Canine Nutrigenomics by Dr. Jean Dodds: Science as Windowdressing

A number of readers have asked me to review a recent book on canine nutrition:

Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health

The book has two authors. One is Diana Laverdure, a self-described “canine nutrition activist”and “pet food diva.” What this appears to mean is someone who has lots of opinions about animal nutrition which she shares freely. She does list a master’s degree in animal science among her credentials, though no specific background in nutrition or genetics. Among her influences she includes some of the most notorious figures in alternative veterinary medicine, including Dr. Richard Pitcairn and Dr. Shawn Messonier, and of course her co-author for this and a previous book, Dr. Jean Dodds.

I have written about Dr. Dodds before. (1, 2). She is a prime example of a variety of the ailment sometimes called the Nobel Disease. She is obviously a smart and confident person who has made real contributions to veterinary medicine outside of the conventional academic career path. Unfortunately, she has come to embrace a variety of pseudoscientific views, and she has such confidence in her own talents and beliefs that she does not feel obligated to subject her own theories to the usual sort of scientific testing and critique. Her ideas about allergies, thyroid disease and, as we shall see, nutrition, are widely viewed as unproven, unlikely, or outright factually incorrect by experts in these fields, but Dr. Dodds has moved forward with not only books of advice but commercial diagnostic tests without apparently feeling any need to demonstrate her ideas are correct through scientific research.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support them, Dr. Dodds’ opinions have influence as a result of her standing and previous work. However, in science the final arbiter of what is true is not the intelligence or achievements of individuals but the results of controlled research and the verdict of scientific evidence. Dr. Dodds’ new book is a seamless blending of legitimate and mainstream science, plausible but unproven hypotheses, unlikely or “long-shot” hypotheses, and outright factual error and nonsense. She uses the language and trappings of science, but often the words she uses don’t mean what they are usually used to mean, and the appearance of scientific validity is only superficial.

It requires a great deal of time and effort to untangle the legitimate from the farfetched in a book like this, and it is more challenging that addressing the outrageous and clearly ridiculous claims of someone like Dr. Will Falconer. However, it is important to make this effort because it is easy for a book like this to mislead pet owners and even veterinary professionals. Dr. Dodds’ reputation and resume and the bits of legitimate science sprinkled throughout her book can generate an undeserved aura of validity to claims she makes which are not scientifically validated. Opinion can be dressed up as fact and nonsense disguised by actual science, and the result can be dangerously misleading.

Since it is impossible for anyone to have expertise in all subjects, I have consulted a number of specialists in relevant disciplines to help me evaluate Dr. Dodds’ claims. Two experts in small animal nutrition, a cancer specialist, and a nutrigenomics researcher contributed their time and expertise to review sections of Dr. Dodds book, and their input has been invaluable. Unless specifically stated otherwise, of course, the opinions in this article are my own.


The general argument of this book can be summarized as follows:

  1. Almost all disease is due to environmental factors, with diet being the most significant.
  2. Most diseases ultimately results from chronic inflammation.
  3. This inflammation is caused by unhealthy gene expression triggered by environmental factors.
  4. Everything we eat is either a “functional superfood” which optimizes our gene expression for good health or a “toxin” which exerts an unhealthy influence on our genes and predisposes us to illness.
  5. By feeding “good” foods and avoiding “bad” foods (as well as other environmental toxins such as vaccines, parasite control medications, many medications, and most of the products recommended by mainstream veterinary medicine), we can “take control” of our dogs’ health and prevent most disease.

The appeal of this argument is obvious. It is simple and clear, with all choices being either good or bad, and it gives us the confidence that if we simply do the right things and avoid the wrong things we can prevent our beloved animal companions from becoming ill. Nothing bad happens by chance or is outside of our control, and we don’t need to wait for more research to identify the causes and preventative actions involved in canine health because we already know all we need to know to protect our pets. Alternative medicine often employs simplistic, black-and-white reasoning and emphasizes that we can control our pets’ fate and prevent those outcomes we fear from happening.

This can be a very encouraging and positive worldview, but it can also be problematic. For one thing, if the specific claims about health and disease and the actions we take turn out not to be true, then our efforts to protect our pets will be ineffective or may even do harm. And reality has not shown itself to be so simple or easily divided into good and bad choices. Chance does play a huge role in our lives, and we can’t always control what happens. As literature throughout the ages has warned us, sometimes the attempt to avoid our fate leads us to it, especially when the actions we take our based on wishful thinking or faulty information.

One of the key problems with Canine Nutrigenomics is that legitimate scientific ideas are either extrapolated far beyond what the research evidence supports in order to promote dubious claims. Another weakness is that complex phenomena are simplified to make good and bad outcomes easy to predict and control. There is accurate information in the book, but it is frequently misused. There is also theory, opinion, and guesswork presented as fact and straightforward nonsense in the book, and the purpose of this article is to help readers separate these out and develop a more accurate and realistic assessment of the subject matter than that presented by the authors.

The most glaring problem with this book is that it really has almost nothing to do with the actual science of nutrigenomics. The word “nutrigenomics” is used here a bit like the word “quantum” is used by homeopaths and other proponents of pseudoscientific practices. Labeling pseudoscience with the name of a legitimate scientific field that most people know little about and don’t really understand allows you to claim a legitimate scientific foundation for your ideas without having to actually explain how they work in detail or adhere to the details of the new or obscure branch of science you are borrowing your legitimacy from.

Nutrigenomics is the study of how compounds in foods affect gene expression, that much is true. And there is great potential in this field for developing nutritional practices which can prevent disease. However, the field is in its infancy, and there is very little understanding of the health effects of specific foods or dietary practices or of how food compounds interact with genes to affect the risk of particular health problems. In other words, when Dr. Dodd’s claims one food is a “superfood” that can prevent illness and another is “non-functional” and promotes disease, she is either extrapolating this from preliminary data that don’t actually support such a claim or simply making it up. She is claiming that the potential inherent in nutrigenomic approaches has already been realized and that she can tell you which foods to feed and which to avoid in order to keep your dog healthy, but this is not true because the research to identify such relationships hasn’t been done. She is borrowing the language of nutrigenomics and the limited findings of lab experiments to support claims which are fundamentally just her beliefs and haven’t been actually tested or proven to be true.

Dr. Dodds does try to create the impression of a science-based book, and specifically designates her work that way more than once:

The information we have provided in this chapter is based on scientific evidence, not folklore or guesswork.

In the following pages, we will reveal the latest scientific findings…

[In reference to anyone who counsels against her recommendations] While these individuals no doubt mean well, they are basing their opinions on incorrect, outdated, or even biased information-no on the latest scientific findings. Trust what you’ve learned in this book…

The problem is that she does not provide evidence that actually supports most of what she claims, and often there is plenty of evidence against it. When she cites papers to support her arguments, they are often not scientific research but opinion pieces by her or other alternative practitioners and advocates. And when she does reference research papers, they are often in vitro or lab animal studies that don’t actually support the strong clinical claims she makes. The superficial appearance of science is everywhere, but actual science is scarce in this book.

In general, the aura of nutrigenomics is used in this book to support a laundry list of alternative nutrition clichés: organic produce is healthier than conventional produce; GMO are dangerous, gluten is harmful; common ingredients are unhealthy (corn, chicken, soy) and exotic ingredients are healthier (bison, goat, venison); “artificial” flavors, colors, and preservatives are dangerous; raw food is better than cooked food; magical “superfoods” or supplements can have powerful health benefits. The evidence for these claims varies from weak to non-existent to clearly showing the claims to be untrue. While I cannot address in detail every single food, supplement, or health claim Dr. Dodds makes, I will try to briefly respond to some of the most pervasive and misleading claims.

Specific Claims

Genetically Modified Ingredients

[Healthy food is] Unadulterated (e.g., non-GMO) and unprocessed or minimally processed.

