As a dog owner primarily, I raise any dogs that I own or breed as naturally and holistically as possible, and one area that I am deeply passionate about is nutrition.
During any vetting conversation with a prospective puppy owner, inevitably the subject regarding my dogs' health will come up, and I tell each person the same thing; that none of my dogs have ever attended a vet for an illness, ever. To date, any veterinary attention has been either breeding or whelping related, or if an unforeseen incident has occurred. However, I also point out that I'm not doing anything 'special' to avoid health issues, and that I honestly believe their good health, clean teeth and glossy coat can only be down to two things; what they eat and living a virtually chemical free life.
As we know, humans need a balanced diet to remain healthy. Too much processed food on a regular basis will lead to health issues, whether that be reflected in our skin, hair, immune system, weight, organs - the list of what our diet can affect is very long. Dogs are no different, they need a balanced diet too, and it is confusing that so many people have forgotten that dry dog food, no matter what quality the ingredients started out as, have been processed, reprocessed and preserved for human convenience. How did our nutritional compass for pet food become so disorientated?
I know that many people look at raw feeding (or BARF - Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) as a new fad, as yet another bandwagon to jump on, but dogs have been eating this way for thousands of years. Up until around 60 years ago, domesticated dogs ate table scraps or anything they could scavenge or kill. They may be far removed from the wolf now, through thousands of years of domestication, however, the physiology and anatomy of the dog and wolf are almost identical.
When kibble was developed and became available in the 1960's, it was a very easy and convenient way for people to feed their dogs, and these small biscuits were marketed as having all the nutritional value necessary to maintain good health in their animals, however, kibble is the most processed, man-made food available. Its ingredients are meat, grain and vegetable waste which isn't fit for human consumption. It is then cooked at temperatures exceeding 90 degrees which destroys any nutritional value. The hard biscuits are then sprayed with additives, preservatives and flavourings, so that it has a long shelf life and tastes palatable, then sold in eye catching bags which advertise beautiful cuts of meat and fresh vegetables, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Worse still, many pet owners believe that commercial pet food exists because dogs NEED it, that it is essential for their wellbeing and that any other form of feeding doesn't nourish the dog or causes them harm. I beg everyone to remember that kibble was developed purely to make a profit from animal waste products (heads, hooves, spine etc) that couldn't be used or sold for anything else. It is empty calorie filled convenience food.
It's no surprise that with the uptake of kibble feeding, there has also been a huge rise in canine health issues. It's true that many dogs have lived a long-life eating kibble, but they certainly don't thrive on a highly processed diet, it would be like feeding yourselves/family on packets of biscuits and expecting perfect health. It is true to say that many, many more dogs have suffered due to eating a carbohydrate, additive filled diet, as their organs are under strain from trying to digest something they can't. Dogs are now suffering from conditions like diabetes, pancreatitis, IBS, allergies, skin issues, anal gland issues and tooth decay, to name a few.
Dogs are Carnivores, meaning that they are meat eaters, and their dentition and physiology tells us this. For a long time, they had been categorised as being Omnivores, an animal that can thrive on a diet of either plants or meat, but this has been widely disproven.
A Carnivore has sharp teeth for tearing and cutting through flesh, but no flat teeth for chewing and grinding plant matter (or biscuits). Their jaw is hinged to open widely, which allows them to swallow large pieces of meat and bone, and is also very powerful, as are their teeth, as both are designed to crush bone. They cannot chew as their jaw has no lateral movement.
Omnivores (humans, for example) do also have some sharp teeth, mainly in the upper jaw, however, they also have large flat molars, designed for chewing and grinding, and this process aids digestion.
A dog’s intestines are very short, around 3-6 times the length of their torso, allowing them to digest foods rapidly. When this process is taking place, their stomach acid is around PH 1, similar to car battery acid, and 10 times more acidic than a human’s stomach. This acidity protects the dog from any harmful bacteria as it cannot survive in this environment. The Omnivore, by comparison, has a much longer intestine, around 10-12 times the length of their torso, and this is so that food can be kept in there much longer to so that valuable nutrients can be extracted. Their stomach acid is around PH4-5.
Dogs do not produce amylase, the enzyme within saliva that is necessary in breaking down the cellulose in plant matter or carbohydrates. Omnivores and Herbivores (plant eaters) both produce amylase, making their body suitable for both. Feeding dogs an Omnivore diet puts excess strain on the pancreas as it needs to work harder to deal with indigestible carbohydrates, this then leads to various acute and chronic health conditions and explains why vegetables etc come out the same way they went in!
What are the benefits of a raw diet?
There are so many benefits to feeding a dog a 'species appropriate' diet, in fact there are no negative aspects, but to name a few:
Relief from allergies
No doggy smell from them or in your home
Less poop (raw fed dogs produce small, firm, inoffensive smelling poo)
No scooting (which dogs do when their anal glands are full)
Supercharged immune system
Less trips to the vet (if any)
Increased energy and stamina
Improved muscle tone
No doggy wind whatsoever
What this means for my puppies and their owners
My litters begin the weaning process at 3 weeks old, starting on one meal per day of a ready prepared raw food weaning paste, specifically designed for weaning puppies - all other nutrition, at that stage, is provided by their Mum's milk. As the pups start to increase in appetite and Mum starts to slowly wean herself away from her pups, the pups then move onto a ready prepared raw puppy food and more meals per day. By 6 weeks old, the puppies are no longer feeding from Mum and are eating 4 raw meals per day: all different flavours, textures and brands.
