The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #165 - Dr. Karen Becker
Karen Shaw Becker is the most followed veterinarian in the world, and for good reason. Dr. Becker believes in a deliberate, common sense approach to creating and maintaining vibrant health for companion animals and an unconventional, integrative approach to addressing disease and re-establishing wellbeing in ill pets. This refreshing, proactive approach that intentionally focuses on creating or restoring wellbeing has been embraced by millions of pet lovers around the world.
Dr. Becker received her degree in veterinary medicine from the Iowa State School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Becker completed exotic animal internships in California and at the Berlin Zoo, Germany. She is certified in acupuncture, homeopathy and rehabilitation. Dr. Becker founded the first proactive animal hospital in the Midwest in 1999, opened an exotic animal clinic in 2001 and a rehabilitation and pain management clinic in 2011. Since then, thousands of patients have benefitted from Dr. Becker’s functional medicine approach to addressing health challenges. Her array of progressive diagnostics and innovative treatment protocols earned her recognition as one of Chicago’s Top Vets (according to Chicago Magazine), and a special place in her clients’ hearts.
Dr. Becker is passionate about protecting and preserving wildlife and their natural environment. She became a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator in 1989.
She is also licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rehabilitate injured and orphaned endangered species through her non-profit organization, Covenant Wildlife.
Dr. Becker lectures internationally and writes about species-appropriate nutrition on many platforms. She was the recipient of the Whole Dog Journal’s ‘Best Homemade Diet Book of All-Time’ award and is currently co-authoring a book about dog longevity.
Dr. Becker consults for a variety of health and wellness companies and is the first veterinarian in the world to give a TEDx talk on biologically-oriented nutrition. In her spare time, she enjoys formulating fresh pet food recipes for transparent, ethical pet food companies and developing pet health products for a variety of wellness companies to improve the healthspan of companion animals, worldwide.
Of course, Dr. Becker formulates all of her family’s recipes out of love: she’s the heart of the business (just not on the payroll!). She and her family are honored to serve you and your family via our kitchen; we have created the simplest, most delectable and healthiest pet treats on the market, and can’t wait to share them with you.
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7:10 - FOOD SENSE GUIDE: Get Melanie's App To Tackle Your Food Sensitivities! Food Sense Includes A Searchable Catalogue Of 300+ Foods, Revealing Their Gluten, FODMAP, Lectin, Histamine, Amine, Glutamate, Oxalate, Salicylate, Sulfite, And Thiol Status. Food Sense Also Includes Compound Overviews, Reactions To Look For, Lists Of Foods High And Low In Them, The Ability To Create Your Own Personal Lists, And More!
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13:50 - Dr. Karen's personal story
22:10 - the vaccination schedules for pets
27:00 - vaccine antibody titers
29:00 - creating a medical team for your pet
30:10 - prescription dog food
31:10 - rendered meat
33:15 - processed food in the medical and veterinarian industries
35:20 - the start of Processed food industry
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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!
42:00 - the lifespan and healthspan of different breeds
44:00 - disease expression and epigenetic triggers
46:40 - Methuselah genes in dogs- Long lived dogs
49:30 - telomere shortening
52:30 - stress in dogs
56:00 - common medical problems; physical stress & lack of exercise
58:00 - muscle tone Maintenance
1:00:30 - sleeping patterns & circadian rhythms
1:06:10 - are there diet related longevity strategies for dogs?
1:12:30 - creating an eating window for your dog
1:14:30 - is fasting right for cats or sick animals too?
1:18:35 - should pets be keto?
1:20:45 - reversing cancer in pets with keto
1:22:30 - a living food diet
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1:30:10 - is human food harmful for pets?
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. I have been looking forward to this for months. So, here's the backstory leading up to this conversation. Growing up historically in my family, we always had cats as our pets. I first became interested in the effect of diet on health after I was not living at home anymore. I actually haven't had a pet since having this paradigm shift. That said, I would take care of our cat occasionally. And when I did, I would go in these rabbit holes of trying to temporarily change her diet and find the appropriate diet for her. It was very overwhelming. And then I don't know how long, probably last year, one of our cats actually passed away from kidney disease. And I remember my mom made the comment that, "All cats, if they live long enough get kidney disease." And I remember thinking, that's concerning and probably says something about the nature of what's going on here. Sorry that this intro's so lengthy.
Around the same time, my friend, Melissa Boloña, who has a bone broth company, her dog actually got very, very sick. It required a massive, actually, surgery, and it was very costly, and the conclusion was that it was actually related to something that her dog was eating. All happened around the same time. I was like, "I need to look into this more. I need to do an episode on the health of our pets." Of course, I need to find the absolute perfect person. So, I asked in my Facebook group for recommendations. And hands down, I got so many recommendations. People saying, I had to reach out to Dr. Karen Becker. I had to read The Forever Dog. I got The Forever Dog. it is a New York Times bestseller. Oh, my goodness, friends, this book is insane. And I mean this, honestly, I would recommend this book for anybody. Even if you don't have pets, even if you don't care about having a pet, you will learn so much about health in general, human health. She talks about so many people that I've had on this show, David Sinclair's Lifespan is my favorite book. And she talks a lot about the work of David Sinclair, Jason Fung, Tim Spector. Rhonda Patrick, Satchin Panda. Literally, this book is mind blowing. This is a huge statement. It's actually the most notes I've ever had for a show. And so, I have so many questions. I'm just honored to be here. Dr. Becker, thank you so much for being here.
Karen Becker: Ah, thank you so much for having me. It's delightful to spend some time with you. And I'm so excited that you are excited about The Forever Dog in the same capacity that I am.
Melanie Avalon: It's funny, because before reading it, it's everything I would have suspected, if I had sat down and thought about it. Just like the parallels between human health and the health of our pets, and even down to the level of genetics, and telomeres, and all of these things. It didn't surprise me, but it did surprise me, because it was just that mind blowing. For listeners who are not familiar with your work, which hopefully they will be after listening to this and hopefully, they all get your book. Would you like tell listeners a little bit about your personal story? I'm super curious, because you have a very comprehensive and holistic approach to health. Did that precede your interest in pet health? Did the pet obsession come first? What was your personal journey that led to today?
Karen Becker: It's such a good question, because I, thankfully-- We can't pick our families and we can't pick our parents. And I just feel overwhelmingly thankful that I was born into a wildly proactive health-conscious family. My grandma Shaw, my mom's mom taught me how to grow wheat grass and juice when I was 12. I grew up in Iowa. My parents, both teachers. My mom stayed home and made three organic amazing-- she's an incredible chef. She loves food, but she wants good food and healthy food.
My mama stayed home and spent time making amazing foods. So, I understood the power of food. Both parents were also very, thankfully, open to wanting to find their kids' passions. And it was very clear at a very early age to both of my parents that I was pretty obsessed and focused on the natural world. I just wanted to be outside. I just wanted to look at bugs. I wanted to find frogs. I would find butterflies with a broken wing, and three and four and just want obsessively trying to fix everything. And thankfully, my parents honored that. So, as of course I had lots of animals and pets all rescues growing up. But when I said to my parents at 12, "I want to work at the Humane Society," they said, "Well, honey in Iowa you have to be 14." I said, "Okay, but maybe I can volunteer." So, we went to the Black Hawk Humane Society. And my boss, Tom Colvin said, "No problem. She can start volunteering now, but we can't employ her till she's 14."
I started working at my local Humane Society. And from there, I immediately all this wild life, baby bunnies, baby squirrels were being dropped off at my local Humane Society. And I said, "Tom, what happens to all these animals?" And he said, "Well, all the wildlife goes to a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator." And I said, "Well, I want to be a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator." Our local person was Linda Nebby. And so, I started apprenticing under her, and I got my state license at 14, and my federal license at 16, and then my endangered species license about 10 years later. But I knew that I would spend my life working with animals, because intentionally creating health was a part of my family's DNA. It made logical sense to focus on those same principles. But at that time being so young. I didn't realize. I didn't realize the gift that my parents gave me intentionally thinking about creating health. It just was very natural in my family.
I went to undergrad to become a wildlife biologist. First, I thought initially, I would just potentially be able to do endangered species and wildlife only. Well, as you can imagine, Mother Nature doesn't pay anything. And I had to put gas in my car and I just really want it to be a wildlife rehabilitation vet for injured, orphaned for wildlife or wild animals don't have anyone caring for them. When they become sick or injured, mostly because of human intervention, human problems, human's poisons, human hit by car, human poaching, or shooting, I just felt this overwhelming burning desire to defend them, and protect them, and fix them, and then release them. But no one's paying for that. Wildlife rehabilitation is still my first passion. This is my 36th year doing it. But I realized, okay, I'm going to have to make money or I'm going to have to find a "job." I can't just fix wild animals my whole life. I did go to Iowa state vet school and became a veterinarian. But it's so interesting, because during that school, it's very logical for me.
