This week’s topic is: How To Raise Your Dog Plant-Based with Dr. Ernie Ward
I am so excited to have my very special guest, Dr. Ernie Ward, who is an award-winning practicing veterinarian and speaker, television and YouTube personality, and podcaster. He specializes in teaching veterinary healthcare teams and pet owners how to lead more fulfilling, meaningful, and successful lives. Listen in as Ernie shares his path towards becoming a veterinarian, becoming plant-based and myths surrounding what your pet should be eating, and more!
- Dr. Ward’s path toward becoming a veterinarian…
- Becoming plant-based and how family, food and lifestyle choices made an impact on this decision…
- We discuss the philosophical side of needing meat and balancing a plant-based approach…
- Funding a new business and next steps…
- Myths regarding humans and animals needing meat and animal products…
- Processed dog foods versus giving your dog a piece of chicken…
- What to expect when switching your dog to a plant-based diet…
- Ingredient bias when it comes to what humans and dogs should eat…
- Ernie shares his viewpoint on the behaviors and performance of dogs when they become more plant-based…
- If dogs should eat grains…
About Dr. Ernie Ward
Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT (veterinary food therapist) has spent his career blending healthy lifestyles and medicine. He is internationally known for improving veterinary medical standards, creating a higher quality of life for animals, and promoting healthier habits for pets and people.
Dr. Ward has been a leader in the areas of pet nutrition and weight loss, establishing diagnostic test protocols and evolving pet technologies, promoting senior pet care, and advancing veterinary practice standards and veterinary staff training.
Whether he’s dishing on the latest pet food and exercise trends, cutting-edge medicine, or confronting controversial topics, Dr. Ernie has a unique talent for making the most complex and challenging concepts easy to understand and relatable.
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Other Podcasts you may enjoy!:
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Kimberly: 00:04 Hey Beauties. Welcome back to our Monday Interview podcast. I am so excited for our special guest today. His name is Dr. Ernie Ward, and he is an award-winning practicing veterinarian, television and YouTube personality. He has his own podcast on helping pet owners and visionary healthcare teams lead more fulfilling, meaningful and successful lives. He’s also one of the founders of Wild Earth, which is this amazing plant-based pet food company that we’ve been personally giving to our dog, Jackie. We have a lot of questions for you, Dr. Ernie. We have never had a veterinarian on the show. We have lots and lots of animal lovers in the community, so I’m super excited to pick your brain.
Fan Of The Week
Kimberly: 00:46 Before we dive in, I’m just going to give a quick shout out to our fan of the week. Her name is LeannaBug83; very cute name. She writes, “I’ve been reading Kim’s books and following her plans since 2014. I didn’t expect such a life changing thing to happen after I bought her first book, The Beauty Detox Solution. I was hooked. I love all her tips, beauty from the inside out, and her take on spirituality.
Kimberly: 01:22 I have all her books now and she reminds me of my best friend. I feel like she’s a kindred spirit. Love, love, love you Kim, keep doing what you’re doing. You make a difference. Lots of love, Liana from Kansas.” Well, Liana from Kansas, sending you a huge virtual hug out there. I’m so grateful for you for being part of our community. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your review. Lots and lots of love right back to you.
Write a Review and Subscribe
Kimberly: 01:48 And, Beauties, for your chance to also be shouted out as the fan of the week and for me to read your beautiful words, please take a minute and write us a review on iTunes, which is free and easy, and just a really great energetic way to support the show. And, please, also be sure to subscribe to our show, that way, you don’t miss out on any of these Monday Interview podcasts and our Thursday Q&A community podcasts as well. All right, that was a mouthful. All done. Big intro. Dr. Ernie, thank you for waiting patiently on the line. I’m so excited to hear from you today. Thanks for taking the time to come on.
Interview with Dr. Ernie Ward
Ernie: 02:24 Well, I got to tell you, I am thrilled to be here with you today and, of course, with your beautiful Beauties. I love that you guys are doing some amazing stuff out there. Anybody that’s trying to help people live a more fulfilling, healthy, spiritual life, I’m down. I love it.
Kimberly: 02:39 Oh, it awesome, Dr. Ernie. We talk about the word beauty a lot in our community, really this holistic perspective which isn’t just about your features and your hair, but really from the inside out and really connecting with your spirit, with your essence because we believe everybody is really beautiful in their own way. And when we connect to that, then, we feel more self love and we have more love to give other people. It’s one of my missions to redefine beauty in the world, because a lot of times it seems very surface and there’s so much depth to beauty.
Ernie: 03:11 Yeah. And the world can be an ugly place to us. And so as someone who’s a little further on their journey of life than you are, but as you get into your 50s you really do start to appreciate the work you put in your 20s and your 30s, because that builds a foundation for, you know… I don’t like the term success but fulfillment. And I think that really is one of the things that you do have to invest in yourself. You do have to give serious thought and contemplation to your actions that become your habits and behaviors.
Ernie: 03:40 And so, I mean, this is just one thing. Obviously, I’m a veterinarian and I love that part; but it also gives another element to helping me find fulfillment. And so, again as someone who is a little further down the life journey than you, I can tell you what you’re doing is important.
Dr. Ward’s path toward becoming a veterinarian
Kimberly: 03:54 Thank you so much Dr. Ernie. And I’d love to hear about all your important work as well. First of all, you’re a vet, you’re very accomplished. Your bio is quite long, I shortened it. But were you always really a huge animal lover? I’m always interested in how someone becomes a vet versus a doctor. Did you always have a lot of pets around? How did you choose this path in particular?
Ernie: 04:16 Yeah, and I appreciate that question. That’s a wonderful start. For me, I always knew I was going to be a veterinarian. I like to joke, I’m from Southwest Georgia so I knew I was going to be a vet since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. And so there are people that are lucky enough to find their calling early in life. And, again, it was this natural affinity towards all things natural, all things animal-related. I grew up both of my family had farms so I grew up in that kind of environment, which was always interesting being a vegan now for 32 years or whatever.