Remove pro-inflammatory ingredients such as …GMO foods

This is, of course, a topic which deserves multiple posts on its own. However, Dr. Dodds regularly lists GMO ingredients as unhealthy, promoting inflammation and food intolerance, and there is no evidence to support this. While there is always the potential that particular modifications of food crops and animals could lead to health risks, the anxiety about genetically modified organisms is generally ideological and based on misconceptions or poor understanding of the relevant science. It is part and parcel of  the Appeal to Nature Fallacy, and the existing evidence does not support most of the hysterical fears about GMO. Dr. Dodd’s claims are not based on research from nutrigenomics but are simply part of her own beliefs and prejudices, and she provides no compelling scientific evidence to support her claims. Relevant discussion of this issue and the evidence can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Gluten is Terrible

“…gluten causes the intestines to release a protein called zonulin, which creates openings between the intestinal cells, causing the lining of the gut to become more permeable, or “leaky… If your dog has cancer, he certainly doesn’t need to eat an ingredient known to promote cancer-causing inflammation

“Gluten, which can cause leaky gut syndrome and cancer-causing inflammation, should be eliminated from your dog’s cancer-protective diet”

“But your dog doesn’t have to have wheat-sensitive enteropathy (and you don’t have to have celiac disease) to suffer from the harmful effects of gluten. A less obvious, low-grade autoimmune reaction to gluten can trigger a wildfire of chronic inflammation that affects every organ system in the body, including the brain, heart, joints and digestive tract (Hyman, 2013). It can even create an immune response that causes subclinical brain inflammation, resulting in age-related dementia (Perricone, 2010).”

The anti-gluten fad has raged in human nutrition for a while, though there are signs it is petering out. The evidence shows pretty clearly that apart from people with legitimately diagnosed celiac disease, most of the claims made for harm from gluten are simply not true. And apart from a small group of Irish setters, there is no scientific evidence for any of Dr. Dodds fear-mongering about gluten in dogs.

This topic also illustrates her deceptive use of citations in her book to create the impression of scientific support for her claims. In the last quote above she offers two citations. The first is a blog post by Dr. Mark Hyman, a widely known advocate for pseudoscience and quackery from functional medicine to anti-vaccine advocacy. He is, in short, no more scientific and no more evidence-based in his opinions and writing than Dr. Dodds is in hers, he simply performs on a larger stage. This reference is not research evidence but just another opinion.

Similarly, the second reference is for yet another opinion-based book by someone who peddles pseudoscientific nonsense, Dr. Nicholas Perricone. The reference is to a book called Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Age. How’s that for hard scientific evidence to back up a dramatic health claim?

Here are some resources discussing the issues and evidence concerning gluten-associated health problems: Leaky Gut Syndrome 1, 2, 3, General Glutenophopbia 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Raw Diets

A major advantage of raw food is that the nutrients—such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes—have not been altered or destroyed by the heat of cooking. Keeping the food in its whole, “pristine” form also makes it much more readily bioavailable, providing our pets with more easily assimilated nutrition per serving than processed foods.

Raw food may also pose much less risk of allergic reaction than its cooked counterparts… cooking food breaks down its cellular integrity and exposes neo-antigens (new antigens) that were not there in the original raw form.

Many respected holistic veterinarians, including the author, WJD, have witnessed first-hand the health and vigor of dogs and cats fed raw diets: these animals just “shine” in all respects. While these observations are shared by a growing number of animal health care professionals as well as experienced dog (and cat) fanciers, they could be considered as merely anecdotal. Perhaps so, but we consider them experiential findings based on years of observations by many dedicated professionals in the holistic veterinary field.

I have covered the subject of raw diets extensively, and there is no real scientific evidence for any of Dr. Dodds’ claims about the benefits of this approach to feeding. But as she clearly states above, that doesn’t bother her because she believes her anecdotal experiences and those of other raw-diet proponents are so compelling that no actual scientific evidence is needed. Despite many claims to the contrary, this is yet another example of how this book is simply a rehashing of theory and opinion, not a presentation of scientifically validated practices.

Saliva Testing for Food Allergies (Nutriscan)

“NutriScan, offered exclusively by author WJD’s Hemolife testing laboratory, is the new gold standard for identifying the cause of food intolerances/sensitivities in dogs. NutriScan is not only the most scientifically accurate method; it is also the most convenient and cost-effective for you, as well as the least invasive and most comfortable for your dog (Dodds, 2014).”

“To date, Nutriscan represents the most scientifically advanced diagnostic phase of assessing functional nutrition for individual dogs. The presence (indicated by an intermediate, medium or strong reaction) or absence (indicated by a negative or weak reaction) of salivary antibodies in response to specific food extracts is an indication of the dog’s changes in gene expression when faced with these foods. NutriScan therefore depends upon the nutritional influences and factors that can alter gene expression (Fekete & Brown, 2007; Swanson, Schook & Fahey, 2003).”

A fair bit of effort in the book goes to promoting a test called Nutriscan, which uses saliva to identify dietary sensitivities in dogs. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Dodds’ company owns Nutriscan, and equally unsurprisingly the mainstream community of veterinary nutritionists and dermatologists do not accept the legitimacy of her test because she has not provided any controlled evidence to show it is an accurate and useful test. She does provide a lot of citations to support her claims for this method, but if one takes the trouble to investigate them, they do not actually turn out to be compelling evidence.

For example, the first citation is to her own article in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (JAHVMA) making the same claims. Apart from the fact that the AHVMA is the leading advocacy organization for veterinary pseudoscience and its journal publishes mostly unscientific ideas, it is not considered legitimate to support your opinions in a scientific publication by citing your own opinions printed elsewhere. But Dr. Dodds goes even further when, in the JAHVMA article she says, “Salivary testing for food sensitivity and intolerance in animals differs significantly from all other food allergen tests available for use in animals. It is highly reproducible and clinically relevant.” To support this, she cites two of her own presentations at AHVMA meetings and, you guesses it, her book Canine Nutrigenomics! A clearer example of the forms of science without the content would be harder to imagine.

The other citations above also fail to support the claims she attaches them to. Fekete and Brown (2007) is a review of the concept of nutrigenomics in veterinary medicine which does talk about the general principle that food compounds can affect gene expression and gives some examples, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of saliva testing for food intolerance. The second, Swanson et al. (2003) is a discussion of the potential of nutrigenomics and the importance of further research. Not only does the article say nothing to support Dr. Dodds’ claims about Nutriscan, it specifically contradicts her claims throughout the book that we already know which food have which kinds of genetic and health effects:

Genomics has begun to be applied to nutritional research, but issues specifically relevant to companion animals have not been elucidated thus far. The study of genomics and proteomics will be crucial in areas such as nutrient requirement determination, disease prevention and treatment, functional ingredient testing and others. Nutritional genomics and proteomics will definitely play a vital role in the future of pet foods.

In human medicine, where the research evidence is always more plentiful and better quality than in veterinary medicine, the gold standard for diagnosing food sensitivities is a dietary trial.  Blood testing and skin testing are also used, though they are not as reliable. In veterinary medicine, the best evidence suggests that a dietary trial is the most reliable test, and blood and skin testing have not proven very reliable. Despite this, Dr. Dodds cherry picks a lot of in vitro and lab animal studies, along with opinion pieces from other alternative medicine doctors, to suggest that there is a sound scientific basis for using antibodies in saliva to detect food sensitivities. This might be a useful test, but the evidence does not exist to demonstrate this, and Dr. Dodds’ use of these citations is misleading.

The other main source of evidence Dr. Dodds uses to support her claims about Nutriscan are uncontrolled reports from animals she has tested. This is weak evidence that can suggest hypotheses for controlled testing but cannot prove or disprove the hypothesis. One veterinary dermatologist has performed her own uncontrolled test of Nutriscan, with Dr. Dodds’ knowledge and permission, and found it entirely unreliable. Twelve samples were submitted for testing in a blind manner, from dogs with known food sensitivities based on dietary testing, dogs with environmental allergies, dogs without allergic disease, and one sample of tap water. All samples including tap water, environmental allergy dogs, and normal dogs showed reactivity to beef, corn, milk and wheat. Some samples showed reactivity to soy. In some cases, these obviously false results would have led to recommendations against diets which actually helped these dogs. While this is not a formal, controlled study, it is at least as relevant as the unblinded cases Dr. Dodds promotes as evidence Nutriscan works, and it casts serious doubt on this supposed new “gold-standard” allergy test.

Here are some resources illustrating the scientific consensus concerning food sensitivity testing, which is not consistent with Dr. Dodds’ claims: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Taking Out the Laundry
Since much of the book is a laundry list of claims for and against the health value of specific foods, supplements, and other substances, it is impossible to respond to every claim. I have picked out a number of claims that are clearly false, unsupported by real evidence, or simply more nuanced and complex than Dr. Dodds suggests in her book. Many I have addressed before as they are standard tenets of the alternative medicine faith. There are plenty of others that I do have not investigated, so these may be true, false, or again uncertain and no judgment on my part should be inferred about anything I don’t specifically talk about.

All About the Bees
Health claims for bee pollen, royal jelly, and various types of honey are a common feature in alternative nutrition and supplement recommendations. In this book Dr. Dodds makes a number of these claims:

The healthful, nutrition-packed honey that can benefit you and your dog originates from wild, unfiltered, raw honey—not from the processed honey so prevalent on supermarket shelves (Mercola, 2009)!