Let's just take cardiology, internal medicine. I learned that the heart failure is a big issue in dogs. And so, they taught us how to deal with heart failure. And as you mentioned, the number one killer of cats, three out of four cats will die of kidney disease. It was all about how to address stage one through four kidney disease. And that's awesome. I'm so glad I had that knowledge. But my burning question always was, I raise my hand and say, "Thank you for telling me what to do when cats get kidney failure. But how do we prevent cats from getting kidney failure?" And, Melanie, just this blank stare like long, uncomfortable pause followed by what or all of these degenerative diseases that animals weren't born with. My burning question for those four years in medical school was, "Thank you for teaching me what to do when animals are sick. I don't want my patients to get sick. Where's the proactive prevention part of my medical training?" The only proactive part in my four years was something called Community Medicine, where of course they teach you about vaccines which prevent disease. That didn't seem like enough of a preventive strategy to me. Yes, they did say, obesity is a big issue. The 60% of humans in North America are obese, 60% of pets in North America are obese. So, maintain your pets' weight. Make sure that they don't catch infectious diseases that could be managed through appropriate vaccination schedules.
And then I get a little frustrated there, because I'm all about animals having protective immunity, but just as humans, their vaccines don't magically wear off, veterinary vaccines don't wear off either. Then I was raising my hand saying, "Wait, wait, wait. Wait. We don't go in every year till we die for measles, mumps, rubella. Why are we giving dogs, parvo, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, Bordetella, and a rabies? Why are we doing this every year?" As you can imagine, I was labeled a rebellious student in vet school, because they're like, "Becker, why? Why all the questions?" I said, "Because it seems so wildly unnecessary that we have a reactive system of medicine and people, they're paying good money." Animals, everyone knows there's not amazing insurance, but there are amazing insurance programs. But insurance is not a commonplace in veterinary medicine sadly.
Most people can't afford what it takes to treat their animals optimally once they're sick, because it's the same exact cost of medicine for-- It doesn't matter what we're treating. My X-ray machine was the exact same cost as my local hospital's X-ray machine. The difference is, pets don't have insurance. You're paying out of pocket for amazing medicine and you're not being reimbursed for any of that. It's wildly expensive to treat disease. It made logical sense to me. I call what I do common sense medicine, because it makes such perfect sense to me to prevent disease from occurring. The problem is, we're not taught how to do that in vet school. So, I graduated knowing I would become a proactive veterinarian. I called myself that in veterinary school, I graduated from veterinary school, I opened the first proactive. Meaning, intentionally focusing on preventing disease from occurring animal hospital in Chicago. Then I opened an exotic animal hospital, then I opened a rehabilitation center. I just wanted to provide my clients the opportunity to recognize that we don't have to wait for the body to break. We can actually make better decisions before the body breaks to prevent that heartbreak down the road. And so, that is what I did.
And little did I know that it seems literally, common sense medicine is what I call it. And you're spot on with a book. You read it and you're like, "Yes, of course. Yes, of course. Yes, of course." If we carb load our animals and all we feed them a starch and sugar, it of course feeds into the diabetic epidemic in pets. Yes, it feeds obesity. Of course, it feeds cancer. Yes, it makes sense. My dog is wildly itchy from all the yeast that I'm feeding with that sugar. All those pieces fall into place, and yet, because we weren't taught this in veterinary school, the vast majority of veterinarians don't practice medicine like I do. I have just felt quite compelled in every possible platform, whoever will listen. I will do everything I can to get the word out there that we don't have to be victims of reactive medicine. But what it means is that pet owners, pet parents, pet guardians, they have to become so knowledgeable and empowered, because they have to be their pet's advocate. They are beautiful veterinarians. It's not that your vet doesn't know, or doesn't care, or is trying to get money out of you. Your vet was not taught how to prevent disease from occurring. I'm like, "Well, if this is until I can switch the medical paradigm, which is going to be darn hard, I will start by making every pet owner I can find around the world so empowered with information that they will make better decisions without having to change the medical system." So, that's what I did.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. I think listeners can now see why I'm obsessed with everything that you're doing. So, I'm super curious. Why are we giving vaccines every year? What did they say when you ask that?
Karen Becker: Because that's what the research. It's obviously expensive. Research is super expensive, really expensive. What they said is, when they were trialing all of these vaccines-- I can't give you the exact number. When the research was done, they research on how long vaccines last was, I believe done between the 40s, 50s, and maybe early 60s for dogs and cats. Basically, they're keeping hundreds of dogs in a laboratory studying year after year, housing them and feeding them, and then measuring their vaccine antibody titers on an annual basis to find out, if these dogs are still protected. They also did live viral challenge, which means they expose these dogs to parvo and distemper year after year to see how many dogs get sick, because by default, then you would be able to determine, "Okay, the vaccine quit working here."
Well, they did this test for one year. They held these animals, they expose them to parvo and distemper, no dogs got sick. What they said was, "Okay, it's too expensive to keep going. We will market the vaccines to be given annually." And so, it was based off of the fact that it's really expensive to house dogs their whole life. An entire a lifetime study would be millions of dollars. So, what they said was, "We know at one year, animals are protected. We'll just go in every year and recommend annual boosters."
Melanie Avalon: Whoa. So, they didn't even test beyond that, like, at the two-year mark?
Karen Becker: So, then people asked for a three-year rabies. They did do a rabies challenge. Some rabies vaccines are now approved for every three years and that's wonderful. But what the research shows, independent, specifically, Dr. Jean Dodds and Dr. Ron Schultz out of University of Wisconsin-Madison vet school, they did longer privately funded research to determine how long, let's say, parvo and distemper lasts. And we know that these modified live vaccines less years and years and years and years, years. Seven to nine years on average past one puppy vaccine. When you think about, "Okay, well, what would be Dr. Becker's approach for this?" Well, my approach would be, of course, we want our animals protected against disease. We know that we give a two-pound chihuahua the exact same dose as the 200-pound mastiff. They all get the same vaccine. We want every dog in the world to be protected against these infectious diseases. But we don't want to make them toxic or create an auto immune reaction from over vaccination.
My common-sense approach to everyone listening is, if you have at least one core vaccine in your dog, you can ask your veterinarian to do a vaccine antibody titer quick, easy, simple blood draw and they will be able to tell you, "Yes, your dog's protected" or "No, they're not." And that's just one easy way to make sure that if you go hiking in the woods, your dog's eating other dog poop, or fox poop, or raccoon poop in the woods, it's important that we know our animals are protected. But that's a big difference. Being protected as totally different than over vaccinating to the point that we're creating immunity issues in our animals, auto immunity issues. So, that's just one common sense. Since you hear that and you're like, "Okay, that makes total sense. Why didn't my vet tell me?" Because vets weren't taught this in vet school. We were taught to offer you annual vaccine. Some veterinarians now are recommending every three years and that's definitely an improvement with the number of unnecessary vaccines that pets are given. But by asking for a vaccine titer, you can assure yourself that your pets protected and minimize any risk of additional vaccines beyond what their immune system can handle.
Melanie Avalon: I'm not for raising prices on things, obviously, but now, I'm just brainstorming and I almost wish that they would temporarily make the vaccine titer more expensive and beneficial to the pharmaceutical industry, and then make it, so that you get that first before the vaccine, and then slowly wean out the vaccines, because we would realize we wouldn't need them as much, does that make sense? And people will get less so the vaccine titers, it's like a system change.
Karen Becker: Yeah. It's so hard to know how to navigate this, because veterinarian-- I graduated 25 years ago, now, kids in vet school are taught that titers are an option, which is fantastic. I was not taught that in vet school. But here's what's interesting. To be a veterinarian, you have to be vaccinated for rabies, because the potential is there. Well, I was vaccinated for rabies when I was 14, because I'm a wildlife rehabilitator. I was already vaccinated. When I went to vet school the second day, you're standing a line that like, "Okay, everyone's got to get vaccinated." So, I raised my hand and said, "I was vaccinated years and years and years ago." They said, "Okay, you know what? We're going to titer you." I said, "Of course," because they didn't want the liability of making me sick from too much vaccine. Veterinarians titer themselves every year to monitor our rabies vaccine levels in our bodies, but we don't extend that same courtesy to dogs and no one asks about that. So, it is an interesting thing to address.
Here's how I pitched it to my clients. My clients were like, "Listen, titers are so expensive. A vaccine is basically a buck to buy." We charge 35 bucks, whatever. But titers are 50 bucks. So, that's a whole lot more expensive. But what I said to my clients is, "I understand that it's way more expensive to do a blood draw and measure the levels of vaccines in your pets." However, if your dog or cat is low, I will boost them for free, because everyone's statement is, "Well, but what if my dog or cat needs it?" I'm like, "I am so confident that they don't that I will boost your pet for free." And do you know, in my 20 years of owning my own animal hospital, I shouldn't say never. I think I did two free vaccines in 20 years. That's the thousands and thousands and thousands. I mean, 99% of animals are protected for life. So, on occasion, they're not and that's why titering is important. But it goes to show you that sometimes, some of these medical protocols are put into place and then literally not revisited.