Kimberly: 04:49 Wow.
Ernie: 04:50 The point is that I grew up in this very rural part of the country surrounded by animals. And so I had a very tragic event happen early in my life, when I was seven years old, and I’ve written about this extensively. I had two dogs at the time, Taco and Missy. And, of course, we lived on this little family farm and taco was accused of killing a neighbor’s chickens. Probably he was, right? But, regardless, one Fall night in Southwest Georgia, it was shattered by an unmistakable sound of a 12 gauge shotgun and Taco drag his self home and I ran outside and held him.
Ernie: 05:29 And really it was at that moment that it catalyzed what I would do. My purpose was I actually found in that trauma. And I think many of your listeners can probably relate, that sometimes if we can take trauma and build something positive out of it, it really becomes transformative. And for me-
Kimberly: 05:45 Absolutely.
Ernie: 05:46 -[crosstalk 00:05:46], I’m sitting here watching my beloved… really my first, my own personal dog at that time. I was seven years old, and to watch him die in my arms. And I made this commitment how I don’t want to let another animal die. And it really led me to this path of really treating all life with the highest sanctity.
Becoming plant-based and how family, food and lifestyle choices made an impact on this decision
Kimberly: 06:00 Wow. Coming from Georgia, where it’s obviously a state like many states that are very based in a meat-based culture, barbecue and Southern food, when did you become interested in plant based food, as a child or as a teenager? How did your family react to that?
Ernie: 06:22 Yeah, great, great question. And, honestly, it is the byproduct of that societal norm of eating fried everything, lots and lots of meat piled high with potatoes and just smoking and alcohol and all those things that really don’t lead to a healthy longevity. And quite frankly what happened, Kimberly, I watched all of the male patriarchs of my family die too early, these premature deaths from cardiovascular disease. And so I’m growing up as a teenager and I’m taking stock and I’m going, “I don’t want to be like those guys.”
Kimberly: 06:54 Were they super heavy?
Ernie: 06:56 All of them suffered from smoking, alcoholism… Oh, not alcoholism but alcohol abuse, I would say. Obviously, this is a different time so the definitions could stray or drift. And, of course, they all, did suffer from obesity.
Kimberly: 07:10 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ernie: 07:10 And then I watched my father who had his chest cracked open when he turned about 50, which is younger than me at my age. And you certainly realize, “Well, this is just not.” Now, two things were happening, right? I’m committing my life towards veterinary medicine. I mean, I’m young at this point when I’m describing, your teenager years, and you’re not in control of your diet. But I was not feeling, as I cut out of my book, the ethical feeding friction. Right?
Kimberly: 07:37 Yes.
Ernie: 07:37 I knew it wasn’t right. Why were we killing some animals and then holding others up on a pedestal in reverence? And so that already was starting to ache at my personal morals. And so what happened was as soon as I left home for college, quite frankly, I just said, “That’s it. I can know I no longer eat my friends. I can no longer live this life that I feel hypocritical, that I feel this ethical feeding friction. And more importantly, also, I’m looking at the devastating health effects that everybody else in my family is suffering, so why not try something different?”
Ernie: 08:11 And I began this radical journey. Interestingly, my father who has passed on now, he was very curious because he, at an early age, had to have a heart surgery. And so he [inaudible 00:08:24]. And so he started exploring. He never became a full on vegan, but he did adopt a primarily vegetarian lifestyle. I was super proud to accompany him on that journey, especially as we both got older.
Kimberly: 08:35 That’s wonderful. It’s always shocking to me how people… I actually say shocking but it’s interesting the conscious or the thought process where people love dogs so much and the thought of eating a dog is horrifying. But then I’ve read so much about pigs, for instance, and their intelligence levels and their cognitive abilities and yet eating a pig in our culture is not a big deal.
Ernie: 09:01 Yeah. And that’s one of the reasons why I had to write The Clean Pet Food Revolution. It was because I wanted people to understand the ramifications of the food that they choose to eat themselves or feed their pets, what it has on the world at large. And that was we do discuss the intelligence and emotional states of most production animals. And I hate that term, animals that are our factory farmed to feed America.
Ernie: 09:26 And so when we start to really look at it holistic, and I love again what the Beauties are all about, and that is how do we fit into this larger world? How do we find joy and beauty in everything we do? And one of the things that I realized early on in my life was that killing animals to eat is wrong.
Kimberly: 09:45 And you know for me, doctor, people come into plant-based eating for different reasons; and I became a nutritionist and started writing about the health reasons, and then later more about the environmental reasons. But I’m also a Yogi, and I started my journey backpacking after college. And, for me, yoga was the first pathway to not eating meat because learning about the energies, and my teachers were talking about meditation and how energy does transfer.
Kimberly: 10:14 For me, you’re saying the energy part and the compassion, the Ahimsa, the nonviolence, was actually my first… the beginning of my journey as well. I mean, different from yours but that energy of it.
Ernie: 10:30 I made the same conclusions, that this is wrong.
Kimberly: 10:33 Yes.
Ernie: 10:33 And it’s funny because when I was getting my credentials in food therapy, so we were also studying traditional Chinese food energetics which is 3,000 years of study that has been accumulate by traditional Chinese medical practitioners. And when you look at these, they talk about the energetic. You suddenly realize, “Wow, we’re eating foods that are bringing in harmful energies. And then we have to eat something else to offset it.” And it’s like, “Wow, should we really be doing this in the first place?”
Ernie: 11:03 And then quite frankly when you look at some of the animals that they choose to eat and the stories that they conjure up to support that bull, those habits really, is baffling. And so I love the fact that you came to this from a place of spirituality, because I had it from a moral and then a health purpose. And then, of course later in life, you hope to leave a legacy that you train, you teach your family and those around, you train your doctors that are under your stewardship and so forth.