Raw honey (not pasteurized): aids digestion, increases energy

Locally grown honey may help prevent seasonal allergies.

Bee pollen contributes to healthy intestinal function, benefits the blood…strengthens the immune system…treats hay fever and seasonal allergies…increases strength and stamina

Propolis contains a number of therapeutic properties…

Royal jelly possess a number of benefits, including…

Citing one of the worst quack physicians on the internet, Dr. Mercola, in support of these claims is not a good sign, for the claims themselves of for Dr. Dodds’ respect for legitimate science. There no experimental evidence for any significant health benefit, including prevention or treatment of allergies, from any of these substances in the dog. The evidence in humans is, as always, mixed, but these claims are not generally accepted by the science-based medical community, and there is not robust clinical research to support most of them. Here are some resources discussing these claims: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Glycemic Index/High Glycemic Foods
The glycemic index is a measure of the tendency of a particular food to raise blood sugar in humans. It has some value in making food choices for diabetics, and diets with a lot of foods with a high glycemic index have been associated with a number of diseases in humans. There are many other factors that influence the effect of food on blood sugar and on overall disease risk, including portion size, total carbohydrate content of the diet, genetics, concurrent disease, and many others, so the glycemic index cannot be relied on in isolation, but it is a useful tool for human dietary planning.

However, we cannot simply assume that principles of human nutrition and health automatically apply to dogs. Dogs are obviously quite different from humans in terms of anatomy, physiology, and evolutionary history, and while there are many similarities due to shared evolutionary history as mammals, long-term association between our species, and intensive deliberate breeding of dogs, not all nutritional guidelines for humans apply to our canine companions. The concept of glycemic index and the role of high glycemic index foods in disease risk for dogs have not been established through sound scientific research. We don’t know which foods have a high index in dogs and which don’t because the effect of different foods on blood glucose have mostly not been evaluated in this species.

The evidence does suggest that such foods promote certain diseases in humans, including diabetes and cancer, and the same relationship may be found in dogs. As of now, however, there is virtually no research on the subject in dogs. While it is plausible that high quantities of such foods may have undesirable health effects, and some of these claims may well be true, when such claims are little more than speculation and opinion, they should not be presented as settled scientific fact. Recommendations against feeding high glycemic index foods should be acknowledged to be speculative and supported only by weak evidence.

Here are some resources on the subject of glycemic index: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The Menacing Powers of Corn, Wheat, and Soy
Yes, this is an actual quote from Dr. Dodds’ book:

But the menacing powers of corn, wheat and soy go even further than you might imagine.

Obviously, this sort of simplistic characterization of foods as inherently good or evil is not scientific in tone, and in the case of the particular claims she makes about these ingredients they are not consistent with mainstream opinion or the evidence. Veterinary nutritionists agree that particular sources of protein and carbohydrate in canine diets are not intrinsically harmful or beneficial and that the health effects of diet are a complex set of interactions between many factors. Duck and bison are no more nor less likely to trigger food intolerance than chicken or beef, and tapioca or potatoes or green peas are no better nor no worse than corn and wheat and soy as carbohydrate and protein sources.

Here are some reliable sources of information about these pet food ingredient myths (And yes, some of these folks have some connection to the pet food industry. Dr. Dodds also sells products that she promotes in her book. Everyone has a perspective and biases, and it is facile and useless to dismiss opinions we disagree with based on our perceptions of the source’s biases when we accept the opinions of those w do agree with even though they have just as much potential bias. The measure of the reliability of a source of information is not how biased or unbiased we believe they are, nor whether or not we agree with them, it is the quality of the evidence they provide): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Organic Ingredients are Healthier/More Nutritious
I have written about the subject of organic foods several times. The evidence of extensive research does not support claims that organically produced ingredients are healthier or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.  The assumption that they should be is an example of the Appeal to Nature Fallacy, which falsely supposes that the less manipulation of something engaged in by humans, the more “natural” and the healthier something is. It is easy to see that this assumption is false when one considers those things that are clearly unhealthy despite being entirely natural (botulism and salmonella, radioactivity, polio virus, etc.) and those which are clearly beneficial despite being arguably “unnatural” (antibiotics, polio vaccine, clean drinking water and sewage control systems, etc.).

There may be some advantages to organic food production in terms of environmental resources, pesticide use, and other factors, but there is no reason to believe that seeking dog foods with organic ingredients benefits your pet or that foods with conventionally produced ingredients present any health risks. Here are some resources discussing the evidence concerning health effects and nutrient content of organically produced foods: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Artificial Preservatives
Just as Dr. Dodds likes to laud the supposed health benefits of “natural” things like organically produced foods, so she also likes to imply negative health effects from things she deems “artificial.” This is simply the Appeal to Nature Fallacy again, and while human-made substances certainly can have negative health effects (just like natural substances), this cannot simply be assumed. While she is rarely specific about these supposedly dangerous substances, there are a few she mentions by name, though no evidence is provided to support the allegations of harm.

BHA and BHT have been used as preservatives in human and animal foods…for more than 30 years. While many countries have banned them from use in human foods, they are still allowed in pet foods…[and] have been indicated as carcinogenic in animal experiments and are suspected of contributing to cancer and tumor growth.

The purpose of these compounds is to function as anti-oxidants and prevent spoilage, which is itself a potential health risk. Extensive research has been done to investigate any dangers from these compounds, and the research generally does not support a significant risk at levels of exposure likely to be seen with use as a food preservative. In fact, there is even tenuous evidence that these compounds may be protective against cancer under some circumstances. It is never possible to exclude all possibility of risk, of course, but avoiding potentially beneficial products without any evidence of risk is not a rational way to make decisions about food safety.

Here is some of the evidence concerning these compounds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Ethoxyquin is another preservative implied to have negative health effects despite a lack of evidence for the truth of such claims. Much is made of the fact that it is permitted in the U.S. but not in Europe, suggesting real risks have been identified but the FDA has somehow failed to acknowledge them. There is no reason to think, however, that European regulatory decisions are any more evidence-based than those made in the U.S., or more effective in protecting public safety. It is easy to find examples of the opposite being true, such as the case of thalidomide, a drug approved for use in pregnant women in Europe, but not in the U.S., in the 1950s and 1960s which turned out to cause significant birth defects. In any case, the evidence does not support claims that ethoxyquin is harmful at levels used in pet foods: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Fluoride Causes Cancer
Fluoride has been a focus of fear since its introduction in municipal water supplies for prevention of dental disease in the 1950s. Despite all of this fear, the evidence is clear that the benefits of water fluoridation far outweigh the risks. Dr. Dodds suggests in her book that fluoride is a significant risk factor for the bone cancer osteosarcoma:

Fluoride likely contributes to osteosarcoma

…exposure to high levels of fluoride can certainly be considered a risk factor for osteosarcoma. The dangers may be particularly high in large breed puppies that are rapidly forming new bone (EWG, 2009; EWG, 2009a).

Fluoride found in bone meal, meat meal or meat byproduct meal could be contributing to skyrocketing cases of canine osteosarcoma, especially for dogs who eat the same fluoride-containing kibble day-in and day-out. Be sure to remove all foods containing bone meal or animal by-products from your dog’s diet, and switch to low-fluoride or fluoride-free bottled water.

