Feeding dogs is a very controversial subject and first of all I must emphasise that I am no nutritionist nor am I qualified in any such way. Neither am I professing to tell anybody how they should or should not feed their dogs.
It was about 1990 that I was persuaded by friends to switch feeding my dogs from fresh food to the commercial “complete” diets which were just starting to get popular then. I was told they were much better for my dogs as they were correctly balanced, etc.etc.etc. Of course I wanted to do the best for my dogs, so I changed their diet to a good quality dried food made by a recommended manufacturer. However, after a while I noticed various health problems with my dogs. My vet bills were getting more frequent and expensive, and my dogs were beginning to show symptoms of allergies (constant ear infections, excessive foot licking, digestive upsets and chronic persistent diarrhoea). The dogs with these problems happened to be those that had been weaned and raised on a complete dried diet.
After attending a seminar and being able to briefly discuss one of my dogs problems with the lecturer, he advised me that he and some of his colleagues were beginning to believe that young dogs should not be fed the complete diets, and certainly not weaned on them. I therefore went back to feeding fresh meat with various vegetables.
At first I cooked everything believing that “nasty bacteria” found in raw meat would be bad for my dogs. I soon noticed an improvement in their health, but only a small one. That’s when I started to read about nutrition. The first book I read was Dr Ian Billinghurst’s book “Give your dog a Bone”. Although I found this contained some good information, I also found it was poorly written and laid out, making it difficult to read with it often repeating itself, and rather extreme in places. But it did get me started on what I consider to be the right road!
I immediately stopped cooking for my dogs, and expanded the variety of meat and other things. In just a few months I found that all allergy symptoms had cleared up, my boy who suffered from persistent diarrhoea suddenly had good firm stools and my vet bills reduced very significantly!
I now find that I can feed my dogs anything at all and have no worries about health or digestive problems.
So, what do I feed?
I believe that a varied diet is very important. Each meal does not have to be completely balanced, but the balance should come over a period of one to two weeks. If the diet is varied enough then this balance will naturally be found. I also think it most important to find a source of good quality food. I am lucky in that I have a farm butcher 20 miles away, where I can guarantee only the highest quality meat where the cattle was fed high quality grains. Not everybody is as lucky as that, but I feel it is imperative that only meat which is fit for human consumption be fed to dogs. I know that I could get dog meat for half the price I pay and delivered to me as well. However, I’m afraid that I do not trust the quality of the meat, nor the handling of it, which is said to be only fit for dogs consumption!
I get two basic types of meat. First of all are the general off-cuts. These bags contain bits of lamb, beef, pork, chicken, tongue, heart, liver, etc. I then mince these altogether with various vegetables, then bag and freeze them for the week. I will usually feed these with rice, pasta or a homoeopathic biscuit containing various essential herbs.
As well as the mixed off-cuts, I get chicken carcasses and wings and these are fed whole. It is most important that these are fed RAW, simply because as soon as you cook bones they become brittle and splinter easily. However, in their raw state they are soft and pliable.
The vegetables and fruit I feed are whatever is currently in season. It is important that vegetables are pulped as they have a cellulose skin covering which prevents the dog from digesting it. When vegetables are processed either by liquidiser or juicer, or I put them through a fine mincer, it should imitate the stomach contents of the dog’s prey, breaking down this skin and enabling the dog’s digestive system to extract the necessary nutrients.
As well as meat, vegetables, fruit, rice, pasta and biscuit, my dogs occasionally get additional things like eggs (raw and including the shell), yoghurt, oil (either sunflower, linseed or castor), cheese, cottage cheese, kelp, peanuts in their shells and crushed, and anything else which might be necessary! Obviously, they do not get the same thing every day.
As well as all the above, the get a breakfast which is either weetabix or porridge with milk.
By feeding this way I know EXACTLY what my dogs are getting and they can all get the same food, I simply adjust the amounts to suit each individual dog.
What’s wrong with the commercial “complete” diets?
To be honest, I don’t really know what the problem with these complete diets is, and I don’t think anybody else does either! It could be the chemical preservatives, or the fact that they have to artificially add necessary nutrients after they have disappeared by the cooking, or just the fact that the dog is being fed exactly the same food in exactly the same quantities every single day. Personally, I believe that it is a combination of all of these things.
Other “problems” are the fact that each dog is different and requires different things, when you feed a commercial diet you lose control. If I fed my dogs a commercial product (pigs might fly!) I would probably have to have several different bags as each of my dogs have different requirements. Neither do I know for sure how good the quality of the ingredients are – in fact I don’t even know all the ingredients or processes the food goes through! Oh sure, the labels on the bag state the ingredients, BUT if an item has been processed BEFORE being added, that process does not have to be listed on the label. In other words, the labels do NOT tell the whole story!
What about bacteria in raw meat?
Of course all raw meat carries bacteria. BUT this includes bacteria which is good and absolutely necessary to aid the digestion process! A dog is basically a scavenger, their digestive system is obviously different to human beings – it is tougher for a start! They can easily eat the faeces of many different animals, soil, contaminated meat, buried bones, etc. To a healthy dog these things should be of no consequence. One thing many people do not realise, or forget, is that the dog already has a certain amount of salmonella and e-coli already in the gut. The problem with cooking meat is that it not only kills the “bad” bacteria, but also kills off the “good” bacteria, the vitamins and the enzymes which a dog needs. Without these the meat is not easily digested.
Naturally, all raw meat should be handled with care for the sake of our own health. This is pure common sense and merely means that we must handle and store the raw meat for the dogs exactly the same way as we handle meat for our own use. We keep kitchen surfaces clean, ensure utensils are cleaned thoroughly and of course ensure our hands are clean and washed after handling the meat. Obviously the same is said for storing the meat. It should be kept in the fridge, or, if being frozen, frozen the same day. And, as already mentioned, it is important to know the source of your meat and that it is fit for human consumption.
So, if you feed your dog a VARIED diet consisting of fresh, raw meat, vegetables and fruit, plus other items, you should end up feeding a well balanced diet over a period of time. The moment you start to cook food it looses its nutrients which are vital for a healthy dog.