We discuss the philosophical side of needing meat and balancing a plant-based approach
Kimberly: 11:34 Doctor, that’s interesting. I have also studied Ayurveda, and Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. Even though there’s not like a hard fast rule all or nothing, some dosha, some [inaudible 00:11:46] that you can eat some meat. But every Ayurvedic professor I’ve had has always been vegetarian. Now, in the traditional Chinese medicine world, a lot of them do eat meat. And I’m actually pregnant right now, and a lot of pregnant women are told when they get acupuncture, if someone’s along the philosophy about needing meat. Do you study [inaudible 00:12:11] a bit? What do you think about that, or how would you balance the plant based approach?
Ernie: 12:18 Right. Well, for me, there really aren’t any compelling health arguments for eating meat anymore; so regardless of whether or not I’m interested in other modalities, such as traditional [inaudible 00:12:28], there’s just no compelling scientific or medical evidence that says, “Oh, this? You need to eat this.” And I do feel for you because you my wife, we have two children. They’re now grown and so they’re off at college.
Ernie: 12:40 But it was a real dilemma for us because her first gynecologist, who was an older gentleman at the time, was just absolutely adamant that we were going to create babies with three heads and no legs. Right? And they do put the fear in you. Then we were very confused because it’s like, “Wait a second. This guy has been delivering babies for 70 years. Should we listen to him?” And then we would do our own individual research and talk to other people who had successfully had children being vegan. And we really had to…
Ernie: 13:14 You encounter a lot of challenges in the real world, so I appreciate your journey. We live in a rural part of the country, in North Carolina, so we didn’t have as many options with our healthcare providers. But at every turn, especially during the pregnancies, we were told, “Wow, this is very dangerous.” But getting back to your question, again, the evidence is clear. There are many, many dangers to eating meat diets, particularly red meats. Okay?
Kimberly: 13:39 Yes.
Ernie: 13:40 The World Health Organization classifies it as a form of carcinogen. It’s like, “Wow. People, what more evidence do we need?” But then on the other side, as we write in The Clean Pet Food Revolution, the amount of evidence for dogs, for example, being fed a plant based diet is just growing astronomically [crosstalk 00:13:58].
Kimberly: 13:59 Oh, yes.
Ernie: 13:59 It’s one of those things where I think the world, once we remove all of these… and I call it in the book the ingredient biases. We actually societal, culturally, have certain biases against certain proteins. In fact, you actually used a good example earlier of something that we find grotesque, but in many parts of the world is considered normal and that is dog meat. Right? To us, based on our cultural upbringing, we view eating dogs as a borat. And, in fact, it’s illegal in the United States but yet in parts of Asia that’s just different than eating a chicken or so.
Ernie: 14:34 Again, these ingredient biases are hard baked into us and it’s really difficult to overcome because this was… One of the things that I talk about in either the peer review research that I publish or in my book is, okay, we have to convince people that dogs aren’t like miniature wolves. They’re not actually carnivores. They’re omnivores. They’re opportunities scavenger. But, again, these myths are perpetuated. Society and cultural biases intersects with our own surroundings and then before you know it dogs are wolves. They need meat or they’ll die. And when you’re pregnant, as a woman, it’s like you have to eat meat or your baby will have a problem. And that’s just not true.
Funding a new business and next steps
Kimberly: 15:15 Well, let’s get into those myths now from the animal perspective, because we’re so excited. You’re the first vet that we’ve had, doc. And, by the way, congratulations on Wild Earth. I know you guys went on Shark Tank and got funded. Who funded you?
Ernie: 15:29 Yeah. Our shark was Mark Cuban, which was-
Kimberly: 15:32 Oh, nice.
Ernie: 15:33 Actually, that’s who we wanted. We were kind of silently hoping that Richard Branson would be on our episode, but he was not there that time. And so the only other one that we even thought we had a kinship with was Mark Cuban. We were completely over the moon when Cuban said, “I’ll sign up,” and really met our terms [crosstalk 00:15:53].
Kimberly: 15:53 Awesome.
Ernie: 15:53 Yeah, it’s been a great experience.
Kimberly: 15:55 Once you get funded by someone on there, do you actually have interaction with them or is it more of their team? I mean, I’m sure they fund a lot of people, but they care about the ones they do fund.
Ernie: 16:05 Right. Well, ours was really interesting because I think that Mark Cuban has been going through a lot of changes in his personal life. And so he’s been dabbling with reducing his meat consumption and he’s becoming much more outward facing with some of his, I would say, social outreach and some of the issues that he’s been tackling, especially lately. I’m really proud to be associated with him. We kind of caught him at a time when he started looking at plant-based, not just as an economic opportunity but actually as something to give back to the planet.
Ernie: 16:38 And I think that he and a lot of other very, very successful high billionaires… Peter Thiel is another one of our investors. They take climate change very serious. And so I think that that’s what we’re seeing. One of our early investors was a potential competitor, but Mars Pet Food, the people that Royal Canin and Pedigree.
Kimberly: 17:00 It’s wonderful.
Ernie: 17:01 They recognized early, early on that we were onto something a little bit different, and so it’s really great to have the support. But getting back to Cuban, yeah, we interact with them. Mark Cuban seems to operate primarily through digital and virtual communications, so we get a lot of back and forth via emails and text messages. Ryan and Abril Estrada, two of the other founders, recently did a special Latina outreach. They did an entrepreneurship thing, so Mark was nice enough to join as a guest. Yeah.
Kimberly: 17:34 Amazing.
Ernie: 17:35 Yeah, it’s cool.
