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The Clean Pet Food Revolution

The Clean Pet Food Revolution | Dr. Ernie Ward Deep Dive


Is a high-protein, low-carb, high-fiber diet for dog cancer meat-based? Dr. Ernie Ward says it doesn’t have to be – and maybe shouldn’t be. Listen in on this fascinating Deep Dive episode with the author of The Clean Pet Food Revolution.

Episode Notes

Other topics covered in this wide-ranging conversation:

  • Why veterinarians don’t have a lot of nutrition education from school.
  • Why keeping your dog lean and fit is so very important.
  • What the ideal diet for a dog with cancer is and isn’t and why.
  • Why animal meats are not great for dogs with cancer.
  • Why we have to stop thinking of protein as ingredient and more as a “nutrient vessel.”
  • Why we should consider eating fungus and yeasts instead of meat.
  • The importance of fiber in the diet.
  • Why Mark Cuban funded his pet food company Wild Earth on Shark Tank.
  • Why he doesn’t necessarily like crickets as a food source.
  • How to keep an open mind about food, and everything else.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Show:

Here’s a really interesting article about Koji on the Wild Earth website:

Read the paper that inspired Dr. Ernie Ward to start his pet food company: Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats, by Gregory S. Okin

Books by Dr. Ernie Ward:
The Clean Pet Food Revolution (Dec 2019)
Better You, Better Dog, Better Life (Sep 2019)
Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter (2010)

Wild Earth Pet Food:

Watch Wild Earth get funded by Mark Cuban on Shark Tank:

About Today’s Guest, Dr. Ernie Ward:

Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT (veterinary food therapist) has spent his career blending healthy lifestyles and medicine. He is internationally known for improving veterinary medical standards, creating a higher quality of life for animals, and promoting healthier habits for pets and people. Dr. Ward has been a leader in the areas of pet nutrition and weight loss, establishing diagnostic test protocols and evolving pet technologies, promoting senior pet care, and advancing veterinary practice standards and veterinary staff training.

Follow Dr. Ward on the Socials: 

About Dog Cancer Answers 

Dog Cancer Answers is a Maui Media production in association with Dog Podcast Network

This episode is sponsored by the best-selling animal health book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Susan Ettinger. Available everywhere fine books are sold.

Listen to podcast episode for a special discount code.

If you would like to ask a dog cancer related question for one of our expert veterinarians to answer on a future Q&A episode, call our Listener Line at 808-868-3200.

Have a guest you think would be great for our show? Contact our producers at

Have an inspiring True Tail about your own dog’s cancer journey you think would help other dog lovers? Share your true tail with our producers.


>> Dr. Ernie Ward: This is why you’re starting to see an explosion in research around this and why you’re seeing more and more yeast and fungal proteins pop up in human foods because it’s more animal-like than plant-like.

>> Announcer: Welcome to Dog Cancer Answers where we help you help your dog with cancer. Here’s your host, James Jacobson.

>> James Jacobson: Thank you for joining us today. Today’s show is a fascinating Deep Dive with Dr. Ernie Ward into the future of pet food.

Now, the recommended dog cancer diet is typically high in protein and fiber, and low in carbs, right? Well, Dr. Ward agrees, but he’s got a twist: he says that we should use plant-based proteins, not meat. He points out that protein is made of amino acids, and amino acids can come from sources other than animals.

I found this a fascinating conversation, because I’ve never once considered that a high protein diet could exclude animal meat. We range over a lot of topics in this interview, but we’re leaving them all in for you, because in the end, it’s important to listen to Dr. Ward’s point of view.

>> James Jacobson: Dr. Ernie Ward, thanks for being with us today.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Thanks for having me.

>> James Jacobson: It is awesome to have a veterinarian who has sort of a different take on the role of diet and nutrition in general, in terms of taking care of animals and specifically dogs.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah, you know, and again, I’m always hesitant when people say describe things as ‘different’ because it is science. It is medicine.

>> James Jacobson: Right.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: I think I’m just following the evidence here, but you’re right. I mean, obviously, you know, I’m taking more of a plant-based approach, you know, we’re really trying to closely examine the role that animal proteins have on health of dogs and cats and humans. And so we’re now trying to apply some of those findings to, of course, pet food. So it’s, while I agree it is different, we’re just following the evidence. And this is one of the paths that the evidence is leading us toward.

