by Jenny Turner
When choosing what diet I wanted to give my dog, the one thing that stuck with me when I came across the natural diet, was that it made perfect sense in my mind. Descendants of our dogs and wild dogs today live on a raw meat and bone diet. Not only do they consume the flesh and bones of their prey but also the fur, giblets and stomach contents. And the animals they prey upon are more often herbivores, so their stomach contains things such as grass, leaves and berries – or the equivalent of vegetables that humans eat.
Let me address two diet myths: bones are dangerous as they can result in choking, and raw meat gives dogs worms. To be true, the first statement should read “cooked” bones are dangerous for your dog. The cooking process causes bones to become brittle, making them shatter into sharp pieces when chewed. Sharp pieces can get stuck in the throat or cut your dogs stomach lining or bowel. Fresh, raw bones crush instead of shatter and they provide a great workout for your dogs jaw and ear muscles. As for the second statement – rotting raw meat or offal from ferrel animals that contains worms will almost certainly give your dog worms, but the meat I’m suggesting you purchase is the same meat that you yourself would eat – butcher’s meat. There is a chance that raw meat can contain harmful bacteria, which the cooking process may kill, however dogs digestive systems are better able to cope with meat that is on the turn, to the point where wild dogs and wolves will bury excessive amounts of food to eat at a later date. You may have even noticed your own dog doing this exact thing if you already give him bones. However, if you treat the meat as if you were going to eat it yourself (pack and freeze it as soon as you purchase it, defrost it in the fridge, not on the bench, and give it to your dog within 2 days of defrosting) the chances of bacteria causing problems will be minimal.
So what’s wrong with commercial dog food? Commercial dog food is certainly convenient, but it is not all of equal quality. Cheaper brands may have too many calories and too little vitamins, or may be too high in carbohydrates and too low in protein. But even if you use a commercial food that is a perfectly balanced diet, one fact still remains – the food is cooked or at least processed. Never have I heard of a pack of wild dogs sitting around the camp fire, toasting their kill. Many commercial foods also contain preservatives, which also may be harmful to your dog resulting in allergies, “tear stain” or other symptoms.
Now I hear you say, “but humans don’t eat the same foods that they did at the beginning of time either, why is it so important for dogs?” You need only look at the statistics that tell of almost half the populations in western countries being overweight to know that our dietary habits leave a lot to be desired in this day and age. Our habits may have changed, but the way our bodies process food has not, and nor has our dogs’.
Some authorities say that dogs do not have the digestive system to cope with grains, and that grains are one of the biggest sources of allergies in dogs. Grains make up the majority of commercial dried dog food, so many people find that switching to a natural diet rids their dog of allergies.
Benefits of a Natural Diet
There is certainly evidence that a natural raw diet has many health benefits. These benefits include:
1. Teeth and gums are naturally cleaned by chewing on bones – no need for toothbrushes, de-scaling jobs, or gum disease.
2. The time it takes for a dog to chew a raw meaty bones give their stomach adequate time to get the acids moving and as a result improves digestion.
3. Much less stools produced – and they are firm, and turn chalky after a couple of days.
4. Decreased allergies, which equals decreased vet bills.
5. Less cost for dog food – some commercial dog foods are extremely expensive.
6. Better skin condition, which equals a better coat.
7. Mirrors what wild dogs and wolves eat.
8. Puppies develop at a more appropriate rate – quick growth spurts are avoided.
9. The ripping and chewing involved in eating raw meaty bones develops the jaw, neck, ear and shoulder muscles of the dog.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Extras
Calcium is a very important mineral that your dog needs, and growing puppies and pregnant or lactating bitches need larger quantities. Raw bones are the best source of calcium you can give your dog. The dog’s body will extract vitamin D from alfalfa, beta carotene from carrots, vitamin E, fatty acids and zinc from wheat germ and protein from legumes. When my dog was a puppy (from 8 weeks to 12 months of age) I gave him supplements in the form of calcium tablets from my local pet store, vitamin C tables and multi vitamin tables. Was all this necessary? Honestly, I can’t say for sure, however what I can tell you is that some vitamins are water soluble and some are fat soluble. Vitamins B and C are water soluble, which means that “overdosing” on these cannot cause any harm. Taking too much of vitamins A, D, E and K, which are fat soluble, can cause toxicity due to build up of these vitamins. Therefore giving extra vitamin C and one multi vitamin tablet caused my dog no harm. Although you rarely hear it, excess quantities of calcium in growing dogs or pregnant bitches can result in calcium deposits on the bones/joints resulting in bone deformities and can also lead to kidney stones in others. Only supplement calcium under the advisement of a vet.
Cats must have meat in their diet; however the same is not true for dogs. Dogs, like humans, can derive certain vitamins and minerals from plant sources, whereas cats cannot. Some dogs are actually allergic to meat and meat products. In those cases it is quite acceptable to feed your dog an all vegetarian diet. Be sure to add supplements to their meal so they receive the right amount of calcium, protein, and other vitamins and minerals in their diet. Best to consult with your vet for further advice in this area.