Despite the “could be” above, Dr. Dodds pretty clearly believes fluoride is contributing to osteosarcoma in dogs and recommends avoiding it. Her references, as usual, do not provide any scientific evidence for this suggestion. Rather than research, she cites opinion pieces by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that promotes fear of GMO, childhood vaccines, and other pseudoscientific positions as well as legitimate environmental concerns. More reliable sources do not support a causal link between fluoride in food and water and bone cancer risk: 1, 2, 3, 4

The Beat Goes On
The list of unsupported or outright untrue health claims for specific substances in Dr. Dodds’ book is lengthy, and I cannot possible address them all. The following is a list of some of these substances and brief collections of resources discussing the evidence concerning them:

  1. Menandione (synthetic Vitamin K)- I’ve already discussed this in a previous article.
  2. A1 vs A2 cow’s milk- 1, 2, 3
  3. BPA- 1, 2
  4. Coconut oil; Another I’ve discussed before.
  5. Resveratrol- I’ve written several articles on this promising but still unproven compound.
  6. White bean extract- 1
  7. Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables- No benefit seen in horses and unclear benefits in humans. There are some promising results from an artificial model study in dogs, but there is no clinical trial evidence from the real world.
  8. Deer Antler velvet- Similarly, in humans there is some promising preliminary evidence, but the real risks and benefits are unclear. One study in dogs did show some evidence of benefit for arthritis, but the outcomes measures were inconsistent (some positive and others not), and there were a couple of mysterious unexplained deaths in the treatment group which raise the possibility of adverse effects which need further investigation.
  9. Glucosamine/Chondroitin- Naturally, Dr. Dodds still recommends this supplement despite abundant evidence suggesting it has no real benefit.
  10. Green-lipped mussel- Evidence is inconsistent in both human studies and veterinary studies.
  11. Fish oil- One of the few supplements with some pretty good supporting evidence, though there is still some uncertainty about dose, form, and the range of indications for which it is useful.
  12. SAME-e for arthritis- Some supporting evidence in humans though overall weak data, and little veterinary research.
  13. Spirulina- Despite the bold claims, they are based entirely on in virtro and animal model research, not clinical evidence.
  14. Vitamin C- Dr. Dodds disputes the mainstream consensus that additional dietary Vitamin C is not beneficial to dogs able to produce sufficient quantities of this vitamin on their own, but her claims don’t seem consistent with the evidence.
  15. Curcumin/Turmeric- I’ve discussed this one before.
  16. Zeel- Previously discussed.
  17. I’M Yunity and hemangiosarcoma- Previously discussed.
  18. Tryptophan in turkey makes you sleepy- Just a myth she passes along uncritically. 1, 2
  19. “Sugar-high” in kids- Another myth, which she uses to support claims about high-glycemic index foods despite the fact that it is not true. 1, 2
  20. Antioxidant and brain aging- Discussed previously several times: 1, 2, 3, 4
  21. Coenzyme Q10 and heart disease- Also previously discussed: Like most dietary supplements, coenzyme Q10, also known as ubiquinone, is recommended for a wide range of apparently unrelated conditions. It is recommended in humans for cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, diabetes, and many others, as well as a general tonic and, of course, the inevitable “boosting” of the immune system. In dogs and cats it has primarily been recommended for treatment or prevention of heart disease and age-related cognitive dysfunction. There is controversy about many of the recommended uses in humans, with mixed and generally low-quality clinical trial evidence for most uses. And, as you will no doubt have anticipated by now, there is virtually no reliable research on its use in pets. One small experimental study failed to find evidence of decreased Coenzyme Q10 levels in dogs with congestive heart failure. There appear to be no clinical trials for any specific indication, and the recommendations for this supplement are again based entirely on theory, anecdote, and pre-clinical research or clinical research conducted in humans.

22. Abdominal Epilepsy- This is a stark example of a real medical issue that Dr. Dodds either does not understand correctly or chooses to misrepresent in order to support her beliefs.

…did you know that imbalances in intestinal flora can also produce seizures? The condition is known as “abdominal epilepsy,” and it occurs due to the gut-brain connection. Abdominal epilepsy occurs when an unhealthy microbial environment in the gut creates toxins that cross into the brain…Many veterinarians misdiagnose—and thus mistreat—this type of seizure because rather than looking in the gut, they only look at the patient “from the neck up.” If your dog suffers from seizures in combination with ulcerative colitis, manic itching or GI trouble (e.g., constipation and/or diarrhea) he may have abdominal epilepsy.

While abdominal epilepsy is a real condition, it is not a type of seizure due to “unhealthy” gastrointestinal flora or “toxins.” It is a type of epilepsy that affects the region of the brain associated with autonomic functions, and it manifests as GI symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. It is recognized in children and in dogs, though it is quite rare, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the kinds of positive and negative nutritional claims made in the chapter in which it is mentioned. It is also a classic example of the alternative practitioner claiming conventional clinicians are ignorant of a key and important cause of disease or don’t bother to look at the entire patient. Veterinary neurologists routinely evaluate the entire patient and their state of health when investigating neurologic problems. They do not simply look at their patients only “from the neck up,” and it is dishonest to suggest this.

23. Vaccines and autoimmune disease- I have discussed this previously: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bottom Line
While Dr. Dodds’ book is a mixture of fact and fiction, science and pseudoscience, plausible ideas and outright nonsense, overall the work is deeply misleading. It has little at all to do with nutrigenomics or epigenetics, despite the title and claims to the contrary, and it uses real science primarily to give an aura of legitimacy or authority to claims which are unproven or outright false. References are employed in a manner that suggests an academic research summary with conclusions based on scientific evidence. The reality is that the book is a collection of opinions, some plausible and some not, supported in most cases by very little evidence and in some cases clearly contradicted by this evidence. The references employed are often simply other people’s opinions or, in some cases, Dr. Dodds’ own opinions reprinted elsewhere.

The recommendations made for and against specific feeding practices and dietary supplements are mostly typical for proponents of alternative medicine, and they stem from ideology and philosophical beliefs rather than scientific evidence. Occasionally, such claims turn out to be true, in the manner of a broken clock which happens to be right twice a day but this has little to do with the underlying principles. And while there are a few evidence-based claims here and there in the book, and some recommendations I would agree with, overall Canine Nutrigenomics is misleading, misguided, and in conflict with the best evidence and expert consensus in veterinary nutrition.






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60 Responses to Canine Nutrigenomics by Dr. Jean Dodds: Science as Windowdressing

  1. This is a more than welcome text. Thank you so much!
    Would you authorize me to translate it to French?

  2. skeptvet says:

    Yes, you are welcome to translate and repost it so long as the original source is cited.

  3. Thank you very much, I will certainly…and will link to this page.
    Thanks again. This needed to be written, but it is very time consuming.

  4. Pingback: Dogs & Food Intolerance - Page 8 - Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community

  5. Pingback: Review of Dr. Jean Dodds' book Canine Nutrigenomics - Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community

  6. Christina says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this thorough review of the book. A great (and much needed) counterpoint.

  7. Phil S. says:

    Thanks for this thorough and much-needed review of Canine Nutrigenomics and the Nutriscan test! Your citations of research articles supporting your critiques are invaluable.

  8. Pingback: Descanso Mañana: Ébola Volver en Liberia, Escoto Redux, lamento Lyme Lavigne - Tus dientes sanos - Salud y Vida

  9. skeptvet says:

    Thanks, I am glad the review was helpful. I have noticed a lot of positive reviews for the book on Amazon, and given how misleading it is, it would benefit the public to have some balance there, so I encourage anyone concerned about the inaccuracies and misleading nature of this book to post a review on Amazon of their impressions of it.

  10. Sarah C says:

    There are studies done on GMOs. The rats covered in tumors was particularly disturbing. I don’t have time to search for and add link but it’s easy to find.
    I have a 7 yr old puggle who spent 6 yrs on Purina Dog Chow. He has a lipoma under his front leg that looks like 1 huge breast. Since switching to Diamond Naturals, it has shrunk! And all of my dogs have shown significant improvements in their health and coats. The difference in ingredients is astounding – things like pumpkin and beets make the increase at the register easier to cope with. And the changes we’ve seen make it worthwhile cost.
    I’m adding this comment to possibly help others through sharing my personal experience, not to slam GMOs. Although I will restate that studies are there for one who has the initiative to look.
    Thank you for the review!

  11. skeptvet says:

    Yes, there are studies done, and they clearly show these foods to be safe. The study you reference is ideologically motivated pseudoscience accepted only by people determined to fear GMO regardless of the evidence.

    As for your own experience, while it’s always great when something like this gets better, it doesn’t mean your idea about why is correct. If simple anecdotes like this were reliable, we wouldn’t need science and science wouldn’t have improved our health and longevity far more in 200 years than thousands of years of trusting in such experience.

    Don’t Believe your Eyes (or Your Brain)

    Medical Miracles: Should We Believe?

    Testimonials Lie

    Alternative medicine and placebo effects in pets

    Placebo effects in epileptic dogs

    Medical Practices Once Widely Accepted that Proved Ineffective or Harmful when Studied Scientifically

    Why We’re Often Wrong

  12. k moritz says:

    As an RN who specializes in leading edge nutritional and nutrigenomic research, I would have to say that your “analysis” and “research” is based on woefully out dated and mainstream information. The saying in research is this: it takes 15-20 years for the leading edge research to actually reach acceptance and be put into clinical practice. Unfortunately, your information is based on research from 15-20 years ago. It is views, reviews, and commentaries such as this one that only serves to hold back the forward movement of new frontiers in science, medicine, and clinical practice.
    Your opinions are valid as your own, but please don’t promote your opinions as fact when there may be substantial research you may not be familiar with

  13. skeptvet says:

    Sorry, but as someone involved in the sciences you ought to know better. “Leading edge” is generally a euphemism for “believed but unproven.” If the claims Dr. Dodds makes are valid, she should be able to cite published clinical research to show this, and she cannot. All she can cite is opinion pieces and in vitro or lab animal studies. These forms of early research turn out to be mistaken most of the time when subjected to clinical-level studies. Only 5 out of 5000 durgs that show promise in lab studies make it to human testing, and only 1 of these will prove safe and effective enough to go into clinical use. So early, “cutting edge” research turns out to be wrong all the time.