>> James Jacobson: And we definitely I want to get into plant-based food and stuff, but first, you’re the author of three books. You were a Rachel Ray contributor on her show for many years, you’re popular in the media. But I think what is fascinating is the academic studies that you have done on nutrition. Let’s talk about that. And then let’s contrast that with how most veterinarians learn about nutrition.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Right. And thanks for saying that. You know, obviously I’ve had an interesting career so far. I’m nearly 30 years in as a practicing veterinarian. So I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot, but primarily my research interest has been around pet obesity and this goes back 20 years ago. I was the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, which is, by many people’s standards, sort of the go-to organization for all things obesity in the pet world. And we’ve done a lot of surveys and research. I’ve been fortunate to, you know, author textbook chapters and just do a lot of interesting stuff around obesity, which really, you know, if you look at the foundation of health, it does begin with diet. I think most of the listeners would agree that what we eat, our lifestyle, you know, what we drink, how much sleep we get and so forth, those all contribute to how healthy we are. What diseases we may or may not get, how we fight a disease or infection if we do encounter that. And so what I’ve always tried to do is link that with, okay, what are the consequences of obesity?

Because again, you know, you got to think 20 years ago when I was first talking about this in the veterinary realm. It was a joke. I mean, this was, you know, ‘Garfield’s a fat and happy cat.’ And there’s still a bit of that today with chunky cats and all this sort of stuff. But, you know, I’ve always looked at it from, okay, what actual metabolic physiological systems are being adversely affected by the excess adipose tissue, the excess fatty tissues. And of course, yeah, 20 years ago, and even in 2010, when I wrote my first real book for regular dog and cat owners—that’s called Chow Hounds–even in 2010, we still didn’t quite have all the dots connected with the inflammatory cascade and fat tissue.

Now, of course, in 2020, this is like old hat. We clearly understand the mechanisms involved. And so I think that when I’m looking at health and preserving quality of life, it really comes back to, okay, let’s try to maintain a lean muscle mass because we know that excess fat tissue is just so harmful. And it’s harmful because that fat tissue, while we think of it in terms of aesthetics–like we think of it as just this lump–it makes it more difficult to put on our jeans or bikini or whatever. But that’s biologically active tissue. And what I want to make sure people understand is that every ounce, every pound of excess fat that we accumulate is active. It’s pumping out a hundreds of chemicals and compounds and hormones that are adversely affecting nearly every organ system in our body.

>> James Jacobson: And there’s obviously a strong linkage between diet and cancer, which obviously is what most of our listeners are concerned with. Let me get into that. But first let’s talk a little bit about, you said you were sort of out there early on looking at research and the science. You’re a — I’ve never heard this term before — a certified veterinary food therapist. What is that? And how do you become such a thing?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: That’s one of my credentials and that’s actually more to do with looking at Chinese, Traditional Chinese Medicine. I have an interest in all types of medicine, and I think that the best human doctors and veterinarians are very open minded. And so that was just one of the credentials that I accumulated. And again, I’m very proud of it because it’s an interesting perspective on health and nutrition and disease. And so obviously I have a lot of respect for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Certain elements I believe. Certain elements I am skeptical about. But I think that whether you’re seeking a veterinarian or a human physician, what you should look for is someone who is open-minded and has broadened their knowledge. Because I really disagree strongly with people that just lock into one particular philosophy and then exclude all others. That’s dogmatic. And quite frankly, that myopic thinking will not allow you to grow as a practitioner.

So when my father–who’s passed now–but when he was going through cancer treatment, that was one of the things that, when I would sit down with him and his physician, the team, I would start to explore this. So what about this? And what about that? And we were able to find a team that really understood that we were interested in nutrition. We were interested in nutritional supplementation. We were interested in other modalities of treatment other than just chemo and radiation and surgery. And obviously that doesn’t mean it’s the correct one for everyone. But if you’re into getting the greatest access to the greatest amount of medical care, find an open-minded veterinarian or physician.

>> James Jacobson: You are what we call a full spectrum veterinarian. You pull the best from all disciplines. And that’s fascinating. Again, I don’t want to necessarily throw the veterinary profession or the Western veterinary profession under the bus. But my understanding is that so many veterinarians kind of learn what they do about nutrition effectively in a very short module that is, in many ways, sponsored by pet food companies.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. I don’t disagree with that. I think that there’s less corporate sponsorship today than there was perhaps 30 years ago when I was a student. But having said that, when people always say, ‘Well, they don’t teach them very much nutrition in school,’ let me just tell you the simple fact. Most of the graduates that just graduated from veterinary schools across this country today, this year, will have performed less than 10 spays or neuters. So are we going to also apply that precept to, say, ‘Well, gosh, these kids have no business doing spays and neuters.’ Well, of course not because we know that our knowledge experience does not end at graduation. So again, just like you’ve only done a handful of spays and neuters, you’re now –it’s incumbent upon that practitioner to go out and get that additional experience, to study the latest advances. We could name almost anything. I mean, you delve a lot into cancer. Can I tell you how much chemotherapy these new graduates have gotten? None! Maybe they watched a couple of procedures, but again, I think that we have to understand that not every veterinarian or every physician will have the same interest.

