As 2022 has gotten underway, it has already brought many of us to a place where we simply need to hear something lighthearted. The start of a new year also gives us a chance to examine priorities and make room for what matters most. “What matters most” can look different for each of us; for me, it’s my family – including two dogs – Stella and Sadie. Of course, the dogs fall in line behind my human nuclear and extended families, however, they are such a part of my daily life and contribute to my quality of life, it seems only natural to share this story with a wider audience -especially because this story revolves around one of my favorite topics – intentional nourishment!
Let me begin by telling you about our 5-year-old Golden Retriever named Stella. She came to us as one of only three puppies in a litter; a pleasantly plump pup, she was well developed, well-fed, and well-loved. According to everyone who has had the opportunity to meet her, she is the happiest dog they’ve ever met. When we brought her home at eight weeks, she topped the scale at 21 lbs.
Stella's fur was shiny, her disposition sunny; she emanated maturity and wisdom. She slept through the night with such efficiency, we hardly remember having to let her out at night as a puppy. She was content; the perfect combination of calm and energetic. She was a breeze to housetrain, has an impeccable record of only two accidents in the house, and nary an indoor fecal incontinence episode. Stella brought us so much joy that we decided on a whim to add a second puppy to the milieu.
The second puppy is our ~16-week-old Golden Retriever puppy named Sadie. This past October – by coincidence – my family learned about some surprise Goldens needing homes – 17 to be exact – and we wondered if we might be interested in one. Two weeks later, sweet Sadie came home with us.
Weighing in at only 13 lbs 6 oz at eight weeks, she was miniature compared to Stella at the same age. It didn’t take us long to figure out that not only was she smaller, but her digestive tract and elimination systems were not like Stella’s either. Sadie pooped often - what seemed like every hour – including sometimes in the house. Her bottom was sore and irritated, and she seemed frustrated and uncomfortable. My husband and I looked at each other more than once thinking the same thought: WHAT did we get ourselves into?!?
Sadie tested negative for parasites, and the vet said she was just working on adjusting to her new home and to give it time. He also suggested we might be feeding her too much. So, we fed her less - but that didn’t help. We tried adding pumpkin, that didn’t help either. Then we upped her food amount again, tried timing her foods differently, tried feeding her more often, then less often. None of these approaches helped. The messes continued.
We began to feel exasperated. I was reluctant to try adding new foods for fear of upsetting her GI tract further.
This puppy was pooping nonstop – much of it type 6 & 7 applying the Bristol Scale to dogs (1). She barely came in at 16 lbs. week 10 and alarmingly, she still weighed 16 lbs. at week 12. The vet confirmed our concerns – she was too thin and needed to put on weight.
Now I started to worry. With all the bowel troubles she had, how could she thrive? We weren’t getting any continuous hours of sleep at night which meant she wasn’t either. It was an exhausting few weeks.
Given what we had tried – with no success – we had no choice but to begin what we called “Operation Nourishment” for this little puppy. We put worries aside about adding new foods and applied what we understand about functional nutrition to help our sweet Sadie.
“Operation Nourishment” consisted of following several basic digestive principles:
#1: Make her food more digestible: Without changing the kibble she was eating, we soaked it with a bit of water before ingestion to soften it. This helped make her food easier to break down in her digestive tract and also helped S L O W D O W N her tendency to inhale food. Prior, she was definitely not chewing her food thoroughly which can result in undigested food reaching the colon and causing irritation. The softened food facilitated just the slightest bit of chewing and tripled the time it took her to finish a meal, giving her GI tract less of a shock.
#2: Feed her nutrient-dense options: We began adding an organic egg (3,4) softly cooked in a tiny bit of coconut oil (2) to her breakfast. The egg adds a whole food-based protein-containing cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals -all important for building her gut lining and nervous system. Coming from such a large litter in a somewhat stressful/chaotic environment, her gut and nervous system may not have been at their healthiest and needed extra support (4).
#3: Practice mindfulness at mealtime: The egg at breakfast has quickly become the highlight of her day.
The anticipation while watching us cook it calms her. She intently follows as the pan comes out of the cupboard and onto the stove. She watches more intently as we slowly cook the egg. Then she must wait even longer while it sits in her bowl to cool up on the countertop.
I presume this has taught her mindfulness and presence before eating – essential for thorough digestion!
#4: Help support her puppy microbiome: We gradually began to add a dollop of kefir (5) to her breakfast and dinner – knowing that even dogs have a microbiome and that cultured foods can help normalize gut flora which can help normalize stool consistency. A healthy gut helps us extract nutrients from the food we eat. It can also, fascinatingly, modulate our stress responses.
“Operation Nourishment” began to take effect almost immediately. She jumped from 16 to 24 lbs. in 3 weeks! We were so proud! She finally began to have a soft, healthy belly - and the vet was thrilled, “whatever you’re doing, keep it up!”. She began to sleep through the night – and WE were thrilled. She also began to sprout her golden retriever fur patterns and take on more shine. Brilliantly, her stools became formed – a perfect 4 on the Bristol Stool Scale (1) and had significantly less urgency which led to the elimination of accidents. We were shocked at how quickly her body adapted to a diet higher in nutrient density and digestibility– one that was safe and appropriate for puppies.
Upping her nutrient density and digestibility helped unlock her potential so she could become the best sweet version of herself. Once more deeply nourished, she happily settled into her calm, gentle nature. She and Stella have become quite the pair. And we – her humans - are finally, gratefully sleeping again (most nights), which makes us adore her even more.
How might A Tale of Two Goldens provide us with insight relevant to pelvic rehabilitation?
We acknowledge that no two people come into this world in exactly the same circumstance and that we each arrive with a certain level of built-in resiliency. Some of us come into this world with our tails wagging, ready to greet everything that comes our way. Many of us and those we serve– let’s face it –are figuratively more like Sadie. We have the potential waiting inside of us to become the best version of ourselves.
Sometimes reaching that potential takes just a little tweaking, a little coaxing, a little know-how. Maybe that tweaking, coaxing, and know-how could include principles of “Operation Nourishment” for ourselves and those we serve in the form of nourishment-focused guidance. With a little patience, time, and intentional action, we may be surprised to see how a few small changes have an enormous impact on what matters most to each of us and those we serve.
Nourishment knowledge – now more than ever – is vital.
Join us in 2022 for Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist to learn more about these principles and beyond. Upcoming 2022 remote offerings include Feb 26-27, April 29-30, July 23-24, August 27-28, Sept 23-24, Oct 22-23, and Nov 11-12. We welcome you to join us.