Since I began holistically raising my dogs and cats a little over 19 years ago, I've had absolutely no health problems with any of them. None of them has had to go to the vet for anything, and they have all lived to extreme old age - in fact, most of them have not died at all. Their teeth are always white and shiny, they have no parasites or skin problems, they never have loose stool or gas, and don't even have any behavior problems. I accomplish all this just by giving them fresh raw foods, using classical homeopathy and organically grown herbs, not vaccinating them, and never using any form of western medicine on them. It's really great. It's absolute bliss. It's the promised land.
In fact, the only thing wrong with this is that it's all completely made up.
But you'd never know that if you were a newcomer to the world of holistic pet care. Because I guarantee you, before you'd spent a lot of time on any number of the myriad of email lists and forums devoted to the subject of the natural care of dogs and cats, you'd be assured by several experts that if you just followed certain steps your dog or cat would be completely healthy, free of parasites, never need any form of surgery or preventative or therapeutic medicine, have no allergies, and be freed even from inherited genetic conditions.
This little bit of delusional thinking is something I had pretty damn well knocked out of me about 12 years ago when a litter of puppies I bred - second generation naturally reared pups - came down with parvo. Until that day I had come to feel (without really having examined or articulated the belief) that I lived inside a magical circle and nothing bad would ever happen to my dogs and cats because I had found The Secret of Perfect Health.
The idea that if you just feed your animals right and get out of Mama Nature's way your animals will never know serious disease is a seductive one. It's also a big fat lie, for more reasons than one. But the first reason is probably the biggest: Mama Nature is a bitch. She doesn't give a damn if your dog lives or dies.
The idea that nature left to operate unhindered will always result in a positive outcome is a form of magical thinking. Arguably, over long periods of time and huge populations, it is true. But on the individual level it's completely false. For one particular animal or one particular species or one particular population or one particular region or one particular time frame, in other words, for THIS dog at THIS moment, literally anything can happen. The Big Picture is real, but you and your dog are just a little piece of the Big Picture, and what's true for a species overall is not necessarily true for every individual member of the species.
It's magical thinking because it gives us that thing we like best... the feeling that we can control everything, that we can outwit the fates and hold off catastrophe if we just do the right things (whatever they are). But whether that is feeding a certain diet, or giving or not giving a certain supplement, or chanting something in a field at midnight, or shoving virgins into volcanoes, it is all false. There are things we cannot control and no matter how "good" we are, the proverbial shit happens. Always has, always will.
Oh, I won't say my dogs and cats aren't, on average, living longer than expected. My raw-fed dogs do outlive their kibble-fed litter mates raised by other people. I am pretty tickled at the fact that nearly all my raw-fed animals have nice white teeth and clean breath. I have noticed improved disease and parasite resistance in my animals, and overall I think the results of my almost-two-decade experiment have demonstrated a net positive result for natural rearing.
But I've also had one dog die at a tragically young age from acute kidney failure of unknown cause, had two dogs get heartworm, had half a litter of puppies get parvo, had a dog develop a genetic defect of the kidneys known as cystinuria, and experienced a variety of less serious health problems in my animals.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy, the grande dame of natural rearing, said that not until the third generation did she see her dogs become disease resistant, and not until the fifth did they know what she called "unbroken good health." The Pottenger cat studies' conclusions and Dr. Richard Pitcairn's observations have also been that it takes between three and five generations of natural rearing to reach those levels of health. So even if we accept the premise that holistic husbandry will make our animals perfectly healthy, it is not something that is accomplished in a single dog or cat's lifetime, but the work of generations of careful breeding and rearing.
Furthermore, while I do believe we can affect many aspects of our dogs' health with husbandry, our dogs are part of the world. They exist inside a complex environment, much of which we cannot control. Nor can we remove them from the environment; even animals in the remote Arctic have high levels of digoxin in their body fat. Some things, such as disease resistance, are, in my experience, highly influenceable by diet and lifestyle. This doesn't mean well-fed dogs never get sick. No animal is at peak health every single moment of his life. It's impossible. Disease resistance is something that will ebb and flow for every individual, and even the strongest, best-fed, most dazzlingly healthy animal can succumb to something in a moment of weakness, fatigue, or sleep deprivation. We're only fooling ourselves if we believe otherwise - but worse, we're fooling others if we assure them that they can protect their animals from every harm by diet and lifestyle.
Don't get me wrong