And so, I love that you asked, "So, why is that?" Because if more pet parents are asking, "Hey, we vaccinate our kids till 21 and then we stop in theory. But we don't keep going. None of us are taking your 80-year-old grandparents in for a measles mumps vaccine. Why are we doing that to our 14-year-old cats and why are we doing that to our 16-year-old dogs?" It's a good conversation piece, if your veterinarian is open to learning and is a perpetual student. If your veterinarian is closed minded and has this attitude of, "I'm the doctor, and you're the client, and I know what's best," then sometimes, it can be a frustration.
But I do encourage my clients to think about the fact that your general practitioner, your blessed, beautiful veterinarian, you need to think of it a little bit like your GP. You may have a doctor you go to, but you also have a massage therapist, a nutritionist, a chiropractor. You have other people on your healthcare team. And so, you may end up for your dog or cat. Yeah, you have your local vet who you love and who your family has gone to for two decades. That's awesome. But you may end up also acquiring an integrative veterinarian, or a functional medicine veterinarian, or a holistic veterinarian to provide some of these services that maybe your GP doesn't know about, can't do, won't do, whatever, but you end up à la carting services for your pets, a little bit like you à la carte medical services for your kids these days.
Melanie Avalon: Something similar related talking about things are just surprising. I didn't realize prescription dog food, for example, is-- which I like talked about prescription dog food. I always thought it was really this special medical thing, but it seems it's more about endorsements.
Karen Becker: That whole term "prescription diets" actually is owned by Hill's Science Diet. I have to call it "therapeutic diets," which means-- [laughs] If we say "prescription diets," Hill's pet food owns that term. And what they decided was, so years ago, when actually, Dr. Mark Morris, who was a wonderful veterinarian and his own dog went into kidney failure. When he decided, "Oh, my gosh, my blessed beautiful dog is in kidney failure. Maybe I should feed a different food." At that time, they were using 100% rendered meats. Rendered means it's a gross and disgusting term. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. But basically, when animals go to slaughter, they are inspected by a USDA Meat Inspector, and everything that passes goes into the human food chain, and everything that fails goes into pet food. And we call it feed. There's either feed grade meat, which goes to the livestock industry, poultry, dogs, and cats, sheep, horses, or it's food grade, which means it gets into the human food supply. As you can imagine, those are two different standards.
If God forbid, a cow comes into slaughter, and there's a big abscess on that cow's thigh, that quarter gets condemned, and goes into pet food, and then the rest of the healthy meat goes into the human food chain. Well, Mark Morris knew this and he knew that pet foods were constituted with 100%, what we call feed grade materials. Everything that fails, human food inspection goes into pet food. And he thought, "Maybe if I fed less protein to my dog in kidney failure, maybe my dog would live longer." And my response to that was, "Yeah, if you're feeding abscesses, and tumors, and hooves, and snouts, if that's your source of protein, terrible, horrible, non-digestible, poorly bioavailable protein, you're probably wise to reduce the amount of really difficult protein to feed and feed better quality human grade, lean, excellent bioavailable protein." But what he did is he just cut the crappy protein in half and his dog did have a longer than expected lifespan. So, that's how prescription diets came about.
Here's the kicker. There's no actual prescription medication in the food. The reason they're called prescription is, they're only sold through the veterinary channel, which means you can only get them through your veterinarian. There's no specific nutraceuticals, or herbs, or supplements, or drugs that are in prescription diets. It's that you have to go to your veterinarian to get them. Now, prescription diets absolutely have a little bit more research behind them than playing a "dog food or cat food." More research, meaning, they have done additional nutritional studies to determine animals dealing with that medical condition may have some benefit. But here's my ethical frustration with prescription diets. They're still ultra-processed, feed grade, highly rendered, poor quality food. It's a little bit like how our human hospitals are still feeding cancer patients, jello and ice cream and that comes from the hospital nutritionist that is saying, "Okay, if you just get done with whatever horrible cancer surgery or chemo, here's some quick sugar to-- It's good, it's yummy. We're going to reward you with some ice cream." The problem is, the foods that we're feeding to sick patients, either two or four-legged coming out of the traditional medical system are not nourishing our bodies in a way that allow for a functional healing response. Which means, if you are sick, you're already dealing with degenerative disease, you're already sliding down the hill.
So, what we need to do is rapidly and quickly provide instant species appropriate, highly bioavailable proteins, healthy fats, antioxidants, all of the substances that’s necessary to create a healing response in the body. But that's not what we do in human medicine and sadly that's not what we do in veterinary medicine.
My big frustration with prescription diets is, there still the same ultra-processed fast food that the regular pet food is. It's not so much a step up in terms of quality, it's a pivot to a different type of ultra-processed food. And I would say, if you are on a "prescription diet or therapeutic diet," the concept of switching foods when your animal is struggling physiologically is a really good idea. But you need to be cognizant of what quality and biologically appropriateness that food is that you're switching to and that's the conversation that has not taken place yet that I'm trying to get started.
Melanie Avalon: Which I am so thrilled about. And, yeah, ever since I read that in the book, when I go over to my parents, they'd have cat still and I see the "prescription cat food," and I'm just like, "Oh, goodness, this is maybe not what we're thinking." Stepping back a little bit and looking at the relationship between humans and our pets, I'm super curious-- so with dogs, for example. You talk about in the book, we even have a phrase "sick as a dog." I'm super curious, do when that phrase originated? And the reason I'm asking is, because we've been having, and you talk about in the book the history of dogs as companions, which is pretty mind blowing. But at what point in time and our entire history with dogs did we start feeding them this processed food? Is that when we started seeing all of these diseases in them and how did it affect their longevity?
Karen Becker: Humans and dogs coevolved together. The exact timeline's actually very debatable. Some scientists will say, 30,000 years ago that that is when humans specifically-- Canis lupus, the gray wolf, at some point 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, 35,000 is the going average consensus. Canis lupus morphed into Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. And during that time, here's what the vast majority of scientists agree on, that humans recognize that dogs were-- I'm not going to say cool, but dogs are beneficial. You could hunt better, they provided protection if you were a shepherd, having a dog around was good at helping to protect your livestock. But they also developed relationships with dogs just as we have. I'm sure that they were like, "These dogs are pretty cool." They started sharing food with dogs. And that's really, partly how dogs became domesticated, as dogs first was scavenging garbage from human garbage dumps thousands and thousands of years ago.
Dogs are scavenging carnivores, and so they will eat carrion, dead animals, they'll eat rotten things, they'll eat a dead rabbit, they'll eat the whole litter of baby bunnies, if they can find it. But dogs are really good at collecting foods from their environment and making do on a whole variety of pretty impressive and diversified foods, including scavenging from human dumps, because dogs then diversify their diet eating leftover human food, when the agricultural era hit, and as humans recognize that they could cook food, and that they could grow food, and they could cultivate corn, and wheat, and rice, of course, they started sharing corn, wheat, and rice with their dogs or at that point, I don't think that they were at all pets. I think that people realize, "This animal that hangs outside of my hut is helpful to me, will provide some protection, and is really good at scaring off other predators. I like him. I'm going to feed him."
Humans just shared their food with the semidomesticated dogs in their environment. And out of that, as dogs made their way from outside the hut, to outside the barn, to maybe Farmer Joe 200 years ago, Mrs. Farmer recognize the dogs pretty cool. Mrs. Farmer would throw all the scraps outside, let the dog eat that. Then a snowstorm come, and Mrs. Farmer said, "You know what, it's really cold. Let's bring the dog into the front room." And then Mrs. Farmer said, "Hey, let's bring the dog into the living room." And in the last 200 years, dogs and cats have made their way into the bedroom that we sleep. Half of people around the world sleep with their pets. That's how much they are a part of our families.
Now, out of that, we tend to our own health and wellbeing principles tend to be bestowed on our kids both two legged and four legged. If we come from healthy homes, we tend to nourish our kids two and four legged healthfully. If we believe in fresh whole living foods for our kids, if we're going to give our kids carrots and celery, and maybe some carrot or some apple with some raisins and peanut butter, those are healthier choices than cookies and crackers. And some moms and dads know that and that's the avenue they go. They also tend to be health conscious about their pets. They recognize, "Hey, my animal probably shouldn't be eating an entirely all dead, over processed diet from the time they're born, to the time they die. That seems like a ton of processed foods. Maybe I should incorporate some different foods into living foods." So, healthy homes develop healthy eating habits and that tends to trickle down to dogs and cats. However, the end of the story.
In the last 200 years, our grocery stores haven't grown their fresh produce section. It's the middle aisles. It's the ultra-processed snack foods that have taken off. Out of humans, because we are now making foods that taste amazing that have very poor nutrient profiles, but they taste amazing, they're actually addictive, we're over consuming calories, but we are under consuming nutrients. And what has happened is, pets have followed suit. We are over nourishing many dogs and cats have weight issues and yet they don't have enough critical omega-3 fatty acids in their foods to maintain healthy skin or healthy brain function. Even though, they're eating a lot of food, they're not being cellularly nourished in a way that allows them to prevent disease in their bodies, just like humans.
