For thousands of years, dogs roamed the ancient world. They made their homes on the Savannahs of Africa, the plains of India and the forests of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Packs of dogs swirled through every type of terrain in every climate. They ate what they could wherever they could. Their food came from three sources: prey, scavenged and grazed items. Prey would be mainly herbivores, for example rabbits, deer, sheep or antelope. Scavenged food was that which dogs, acting as nature’s cleaners, devoured from the scraps left over from the meals of big, messy carnivores such as lions, bears and pumas. Grazed food included apples, berries and other wild fruits and nuts in season, and formed a small but significant part of a dog’s diet, especially during summer. Coprophagia (eating of faeces) offered dogs even greater nutritional scope.
Dogs hunted in packs. They devoured their prey completely: nothing would remain of the carcase. The soft organs, or viscera, were the first things to be eaten, followed by the gut contents, which, in herbivores, would be full of chewed and partially digested vegetable matter. Cereals were also present, but only as a small proportion. Then the muscle (meat) would be eaten. The bones, skin and hair composed the final course, being nature’s way of cleaning the teeth after a large meal.
Man has been feeding dogs for about forty thousand years. The canines helped with the hunt and man rewarded them with some of the leftovers, which the dogs were only too happy to consume. Life was easier for both species under this arrangement: man: got a useful hunting companion; the dogs got a pack mate who fed them a broad-ranging diet without them having to do too much work. This was all very cosy until man became busy with developments such as agriculture, society, industrialisation, and, latterly, consumerism. Throughout these great changes man still kept dogs, no longer as hunting companions, but as pets.
In the 1950s, food producers in the United States came up with a novel idea to sell the large amounts of leftover, poor-quality meat, gristle, viscera and cereal by-products that they could not hide in sausages: they put it in tins and called it ‘dog food’. For the first time in history, people could buy food specially made for their dogs. The idea caught on, and soon people forgot that they used to simply feed their dogs raw meat and bones and vegetable scraps – a broad variety of foods which, being minimally processed retained their nutritional value.
Today we find ourselves bombarded with pet-food advertisements for ‘this’ tinned brand or ‘that’ dry brand, or ‘this’ sausage preparation or ‘that’ super-chew. There are so many processed dog foods to choose from that we don’t know where to turn. When I was at college, one of my lecturers said, ‘If there’s more than one answer to a problem, then they’re probably all wrong’. Is this the case with pet food? I believe so. I think we’ve forgotten about the basics in our drive for convenience. Admittedly, we all try to buy the best for our wonderful dogs, but ask yourself the following: (a) If this food is as great as they say it is, why aren’t they giving it to people to eat – astronauts or prisoners, for example? And (b) Would I eat this stuff?
The answers to these questions, as we all know, are (a) No, they do not and would not use such food for people, in any extreme, and (b) No, I wouldn’t eat it if you paid me!
So why do we feed processed food to our dogs? In a word, convenience. But how convenient is it when, because of eating processed food, your pet develops a persistent itch, eczema, dental problems, smelly breath, an inhalant allergy, colitis, food hypersensitivity, lethargy, a dull or scurfy coat, kidney disease, or rheumatoid arthritis – to name but a few?
Dogs, in my opinion, should eat, as far as possible, a raw diet: raw meat, liquidised raw fruit and veg, and raw bones. It’s simple to feed, and, as your own common sense will tell you, it’s what dogs are designed to eat.
Here’s how a raw diet works:
1. Dogs should be fed on a variety of raw meat and bones. Just sticking to one meat source will deprive the dog of nutrients. Do not feed pork. If your dog has a skin or bowel problem, do not initially feed beef; wait until you’re sure that it won’t cause hypersensitivity, and then introduce gradually. Raw chicken wings can also be fed as a meat source two or three times a week and are ideal for small dogs and puppies. Never give cooked bones: they are prone to splinter and can cause a multitude of internal problems for your pet. Raw bones are easily chewed and digested, and provide much-needed minerals. It is very unlikely but not impossible that bones will become stuck in the gut; if you do not give bones to clean teeth, however, a general anaesthetic for dental work is very likely.