If you choose to try a natural diet, the transition from current food to raw food should be gradual. Begin by adding a spoonful or two of ground raw meat and 2 spoons of vegetables with a slightly reduced amount of your dog’s normal food. Gradually decrease the amount of previous food and increase the amount of raw food until the old diet is completely phased out. Done over a period of two weeks or so, this should reduce the possibility of diarrhoea that may occur with a sudden change. After your dog is eating raw ground meat and vegetables for each main meal, you may introduce small amounts of other foods such as dairy products (cottage cheese, grated cheese) a teaspoon of vegetable oil, whole raw egg (yes add it shell and all – wild dogs raid birds nests in the wild), or leftovers from your own dinner. Remember not to give your dog spicy meat such as hot salami, or any leftovers that contain spicy sauce, as this will be likely to cause your dog an upset tummy. Also, potatoes and onions can cause digestive upsets and anaemia respectively so it is safer to avoid these. If diarrhoea or vomiting does occur as you are adding new foods, your dog may be allergic to certain foods, so you should identify and eliminate them.
Is commercial food more convenient? Yes probably, especially in the initial stages when you’ll be testing the best foods and portion sizes. But once the routine is established I find it easy to serve daily portions with only a few minutes preparation.
The Natural Diet
To keep this process simple, this is what I do. Breakfast each morning is either a Kong that has been stuffed with half of my dog’s dinner from the night before and frozen overnight, or a frozen bone. Any kind of raw bone is fine – chicken wing or neck, beef brisket or lamb breast or shank, etc. The advantage of giving breakfast is twofold: it gives him something to do for a while when I go off to work, and he gets his daily calcium requirements from the bone. Then his only other meal is at night while my family is also having their dinner. I pre-purchase a few kilos of ground beef or chicken, split them into daily portions and keep them in the freezer. Each night a new portion comes out and is put in the fridge to defrost for the next day’s meal. I also purchase generic brand frozen diced vegetables and cook enough to last for 2 or 3 days, which stays in a container in the fridge. Cooking vegetables makes them digestible to dogs Raw veggies have very little nutritional value as dogs do not have the necessary enzymes to break raw veggies down and hence do not obtain the vitamins etc. required. In the wild dogs would be obtaining “veggies, fruit, grasses and grains” from the stomach contents of animals which are partially digested. To 300g of raw mince I add about ¾ cup of diced vegetables and that is a typical dinner. Occasionally we have left over human food such as the skin from roast chicken, or bacon rind which is added to the meat, and approximately once per week I’ll crush a whole egg in the meal. That’s as simple as I can make it for myself. Be cautious when purchasing “pet meat” from pet stores or similar as these often have preservatives added or have been obtained from non-screened animals, and worms or other parasites are not uncommon.
Amounts to Feed
As proportions are not as clear cut as giving 1 cup of commercial food, there is a danger of overfeeding your dog. It would be a good idea to weigh your dog before you change his diet, then monitor his weight to be sure he’s not overeating.
The table below will provide a rough guide as a starting reference for daily amounts. Amounts may need to be adjusted depending on your dog’s age and activity level.
Dog’s Weight Raw Meat Vegetables Raw Bones
5kg 100g ¼ cup 1 chicken neck or wing
15kg 200g ½ cup 2 chicken necks or other similar sized bone
25kg 300g ¾-1 cup 1 brisket bone or lamb breast
35kg 400g 1 cup 1 brisket bone or lamb breast
50kg 500g 1 ½ cups 1 brisket bone or lamb breast
70+kg 500-750g 2 cups Large brisket bone or lamb breast
What about cost? 1 kg of regular grind (or hamburger grade) beef will be the cheapest, and dogs generally need a higher fat content to keep their skin and coat in good condition. The honest answer is that I would expect the cost of a natural diet to fall between the cost of the cheapest and the most expensive commercial food brands. However, if this kind of diet could improve your dog’s overall health, the cost saved in vet bills would be worth considering.
I must point out that I am not a vet or nutritionist. The information you read here is based on what I’ve read and the evidence gained from feeding my own dog this diet. Is his health due to luck or good breeding? Perhaps both of those are on my side, but there is no doubt that diet plays a major role in the health and well being of every living thing. Although I don’t have a formal study to reference that proves my theories, I do have my own 4 year old Samoyed as testament to the fact that an all natural, raw diet has resulted in a very healthy dog with a good frame and beautiful coat, who has never been to the vet except for vaccinations and microchipping. Hopefully this article will provide you with an alternative point of view so that you are better able to make an informed decision about what diet might be most suitable for your pet.
A few tips: You can adopt a natural diet either in full or in part if it is more convenient. Do not use supplements with commercial foods unless advised by your vet. A bone every couple of days in place of a commercial meal will be very beneficial, and your dog will enjoy the change. Remember a bone a day keeps the dentist (and bad breath) away!!! If your dog is gaining weight on a new diet, try giving only ¾ or ½ his nightly meal on the days that he gets a bone for breakfast. On the other days stuff a Kong with half his nightly meal, freeze it overnight, and give him the Kong in the morning instead of a bone. Kongs actually take longer to eat than the average bone, and your dogs teeth will still reap the benefits.