Pet Nutrition: Some Myths and Facts – Part 1 – My story with Gus

< A version of this article was published in the Winter 2017 issue of Maine DOG Magazine>

In this series of articles on pet nutrition, I will start by discussing myself, my pets, and why I am so passionate about this topic. I will follow that with an article discussing the fundamental nutritional needs of both dogs and cats along with my opinion on the pros and cons of various type of diets; kibble/dry, canned/wet, homemade, frozen raw, freeze-dried raw, dehydrated, and others. Next, I will review the many myths circulating about pet food and the facts that refute those myths.  Lastly, I will discuss what to look for in a pet food and a pet food company and what to avoid.

The first four things I tell my clients and students about pet nutrition are; 1) Quality, wholesome nutrition from fresh, whole foods is fundamental to good health, 2) all pet food companies and pet foods are NOT the same, 3) there is no single brand or formula of pet food that is the “best” for all pets, and 4) Be wary when seeking advice on pet nutrition, as the pet food world can be a deceptive place. Considering the latter, you are probably asking yourself; “Why should I trust what this guy has to say about pet nutrition?”  So I will start with some background on why I am so passionate about this topic, and hopefully, you will find that I am worthy of your trust.

I became interested in pet nutrition long before I knew I would become a pet care professional. My interest was not driven by choice but by necessity. My wife and I adopted our Cairn Terrier Gus, in 1991. Before Gus had been with us for a year, he started to have chronic urinary tract infections (UTI). Our veterinarian tried all of the conventional treatments, and without fail, the infections kept coming back.

Crystals are often present in the urine when a dog has a UTI. Gus had two types of crystals in his urine; calcium oxalate crystals which occur when the urine is


acidic and triple phosphate or struvite crystals which occur in urine when it is alkaline or base. If you remember your high school chemistry, you will recall that acid and base are opposites. Measured on a numerical pH (Hydrogen potential) scale, seven is neutral, less than seven is acidic, and more than seven is base.

The pH of Gus’ urine could swing between 5 and 8 in a 24 hour period, going from base to acid and back. This variation in pH was just one more conundrum in determining what was going on with him, but our veterinarian was convinced it was a nutritional issue. As a result, he had us purchase several bags of different brands and formulas of pet food and to feed Gus x number of kibbles of one brand and y number of kibbles of another brand while monitoring his urinary pH and keeping records of our results. We did this for several weeks, and there was still no significant change. The infection cleared up, but the crystals remained, they continued to be an irritant and Gus continued to have accidents and infections. We kept trying different foods and measuring pH to no avail, and Gus eventually had to have a bladder stone removed.

In the summer of 1994, we vacationed in Maine, and while we were here, my wife purchased a copy of Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Dr. Richard Pitcairn. After reading the book, Paula started preparing Gus’ food from scratch, based on recipes in Dr. Pitcairn’s book. We tried different recipes, measured Gus’ urinary pH, and there were still no significant, lasting improvements.

We moved to Maine in the fall of 1995 when we purchased Green Acres Kennel Shop, and Gus’ UTI’s remained a part of our lives. In the spring of 1997, a pet food distributor walked into the store trying to convince us to sell his brand of pet food. We were not looking for another food at the time, but as we chatted, we started sharing dog stories. We told him about Gus and his UTI’s, and then we realized we had something in common; he also had a dog that had had crystals in his urine. He told us his dogs UTI’s resolved when he started feeding his brand of food, supplemented by a probiotic and a pH supplement also manufactured by the company he represented. He offered us a six week supply of the food and supplements at no charge saying “Try it and let me know what you think.” At this point, we had been dealing with Gus’ UTI’s for over five years and thought what have we got to lose. Before we had used the six-week supply, we saw marked improvement in Gus’ urinary health and decided we needed to learn more about this pet food and supplement company.

We started feeding this brand of food to our pets and selling it in our store. This company has a strong belief in education, so we started reading the books written by the company’s owner, a veterinarian. His approach to nutrition was very different from other pet food companies. When asked “Why shouldn’t we feed our pets only dry pet food, even if it’s a quality brand?” he responded “For the same reasons people would not eat the same tired old packaged product at every meal for a lifetime. We intuitively know variety and freshness are linked to health. 100% is not known about nutrition, and it is therefore absurd to claim one can fabricate a 100% complete diet. It seems that the ideal would be for people to make their own pet foods, but many people are too busy for this. The critical thing is to know the ideal, and for pet carnivores that is their natural prey diet–fresh, whole, and raw. Since it is never possible to achieve the ideal at all times, compromises must be made. By keeping the diet as close to the ideal as possible, one makes the fewest compromises and thus has the best chance at health.” [emphasis added]

Wow! The owner of a pet food company is saying that fresh, whole food prepared by a pet’s guardian is a better choice than any commercial pet food. That is not something I ever expected to hear from the owner of a pet food company, but at a common sense level, everything he said makes perfect sense. This prompted us to start reading everything we could on pet nutrition as we wanted to feed our pets as best as we could afford while helping our clients do the same.

We have been on this pet nutrition journey for 24 plus years. We learn new things all of the time while watching the continually changing cast of characters in the pet food world. It takes effort to keep current with all of these changes, but we feel it is necessary because we need to be looking out for our pets.


Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (


What do you feed your dog?

Should I Feed My Pet A Raw Diet?

Video – The Science and Dogma of Pet Nutrition with Dr. Richard Patton – A video of animal nutritionist, Dr. Richard Patton’s presentation, The Science and Dogma of Pet Nutrition, presented for Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor, ME on April 28th, 2016. –

Reflections on 20 Years as a Pet Care Professional – Changes in Pet Food and Nutrition – part 1 –

Reflections on 20 Years as a Pet Care Professional – Pet Food and Nutrition – part 2

Homemade Food for Your Pet –

Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 1

Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 2

Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 3

Why Rotating Diets Makes Sense

Determining True Pet Food Costs

How Much Fat Is In Your Pet’s Food?

Book Review – Ruined by Excess, Perfected by Lack – The paradox of pet nutrition by Richard Patton

Pet Nutrition –Vital Essentials® Pet Food


Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (


What do you feed your pets?

Podcast – Pet Nutrition with Dr. Richard Patton

Podcast – Holistic and Complementary Wellness for Pets – Our Personal Journey

Podcast – Raw Diets and the Carnivore Meat Company-Vital Essentials-Dee Ferranti and Jodi Langellotti

Podcast – Holistic and Complementary Wellness for Pets – Nutrition and Raw Food for Pets with Bette Schubert from Bravo Pet Foods

Podcast – The Rationale for Feeding Pets Raw Foods with Bette Schubert from Bravo Pet Foods

Podcast – Bravo’s Raw Pets Food, Treats, Chewables and Bones with Bette Shubert

Podcast – Feeding Your Pet A Raw Diet with Gary Bursell of Steve’s Real Food for Pets

Podcast – Feeding Your Pet A Raw Diet with Nicole Lindsley of Steve’s Real Food for Pets



Beginnings – Getting Your Dog and Cat Started on a Raw Diet by Melinda Miller and Honoring Your Cat’s Natural Diet by Terri Grow <Click here for a free download>

Feline Nutrition: Nutrition for the Optimum Health and Longevity of your Cat – Lynn Curtis

Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health – Kymythy Schultze

Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats – The Ultimate Diet – Kymythy Schultze

Ruined by Excess, Perfected by Lack – Dr. Richard Patton

See Spot Live Longer – Steve Brown and Beth Taylor

The Truth About Pet Foods – Dr. Randy Wysong

Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet – Steve Brown


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

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