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Pawsitively Nutritious: Serving Up the Scoop on Pet Nutrition

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. As you know, the aim with this podcast is to help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. And we try to give you tools, techniques, and tips that can help you do so. This season, we’re focusing on social wellbeing. Today’s topic is ‘Understanding your Pets Better,’ a topic aimed at helping us get to know our pets and to make the pet families, the pet parents feel better. We have with us pet nutritionist Anjali Kalachand. She’s very familiar with the pet world. She studied in the UK and then she did her animal nutrition from the University of Illinois and she started something called Nutriwoof, which is a place focused on health and wellness for pets. And she’s also started A Petter Life, which is a platform and resource for pet families. Welcome to the chat, Anjali. Thank you for being here with us today.

Anjali Kalachand: Thanks Anshu, for having me on your podcast.

AB: So, Anjali, to begin with, please tell me what got you into this world of pets and pet nutrition and pet surgery? What started you off? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

AK: Actually, I have a degree in Economics and Finance and I also worked in banking for ten years after that. I had my light bulb moment a couple of years ago when I adopted my indie, an Indian stray dog, Leo. He came to me as a bit of a malnourished puppy being astray, and then eventually presented himself with a host of skin issues and gut issues that were not getting resolved with regular standard care like processed food or changing different types of kibbles and putting him on various types of medication. And so that’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands. Because it wasn’t sitting with me that I was feeding my dog something that sat on a shelf, came out of a bag, and had a very long shelf life of anything between a year to 18 months. And so I decided I was going to fresh feed [him], even though at that time he was fairly young, he was about six, seven months, so not completely grown. And so he needed certain nutritional aspects to be taken care of during this growth phase. But I just decided that I would swap his food over. And so at that point, I wasn’t a certified nutritionist yet, so I just did a lot of Googling research, read books, and eventually when I made the changes, I saw that he wasn’t just merely surviving, he was thriving. His gut issues cleared up, his skin issues cleared  up, and he was just as much as any dog. Then I began speaking to other pet parents and trying to understand what is the main reason behind people going to the vet with their dog. So skin and gut issues are the two top most reasons why people go. And sometimes it’s something as simple as just tweaking the nutrition a little bit, adding the right supplements, just making sure your dog is eating properly, and the issue is resolved. So it’s quite simple. 

And I was like, I would love to do something like this where I could actually help pet parents, help their pets lead a better life and a longer life with less vet visits, less stress, a happier life altogether. So that’s when I decided to quit my job and pursue a career in pet nutrition. 

AB: Anjali, in another life, I think I would love to do something with pets because I love animals so much. And my story is quite similar to yours with Hector, who you saw at the beginning of the chat. We also give him fresh food because I found with my last dog, who unfortunately passed away of old age, we were giving him exactly what the vet said. And here they said, ‘Oh, it’s complete food. Give him Kibble.’ But I just felt like I didn’t want to give him something out of a box. When we don’t eat out of a box, why should we give it to the dog? And I also find with Hector, I mean, with dogs, with all dogs, they have this self correction mechanism where they go and eat grass when their stomachs are not okay. I’m sure you see that. I’m assuming that the grass helps settle their tummies in some way. So tell me, what signs should we look for [to know] that the pet is not okay? And then tell me, what should we be feeding our pets? Small dog, medium sized dog, large dog?

AK: Yeah, I mean, if your dog is unwell, like if he’s eaten something and it’s not sitting well with him, you’d probably see, like, gut issues. Maybe the stool isn’t well formed. Loose stool, recurring loose stool, that sort of the thing. And that’s something that you need to get checked out by your vet. When it comes to eating grass. Yes, a lot of dogs do this. Some of them do it when they feel the need to throw up. See, they’ve eaten something and they’ve not been able to digest it, or they’re not feeling great, and eating that grass helps them throw up. However, that’s not the only reason why they eat grass. So sometimes it can be like an innate kind of a thing. Where they are eating the grass because they’ve just done it and their ancestors have done it for a long time. So, for example, what I’ve noticed is a lot of these Indian strays… Now, a lot of us have Indian strays as our pets, and so they particularly love eating grass. So whenever you take them out to the park, that’s one of the first things that they’re doing. So sometimes it can just be like an innate behaviour. At other times it can also be a sign of a nutritional deficiency. So it could be like a lack of a prebiotic in your pet’s diet. So you need to maybe look at what you’re feeding them in terms of fibre and stuff like that. Sometimes it could also be a natural way for them to deworm themselves. I mean, if you’re saying Hector eats grass, you must have seen this as well. Whenever they eat grass, it either comes out in their vomit or it will come out in their stool and you will see the grass is undigested. It’s still there. So essentially what it does is it goes through the gut and kind of cleans out any parasites that would be there. So that’s one of the things that grass also does. I’m not saying it’s a foolproof mechanism and that you shouldn’t deworm your dog because they’re eating grass. Always get a stool test, check for worms. And if you feel you need a medical dewormer, then do use it with the guidance of your vet, obviously. But that could be some of the reasons why they eat grass.