Kimberly: 17:36 I love it. I love that. This idea of vegan pet food. When I first brought it up to my husband, he said, “Oh, but I think dogs are supposed to eat meat.” Again, we’ve learned… My first book, doctor, was called The Beauty Detox Solution and I compared the anatomy of gorillas and… no, lions and tigers. I’m lucky enough to have spent over seven months in Africa when I was backpacking. And you see, okay, there’s very different structures to different animals diets.
Myths regarding humans and animals needing meat and animal products
Kimberly: 18:06 And we are much closer to gorillas and so we know, from a comparative perspective, we thrive on plant foods as humans even though, of course, we can eat some animal products. And there’s people… In our community, of course we don’t say it’s all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be. But being more largely plant-based has so many benefits from a health, wellness, energy, meditation, beauty perspective. But could we talk about dogs for a minute, because I don’t know much about a dog’s digestive system. Is it the same way that it’s a myth that humans need meat? Is it a myth that dogs need meat and animal products?
Ernie: 18:46 Right. And right there is where the language begins to fail us because this is a classic example of what we call ingredient bias. See, people think of foods as ingredients. Meat, do dogs need meat? Do people need meat? That’s what you hear. That’s what we encounter in the real world. Well, see, meat is an ingredient, and I call ingredients nutrient vessels; because, see, the only value to the ‘meat’ or the pea or the potato or the avocado is the nutrients contained within it. It’s the constituent building blocks.
Ernie: 19:20 And this is where we have to start to be very clear in our language because this ingredient bias, well, you need meat, you don’t. You don’t need any meat at all. What you need are the amino acids that your body requires for survival. Okay?
Kimberly: 19:34 Dogs don’t need to get their amino acids from meat?
Ernie: 19:37 That’s exactly what it means. It means that amino acids, wherever they originate, that’s the only thing that matters. The building blocks of ‘meat’ are also found in the building blocks of fungal proteins that… Of course, this is my thing. Or in pea proteins, or in potato proteins, or you name it. Right? It’s the building blocks, and that’s why we have to really overcome the language barriers. Because when you say meats, I don’t think of meats. I think, “Well, okay, she must be talking about the 10 essential amino acids.” I’m guessing, right? Because that’s where we have to go.
Ernie: 20:12 And what’s happening is the technology is progressing so rapidly that when we look at companies like ours, and you look at even at beyond meat and the next generation of impossible and so forth, we’re actually now scaling it to the level of saying what are the amino acids that we’re interested in? Forget making it look like chicken, or pork, or whatever, fish. What’s in that tuna that actually makes it so healthy? How can we access those Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, that DHA?
Ernie: 20:40 And we know, of course, that we can get a better source of it from algae which is, quite frankly, where the plankton and everything that winds up in the food space ends up in the tuna. My point being that we have to break apart the nutrients from the ingredients and focus. When we talk about nutrition, we mean what are the nutrients that we need to maintain health and beauty and longevity and fight disease, prevent illness, those sort of things.
Kimberly: 21:06 That is super efficient, doctor. I love this. I’m totally on board with you. But if I play the devil’s advocate for a moment and someone was to say to you, “Yeah, but that’s not where the dog would find his nutrients in nature. If you released him out, he would go for the meat versus the kale.” Is that true, because I don’t know?
Ernie: 21:25 Well, of course… Yeah, because then we were back down to another false argument of accessibility. And so if are surrounded on a desert Island with only one food source-
Kimberly: 21:36 [inaudible 00:21:36].
Ernie: 21:36 It doesn’t matter. You can have a million choices. That doesn’t matter. You actually get what you can access. Now, see, we’ve now progressed to a time where we no longer just have to kill a cow to access the amino acids, the fats and minerals, and vitamins contained in that cow. We now have the choice; and, see, that’s the difference. That’s the difference between now and 100 years ago or 1,000 or a million years prior. The choice now is how do you want to access those nutrients?
Ernie: 22:05 Do you want to kill an animal for that nutrient or do you want to find another more compassionate solution? And so, for us, that’s all we’re doing. It’s we’re saying part of this journey is to progress the science to the point where we no longer have to… The choice is abundantly clear. Why would we…? I mean, I really believe that in my lifetime that we’re going to look back and say, “Why were we killing [inaudible 00:22:25]?”
Kimberly: 22:25 100%.
Ernie: 22:26 Why? This is so wasteful?
Kimberly: 22:30 I always think it’s like smoking, right? When my grandmother was a teenager, she would say, “Oh, people said it was good to be smoking,” and now they think, “Oh, my gosh. How could they possibly have thought that?” [inaudible 00:22:43] do you think we’re barbarians, we were eating all these cows.
Ernie: 22:46 Exactly. Or Kimberly, even worse, that it was so societally accepted that it was considered attractive. A female in my grandmother’s era, and she’s long since passed, every picture had the movie star and the models posing with a cigarette, because that’s the ideal of beauty. And now we look back and go, “That’s disgusting.”
Kimberly: 23:07 They’re hair stank and it was just breathing in the air.
Ernie: 23:11 Right? This is how progress happens. And so, one of the… I hope the silver linings of this awful global pandemic that we’re currently experiencing will be the fact that people really are critically analyzing the food that we consume, the chains that supply us, those distributions that we now have seen just completely get derailed in the United States at least. And so we start to now analyze and say, “What are other choices?” And then that will lead you down to, A, what is better for my health, B, what might be better for the climate, C, what might be more compassionate. And I think that as we [inaudible 00:23:45] questions, you obviously land on eating things that aren’t from killing animals.
Processed dog foods versus giving your dog a piece of chicken
Kimberly: 23:53 To me, there’s no argument against the compassion part, it’s better for the environment. There is a camp of people, whether they’re in the Paleo camp or Keto or whatever, that will say, in the human food category Beyond Meat is just super processed. What would you say to that argument? Oh, Wild Earth, it’s great that it’s got super foods, it’s got amino acids for dogs, but it may be more processed than if I just gave my dog a piece of chicken.
