The Why,What and How of the Best Nutrition for the Health of Westies

by Wendell Marumoto, Christine Swingle and Jane Fink

Photo by M. Duffy

Editor's note: The following three-part article originally appeared in a more condensed form in the Summer 1999 issue of the
Westie Imprint - the official quarterly publication of the West Highland White Terrier Club of America.

~ Introduction ~

In the Fall, 1995 Imprint, Wendell contributed an article on his evolution as a processed dog food (kibble) user, in which he wrote, with respect to selection of a brand of dog food:

"If you are like us, you were initially influenced by advertising and promotion, coupons, and your friends, vet, and/or mentor. If you are like us, you instinctively steered clear of the supermarket brands, like Purina, Pedigree, and Ken-L Ration, and gravitated to the more expensive brands ... like Iams, Science Diet, Nutro, Eukanuba, etc.

"If you are like us, you inevitably ran across a problem that you believed was food-related, and changed to a brand that seemed more acceptable to your peers..."

He then inquired into the validity of the claims of the then emerging lines of processed dog foods based on "natural ingredients". He reviewed the claims of Brand X (Solid Gold Hund-N-Flocken) and Brand Z (California Natural). In the intervening four years, these brands have been among a half-dozen or so brands of kibbles regularly found highly acceptable to Westie owners.

In the Fall, 1996 Imprint, Christine contributed an article extolling the virtues of a holistic approach to feeding, based upon such kibbles with natural food supplements, discarding canned dog food additives.

Note that the assumption underlying both articles is that kibbles are the basic food for Westies, and there was an ongoing search for the *best* kibble-based diet.

This experience in progressively seeking a better diet for our beloved Westies may have recently reached its inevitable conclusion - a *return* to the diet designed by nature for Westies to thrive on and to maintain their health and condition. A diet to which they are entitled. We hope that you will find the following presentation thought-provoking.

~ Part 1 ~
The Questions:
Getting A Wake-Up Call
by Wendell Marumoto

What we feed our Westies is of paramount importance to those of us entrusted with the guardianship of Westies. This is clearly evidenced by the number of posts on general Westie email Lists that regularly inquire as to what "brand" of dog food people are feeding. Unfortunately, these inquiries carry with them the underlying assumption that kibbles are the "complete and balanced diet" for Westies, and that our only function is to determine the "best brand" to use. Our acceptance of this assumption is a testimony to the unequivocal success of the processed dog food industry's unrelenting public relations campaign to convince dog fanciers that kibbles are nutritionally wholesome. I admit to having been among those whose thinking had been dulled into complacency by that campaign and by the fact that no one seemed to question it.

However, I recently discovered that people have questioned it all along, but for some reason the media has not publicized this inquiry. I found the following observation in Pet Allergies - Remedies for an Epidemic (1985) by Alfred Plechner, DVM:

"After a study of pet foods in the 1970's, Dr. Paul M. Newberne of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had this to say: 'Much of the information ... on how best to feed your pet ... is misleading and primarily designed to sell a product ... often with very little, if any, supporting evidence to back the claims made by the manufacturer. The pet owning public and in many cases the veterinary profession has thus been at the mercy of the mass media advertising, often to the detriment of the health of the animal and increased cost to the client.'"

It was only when Dee unilaterally changed our Crowd's diet quite radically earlier this year that I was forced to reexamine my views on this most important aspect of our Crowd's lives. I knew that Dee had been interested in and had read quite a bit on how to holistically feed our Crowd, but I was totally unprepared for the abrupt change that she engineered from a convenient kibble-based diet to one based on raw poultry and animal meat and bones, along with pulped raw vegetables, totally devoid of kibbles.

While the thought did cross my mind, I didn't really think that Dee had lost hers. So I reviewed some materials and articles available on the Internet, and read a couple of books on the subject. I was quite surprised to find that it all made sense to me. Especially a tidy little book entitled Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Diet (formerly published in 1998 as The Ultimate Diet) by Kymythy Schultze.

I became suddenly aware that processed foods and allopathic medications had seriously depleted the natural vitality and immune systems of our Westies, and that many skin and coat problems result from a lack of raw animal fat in their diet - fat that was readily available to their ancestors and cousins in the wild.

