full dietary appraisal for health, as a crucial part of health management on the farm. I studied the Agricultural Sciences Tripos, at Cambridge. In the 70’s and 80’s, when I ran a very busy farm practice, in addition to treating other species, I was personally examining over 600 cows per week on routine visits. The health of these cows was mostly achieved through diet, with homeopathic medication for fertility and such-like problems, on an individual basis when needed. Good nutrition work would, however, mostly remove the need for medication.

Some common disease conditions whose causes are likely to have a large, major or sole dietary component are: temperament problems, poor appetite, poor condition, poor doers, poor coat condition, poor body condition, poor hoof quality, laminitis, arthritis, behavioural problems, tooth eruption, dental health, oral hygiene, plaque, tartar, gum health, gingivitis, stomach ulcer (gastric ulcer), bloat, hyperexcitability, nervousness, aggression, chronic diarrhoea, malabsorption, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), bone development problems, skeletal problems, rickets, skeletal development, exercise tolerance, development problems, tying up, myoglobinuria, setfast, azoturia, pregnancy toxaemia, milk fever, eclampsia, dystochia, birth problems, stamina, heart condition and allergy.

The AVMC's service for farm clients includes the option of in-depth nutrition and diet input, as part of an integrated program. There is a discount for home educating families, Soil Association members and members of the BDAA (organic).

Other Pages of related interest:

Make no mistake, this is big business:

In 2009 the value of the UK pet food market grew to over £2billion – up in value by 10% from 2008.

The UK horse food market is possibly worth about £1billion but is less accurately monitored.


I have just (2012) been greeted by a free sample of dog food (freeze-dried fresh meat and other ingredients) from New Zealand! Has the human race really gone that barmy that we in the UK should import dog food all the way from New Zealand? On the pack it even claims environmental points as the freeze-drying reduces 70-80% of weight for transport. Nonetheless, flying dog food half-way around the world seems utter madness to me*, not to mention the fact that the food claims to be ‘natural' when there is nothing natural about freeze-drying! Evidence is emerging that proteins are altered by the process, polyphenol (a cell-protecting food constituent) and some vitamin content (e.g. ascorbic acid) may be lost. The packaging states “just by adding warm water, every fresh food detail returns”. One wonders if there are trade description issues here.

*Don't come the environment with me Sonny J!

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