AB: Tell me about their food. What should we be feeding them

AK: Generally, a species appropriate diet is what we call it. So if you look at dogs, they are essentially like what you call, they self-select to be carnivores. So say if you put in front of your dog a plate of salad and a steak, they would definitely gravitate towards the steak, right? So we need to feed them what their bodies need. And essentially their digestive tract is very different from ours. It is much shorter. It doesn’t have the ability to ferment vegetable matter like how ours does. Or how a ruminant animal, for example, is having a lot of grass because they have the ability to ferment that vegetable matter. Our dogs don’t have the ability to digest so much vegetable matter. They do need a certain amount of plant matter in their food. However, it kind of depends from dog to dog, but the ratio is generally between 10 to 15% of the diet. Maximum, not more than that, unless there is some sort of a health issue. So generally meat-based diets. By that we mean muscle meat, organ meat, a little bit of fish for your omega-3 fatty acids. So in a nutshell, meat is important for them. In India, there are a lot of people who are vegetarians and who think it’s okay to feed their dog vegetarian diets. But in the long run, it leads to a lot of issues. It leads to shortening the dog’s life, it leads to cardiovascular issues and joint issues. Anyway our pets’ lives are so short. So we want to feed them optimally to be able to increase the amount of time we’re spending with them, not the other way around. So I find it quite sad when people impose their beliefs on their dogs. Our dogs are a different species and that needs to be understood.

AB: So you’re saying 15% plant based food and 85% animal based food for the dog? Approximately, that’s the combination? And in terms of grains or rice, how much of that? What percent? 

AK: So I don’t normally recommend grains or rice in the diet. Unless there is, like, a health issue where we need to restrict the amount of protein that the dog is having, then I need to make up the calories from another source. Or if, say, the dog is not able to digest a high protein diet, it’s only at that point that they actually need that, we use grains, but otherwise they don’t really have any functional benefit as such. 

AB: And would you add omega-3 prebiotic/ probiotic to the diet?

AK: I prefer using everything from its natural source. So, for example, if you’re talking about a prebiotic, they can get that from the plant matter in their food, right, from the vegetables and things like that, that you’re adding or fruit and things like that. And if we’re talking about probiotics, then I like fermented vegetables because those are like a natural source of probiotics for our dogs. I also like yoghourt. So those are two natural probiotics that I definitely recommend adding. Yeah, and omega-3s are super important. I love omega-3s. So generally, either in oil form, like a fish oil, I prefer omega-3s from non-vegetarian sources for our dogs because the vegetarian sources aren’t as bioavailable to them. They’re not able to absorb the goodness from it.

AB: So fish? Fish oils 

AK: Yes, fish. And also, seaweed is a very good source of omega-3. So even that works very well, provided you check that it has EPA and DHA. So always check the label. But yes, that’s also a good source. If you’re not feeling great about fish oil, then that’s something else that one could use.

AB: Anything else you’ll add to the dog’s food? 

AK: Yeah. So I add, like turmeric, I add other oils as well, like hemp seed oil, I add coconut oil. So like a rotation of oils, because fats are very important for them as well, and they have a bunch of functional benefits. Bone broth is something else that I really like. It’s a source of glucosamine and chondroitin. It helps with their joints. It also has gut healing properties. It’s great for us, too. It’s great for our pets, so definitely all those things go in.

AB: And Anjali, would you change anything with age and with weather? Like, some of us live in extreme cold and extreme heat now, with global warming. So what would you change in the pet’s diet? 

