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Feeding a Species Appropriate Diet

Catchy title that isn't it - species appropriate diet? Just exactly what does it mean? Sounds as if it means people should eat people food and dogs should eat dog food. Now you're probably thinking 'I know what people food is and dog food, that’s easy, you just buy that in the pet store or supermarket.' What if I told you that I had manufactured a food that contained everything you needed to keep you healthy and all you had to do to prepare this wonder food would be to open a tin or packet and pour it out? You would think I was stupid and you would laugh at me. We all accept that for people to be truly healthy we have to eat a variety of fresh foods, foods that contain the nutrients we need in their natural, unprocessed form. Yet we are prepared to believe that dogs are different; dogs can eat processed food from a packet or tin and be supremely fit.

Dogs can be healthy if all they ever eat is a manufactured mixture – or can they? Aren't our dogs suffering from an epidemic of itchy, scratchy skin, cancers, colitis and tartar encrusted teeth to mention just a few disorders that were almost unheard of twenty or thirty years ago? Fertility levels in some dogs have decreased dramatically with more bitches not conceiving or having tiny litters. Is it not likely that there is a connection between our dogs' deteriorating health and the way we feed them? Here in the UK it is only since the 70s that most people switched from feeding their dogs a largely home-made diet to feeding a dry, so called 'complete' food.

Pet food manufacturers spend a lot of money, an awful lot of money, to convince you and me that their food is best for our dogs. They have a team of nutritionists to ensure that their food contains every possible vitamin and mineral dogs need and besides, as I was once patronisingly told by a vet, "It's really difficult to make a dog a balanced home-made diet. Why bother when someone else has done all the hard work for you?"

What's in a Name?
Okay, if pet food is so wonderful what exactly is in it? Do you fondly imagine that if you buy a lamb or chicken dog food then that's what it contains? You can be sure that if there were joints of lamb or whole chickens in a food then that's what you’d see on the label, pictures of lambs skipping in green fields and chickens strutting in farmyards.

Instead look at the words they use: derivatives and by-products. The dictionary definition of a derivative reads as follows, "based on or making use of other sources; not original or primary" in other words if the label reads meat derivative, it’s not meat but what's left over after the meat is taken away, fat, gristle, bones etc. The dictionary definition of a by-product is "a secondary or incidental product of a manufacturing process". These definitions make interesting reading especially when you consider that most pet food manufacturers are part of massive multinational companies who are largely involved in producing food for you and me. Why waste the left-overs when you can re-process and re-package them as dog food? Visit the Animal Protection Institute of America's web site (link is at the end of this article) to learn more about pet food ingredients or read Ann Martin’s book, 'Food Pets Die For'.

I could go on and on about the poor quality of manufactured pet foods, about how they contain inferior ingredients, preservatives and colourings. Those preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin which have been implicated in a whole host of health and behavioural problems. Don't take my word for it, just type those words into a search engine and take a look at one of the hundreds of sites that will enlighten and educate you.

Fresh is Best
Now it's time to prepare your dog's dinner yourself. Where do you start? Well it's up to you, you can buy pet quality meat from the freezers in the pet shop and just add dog mixer biscuit to it or you can do better than that. You can buy cheap cuts of meat from your butcher, cook the meat forever and feed that to your dog with vegetables and rice and pasta or you can do better than that. Best also happens to be easiest and cheapest which is good to hear isn't it? Best is raw which means no slaving over a hot stove and gets my vote every time! Raw what? Raw meat, raw bones, raw vegetables, yes this diet is simplicity itself.

Perhaps it would be best if I described what I feed my own dogs. Josh is a nine year old cross collie and weighs about 50 lbs. Mack, a three year old German Shepherd weighs 85 lbs.

I feed them twice a day. Breakfast varies but is usually a mixture of raw vegetables which have pulped in a juicer or whizzed round in my food processor until they are as fine as grains of sand. Any vegetables or herbs are fine except onions which can cause problems but you should try to include green leafy vegetables as well as a root veggie like carrots most days. Now it depends on your dog's taste buds whether he or she will eat vegetables on their own. Josh and Mack like their veggies mixed with gravy or soup or fish or even minced meat. You get the picture, variety is the spice of life and by using a variety of veggies you provide a variety of vitamins. You can also add nuts and seeds like sunflower or pumpkin to this mixture too. I sprout wheat grain and alfalfa seed for the dogs and put them into the food processor too. Once or twice a week I'll add eggs to this mixture.

A couple of important points here. Firstly vegetables prepared like this will oxidise and lose their health giving properties quickly so only prepare them just before you feed them or when time is short, as it is for most of us, prepare the vegetables and freeze them in portions.