And so you really want to find that perfect fit that’s aligned with what your needs and interests are. So if you’re listening today and you’re really interested in preventive medicine, then probably somebody who’s knowledgeable in nutrition is who you should be seeking. You know, if you’re interested in someone who really just wants to do it at a lower cost, you know, and you don’t really want to figure out all this other stuff, you’re not worried about exercise and diet and cancer prevention. Then of course, you know, another type of veterinarian might be a perfect fit.

>> James Jacobson: What is the ideal diet for a healthy dog? And how does that contrast, say, for a dog that has been diagnosed with cancer?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Really, there’s a couple of things we have to break apart. And that has to do with the nomenclature, the language, the semantics, because there is no ideal. I mean, you know that, that was probably a bit of a loaded question there because you–

>> James Jacobson: Just a little bit.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Right? Because we’re all individuals and this is where really working closely with a veterinary professional can help accelerate the process. Because what you’re going to do is perhaps try different formulations. Yeah I mentioned I’m into the plant based thing, right? That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the perfect fit for every one of my patients. But having said that, we’re now going to sort of look at different formulation profiles. How much fat, how much carbs, what about certain vitamins and other essential nutrients? Like, we know that that balance, we know the general parameters, right? So we’ve got the a hundred yards on the football field marked off. But where you actually lie best on that field really is a bit of experimentation. So you’ve gotta be willing to do the work. So I always hate when people say, ‘Well, this food is the best. That food is better than.’ These really aren’t scientific terms. They aren’t able to be proven or disproven. We really have to sort of go through life.

And I will say this. And as a person in their mid fifties, who has spent most of my adult life in ultra endurance events like Iron Man, I find that my nutritional needs now in my mid fifties are dramatically different than they certainly were in my mid twenties or thirties or even forties. So you also have to sort of take into account lifestyle, changes in your life. Injuries, perhaps. But when we look at the general terms, because of my bias in pet obesity — and again, I’ll be the first to admit I have a bias because I see so many harms and detrimental consequences of excess weight, that I’m always going to try to preserve lean muscle mass, which leads me to conclude that higher protein, lower carbohydrate, higher fiber diet formulations are probably better for most dogs and cats, okay,? And again, I’m sort of hesitating on that, but that’s sort of where I’m going. High protein, low carb, high fiber. That type of mixture I’m going to always lean into first. Obviously I have patients that are all over the spectrum, but that’s it.

Now you go over to cancer. And I get this question a lot. ‘Well, my dog or cat has been diagnosed with cancer. What should I feed it?’ Well, the first thing we have to figure out is what kind of cancer do they have. Because obviously different types of tumors and neoplasias behave very differently to nutrition. And some of course are completely agnostic – ignorant — to nutrition, meaning that certain types of sarcomas, for example, may have very little impact with what you feed, right? I mean, you can maybe help boost their immune system and other realms, but it’s not going to fight that cancer. Whereas other types of cancer, maybe certain formulations make sense.

>> James Jacobson: : But don’t all cancers feed on sugars?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Not exactly. I think that’s an oversimplification and certainly, you know, I’m not an oncologist nor do I really have a lot of interest in that. But having said that, there are certain types of tumors that are certainly more, you know, the classic one for sarcoma lymphoma. Those are the ones that we tend to think of in terms of being highly responsive to reductions in simple carbohydrates. Having said that, you really want to dial it down. We want to be a little more specific and precise because I see a lot of people chasing sort of nutritional solutions for tumors that we have little, if any evidence that it’s supportive.

>> James Jacobson: Okay. So you’re obviously a clinician and you have a full case load and you must see a lot of cancer.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. Like anybody.

>> James Jacobson: How do you approach it? When you have a client, obviously you figure out what kind of cancer they have, but how do you approach it nutritionally? How do you treat it?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. Well, for me, I’m going to probably steer them towards reducing animal meats because most animal meats of course have pro-inflammatory components. And so I’m really trying to reduce Omega Sixes. So like corns and other things like that are going to be pro-inflammatory. So I’m really focusing on how can I get more Omega Threes in there? I mean, that’s like the first touchstone, so I’m trying to reduce animal meats, trying to substitute with plant proteins and yeast proteins whenever possible. Again, I’m doing that for other reasons, but we’ve found that certainly in humans the research is pretty conclusive that plant-based diets for most cancers seem to provide some benefit, at least in attenuating metastasis, you know, or rapid spread or growth.

