Tinned dogfood gives pets cancer, says vet

Could a natural diet be healthiest for Fido? Keith Nuthall reports
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The Independent Online
The wholefood versus processed food debate, which has obsessed dieticians for a decade, is being shifted into the animal kingdom by a proselytising Australian vet who wants dogs to be fed bones, not Pedigree Chum.

Ian Billingshurst is to hold three seminars in the UK this month on his theory that cooked canned dogfood promotes cancer, kidney disease, arthritis and a host of other ailments.

His views are detailed in a 320-page book entitled Give Your Dog a Bone. "Dogs fed on cooked foods live shorter, less healthy, more miserable lives," he claims. Instead, an omnivorous diet featuring raw foods, like those eaten by dogs in the wild, should be served. That way, their bodies and immune systems are boosted by essential microbes present in a "natural" diet.

Also, he says, dog owners should carefully control their animals' diets, following his list of salad recipes: the grain and legume meal, the offal meal, the food scraps meal, and more.

Dr Billingshurst's views have not found favour with the British Veterinary Association and have yet to endear him to the UK Pet Food Manufacturers Association, but they have been taken seriously by the canine press. The publisher of Dogs Today, Beverley Cuddy, said: "It's thought-provoking and very outspoken for a vet - maybe it's because he's an Australian. It's creating a lot of debate - a good thing - although it's not for everyone: you have to be dedicated to follow his regime."

A back-to-basics diet flies in the face of the latest canine foodie fad: "sensitive" brands for dogs that are prone to upset tummies and allergic reactions to foods such as beef and dairy products. Owners have been wooed into buying mixtures such as James Wellbeloved's Turkey and Rice Kibble, "which only include the finest-quality ingredients like turkey, brown and pearl rice, oats, alfalfa and seaweed", processed into pellets.

For the Antipodean vet, who shares his New South Wales home with three Rottweilers and a pig dog, such dietary mollycoddling would be wimpish Pommie heresy. Where real men forswear quiche, real dogs (in the wild), are scavengers, he points out in his book. They thrive on over-ripe fruit, the stomach contents of prey, decaying flesh, vomit, faeces and even bovine afterbirth.

But the vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, Ted Chandler, commented: "There's no scientific justification to support these claims."

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association points to "decades of research" carried out to ensure that processed petfood provides dogs with a balanced healthy meal.

Research proved, it said, that dogs weaned in the post-war age of petfood were living longer than those fed on old-fashioned scraps. The average age of dogs increased from between four and eight in 1960 to between six and 10 in 1994, a study found.

'Give Your Dog a Bone' by Ian Billingshurst is available from Abbeywood Publishing, PO Box 1, Longnor, Derbyshire, SK17 0JD.

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