In my previous posts about Piri and his cancer journey, I mentioned a few times about how, knowing what I know now, there would be some things I would do differently. One of them being his diet and adding supplements that improve overall health.
Piri was my brother's dog and was cared mostly by my parents (they all lived in the same home) for the first 7 years of his life. I am not sure what food he was on, but I think it was one of the brands that you can buy from a grocery store.
When he came to live with me in 2006, at the age of 7, I began to read dog forums and decided to switch him over to Science Diet. I thought I was switching him over to something better. I can't recall exactly, but I don't think there were many outlets to learn about holistic and natural food for dogs back then. Either I am right and times have changed or the information and outlets have always been there and I have just become more aware and proactive about learning in the recent years. I think though the 2007 pet food recalls triggered something in the pet consumer, which gave rise to more people seeking a better diet for their dogs. (We receive an email notification still from Dog Food Advisor whenever there is a recall. You can also sign up here to receive updates).
I too tried to switch over to Wellness around then. Unfortunately Piri didn't do so well. We switched him over slowly and gradually over a span of few weeks, and while he was adjusting fairly well during transition period, when we had completely switched him over he was having so much gas. We decided to put him back on Science Diet (he got a 5.8 oz can for breakfast and dinner and had dry food out all the time for free feeding, which he ate when he wanted throughout the day) and everything returned to normal.
With treats he got 2 (sometimes 3 for special occasions) per day - mostly Science Diet but he did well eating others like Wellness, Blue Buffalo, Greenies and such. He also got fruits and vegetables. His favorites were apples, watermelon, mangos and carrots. During the fall he enjoyed chestnuts. Piri did get chews in the beginning but later on they made his gums bleed so we ended up not giving it to him.
Piri was put on two supplements at the age of 7 - Cosequin for his joints and fish oil, which we got from the vet's office. It was mainly for his itchy, flaky skin. He also had very bad hot spots when the weather got hot. I can't recall when but after being on fish oil, his skin dramatically improved and he didn't suffer from hot spots until most recently when he wasn't able to take fish oil well because his appetite had dramatically waned from being old and sick.
Two years ago, when we met other dog loving friends in Virginia, I decided to try again and switch Piri's food, this time to Blue Buffalo. By then I had realized that Science Diet wasn't all that great of a diet but was hesitant in switching over because he wasn't having any issues with his current food. His stool was perfect. He went at the same time every day without fail. And he NEVER missed a meal. So why change? I reasoned, "Because I wanted something better for him."
So we did as we had with Wellness and began to slowly and gradually switch him over. And it was the same -- he did well until we completely switched over and then he was plagued with diarrhea for the next few days.
Then during an annual senior wellness exam at the Vet's office he was diagnosed with kidney disease.
I am not suggesting that the new diet caused kidney disease. Starting from a couple years back he was gradually losing weight. I showed my concern to the vet but he said it was because he was getting old. His urine test "kind of suggested" that he can be on the borderline of having kidney disease but it wasn't concerning. I remember later recalling this conversation and being so furious. It didn't bode well in the deep mistrust I had developed already from having encountered one too many frustrating experiences at the vet's office.
For the next year, Piri would be put on Hill's Prescription K/D diet. He did well on it during the first few months but then he began to not like it. He didn't want to eat. He skipped meals. This to some folks may not be as alarming because there are finicky eaters out there. Dogs will eat when they are hungry. Just let him be. But Piri was never like that. He never missed a meal. He always loved all kinds of food. So it was alarming to me because it was really out of his character.
I began to add low sodium chicken stock, white bread and boiled egg whites for taste (the egg for nutrition). That got him to eat his food once again but it wasn't consistent and there were days when we still struggled.
During this time I had many people tell me that I was giving him crap food; ingredients that were harmful. I knew that. I felt guilty already, but I didn't know what to do. And reading on a kidney disease discussion forum from people who said "they would never give their dogs that stuff", I felt I was letting Piri down big time. That I wasn't good enough to care for him. That I was literally killing him. At the same time, I was scared to give him meat (high in protein, which we are told is bad for dogs with kidney disease, although many would disagree) and he was doing ok on prescription food. Perhaps it was still keeping him alive. Perhaps this crap food was what was keeping him going.
There were days when we still gave chicken and boiled white rice with vegetables and fruits and boiled (or baked) Korean sweet potatoes for taste, but his main diet was Hills Prescription K/D (and we went through all the flavors in both wet and dry food -- original, beef, chicken, lamb, the stews, you name it). I would later change my view on K/D diets and rely on homecooked meals for Piri (this after having learned immensely through DogAware).
Piri was taking fish oil and Cosequin all this time, but we had added three new supplements -- Solid Gold Seameal, which was introduced to us by a friend. We read a couple of accounts from people who said their dogs didn't like it too much, but Piri had no trouble eating it with his food. We also added Dr. Harvey's Coenzyme Q10, which is for cardiovasular health but we started to give it to him because it also benefits the kidneys (and we later found out that it is helpful for dogs with cancer.)
Fish Oil and Coenzme Q10 have been two supplements we relied heavily on. The final supplement added was VetriScience Renal Essentials (Piri took the chews but it looks like the tablet form is only available for dogs now). We were only able to keep Piri interested on the Renal Essential for a few months as his appetite wasn't always there for him to take it on a regular basis.