>> James Jacobson: I’m really interested in those alternative plant and yeast proteins, so let’s get into those when we come back from a quick break. More right after this.

>> James Jacobson: Today’s episode of Dog Cancer Answers is brought to you by the best-selling animal health book, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Susan Ettinger (an oncologist in New York). And in a minute I will tell you how to get their book at a discount.
The book is written from a “full spectrum” mindset, the kind of mindset that you just heard Dr. Ernie talk about. There is no dogma, if you’ll pardon the pun, in this book.

If something is helpful and it’s from big pharma, it’s in the book. On the other hand, if something is helpful and it’s from a different medical tradition, or even if it’s just a lifestyle adjustment, it’s in the book. It’s all backed up by research, and also clinical experience.

The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is available wherever fine books are sold– both online and in physical bookstores. And you can support this podcast by using a coupon code and getting The Dog Cancer Survival Guide right away direct from the publisher. Its available either in paperback (and there is free shipping to all US addresses). Or as an e-book edition that is under ten dollars.

The website to get either the paperback or the ebook is: And you will save 10%… if you use the promo code “podcast” when you check out, you’ll save 10%. The website again: Use the promo code “podcast” for 10% off. That is

We’re speaking with Dr. Ernie Ward. So let’s elaborate on those alternative proteins. Because this is fundamental to the pet food company that you helped to co-found.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. Right, right.

>> James Jacobson: So let’s talk about that.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. And I think the first thing we do is we have to break apart, again, the language. And in my new book, ‘The Clean Pet Food Revolution,’ I spend a lot of time sort of explaining why a lot of the terms that we use commonly are archaic, outdated, and really irrelevant based on current science. And so, even using a term like ‘protein source,’ you know, I already kind of go, ‘Oh, okay. We want to get down to amino acids.’ Because I want people to realize that ingredients like meat, like pea protein, like chicken, whatever, all that ingredient is, I always call them nutrient vessels. See, within that piece of–

>> James Jacobson: Nutrient vessel. I like that.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah, it’s just composed of fats and proteins. Primarily an example of an animal meat, right? Plant protein. We’re going to have fibers as well. So when the body takes in that pea protein, that animal meat protein, it immediately breaks it down into its constituents, right? So all the amino acids, fats and minerals, blah, blah, blah. Right. And so that’s how we have to start to view nutrition. So that’s the first step back. So when people say like ‘proteins, alternative proteins,’ instantly my mind goes, ‘okay, we got to rewind, go back to ingredient level, whereas I’m already at amino acids.’ And that’s really, my goal is to make veterinarians think in terms of nutrients, not ingredients.

Because as I say in ‘The Clean Pet Food Revolution,’ you know, ‘hey, we’ve got ingredient bias, right?’ Because we think that meat is king of all ingredients for proteins. And that’s just not true because proteins begin with plants. That’s where animals get them in the first place. But now I’m dealing with this cancer patient. So if I can, you know, steer them towards plant based alternatives, I will. Certain pet owners just want nothing to do with it. And then my next thing is to talk about other types of proteins like yeast proteins. You know, when we founded ‘Wild Earth’ back in 2017 was because–

>> James Jacobson: That’s the pet food company.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: There’s some very unique properties to yeast proteins that we just can’t find in any other protein stores. And I’ll just cut right to the chase. And I really encourage you to read the book because I do kind of go into the deep science on it. But Beta-Glucans now, Beta-Glucans are immunomodulatory ingredients, nutrients, that actually boost the immune system. Now these are the same Beta-Glucans that you hear about in mushroom extracts, which, you know, if I have a cancer patient, like that’s the one thing I put them all on. Period. Most of the cancer you’re going to go into mushroom extract, right? Because we know the benefits of that, as far as helping you fight that cancer. So I like the fact that our diet is able to contain a protein source rich in Beta-Glucan because one of the things I looked at, all the other diets that are out there on the market for dogs, they’re all largely deficient in dietary fibers. And I do believe that fiber is one of the keys to unlocking good health for humans and dogs. And so I really want to get fiber in there. And, of course, specifically Beta-Glucans.

>> James Jacobson: So the benefit of the fiber is what?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Well, it depends on which fiber we’re talking about. Now, if we’re talking about insoluble fructooligosaccharide, like those things are going to actually help bind and trap toxins and waste products and help you excrete them more efficiently, okay? So there’s like a mechanism that those types of traditional fibers, like many of your listeners are accustomed to.