    As I mentioned, I did have a university nutrigenomics researcher and two nutrition specialists review my comments and identify any of the claims I questioned which are actually accepted as true by specialists in these field. These folks are as “cutting edge” as it is possible to be, and they agree that the claims of Dr. Dodds which I address are, as I have said of them, at best plausible but unproven and supported by suggestive preclinical evidence and at worst clearly untrue.

    I notice that you support your own quite definitive claims with only reference to your own opinion and credentials, not any actual published evidence. Is there a specific claim for which there is clinical evidence I have ignored here? Or are you claiming that we should accept your word that Dr. Dodds’ claims are true without published evidence? Because that’s not how real science works.

  14. k moritz says:

    Well, I am just grateful that there are researchers and “out of the box / leading edge” thinkers out there that move science forward in spite of those around them that can only see the status quo as the only truth.
    Research is fallible, research is biased, and research has come up with as many “truths” as there are researchers. Research by its very nature changes as new information becomes available. As the world changes, as information changes, as new ideas are born and raised, some people move forward with that information and some people do not.
    There is always more than one way to do everything, so I (professionally) do not see the same need as you to have the final word, to convince everyone that there is only one way, and that you know what that is.

  15. Jana Rade says:

    I actually have to agree; I was quite disappointed by the book. I expected science but there is very little actual information. It comes across as being just a selling tool for Nutriscan.

  16. Beccy Higman says:

    The idea that the mass of scientific researchers are invested in upholding the status quo is deeply flawed. If as a researcher you can prove something new you have your name made.

  17. Elizabeth Andrews says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to review the book! I am sharing it.
    So many people have been drinking the cool aid..

  18. Kathi says:

    I very much disagree with much of what you have to say, and criticize. I question how good your own health is if you do not eat organic and avoid GMO’s. Dr. Mark Hyman is a pioneer in natural health and has helped countless people. Dr. Mercola has the largest natural health newsletter and is highly respected by many, myself included. Dr. Dodds is an amazing vet who cares deeply for animals. I am thankful for her nutritional guidance for my dog and I think her book is wonderful and very important for all dog owners to read. I think down the road you will find most of what she advocates is right on target.

  19. skeptvet says:

    Well, you’re entitled to disagree, but without any evidence it just amounts to your personal opinion. Anyone can have an opinion, and for every opinion in favor of an idea, there is someone else with an opinion opposed to that idea. Either we give up on knowing anything, or we have to turn to evidence rather than opinions to decide what is true. And the evidence just doesn’t support most of what the people you revere have to say. I’m sure Dr. Dodds is a wonderful person, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t wrong about many things. I’m pretty sure that down the road many of her claims will fade away as they fail to prove themselves, but time (and science) will tell.

  20. Art malernee Dvm says:

    Vets love to give their personal opinion to others. The ebvm folder on vin. com today has had zero post in the last 120 days. The alternative medicine folder has has 273 thread post with over a thousand members of vin posting away their opinions.

  21. s999 says:

    The fact that lots of people on vin want to talk about alternative medicine proves nothing. The fact that lots of people on vin would want to talk about ebvm would prove nothing EITHER. Science isn’t done via the Facebook “like” button.

    Thanks for the review.

  22. paf1 says:

    As one who has attended two neurology vets one of whom is a professor of academic standing I can say neither have viewed the whole dog when it came to her epilepsy which started after a period of serious GI upset, infections and antibiotics. They very much looked at the neck up and offered little by way of a holistic view ( and I don’t mean holistic in a herbal or alternative sense). Our own vet is at a loss and is fortunately able to say so, which gives her kudos with me .
    The trouble with the scientific vet like many doctors in human medicine is that they silo off body systems and often fail to see inter connections which allows a resonance with this type of literature for the many who have had similar experiences to us. Jean Dodd appears to get it (even if she doesn’t!) and fills the gap left behind by science vets who are, in many cases, frankly uninterested and burnt out. Scientists often say “there is no evidence to support” such and such but fail to qualify this with with “because it hasn’t been tested so there is nothing to say it doesn’t work either” and rarely are able to say honestly that we just don’t know whether something works or not ( because there is no evidence one way or another). I agree with much of your review but I doubt Jean Dodds would be as popular if she weren’t appealing to those somewhat let down by science purists in the vet world.

  23. skeptvet says:

    There is certainly some truth to the idea that people are driven to alternative medicine by the failings of real medicine. Some of those “failings” are, of course, unavoidable since we can never have perfect or complete knowledge or perfect human beings in the healthcare professions. Often people turn to alt med when scientific medicine has no answers. This is understandable, but it is neither the fault of science, which has accumulated useful knowledge faster and more effectively in the last two centuries than in all preceding human history, nor a good thing for the patients when the alt med they turn to claims to have answers but really only has guesses, opinions, or empty hope. Even when science doesn’t know the answer, it is a pretty good bet alt med doesn’t either.

    You are absolutely correct that there is a difference between ideas which have been tested and disproven, such as homeopathy, and ideas which have not been tested. You will see in my articles I am very careful not to declare something a failure when there is no evidence. You will also see that proponents of these alternative therapies are almost never so careful and loudly proclaim benefits that have not actually been shown to be real. That is the bulk of Dr. Dodds’ book. And if you look at the history of science and medicine, most new ideas turn out to be wrong when properly tested, so the appropriate position on such hypotheses is not, “Well, there’s no evidence so it might work and it’s worth a try.” The appropriate position is, “There’s no evidence, so we don’t know if it works or if it’s safe, and we’d best avoid it unless we are willing to do harm or do nothing and everybody involved fully understands this.” But you’d never sell an alternative therapy if you honestly disclosed that it was a roll of the dice and statistically unlikely to work, so this kind of honest informed consent is rare. Instead, anecdotes are used to imply proven benefits that haven’t really been proven.

    As for whether there is too much specialization and narrowing of focus in vet med, despite your experience I’m inclined to think not, though I am not aware of any testing of the question. The vast majority of vets are still general practitioners, not specialists, and even specialists often see multiple species and a broader range of things than the equivalent MD, so I suspect the problem is less than in human medicine. But again, even to the extent that it is real, it doesn’t mean what Dr. Dodd’s is saying makes any sense. She completely misuses the term “abdominal epilepsy” to make a claim about nutrition and seizure disorders that is not true, and then she uses this to suggest we can safely ignore the opinions of neurologists who dispute her claims because they don’t pay enough attention to other body systems. Yet there is no evidence at all for her claim, and she misuses the name of an existing disease to label her theoretical disorder, so whether or not neurologists are too focused on the nervous system, she is just making stuff up here. A tiny bit of truth to her criticism doesn’t undo the load of nonsense it contains.

    We could, potentially, reduce the use of unproven or disproven alternative therapies if we did could diagnose and cure more diseases. After all, that’s how scientific medicine became the dominant model, by working better than the alternatives. And we could certainly do a better job of caring for our clients needs in many ways. But the real and imagined failings of mainstream medicine don’t make the claims of alternative practitioners any more true. And there are some limitations we can’t honestly overcome I can’t tell ever single client that I can find the cause of their pet’s illness and a useful treatment because that is not true. However, a homeopath or TCM practitioner can always claim to identify an imbalance of some kind and recommend a treatment because their world view doesn’t hinge on anything like objectively proven knowledge. This is more satisfying for clients, but is it honest? Is it better for patients?

  24. paf1 says:

    Its a rare animal the scientist who is humble enough to admit that many of the useful scientific discoveries in medicine have been made by accident or trial and error including antibiotics and anesthetics ( on the positive) and thalidomide dangers or serotonin syndrome ( on the negative) to name a small few. I thought clinical trials were exactly that, ” well we don’t know if it works but lets give it a try” having had some pharmacologist tinker about in a lab to find something that might prove useful and increasingly more important, profitable to market. Modern drug treatments are released on the general public having had limited trials done, limited data available and commercial interests making the transparency cloudy. We don’t really get to understand what medical pharmacology science has to offer until many years later when hundreds of thousands of individuals have been treated and adverse effects become clear. The same is true of many medical devices and their in vivo use. That’s science as things stand. So not so honest as it happens and a tad dogmatic about its virtues which are becoming increasingly corrupted by its religion and economics.

