What Should I Feed Fido & Fluffy?

January 8, 2014 


Happy New Year to all our WBAH clients and their furry friends! As promised, it’s time for the second entry of the Veterinarian’s Blog. As it is every year, most people make New Year’s resolutions to get healthier, exercise, lose weight, etc. Well, that’s an admirable goal for all of us but it’s also a good plan for our pets. So, today, let’s talk about cat and dog nutrition. Now, as it was with the first blog entry, this too will be my personal opinion. It is an opinion based on 30 plus years as a veterinarian, including but not limited to nutritional education in veterinary school, reviews of current medical literature and presentations at professional meetings as well as firsthand knowledge of how a poor diet can negatively affect an animal. 


So why the qualifying statement you may ask? I believe the field of nutrition, both veterinary and human, is filled with people who consider themselves “experts”. It seems that if you have internet access, you can become an expert. With some slick packaging on your website, you can become a highly regarded expert. We all eat, so we all develop an opinion on nutrition. I have to wonder what the professionals who have devoted their careers and lives to nutrition think about the unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of certain ingredients, fad diets or alternative meal plans. As a veterinarian, it can be frustrating to listen to claims about meal plans unsubstantiated by fact or research, offered by so called “highly regarded experts” who can easily be a 19 year old salesperson in the dog food aisle at your local pet supply store simply hiding anonymously behind a keyboard. So, let’s try to dispel some myths and set the record straight and get our furry friends on the right track. We could literally talk for days on this subject, but for now let’s concentrate on commercial foods and alternative nutrition such as home cooked or raw food diets. 


But before we delve into all of that, let me first state that the most important thing to cross the lips of your dog or cat is fresh, clean drinking water. Always have plenty available. This is crucial for their health and well-being. And one more thing that goes hand in hand with a good meal plan is exercise. It’s just as important to your pets as it is to you and I. Activity keeps them healthy and happy and also keeps their weight under control. Obesity can cause serious health issues in cats and dogs, especially as they grow older. Obesity in humans has been labeled an epidemic in this country. While not quite the same in the world of our pets, obesity is growing at a very quick pace. So much so in fact that special commercial foods are now produced by many manufacturers that assist with weight control and weight loss. The best one I have seen in years is a new line by Hill’s Science Diet called “Metabolic Diet”. I’ve had great success with this diet in both clients and in my own home. I have a cat that has dropped a considerable amount of weight and will now live a much healthier life.


But how are our pets gaining all this extra weight? I find it’s not necessarily over feeding of the food an owner chooses for their pet. It seems to be an overabundance of treats. Pet treats that come from a pet supply store or worse yet, the owner’s table scraps. We need to keep in mind that our pets are not garbage disposals. They don’t need our leftovers. What we choose to eat is usually a bit richer and higher in calories than our pets are built to deal with. Table scraps can upset the sensitive stomachs of your pets and should be avoided. There are also many foods that animals cannot digest properly and some of those foods can make your pets very sick or possibly even lead to an accidental poisoning or worse. Foods to keep in mind that should NEVER be given to your pet include but are not limited to onions, grapes, raisins and currants, chocolate, macadamia nuts and xylitol which is found in sugar free gum and candy. A full of list of dangerous foods is readily available on the internet. In case of an after-hours accidental ingestion of one of these foods or any household cleaners or human medications, you should call the animal poison control center at 888-426-4435 for instruction.   


Commercial Foods  

The vast majority of commercially available foods that meet AAFCO standards are perfectly fine for the needs of most dogs and cats. They are easy to feed, with minimal preparatory effort. This is also what most veterinary board certified nutritionists say as well. A very important point to remember is that homemade diets typically have not undergone animal feeding trials or even laboratory analysis to confirm that they support the life stage for which they were designed. With commercially available foods that part of the dilemma is resolved, with different diets by the same company developed for different stages of the pet’s life. There are several good pet food companies with long track records of excellence in nutrition and nutritional research (these include but are not limited to Hill’s Science Diet, Iam’s/Eukanuba, Nutro, Royal Canin and Purina). If you and your vet are happy with the health of your dog or cat and there seem to be minimal issues surrounding your pet’s diet, then my advice would be, why change? 