Melanie Avalon: I guess, we can distinguish between lifespan and health span. The actual number of years that they live will be lifespan and then health span would be the vitality of those years and the propensity towards disease. When it comes to the different breeds of dogs, are all dogs across the border being affected equally? Are some breeds more resilient genetically to these issues? And I'm guessing, if so, that will just be by chance. We haven't bred a dog for longevity or health, right?
Karen Becker: Yeah, sadly, no. In fact, just the opposite. Humans have created a lot of different dog breeds. And we created working breeds to help us work easier and better. We created different breeds that serve us in different ways. But we've also created dogs with blue eyes, and dogs with no hair, and smaller, teeny, tiny dogs, because we wanted lap dogs. We created a bunch of different breeds. Over 400 breeds worldwide now exist. The problem is, this is back before DNA testing happened. People for the last 500 years when we were creating, especially during the Victorian area, when we're creating a lot of different, really exotic looking breeds, we were breeding brother and sister, and mother and son, and dad and daughter, over, and over, and over, and everyone knows what happens. So, yes, we damaged the dog's gene pool genetically several hundred years ago. And we know that now, because we can do genetic testing and we're like, "Oh, my gosh, we've done so much damage. We've done so much damage." So, some breeds are more genetically damaged than others. Absolutely. And the more popular a breed is, typically, the more damage that has been done, because we've inbred those dogs before we knew any better. We inbred them and that created a weaker, more narrow, less robust gene pool. And in turn, genetics, and in turn, health span and lifespan.
Genetics absolutely plays into it. And in fact, the epidemiologists and the epigenetic experts that we talked to they estimated that inbreeding accounts for about 10% of disease expression. But they were very quick to say that epigenetic triggers, which are those environmental influences that speak to our dogs and cats DNA positively and negatively, those triggers account for 90% of diseases we're seeing in dogs and cats. So, that's obesity, sedentary lifestyle, pollution exposure, pesticide and chemical load, both inside the home, outside the home, keeping your yard dandelion free comes at a lymphoma cost to dogs. But also, we put chemicals directly on pets. We put flea and tick pesticides on them every month. Many people do. It also includes heavy metal exposure, it also includes those nutrient deficiencies that we've touched on. Yeah, genetics accounts for up to-- even in some, it brings 20% of a shortened health span and lifespan.
However, I was really inspired when I interviewed some of these top longevity experts from around the world. What they said was, "As even though, you have a dog or cat that may have genetic damage, it doesn't mean that they're going to express that genetic predisposition. We have the ability to up and down regulate. Yeah, those bad genes are lurking in there, but we have the ability to up or down regulate the expression of that by the environment that surrounding our dog's DNA." That's those epigenetic factors. So, part of the reason I was so passionate about writing this book is, yeah, some of our pets have got the short end of the stick genetically. But that doesn't mean it's a death sentence and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't as guardians do everything we can to downregulate epigenetic expression of maybe some "bad genes" that we can tell from our DNA tests or looking in our pets. I do love doing DNA tests for dogs, because it says, "Okay, I rescued a dog a couple years ago. First thing I did was DNA test. He's got the DNA for progressive retinal atrophy, which is basically where he could go blind and both his mom and dad gave him the potential to go blind. And I rescued him at 12 and now, he's 14."
I'm so empowered by that. I didn't get freaked out that [unintelligible [00:34:31] could go blind. I was like, "Oh, I'm so glad that technology affords me the opportunity to figure out he's got the DNA for retinal degeneration. I'm going to fortify his retinas, like, crazy." And that's what I did. So, I do love the fact that modern technology allows us to help fill in some of those epigenetic gaps, so that our pets don't have to necessarily express all of that dysfunctional DNA that's in them.
Melanie Avalon: I'm really good friends with James Clement, who wrote a book called The Switch. He did this massive, super centenarian study, where he studied the blood work of centenarians. And basically, what they found was, in general, for "normal people" that these certain biomarkers and factors that affect longevity, but the supercentenarians, it seems that they just have these genes that make it so bad they're resilient to all of the onslaught of environmental and epigenetic factors that other people are susceptible to. Do you know if that occurs in dogs? Are there some dogs like that?
Karen Becker: Such an awesome question. We visited Enikő Kubinyi. She and her team out of Hungary, out of Budapest specifically focused on looking at identifying what she calls Methuselah genes in dogs. The set of DNA or SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, these genetic variants. And that was why we chase down Enikő and her team. Some of these really exceptionally long-lived dog. We met a dog out of Australia named Maggie, who's 30 years old. I'm like, "Hey, listen, what's the likelihood of this dog just having great genes versus his mom or dad doing something intentional?" Enikő and her team did find that, in fact, there are a set of Methuselah genes and dogs that affords them that same genetic benefit of Blue Zone people, where yes, their lifestyle and their diet play into their exceptionally long-lived life. But also, they just plain have good genes. And they have longevity genes with sirtuins that allow them to live an exceptionally long time.
Potentially, take a little bit more environmental abuse. What I tell my clients is, "Listen, let's not use the potential that your dog--" I see some 18-year-old, 19-year-old dogs. I'm like, "Look how good my dog is doing. Do I have to cut out the Milk-Bones? Do I have to cut out some of these things that they really, really like?" And my statement is, rather than testing for Methuselah genes, let's just do what we can. Yeah, your dog may be one of these super long-lived dogs genetically, but let's not environmentally abuse your dog or nutritionally abuse your dog. Let's do everything we can to, because if they don't have those Methuselah genes, your dog's a regular, old, genetic hot mess like mine. Let's do everything we can to minimize the likelihood of your dog having bad things happen the second half of their life. The same metabolic cliff happens in dogs we know that happens in people, where you get up there and your telomeres get a little shorter and blunted.
Annalisa Ethel[?], who won the Nobel Prize talk to us about that how telomere blunting and shortening of telomeres absolutely happens in dogs. And in fact, their mitochondria don't recycle as well, senescent cells start to become a problem. There's this whole slowing down metabolically, physiologically, cellularly in dogs. When they look amazing, people say, "Look at how active and crazy my 10-year-old dog is. They're amazing." And they are, but there are still changes happening biochemically and cellularly that now is the time to make your 10-year-old vibrantly externally appearing healthy dog. Let's now work on the internal cellular terrain, so that you are not flipping heartbroken in four years, if your dog breaks with some horrible condition. And that's the other thing that can be hard.
When you see an animal who innately-- Dogs are amazing for so many reasons, but my gosh, they love us no matter what. We can just go get the mail and we come back from getting the mail and they're like, "How long? It's been 40 seconds. I love you so much. Hello, hello, hello." And they're just genuine. Dogs love us in a way that no human ever can. They love us unconditionally and that makes a part in our heart, where animals fill a void in the human soul that nothing else in the world can. And because of that, they tend to also live every day to the best. They're just in the moment, they remind us to live in the moment. But sometimes, dogs and cats do such a good job of saying, "No, I'm doing fine, I'm doing fine," that we miss the very subtle clues and symptoms that their bodies give us that things may not be as amazing on the inside as they were last year, or the year before, or the year before.
So, if you have a dog or cat right now that is flipping thriving, the biggest aggravation you could ever say to my face is, "I'm going to do all Dr. Becker's recommendations, the second I see any wobbling, the second my cat's blood work starts to go wonky, I'm going to address it. The second my dog starts to have a symptom, I'm going to address it." That's cool. The body gives us symptoms as an SOS sign. So, of course, if your dog or cat has any symptoms, that's their body crying out to you, "Fix me." Yes, of course address it.
I want to encourage listeners that if your dog or cat is midlife and they don't have any symptoms, consider yourself wildly blessed, but also recognize the clock is ticking and your dog or cat has a finite-- You have a finite amount of time to work on their internal terrain before something is going to happen. And rather than live with regret when the shoe falls and you're like, "Damn it, damn it, damn it. I was going to switch my dog's diet three years ago, but I kept getting 50% off coupons from my local feed store and I just couldn't turn it down. Damn it, I wish I would have done it." Do it now, so that you can save yourself the heartbreak of not having regret later.
Melanie Avalon: I could not agree more. And now, I'm super curious, because I was thinking about the parallels between different factors that would affect epigenetics between both dogs and humans. So, diet, of course, being one, sleep, stress levels. When I'm thinking with the stress, you talked about a lot of the things that affect dogs stress levels and how they're increasingly up with noise pollution, and living in these indoor environments, and stuff like that. But do you think there's something to that mindset of the dog like you just mentioned with how they're can be so, I guess, just happy? Do you think that's counteracting at all some of the onslaught?
Karen Becker: I do. In fact, it's so interesting. New research just about two years old, they've identified that actually dogs can be pessimistic. It's much rarer to have a pessimistic dog than a negative, depressed, pessimistic human. Humans, obviously, pessimism, depression is epidemic right now. But they've identified that there are dogs that have pessimistic personality traits. And interestingly, they don't.
