I began to suspect something was up when I got home from a weekend away and received an inflated vet bill. For a weekend kennel stay? Nope, for tests—blood tests, kidney tests, tumor tests, more tests. Fritz, my ten year-old springer spaniel, had, for the last five years, been chronically ill. He'd had several fatty tumors removed, suffered from constant kidney problems, and was infested with warts. He had calcium deposits and a sometimes maddening hyperactivity. And chronic fleas—for which he'd wallowed in crop insecticide as a puppy, and for which he was regularly dipped with a chemical pesticide. Was it possible: Could he be suffering from long-term pesticide abuse?
I posed this question to Dr. Richard Pitcairn, veterinarian and author of Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
"Most probably a factor," he shot back.
Dr. Pitcairn believes that there are three major culprits that contribute to an animal's chronic ill health: "frequent strong chemicals, commercial food and too many vaccinations."
And he believes that successful flea control correlates directly with the pet's health, which can be radically improved with a diet of nutritious human food—whole grains, vegetables, lean meats—rather than some commercial pet foods.
"Pet food can be pretty much the garbage, in a nutshell," Pitcairn says. "It may be filled with byproducts. And they're called byproducts because there's something wrong with them—they're basically not fit for consumption by humans."
The Oregon veterinarian says that, unfortunately, most vets receive no training in nutrition, and therefore don't defy "the social attitude that animals don't need good, healthful food.
"People go into their refrigerator and find old, moldy cheese. Many times, rather than throw it away, they'll cut off the mold and feed it to the pet," he says. "You can't feed an animal bad food for long without some ill results."
As for Fritz, my veterinarian's special high-nutrition feed (along with plenty of carrots, broccoli and chicken) made a difference. He became leaner, livelier and, I hope, more comfortable. And—I'm crossing my fingers—less susceptible to those pesky fleas.
For more tips on how to eliminate fleas and pesticides from your pet's life, see Non-Toxic Flea Control.
Alexis Lipsitz is an associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.