AK: Yes, absolutely. So actually, let’s talk about weather first. So generally in a hot climate, your dog is a little more sedentary because it’s so hot. So possibly the walks are not as long. I mean, in India, being a tropical climate, that’s generally how it is, because otherwise your dog ends up with a heat stroke and stuff like that. So during that time, you want to ensure that maybe you taper down the calorific value of what your pet is eating, because in terms of expending that kind of energy, it’s less, they’re walking less and so they’re expending less energy. But you also want to include, like, cooling foods in their diet. So, for example, yoghurt is a great addition. Also look at proteins that have cooling properties. So, for example, fish is a cooling protein, a duck is a cooling protein. So look at such proteins and incorporate them in your pet’s diet as well. So that’s for summer. Now, when we talk about, you know, like in the UK, the winters are harsh for me. I found them harsh, and it is cold. And so our pets are expending more energy to keep themselves warmer. So we need to take that into consideration, provided they’re able to get out and they’re able to get enough exercise. Because if the weather is not too cold for them, they can definitely get out. It’s great weather for them to run around and stuff, provided it’s not raining during that time. Maybe look to slightly increase the calorific value of what your pet is eating. Also include proteins that are more heaty in the energetics, like chicken and lamb. That sort of a thing is what I would recommend weather wise. When it comes to age, obviously, during the first year of a puppy’s life is a growth phase. It’s a crucial stage, where their nutrition has to be on point. You need to ensure that you’re feeding them enough calories for each different phase of growth that they’re going through. Each puppy will be different depending on their breed, so you need to take all of that into consideration. At the same time, you also need to ensure that you’re feeding them enough nutrients to support proper bone development. At this stage, those are things that you need to take care of. Now, there are various life stages when you’re speaking about a dog, for example. So after puppyhood, until the dog is four, is their first life stage, where the dog is generally very active. And like a young dog, after about… From four to eight, it’s kind of like the middle age where the dog is not as active and hyper as what they were when they were puppies, but still well and young and able to do everything. However, because the activity levels have gone down and sometimes they’re not like puppies who are so curious, all day looking for something to destroy or do in the house all day long, they’re quite sedentary. Like when they’re stuck at home, unless you have a backyard or something, which we don’t have the luxury in Bombay to have this. So the dogs are stuck in apartments. And because of that, you also need to consider, okay, maybe at that point you should tweak the calorific value because the energy levels have gone down. So the dog shouldn’t land up putting on weight because along with obesity comes a whole host of issues. And it’s become a very common problem.

Essentially, these companion animals, they’re companions to us, and whatever diseases we have, they also have the same diseases because we have the same lifestyle. Right? So that’s one thing to bear in mind. Now, once the pet is across [the age of] eight, he’s considered a senior pet. So that’s when you may need to add some supplements to ensure that you maybe slow down the ageing process, if you can, a little bit. Add antioxidants to the diet, support their joints, glucose, amine, chondroitin, if you want to start a supplement. And then also look at keeping them engaged all the time. Because cognitive decline also does happen in senior pets. These are just some things to do. 

AB: Thank you, Anjali. I mean, you rightly said that they’re companion animals. So what we tend to do, a lot of us, is we humanise our pets and we forget that there are boundaries. And the one thing I find a lot of people doing, which drives me crazy, is people start thinking that the pet can eat what they can eat. So they start giving the pet food that they’re eating. And I know that foods like avocado and chocolate are very, very bad for the pet. So what do you think are some of the foods that they should completely stay away from giving it to their pet? And also, are there any pet superfoods? Like, we have superfoods.

AK: Actually, avocado is not bad for your pet. It’s the avocado seed. So any food that has a seed, the seed is actually toxic. So if you want to give your pet avocado, you can give your pet avocado. It’s filled with good fats, however, in very small quantities, and not the flesh that has touched the seed.

AB: Really? Okay.

AK: So that you can definitely give. Chocolate is definitely a big no no. Alcohol is the other one. Sugar, wheat, onions… There’s a whole list of things that are toxic for them. Grapes. So definitely don’t add these things to your pet’s diet. One of the common mistakes that we make is because we are spending so much time with our companion animals while we’re at the dinner table and stuff like that, they hover around and give us these puppy dog eyes that we can’t resist. And so we land up feeding them. And that is a really bad habit to inculcate, honestly, because then they’re eating all sorts of things. You’re not controlling what’s going in their diet. In India, a lot of people are giving their dog rotis. Like that, rotis is filled with gluten. Otherwise people who are eating non-veg are giving them the scraps. So, like cooked bone; which is also very dangerous for your pet because the cooked bone can splinter and cause obstruction and stuff like that. So you don’t want to take that risk. It’s just not worth it.

AB: So you live in India, right? In countries like India or some other countries, how do you make sure that the vet you’re taking your dog to is legitimate, qualified?