In the 1950s, food producers in the United States came up with a novel idea to sell the large amounts of leftover, poor-quality meat, gristle, viscera and cereal by-products that they could not hide in sausages: they put it in tins and called it ‘dog food’.
2. Daily quantities of raw, meaty bones: for every 10kg of body weight, a dog should eat 100–150g of meaty bones. This is only a guideline to start: if your dog is gaining weight, reduce the quantity; if it is losing weight, increase it.
3. For every handful of meaty bones, feed two handfuls of liquidised raw veg* – a bit like the old adage about ‘meat and two veg’! Ground nuts, ground seeds, herbs and cooked beans should be added to the ‘veg’ portion. If you don’t think you can feed an ample variety of foods, contact the practice on the number above; we can supply an excellent dietary supplement called Pet Plus for Dogs.
4. Feed viscera (kidney, heart, lung or liver) once a week instead of meaty bones. Remember, wild animals as a food source come with viscera as well as meat and bones; it’s a necessary part of a balanced diet, however distasteful it may appear. Vary the organ meat weekly. Treats can include baked liver cubes, fruit and veg portions or dried fruit (not raisins).
5. Do not feed cereals (mixer biscuits or treats). Do not feed raisins. Other dried fruit is fine for treats.
* Take any veges – especially green-leaved ones – fruit and salad items and place in the liquidiser. You can use just one or two ingredients at any one liquidising, but make sure you have variety from week to week. Blend to a rough broth. If necessary, add some water. Pour the liquidised mix onto the meat until you have a meat-to-veg ratio of 1:2 by volume. If your dog is ill or old, you should take a few days to slowly and gradually switch to the new regimen. You can feed once or twice daily.
How to bend the rules:
1. If you cannot bear to feed raw meat, very quick cooking in olive oil to ‘seal’ the juices is ok. Meat should be rare when served.
2. Liquidised raw veg will last for forty-eight hours in the fridge, so you need only do the blending three times weekly, although it does begin to lose its goodness pretty soon after liquidising. Rice is fine in small amounts, but pasta is not good as it is made from wheat. If you cannot give a variety of veg and fruit, let me know (08700 111 340) and I can supply a very good supplement called PET PLUS FOR DOGS or MISSING LINK. It’s a powder made from plant and other extracts to give a broad cover of essential food state nutrients.
3. An oven-baked mixer biscuit can be used to fill out the diet once or twice weekly: feed one-third meat, one-third veg and one-third high-quality biscuit, such as Natural Choice Holistic Dog Food (01278 652 184). Do not use any cereals if you are trying to avoid grains due to allergy.
4. If you really can’t bring yourself to feed raw bones, quality-frozen-meat suppliers AMP(0800 0183 770) offer minces such as Chicken Dinner, Turkey Dinner and Rabbit Dinner, which contain finely ground bone and thus provide valuable calcium; chews could be given to clean the teeth. AMP do turkey necks - these are very good to start dogs on to help clean teeth.
The best book on the subject is ‘The Barf Diet’ (ISBN 0 958 592 1 9) by Dr Ian Billinghurst, an Australian vet with more than twenty years’ practice experience. It can be purchased from several UK-based mail-order houses or via the Internet. If you can’t find it, contact me and I can send you a copy. This sheet is basically a concise simplification of Dr Billinghurst’s book.
Scares: Certain authorities are concerned about feeding dogs raw food. They claim, without supportive evidence, that such a diet can lead to the dogs becoming infected with pathogens that can be passed to people. In my experience, dogs are naturally able to cope well with the level of contamination that is present in uncooked food. I believe that they can eat such food and be no more of a threat to human health than dogs fed a commercial diet; indeed, my experience leads me to believe that, if a dog is fed a raw-food diet, it will be healthier and better able to cope with bugs that are transmissible to people. If you have any concerns, or you have very young, very old, or immuno-deficient people in your household, then you would be best advised to talk with your vet or other health professional.
It may appear difficult at first, but many people pick up the basics of natural feeding very soon after starting. Give it a try; with the positive difference it will make to the health of your dog, he or she will thank you – for years and years to come.
Nick Thompson is a Holistic Vet based in Bath with surgeries in London and the west. He can be contacted on 01225 487778
Joined: Aug 2006
Joined: Oct 2006
Joined: Jan 2009
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