They were able to lose weight thanks to the diet. It's now their pets' turn.
Ms. Shah said Karl Malone has had fewer health problems since she made changes to his diet (New York Times)
Karl Malone begins his day with an ashwagandha root and psyllium husk powder breakfast. He always has ground turmeric in his dinner, and then he takes his joint supplements. He goes for two daily brisk walks and avoids eating out because his doctor advised him to lose weight.
Karl Malone is an 11-year-old sandy-brown Australian shepherd mix named Karl Malone.
Mr. Malone's owner, Darshna Shah, says that her companion's health has substantially improved as a result of her wellness program, which includes advice from friends, her physician and pet newsletters, and nutritional cures her family used in India.
Ms. Shah, a 64-year-old former insurance executive from Cerritos, Calif., used to believe that as long as her dogs were well-housed and fed, they'd be well. However, the growing emphasis on wellness, particularly among the younger generation, convinced her that she needed to do more. "Their health determines their quality of life."
Pet adoptions in the United States reached a six-year high in 2021, owing to the epidemic, but human birthrates have progressively fallen. Pet owners are investing substantial attention and money to what their dogs, cats, hamsters, goldfish, and other domesticated animals eat as a generation of young adults reimagines what parenthood can look like.
Many pet owners find that tailoring their pets' food to their own eating patterns is the solution. Karl Malone's health has improved since Ms. Shah changed his diet, according to Ms. Shah.
Raw-food diets, gluten-free diets, grain-free diets, vegan and vegetarian diets are all options for pets. There are pets who eat turmeric latte-flavored snacks or CBD-infused goodies, and pets who never skip a probiotic or vitamin C supplement. Some owners prepare special menus at home, while others shop for the rising variety of diet-specific products.
Oscar, a terrier-Chihuahua mix who lives in Brooklyn, is a vegetarian, as is his owner, Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, 42, a public-health policy specialist who feeds the dog vegetarian pet food from the store.
Ms. Marcello stated, "He is a member of our family." "It would be strange if one of my children began to consume meat."
Jennifer Donald feared that her Labrador puppy, Moses, had digestive troubles due to the wheat-filled kibble she fed him last year.
Ms. Donald, 52, suffers from celiac disease and avoids gluten. She recently started feeding Moses the same food she does for herself and her husband, which includes wild-caught salmon, sweet potatoes, boiled eggs, coconut oil, and rice.
Ms. Donald, who teaches criminal justice at the University of Maryland, said, "It helped me be more in tune with him, and it is helping me keep on track with my own disease."
There are no easy or clear guidelines for feeding a pet. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings concerning some animal diets and regulates how pet food is prepared and labeled, but it is far more ambiguous when it comes to the ingredients. Veterinarians have conflicting viewpoints, and pet health research lags behind human studies. There's a lot of good advice and a lot of bad advise on the internet. It's up to the owners to pick who they can trust.
The American Kennel Club, a dog registry, offers online educational materials and diet suggestions, all of which have been reviewed by the organization's chief veterinary officer. As a result, Brandi Hunter Munden, the organization's vice president of communications, is dismayed to see people gravitate to fad diets, which she claims can harm dogs in the same way they do humans.
They can reinforce health stereotypes, encourage regimens that aren't validated by evidence, and play on people's fears of not doing enough for their pets, she added.
Jennifer Donald eats a gluten-free diet, as does her dog, Moses.
Jennifer Donald eats a gluten-free diet, as does her dog, Moses.
According to a survey released last year by Pet Insight, an independent analytics firm, the market for "nutritious pet food" — higher-priced products that claim to contain premium or nutritionally enhanced ingredients — is predicted to reach $17.9 billion by 2026. Pet wellness as a whole has grown in popularity, spawning a subcategory of social media influencers and Facebook groups dedicated to improving the diets of domesticated animals of all kinds.
It's a flex to say, My dog eats like a person, said Sean MacDonald, a 30-year-old Toronto chef who posts lavish raw-food dinners for his chocolate Labrador, Hazelnut, on his TikTok channel.
The additional time owners spent at home with their pets during the epidemic, when many people became more conscious of their own health, is linked to the strong focus on what pets consume, according to Kennel Club executive Ms. Hunter Munden.
But forcing a new way of life on a loved one can be risky if the recipient is unable to speak or make their own decisions, she warned. Dogs will eat just about anything you put in front of them, but it isn't always in their best interests.
Kymythy Schultze, a 63-year-old human and animal nutritionist, self-published The Ultimate Diet: Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats in 1999. She began feeding her pets this manner after avoiding manufactured foods
from her own diet in order to improve her health. The theory is similar to that of the Paleo diet, which states that people should eat like their Stone Age forefathers did.
Her suggestions were deemed too severe by many readers. Veterinarians warned her that her pets couldn't thrive on anything other than canned or bagged food, she claimed. "How did cats and dogs survive for
thousands of years?" Ms. Schultze, who lives on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, wondered. It hasn't been very long since the stuff in bags and cans has been around.