But when we get to Beta-Glucans, again, this other type of dietary fiber, they actually have specific receptors along the gut lining. And when they attach, when the Beta-Glucan molecule comes in, attaches to the lining of the intestine, that turns on a cascade to boost the immune system. In fact, we see things like increases in neutrophils from dogs, cats, and lab animals in humans that are fed Beta-Glucan. So again, neutrophils are those white blood cells that go around fighting infection. They’re always on alert for an intruder. And so that’s what we’re trying to do. So again, getting back to fibers, I think I want people to expand beyond Metamucil, right? Or whatever, and say, wait–

>> James Jacobson: Keep ya regular.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: There’s a lot more to fiber’s story than, just as you mentioned, keeping me regular.

>> James Jacobson: So the Beta-Glucans that you advise are generally mushroom based when you’re giving that as part of the regimen, part of your complimentary medicine. And you do, obviously, chemotherapy as well. Or do you, are you only . . .?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah.

>> James Jacobson: Okay. So you do what we call, again, full spectrum, as appropriate. So you support with things like Beta-Glucans, the Beta-Glucans that are used in your pet food.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yep. The same. And again, there are different types of Beta-Glucans, so it’s a good point. It depends on where the linkage is. So I don’t want to get into too much of the boring details, but basically like the Beta-Glucans that are in oats, right? So you hear about how the fiber in oats reduces cholesterol, right? Probably most of the listeners are familiar with that kind of story. Oats are heart-healthy and all that stuff. Well, that’s a slightly different form of Beta-Glucans than the ones contained in fungi and yeast.

So we’re talking about those mushroom and fungal and yeast Beta-Glucans, which are slightly different linkage, activate a different part of that immune system complex that we’ve referred to. So again, if you think about the oats and the brans, they’re kind of doing that link on and grab stuff, help you get it out of your body. Whereas these Beta-Glucans that we’re referring to actually attach to a specific receptor in the gut to turn on the immune system.

>> James Jacobson: Now let’s get to your book. Cause I really enjoyed “The Clean Pet Food Revolution.’ I thought that was really eye opening. And I think that it tells a story that not a lot of people know about and some kind of gory details.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s a backstory here that your audience might find interesting. So, you know, I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian vegan. So since I left home, right, I grew up in Southwest Georgia, you know, traditional flag and, you know–

>> James Jacobson: . . .meat and three veg, right?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Right. Right. But I had also witnessed all of my grandfathers on both sides, their fathers, my great grandfathers, and then my father have his chest cracked open in his mid-forties. So I’d seen this long line and history of cardiovascular disease, right? So, I mean, look, these guys, they all suffered from obesity. They all drank too much. Many of them smoke. But the one thing they all did was they died young. So I was like, you know, at an early age scarred by this. And I was like, ‘Holy smokes, I’m doing the opposite of what these guys are doing,’ which of course made for interesting family Thanksgiving dinners. But so as soon as I left home, you know, I decided to, you know, not eat animals anymore and change my diet and lifestyle. And later actually got my father, sadly, after he was diagnosed with cancer, to become plant-based as well.

But fast forward, all of my life I’m going, ‘I’m the good guy. I’m part of the solution.’ So all this climate change talks, I’m like, ‘Hey. I’m the hero here, right? I’ve been doing this for 25, 30 years, right?’ I think I’m 32, 33 years in now. And so, you know, at the time I’m like, ‘This is why I’ve been telling you guys, right?’ Because I was blind, like most of our listeners today, to the contributions of pet food. And then Dr. Gregory Okin and a team from UCLA University in 2017, which coincidentally is the year that we began Wild Earth, not by accident. So Okin publishes a paper. Highly respected, elegantly designed study to say, ‘What are the greenhouse gas emission contributions of pet food manufacturing in the U.S.,’ right? So how are pet foods contributing to climate change in the U.S., right? So Okin’s research concluded that 25 to 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. — directly related to pet food manufacturing.

>> James Jacobson: 25 to 30%

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Further, over 25% of all meat consumed in the United States was fed to dogs and cats. So now a quarter of all the factory farm meats are going straight into pet food. So suddenly now I’m not looking like the hero anymore, right? I’m looking like a big part of the problem. And so that was really what accelerated my change because, look. Like, so many people, as I described, have this ethical feeding friction. So most of my life, I was able to feed my dogs plant-based but you know, my cats, I mean, this is really problematic, this is a challenge. And I had what I call ethical feeding friction. Like I felt bad, but I didn’t have a good solution. And so in ‘17, when Okin’s paper is dropped on my desk, I’m like, you know what, it’s time. And so that’s what led us to form Wild Earth.