Ernie: 24:22 Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s a fair question and one that you have to then spin it back on them and say, “Hey, that’s great if you’re out there actually hunting and killing and no processing of the food. But the reality is if you are buying any food, animal meat, peas, whatever, it has been highly processed and refined. It has been tested for disease pathogens or infectious pathogens.” I mean, so the point… I think when people say, “Oh, I eat this, cage-free, range or whatever, grass fed,” it’s a myth.
Ernie: 24:55 I mean, these are marketing terms that have almost no, and in many cases no, regulatory oversight. I think that I’d just get back to the, “Hey, yeah. If you went out there and sourced it yourself, more power to you, no judgment from me.” But to say that, oh, it’s a processing thing and Beyond Meat, I’m not going to argue that. Of course it’s processed. Just don’t go eat at a fast food restaurant. Don’t, really, dine at most restaurants any way. You know what I mean? Don’t buy anything in a box, or in a can, or a wrapped in plastic.
Kimberly: 25:24 Well they can dog food. That’s all like meat from factories.
Ernie: 25:31 Yeah. Yeah. There are a lot of problems with processing in general, and I’ll be the first to admit you really do try to eat as close to nature as possible. Having said that, we also live in the real world, which is why we have a commercial, dry kibble, pet food. This was a decision that we came at after a lot of thought and consideration, like what is the form that we want to deliver this? And for us the answer came pretty quickly once we decided we wanted to make the greatest impact on animal meat consumption.
Ernie: 26:00 And the way you do that is you go where the market is. You hate to say that this is exactly what Beyond Meat has done and Impossible Burger have done so brilliantly. They just said, “Look, what’s the thing that most Americans just love?” “Well, it’s a hamburger.” I mean, it’s whatever. Right? And for us, long time vegans, we’d forgotten about hamburgers long, long ago because there weren’t good options. They went where the market was and they said, “Let’s challenge it.” And that’s really what we did. That’s why our pet food was the world’s first high protein plant-based dog food. And we’re making it in a kibble.
Ernie: 26:34 The other part of this too, Kimberly, is while I love the lifestyle that we are able to live here in rural North Carolina, with my family we’re able to buy… I mean, we batch kombucha.
Kimberly: 26:47 Oh, nice.
Ernie: 26:49 We’re dehydrating our fruits, so we’re living that life. Right? That kind of… whatever you want to call it. That’s we’re that hippie, drippy, granola type people. We got it. Having said that, not everybody can and not everybody has the time or resources.
Kimberly: 27:02 Of course. It’s not their priority. Their whole family life is built around that.
Ernie: 27:07 Right. And, often, the dog or the cat is really left out of that equation. When we talk about healthy cooking and eating, I’m going to be like, “Well, first and foremost, cook fresh food for your family, please.” But if you’re super taxed for time or cost is an issue, then, we do want to provide people with the choice, just like we talked about earlier. Now you finally have a high protein, animal-free, dog food that comes in a bag that you can just pour out a cup and be done with it. Which is, sadly, a hell lot of [inaudible 00:27:35] has to live. I get it. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it is the reality that we face.
Kimberly: 27:40 Yeah, for sure.
Ernie: 27:41 [inaudible 00:27:41] be in that pocket.
What to expect when switching your dog to a plant-based diet
Kimberly: 27:43 No, I get that. I feel like if you’re going to buy a dried dog food, or cat food, or whatever, or something, you can still choose better ingredients. The ethical part is one thing, doctor, but having seen the Wild Earth containers, having given them to our dog, Jackie, there’s also a lot about assimilation and super foods. Can you talk to the actual superiority of nutrition which comes when you shift your dog, let’s say, to plant base? Is it similar to humans where there’s less inflammation? Let’s talk sense.
Kimberly: 28:19 I mean, I’m just trying to wrap my head around. Because we could say, “Okay, dogs have a different digestive tract so they could handle more meat.” But in the world today you’re saying that the plant-based ingredients are higher quality.
Ernie: 28:32 Well, yeah. Now first of all, higher quality, these are all terms that people in the world nutrition absolutely run away. We reject because they’re superior in their quality or not.
Kimberly: 28:42 Sure. These are polarized terms. Okay.
Ernie: 28:45 They’re just [inaudible 00:28:46] validate them scientifically. But getting back to this, so when we look at… And, again, we can’t use the term superior because there are individual. This is an individual nutrition, it’s at an individual level. You have to find the thing that works best for you. What I always tell people is that, A, what do we know about eliminating animal meats? What are some of the pros, just the easy low hanging fruit if you will? Well, the first thing is the theory of bioaccumulation.
Ernie: 29:13 What we know is that the higher up we eat on the food chain, the more concentrated toxins and contaminants become. And that is why in particular like tuna, right? That’s the lion.
Kimberly: 29:23 The big fish, yes.
Ernie: 29:25 It’s like the lion of the sea, as we call it. Okay? Well, it gets to be the lion of the sea because it eats pretty big fishes. Right? Okay, so other tunas and other macros. Right? Well, what are those tunas and macros that the tuna eats eat? Well, they eat smaller fishes as well. And so you wind up now having this accumulation of PCBs and heavy metals, Cadmium and Arsenic of course are known. And, of course, microplastics which is really where all the [inaudible 00:29:49] happening.
Ernie: 29:50 Well, the same thing goes when we eat chickens, because chickens are fed… Cattle and pork… I mean, this is awful and cestuous from a nutritional standpoint. The bioaccumulation, that is what worries me the most. And I will say this for your listeners, really start to take note about microplastics and the bioaccumulation of microplastics, particularly in beef. This is really some frightening stuff that’s starting to emerge. And this kind of got set off with Bisphenol A, BPA, that you probably remember, I think, from your water bottles and so forth.
Kimberly: 30:25 Of course.
