Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What My Dogs Eat

There is no topic that gets "dog people" talking faster than dog food. Lately I've gotten a lot of questions about what I am feeding my dogs, so I guess it is time to talk about it on the blog. I finally made the transition over to all raw last September after we got home from the National Finals. I wish I had done this years ago, but that is water under the bridge. I could not be happier with the results and it is not nearly as difficult as people think it is.

When Alix turned ten (in the year 2000), she developed ulcers for an unknown reason, and I started cooking for her (and the other dogs benefited too) part-time. That was the beginning of the very slow transition away from all kibble. I would fix big pots of cooked homemade rice, veggies, and cooked ground meats. The dogs loved their mostly once-a-week treat of non-kibble meals and I enjoyed making it for them. As time went on the rice went out of the mixture but the cooked/ground veggies and meat remained.

For many years after that I had dabbled with part kibble, part raw. I was giving both at the same meal. I had mixed results. Sometimes the dogs had upset tummies but I wanted them to have the raw as at least part of their feed. I kept on a quest for the perfect kibble, which was never perfect for all of the three or four dogs that I always had. I can't even list all the kibbles that we tried. At times I would have three or four kibbles on hand to serve to 3 or 4 dogs, sometimes in combinations.

When Augie developed seizures late in life, I read up on epilepsy and cancer. The thought was that he had a brain tumor and would live only maybe a month or two. I immediately switched him to a (mostly cooked) grain-free diet and he lived almost two more years. That was enough testimonial for me, to at least feed the dogs mostly grain free and to continue to work toward a natural raw or at least unprocessed diet. I fed Augie a lot of Honest Kitchen dehydrated grain-free food and this worked well for him and for me. I also mixed in raw and cooked veggies and meats. He thrived. Again I wished I had started him on it sooner. He had always had digestive upsets, unexplained high fevers, and (I think) reactions to being over-vaccinated, his entire life. There are many regrets but at least I think the diet he was on in his last years was good for him.

Last May Bid died supposedly of pancreatitis. He was eating a very high-end grain-free kibble (lower in protein and fat than the Evos of the world) with raw added. This kibble was one that many of my friends both in the agility and sheepdog worlds still use. When Bid died I swore I was getting the remaining dogs OFF kibble, and so all summer they ate one meal raw, one meal regular (not grain-free) kibble (I feed twice a day and have forever). This worked SO much better than ladling the raw on top of the kibble. I saw instant results and was pleased. All the remaining dogs were on the same kibble and the same raw. The next step would be all raw and while I was a little nervous (mostly about freezer space more than anything) I wanted to go ahead.

After we returned home from our more than a week trip to Tulelake for the National Finals, I left out the kibble and just fed raw. The good results I had seen from the half-and-half change were repeated again with even better results. I hope to never need to go back to kibble.

So what exactly are Chief, Coal, and Rime eating now? For about one-third to one-half of their food, they get a raw ground green tripe mixture called "Exkalibur" (a formula for working dogs) that is from Greentripe.com. For the rest of their meals they get mostly raw meaty bones in the form of chicken pieces, turkey necks, chicken/turkey organ meats, and sometimes beef ribs, beef meat, canned fish, boiled eggs, and whatever else I can find on sale. The Willie Bird store sells turkey necks and organs packaged in their freezer; that is a great resource. Occasionally the dogs get canned or cooked or mashed-up veggies. They like sweet potatoes and green beans. I always check the day-old veggie rack at the Pacific Market for what's available that I can throw in the saucepan or blender. These veggies aren't really necessary but I figure that they provide variety and probably some trace nutrients that the dogs don't get from the meat and bones. The dogs get very excited when they see me walk outdoors with a dish that they know contains something raw and meaty for them. It's so much nicer than setting down yet another bowl of processed kibble--even the high-end kind. For emergencies and when there is nothing thawed out, I keep Honest Kitchen and some canned green tripe, "Trippett", on the shelf.

I am in the middle of reading Lonsdale's book, "Raw Meaty Bones". It is an in-depth read but well worth it for the scientific/veterinary background on the reasoning behind advocating a raw natural diet. I know I am coming to the "table" late with this for some, but better late than never.


Anonymous said...

When you switch to raw, how do you know how much to give them? My bc needs to gain some weight, I don't have access to a store that can provide a large quantity of raw chicken, the grocery store sells chicken necks and backs for about 54 cents a pound I think. I'd love to switch and would have to throw out quite a bit of frozen 'people' food to make room.

Billy said...

I am no expert but still on the learning curve. However, most sources tell you to feed about 2-3% of the dog's body weight, per day. So for my border collies that is roughly a pound. The price you have quoted for chicken is very good, in fact half or less of what I pay! They need more than just chicken necks and backs but that is a very good place to start. I recommend you do some searching on the internet and perhaps read some books. Then just get started. It's not as easy as pouring a measured cup of kibble into a bowl and you have to watch your dog's weight by eye and feel. There is little to nothing in my freezer but dog food. ;-) But I believe the results are worthwhile.