>> James Jacobson: Okay. We’ll start going a little bit on Wild Earth. It’s a dry dog food, a kibble.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Currently. Yeah, we only have a dry kibble. We’re a new company. We started this at the end of 2017.

>> James Jacobson: You guys were on Shark Tank, right? I think Mark Cuban invested.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah, Mark Cuban invested, what $550,000 into us. We also have Peter Thiel, another one of the billionaire guys. And these are people that typically are looking for future trends. Mars Pet Care, Mars was one of our early investors, which was interesting. I think they understood that we were doing something different with fungal and yeast proteins, and they kind of wanted to get access to sort of, I think what we were doing, but Mars has been a great partner as well. You know, very supportive, very, very helpful. Especially during the early days, you know, of just, making things work and helping us out. So we’ve really been lucky to assemble some really amazing investors to help us get launched. But you know, our dry dog food only came out last August. So this is all still very early days. And of course, as we all know, beginning around February, the United States, you know, really is — the market has changed. And a lot of our development has slowed down. We’re still moving forward, but it’s definitely affected our R&D.

>> James Jacobson: So what is in it, what’s in a kibble?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: So the thing I was so proud about was what all the foods I had been able to feed my dog commercially, you know, up until that point really had low to moderate levels of protein. As I mentioned, I do tend to favor higher protein, lower carb, higher fiber formulations. And all of the vegetarian dog foods just didn’t meet that. They were all really sort of low to moderately low protein levels. So I wanted to bring the world’s first high protein plant-based dog food to market. Well, I quickly ran into technical difficulties. You can’t just add more pea proteins or rice. You just can’t add more plant-based protein. So we capped out from a sort of a technical processing level. What the amount of protein that we can get in there.

Now back up just real quickly, you know, dry kibble, it’s just convenient. People, I said, why don’t you make fresh food or canned food, whatever? It’s like for our first product we had to go with where the market is. So dry kibble is where, you know, again, if you look at all the dogs that are fed in the United States, 80 plus percent are fed dry kibble every day.

>> James Jacobson: It’s convenient.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: It’s convenient. And look, you know, I’m not going to sit here and try to say that dry kibble is the best end all be all. It’s a part of a process. And trust me, we’ve got all kind of amazing things coming, but you’ve got to start somewhere as a small company. We were pushing the limits. And so the breakthrough that we had was using really two interesting compounds. One was Koji. So Koji is a famous Japanese fungi, okay? It’s what gives the umami flavor to miso, to sake, to bean paste. So if you’ve ever had Asian food, you know what this rich, savory smokey flavor is, and that is from the Koji. And so what we started looking at–

>> James Jacobson: And what is, what, specifically is Koji?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: It’s a rice fungus. It’s a fungus that actually grew on rice thousands of years ago and now has been elevated to an art form. I mean, they even have a holiday, a national holiday for Koji in Japan.

>> James Jacobson: Wow.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: So this is highly prized because of its flavor. And honestly, it’s how it’s helped elevate rice, right? But Ron Shigeta, one of the founders of the company. So the five of us that kind of put the company together at the beginning. He is of Asian ancestry. And so he was just raving about this. He was growing Koji and he was like, we need to look at the protein constituents of this. Right. And that’s where the happy accidents began because in these fungal proteins, they just so happen — and I lay out in the book, my hypothesis for why this is — they just happen to have all 10 amino acids that dogs require. So that was sort of the sign from the heavens that I took and I think Ron took and the other members of the team are going, wait a second. We may be onto something big.

And so we began to explore more and the audience is listening to the very simplified form, but I encourage you to read the book. Because it’s really quite elegant, but see, when you look at proteins and what things are made of, if you look at that sort of evolutionary tree of life, if you will, you have plants over on one limb, but then as you go up above that, you run into fungi. And fungi are more animal like than plants, which is why the proteins, the amino acids that are in fungi are more closely related to animal proteins than pea protein, for example. So it’s a really interesting thing. And this is why you’re starting to see an explosion in research around this and why you’re seeing more and more yeast and fungal proteins pop up in human foods because it’s more animal-like than plant-like.

>> James Jacobson: And it’s good for gut bacteria, obviously dogs like umami and, uh, we all like umami, but it’s the protein that really is the attractive element.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah.

>> James Jacobson: Okay. So that’s one of the protein pieces.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. That’s what got us to that higher protein. So, see, our diet’s over 31% protein, which, you know, that puts us up there with some of these raw diets.