Ernie: 30:25 Well, the problem with these, these are called endocrine disruptors. Okay? They disrupt our hormones. The problem is that these require very, very tiny amounts to cause great effects, so it’s not dosage dependent like we’re so used to, oh, you have to eat a bunch of that stuff or drink a lot of that to have a problem. No. With the endocrine system… In fact sometimes, especially with some of these plastics or plastic compounds, it’s the smaller amounts that have the most pronounced effect on your hormones. I’m really, really worried about that.
Ernie: 30:55 The second thing that I’ve always been worried about in general is our lack of adequate dietary fiber. We know that most Americans just eat almost no dietary fiber. I mean, they can convince people and can go through an entire day eating a couple of grams. I mean, it’s really outrageous. And then, of course, we take a variety of medications to try to keep us ‘regular’. I mean, it just is mind-blowing. Well, remember that we feed our dogs in a very similar fashion, so a lot of Americans dogs have not received adequate dietary fiber.
Ernie: 31:30 And that’s why we’ve been doing tons of research in the past couple of years with the microbiome, the gut bacteria, and how shifting away from animal meats and towards plant based foods with higher dietary fibers how does that affect it? And, again, we are seeing some amazing results from this. And one of the things that we hear over and over from thousands of people is, “My dog’s stool looks so much better. It doesn’t…” You know? And, hopefully, you’ve experienced something like that but what that [crosstalk 00:32:01].
Kimberly: 32:01 Yeah, clear.
Ernie: 32:01 Yeah, I love it. Whatever you want to… It’s just better poop. Right? But, regardless, we’re looking at better fiber. You’re looking at higher digestibility, right? You’re feeding the healthy gut bacteria. Again, I hate that term, but you were actually encouraging different genera and we’re encouraging richness and diversity of the microbiome. All those things add up to health. And then the third thing that I like to point out to people, in addition to this bioaccumulation and the microbiome effects of dietary fiber, and that’s the immunomodulation.
Ernie: 32:28 And I don’t want to get overwhelming, so don’t tune out because I used a big fancy science word. But basically one of the neat components of yeast proteins, the reason that I’m so excited about these fungal proteins, these proteins, is the cell wall is it’s about 10% of that protein. And this is something that never ever will we see in a mammalian animal meat species. Right?
Kimberly: 32:49 Mm-mm (negative).
Ernie: 32:50 They don’t have cell walls; they only have cell membranes. Within the cell wall of yeast, we have something called beta glucans, which is another fiber which actually stimulate the immune system. And the research is amazing. I mean, if you look over the last 40 years of the research on betaglucans in dogs and humans, you start to see it being used to help mitigate diabetes for people, inflammatory disorders, Crohn’s disease. I mean, you mentioned [crosstalk 00:33:16]. I mean, it is just check, check, check, check, check. It’s like, why aren’t we eating more for ourselves, I love mushrooms, you guys should be eating more mushrooms, and feeding this to our dogs?
Ingredient bias when it comes to what humans and dogs should eat
Kimberly: 33:27 We’re omnivores, dogs are omnivores; so what you’re saying, doctor, is we can increase assimilation, reduce the bioaccumulation of toxins, all the things you just talked about. And there’s nothing… Just like humans, there’s nothing that dogs miss out on if they eat a plant based diet. That’s all a myth.
Ernie: 33:45 That’s all a myth because, again, this is about nutrient-
Kimberly: 33:47 It’s ingredient bias.
Ernie: 33:48 It’s ingredient bias. It really, really is. And so that’s like the one thing. It’s funny in the book because I wrote two chapters that have really sparked a lot of discussion, at least in the veterinary and nutrition community. One was, I talked about this ingredient bias and people instantly get it. They may still try to defend their position on it but they’re like, “Okay. I didn’t quite view it that way, but it makes sense.” The other are just the outdated, irrelevant, terms of like omnivore and carnivore.
Kimberly: 34:15 Yes.
Ernie: 34:16 I mean, these are terms that were based on taxonomy. If you go back to the 1800s people were like, “Well, we need to organize biology a little better. Well, one of the things we can do is like look at their skulls, and look at their skeletons, and take field reports from people who visited Africa in the 1700s or whatever.” And so what they tried to do is just categorize on these taxonomical categories. And what happened was you wound up lumping a bear in with a lion. Well, whoa, okay.
Kimberly: 34:44 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ernie: 34:44 And so dogs, of course, suffered the same fate. They got lumped into carnivorous because of their shape of their skull, quite frankly. And nobody was looking at, okay, well what genes do they have? What are their nutritional requirements? And this is why, again, we really have to start focusing on what nutrients does that animal are being in need, and then give it to them and stop prescribing these just wholly inapplicable terms like, “Oh, you’re a carnivore.” You know? It just doesn’t make any sense scientifically anymore.
Kimberly: 35:14 Well let’s say, hypothetically speaking, the tiger and the lion, which we know has a shorter digestive tract, more cylindrical, different shape, whatever. And we’re in the future and unfortunately all the wildebeest and the zebras have gone extinct; and you were to give the lions and the tigers, who are carnivorous this kind of food which high protein but not the instinctual like the animals they would actually kill in the wild. Nutritionally, would they be okay?
Ernie: 35:48 They would, as long as you gave them the nutrition they needed. And, see, this is where the trap of the carnivore just sprung. Because, you know-
Kimberly: 35:56 Yeah, exactly, because it’s so ingrained in us. Even I think, “Oh well, don’t the lion and the tiger… They naturally hunt. We’re taking away their instincts.”
Ernie: 36:05 Behaviorally, that’s an entirely different discussion. Right?
Kimberly: 36:09 But nutritionally, yes.
Ernie: 36:09 From a nutritional, medical, scientific standpoint, as long as you are supplying those amino acids. Now, we don’t have a cat food right now because we are still rapidly working on the solutions, because there are several key nutrients that are very difficult to source without animals. And by ‘difficult to source’ what I mean is very, very expensive. And so a lot of people are saying, “This stuff doesn’t exist.” It exists; but, again, this is the early iteration of the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger. Right?
