I had the absolute pleasure to speak with one of my personal idols in the industry, Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, on the phone this past week, and boy did I learn a lot! I don’t think there is ever a time that Dr. Becker speaks and you don’t learn something.
If you don’t know who she is (hello – do you live under a rock?), she is a holistic veterinarian who has dedicated her life to educating her clients, the public, and all animal lovers to be advocates for their pets health and to really research the pet food you are feeding them. She is featured in the documentary Pet Fooled, and she is the most followed veterinarian on Facebook! What an honor!
If you want to change your pets life for the better, read on…
FTLOP: You’ve said in some of your previous videos that they don’t teach you much about proper pet nutrition in vet school, such as home cooked meals. How did you end up learning about it?
Dr. Becker: Great question! There are two ways that I learned. Number one, I grew up in a very proactive home. My grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid life and she was given a terrible prognosis, but she treated herself through diet and natural therapies. She lived 9 years past her prognosis!
When you grow up in your family, you don’t know what other families are like, so when I went off to college I realized that people eat terrible and they don’t exercise! It was like moving out to a different world. So I was blessed with a family that eats clean and organic! My parents are 75 and they exercise every day, always eating good.
Number two, to be honest, every though I grew up in a very healthy house, we didn’t translate that onto our family dog! My mother is cooking all these amazing meals for her family, and then we fed our dog Gravy Train! I went to vet school, I brought my dog with me, and the veterinary school gives you free dog food. For those who don’t know, pet food companies teach the majority of nutrition classes in vet school, and they also give you free pet food. Of course being a poor, starving, vet student, I fed my beloved dog this free food and made her very sick.
When I realized how sick I had made her from feeding her the veterinary prescribed diet that they were trying to get us to sell in vet school, I made a commitment to myself. If my dog lives through this awful act I have done to her, I will never sell prescription diets in my practice, and I would go on to tell the world that this entire pet food industry is not only flawed, but what a big scam it is!
I graduated from vet school bitter. I looked at all of these people who are trusting their vets with their animals, and veterinarians don’t have the balls to stand up and say, “I’m so sorry – I didn’t get the adequate training in vet school because I was payed off by the pet food companies to sell this food.” Vets are not honest with their clients about lack of nutrition training, number one, and because we aren’t taught in vet school that food even matters!
You can come in with all these massive issues that are plaguing veterinary medicine such as cancer, allergies, degenerative diseases, obesity, and veterinarians aren’t taught in vet school that food contributed to all of those issues.
How I fixed my dog is by putting her on a holistic, meat based diet. This was life changing for me, because I’m a vegetarian. It took everything I believed about meat, and flipped it on it’s head! AND I was supposed to feed it raw! My dog was totally anorexic, she was in liver failure and the internal medicine doctor said she was dying. They told me that she is not going to eat, and if she will choose to eat anything, it is going to be meat because she is a carnivore. Of course I gasped and was like, “Her favorite food is grapefruit!!” I was that girl.
I broke down and bought her a bunch of meat and ultimately ended up saving her life by changing her food. When I graduated, I came out preaching homemade, balanced, fresh food diets. I was the first vet that sold commercially available human grade, raw foods diets in her practice.
My friend Steve Brown released the first commercially available raw food diet, and he had been the formulator for all of the top pet food companies. He knew something was wrong, and he spent 30 years figuring out on his own that maybe all of this highly processed food wasn’t the best for these animals! He was the first guy in the industry to say, “I don’t think that this makes sense”!
When he came to the world of species appropriate foods, the entire industry A., shunned him, and B., he lost all of his revenue formulating dry food. He basically said “Screw you all!” and came out with a raw food. 20 years ago, it felt like it was me and Steve against the world.
The dean of the vet school that I graduated from told me that I was the most rebellious student he had ever seen, and I was not welcome back.
If you know me personally, you know that I am all about harmony, but I feel that if you know something – especially if it saves lives – you are obligated to share it. I knew that the pet food industry was telling a big fat lie, and I also knew the power of food because I had seen it first hand.
I opened my veterinary practice in 1999, all of my clients became fresh feeding clients. Not only did me creating 15,000 fresh feeding clients in the Mid-West reaffirm what I already knew to be true about species appropriate nutrition, but out of that has come one of the largest test subjects of how to avoid degenerative diseases. By doing this, it encourages pet owners to become advocates for their pets nutrition.