Melanie Avalon: And they lived long?
Karen Becker: Yes, yes. Yeah, yeah. It is interesting. But the other interesting thing is that that whole concept of stress, we have to remember on the human side. We tend to get tunnel vision and think of stress as the emotional mental part of it. And, yes, dogs live, dogs have just as much anxiety as humans. In fact, there again, anxieties epidemic in dog which results in behavior problems. The number one reason dogs are dumped at pounds is "behavior problems." Now, half of that is humans are crappy trainers, they're bad with boundaries, they're not consistent, they tend to be heavy handed, they don't know how to necessarily interact in a positive, kind, trustworthy way, so your dogs feel safe and they can rely on consistent behaviors out of you every time. Humans aren't necessarily born knowing how to be a dog trainer.
The problem is, if you own a dog, you are by fault a dog trainer. And we tend to parent our dogs like we ourselves are parented. So, if you are whacked around when you did something bad, you tend to whack your dog. That unfortunately creates a lot of psychotic messed up neurotic dogs, because we're not communicating with them in a way that they understand, or that they feel safe, or that they can recognize, enough change the behavior.
There are very few truly bad dogs in the world. And those bad dogs that are out there were created by very bad people. There are a lot of wildly confused dogs that end up having "behavior problems" that are dumped at shelters. And those are all directly the result of not bad humans. Untrained, uneducated humans that realize, "Gosh, I think I want a dog." But they didn't know what they were getting into, they didn't plan accordingly, they didn't set aside the time they need to make their dog their best friend. And just as any relationship, you've got to work on your relationship with your dog or cat every day just like you do with your husband, or your best friend, or your mom, or anyone else around you. It is daily work to maintain that relationship. And people don't understand that. They think it's a house plant that you water and feed your dog every day, and then your dog's going to be super cool and all is well. It doesn't work like that.
What ends up happening is that when we think about stress, yeah, having a dog in a crate for 10 hours while you're working, is that stressful for your dog? Totally. It's like locking your four-year-old toddler in a closet for all day. They're going to be a little rowdy when you let them out. You have to manage that. But in addition to mental, emotional stress, Melanie, there's also chemical stress and there's physical stress. Dogs tear their ACLs. They blow discs. They tend to be overweight and out of shape. Their tendons, muscles, and ligaments are not resilient. Their structure, their frames are not maintained.
Humans tend to weekend warrior their dogs, where they say, "Hey, we're going to walk around the block as your exercise." People forget that dogs are wired as first-class athletes. Even those tiny little Yorkies, they are meant to put every joint of their body through its natural range of motion at least once a day. And all the research was very clear that two hours is optimal, but an hour is the minimum. And everyone's in the podcast listening right now is going to block and say, "Are you flipping kidding me? Who has an hour to exercise their dog? Come on, Dr. Becker, come on, come on." I'm just the messenger.
What I will say is that if we know that an hour of heart thumping rigorous, muscle building, cardiovascular, lymphatic draining, behavior quelling, anxiety smashing exercise are what dogs need every day, and the average dog is getting a 20-minute walk around the block. We are failing our dogs at managing emotional stress, physical stress, mental stress. And unless you're really into green living and you understand the chemical load in your air, water, soil, and in your home, we're failing them with a chemical stressors too. So, I don't want to be Debbie Downer and be like, "Oh, my gosh, I suck as a pet owner." People that are listening to this are like, "Listen, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and I feel like a super crappy pet parent." I'm not trying to tell you this stuff to make you feel bad. I'm trying to tell you, so that you have time to pivot and make better choices.
Melanie Avalon: I never thought about this before, but we know muscle is so important in humans for longevity. But dogs, they don't pick up things or lift things. Do their muscles function differently than humans that they maintain it without needing, like, weight bearing exercise?
Karen Becker: No, no, they're just like people. In fact, all mammals need to maintain their muscle tone, normal neurologic reflexes and skeletal density strength along with tendon and ligament resiliency. That's all done. Gosh, I wish there was a pill to take, wouldn't that be lovely? But there isn't. And I wish I could take, we can sleep and maintain killer muscle tone, which not just improves metabolic health, but actually plays into our immune system and in psychiatric wellbeing. All those same things are true for dogs. The problem is dogs are just as under exercised as their mom and dad. So, because dogs live and die in a shorter timeframe. The effects of lack of exercise are visible much earlier. And what do I mean by that?
The number one injury we see in dogs are torn knee ligaments. And it's not that these dogs are hit by car. That makes sense that you would tear your ACL, your anterior cruciate ligament in dogs. We call it a CCL, cranial cruciate ligament. It makes sense totally. If your dog has physical trauma, like, God forbid, jumped off the back of it, it fell down the stairs, hit by car, fell off something, okay, they may tear their ligaments. But actually, Melanie, the number one reason dogs tear their ACLs is non-traumatic induced lifestyle degeneration. The tendons and ligaments become thin, they start to fray, they are not being nourished appropriately, and then spontaneous tendon ligament tears happen.
People are like, "Listen, I'm so confused. My dog hopped up on the couch and tore their ACL." Well, yes, my friend, your dog did hop up on the couch and tear their ACL. But you should be asking, "How on Earth have my dog is wired as an athlete? How on Earth would they be tearing their ACL hopping up on the couch?" Well, that's some maintenance issues prior to that acute event happening. The exact same exercise, rules and requirements play into dogs as they do for people. I wish I could say, yes, they sleep and maintain amazing BMI. It doesn't work that way for dogs, either. And sadly, there's no magic pill. Drats.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I was fascinated to learn that they sleep very differently than us, as far as the cycles and these things called sleep spindles. Is sleep maybe the one factor that hasn't changed quite as much, because dogs sleep when they want to or has modern lifestyle also really affected that?
Karen Becker: Dogs do sleep. When you're at work all day, your dog is absolutely just snoozing around. And many of you guys have nanny cams on your dogs or cats. It's fun to watch. Dogs just hang out. When there's a reason, if the mailman comes, they are up, if there's something cool at a window or a door, they're up, but otherwise, dogs are hanging out. Where humans and modern lifestyles have dramatically impacted dogs is when it comes to their circadian rhythm. What do I mean by that? Humans tend to stay up late. We tend to have the TV on, we have a lot of lights on flashing, a lot of humans fall asleep with the TV on or they fall asleep with a radio. They fall asleep with noise and light still in their homes. And people think, "Well, why does it matter?" That is where Satchin Panda from the Salk Institute was very clear. When I interviewed him at the Salk Institute, he said to me, "Part of the reason that so many researchers are using dogs as their clinical models and not mice is because dogs and humans, because they have co-evolved, and because they live the same lifestyle, and because dogs are literally living a mirrored lifestyle to what their owners are."
Dogs are really good sentinels in research subjects for not just circadian rhythm, for cancer studies, for obesity models, for metabolic syndrome models, for type 2 diabetes. Dogs are really amazing test subjects, because they're so similar to the human model. And what he said is that, "Dog's circadian rhythms are so jacked in the last hundred years, because we have lights that we leave on all night." Dogs never actually get to sleep in the dark. They never get to sleep with all the lights turned off. They never get to potentially be not without Wi-Fi. Dr. Satchin Panda was the one that said to me, "Animals are well aware of Wi-Fi signals." And he is not a tinfoil hat wearing weirdo. We're not talking about you don't have to do a Faraday cage for your dog. But what he was saying is that animals are sensitized to things in the environment that humans are oblivious about.
And he said, "Then, in addition to dogs needing melatonin to go to sleep," which means they have to be outside when the sun is setting, that the setting orange sun, and that's one of the tips in the book. We say, "Hey, do a quick outside sniff or let your dog sniff and whiz for just a few minutes at night when the sun is setting," because it tells their back of their retina, their optic nerve, which sends a message to their brain that says, "Hey, you should start making some melatonin. The sun's going down. We're going to go to sleep." And that signals to the body time to sleep.
What Satchin Panda said was super interesting. He said, "Karen, do how many people in North America don't open their blinds in the morning?" The vast majority of people go to work and their whole house is, their shades are closed, the blinds are closed. Their dog has no idea, if it's middle of the morning, is it middle of the night, is at noon time. He said, "Every pet owner in the world should be opening their blinds every morning and allowing as much natural sunlight into their house." Not just because it gives your dogs and cats something to look at during the day. But because your dog needs that bright morning light to shine into the back of his eye, to trigger melanopsin production. How on Earth is your dog that are known to wake up, and what time it is their circadian rhythms are completely jacked, because humans signal from their lifestyle, radio, television, TV lighting that their nighttime is a dog's day and a dog's day is their night. And that long-term as your listeners know play into health span. If a circadian rhythm is disrupted long enough, the end result is that you can have physical issues come about. But that goes back to humans beginning to think about living in their home from the perspective of their dog.