    I am no blind believer in traditional medicines, much of it is based on instinct (understanding without knowledge of a scientific kind) and having worked in modern medicine for a long time its has different kinds of failings including practitioner subjectivity in offering treatments with which the practitioner feels ” comfortable” despite evidence of more effective ones being available, chronic pain clinics are full of surgeons botched jobs. Scientific practitioners have by and large lost their instinct to the God of “evidence” and we are the poorer for it in some respects another gap the “alternatives” fill. I very much doubt veterinary medicine is any different but hope you continue to enjoy an idealistic opinion of your colleagues. Whilst I enjoy your razor sharp intellectual perspective I find it in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. St John’s wart, milk thistle, bloodletting with leeches ( in burns and plastics still used today) and many other remedies used for years by holistic therapists have subsequently been proven to work through scientific study.

    Collaborators always work better than separatists and the sooner the two sides can work together the better we will all be for it. Perhaps then we might discover more about conditions such as epilepsy including abdominal epilepsy by listening and testing each others theories and instincts. Jean Dodds is not suggesting we safely ignore specialist but that often this type of diagnosis is missed by a lack of consideration and analytic thinking in busy vet clinics or misdiagnosed. This is true even of human abdominal epilepsy so you misrepresent what she is saying and the facts in this. to quote the Abdominal Epilepsy Association “Although abdominal epilepsy is diagnosed most often in children, the research of Peppercorn and Herzog (1989) suggests that abdominal epilepsy may be much more common in adults than is generally recognized”

    Genetic expression is long recognised now in fields of mental health where an underlying genetic predisposition to addiction, depression or schizophrenia can be curtailed or activated by a number of environmental, social and economic factors. Diet is one of them, so whilst Jean Dodds may have expressed the idea in a way which is not exact in its science it has a basis in scientific logic which may take many years to prove or disprove given that genomics is in its infancy but as a general theory it makes sense. When people or animals are unwell there usually IS an imbalance somewhere (often proven by lab tests) , patients and owners go to the therapist, doctor or vet because they know this already, they are seeking to find out what the imbalance is.

    Skepticism is healthy in moderation, scoffing less so

  25. skeptvet says:

    “many of the useful scientific discoveries in medicine have been made by accident or trial and error”
    Not really. Happy accidents do occur, but most of science is a slow, laborious, methodical process. And when such accidents happen, they are only recognized as significant and only lead to beneficial therapies because of slow, laborious, methodical evaluation. This is far different from what is meant by “trial and error” in folk medicine and pre-scientific times, which is haphazard and deeply influenced by bias and other sources of error. Science is imperfect, as all human endeavors are, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is the worst means of establishing the truth about nature apart from all the other means we have tried.

    “I thought clinical trials were exactly that, ” well we don’t know if it works but lets give it a try””
    Absolutely not. This would be a tremendous waste of resources, and it would be unethical to expose patients/research subjects to the risks of a clinical trial on what amounts to a whim or wild guess. Clinical trials are the last stage in a process of development of medical therapies that includes extrapolation from established knowledge, preclinical testing in vitro and often in animal models, initial safety testing in volunteers, etc. The average new drug or device takes 10 years to come to market, and over 90% are weeded out along the way. Again, this is very different from taking products which have been subjected to uncontrolled personal observations and trial-and-error usage without any establishing of basic biologic plausibility and preclinical establishing of safety and exposing patients to them in clinical trials.

    See, this sort of misconception about how scientific medicine works makes it easier to see unscientific medicine as reasonable or similar, but it is misleading. The differences are starker than you seem to understand or want to admit.

    “St John’s wart, milk thistle, bloodletting with leeches ( in burns and plastics still used today) and many other remedies used for years by holistic therapists have subsequently been proven to work through scientific study. ”
    The problem is that this is a short list of things which turned out to have some limited use for specific conditions which was identified by scientific study. This ignores not only the many other things which have failed to prove useful when tested, but the fact that even most of the traditional uses of these products were worthless.

    If leeches have some benefit in helping with limb reattachment, for example, that does nothing to validate the traditional use of leeches for bloodletting to balance the bodily humours, which was the dominant use for thousands of years. Traditional medicine didn’t “get it right” with leeches. Science found a use for something traditional medicine had been misusing for millennia!

    Similarly, St. John’s Wort has some limited efficacy, and some clear risks, which are similar to the generally fairly ineffective pharmaceuticals used for the same purpose. This is not only unimpressive in itself, but it fails to validate the historical uses of the herb, which included warding off witches, treating menstrual cramps, snake bites, sciatica, and wounds and offering a portal into the spirit world. Once again, tradition didn’t “get it right.” Scientific study happened to find a use for something that previously had been haphazardly used for dozens of unrelated problems, the vast majority of which it was useless for.

    As for “working together,” this is fine when we all agree on the process. But there is no point in saying we should work together and then having some of us rely on scientific testing and others on instinct, historical tradition, or personal experience and calling it all the same. Science is the dominant approach to understanding health and disease and validating medical therapies not because of mere cultural prejudice but because it has proven itself vastly superior to those other approaches which folk medicine has relied on, with little success, for centuries. It does patients no good to go back to methods of evaluating medical therapies that simply don’t work very well.

    I am happy to “collaborate” in the scientific evaluation of alternative therapies if their proponents wish to follow the steps, from establishing basic plausibility up through clinical trials. But if they wish, as they usually do, to skip all that and either have their claims accepted on the basis of less reliable evidence or skip to the head of the line and subject patients to clinical trials of implausible therapies, taking resources away from more promising testing of therapies that have been through the entire process, than I don’t see that as collaboration but as a loosening of standards to give special treatment to a class of practices that really should be tested and evaluated by the same standards as everything else. The problem with work such as that of Dr. Dodds’ is that it bears the appearance of being scientific but generally lacks the substance.

    And yes, Dr. Dodd’s completely misrepresents and misuses the term “abdominal epilepsy.” Whether or not it occurs in adults, it does not mean seizures caused by an imbalance in GI flora, as she clearly implies. This is a stark example of a complete falsehood used to give the appearance of scientific legitimacy to claims about nutrition and the role of the microbiota in health that have not been demonstrated to be true. And I agree that the role of nutrition in modifying gene expression is a scientifically legitimate area of study, as I said quite clearly in the review. However, this does not make the specific claims about particular foods Dr. Dodds’ make true since the work has not yet been done to show these particular relationships. Again, the goal here is to sidestep the tedious process of science and still maintain the aura of respectability that goes with science, and that is disingenuous and misleading.

    We can argue semantics about whether I am criticizing or scoffing, but the bottom line is that Dr. Dodds’ presents her opinion as scientifically established fact, and in doing so she misrepresents both and misleads the public. This seems far more counterproductive than any scoffing tone you may appreciate in my review of her claims.

  26. paf1 says:

    Yes really……….The last two centuries of medical discoveries are well peppered with serendipity. Perhaps you should try Happy accidents: Serendipity in modern medical breakthroughs, Morton A. Meyers. Meyers, professor emeritus of radiology and internal medicine “the most significant breakthroughs in medical research usually came about when people were looking for something else entirely”. It’s a book full of the very things you say are rare occurrences.
    So we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one I’m afraid. Which science was Winston Churchill eminent in?
    I’m not saying all science is happy accidents and serendipity but many of the significant breakthroughs have been such, of course there’s rigour but it nevertheless does not always produce results of benefit. Science and its research and development is tremendously wasteful and resource intensive otherwise there would be a lot more research but its expensive and doesn’t always produce results, you’ve said as much yourself in the response about drug development. Much research is wasteful, carried out at the expense of a commercial enterprise which immediately introduces considerable bias at almost every stage of the project development , data gathering and analysis, invalidating its worthiness.

    The phase you refer to is phase III of IV of drug development, phase IV being the one I referred to earlier, post marketing and the phase that tells the whole story, clinical trials are very limited. You’ve read Ben Goldacre’s texts, Bad Pharma? He has much to say about the transparency and validity of drug development and trials, now a recommended text for trainees. In any case many drugs are used very successfully”off licence” for other unintended conditions medics have observed they work well for. this often is only researched retrospectively to validate clinical observation. The latter is the part the holists leave out and this is curious and significant I agree. Drug companies test on a limited population, first in vitro then in animals then in healthy volunteers then those with comorbid conditions ( I am familiar with the process) but nevertheless we keep discovering harmful effects years on that have not been accounted for. this is not a criticism of science rather a recognition of the realities that it is inherently flawed too and it is foolish to hold it with such superior regard. Medial science in practice is as much an art as a science. Listening, observing and being creative with your tools and their limitations is just as important.