Kimberly: 36:41 Sure.
Ernie: 36:41 Because they were like $300 or $1,000, whatever they were for a burger. Well, we can’t bring that to market, Kimberly. That would be outlandish. You know? That’d be ridiculous. And, quite frankly, I think that would be a huge failure on so many levels. That’s what we’re-
Kimberly: 36:52 Yeah, but you’re working on it. We’re waiting for you. That’s awesome.
Ernie: 36:57 Yeah. These nutrients, we know how to do it. It’s really a matter of scalability and efficiency. And when people say, “How were you able to do this, the world’s first high protein plant-based dog food in 2018/2019,” I point out, “Hey, look, the technology was there for many years. What wasn’t there were the processing efficiencies, the scalability.” And we are literally all… Us, Beyond Impossible, we are all drafting off the same surge in demand that is helping drop prices.
Kimberly: 37:31 It’s so wonderful.
Ernie: 37:32 If all of these things were happening in concert simultaneously, I don’t think any of us would be a success. That’s really… It’s this now the important…
Kimberly: 37:40 It’s the time.
Ernie: 37:41 It’s the time and the market demand, and that’s where we are with some of these cat ingredients, nutrients. We’re just really waiting for the scale to hit. There are some exciting stuff so just stay tuned, as they say.
Kimberly: 37:55 [inaudible 00:37:55].
Ernie: 37:55 But the reality is, when we go to that hypothetical cat in the future I will say or write in the book one of the things that that really breaks my heart the most is, number one, while cats in captivity, especially private captivity. There’s been a popular Netflix show that’s just-
Kimberly: 38:08 Oh my God, I saw some of that. It’s just…
Ernie: 38:10 I didn’t get into it, but-
Kimberly: 38:14 -embarrassing to say I watched some of it, quite frankly.
Ernie: 38:16 But, again-
Kimberly: 38:17 I mean, it’s brought awareness to the big cat issue, hasn’t it?
Ernie: 38:21 Right. It has. And so I’m hopeful in that rigor.
Kimberly: 38:23 Did it break your heart doc when you saw it?
Ernie: 38:25 It’s that I couldn’t watch it either. I mean, I watched about it… Anyway, and there’s lots of stories around that. But, regardless, imagine now you have this cat that does require essential nutrients that can only be derived from killing animals. And so there’s all this weird, moral, check impair. I don’t have that solution yet, but I would say it’s happening very quickly.
Kimberly: 38:49 Amazing. Well, okay, let’s just focus on dogs for one more moment. There’s a huge range of dogs, right? There’s people that are… they have their cute little Pomeranians, then they have more of like the…? What do you call it? What are the ones that look like wolves, almost? Like this Huskies.
Ernie: 39:06 Oh, the Huskies, yeah. Yeah. I mean, Shepherd’s, yeah.
Ernie shares his viewpoint on the behaviors and performance of dogs when they become more plant-based
Kimberly: 39:09 Would you say this is true, if you’re giving them a plant-based diet? For humans, I can say, doctor, for sure with all my clients and hundred thousands of people I’ve worked with and readers, a lot of people report feeling calmer. This is where the yogic energetic part comes. There’s less anger; there’s less aggravation. I don’t know if you’ve done any formal research on this, or if it’s just anecdotal. Have you seen better behaviors with dogs when they become more plant-based?
Ernie: 39:37 Well, two things I want to tap into. One, the perception that, “Oh, well, if I have a Husky or a sled dog that they can’t survive on this.”
Kimberly: 39:45 Yes.
Ernie: 39:45 Well, in 2010, amazing study done. Okay? And this was really elegant research. And so they took these sled racing dogs, and again I’m not here to judge how I feel about that because I am conflicted about those types of events. But, regardless, they took half the dogs and they fed them a plant-based food for the four months of the racing season for those guys. Okay? And they took four and they gave them their regular whatever, their meat-based diet. Okay?
Ernie: 40:10 And what they wanted to see was a very simple, just to answer this question, would there be a performance drop in the dogs that were fed the plant-based food? Right? Would they not be as aggressive, or have the stamina, or endurance, or [crosstalk 00:40:22]?
Kimberly: 40:22 Right.
Ernie: 40:23 Or, would they get sick and break down and not have the energy, right? Get [crosstalk 00:40:27] of infections. Well, what they found was that at the end of this four month study, this racing season of arguably the most intense and demanding physical event that you could put a dog through, they found no… absolutely no difference. I mean, it is a big, beautiful picture. I mean, study. They looked at it every way, not only biochemical but performance, of course range of motion. It was a great study, so, A, yeah, that dispels that myth right away.
Ernie: 40:54 And there’ve been other studies, that just happens to be a really, really well designed study that I appreciate. The other though is about the behavior issues, and it’s hard to state. I will point out this, that typically high animal-meat diets are high calorie diets; because guess what accompanies? Remember that cell wall versus cell membrane?
Kimberly: 41:12 Yeah.
Ernie: 41:12 That’s what accompanies proteins, fats. Now you’re giving nine kilocalories per gram every time you’re pumping in more protein. All these high protein, grain-free, dog foods that are out there, they are high in calories which leads us to the behavior issues. Because many, many, many of the dogs that I have to treat that have separation anxiety, they have a variety of multitude of behavioral disorders, what they wind up doing is we have to reduce their caloric intake, increase their aerobic activity.
Ernie: 41:42 And a lot of those problem behaviors magically disappear. Right? Because we get the energy balance correct. I think that one of the cool things about our food is because we’re using plant based proteins we aren’t loading it full of all these fats, which helps us keep the calorie counts low.