Thousands of copies of the book have been sold. Even though various authorities have advised against it, raw feeding — which includes vegetables, animal proteins, bones, and other uncooked items — has gone from fringe to trendy.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Animal Hospital Association have all condemned the diet in recent years, citing the potential of hazardous microorganisms contaminating some raw foods.
Wes Siler, a writer in Bozeman, Mont., claimed Ms. Schultze's diet improved the health of his three dogs, Wiley, Bowie, and Teddy. He's been feeding them raw chicken drumsticks, chicken liver, and salmon for almost four years, and says their skin irritations have gone away. Mr. Siler, 41, believes that kibble is "poison to dogs," comparing it to fast food, which he claims he hasn't eaten in 25 years.
He is aware that raw food diets are divisive. "None of my anti-N.R.A. writings has ever resulted in a single death threat," he claimed. "I get around one death threat a week from folks who are angry about my raw-feeding piece.
Pet diets are a hot topic on social media, where many owners have amassed large followings by recording videos of themselves feeding their pets.
Luke Hagopian, 21, has 3.6 million TikTok followers who watch him give frozen bloodworms, boiling spinach, and boiled cucumber to his 45 goldfish – ideas he got from talking to other fish owners online and reading websites like wikiHow. He also answers queries concerning fish diets, despite the fact that he admits he is not a medical professional.
In the pet-health profession, perceptions of expertise are shifting, and many pet owners' interest in wellness is accompanied with a growing suspicion of veterinarians.
Pet food businesses have a strong impact on the profession, according to Ms. Schultze, who published the raw-diet book, by offering discounts on items to veterinarians and even owning veterinary hospitals.
Kayla Kowalski, a 21-year-old dog owner, moved to a holistic veterinarian who was supportive of a raw diet after her veterinarian wasn't. (Holistic vets frequently blend Eastern and Western medicine, like as acupuncture and homeopathy.)
After viewing a TikTok of someone identifying the processed ingredients in pet food and reading about diets online, Haley Totes started adding fresh foods like bone broth, beef short ribs, green beans, and kefir to her dogs' diets. "Some vets are leery of raw food, even if it's homemade," she explained.
When individuals are more ready to believe social media posts than medical professionals, veterinarians feel frustrated.
"Owners trust us enough to make health-related suggestions for their pets, such as, 'Your cat has a lump, we need to remove it and get a biopsy,'" said Dr. Marcus Dela Cruz, a veterinarian in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "However, when we provide meal recommendations, the proprietors don't agree."
"I don't suggest that company to every client," Dr. Dela Cruz, 30, admitted that he received a discount on pet food.
He claims that online pet health misinformation is widespread, and that animals are suffering as a result: Antibiotic-resistant germs can be found in raw meats, and handmade meals can be deficient in key nutrients. He claims that vegetarian diets are not good for most cats since they require animal protein, but that they are suitable for dogs.
Many fad diets for pets, according to veterinarian Dr. Marcus Dela Cruz, might be dangerous or deficient in nutrients.
Dr. Leah Reilly, a veterinarian in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, finds the increasingly widespread pitch from pet food marketers that pets should eat like people particularly disconcerting. Dr. Reilly said that pets have different nutritional requirements than people, and that they are unable to detoxify and digest certain foods, such as onion and garlic, in the same manner that their owners can.
It's simple to draw a large contrast between this fresh food you have to store in the fridge and it's just like your meal kits vs this giant bag of extruded kibble, Dr. Reilly, 41, said.
For example, the pet food firm Nom Nom Now, which was purchased by the global food company Mars in December, advertises its products as human quality.
You have to ground it in something people understand, said Alex Jarrell, co-founder of Nom Nom Now, a company that sells pre-packaged meals with components like brown rice, potatoes, and carrots. "I feel better and healthier when I eat a salad instead of fast food, so translating that to my cat makes logical.
There are some pet owners who believe these diets are the key to enhancing their animals' health, while others are perplexed and frustrated by them.
Shom Mazumder, 29, a New York City line chef, was astonished to learn that the adoption agency required him to feed his Jindo and Shiba mix, Lambrusco, a raw diet.
He remarked, I haven't seen any scientific research that demonstrate this is better. But, for the time being, he's making it work.
Pet wellness culture, according to Yishian Yao, 30, who owns an animal care business in El Cerrito, Calif., may feel both classist and deceptive, as many owners can't afford to buy their animals fresh food and supplements.
If you don't do this for the health of your pet, you are not as good a pet parent, she explained.
She wondered if the widespread assumption that dogs are like family has harmed animals by placing a human value lens on their diet, as she put it.
It's not that I don't believe pets should be treated and cared for as if they were members of the family, she explained. It's when we mistakenly believe they're human when they're not. Is it actually in their best interests?