Chewing things over

I have a theory that the process of chewing is far more important than has been generally realised. As an holistic Veterinarian I am, of course, always going to recommend the chewing of a raw meaty bone diet to my carnivorous patients but my interest in chewing goes a bit further and deeper than that.

I would like to share some ‘food for thought’ with you.

There are many stories and comments we hear over our lifetimes about certain things that can sometimes all come together down the track as a sort of epiphany. For quite a while now I have been thinking about chewing because it forms a large part of the advice I give to my clients on a daily basis. I decided some time ago that it is more significant than just providing animals with nutrition and set about to check up on some of the things I was starting to piece together in my own mind.

As a child I was always being told to chew my food. Apart from the etiquette attending good table manners, I didn’t realise the health benefits for many years later. My Aunt, at the age of 78, once confided that her good health was largely due to the fact that she chewed each mouthful of food at least 100 times and I thought she was a little loopy and had too much time on her hands.

A number of things have contrived to change my mind since that time. Recently, I learnt about the Buddhists ‘eating meditation’ through an article on a day spent with a humble, elderly, Tibetan peasant who meticulously chewed each single grain of rice in his dinner bowl. Reading this, I myself, was humbled. At first I thought he was so poor that he needed to make the meal last, but then as I read further my amazement grew. With each grain of rice he would offer gratitude to the Creator of the food and provider of rain and land, the farmer who sowed and reaped the grain and the person who cooked and prepared his meal. With each mouthful of food his enjoyment of life and satisfaction and gratitude increased.

I know that my Aunt was not practicing the meditation described so there must be other reasons why chewing is beneficial. There are almost 18 million entries in a ‘Google’ on chewing and most of the ones I looked at were about two things; chewing gum and the problem of dogs that chew. Well, personally I can’t stand gum chewing but dogs that chew things are right in my line of fire. There are thousands of entries of advice on how to stop dogs from chewing whilst acknowledging that it is a normal behaviour for them. By far the majority of research on the topic of chewing is mundane and unhelpful but a couple of interesting things pop up that reaffirm my belief that there is much more to this exercise than we realise.

‘New Scientist’ reports that chewing gum can improve short and long term memory. In test conditions it was shown that those given gum to chew performed significantly better on memory tests than those who didn’t chew. It is accepted that chewing stimulates saliva production that, in turn, raises insulin levels and whilst preparing the body for a meal also raises heart rate and sends glucose and oxygen to the brain. This increases mental alertness and improves learning. I don’t believe that the chewing gum stuck under all the desks at school was necessarily being used to aid learning but who knows?

Another report shows that chewing gum assists people recovering from bowel surgery to recover faster by stimulating the gut and improving motility following the physiology described above.

So it seems chewing is in. Unless of course, you are one of the dog owners who gets everything chewed!

From a Veterinary perspective, dogs that chew things around the house probably need to be fed a diet of raw meaty bones on a regular basis. I started to realise some time ago that the reasons for this are far deeper than just providing nutrition and I postulated ‘Dr Pearson’s chewing energy theory’. It goes a bit like this.

Given that chewing is normal behaviour for dogs it needs to be encouraged in a way that is beneficial for them and their owners. Instead of the plethora of advice about how to provide all sorts of options and training for animals that chew, we probably should just be giving them the best things to chew, raw meaty bones. This also maintains the flow of ‘good dog energy’. Healthy canine energy that is conducive to well being at all levels.
The chewing and grinding of raw meaty bones releases energy into the dogs system by the breaking of chemical bonds in the food substrate. Fresher, better quality foods therefore will have more vibrant life energy to release.
Further still is the activation of one of the most important ‘pumps’ in the body, that of the temporomandibular joint or (TMJ).

Osteopaths and Craniosacral practitioners will be well aware of the crucial nature of this joint in the jaw. My theory is not unique but perhaps not always seen in the context described. It seems that the TMJ is an extremely important energy centre in the body and that healthy chewing stimulates processes that maintain the health of the immune and endocrine systems partly via a pump effect to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). We also know this joint is the seat of anger, resentment and frustration in the diseased state in humans. As the sacroiliac joint maintains CSF health via nutation, its normal motion during walking, so too does the TMJ maintain at the higher end of the animal by chewing.

The late Tom Bowen of Geelong had a great reverence for his TMJ procedure along with his Coccyx procedure, both of which he considered the most powerful Bowen moves. This may affirm the importance of the possible effect on the flow of CSF via these procedures at either pole of the spinal axis. Interestingly too is that he recommended that these procedures not be conducted concurrently as they were equally powerful.

Chewing releases all sorts of natural opiates and endorphins that will achieve the ‘feel good’ effect as well as stimulating the gastrointestinal tract and providing mental stimulation. We know that the feeding of liquid diets alone will not maintain optimal health even whilst providing all necessary nutrients. The lack of opportunity to chew deprives us not only of satisfaction from our meal but also does not adequately prepare our bodies to receive and digest the food properly. This often results in stomach and intestinal disorders. Dogs and cats will naturally gulp down whole any food that they are not forced to chew including all processed wet or dry foods. They will mostly, on the other hand, chew meaty bones with relish. And if they don’t have raw meaty bones they will seek to chew other things perhaps.

People often say to me that feeding bones makes their dogs aggressive. It may seem that way. They are more likely to behave in a more canine manner. We probably have to learn to work with this as it is in dog nature to be stimulated by chewing. Aggression is definitely not to be encouraged but I suspect what is really happening is satisfaction at a dog level that we need to manage if it is being expressed inappropriately. Most enterprising dog owners can find ways around these difficulties once they realise the immeasurable benefits derived from chewing raw meaty bones.

Personally, I like nothing better than to sit down to a delicious meal of fresh and wholesome foods and I will be trying to remember from now on to take more time to chew thoroughly and enjoy equally.

2 Responses to “Chewing things over”

  1. From admin

    Dr Pearson doesn’t recommend chew toys. Toys will be chewed unavoidably and if you are trying to provide your dog/pup with environmental enrichment using toys they will need to be sturdy enough to avoid ingestion.
    For the purpose of chewing it is recommended to use very large knuckle bones like Ox, too big for usual diet but excellent ‘chew toy’. Do not give the marrow bone, shaft of the bone as it is too hard for any dogs teeth.

  2. From Kristin

    This is an interesting and entertaining article. It’s almost like teething children…it’s natural so you might as well give them something good and safe to chew on. I am a chewing gum addict…never thought it could relate to dogs, though. What other chew toys do you suggest?

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