When a lot of people go to vets, they expect to be told what to do, what to feed. Vets generally come off as, “I know what I’m doing, you’re not a doctor, listen to me.” When my clients started coming to me, I told them that I really appreciate their trust, but I will tell you – I want you to KNOW in your heart that my recommendations are what is right for your pet. The only way to know in your heart is to dive in and do your research.
Most my clients know more about small animal nutrition than the average veterinarian. I genuinely believe that. All of these educated pet parents are starting a nation wide movement. But, they are going back to their re-active generally middle aged man veterinarians, saying, “This is what I want to do.” And we are having a control issue!
I have vets saying, “You are creative a bunch of really educated pet parents”! Vets are very critical of me because I’m really encouraging pet parents to rise up!
I’m not saying you always need to challenge your vet, but if something doesn’t resonate with you – you need to speak up and have a clear, direct, and honest conversation! Our dogs and cats loose.
FTLOP: My Shih Tzu was having chronic ear infections, and the vet put us on a prescription diet. Nothing worked until I changed my dog to a raw diet, which was never part of the discussion. Do people need to seek out holistic vets? How do you get your vet to understand?
Dr. Becker: Great question! I think there are two categories of people. There are people that will stop at nothing to get an answer, and those that are beautifully oblivious. All they want is a brand name. They don’t care why the food works, they just want to be told what to do. What happens with people is that their animals end up being harmed, damaged, or not recovering from diseases because they don’t have enough information to make good decisions.
It can be frustrating in situations like yours, because you think, “Mr. Veterinarian, why didn’t you tell me about this?” By changing your dogs food, Shelby, you have dramatically reduced the frequency of recurrence, and although you could be angry at your vet, I’m going to encourage you to look at your vet with soft heartedness because they were not taught this in vet school. They were taught how to treat symptoms.
At some point either the vet has to get vet up and wonder why nothing is working, or the client is going to get fed up. The beautiful part about getting on your knees and trying to figure out what is wrong with your dog is that it allows you to become a much more educated pet parent.
When you go back to your vet and say, “I fixed my own dog without you!” that they would ask questions about how you did it. They won’t! That’s offensive!
I will say, there are 10% of veterinaries like me, that are always learning. I love tough cases because it makes me learn more. If I have a case where I don’t have the answer, I tell them to pause while I go educate myself. If you have a veterinarian that is not like that, then fire them and get a new one.
For people who live in the middle of nowhere and can’t fire their vets, I say to consult with a proactive veterinarian via phone consult. Or, have a very honest conversation with your vet that goes something like this…
“Hey Dr. Johnson, I love you. My mothers, mothers, mothers, been going to you for 100 years. My whole family has used you forever, and I want to continue using you. However, I wanted to let you know, that I’m different than my mother and my grandma because I am 100% in charge of my dogs health and I’ve actually selected you, and you should feel loved, and you are, and I’m going to PAY you to consult with me. But A., you are not in charge, and B., you do not call the ultimate shots. I will make the decisions for the animals in my care. I’m excited to partner with you, I respect your opinion, but I am running the show.”
When you have that conversation, two things will happen…
- “Oh… I see…” and there will be a 90 second awkward silence.
- Then they will realize that this is a higher maintenance client and I’m going to have to go into all the details with them. It also lets them know that there is going to be direct and clear communication on every subject going forward so that no one is going to drop the ball and allow something to happen with your pet that you did not know about, agree to, or anticipate.
FTLOP: You really know how to reach people! That is so empowering!
Dr. Becker: I’m a little bit sad that as a vet I have to give pep talks to clients! I would think that by now we would have more pet owners saying, “We have had enough!” …
People are amazingly flexible when it comes to the amount of economic abuse that they will take from professionals. They also are tired and overworked. I just got an email this morning from a woman who said, “Listen, I’m really angry. I saw all 10,000 of your free articles online and I think you’re a crappy veterinarian for not giving an actual list of dry foods to feed.” I replied and said, “I intentionally do not give you a list! My job is to make you SO smart, that by reading an ingredient label, you know what is appropriate.”
I won’t tell them what to do, that doesn’t make them empowered. They just want the easy way out, and the easy way out may save them from this particular crisis or circumstance, but a year or two down the road when they need to make different or better decisions for their pet, they still aren’t equipped with the tools to make those decisions.