AK: I would say definitely ask them for their qualifications. Also, on their prescription, you will see that there’s like a veterinary number, which means that they are registered. Also, a lot of the time you choose your vet by word of mouth, right? So you would also speak to the community, find out from people that have pets, who they’ve been using and what kind of experience they’ve had, that sort of thing. Now, some people who live in smaller villages may not have access to the best vets. However, we have amazing vets in the city over here. Like, you know, exactly how our medical system is, the veterinary system is also amazing over here. So there’s a lot of specialisations that have come up. We have orthopaedic surgeons for vets. There’s like a cancer doctor, like an oncologist also, now there’s a special eye doctor, all sorts of things, and it’s really quite amazing. So it is available for everyone. Due to COVID, a lot of these vets are now doing video consults and online consults and stuff like that. And also, I mean, if you were so inclined, like there was a serious issue, I have clients who come down with their dog from Chennai, all the way to Mumbai to see the oncologist vet. So it is possible, if someone did that with a really sick dog. I think, you know, we’re lucky to live in a country where we have everything available.

AB: Lovely. And tell me, given the research that you’ve done, have you come across any practices or products for that matter, or brands that you feel are incredible and you like to recommend them globally to people all over the world?

AK: Yeah, absolutely. So, like I told you, I follow a lot of holistic vets who practise from the UK and the US and stuff like that, and always get to know about new developments from them and what they talk about. And honestly, like I said, two of the main reasons why people take their pets to the vet is because of gut issues, skin issues, and then those, after they’ve done the rounds and tried everything, and sometimes it just doesn’t resolve for whatever reason, and then the pet lands up coming to a nutritionist, which would be someone like me, where they say, can I tweak the diet? And sometimes you try, you try, but it just doesn’t work. And all it is, is the gut of that dog because of whatever they have been eating and the kind of medication they’ve been on, which has possibly been something that’s been going on for a while, and has just obliterated the gut bacteria. So because of that, the gut is extremely weak. And so there is something available in the US and in the UK as well. There are companies where you can send a stool sample of your pet to the company and they will test that sample and assess your dog’s microbiome. So essentially tell what bacteria is there, what bacteria is missing, and the solution is something very simple. You can either do a faecal transplant from a healthy dog so that you are populating the gut with good bacteria or now they even have it in pill form. So essentially what they’ve done is they’ve collected stool from raw fed dogs who’ve never been on any antibiotics and so have the most diverse microbiome with a lot of good bacteria, make it into pills and send it to you. And that’s how you would then give this to your dog and repopulate your dog’s gut bacteria. 

AB: Give us the name of some brands that you’ve come across. 

AK: Yeah, there’s one called AnimalBiome. So that’s one brand that’s coming to mind, but there are several now, I’m just not recalling all the names, but yeah, it’s just a very interesting thing and I hope it comes to India also soon. 

AB: And there was a study done at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine which said that if you give CBD to dogs, it helps them with pain management. Apparently, 80% of dogs who had osteoarthritis were helped by this. So what is your view on CBD? Would you give it to a dog for pain management? Would you recommend it to the pet for stress? You know, the time that you have fireworks, would you recommend it?

AK: I do, I recommend it. It’s something we sell on our website as well. So I use it for my own dog. He suddenly has developed a limp over the last month and it’s an early onset of arthritis. So I use it for pain management for him. And I have seen a difference. I recommend it to a lot of my clients for a host of issues. I mean, obviously pain management is one of the ones where there has been a lot of success with CBD. And along with that you can then reduce the use of the nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs that can have long term side effects. So if you can taper that down and manage the issue with CBD, then nothing like it because it has no side effects, it’s 100% natural and it works really well. But anxiety is also the other thing that it works nicely for. However, not always. Sometimes, like in this Diwali and Bonfire night situations, it is just really loud noise that goes on and on and it can be really hard to manage. So what I recommend along with CBD is also maybe using these ear muffs that you get for pets to block out the noise. Play some music, maybe diffuse like a bit of lavender essential oil just to help them calm down. Even chamomile works really well. Chamomile tea helps us relax. Chamomile has the exact same effect on our pets. So how we use it generally is— you could just take two or three, depending on the size of your dog, obviously. Chamomile, dried chamomile flowers, exactly how you’d get them for tea, and just kind of mix it into your dog’s food. So with your hand, just powder it, mix it into your dog’s food, and do that for a week before Diwali or bonfire night. And you should hopefully see a little bit of a calmer pet. 

But anxiety, again, is not the only thing. It works really well for cancer as well. So CBD for cancer, CBD for cognitive decline. So last year a dog came to me, a 17 year old dog who was showing signs of canine dementia and was on very heavy meds for it. And so the pet parent wanted to taper down the meds because of the side effects, the long term effects on the kidneys and stuff like that. And we slowly managed to reduce the dose by including and increasing the CBD dosage. So it’s quite an amazing thing, honestly. I would highly recommend it.