Home Cooked Diets  

There seems to be an increase in the interest and use of home prepared diets. Some of that is fueled by issues in the pet food industry with recalled foods. This is a valid concern. This however has led to the perception that commercially available pet foods are all lower grade foods and therefore unhealthy. This is not the case. This perception is readily exploited by manufacturers of “niche” commercial dog foods. It is important to realize that no feeding approach is without potential pitfalls and it is important to assess the risks and benefits of all feeding regimes with the help of currently available scientific evidence. 

So, what about pet owners who are no longer comfortable with commercial diets, or have a pet that won’t eat a commercial diet, or they simply feel that preparing a homemade diet ensures they are going the extra mile for their pets and giving them the very best possible shot at excellent nutrition? There are also animals with medical problems that may do better on a home cooked diet than they do on a commercial diet or a prescription diet. One of the more common conditions where homemade diets have been extremely useful is in managing food allergies. Can a properly prepared a “home cooked diet” work? The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is, it takes a great deal of commitment to do it properly. Benefits of home cooked diets include palatability, high digestibility and ability to control exactly the ingredients and/or nutrient levels of the diet. The diet can be made to the exact needs of that particular pet. Which leads to the question of “how do we know the exact needs of that particular pet”? This is where the real experts come into play. 

 Homemade diets should be formulated by consulting your veterinarian who will work closely with a board certified veterinary nutritionist. Some of the best veterinary nutritionists are located at The Nutrition Support Center aligned with the veterinary school at UC Davis. Through a website called www.balanceit.com, they offer a great deal of support for the home cook. You are asked a few basic questions about your pet’s age, status/gender, weight and body condition (don’t worry, that last one has a drop down menu to choose from….or you can just ask your veterinarian). After you enter this information, you are able to look through various recipes and chose one that sounds good for you and your pet. Upon choosing a recipe, you are provided with a complete breakdown of that recipe including calories needed for your pet, percentage of protein vs.carbohydrates vs. fat as well as how much balancing powder you need to supply your pet with the necessary vitamins and minerals required for them to stay healthy. This service is free of charge and you can even click on any health issues your pet may have. If that option is chosen, a nutritionist will request authorization from your veterinarian and once approved, they will send you a menu based on those special dietary needs for the medical condition or conditions you selected. As I said, it does take a good deal of commitment on your part to do this the right way. I have clients that chose to do this that tell me it isn’t much more expensive to do than buying a bag of dry food. BUT it is a substantial time commitment, both in preparation and feeding. If you home cook, you need to do it right, all in. Doing it wrong can severely compromise the health of your pet. Recipes must be followed and substitutions should not be made without consulting a certified veterinary nutritionist. There is a very delicate balance with this home cooking so the devil is in the details. 

 The advantages of feeding a home cooked diet are lost when a generic recipe is used off of the internet or from random books. These recipes are not custom made for your pet, and include Vague ingredients, such as “ground beef” (unspecified fat content), “cooked chicken” (unspecified cut and method of cooking), or multivitamin (what type, what one, human? animal?). Pet multivitamins are generally formulated to be safe when added to commercial diets so the levels of potentially toxic nutrients (such as Zinc, Vitamin A and D among others) are not provided in excessive amounts. That does not mean that a multivitamin added to a batch of a home cooked food is adequate or balanced. It is not. There are also potential disadvantages in the impossibility of performing feeding tests to ensure nutritional adequacy. When feeding a homemade diet, it’s a good idea to have blood work done a regular basis in the beginning to make sure all your pet’s needs are being met. In a study published in the 90’s that evaluated 116 home cooked diets, 90% were not nutritionally adequate for adult maintenance according to current recommendations at that time. We have come a considerably long way since then in formulating diets for ‘home cooking”, but the best way to formulate a home cooked diet is in consultation with a certified veterinary nutritionist. We also use the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists www.acvn.org which is another great option to review. 



