How I loved my time working at the PDSA charity as a GP Vet. It was lifechanging for me and where my whole JUST BE KIND journey began, but equally lifechanging for a very special black labrador called Paris who I so looked forward to seeing on a monthly basis.
Why lifechanging for me as a vet?
Working at the PDSA with owners who were on benefits of some sort or who could not afford veterinary care for their pets was so humbling as I realised how deeply intertwined the lives of our pets were, to the point of sometimes being the only reason for people to get up each day and keep going. This overwhelming bond that owners had for their pets led to a dangerous pattern of overfeeding out of pure love and just wanting to treat them as they were so important in their lives.
It was this realisation that obesity in our pets was the main reason for euthanasia as it directly resulted in crippling pain from arthritis with dogs or cats being so badly affected that sometimes they could even stand or groom themselves. There was also the dangerous connection between obesity and certain cancers in our pets.
One particular day overwhelmed me where I had 4 different pets to put to sleep due to weight related issues – something had to change and I had to be part of it.
I vowed to do something about it and threw myself into pet nutrition (something we learn very little about as vets) to be able to advise owners on the best way to help their pets lose weight. I joined Slimming World myself (as yes, I have been plagued by weight issues from comfort eating in times of stress all my life) and on the 6th May 2019, I turned both myself and our family dog Ruff vegan as all the research I had done pointed to a wholefood plant-based diet being the most nutritious for both us and our pets!
What an amazing journey I have been on. I wish I had turned both myself vegan and all our previous pets vegan a long long time ago….but by being a ‘vegan vet virgin’ 🙂 I do feel in a much more comfortable place helping other owners who are starting from ‘ground zero’ as I have been there too and learnt the hard way but also learnt everything I know from hundreds of admirable inspiring owners! I am constantly learning daily and the very first dog I took all my inspiration from was Paris – a gorgeous girl who was adored by her Dad and visited my consulting room monthly.
Paris the Labrador surrounded by PDSA staff with Arielle and Paris’ ower holding up a cheque he had donated to the PDSA to thank us for the very simple advice that I had given on how to treat Paris that was so lifechanging!
Paris the Labrador’s story
Paris was a gentle, loving sweet Black Labrador who suffered from a common genetic condition for her breed – elbow dysplasia. This led to her having early onset arthritis and pain in her front legs. She came in monthly for a quick check up to be dispensed the most common medication that vets dispense for dogs with arthritis – Metacam (or another brand name Loxicom). It is an effective drug but it is still an artificial drug that is dispensed according to the weight of the dog. The heavier a dog, the higher the dose vets to prescribe (even though it should be given according to a dog’s recommended weight), but busy vets do not try to work this out.
So once a month, Paris was receiving her medication according to her high weight (as she carried about 4 kgs of excess which most Labradors do), and every day her body would have to metabolise and get rid of this drug through her kidneys putting unecessary long term strain on her organs with the side effects of this drug and shortening her lifespan with constant use.
When Paris’ owner brought her in to see me, I was immediately struck by the bond that he had with her. He suffered from epilepsy and told me how he could not work and had to stay home with Paris as she was the one who alerted anyone if he had a seizure by barking. He told me how one particular time he was in the kitchen making a ham sandwich (yes he wasn’t vegan and neither was Paris) and he fell to the ground. When he came round, Paris had barked and alerted the neighbours and he was fine, but he noticed that the ham sandwich had disappeared. We laughed as we imagined her dilemma as a Labrador – ‘Do I bark first to help my Dad or do I finish off the sandwich?’! 🙂
I took the time to ask him what Paris ate in a day and as all owners do when asked this question by their vet, he just mentioned the meals she was having. I then prompted him about what snacks and treats she had each day and gently explained how there is evidence to prove that the gaze of our pets releases the hormone oxytocin in both us as owners and in our pets.
Oxytocin is a powerful bonding hormone that is released by mothers soon after giving birth to allow the infant to suckle, as well as being produced when we fall in love and our pupils dilate out of our control as we fall into a state of utter happiness.
Being mammals, dogs also experience an oxytocin rush when they look at their owners whom they adore. We tend to then offer them what they love the most – their favourite food treats or some of what we are indulging in.
This then results in our pets subconsciously realising how powerful just their gaze is, so they stare a bit more and as the feel-good hormone is released in our bodies; we give in and reach for another treat – causing what is called an oxytocin gaze loop!
This theory has a deeper behavioural survival significance as evidence from human studies show that the quality and quantity of our relationship with our pets is associated not only with better mental health but also with reduced mortality. Teresa Romero et al
Our pets know they will survive and live longer happier lives with this ‘happy hormone’ flooding through their systems so they gaze at us as much as they can and we know too that this social interaction with something we love so much is going to help us lead happier lives, so the long gazes with ‘those eyes’ continues!
This is part of understanding why we overfeed our pets and hopefully by explaining it, it would help Paris’ owner give in to those loving big-eyed stares by reaching for the high calorie treats.
This is where I stepped in with the knowledge I had picked up from all the veterinary nutritional courses I had done. My advice was so simple yet it was so lifechanging for Paris –
Instead of cutting back on quantities, simply replace one meal a day with cooked fresh or frozen vegetables plus some added nutritional yeast for a tasty and high nutrient low calorie meal. Paris did lose weight as she ate more plants and her owner realised the value of her high fibre nutrient rich plant-based diet and he too began to eat more healthily and lose weight. He was so thrilled with the results in his beloved Paris who now needed less medication and still enjoyed her food, that he did a sponsored cycle ride to raise much needed funds for the PDSA as shown in the image above!
I did not have the Supergreen Supplement in 2018….it has taken me 4 years to finally develop a supplement that replaces all the nutrients and proteins that are lacking when we cut back on our pet’s food to result in weight loss – and it is tasty!
Read article published in May issue of Vet Record about the new EU regulations and taking dog food to the EU
We offer top tips to keep your vegan dog healthy and happy in the summer heat
What a week! New published papers show that your dog WILL live longer AND it is broadcast on TV that vegan dog poo has no smell!!
Arielle Griffiths talks at Vegan Life Live Event at Alexandra Palace in London
Help us to educate the public about plant-based feeding in dogs and you’ll get a FREE thank you goodie bag for your dog!
All my fears and anxieties of having a stand at VetFest were unnecessary as Solo Vegetal stole the show
Pets at Home own brand Wainwrights launch a plant-based tinned and dry dog food in their stores
The Guardian features Dr Arielle Griffiths, vegan dog Ruff and other wonderful vegan dog owners
I would never have released this video……had it not been for an amazing surprise visitor – James Wilks from Gamechangers visiting the UK with his son!!!
“The pooled evidence to date indicates that the healthiest and least hazardous dietary choices for dogs, are nutritionally sound vegan diets”
The changes seen in their pet’s health whilst on a plant-based diet is remarkable and cannot be disputed that it can be quite lifechanging to their health
The recent craze to feed our dogs more and more meat (raw or cooked) in their diets comes from the untrue conclusion that dogs are carnivores and they need meat