>> James Jacobson: So Koji. What are the other contributors to the protein in your food?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Good question. So there’s two different types of fungal proteins or yeast proteins. So we use Koji and really Koji is more to get that super rich, savory flavor. So that’s our secret sauce, if you will. But again, that does contribute to the protein. And then we use yeast proteins. Again, Saccharomyces is the primary one that we use for that, which is like nutritional yeast.

>> James Jacobson: Gets used in beer production.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Slightly different species, but yes, exactly. That’s the thing. And then of course we use like pea proteins, rice proteins. We have like an entire palate of other proteins. Oats are in there, you know, so I’m a fan of grains. So we wanted to make sure that we had those constituents in there as well. So once we unlocked the yeast protein component, overcame some technical hurdles as far as manufacturing, then it just opened up the world for us to be able to add amazing nutrients.

>> James Jacobson: One of the things you talked about in the book that I thought was really interesting is the role of insects as a protein source.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah. That’s a big thing. Chippin and others, Purina, launched a food last year with using crickets. Now they’re seeing some mealworms out there. And the book: I coauthored this with an animal ethicist friend of mine, Alice Oven from the U.K., dear, dear friend of mine. I’ve worked with her for many years. And our CEO, Ryan, Bethencourt. I am sort of not a fan of insect proteins. And Alice is definitely a fan of insect proteins. I’m not a fan simply because I do have some ethical issues around that. I do worry about contamination at scale. So, you know, growing insects, it can be a problem, you know, just like growing livestock. We have a slightly different take on that, but you know, I think in the book we talk about, ‘hey, these are part of the solutions for the future. This may not be the one that I, personally, Dr. Ernie prefer, but these are happening right now in front of us.’

I think what’s interesting about insects, is number one, the amino acid profile, like we said, it’s an animal. So you’re going to have a more complete amino acid profile for dogs in particular, and maybe even cats to a lesser extent. There’s a couple of problems with cats. But when we look at it for humans, already a billion people every day, it’s estimated, eat some form of insect. Like, so that’s again, when I talk about ingredients I have

>> James Jacobson: one of those oops moments, not intentionally–

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: But ingredient bias means that there’s large portions of Asia that say this is a delicacy, it’s a snack in many street markets. Right. But this is something that we would grab like a popcorn or a pretzel. So when we have these biases against certain ingredients, this is what then clouds our judgment around it. But hey, at the end of the day, crickets, mealworms, you know, these are actually meaningful food sources.

>> James Jacobson: So for listeners who are working with a veterinarian who might not be as knowledgeable as you, what advice would you give? Because sometimes you start talking to a vet about this type of stuff and they go, “No, no, no, no.’

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Exactly. It’s not ‘they may’ — they do. I’m a veterinarian, so I can say that. You know, the first thing, we get back to being open-minded. Following the science. I’ve written a couple of books now around this topic. With this latest one, it’s very clear. I mean, you know, there are 26 pages of research citations in The Clean Pet Food Revolution. Again, just like with Chow Hounds, my editor is like, ‘Ernie, can you write a paragraph without a citation?’ It’s like, you don’t understand that veterinarians want the evidence.

>> James Jacobson: Right.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: So what happens is because as you mentioned, this limited access to education, they haven’t kept up. So suddenly now it’s like, you know, when people are confronted with something that they’re unfamiliar with, you know exactly what we do, we deny it. Right? So when people say that, you know, hey, in Hawaii, that you’re sitting on a seismic fault, you know, and there’s the world’s largest volcano right off your backyard, a lot of people, if they’re not familiar with that, they say, ‘There’s no way. Look at this beautiful sunshine. The ground’s not rocking under my feet.’ So we have to make sure that we’re open minded enough to say, ‘Wow, I really need to investigate more. Where are the fault lines? What does Maui–now it’s split in half? It’s got two volcanic peaks, right?

So, you know, my point is that when people are confronted with these things, they just shut it down. So you’re right, they go ‘No, no, no, no, no. That’s just nuts.’ And then, if they will take the time to actually do the research, you start to say, ‘Wow, a, I didn’t know that there’d been this much research done on this and b, it looks like it’s pretty conclusive that worst, it’s the same as meat. At best, it’s much better than meat. So, you know, it’s like, there’s nothing deficient about it. Anytime you’re going up against a big, big establishment, right? Whether it’s fossil fuels, whether it’s electric cars, you know, there is the machine that really is smart. And ‘Beyond Meat’ is confronting this — Impossible Burger, they’re all confronting this right now with the animal agricultural community. There have been laws passed in states saying you can’t call almond milk or soy milk, milk. Right. So my point is that–

>> James Jacobson: The dairy industry?

