Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Canine Topic: the Raw Diet

Today something a bit different, but qualifying as relating to “some of my favorite things.”

Dogs.  Some of the best people in my life are, or have been, dogs. 

How do you feed your dog?

I was introduced to the concept of feeding the raw diet by the breeder of my two pups.  Well, actually, they are now over a year and a half old, but they are still my babies.

These are not my first canine children; others have gone before them (may they rest in peace with all the love of their human family).  But, when I brought these guys home, this was my first venture into raw feeding.

We were introduced to the topic on our first visit to the breeder, when she was taking reservations.  Being a very responsible breeder, she does not do a breeding until she has a certain number of prospective owners lined up.  Prospective owners who she feels will be caring and responsible to her progeny.  A good breeder will want more than just your money.  They will want to get to know a little bit about you, and they will want to educate you.  I was able to visit the litter several times before “puppy take home day” and so got to learn a lot.  (Although the original intention was one pup, we ended up bringing home two from the litter!  Comment if you want more of that story!)

When the topic of raw feeding was first raised, my husband and I had two very different reactions.  His was simply “Ewwww.”  Mine was more pragmatic, focused on infectious diseases.  (My day job is in a microbiology laboratory….Salmonella anyone???)

Our breeder, however, knew her stuff, she answered each and every question with detail and without evasion and backed them up with books and other resources  (appealing to my scientific side). So, when we brought the puppies home, we embarked on this new feeding plan.

Ok so I won’t go into all the details in this post, but I will leave you with a resource, and of course, please comment if you have questions.  I am a follower of this plan but don’t claim to be an expert, but I can point you to the experts!

First thing, why the raw diet?

Well, dogs are the descendents of wolves… they are, carnivores.  That means two things.

First of all, they don’t need carbohydrates in their diets!!!  ALL commercial kibbles on the market have some component of carbohydrate in them, even if that is from a source we would consider healthy, from a human standpoint.  Like rice, for example.   Guess what:  except for a few medical circumstances, you don’t need to feed your dog ANY carbohydrate!  Carbohydrates, in fact, are the major contributor to unwanted weight gain in dogs.

Second, as carnivores, what dogs really need is protein, and that is best served in the form of raw, meaty bones.  Yup, you got it, meat, on the bone.

Hey wait a tec, I thought you weren’t supposed to give your dogs certain bones?

Well yes, that is true:  if they are COOKED.  Bones, like chicken bones, when they are cooked, are easily splintered and do pose a risk to your dog.  But, the same bones, served RAW, are no problem.  It is only when they are cooked that they pose a risk. 

Raw, meaty bones offer many health advantages to your dog.  First of all the bones are a wonderful, natural source of phosphorus and calcium – this is so great for a growing puppy, and it’s also healthy for your adult dog.  The raw, unadulterated meat is of course valuable nutrition for them.

Dogs on a raw diet by default have good dental hygiene, even without intervention (ie, brushing or expensive vet visits) by their owners.  If they have the regular opportunity to eat raw meaty bones, the actions of ripping and tearing meat from the bone, as well as chewing the bone, serve to keep their teeth tartar free.

There are other benefits too.  My dogs don’t stink, even if it’s been weeks since they’ve had a bath.  And they don’t have bad breath.   I was told this was one of the benefits, but it didn’t really strike me until people who met my dogs said something about it.  So many people have commented on this when they first meet my dogs, and the comments are totally unsolicited.  I do believe this is because of what they eat!

So what do I feed my dogs?  First and foremost, they get protein (Meat!) from a variety of sources.  Beef, fish, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, turkey… also organ meats, kidneys, gizzards, and liver.  And, some eggs as well.  They get some of the parts of the animals we don’t typically cook – like the turkey necks or chicken backs.  It’s the variety of protein sources, as well as the inclusion of raw meaty bones, that is the success for this diet.

I am not a “purist” compared to some of my friends. You can adapt this feeding plan to your lifestyle.  My friends belong to coops, and buy large quantities of cuts, which include some of the things like tripe, chicken backs, turkey necks….stuff you are not going to encounter in the grocery store, as a routine!  I have gone in with them, once in a while, but I don’t have a big freezer so it’s just as easy for me to shop for the pups when I shop for us.  I buy the “manager’s specials” ie, cuts that are on their way out….. and that includes good stew beef, family packs of drumsticks, beef short ribs, various cuts of pork…liver and kidney too.  And also, I occasionally feed them leftover meat from our meals.  This is not “from the table”.  It is from the leftovers in the fridge.  Around holiday time, there were several opportunities to use cooked meat in their diet.  Although raw is preferred in this game plan,  cooked meat is fine too, especially if it’s a good cut of meat.   So that means that some leftovers that went to waste before, are now part of the pup’s meal plan!

So here’s how it works.  They get a meal with a raw bone about every other day. The day in between, they get some kind of meat or protein, plus some vegetables.  These are cooked vegetables, usually leftovers from the fridge. They do like raw carrots, and I occasionally give them some fruits.  Apple is a hit – either raw slices, or a whole apple, “nuked” til its soft.  I include some supplements too – Salmon oil, and a product that is seaweed based with a lot of good vitamins and trace minerals.

On a weekly basis, they are fed 2% of their desired body weight  (For my Jack Russells, that’s about 14 pounds) .  So, on the days that they get their raw meaty bone, this is a bigger meal…. The next day they get a much smaller meal.  (This was of course, after they were a year old and beyond the big growing period.)  That was a hard sell to the rest of the family, because my two pups were not above playing off their emotions.  They thought I was heartlessly starving the pups when the smaller meal was served.  They didn’t get it, that in the wild, it could be several days between a hunt and one kill, and the next meal.  The carnivore metabolism is not only designed for the digestion of raw meat, hide, and bones, but for periods of slim pickings between major meals.  Eventually I was successful disciplining everyone and they buy into the process.  There is no such thing as a dog biscuit in my house now….. “Treats” come in the form of bully sticks, and some rawhide chews.  

Proof of the pudding: my vet compliments the condition of my dogs, every time I take them in.  I follow the feeding guidelines of the diet, both in terms of amount of food and quality of food, and as a result I have fit and happy companions.  I am now a firm believer of raw feeding.

Is it more expensive?  Well that depends.  If you were feeding a kibble that was not one of the better brands, yes, it will be, especially if you have a large dog.  For the smaller breeds, because of the amounts you will be feeding, I truly believe you won’t see too much of a difference.  Prior to welcoming these pups home, I was feeding their predecessor a high quality kibble.  Not only was it more expensive than the grocery store brands, it required that extra trip (ie gas) to the pet supply stores.  Where I was tempted to buy toys…..

Right now, I can get everything I need at the grocery store.  One stop shopping for all of us.  I do participate in the coop once in a while to get a little variety in protein source, because that’s important.  But if push comes to shove, I can shop the grocery store and buy the cuts on sale.

This is the book, recommended by my breeder, that has been the basis for all my meal plans.  (You can get it on Nook and Kindle versions, FYI.)

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