Many years ago, I undertook an experiment with a litter of 3 week old puppies. I made up one plate of soaked, mushed kibble and one plate of raw weaning paste. I sat both plates in front of them. Each puppy sniffed the kibble and practically recoiled, then sniffed the raw and got stuck in, cleaning the plate in one go. Dogs innately know what to eat to remain healthy and what their body needs, even from puppyhood.
Raw food for dogs doesn't contain purely muscle meat, it must include a percentage of bone and offal to make it balanced in nutrients. The ratio of meat, offal and bone need to be absolutely correct (80:10:10) as too much bone can cause constipation and too much offal can cause the opposite effect, and each dog needs a different amount of food per day depending on their size and weight.
My puppies leave me having never had any processed food at all and I am very keen that my new puppy owners continue on this path, to retain the future optimum health of the dog I have bred. All of my puppy owners receive 5kg of ready prepared raw food in 500g tubs, prior to collection of the puppy, and this is delivered to their door and is stored in the freezer. For a Miniature Smooth Dachshund, one 500g tub will last around 3-4 days, therefore 5kg will last roughly around a month. After the supply is finished, I suggest experimenting with different brands and textures. These are some that I have researched and tried with my own dogs and puppies:
Stef's Pet Pantry is an online shop also worth looking at, as they stock raw food from numerous different suppliers and you can order a selection of different brands to try, rather than one order from a specific company. They also sell a vast number of treats and dog/puppy accessories.
When it comes to treats, I recommend using JR Pet Products. Their products are amazing and the dogs absolutely love them!
Frequently asked questions
My vet is really against feeding raw, they tell me so many horror stories, what should I do?
More and more vets are seeing the benefits of raw feeding, my own vet included, but they are not nutritionists and, by their own admission, their training on nutrition is limited. What you feed your dog is not a subject that is up for debate with anyone, it's your choice. Many vets stock and sell the most poorly reviewed and rated dry dog food on the market, advising it to be used for health conditions, most of which have been caused by dry food in the first place. Diet and food are one area where you are in control - don't be scared by what you are being told, if it were true, dogs would be an extinct species.
I have heard that raw feeding is dangerous if you have young children, if the dog were to lick their face etc?
Firstly, this is a scare tactic. Raw dog food is kept and handled the same way that any raw meat is in the fridge. Utensils should be washed after handling, and hands, and work surfaces wiped - the same as you would if you were preparing raw meat for human consumption. As for licking faces, a dry fed dogs saliva is no safer; after eating their food, your dog could then eat something dead in the garden, wash their own bottom and genitals, and potentially snack on the poop of another animal (bird, cat etc) - no dogs mouth is hygienic and there is no difference between raw or dry fed dogs.
I am a non-meat eater, I'm not sure how I feel about handling meat?
Raw dog food is ready prepared and stored in sealed plastic tubs, or in some instances, small card boxes. At mealtimes, you would take the box out of the fridge, spoon the amount required into a dog bowl, put the lid on the box and put it back in the fridge. You do not have to handle the meat at all. Dry dog food smells far more offensive than raw food (unless it includes green tripe, which dogs love by the way). If you really cannot stomach the idea, ask someone else in the family to feed the dog for you - sharing the responsibility is a great thing to do anyway.
Does it cost more to feed a raw diet?
No, it doesn't. There are some meats that are more expensive than others, lamb and venison being two of them, but these can be given on special occasions or not at all if it doesn't fit your budget.
1 x 1kg box of Paleo Ridge - 'Beef Tripe and Turkey Complete' = £3.60
For a Miniature Dachshund, eating around 150g per day, this is roughly 1 week’s supply of food, this equates to 51p per day
1 x 1kg of Able Raw Dog Food - 'Lamb and Chicken with Beef' = £3.65
This would work out 52p per day
1 x 1kg box of Natural Instinct - 'Natural Chicken' = £3.06
This would work out at 44p per day
1 x 2kg bag of Orijen Dry Dog Food - Tundra = £27.99
A Miniature Dachshund would require around 90g per day.
This equates to 22 servings per bag at £1.27 per day
I understand all the benefits, but isn't it more hassle?
In a nutshell, you get out of your dog what you put in. If you feed a poor diet, your dog will have poor health eventually. Your faithful buddy should be worth the time it takes to think about their diet slightly more. You will only have to remember to place an order once a month and to take the food out of the freezer to defrost every few days - other than that, it is no different than feeding any other form of food.
A dog is a member of the family and gives nothing but love, they don't have 'off' days where they are moody or annoyed and ignore you. The kindest thing you can do to repay their unwavering loyalty is by feeding them delicious, healthy food. Personally, I get very excited about the food I buy for my dogs and seeing them enjoying it, knowing I am giving them the best.
Our family dog lived to 16 years old and always ate kibble, I don't believe it can be that bad!
As mentioned above, many dogs have survived on kibble diets, no one is disregarding that, however, here are some things to think about, when you remember your dog:
Did your dog have bad wind?
Did he scoot?
Did he have a doggy smell?
Did he have any skin conditions or allergies?
Did his poo smell awful? Was it soft, copious and difficult to pick up?
Did he have bad breath?
Did he have any dental issues?
Did he see a vet for health issues in his life?
If the answer to all these questions is 'No', then you were very fortunate and your dog, having been fed solely on a kibble diet, was in the minority for being so healthy.
Most issues that dogs present with are simply put down to them being dogs; a natural and normal part of the species, but this is not the case. All of the issues listed are caused by diet - try to imagine what you own health, skin, breath, teeth, body odour and digestive system would be like if you lived on biscuits with very little (if any) nutritional value, every day, for years and years.