Raw Foods  

Proponents of raw food diets are often very passionate in their defense of this type of meal plan. It is the closest thing to arguing politics in the exam room. I have found them to be conscientious owners who want the best thing for their pets (they are willing to go to all the trouble to prepare these foods).But, they don’t have a veterinary nutritionist in their kitchen. There is lack of scientific evidence to support any health benefit of feeding raw diets compared to commercial diets or to home cooked diets. However, there are many websites that provide testimonials and success stories of animals fed raw diets and evidence of their superiority to home cooked or to commercially available diets. These claims are fairly extensive and are not supported by any study published in any reputable scientific journal that I’m aware of. There are 3 main types of raw food diets; 


  1. Home prepared, such as recommended by Dr. Billinghurst (B.A.R.F. – Biologically Appropriate Raw Food)  http://www.barfworld.com/html/barf_diet/barfdiet.shtml 
  2. Combination diets a premix can be bought to mix with a raw meat. 
  3. Bones and raw food diet (usually sold frozen). 


There are 3 major issues as related to feeding raw food diets: 

1. Nutritional adequacy of home prepared raw foods can suffer from the same nutritional inadequacies as home cooked diets, unbalanced, vague in instruction and nutrient drift (ingredients being substituted at will). 

2. Many of these diets rely on bones to provide enough calcium the bioavailability of calcium varies depending on type and size of bone used. There are published papers showing problems with calcium and phosphorus balance in raw food diets. Bones can also cause intestinal foreign body obstructions, gut perforation, and constipation. They can also break teeth. 

3. Bacterial contamination – there are numerous published papers documenting bacterial contamination of raw meat. Pathogens (harmful bacteria), such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli 0157:H7, Clostridium perfringens.

 The percentage of bacteria found in these raw meat sources ranged from 40-60%. The risk here is not just to the dog or cat being fed these raw meat diets. It is to the human preparing the foods as well as other humans in the household. Organisms such as salmonella are very difficult to get rid of once environmental contamination has occurred. The high risk population is the young (your kids, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems). There are numerous studies documenting the nutritional inadequacies of a raw diet which I have listed at this end of this article. I offer these because I feel that I have a role here to educate. There is no known health benefit of feeding a raw food diet. Dr. Freeman (DVM, PhD, DAVCN), published a top ten myth list about raw foods diets which can be found here: http://www.tufts.edu/vet/nutrition/resources/raw_meat_diets.pdf . I also recognize that, like politics, there’s usually nothing that can be said to convince a mind that’s already made up. With that said and in the interest of safety, I must at least address some common sense practices if raw foods are going to be fed: 


  1. Hand hygiene is critical – hands must be thoroughly washed before and after handling raw meat. 
  2. Do not store raw meat where it will come in contact with other food items. 
  3. All items that raw meat comes in contact with should be disinfected after use. Ex. Cutting boards, knives, feeding dishes etc. 
  4. Cutting boards for raw meat should NOT be used for anything else. EVER.  5. Bowls should be thoroughly cleaned to remove debris and then disinfected. 
  5. High risk individuals (mentioned earlier) should not have contact with feeding this kind of diet. 
  6. Fecal contamination of the environment should be cleaned promptly, and wash hands after contact with feces. 


So the conclusion I must reach as a veterinarian is to advise my clients against the feeding of raw food diets. For most of you, this is common sense. For those that choose to feed raw food diets, I suspect I will convince only a small percentage of you. For those thinking of feeding a raw food diet, maybe I’ve reached you and you’ll think twice in consideration of the information provided here. 