Why bother preparing them like this, why not give chunks of vegetable or grate the veggies instead? The reason lies with the short digestive tract of the dog which is incapable of breaking down the cellulose wall of vegetables and getting the health giving properties in the short time that they're in the dog's stomach.

So how does this square up with a species appropriate diet? No food processors in the wild after all! That's true but dogs have the same digestive system as their cousin the wolf and when a wolf kills a rabbit and eats the contents of their stomach, the grass or whatever will be all chopped up by the rabbit's teeth and easily digested. The same line of thinking tells you that wolves do not barbeque their prey so feed raw food for preference.

The dog's short digestive tract is also the reason that they can eat things that would make you and me very sick. Dogs will eat faeces after all, their own and other dogs, bunny balls, meadow muffins, cat caviar – you name it and dogs will eat it. This is an animal which licks its own and other dogs' backsides so a few bacteria in raw meat are not going to do it any harm. I needed to explain that before I tell you what Josh and Mack get for their evening meal.

The evening meal is usually raw chicken wings or chicken carcasses or chicken backs. Maybe some breast of lamb or some other meat. Once or twice a week they'll get some offal, liver, kidney whatever. They also get raw meaty bones of whatever type I can get from my butcher. But the important thing is that all of this food is raw, uncooked and therefore highly nutritious. Josh (remember he weighs about 50lbs) is very active and yet just three or four chicken wings and some other meaty bone is all he needs every day to keep him fit and healthy. Mack, the GSD, will eat a whole chicken carcass with his meaty bone or perhaps seven or eight chicken wings. This is just to give you a rough idea of quantities for your own dogs. And in case you're wondering I spend about £3.00 ($5) a week on their food; that's for both dogs, not each.

I can hear someone saying, "Surely bones splinter, perforate stomachs and are dangerous." Yes is the answer to that but ONLY if they are cooked, not if the bones are raw. Choose softer bones from young animals like lamb, veal or chicken if you’re at all worried. Raw chicken carcasses are so soft I can break them with my bare hands.

Time is Short
Some people imagine that preparing your dog's food yourself means you need all day to do it. Not so. It takes me about 5 minutes in the morning to prepare the veggies and about 30 seconds in the evening to throw a few bones or whatever at them. I don't visit the butcher's shop daily – I buy in bulk and freeze the bones and chicken carcasses and defrost them as I need them.

Yes, I do add supplements to their diet. They get extra Vitamin C and Vitamin E, cod liver oil and kelp most days of the week. This is to ensure that nothing is missing from their diet and that I keep them in the best possible health.

What's Missing?
The eagle eyed among you may have spotted that I do not give biscuit or rice or pasta to my dogs. Why not? Simple, dogs don't need it and are not designed to eat it. Veterinary texts agree that dogs don't need cereals but cereals are in dog foods because they are cheap filler and also you can't make a biscuit or a complete food without cereals. The most recent veterinary research says that eating cereals puts the dog's pancreas under stress and could be the cause of auto immune disease, skin problems, allergies and cancer.

I have also removed milk and dairy products from their diet because dogs don't need them and anyway these tend to encourage the stomach to produce lots of mucus, and mucus is a breeding ground for worms and may promote the onset of problems like colitis. I would feel differently if I could buy raw unpasteurised milk because that would be a natural, complete food but I can't get supplies like that.

Artificial preservatives and colourings are also missing from my dogs' diet. Things they don't need like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and tartrazine. These are known to cause a whole load of health problems and even behaviour changes in people as well as dogs.

If you are persuaded to feed your dog a diet that doesn't come out of a tin or packet you should read more about nutrition than I can put into this short article.

Why Raw?
Raw food is packed full of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. These vitamins, minerals and enzymes are vital but they are fragile and easily destroyed by cooking and processing. Having said that, if you are really uncomfortable with the idea of raw food, then do cook for your dog and add back the vitamins and minerals that you have destroyed. One very important reminder though – DO NOT FEED COOKED BONES. Once you have cooked a bone it becomes hard, brittle and dangerous.

Ian Billinghurst is an Australian vet who has written a very informative, easy to read book called Give Your Dog a Bone. No prizes here for guessing that Ian’s book deals with a raw food diet based on meaty bones. Ian Billinghurst is also the author of ‘Grow your Pups with Bones’ – of especial interest to breeders and anyone getting a pup and newly published September 1998.

Ann Martin is a Canadian who spent seven years researching into the pet food industry when her own dogs became sick after a meal of complete dog food.
The resulting book, ‘Food Pets Die For’ is an exposé of the pet food industry and the ingredients used. If you give your pets manufactured pet food this book does not make comfortable reading but should be compulsory. Ann also includes recipes that you can make for your pets.
Visit the Animal Protection Institute

Dogs - This article has been reproduced courtesy of Frances Gavin

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