While I had thought, at first, that Dee had taken us on a "blind plunge" into a species-Appropriate Raw Food (ARF) diet, I came to realize that if we were honest about the application of logic and common sense as to how we determined what we fed our Crowd, the "blind plunge" that we took was into the use of kibbles! We did *that* because *everyone* did it, and we simply followed, like unquestioning rodents pursuing the Pied Piper. We started with a supermarket brand, "graduated" to a brand found on our vet's shelves, and wound up with Nutro, then Solid Gold and California Natural, based upon advice from fanciers we respected, who told us that the earlier kibbles we used contained too high a proportion of protein, resulting in skin problems.

We did so "blindly" because we had no idea how kibbles were made or what they really contained. "Lamb and Rice," but how much and what quality lamb? And in the kibble-making process, how much nutrition did the condition of the lamb utilized actually generate? We really didn't know. Do you? If you're not sure, you might look at the ARF4Westies website. Go to, scroll down to Informative Articles, Websites and FAQs and click on Polluted Pet Foods.

I became painfully aware that we had not been thinking at all when we had earlier considered proper food for our Crowd. I realized that we had only been looking for *better* kibbles, and not necessarily the best food available to our Westies, fulfilling Dr. Plechner's observation made as long ago as 1985 that, "[t]he criterion for purchase is no longer what food is best, but rather what food will cause less problems."

Are kibbles really the ideal food for Westies? Were Westies created with their marvelous dentition and powerful jaws so that they would wait until the latter half of the 20th century to pulverize grain kibbles?

At page 18 of the Fourth Edition of his classic, The Complete West Highland White Terrier, John Marvin wrote:

"Members of the genus canis are basically carnivorous animals; that is, they are primarily meat-eaters. The dog is equipped for such a diet with an excellent set of forty-two teeth, including twelve incisors (small front teeth) that are adapted for cutting and seizing; four canines (the long pointed tusk-like dentition) which are for tearing, stabbing, or for "fixing" the struggling prey; and twenty-six premolars and molars (the broader, heavy rear teeth having substantially flat complex crowns) that are used as grinders for crushing food…"

"The dog tears its food and often bolts large pieces with little or no mastication. The stomach is of simple structure capable of digesting this unchewed food, and the intestines are of length medium between the short ones of the true carnivora and the long ones of graminivorous animals."

That rather clearly describes what the Westie's dentition and digestive system were designed to do. Should we not let them do what they were designed for?

The few troubling questions then became a flood.

What did Westies and their ancestors eat before there were kibbles? What did they eat in their natural habitat? Do kibbles really replicate their *natural* diet, or do they only provide what nutritionists consider the proper chemical balance by analysis of their considered *ideal* diet? Are kibbles truly wholesome, or are they not much more than papier-mâché dipped in beef broth, then injected with vitamins and chemicalized *nutrients* before being baked for a length of time at high temperatures, destroying any resemblance to the natural ingredients used?

If the development of nutritional products for humans paralleled what we feed Westies, would we not be eating whatever nutritional science would have developed K-Rations to become? To accommodate the exigencies of front-line combat during World War II, K-Rations served our military well. Why didn't we continue to feed our population this apparently nutritious and very convenient food over the long haul? What would have happened to your health and mine had this become our basic diet?

Isn't this what we are doing to Westies with kibble-based diets? Are Westies designed to thrive on a steady diet of kibbles and Milk-Bones any more than humans are designed to thrive on a diet of Nutrition bars (read: K-Rations)?

We then reflected on the state of health of Westies since the advent of kibbles as the cornerstone of their diet. In that time, had their overall health improved, or even remained the same? Had it worsened? Are there now measurably greater numbers, proportions, and kinds of illnesses and diseases affecting Westies than there were 60 years ago? In their writings, did Mrs. Pacey and Mrs. Dennis show the kind of concern for "atopic dermatitis" that is of paramount concern to breeders and writers today? I have found that neither they nor John Marvin, even in the late '70s, expressed such concern, and therefore have to ask, why not? A question that Christine will answer in Part 2.


[ Part 1 ] [ Part 2 ] [ Part 3 ]


Top of Page

| Back to Living With Westies | Westie World Site Index |

© Westie World. All Rights Reserved.