AB: I give Hector a lot of homoeopathy. I find it works beautifully with dogs. The other thing, Anjali, before you go, I wanted to ask you, what got you to launch A Petter Life? Was it just nutrition? Were there other issues that you saw that you wanted to deal with? And is A Petter Life a platform just for India, or is it a global platform?

AK: It’s just an Indian platform right now. I started Nutriwoof in 2000 and A Petter Life, like a year later. So essentially, Nutriwoof is just nutrition focused, where we do nutrition services, fresh food for dogs and cats, and preservative retreats. A Petter Life has everything for pets. So everything that you need for pets, be it accessories, be it bedding, be it treats, be it food. So essentially what we kind of noticed is that now the pet market is something that is booming even in India, right? So many people have got pets and there are pet galore everywhere. However, when you go into a pet shop or even if you’re looking online, you’re not able to kind of decipher which products are good quality. What do you actually need for your pet? So A Petter Life was started with the idea to kind of help with guided purchases. So if you look at the website, you’ll see it’s not just a shop. We also have, like a whole, information section. There’s a section on breeds, a section on ailments. So essentially, we did a lot of research and put that up. So say, for example, you have a Cavalier Charles, right? So say if you went on the website and you had a look at Cavalier Charles, you’d see it’ll tell you about some character traits, the average weight that your dog should be at, and then it also gives you, like, breed predispositions. So Cavalier Charles is very well known for cardiac issues. You want to ensure that right from the get go, your dog is on a proper diet where there is enough taurine in the diet to help prevent the onset of any cardiac issues, for example. So that is all provided over there, where then we would maybe recommend certain products for that particular issue. So it just makes purchasing a little easier and less overwhelming in the sense that it’s breed specific, it’s ailment specific. 

If your dog has an ailment, you can go there, read about it, and then see what natural solutions we’re providing for it. So that sort of thing. And essentially, we wanted it to be top notch quality and holistic. So even if all the brands are not my own brand, it’s stuff we source from other providers, but we stuff that we would use for our own dogs. So, for example, there was a whole issue in the US where there was a certain brand of tennis balls that was causing mouth cancer because some dogs just hold the ball in their mouth because of whatever toxic material it was made out of. So we ensure that the products that we have are good quality. They’re not going to cause such issues. There’s stuff that’s tried and tested by us only on the website and now a whole fresh food section. We also have a section for freshly baked cakes because we want to spoil our dogs as well, since we talked about humanisation. However, the ingredients are all species appropriate, so we don’t use anything that is actually harmful. Like, there’s no gluten, there’s no butter, there’s no cream. For example, we make the icing out of potatoes. Things like that.

AB: Lovely. That’s lovely. You do what we do at Wellness Curated. We curate things for human beings. You curate things for pets. So, Anjali, at the end of every chat, we do a rapid fire round. Just to summarise the chat. So, the biggest mistake people make regarding their pet’s diet?

AK: One mistake, I would say, is feeding your pet only processed food. Some people don’t have a choice. Their lifestyle is such or their budget is such that they can’t afford to feed an expensive meat based diet. And that’s totally okay. But always supplement your pet’s diet with fresh food. With fresh food that is species appropriate. So with species-appropriate vegetables, with species-appropriate meats, whenever you can, please do that because it helps enhance the bowel and in the long run will definitely help give your pet a better life.

AB: Thank you. And one superfood every pet family should consider including in their pet’s diet?

AK: So I would say an omega-3 fatty acid. So like either a fish oil supplement or a seaweed supplement. Or even looking at including a small amount of sardines and anchovies in their bowls every day. 

AB: Lovely. And an item that every pet owner must possess for quick health care for their pets.

AK: [For] Quick health care— maybe bone broth. Because if you have a pet with digestive upset and stuff like that, you don’t want to overwhelm the system. And bone broth is something that’s light enough, that keeps them hydrated, that you can give your pet while you’re fasting as well. 

AB: Lovely. Thank you so much. That was such a wonderful chat. I’m sure we’re going to help lots of pet owners with that. Amazing. 

AK: Thank you so much for having me.

AB: Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today. I hope you learned something new. I hope we brought you a little closer to leading a healthier, happier, more hopeful life, both for you and for your pets. If you enjoyed this, please do press the subscribe button. The more subscriptions we have, the more speakers we can get you and continue to provide you this service for free. And also, please encourage people to like our show. I’d also love to hear from you, so please send me an email with any questions that you have or topic suggestions. My email address is Anshu@WellnessCurated.Life. Thank you for being here today and see you next week.