If dogs should eat grains
Kimberly: 41:59 Wow. Well, doctor, you brought up a really great point. This whole grain-free trend, it’s something that I take issue with. I eat a lot of grain. A guest we had on here a couple months ago was Dan Buettner. I don’t know if you are familiar with his work with the blue zones. He talks about, hey, not only are they eating carbs every day, they’re eating grains every meal. And these are some of the healthiest humans. This whole trend which I’ve seen myself with grain-free dog food, is that an extension of the Paleo diet and people getting scared of grains so they think, “Oh, well, dogs are on verge too, so they shouldn’t eat grain?”
Ernie: 42:34 Yeah, absolutely. And really it goes back to the 2007 Melamine Pet Food recall, because that was one of the things that… What happened was, from China, they were substituting an ingredient to fool a standard by a chemical test to make the protein levels look higher than they were. People started saying, “Oh, well, I don’t want these grains,” because that’s where the toxins resided.
Kimberly: 42:58 I see.
Ernie: 42:59 Yeah, so there was a lot more to it. But the reality is what the market then did was shift towards high protein and drop the grains. But, again, this just led up to more and more calories. And so now what you’re starting to see is this grain-free issue with a form of heart disease which, quite frankly, there has really been no clear scientific evidence to conclude that it has been. Having said that what I think it shows is that, well, following these types of trends, you really need to be cautious.
Ernie: 43:27 Now, of course critics would say, “Well, Ernie, wow. You’re as trendy as it gets. You’re all about plant-based.” Well, it’s not really the same thing. We’re actually keeping the exact same nutrient stack, if you will. The ingredients and nutrients, okay? All we did was take out the animal proteins and substitute them with plant, so it really isn’t the same as taking something out altogether. We’re really saying, again getting back to the amino acids, the nutrient philosophy that ingredients are nutrient vessels.
Ernie: 43:56 You see, all we did was substitute this amino acid source from that Amino acids source, animals. We didn’t really change anything, but we just substituted.
Kimberly: 44:07 Brilliant. Well, doctor-
Ernie: 44:08 And we love grains too, so we’re in lock step with you. We love grains. We think they are a very important part of health.
Kimberly: 44:16 Yeah. I think it’s really unfortunate that that became a trend. It is a trend now that people are scared of carbs and grains because, again, you look at the healthiest cultures in the world and they’re very green-centric. Anyways, that’s-
Ernie: 44:31 [inaudible 00:44:31], just as someone who comes from like a ironman ultra-endurance background. I’ve also done personal trainer and triathlon coaching and all these types of high performance things. I will say that you really do, if you’re on this journey… And I love what you started out by saying. Look, you don’t have to be all or none here. We are not here to judge, which I believe that in my heart. But what we are saying is you do pay attention to yourself. You really [inaudible 00:44:56] to reflect inwardly.
Ernie: 44:57 What did you eat? Did it make you feel good? Did you have more energy? Or did you want to go lay on the couch and watch Netflix for 10 hours after you ate that whatever because… signals that tell you this is actually in alignment with your own personal physiology. And this is one of the things why we really look for dogs and we start to say, let’s really evaluate their fecal output, their stools. Let’s look at their urination, their energy, sleeping habits and so forth. And I will be the first to say, I am not here to tell you that every dog on the planet would do better on a plant-based diet.
Ernie: 45:27 They may but we really don’t know it till we try it ourselves. And so if there’s a dog that the fiber content just does not work with them, even though we think there’s significant health benefits to it, then we’re going to say we need to find another formulation for you. Again, as you go and progress on this journey, just be mindful. And I think that of all the things I’ve learned in my 53 years on this planet is really to be mindful of every action, every moment, if you will. Treasure it, of course the relationships around you, but also be mindful of the things you take into your body, the energy that you give out into the world. And I think that leads you down the path of beauty. Wow.
Kimberly: 46:06 Wow. Doctor, I couldn’t have said it better. I don’t think we can end the show on a stronger note. Thank you so much for all your wisdom, for all your amazing work that you’re doing in the world. This is such a big thing, because so many people have pets and are buying food for their pets and we talk a lot about human food here on the podcast, but to bring in this aspect because it extends to everything else. It extends to, like you said, the energies, your relationships, your animals. What you’re buying is always a vote of choice. And whether it’s your food, or your animal’s food, or your beauty product, whatever it is, it all influences everything.
Kimberly: 46:41 This was a big thing. I’ve been wanting to have you on the podcast for a while when Shawnee introduced me to Wild Earth and I learned about what you guys were doing. We don’t have a TV so I don’t actually watch shark tank, but I followed the story of how you guys got funded and I think it’s just amazing.
Ernie: 46:59 Thank you, yeah.
Kimberly: 47:00 And The Clean Pet Food Revolution is an amazing book. I have it myself so, Beauties, we will link to that in the show notes also to Dr. Ernie’s site. It’s drernieward.com and also Wild Earth where Dr. Ernie is not only the founder of Wild Earth but the chief veterinarian. Am I saying that right?
Ernie: 47:19 That’s right, yeah. [inaudible 00:47:20]. We have a great, brilliant team behind us; and, honestly, what’s really cool is that we’re all committed to bringing the best and healthiest pet food on the planet.
Kimberly: 47:30 That’s incredible. Well, Beauties, I hope you check it out especially if you are an animal lover or a pet lover. Many of us have dogs. I am a new dog owner, relatively new. I inherited him when I got married to my husband doctor. I had a dog growing up, but I didn’t have one in college or post-college, so it’s really fun to have an animal in the house again.
Ernie: 47:51 And this is going to even be more joyful when you have a human baby alongside your four legged baby. I mean, that is just amazing. Our daughter’s first words were cat.
Kimberly: 48:03 Oh my gosh. Well, doctor, thank you again so much. We loved having you, appreciate all the wisdom. Beauties, be sure to check out all the show notes @mysolluna.com. We’ll be back here Thursday for our next Q&A podcast. Until then, take care and lots of love.