Raw Feeding: The Detoxification Process
What is Detoxification?
When following the laws of health, the body naturally begins to recover from illness and heal itself. This process is known as the Herxheimer's Reaction or "Herx" reaction named after Karl Herheimer, a German dermatologist. The process begins with detoxification, the body flushing out pathogenic organisms and toxins that have accumulated over time. It is a healing response and is often referred to as a “healing crisis” because the body displays illness-like symptoms.
Detoxification for our canine companions can begin anywhere from several days to several months after starting a species-appropriate, raw diet. Old symptoms that have been suppressed are likely to resurface, and the animal may appear to be sicker than ever. The three basic reactions that take place when the body is cleaning are lethargy, itchy skin, and yeasty or smelly ears, but some other common symptoms include hot spots, fever, bad breath, body odor, hair loss, skin eruptions, diarrhea, vomiting, and dark urine.
The healing crisis is not a crisis at all, in fact, it’s a GOOD SIGN! It is NORMAL, and it is TEMPORARY. It means your animal’s body has enough vital energy to begin healing and regenerating itself. Keep in mind that most pets today are overloaded with toxins from eating nutritionally void food, vaccinations, chemical-laden medications, environmental pollution, household cleaning products, and more. It could take up to one month per year of age to undo the damage, so be patient. It is an uncomfortable but necessary step in the healing process. Going back to commercial pet food or suppressing the symptoms with drugs or other medications will stop the healing process.
Steps you can take if the detox process is happening too quickly, or is too much to handle:
1. Keep it simple
Try sticking with a single protein source for a couple of months, raw chicken is a great option. This allows your dog's body to adjust to the new food. But if after a couple of weeks, your animal is still weak or is an older pet with pre-existing chronic conditions, you can lightly warm the meat to make it more easily digestible. It is important to point out that you never want to add raw meat to a kibble or cooked food. Raw meat and bones digest very quickly while kibble and cooked food take much longer to ferment and break down. If you mix the two at the same time your pet is at a higher risk of gastric upset.
It may seem like a punishment at first, but fasting is the best natural healing therapy. The majority of immune function is in the gut so by giving it a break from digestion, it allows the body to heal. Fasting also promotes healthy gut bacteria and aids the body in naturally detoxing. I like to fast my dogs for 24 hours once a week. During this time, instead of solid foods, they are given marrow bones to chew on and a little bit of raw honey in their water. Please note that puppies should NEVER fast until they are at least a year old, and cats should never fast regardless of their age.
3. Probiotics and Enzymes
Help build up their "friendly" gut bacteria and digestive enzymes with daily supplements. If your pet has been fed a diet of commercial pet food, they likely have low digestive enzyme levels and small amounts of beneficial gut bacteria. Probiotics are necessary for good overall health for many reasons, they choke yeast, build good bacteria, produce natural antibiotics, stimulate the immune system, increase energy, reduce food intolerance and they assist the body in the absorption of nutrients from food. Digestive enzymes are critical to your dog's health because they are responsible for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. They are also fragile, easily destroyed when food is cooked.
4. Other options
There are a wide variety of modalities that can assist your animal through the detoxification process, but for these, I recommend working with an animal naturopath or health coach. Some of the options they can help you with include essential oils (certified pure therapeutic grade ONLY), herbs, acupressure, massage, and more. It is highly recommended that if you have never experienced the detoxification process, either personally or with another animal, consult with an experienced veterinary naturopath or a holistic veterinarian.
Look for Progress
Detoxification can be a scary and emotionally challenging process. Give nature time to heal. All symptoms, whether from a progressing disease or a healing response, are the body’s attempt to heal itself and should not be looked upon as a “bad” thing. However, it is essential to determine if the body is making progress or not. An excellent way to judge this is by looking at your dog’s overall behavior and energy level. It is very common for animals to have outward symptoms of illness during a healing crisis but are in a better overall mood and/or their energy level is better than before. Consult a holistic veterinarian if your pet refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, has watery diarrhea, or has a fever for more than a day or two.
Don't give up!
TAKE A DEEP BREATH. The healing crisis is a great sign. The body is ridding itself of built up toxins. Be thankful that your animal has enough life force to initiate a healing response. Be patient and let Mother Nature take her course. Real healing comes from following the laws of health. Drugs and medications only suppress symptoms driving disease deeper into the body. The journey to real healing is not easy, but it is worth it.