Then last summer, Piri came down with a nasty case of Urinary Tract Infection. I thought I was really going to lose him. After numerous trips to the vet's office and going through a whole host of medications, Piri finally came back around. And we struggled once more to get him to eat something. There was no way he was going to eat his prescription K/D food and so we tried different brands like -- I and Love and You, Merrick, Just Food for Dogs. But nothing worked.
We ended up ignoring everything related to protein and phosphorous intake for Piri to maintain his kidneys (except the food we ordered from Just Food for Dogs, which was made specifically for dogs with kidney disease) because we needed him to eat something. When nothing worked, I ended up trying Green Tripe from Merrick (we had wanted Solid Gold Green Tripe but at the time they were trying to find a new reliable source and needed to go through a research and development phase to start producing Green Tripe cans again. No stores carried them but now they are back in stock -- Solid Gold Green Tripe is also listed as a commercial food diet acceptable for dogs with kidney disease as it is rich in nutrients and relatively low in phosphorus). Green tripe lasted for a few weeks until his appetite changed once again, this time back to prescription K/D diet.
Then early this year when he was diagnosed with cancer, everything changed. Everything we were doing in terms of kidney disease diet took a back seat. Now we were solely focused on giving him a cancer diet -- meats, quality protein, high in fat, no carbs.
We quickly realized that coming up with a diet that fit his cancer, kidney and later pancreas needs proved difficult as one illness needed something the other couldn't have.
It was around this time when we switched everything over to a homecooked meal. We bought everything organic. New commercial dog foods that helped when he wasn't feeling his homecooked meals were Weruva Dog in the Kitchen pouches, Open Farm and Wysong. During the last couple of months, Piri would end up preferring Ceasar wet food, which I gave to him reluctantly, and would pass up on so much more -- Fromm, Taste of the Wild, Zignature, The Honest Kitchen, Earthborn, just to name a few.
New supplements were once again introduced (Piri was still on coq10, and fish oil but we switched over to Nordic Naturals, and we switched out Cosequin for Ark Naturals. He was no longer taking Solid Gold Seameal) - Goat's Milk, Turmeric, Bone Broth and Turmeric, Coconut Oil, Spirulina, which was suggested by a friend on Instagram.
At first the Goat's Milk and Bone Broth with Turmeric served as an appetite stimulant for Piri when he wasn't feeling his food. It was also filled with great nutrition for Piri. But he would get tired of them in a couple of months.
Piri was on and off with Turmeric and Spirulina, which both came in powder forms and eventually stopped taking them. And he became sick of coconut oil rather quickly.
And then came the liquid herbal supplements -- Milk Thistle, Mellit, Es Clear, Tripsy, Turmeric, Maitake and Rehmannia 8. By this time, it was hard to give supplements and medicine in pill format (and powder as well) to Piri and liquid forms proved to be easier to administer.
When I look at our story arc, I can't help but think we started on some key supplements too late (too much - over supplementing, too late). I can't help but regret not having switched over to a good quality diet and kept his teeth clean.
We never missed a comprehensive annual exam but when I look back I feel as though we could have done a better job of maintaining his health through good food and supplements.
Some people can look at his whole story though and see it in a completely different light. Piri lived to be 17. Whatever he was eating was fine. Holistic, natural or not, Piri lived to be 17. Any pet parent would be lucky to have their dog live that long.
That is true. We were so lucky. But seeing him so sick and thin as a rail during his golden years broke out hearts, and we only wish we could have done a little more to maybe have prevented his illnesses.
Perhaps it wouldn't have. Perhaps it would have. But if given another chance, knowing what I know, I would have been a bit more conscious about what I fed Piri, early on, way before he was sick. I would've been proactive and not reactive by switching to healthier options only when he was diagnosed with kidney disease and cancer.
Some of the dog food products we came to love while researching for Piri when he became ill were:
- Open Farm
- The Honest Kitchen
But I have also realized that homecooking for Piri has also been extremely rewarding and it gave me a peace of mind (picking out quality ingredients and sometimes using vegetables grown from our own garden). While I hesitated with giving him a homecooked meal when he wa diagnosed with kidney disease, I do believe it is manageable. I do believe starting him on sub-q fluids early helped tremendously.
I have looked into a raw diet (commercial) but switching Piri over to that seemed too risky because of his age and he wasn't fond of freeze dried raw toppers. We have heard wonderful things however with raw diets.
Supplements that we relied heavily on were:
- Fish Oil
- Coenzyme Q10
Supplements I wish we had started him on earlier, on a rotational basis are:
Costs can be a big concern when trying to feed our dogs quality food and provide them with quality supplements as well. In terms of food, I think rotational feeding can be helpful (so that you are not buying one expensive brand exclusively all the time) and we have found that chewy.com offers good prices.
If cost is still a concern, perhaps researching, speaking with your vet (or a holistic vet) and choosing one or two absolutely needed supplements that will help your dog now and in the long-run could be a starting point.
I am not an expert on pet nutrition and diet and so it is important that you really do your own research (and there are so many sources out there now) and consult with your veterinarian. While natural supplements are good all around, sometimes there are also precautions to take (for instance, Turmeric can be known to be a blood thinner).
However, perhaps I don't have a clearer understanding and experience in having multiple dogs or larger sized dogs who eat more. And perhaps worrying about cost is just a different level than the worry that I am even imagining. I am always open to how to's from pet parents who have gone through this and has made it work with their large dogs in an effort to always educate myself as well.
Thank you for reading.
November is Pet Cancer Awareness month. I decided to write a few posts throughout the month of November to share Piri's cancer journey. Thank you for following along.