FTLOP: A lot of people will say that they don’t have time to do all of this research!
Dr. Becker: I would say to those people, you don’t have time not to! Even if you are independently wealthy, at some point you need to look at this and say, it’s not working and I’m fed up. Unfortunately people have a much bigger patience than they should, because it’s not them suffering.
Dogs are so AMAZING as pets, they will suffer in silence for years!
I will say, “Listen, this is not fair to the animal in your house, and you owe it to your animal to do the best that you can.” Which is not sitting around and waiting for something to work in a year! You owe it to that animal to figure that out right NOW.
FTLOP: You said you were condemned for going this route in veterinary medicine, did you ever feel pressure to quit and go back to kibble?
Dr. Becker: Never! Not in a single moment. I knew when I graduated as a proactive wellness veterinary, which are terms that are unheard of in veterinary medicine, that my goal was not to be popular. My parents told me that you are never going to be “well respected” in your field.
I remember having an honest conversation with my parents at graduation and saying, “The good news is, I don’t give a crap if I’m popular. I will die having changed this profession.”
I was an outsider, I just put my nose down and did what all humans should do. If you know something that is truth and needs to get out, you have an ethical and moral obligation to tell as many people as you can. I knew this and I did exactly what the universe called me to do, which is speak of the message of truth in a world of lies and deception, and within 20 years it is heartwarming to see where we have come.
In this very short period of time, we have millions of pet parents saying, “I believe that this is the best approach to not only healing my pet from diseases that they have, but the next animals that I care for I will forever do it differently because I know better.” It warms my heart. When I die, for the next generation of dogs and cats that are being born, those owners will be empowered to make better decisions than when I was born.
There are still a lot of veterinarians that hate me. I have a veterinary technician that I consult with and she works for the second largest kibble manufacturer in the world. 15 years ago people were sitting in marketing meetings with these pet food companies saying that “Dr. Becker tried to start a movement and it’s a fad! It’s not going anywhere! We will make it seem as though it’s dangerous and it could harm your dog.”
I got an email a few weeks ago from that vet tech client, and she send me a video of a power point presentation in a boardroom meeting, and my picture was up there! The man holding the meeting said, “This raw food movement, not only is it not going away, it’s the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry and we don’t know what the heck to do! It will not stop, and the worst part is that no veterinarians are supporting it – it’s happening on its own!”
This is what’s so awesome. Millions of pet owners are saying enough! They are forcing the pet food industry to improve their standards, become more transparent, and produce more species appropriate diets. The pet parents themselves are forcing a shady, dark, unethical industry to higher standards and I couldn’t be more proud.
FTLOP: To wrap this up, what should pet parents be aware of when they are buying their pet food?
Dr. Becker: There are two major issues in the pet food industry.
- We have a serious quality control issue. What is going on with the quality? Where are raw materials sources from? Are they coming from China? Is there synthetic premix coming from China (which 97% of them are)? All of those trace minerals at the bottom of the label are all imported from China with no known quality or stability. Think of the ethics of the companies the products are coming from. If they show you where their ingredients come from, and are proud to show you, that should give you some peace of mind that the company you are buying from will provide the quality you are looking for.
- Are the products they are producing species appropriate/biologically correct? Dogs and cats get about 50% of their calories from fat and 50% of their calories from protein. Carbohydrate content should be less than 10%!
What we know about 96% of the pet food on the market today is that they are at least 50% carbs or starch, which is sugar. On top of having road kill, by product meats in pet food, you have synthetic materials coming from China, THEN we heat this toxic flurry to 490 degrees and then we put it through a machine that creates toxic carcinogenic by products. When you heat proteins and starches to very high temps, you get carcinogens.
If people knew that they were feeding a sludge of toxic carcinogenic products to their pets, they would never do it! It’s the pet food industry not wanting you to know. Food will either heal, or food will harm.
Photo attribute from top left-right: DepositPhoto/Thamkc, Darwins Pet Food, Allie Plaschka, Kimberly Kelly
Keep up with Dr. Karen Becker and follow her on her social media channels:
She is also releasing a DVD about dog cancer, you can find information on that HERE.
(c)Photo of Karen Becker provided by and used with her permission.