And although, a lot of people like, "You got to be kidding me." I don't want to switch all this stuff up because of my dog." I was a little nervous when we wrote this book that I would get more pushback from people saying, "Okay, Becker, you're completely dog neurotic. I'm not that crazy about dogs. I get it. You're a vet." But I'm so happy, Melanie, that what's so cool is that health has traveled up the leash. People that would never otherwise, maybe get out and walk two to three times a day, because they were walking, let's say, once a day before they were on the block, they're like, "You know what, I got to wake up my dogs melanopsin receptors. I'm going to take them out before work. I'm going to get a 30-minute walk in before work and then maybe I come home for lunch, I'm going to get a quick 15 minutes sniff REM for my dog's mental cognition. Let him sniff and whiz or however they want. And then at night, I'm going to do 40 minutes of cardio, a 30-minute cooldown, and then we're going to play some maybe ball or tug in the backyard as a sunsetting." And they rearrange their dog's, not just exercise patterns, but they open up the blinds in the morning. They rearrange their life, because they realize now their dog is going to be healthier. But as a result, Melanie, they're also healthier, which is just a cool effect that I didn't know what's going to happen.
Melanie Avalon: It's amazing. It goes both ways. Speaking of Satchin Panda, I'm glad you brought him up. He does a lot of work with time restricted eating and intermittent fasting. And you're mentioning earlier, we talked about longevity genes and sirtuins, and things like that. So, is there a parallel between dietary approaches that seem to enhance longevity in humans? So, calorie restriction, low protein diets fasting, some of those, all of those, how do they affect dogs?
Karen Becker: They affect dogs profoundly, because dogs are scavenging carnivores. Dogs are by nature-- Well, now, we're talking dog. Dogs, these days are well loved in the house and we open up the cupboard, pour a couple of dry food in their dish, whatever twice a day and call it a day. But dog's evolutionary history, which means what dogs meant to do-- What they did before humans kept them captive in their home was dogs would eat when they are hungry and they would hunt when they were hungry. What's happening now is, humans get up and we forget that dogs are scavenging carnivores, they're meant to eat a large meal, and then they're meant to fast. They aren't meant to nibble all day long.
As a wildlife biologist, I'll just remind listeners that there are some species that do nibble. So are ruminants, cows, sheep, goats. Ruminant animals need to nibble all the time. Horses, another species that needs to nibble all the time. There are some animals that actually do need to be eating all the time. Those are typically vegan animals, because they have to create metabolic energy from eating grass and other low-calorie foods. So, they have to eat a ton of it to get any ATP, short chain fatty acids out of it. They have to do a lot of eating.
Dogs and cats are just the opposite. Dogs and cats were meant to catch and kill their food, gorge, eat a massive meal, and then they fast. And even though Canis lupus, wolves, are now Canis lupus familiaris, domesticated dogs, that evolutionary history of gorging and then fasting has not changed. What has changed, Melanie, is human feeding habits. In the last hundred years, humans have gone from eating three-square meals a day to three-square meals and then a snack in between, and then maybe a snack midafternoon, and then a midnight snack, and then snack after dinner, and a little bit of dessert. On average, when we interviewed Jason Fung, Dr. Fung said, the average North American human is putting a fork in their mouth 10 times a day. So, yeah, we say we eat three meals. But the fact is, we're actually eating, our pancreas is releasing insulin 10 times or more a day. And that is exactly what's happening to dogs and cats. We get up in the morning and we're like, "Oh, my gosh, if I'm eating, I need to be feeding my dog. So, we give them a little snack." Or, many, many, many dogs follow their ancestral history of not wanting to eat breakfast.
Wolves, historically, hunt later in the afternoon between 4 o'clock and midnight. They're not big breakfast eaters. And many dogs around the world, they're not big into eating at 5:30 in the morning, because moms and dads don't know this about a dog's natural eating circadian rhythm, they start putting parmesan cheese on the morning breakfast, they put sausages on the food. They start doctoring up their kibble to try and get their dog to eat when their dog is letting them know, "I don't want to eat. So, of course, if you're going to add a bunch of cheese on my food, yeah, I'll cram a meal in that I didn't even feel like eating." But the question is, why are we making animals eat when they don't feel like it, when their body is not ready, when their stomach acid has not been produced adequately enough to appropriately digest and absorb those nutrients?
First of all, just recognizing that your dog has different physiology is really important. But then recognizing that within that physiology, as much as we can mimic what their ancestral physiology would dictate that we are going to reduce metabolic stress by honoring the way that their metabolic machinery was meant to process nutrients. Now we're talking when it comes to intentionally using food as a healing, or restorative modality, or disease prevention. Now we're talking. And for dogs and cats, that means a large meal and then a period of fasting.
Whether you decide, if people say, "No, listen, my dog wants to eat three times a day." Then what I'm going to suggest to you and what we suggest in the book is to create an eating window of eight hours. Whatever you can set the eating window eight hours in the morning, you can come home for work and start it wherever you want that eight hours to be. Cram all your dog's calories in that eight hours. You're totally fine feeding three meals within that eight hours. But then the remaining part of the day, the remaining 16 hours in that day, your dog is not going to be eating. And it's during that time that your dog is going to be scavenging free radicals, and that autophagy is going to kick in, and they're going to do their cellular repair, they're going to create new mitochondria, they are going to rest and repair their tissues and their cell structure, they're going to clean house in their bloodstream, the lymphatics are going to kick in and do their job.
Just like humans, our pets' bodies can't digest food, while simultaneously function with an immune response and a healing response. They have to do one or the other. This eating window becomes even more important as our animals age, because allowing them to have this period of downtime, so their body's physiology can in fact do the restorative processes necessary to keep their body from degenerating. It becomes a bigger goal, the second half of our pet's life. So, we really try and spell that out in the book, because, Melanie, people hear this. This is probably the biggest point where people say, "Oh. I don't really want to do that." And I get it. I practice time restricted feeding on myself. Time restricted eating, this is a lifestyle thing for me. I didn't realize how difficult it would be for so many pet parents to switch modes into creating an eating window. But what I will tell everyone listening that's a little hesitant, first of all, let's just say that you right now are feeding your dogs-- If you think about the first bite of food your dog takes to the last, let's just say, 14 hours. Don't go from 14 hours to eight. Go from 14 to 13 for a week and then go from 13 to 12 for that second or third week. Slowly start tightening up, the amount of time you're giving your dog to repair his or her body. Just start tightening that up. We want more time for repair and less time for snacks.
As you narrow down that eating window, what so many people have reached out and said to me is, "Dr. Becker, that tip alone was life changing, because my dog's IBD is better, my dog no longer pukes, my dog isn't as farty and gassy." What people say to me is that this one tip about creating an eating window that allows the body to do the rest, repair, restore, that this free, easy, simple, common-sense tip was profound in clearing up a lot of these pesky symptoms that have plagued their dogs for a lifetime." If y'all got dogs with pesky symptoms, give it a try. I get it. It doesn't feel good thinking about "denying your animals calories." But if you think about it from the standpoint of allowing autophagy to occur, it makes it a little easier. Also, if you do it with them, if you stick to your eating window when your dog has their eating window, it's like your buddy tag teaming and then you don't have to look at those horrible puppy eyes. When you're having dinner and your dog's like, "Come on, come on." [laughs] So, just do it together. It would be my best biohacking tip.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. And I have some more questions about it, but to clarify, you mentioned the cats as well being that way. When I was taking care of my cat I was super confused about if I should be doing any sort of fasting protocol for her or not.
Karen Becker: First of all, listeners, when we say fasting, you never restrict water, obviously. Your animals need filtered purified water out of a stainless steel or Pyrex glass water dish. No plastic. Our pets have enough endocrine disorders as it is. You need to be washing that bowl every day, because the biofilm in your water dish is impressive. So, wash that bowl every day. Never restrict water. For kitties, 12 hours is a nice eating window. Sometimes 10 hours is great. Kitties have different physiology than dogs. I am not a fan of leaving food down 24/7 for cats, eating all you can eat buffet for cats is how cats end up obese. If you are right now doing the non-sustainable, all you can eat buffet for your kitty. There again, you don't just up and cut their food off. First, you pick the ball up and you're going to calculate how many calories your kitties need to maintain their ideal body weight.
Let's just say, it's 210 calories a day, you figure out how many calories are in your food, that's your portion of food to get 210 calories, that's the volume of food you're going to feed. You would divide that up, maybe five, or six, or eight, or 10 times a day and tell your cat got accustomed to, "Oh, my gosh, the bowls not dawn all the time." Once your kitty understands, "Okay, the bowl's not down all the time," then you can begin modulating the number of meals throughout the day. If you have a kitty that just really would say that their hobby in life is eating, then you may want to give your kitty more opportunities to have meals in their 12-hour eating window or in their 10-hour eating window. And that's true.
My 20-year-old kitty, Krasnov, he wants to eat every hour. And I feed him, because he's really, really lean as much food as he wants to eat at every hour. I feed him as much as he wants to eat because he's super thin, he gets to eat his heart out. But when I go to bed at night, I'm not going to get up in the middle of the night mess up my circadian rhythm to feed my ancient cat. He's on a raw food diet, I put a big-ol' plate of nutritionally complete raw rabbit food out. And in the morning, it's gone. And so, I have gotten up at midnight, all the food's gone by midnight. So, Krasnov would fast from midnight till about six in the morning and that is his period of autophagy. Younger animals can have a shorter, a more narrow eating window.