    So your argument with St Johns wort is that it’s as rubbish as most of the pharmaceuticals? or the pharmaceuticals are just as rubbish as St John’s Wort despite all you say about the rigours of drug testing! You can’t have your cake and eat it.

    I have not misconceived but have taken into account the various influences on science and scientists that make it far from what it purports to be in its purist form ( i.e. if it were operating in a social and economic vacuum, which it is not) but I agree its probably the best we’ve got. Nevertheless it should be viewed with the same skepticism you apply to others. See your sort of view misleads us into thinking we can trust all things in the name of science by using language like rigour, methodical, laborious, superior and dominant as if to bully us with science. Its idealism and religious about science in a way that is equally misleading.

    I don’t think any current holistic therapist would quote stories of cures for being witches that’s just a ridiculous argument to put forward now. Lets try to stay reasonable rather than medieval.

    I’m sure there is much bumpkin in holistic therapies but if we’re playing by sciences rules you can’t say that for sure as there is no evidence one way or another because you won’t play nicely together and we all lose out. Someone at some point saw fit to clinically trial milk thistle and St John’s Wort, its a pity there can’t be more of that.

    Criticism of Dodds use of the term abdominal epilepsy is fair but not that she asks us to disregard specialist opinion ,that’s the misrepresentation you make.

    Dodds has to sell books but perhaps not as much or on the same scale as the drug companies have to obscure to sell drugs. When science has nothing to offer then naturally people will want to test a theory such as Dodds particularly where there is little risk and potentially much benefit in the same way medical science has to in offering its treatments.

    Perhaps in seeing the similarities as well as the differences I am able to collaborate more and prefer to keep my baby in the bath with the water rather than chuck it all out.

    Enjoyed the banter though and your incisive mind.

  27. skeptvet says:

    You seem to be deliberately obfuscating the point here. We can disagree about how much of a role chance plays in scientific discovery, but do you really believe that suggests that the alternative to the scientific approach generally favored by proponents of alternative therapies, that is personal experience, historical tradition, uncontrolled trial-and-error, and intuition, are really just as good? Because history argues pretty strongly that is not the case.

    Again, with St. John’s Wort, your claim was that it represents a scientific validation of the prescientific beliefs of traditional use. My point was that it does not because most of those beliefs were false and it took science to find the one thing it might be good for. You are once again completely missing o avoiding the point. Traditional uses for the herb, which you claim have been proven right by science, actually included dozens of claims which were clearly wrong. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and that’s better than the success rate of this sort of traditional folk medicine wisdom.

    As for pharmaceutical anti-depressants, I agree they are not very impressive either and, shockingly, it is the process of scientific research which has begun to elucidate that. You seem to think that if the scientific process is ever wrong or incomplete at one moment in time, that argues against the whole endeavor. Goldacre’s point in Bad Pharma (which I have read and actively recommend) was not that science doesn’t work very well and we should stop treating it as gold standard evidence but that it only works when data are appropriately generated and available for transparent and independent analysis. More science is what he argues for, not less. If you want to cite Bad Pharma, you ought to acknowledge Bad Science as well. The process of recognizing the imperfections in scientific medicine and remediating them is part of the scientific process and does nothing to validate the alternatives.

    “Bully us with science?” Really?! What nonsense. Science either is a better epistemological method than the alternatives or it is not. I think the evidence clearly shows it is. I acknowledged quite explicitly its imperfections, but it is not required to be perfect in order to be vastly superior to these alternatives. If having a better, more effective method is “bullying,” so be it, but that’s a pretty sad and empty way to defend whatever alternatives to scientific practice you are defending.

    “When science has nothing to offer then naturally people will want to test a theory such as Dodds particularly where there is little risk and potentially much benefit…”
    Several false assumptions. Science has much to offer, but it does not have all the answers for everything at any given time. That may make the desire for alternatives understandable, but it does not make selling unproven and unscientific alternatives legitimate, and it does not make shortcutting the process of testing hypotheses any more rational. The assumption of “little risk” is also not borne out by the abundant evidence that inadequately tested therapies often have significant risks, even when their proponents assume they will not. These risks include direct harm and the harm attendant on avoiding science-based therapies. The kinds of recommendations Dodds makes (avoiding certain carbohydrate sources, feeding raw meat, feeding any number of untested nutritional supplements, etc.) do have potential risks, and the claim that they don’t because they are “natural,” which she and others often make, is nonsense.

    Finally, the baby/bath water metaphor is inapt. I do not advocate “throwing out” untested therapies. I advocate putting them through the same process of evaluation expected of conventional treatments. What I am suggesting is we shouldn’t put the baby in the bathwater until we are sure it is the right temperature and will clean rather than burn the baby, and we shouldn’t abandon bathing altogether just because someone feels bathing is unnatural, soap is toxic, and all we really need to stay clean is some berries and the right attitude! 🙂

  28. paf1 says:

    You’re not getting it at all, nevermind. Good luck to you , with your views I think you’ll need it as a vet in practice dealing with all those owners who look for more than just science but compassion and care, who would turn away from a science that will fail them at times and choose an alternative, they won’t have your understanding.
    I hope I never encounter a vet in practice whose as dogmatic. You’ve just revealed yourself to me as quite ridiculous in some of what you say ( wash in some berries …..please, is that level you’re at now!) not quite the mind I thought you were and a pretty poor ambassador for science really.

    You can move on and bully someone else now with your belittling since its your last tactuc.

  29. skeptvet says:

    So in the absence of an effective argument, you resort to “You’re mean!” You made the baby/bathwater analogy and I illustrated why it doesn’t fit while interjecting a little humor notice the smiley?). The joke was a lot less ridiculous than many real claims made by alternative vets, and the humor a lot less aggressive than the routine marketing of many “holistic” vets, or the hate mail I get here all the time. The fact is that you aren’t making a coherent argument, and it is not “bullying” to illustrate why. IN fact, since bullying implies some kind of power differential, it’s really a silly word to use in the context of an online debate about alternative medicine between two adults.

    The idea that compassion and good, science-based medicine are incompatible is self-serving propaganda for alternative medicine. There’s nothing compassionate about the kind of fear-mongering Dr. Dodds engages in, and there’s nothing compassionate about making claims for alternative therapies that aren’t true or that haven’t been proven. This denies owners the right to legitimately informed consent and harms patients. Honesty is more compassionate than confidence without regard for the truth or the evidence. It is ridiculous that people bridle so much at substantive criticism or unproven or completely bogus claims and yet seem to think there’s no problem with making those claims in the first place.

  30. Tree Ethington says:

    I was disappointed. I do not have the time to pry open your eyes and mind. Your “research” or statements are about 30 years behind.
    By way of a tiny little example, raw honey has many health benefits which have been researched and published in regular scientific papers.
    I could go on, but you seem to enjoy the buffoonery.
    Seriously, my own 3 dogs are a living testament to good real foods and natural supplementation. Cushings Disease, Hyperthyroid, epilepsy x 3 dogs. My own vets are both conventional and “alternative”. I had hoped to read something solid here, but you provide only ancient thinking for a progressive world.
    Feed your dogs properly and they can heal. Pills dont heal, they manage symptoms.

  31. skeptvet says:

    What’s the point of a vacuous response that offers only your opinion and feelings, no evidence of facts? The truth matters, and it is determined by the strength of the evidence, not the strength of your personal faith. If I take the time to spend weeks reading Dr. Dodds’ book, checking her references, researching specific claims, and consulting with multiple experts in the fields she touches on, then my critique is worth taking seriously. If you can do no better than say you disagree because of anecdotal experience with your own pets and your personal beliefs, that contributes nothing useful to the discussion or to the effort to find the truth.

  32. cj says:

    Thank you, to you and your consultants, for your research and time. I am thrilled to have found your web site as a concise, thoughtful counterpoint to the often misguided CAM movement.

    Thought everyone would appreciate this quote:
    “. . .a hilarious example of how many CAM advocates think: they know they are right, and therefore there must be something wrong with science if it fails to support them.” Applied Kinesiology by Any Other Name…, Posted by Harriet Hall on February 7, 2012; retreived from:

    Looking forward to future posts.

  33. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for the feedback, and welcome. I hope you find the site useful.

  34. Mona Webb says:

    Love your clear and systematic examination of the claims in this book. Many of these claims have been advocated by dog people in magazines, books and seminars, and it is great to have the details examined.