In my long blog on diets, I have not addressed vegan or vegetarian diets for dogs and cats, or the current fad of “grain free diets”. I will do so briefly. We cannot make a cat into a vegetarian. Cats are obligate carnivores. No currently available vegan diet meets the minimum nutrient amounts in the AAFCO cat food nutrient profiles. It cannot be at all recommended for cats. The long term nutritional adequacy for these kinds of diets for dogs is unclear. My advice would be to avoid. About grain free diets – when did grains become bad? In looking at food allergies in dogs, the only grain commonly in the top food allergens is wheat. Corn (commonly blamed for a lot of ills) did not even make the top ten. Feed grain free diets if you so choose as long as they meet the AAFCO standards, but there is currently no evidence that a diet free of grains is far superior to feeding any other commercial pet food. 

Well, digging into foods has been fun. Next week I will tackle some other fun topic like  ???? 


Dr. Voorheis 




These are the studies documenting nutritional inadequacies of raw food diets: 

(Vet Dermatol 1992;3 2328  

Abstract Forum American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Baltimore, MD 2005), contamination of raw foods ( J Vet Diagn Invest. 1993;5 (3): 3727,  

J Vet Diagn Invest. 1993; 5(3) 378385;  

Finley R. Msc Thesis, University of Guelph, 2005, J Am Vet Med Assoc


(5): 705709.), fecal shedding of pathogens (Can Vet J. 2007; 8 (1); 6975), clinical infection (J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2003; 39 (6): 53842), environmental contamination (Can Vet J. 2006;47 (9): 887889),  documenting human infection (J. Clin Microbiol. 2003;41 (10): 457882).  

Looking Forward to 2014

Happy New Year to all and welcome to my weekly blog! This year promises to be one of huge growth and positive change for Washington Blvd. Animal Hospital. There are many things on deck for 2014, the most important of which will be revealed at the end of this entry. It’s my cliff hanger so to speak!

Why a blog you might ask? I have started this blog in an effort to share a little bit of myself and my journey in both veterinary medicine and on a more personal level with the clients here at WBAH. My goals are to educate, amuse and grow your confidence in your own ability to help your pets live a great life. It will also be a great journal for me to look back on. I am being trusted with your very precious furry friends, so I figure we should get to know each other a little better. My hope is that you will all enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy sharing it with you. If you smile, laugh and learn a little bit, my goals will have been accomplished. We’ll cover everything from carefree topics like aquaponic gardening and long distance backpacking to useful veterinary/medical topics in an effort to grow your knowledge and confidence in dealing with your pet’s health. A little bit of everything I’d like to say…sort of “a year in the life of Dr. Voorheis”. So, let’s start with the basics…who am I anyway? Well, I am a veterinarian, a general practitioner with a special interest in surgery and oncology. But let’s step back and find out how this all came about.

The beginning seems to be a logical place to start. I am the middle child of 5, four boys and one girl and my formative years were spent in a rural setting. In those days, we self entertained. My brothers and I truly loved baseball. We all played and I was hooked from the moment I put on my first glove. Watch the movie Sandlot- that was the Voorheis boys in a nutshell. Aside from baseball, my family raised goats, chickens, sheep, cattle and pigs on a “backyard” farm in Norco. I was heavily involved in the local 4H club and primarily raised small ruminants (cloven hoofed mammals with four “stomachs”). My family was into sustainable farming before it ever became a popular term. We were pretty much into growing our own vegetables and fruit as well, and my mom canned what we did not eat as fresh. To the amusement of my younger veterinary colleagues, yes I have churned cream to make butter and I have made ice cream from goat’s milk/cream… although I have long since forgotten how.
My interest in veterinary medicine began at a young age, and from the time I was 12, it has been the only career that I could ever see myself in. The local veterinarian was a very special person in our home… there is no question that he sparked my interest in veterinary medicine. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to be a veterinarian, he encouraged me, as I have to numerous kids who have mentioned the same thing to me. I have passed on the same advice he gave me as well, which is “study hard, do well in school (A’s are a good thing) and don’t let go of the goal”. As I grew older he would allow me to ride on calls with him. We have remained friends to this day.