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Yeah, just one of the many antagonists in the story. And so I think that people have to understand that also many of the messages that they’re being given in the media, maybe don’t reflect actually the science or what’s in your best interest. But you know, this is also about making money. And look, I’m a blue and, red-and-blue, you know, capitalist. So I get it. That’s part of the game. Having said that, I also want people to have open access to information, to be able to make these decisions for themselves.

>> James Jacobson: Dr. Ernie Ward. Thank you so much for being with us. There’s a lot of information in The Clean Pet Food Revolution. We’ll have links to that and your pet food company in the show notes for today’s episode. Thanks so much for being with us.

>> Dr. Ernie Ward: Hey, thanks a lot. Mahalo.

>> James Jacobson: That’s our show for today. I hope you’ll investigate Dr. Ernie Ward’s work a little bit, and consider what he says. We have lots of links to his work in the show notes for you to explore.
What I think I’m taking away from this conversation is that maybe we really are going to change the way we eat in the future. Maybe sooner than we think. If a fungus like Koji has all the amino acids that meat does, and is closer to animal than plant, why not consider it as an important food source?

Especially since the Japanese have been cultivating it for centuries, and we know it’s perfectly safe and healthy for humans, as well as animals?

Dr. Ward’s reminder that we need to keep an open mind and follow the science is, of course, what we expect to hear from a full spectrum veterinarian. No dogma is the only rule folks like Dr. Ward and Dr. Dressler really adhere to.

I hope you found this conversation as interesting as I did. It’s food for thought, so to speak.

So look for links in the shownotes, which are in your podcast app or on our website at

And here’s a quick reminder for you: If you’re enjoying this show, the best way that you can help support this free podcast for other dog lovers who are facing dog cancer is for you to subscribe in the app of your choice and tell a friend or even your own veterinarian about the show. The more ratings, and reviews, and listens, and subscriptions we get, the higher we’re ranked, and the more likely other people are to find us just when they really need us.

And hey, if your personal veterinarian is like our other veterinary guests, maybe they should be on our show. Next time you see them, maybe plant the idea that they could be a guest on our program. All they have to do is contact our producers via our website:


Those touch tones remind me to remind you that our veterinarians are “on-call” at our Listener Line. If you have a question for a dog cancer vet, please call our listener line and record your question. We will pose it to one of our veterinary experts (and as an experiment for a limited time– we’ll email you the vet’s answer to the question as soon as we have it). After that, your question and the answer will appear on a future episode of Dog Cancer Answers. The telephone number for the Listener Line s 808-868-3200 or visit our website at

In a moment I will tell you about our next deep dive episode, but first…

We would like to take a moment to thank our sponsor: The Dog Cancer Survival Guide book by Demian Dressler and Sue Ettinger. The book is available wherever fine books are sold both online and in physical bookstores. And remember, if you would like to help support this podcast, get the book today– direct from the publisher, Maui Media. The website is and use the promo code “podcast” for 10% off. That is

On the next deep dive episode of Dog Cancer Answers, we are talking to Dr. Katie Berlin about an incredibly important topic: how to relate to your veterinarian. We had a warm, open conversation that I think you’ll really enjoy, and you shouldn’t miss it.

And the best way to make sure you get it as soon as the episode is released is to subscribe to Dog Cancer Answers in Apple Podcasts or on your favorite podcast app. We are also on Spotify and on YouTube.
I’d like to thank Dr. Ernie Ward for being our guest today. If you’d like to reach out to him, here is his website:

Until next time, I am James Jacobson. From all of us here at Dog Cancer Answers, & Dog Podcast Network–I wish you and your dog a warm Aloha.

>>?Announcer: Thank you for listening to Dog Cancer Answers. If you’d like to connect, please visit our website at or call our Listener Line at 808-868-3200.

And here’s a friendly reminder that you probably already know: this podcast is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not meant to take the place of the advice you receive from your dog’s veterinarian. Only veterinarians who examine your dog can give you veterinary advice or diagnose your dog’s medical condition. Your reliance on the information you hear on this podcast is solely at your own risk. If your dog has a specific health problem, contact your veterinarian.

Also, please keep in mind that veterinary information can change rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date.

Dog Cancer Answers is a presentation of Maui Media in association with Dog Podcast Network.

Dr. Ernie Ward


North Carolina, USA

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Dr. Ernie Ward is an internationally recognized award-winning veterinarian known for his work in the areas of general small animal practice, pet obesity and nutrition, life extension and longevity, practice management and leadership, and the special needs of senior dogs and cats.