Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Nature Of Nature

Nature is not your friend, or your pet's friend. It is not your enemy either, but it is not your friend. It is simply indifferent. Like that cool, funny, attractive, intelligent person you wish you could get to know better, but they're too busy being themselves.

I'm probably going to get some hate mail for this, so let me first reassure the reader that I actually do love nature, regardless of how it feels about me. I spend as much time in the wilderness as possible, I contribute to environmental causes, I make my own yogurt, I buy eggs from pasture-grazed chickens direct from the farmer, I can distinguish the two species of nuthatch at fifty paces and I have been known to wear Birkenstocks.

Unfortunately however, for some people, including some pet owners, love of nature has become confused with believing that medications and foods labeled "natural" are better for their pet's health. There are two distinct problems with this belief.

The first is, as I indicated above, nature is not your pet's friend. The most potent cancer causing agent yet identified anywhere is aflatoxin, which is produced by a certain mold on peanuts, rice and a few other foods. Tiny amounts that are undetectable to the eye, nose or tastebuds are enough to cause a problem. This is perfectly natural and has been around since we were still living in trees and grunting at each other. And it has cropped up in some small batch dog foods with poor quality control. This is just one example. There are many many more.

Another way to look at this is to consider the life span of wild animals living fully natural lives. Wolves, for example, generally average around 7 years, not much more than half that of many domestic dogs. Middle aged and older readers may wish to shield their eyes, but if nature is indifferent to our fate, it is supremely indifferent to the point of negligence about our fate once we are past reproductive age.

The second problem with seeking out "natural" labeled products for health purposes is that the term is unregulated and effectively meaningless. I have no particular affection for the giant pharmaceutical corporations and their profit-seeking distortions of science, but if you believe that a product that happens to have a smiling Peruvian native on the label and uses a funky earthy font is truly "natural" and, moreover, is somehow made by a non-profit collective that only has your pet's very best interest at heart, then you are naive. Ditto for pet foods named purple antelope or green beaver or some other marketing department driven bewilderment. The only difference is scale. It's almost all profit driven and it's almost all designed to sell as much product as possible.

If you can gather it or grow it or raise it or hunt it yourself, and if you have solid research (statistics not anecdotes please!) to back up its safety and efficacy, by all means, go natural! But if you are buying it packaged, be wary, be skeptical. It's not necessarily bad, but it's certainly not necessarily good either.

Many people have the charming belief that something wouldn't be allowed to be sold if it wasn't safe and at least a little bit effective. The truth is that if it doesn't require a prescription it is either very loosely regulated or not regulated at all. A giant firehose of over-the-counter nutraceuticals, supplements, herbal remedies and "natural" cures of all description is aimed at us and nobody has the resources to test and double-check even a fraction of it.

And right now nature is producing -43C wind chills out there. So please keep your pets in the unnatural confines of the house until the natural winds subside.

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