In high school, I buckled down and began to focus on my goal of becoming a veterinarian. I came across my high school yearbook once and many references included “good luck as a vet”, so it was well known that this was to be my path. After high school, I attended Cal Poly Pomona and graduated with top honors and a BS in Zoology. Next it was on to UC Davis where I received my DVM in 1982. This was a great year for two reasons. The DVM being one and meeting Suzy (my now wife) being the other.
Suzy and I have known and worked closely together since 1982. I have watched her grow professionally from an assistant to the best vet tech at WBAH. Many years went by with us enjoying a great working relationship and then a little bit of life happened to each of us. We each, independently, had a first marriage dissolve. After that happened, we began dating. Needless to say, we quickly found that we were soul mates. She is my partner and my rock in every sense of the word. She has taught me to let my guard down and show the people around me how much I care, especially clients. She has made me a better veterinarian and a better man. Together, we have a fantastic blended family with my two kids, Grace and Luc and her two sons, Tyler and Ryan. All college age and beyond and all amazing, each in their own way. We also enjoy a house full of various critters including a Great Dane, a Labrador, a Doberman Pincher, a Pomeranian and three cats. I trip over chew toys on a regular basis….and I rather enjoy it.
In my free time, I enjoy some wonderful hobbies. Aquaponic gardening has become a love of mine which evolved from both traditional gardening (reference back to my childhood – but I HATE weeding so I had to find a different way) and hydroponic gardening. With hydroponics, there were chemicals to balance and I really didn’t notice a better quality to the veggies I grew. Then I came upon Aquaponics which is right up my alley. More on this later. I don’t want to spoil it because you can be sure there will be an entire blog entry on this subject!

Hiking and backpacking are my other obsessions. I have hiked and backpacked since the 70”s. It started with my older brother Jeff and has continued with other family members and friends over the years, none more special than my daughter Grace, who by the way lives her name every day. My lifelong ambition has been to hike the entire length of the John Muir Trail, all 220 miles of it. It’s 30 years beyond when I started reaching for that goal and I am still reaching. It will be done one day. More on this later. Again, there will be an entire blog entry on this topic in the near future.
But back to the “vet” in me. Being a vet is not my job, it is my profession. But more importantly, it is my true passion. It is what drives me to rise from my bed every morning. It’s in my blood and it always will be. I wake up every morning at 4:45am. I read veterinary journals and textbooks for about an hour before I feed the critters and return emails to clients. Then it’s off to the office for a day that goes about 10 hours, often more than that. Then home to read a bit more before collapsing for the night.

Sidebar- it’s a good thing Suzy and I work in the same building or she just might forget what I look like. She encourages this work ethic in me and doesn’t mind my long hours of working, reading about “work” topics and being obsessed with being the best veterinarian I can possibly be. See? Soul mates.
When I look back on the naive young man who made his way to UC Davis way back in 1978, I remember thinking that most everyone I would be going to school with would be pretty much like me, with the same goals and ideals. Thankfully I was wrong. I was no longer the brightest guy in the room. I was in a room full of bright men and women and they were all pretty much used to being “the brightest guy/gal in the room”. Over 35 years have passed since I met that motley crew. There are a few things that stand out about that group. They are an amazing bunch of diverse and wonderfully productive people. That class has produced world renowned veterinary specialists in a host of disciplines such as internal medicine, radiology, dermatology, cardiology and surgery. We have a writer for Scientific American and there is a University of Maryland dean in that class too. We have a veterinarian, who as part of his research has been able to explain a difficult to understand topic – “global warming /climate change” into what is happening on a local level (disease spread because vectors can live in areas they weren’t found in previously). We also have a significant number of outstanding general practice veterinarians each who have contributed to their communities. I am fortunate to be in that group.