The other thing I mention is, if you have an animal that's sick, then this idea of an eating window is out the window. If you have an animal that has to be on medication, if you have an animal that is metabolically unstable, we create eating windows for healthy animals or animals with metabolic disease, let's say diabetes, because it helps improve those conditions. But if you have an animal, let's say with cancer cachexia, where they are wilting away from cancer, you are not going to restrict calories certainly, and your eating window is going to be maybe 12 hours, not eight. In those situations, these are not hardened fast rules and you will obviously work with your integrative or proactive veterinarian to design a customized protocol for what's best for your particular animal. It's illegal for me to give medical advice to the masses, because each protocol needs to be customized to specifically what's happening in your animal's body. But generally speaking, yes, I create eating windows for healthy kitties, but that's at that 10 to 12-hour mark versus six to eight-hour mark for a dog.
Melanie Avalon: Two things you've touched on, raw and the cancer aspects. Related to the cancer aspect and diet, I've had Dom D'Agostino on the show who's really well known in the keto sphere. I know he's worked at KetoPet Sanctuary. So, a ketogenic diet, is that something that can benefit dogs? Did they as well get an--? [unintelligible [01:07:08] evolution when we became an agricultural society, how did the macros affect them?
Karen Becker: Dogs evolutionary diet, historically, for the last 30,000 years, up until 200 years ago, dogs get about half of their calories from fat from an evolutionary diet and a half from protein. Now, most of your listeners, readers probably are aware that fat has twice the calories of protein. It's not volume, it's not half of the bowl as fat half as protein. But on a on a caloric basis, dogs historically have calories from healthy fats, half from protein. Now, in the last 200 years, dogs and cats don't have a carbohydrate requirement. That's really important for your listeners to know. When you think about the average big of ultra-processed dog or cat food being 50% starch or carb, that's a whole lot of sugar that an animal that doesn't have a carb requirement is ingesting. That's the root of why so many lifestyle related diseases are present today. We're feeding cheap, poor, contaminated carbs to animals that don't need carbs. That's the root of the problem with many of the "diseases" that are occurring in pets today.
Here's what's so cool. That 50% fat and 50% protein, the caloric basis, that is actually about a point five to one ketogenic ratio. Dogs and cats naturally eat a mildly ketogenic diet in the wild and even now, our wild dogs, dingoes, jackals, coyotes, wolves, rabbits, moles, voles, mice for cats as well as baby deer, all of those food sources from wild and domesticated, dogs and cats consuming them. Dogs end up eating a mildly ketogenic diet. When we interviewed Dom D'Agostino for our Dog Cancer Series, we were pretty impressed with the fact that KetoPet Sanctuary was able to reverse some of the most aggressive cancers in dog. Stage four cancers by instituting a higher ratio ketogenic diet. So, I'm a big fan of feeding a keto diet. But the biggest issue for dogs and cats both is, it has to still meet minimum nutritional requirements. What do I mean by that?
You'd never guess at a homemade diet for dogs and cats. You always follow a recipe to make sure that you are meeting your dog's calcium, vitamin, mineral, antioxidant load and guessing at recipes is a way to not accomplish that goal. So, I am a big fan of a ketogenic diet, which is basically a raw meat diet that contains healthy fat, low glycemic roughage, or high fiber vegetables, and then appropriate essential fatty acids, so, DHA and EPA.
Since we made the Dog Cancer Series, this six-hour documentary on why there's so much cancer in dogs and then what to do about it. Dom D'Agostino was very instrumental. We flew to Florida and interviewed him, but he was also instrumental in helping KetoPet set up their protocols. And that's basically the protocol that we recommended in the Dog Cancer Series. And out of that, so many people around the world would have been able to contact us and let us know that their animals, since they learned about a species appropriate raw food diet or unadulterated diet that there's been this overwhelming change in the vitality, and the health, and wellbeing of the other animals in their home.
Just by getting the highly processed carbohydrates out of your dog and cat diet, switching from an entirely dead over processed diet, to an entirely fresh living food diet. The health transformations that are occurring in animals, it's shockingly jaw dropping and it's also so fun to watch, because when you and I decide to go from eating total cereal, that's the equivalent of dog food. So, total cereal, it gives people 100% of synthetic vitamins and minerals that they need a day, and so does your dog food. It's a carb based synthetic vitamin and mineral supplemented little pellet. That's what we're trying to sustain vitality and wellbeing with is this little crunchy pellet with a multivitamin on it.
Common sense would say, probably, your animals need more than that and you are correct. Animals eat a whole lot more than that. But what's amazing is when you're like, "Okay, got it. I'm going to add a pace that resonates with me. I'm not going to throw my kibble out right now. What I am going to do is start incorporating more living fresh foods. I'm going to use fresh food toppers. I'm going to ditch my crappy dog treats that cost a lot of money and I'm going to switch to fresh foods. I've decided I'm going to give carrot, and parsnip, and celery. I'm going to give the bottom and the top of the green beans when I trim them off to my dog. I'm going to give the dented blueberries that all of the health and longevity researchers."
Dr. David Sinclair was the most profound is saying, "Never throw out dented blueberries. Those always go to the dogs, because they have twice the polyphenols, because they had to survive the dent." So, all of those ways that we can very economically share safe and biologically appropriate human foods from our fridge with our dogs, every single bite of fresh living food that you put into your dog's mouth or bowl replacing ultra-processed bad, cheap carbohydrate based poorly made food, that is a step of health in the right direction.
You don't have to make it, "Oh, my gosh, I've been doing it wrong. I feel horrible. I've got to switch everything." Don't do that to yourself. But as you begin to incorporate one health strategy at a time, you see the results. Your dogs shed 50% less, the chronic ear infections go away. They become more muscular and lean and they lose that mid tire belly fat. Their eyes are brighter, their breath improves, they quit farting. That mucus on the stool and that intermittent belchy, farty, gassy, constipation, diarrhea, it all goes away. And it goes away, because now, they're having the raw materials, the nutrients, and this unadulterated fashion, meaning, they're not heated, we're providing food up the food chain in its whole absorbable form. Dogs and cats do such a magnificent job of taking those nutrients from the real foods that we're giving them and absorbing them and assimilating them into their bodies in such fine fashion that in three months' time, you can watch your animals transform before your eyes. And that's the inspiring piece that I want to give your listeners that this doesn't have to be a race, you don't have to change your whole lifestyle. You can take little incremental steps that empower you to feel comfortable. You're like, "Okay, I did that. Woof. I feel good about that. I'm going to do the next thing."
As you improve the health and wellbeing of the animals in your life, you become empowered to do a little more and a little more, because you see their results in front of you. And that's probably the best part for me is that our animals' bodies show us what magnificent changes are doing. You can physically see it. And that's just so inspiring, especially as a health and wellness veterinarian, it brings tears to my eyes. I see patients shedding fat, miserable, panting, arthritic, painful. And then we switch their diets, and they come back to me and six months vibrant, lean, their brains are working, they are less anxious. Owners say, "You know what, we have a better relationship." They have less GI issues. Allergies have improved. They said, "Who knew that me switching a diet for six months would result in this? If I would have known it, I would have done it sooner." But people just don't know. So, don't beat yourself up for what you don't know. Be thankful that now you know enough to make some changes.
Melanie Avalon: That's another reason. I mentioned in the beginning, I'm so excited about your book, because not only is it revolutionizing the health of our pets, but it's a gateway drug for humans, who might not have otherwise been exposed to this information and you provide the information literally to the extent of the "human books" I've read on the subject by all the people we've talked about. So, it's incredible. Do you know Mark Schatzker? Have you met him or interviewed him?
Karen Becker: I haven't.
Melanie Avalon: He wrote The Dorito Effect and The End of Craving. I'm interviewing him next week, and it's fascinating, because he talks about the role of vitamins, fortified foods, and how vitamins added to the food supply. Actually, he thinks it is playing a causal role in obesity. It's a really, really fascinating concept. And it's also interesting when it comes to pet food. I think a lot of people feel they can't feed "human food" to their pets. For some reason, it won't sustain them.
Karen Becker: Yep. Well, and not just that, Melanie, I think a lot of people, partly because veterinarians in the 40s, 50s, and 60s said things like, "You could give your pet GI upset if you were to share something from your fridge. So, just don't do it." But the culprit, the bad guys that actually made the myth and then perpetuated that myth is the pet food industry. The ultra-processed pet food industry started telling pet lovers in the 70s, "Never feed your dog anything but our food. In fact, you could harm your animal by feeding any type of fresh food. Only feed our food. And it's safe, and your dog will thrive, and never switch your dog food. It could be risky or dangerous." And people believed it. When you think about it looking back, you're like, "No, come on." But because the pet food industry created it-- Now, we have to remember, the second half of the story is, if you can create fear and you can get a dog or cat addicted to that food, you have a client for life. And they will spend thousands on that brand and that flavor, they will never switch the food.
