Meet Molly, my oldest daughter and her boyfriend's 13 week (and 4 days) old Tri Belton English Setter. She's my vibrant, extremely active, somewhat quirky, very loveable and absolutely adorable grandpuppy. (Yes...I'm one of 'those' people!). Miss Molly has thrived in the 6 plus weeks that she's become apart of their lives but it wasn't without signficant cost. Despite coming from an alleged reputable breeder, Molly was infested with fleas and had Round Worm when she first came home, not that they were made aware of it by the breeder mind you, and she also had what was termed a 'pre-fracture' to one of her legs that caused her significant discomfort for the first few weeks.
She was lethargic, bloated, had very little appetite, numerous bouts of diarrhea, but some $1,800.00 later, she is now thriving. Given all of her issues, they decided to buy the vet recommended $87.00/22lb. bag of dry dog food and the $36.00 a case wet food. Her snacks are organic and costly as well....$10.99 for a bag of dehydrated sweet potato, which looks like not much more than one full sweet potato sliced very thinly, and $12.99 for treats with pill pockets. But what can they do? They are her parents and they have a responsibility to her that supercedes the cost of vet recommended foods. After all, who are they to argue with the vet?
Well, this past weekend, Miss Molly had her first training session with a personal trainer who mentioned starting Molly on a Raw Food Diet. When my daughter mentioned it to me, my gut reaction was, 'What? RAW food? That doesn't seem healthy to me.'., so I did some research and was quite surprised by all that I learned.
First of all, a Raw Food Diet for dogs is growing in popularity. The premise of this diet is to give your pet a diet that mimics that of their natural ancestral diet. A Paleo diet for dogs, if you will. Just to take a couple of steps back for a moment, a few days ago, I did a blog on Eating Clean and Stealth Health. Well, Eating Clean is a broader term that encompasses paleo eating for people...eating food as our ancestors did, fresh and chemical free, which makes a lot of sense. So if it makes a lot of sense for us humans, why wouldn't we feed are beloved pets in a similar manner?
When you compare the ancestral, raw food diet, to commercially baked, chemical riddled, dry kibble, the ancestral diet is much highter in protein and essential fats, and lower in carbs which are just empty calories.
The benefits of a Raw Food Diet are firmer stools, improved digestion, healthier skin and coat, reduced allergy symptoms and better weight management. In fact, there are many reports of improved health when chronically ill pets were switched from a commercial product to raw dog food.
There is a downside however. A Raw Food Diet can't touch the convenience of kibble - it doesn't get much easier than just pouring food out of a bag into a bowl. There is also a risk of bacterial contamination, although the risk of food-borne diesease is actually quite low for dogs because their digestive system is shorter and more acidic. The risk to humans in the handling of raw food is still present but can be easily overcome with meticulous hand washing and practicing good hygienic technique in prepping the food for Fido.
But all that reading about a Raw Food Diet, still didn't really have me convinced. I know my daughter and I know that handling and storing raw food would be a challenge. Which got me to thinking....what about homemade dog food? Surely with minimal preparation you could prepare the same food as in the Raw Food Diet, only par cook it, bag it and freeze it until you're ready to use it.
I have 5 tips for making Homemade Dog Food:
1) It's really important to provide your dog with a balanced diet and one of the key ingredients in commercially prepared dog food and in the Raw Food Diet from real meat bones, is calcium. Calcium would have to be supplemented somehow in Homemade Dog Food. Sure, you can buy calcium supplements, giving your pooch 800-1000mcg per pound of dog food, or.....simply grind up egg shells in a clean coffee grinder! A 1/2 tsp of ground egg shell powder equals about 1,000mcg of calcium, is all natural and easily digested.
2) Meat Selection: Raw or cooked meat is the base ingredient for homemade dog food. Dogs are obligate carnivores and thrive on a meat based diet. Meat options include beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, venison, ostrich, buffalo, etc. The meat should be fresh and fit for human consumption, and trimmed of excess fat. Organ meat such as liver and fish should each be given at least once a week as well.
3) Vegetables make up 1/4 of the meal and provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. Your pet will get more from their vegetables if they are only slightly steamed, chopped or pureed. Vegetables to include are squash, zucchini, carrots, peas, beets, yams, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and sweet potato. You should avoid onion, potato, tomato, bell peppers, spinach, raw beans, garlic, leek, chard and beet greens.
4) Avoid Carbohydrates. Corn, wheat and potato provide unnecessary carbohydrates. Quinoa, and brown rice are preferable and white rice can be used on occasion, providing it's overcooked in extra water.
5) Fruit: Bananas, apples, berries, melons and papaya are all good choices. Avoid grapes and raisins as studies indicate that they can contribute to renal failure.
I have a solution for the doggie treat dilemma as well. A mid-range, good quality food dehydrator costs under $100 and with it, not just fruit and vegetables can be dehydrated but things like Chicken Jerky Strips can be made too. Short term financial pain for long term financial gain I figure. Plus, there's a whole myriad of things you can make for human consumption using the exact same machine, making it a double bonus!
Beyond dehydrating meat, vegetables and fruit, there are tonnes of recipes for organic dog treats, from pet breath mints, to peanut butter dog biscuits, and a lot of other nutritious treats in between!
Both the Raw Food Diet and Homemade Dog food follow the same basic principles with the only difference being in preparation - cooked or uncooked. Switching your pet to a Raw Food or Homemade Food Diet shouldn't be done without considering all of the implications, and one of the most notable is cost and the time it takes to prepare the food. Yes, it's probably more expensive than bagged kibble at the grocery store, but in the long run, perhaps the healthier Raw and Homeade foods might save in vet bills, and lets not forget about the overall better health of your pet! As for the prep time, perhaps prepping for the week ahead might work over a daily prep.
Having said all of that, on May 21st of this year, we laid to rest our own beloved puppy of 17 years, 8 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, Chelsea, and she was fed primarily commercial dry dog food from the grocery store, rarely getting table scraps but she did have the occasional 'feast' in the last year of her life - steak, turkey dinner or hot dogs, which were her favorite. I figured she was entitled. She had been an awesome, loyal pet, she was an old girl and she deserved it. The point is, she lived that long eating mostly commercial kibble, so it can't be all that bad either.
Yes...I am one of 'those' people. I love my pets - they are my family. I want only the best for them and will always love them and keep them safe. But what diet is best for Molly is a decision that my daughter and her boyfriend have to make because she belongs to them...but I get to spoil her rotten when she comes to visit grandma - it's my prerogative and I'm seeing dehydrated sweet potato chews and peanut butter dog biscuits in Molly's very near future!!