Professionally, I have been fortunate to have been associated with some amazing veterinarians during my veterinary career. There are a few worth mentioning as having a profound influence on me. Richard Fink, founding veterinarian of Washington Blvd Animal Hospital; Dr. Fink is worthy of an entire blog entry himself, but suffice it to say he realized the importance of the client/pet/veterinarian relationship. He enjoyed his career, and how he loved to laugh and stir things up. He devoted his life to organized veterinary medicine and his own practice. He also realized the importance of surrounding himself with quality veterinarians as part of his own organization. Much like I do now. It has been my pleasure and honor to work with many quality veterinarians at Washington Blvd Animal Hospital. When I joined Washington Blvd. Animal Hospital, on June 1, 1983, I joined a practice that was established and already entering past its 30th year of practice. There were six of us, at the time (Drs. Fink, Whitford, McKitterick, Throgmorton, Pendray and Voorheis). Dr. Pendray and I had gone to undergraduate and veterinary school together, and had both worked at WBAH while working on our undergraduate degrees. Dr. Pendray and I have been close friends longer than anyone I have known, and even though he no longer practices at WBAH we still consult one another weekly on cases.

Each of the above veterinarians have given me something, some part of themselves to aid in the evolvement of who I have become as a veterinarian. Dr. McKitterick showed how important the vet/client relationship was and Dr. Whitford taught me the physical exam (a lost art). A special paragraph should mention Dr. Throgmorton. “Dr. T” and I
have worked together for over 30 years, been partners for nearly that length of time and it is hard to put into a few sentences what he has taught me and what I admire most about him. He is the consummate professional. He gives each client and animal his best. He keeps current through continuing education and reading journals. We are much alike in these ways. I cannot tell you how many times over the years we would be discussing a case and he has said, “Did you consider this?” This comment of course bringing in the missing piece of a puzzle. On a personal level, he has been a steadying influence on me and has always been there for me without fail. He is another rock in my life and I hold our working relationship and friendship in very high regard.
Our local specialty practices have had a strong influence on how I practice, thanks to Dr. Rosenberg and her colleagues at Veterinary Cancer Group, Drs Duesberg and Chung at Advanced Veterinary Internal Medicine, traveling board certified surgeon Dr. Cechner, and Dr. Ravi Seshadri originally at AllCare, then later at Advanced Critical Care and Internal Medicine. Each of these veterinarians and many other specialists have come to the phone and continue to come to the phone to answer and consult with me on a regular basis.

There is another group of veterinarians I have the pleasure of working with, and that is the current team of veterinarians working here at Washington Blvd Animal Hospital. This is as devoted a group of veterinarians, as passionate about their profession as any I have ever worked with. They care deeply about their individual cases, and are terrific communicators. They attend weekly rounds; they share cases well and pursue advanced diagnostics for our clients. I am happy to work with Drs. Throgmorton, Burhum, DeLaCal, Husain and To. This lively bunch keeps me on my toes and ensures that WBAH continues to provide top level veterinary care to our community.

Another group I have been very proud to be associated with is my clients. You have all taught me so much about listening and caring and what it really means to be given the privilege to care for the cats and dogs that so many of you consider family members, children even. My relationships with my clients mean the world to me and without all of you, there would be no me. So, for that I sincerely thank you all.
Dr. Fink told me long, long ago that I would probably have to tear this building down and rebuild it one day and low and behold here comes my cliff hanger……… It is our hope, to begin construction on a new hospital this year, a state of the art veterinary hospital for the City of Whittier. We are VERY excited and we hope you are too! The building will be constructed on the same property that we are on now, and yes we will remain open during the construction process. Building progress will be kept up on our website and a more personal take on construction will be noted in this blog. Plans are in front of the city as I write this. It certainly promises to be eventful! Until next week……….