The problem is, you talk to microbiome experts like Dr. Tim Spector. And he said to me, "Karen, I can't think of anything worse than feeding one flavor of kibble month after month, year after year." He said, "If you want to talk about not just crashing the microbiome, but creating every modern disease possible by feeding only one food with a synthetic multivitamin." He goes, "It is the worst advice ever given." He said, "Who would create that advice?" I said, "The pet food industry." And he said, "Ah-ha." He said, "That makes total sense." He said, "Why do people believe it?" I said, "I don't know. I don't know." But it is interesting, Melanie. The number of people that are like, "What do you mean you can feed "human food?"' Now, you're not going to feed Doritos, and Cheetos, and pizza to your dog or cat. No, you're not feeding crappy food. You're feeding fresh, whole living foods in small bite sized pieces. You're feeding the parts of the food that you would feed to your two-legged kids.
For instance, I can't tell you the number of times that I have read almonds are toxic to dogs. That is not true. Almonds are fine. Raw and salted almonds are fine. The problem is, raw unsalted almonds, if a dog inhales it, they could choke on it. If you know that your dog is a gulper, you have a Labrador and they're going to inhale an almond, you might want to grind it up or you might want to break it in two. And some people say, apple seeds are toxic for animals. Well, who the heck is feeding an apple core to their dog? You wouldn't do that to your three-year-old kid. You don't feed your kid apple cores. You feed them the apple. So, you feed the exact same parts of the fruits and vegetables to your dogs that you feed to your kids, you cut them up into bite sized pieces just like you do for your kids, and then we follow European Pet Food Federation's advice that there are three toxic human foods that you should never feed to dogs. Number one, chocolate, number two, raisins and grapes, and number three, onions. Don't feed onions, grapes, raisins, or chocolate to your dog.
Everything else, Melanie, according to FEDIAF, European Pet Food Union that dictates, what is toxic and what's not toxic, there had been no tax illogical studies on any other human food deeming it "toxic." Now, there are foods that are not good for dogs. For instance, macadamia nuts are really high in fat. I do have macadamia nuts on my no-no list. They have not identified a toxin in macadamia nuts, but they're really high in fat and they might cause pancreatitis. So, we don't recommend macadamia nuts. But other than that, when you open your fridge, you want to think about low glycemic fresh fruits and veggies that you can share with your dogs and there's no reason not to. Literally, your fridge becomes the best treat box in the world, because you can share everything that you're buying, those fresh fruits and veggies you're buying for your entire human family, you can totally share them with your dogs. And also, when I say onions, I'm just thinking off the top of my head as I look at my herb garden, chives. You're not going to feed members of the onion family. So, no shallots, no chives. Other than that, that's a pretty small no-no list.
When you think of the vast yes list, all of a sudden, your fridge becomes the best source of polyphenol, antioxidant rich fresh fruits and veggies that you can use as training treats, sit, stay, down treats. If you're going to grab a snack, if your dog is conditioned to have a snack at X period in the day, go to your fridge and use fresh foods as treats. Not ultra-processed, empty calorie, very starchy, highly processed treats that you might be buying from a big box store.
Melanie Avalon: Well, it's funny. When I would take care of my cat and I spent so much time trying to figure out what to feed her. I was trying different things. But at one point, I was feeding her, it was something that I bought. It was some raw, like freeze dried food. But the ingredients were so great in it that one night, I was like, "This actually looks really healthy." So, I tasted it and I was sitting there eating my cat's cat food.
Karen Becker: Is it good?
Melanie Avalon: It was really good, but it was things like hearts and liver and I was like, "This is probably a good thing for me." [laughs]
Karen Becker: That's so awesome. It's interesting, because I also feed all human grade food to my animals, because I know what pet foods made of. You get into some pet food companies and start looking around, you're like, "Oh, my God, oh, my God, how can they add--? This is just disgusting." You sweep the slaughterhouse floor and then it goes into pet food. I also only feed human grade pet food to my animals. But I am also vegetarian. And my dogs and cats are, of course, carnivores. I do not try my pet food, but I do think it's awesome that you did. What everyone tells me is, it needs salt. They're like, "Listen, my human grade dog food all the time, it just needs salts."
Melanie Avalon: Oh, interesting, interesting. Yeah. Well, I will say for listeners, and you mentioned this earlier, but you do provide resources if people do want to completely make their own food. But you also have just the most elaborate, and extensive, and approachable system for people to actually look at the conventional food that they might be feeding, and how to understand it, and the difference between dehydrated versus air dried, and semi-moist, and the salt divide. And so, listeners, get the book, because it will be the tool you need to get your pet on diet that they should be on that also works within your lifestyle to the extent that you can.
Well, this has been absolutely amazing. You're just the most incredible person. Thank you so much for all that you're doing. I really reached out to you, because I really want to develop a pet food line as well now, especially having read all of the work and everything that I learned from it. So, what links would you like to put out there? How can listeners best follow your work? Are you going to write any more books? What's all the stuff?
Karen Becker: You can find more information about The Forever Dog book at foreverdog.com. Pretty easy to remember that. And my personal website is drkarenbecker.com. If you want to learn more about me, and what my passions are, and what I do, and why I do it, that's my website. And HarperCollins, our publisher has approached us for book number two. I am interested, of course. Part of my passion, I really want to change the world before I die. I'm 51, and I have sometimes trouble balancing all the things I want to do. I do feel the clock is ticking in the sense that I want to change veterinary school curriculum. I want to support my colleagues, my veterinary colleagues. I don't know, if this you know this, veterinarians have the highest rate of suicide. It's a dark topic. But veterinarians kill themselves more than any other professional because of stress.
Melanie Avalon: I'm sorry, do you say air traffic control?
Karen Becker: Yeah, it's crazy. It's crazy and it's heartbreaking for me. I have these unaddressed passions. I want to help my colleagues. My own personal take on that is that if my colleagues knew-- They love animals, they're trying desperately to help their clients and their patients. We weren't provided all the tools we need in veterinary school to effectively deal with chronic disease. We weren't taught how to be proactive. And the pain of having to euthanize animals from something that could have been prevented weighs on you. And we are the only profession that intentionally kills our beloved animals. There's all of these issues that I want to help my colleagues get out of the emotional mental hole that my profession is in and I really want to do that. All of these things I want to do--
Forever Dog was easy for me to write, because I wrote it during COVID. I was stuck at home, couldn't go anywhere. I'm like, "You know what I'm going to do? This is on my bucket list. I've always wanted to write a health and wellness book about dogs. I'm going to do it," and I did. So, now that the world is opening up, I do want to write a second book, but there's so many other things I want to do. So, if I can cram in book two, Melanie, I'm going to do it.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness, I hear you. Well, that's just amazing. And the last question that I ask every single guest on this show and it's just because I realized more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?
Karen Becker: I'm grateful that myself and everyone in the world that we have the opportunity to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Look, when it comes to veterinary medicine, things I was taught in vet school 25 years ago, the research has shown out there, just plain wrong. And when I learned it 25 years ago, I took it as science and you don't question science. Of course, this is what we're going to do. And then the medical profession realize, "Ooh, maybe we shouldn't be doing it this way. Maybe we need to pivot." I am grateful that humans have the ability to unlearn and relearn a different, better, more healthful path. And I do believe that because these lives that are in our homes, because our pets can't advocate for themselves. Our dogs and cats everything that we care for, whether you have birds or whatever animals you are tending to, they are captive to our decisions. They are held hostage in some situations to our lack of knowledge or our ability to really, wholly advocate for them.
I just want to empower and inspire your listeners to recognize that, because we do have a chance to shift our mindset to take on a different view, to learn something that we haven't, to expand our mindset, to realize, "Okay, I was taught that human food was bad for animals." Some human foods are bad, but fresh, unrefined, whole living foods are good for dogs, they're good for cats, they're good for my two-legged kids, they're good for me. And that's something I had to unlearn and relearn. We can do that. And by us making better choices, we actually become better advocates for the animals in our lives that literally have no voice.
Melanie Avalon: That's one of the most incredible answers I've had to that question. Well, thank you so, so much for everything that you're doing. You really are literally, truly changing the world. And like I said in the beginning to listeners, I can't emphasize enough how mind blowing this book is. And I'm just so grateful that not only are you changing the world of our pets, but humans as well with everything that you're doing. So, thank you. I am going to eagerly follow all of your future work. Hopefully, we can talk again in the future and just thank you so much for all you're doing.
Karen Becker: And thank you, Melanie, for taking an hour and a half to focus on the rest of the animal kingdom. I love that you have a heart towards all life, including the four-legged winged, scaled and feathered creatures. I appreciate you taking time for animals.
Melanie Avalon: No. Of course, thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day and I will talk to you later.
Karen Becker: Thanks.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.
Karen Becker: Bye.
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