    I agree with your point in general about GMO foods, but there are some GMO foods that appear worse than other, for example wheat and grains that have been sprayed with Roundup while seeding, so that the glyphosate is inside the kernel when harvested.
    My reference for this is

    M. Webb

  35. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for the feedback. It wouldn’t surprise me if some GMO products turn out to have risks as well as benefits, of course. Everything does. The issue is just that one can’t make sound generalizations about safety based on whether something does or does not have some genetic modification.

    The article you link to, however, seems to have nothing to do with GMO crops and only mentions them in passing. The assertion in the article is that wheat is causing health problems because of a pesticide that is being sprayed on it. No evidence is presented to show this is true, and it is not an accepted fact that wheat is causing health problems at all. But if this were true, and if it were associated with the use of a particular pesticide, this still wouldn’t have anything to do with the safety of GMO crops.

    As for the specific claims about glyphosphate in that article, they are also not well-demonstrated. There is some concern about possible carcinogenicity, especially for people applying the agent, but the idea that residue on wheat causes imbalance of bacterial flora leading to “leaky gut syndrome” has not been even remotely demonstrated. One of the arguments in favor of GMO crops is that they can allow for reduced pesticide use, so oddly enough they might actually be part of solving this problem, if it actually is a problem.

  36. Travis Einertson says:

    you said…. The first is a blog post by Dr. Mark Hyman, a widely known advocate for pseudoscience and quackery from functional medicine to anti-vaccine advocacy.

    Just so you know the Cleveland Clinic is incorporating this into their practice…

    I share your interest is discerning good science from bad science. You might find his upcoming Fat Summit of interest. It has an impressive array of

  37. skeptvet says:

    Yes, well Dr. Hyman is on staff at the Cleveland Clinic, so of course he is promoting his ideas there. That, and the fact that some people believe what he says, don’t make his claims any less pseudoscientific.

  38. Jennifer Robinson says:

    Thanks for this review. I often come across dog fanciers who regard Jean Dodds as THE authority, and have felt the information attributed to her as a source seemed questionable. Good to find a well referenced review of many of the lines she touts.

    I’ve come across a lot of people who greatly respect Dodds’ thyroid tests and feel that their dogs have thyroid problems. Maybe not here . . . but I’d very much appreciate a review of HemoPet/HemoLife and her previous book The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog.

  39. Vally Dal Pra says:

    Well, I’m lucky to have a vet who does both medical and holistic treatment, a specialist who is clever and compassionate and Dr Dodds’ brilliant brain to constantly pick to help with my dud dog.

    I have no medical background and am simply a pet owner. I stopped automatic annual vaccinations on my dog after he started having seizures a month after one of those yearly appointments in 2007. His previous vet said his seizures had nothing to do with vaccinations as if it had been vaccine related, he would have reacted immediately. Well, I had my doubts and my research led me for the first time to Dr Jean Dodds and her recommendations about testing adult dogs rather than automatic vaccinations. I was the first person that requested titer testing at my previous vet’s clinic – a busy practice in Sydney, waiting on the phone for over half an hour while they found out about it. Testing showed my dog had heaps of immunity and 9 years later, he still has not needed to be vaccinated. His seizures stopped about 6 months after his last vaccination.

    The Australian Veterinary Association updated its policy on vaccination of dogs and cats in June 2009. Despite this, my previous vet (I’m still on their mailing list), as well as a very popular good looking TV vet (in 2010) were still recommending yearly vaccinations. Of course they were – it was the bread and butter of the industry, and what the heck if our dogs got sick, then it’s bread and jam.

    When said dud started wandering about at night and keeping me up (yes he’s a senior), my vet made up a magic homeopathic remedy. Well he obviously read the label that said “Sleep” and that’s what he did. No more wandering around at night. I’m not telling him you say homeopathic medicine has been tested and disproved. I need MY sleep.

    I’ve seen Dr Dodds much maligned throughout the years in anything she says, including, and particularly in Australia, on her vaccination protocol. Well my dud dog is still going with the help of my vet, my specialist and Dr Dodds’ brilliant brain.

  40. skeptvet says:

    What we have here is a combination of anecdote and the cult of personality. Dr. Dodds is absolutely a good person, and nothing I’ve said challenges that. She’s also done important scientific work in several areas, notable transfusion medicine, and I’ve repeated that many times. And she is also wrong about many things, including the specific things I have discussed in my review. I see no reason why a thoughtful criticism of her ideas should be disturbing or why it is reasonable to dismiss both the scientific evidence and the consensus of many equally good and smart veterinarians to accept anything and everything Dr. Dodds says just because she is smart and nice. I doubt even she would argue that she can never be wrong, yet her supporters here are ignoring every fact and bit of evidence and simply repeating their own personal faith in her. You are welcome to your beliefs, but they are not compelling evidence.

  41. Nonya says:

    skeptvet said, “What we have here is a combination of anecdote and the cult of personality.”

    Two thumbs up. I find the cult of personality phenom — which I’ve seen a *lot* on the Internet for vets who’ve never even examined the animal in question and who develop devotees outside whatever particular expertise they may legitimately have — spot on and concerning. Even a stopped clock will be “right” twice a day , something people seem to forget. Another area where I see huge issues with the cult of personality is non-vets who are recognized as “experts” for pets (i.e., Joseph Mercola & other woo practitioners and supplement manufacturers). SMH.

  42. Barbara Bailey says:

    Thank you for your detailed work reviewing this book. I bought the book and did notice the less-than-scientific references as well as the hard-sell on the saliva test. I am not surprised to see in other forums that many times the results show that the dog is sensitive to everything, and was interested in the blind test you cited. You saved me some money! All that said, there is no doubt a lack of gold-standard research in many of these areas and we could wait a dog’s lifetime or three for confirmation on some of her theories. I know what Dodds says about GMOs has not been proven, and I would have avoided them anyway because of my own view on the issue. But cost and convenience are the only worries in avoiding GMO’s — it won’t hurt. I find that given the lack of good advice on homemade meals for dogs, there is much in the book that won’t hurt to try and might be helpful. (I am trying to come off a successful two-novel-ingredient elimination diet recommended by my vet and cannot see going back to even the best commercially-prepared foods with their ridiculously long list of ingredients and factory-farmed foods.) Skepticism is a good thing here, especially given that this book is basically an infomercial, so thanks again!

  43. Hannah says:

    Thanks for writing a very thorough review of this book. I never intended to buy (or read) it, but I’ve had both trainers and breeders recommend Dr. Dodds’ vaccine protocol to me (as well as raw feeding). I was instantly VERY skeptical because it looked an awful lot like the garbage vaccine protocols being pushed by anti-vax advocates for human children. I ALMOST fell for it though, because of Dr. Dodds’ amazing ability to make her opinions and personal brand of veterinary pseudoscience look legitimate, and because many of the people around me already believed it. I’m glad that there’s at least one voice out there to warn people though – yours!

  44. Roann says:

    I work in the field of animal nutrition and I am not a fan of this book either. It read like one big sales pitch. And I’m really not a fan of the NutriScan test. I feel badly for the people that want to help their dogs and then get wrapped up in the outlandish results of this saliva test. I would really appreciate a link to the small study you mentioned that proved that the test did not work as promoted. In addition to wanting to read it myself, it would save me from having to talk a lot to others about how they’re wasting their money. Thank you!

  45. Pingback: SkeptVet vs Dodds - Diet - Nutriscan etc - Poodle Forum - Standard Poodle, Toy Poodle, Miniature Poodle Forum ALL Poodle owners too!

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  47. Nicole Mares-Stanley says:

    “Her claims” have proven true for my 8 year old diabetic rottweiler. The book you reviewed has been my “bible” for almost 2 years. Take for example some of the diseases conventional vets consider idiopathic. Apply what is in canine nuttrgenomics and you may find answers to some of these idiopathic problems. It all makes sense. Our canines never used to get the chronic diseases they now face. Their biggest environmental factor is us! We make their food, big business tells us to vaccinate vaccinate! Thats tbe humans….and look at our health!

  48. Nicole Mares-Stanley says:

    Have you ever heard of titer testing??

  49. skeptvet says:

    Our canines never used to get the chronic diseases they now face.

    Any evidence for this? Perhaps chronic disease becomes more common or noticeable as we get better at preventing and treating acute disease and patients live longer? You’re just seeing what you choose to see and ignoring other possibilities, which is the universal phenomenon known as confirmation bias.

  50. skeptvet says:

    Have you read my article on titer testing, or were you just being sarcastic?

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