Feeding a home-made diet

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 11/2/08
By: Gail T. Fisher

I’ve noticed over the past few months that I’ve had to clean Cannon’s eyes more often, as gunk accumulated in the hair under his eyes. His eyes seemed runny, with noticeable hair staining. When I thought about it, I realized that this staining and running was a relatively new occurrence, which started me thinking about possible causes. As I wrote last week about lick granulomas, a number of things can cause an allergic reaction in dogs, and I suspected that might be an underlying cause for Cannon’s runny eyes. Although I didn’t have any clear-cut indication that it was diet-related, for the past year or so, I’ve been feeding a different diet—and I wondered if Cannon might be allergic to something in it. Acting on this hypothesis, and addressing the easiest thing for owners to look at, I changed his diet.

It’s only been about a month since I returned to what I had previously been feeding, and I realized this morning that I hadn’t had to clean Cannon’s eyes in a week or more. So it seems likely that something he was eating was causing the problem. Although what I’m feeding is a bit more trouble to prepare, the good news is that it is significantly less expensive, which these days is a huge bonus.

Regular readers know I’m a fan of home-made diets. While it is not as easy to prepare dog food from scratch versus opening a bag of food it really isn’t as difficult as you might think. As I wrote after the dog food recall last year, there are books, and a wide variety of recipes and approaches from the extremely simple to the extremely complex. Over the 30 years I’ve been “home cooking”, I think I’ve done it just about every way.

The dog food industry discourages home-prepared diets – claiming that they alone, can make a “complete and balanced” diet. But when you consider how a wild dog or wolf eats, the canine diet is really pretty simple. Most commercial dog foods contain around 50% carbohydrates, which the dog’s system is not designed to digest. So it makes sense to feed closer to the way Nature intended.

Dogs are primarily carnivores. Although they can survive on different diets, their bodies have a shorter digestive system and more powerful stomach acids to digest animal protein, not vegetation or carbohydrates. Their jaws and teeth are designed to rip and tear muscle meat rather than grind and chew plant food as herbivore’s do.

Some people feed dry food for dental care. But crunching dry food isn’t what cleans dogs’ teeth—in fact, the carbohydrates in commercial food are a likely cause of much of the plaque that forms on dogs’ teeth. Brushing does far more to prevent plaque than dry dog food. Chewing raw bones also helps, and is an outstanding source of calcium.

Of course you’ve heard bones are dangerous – and cooked bones are. Cooking makes bones brittle. But raw chicken backs and legs, turkey necks, and lamb breast and necks are easily crunched and chewed. There is a danger of choking, so you might cut them into bite-sized pieces. Further, toy dogs may be susceptible to esophagus damage, so depending on your dog’s size, you may want to grind the bones. (These dangers exist from chew toys, balls, sticks and even dry kibble that your dog chews, too. The danger isn’t solely with bones).

Before starting to prepare your own dog food, do some research. Here are some books I recommend: NATURAL NUTRITION FOR DOGS AND CATS: THE ULTIMATE DIET, by Kymythy Schultze; THE BARF DIET (BARF stands for “bones and raw foods”) by Dr. Ian Billinghurst; DR. PITCAIRN’S COMPLETE GUIDE TO NATURAL HEALTH FOR DOGS AND CATS, Richard & Susan Pitcairn. I also recommend “The Whole Dog Journal” www.whole-dog-journal.com. Each month’s issue has an article devoted to health and diet. The April issue has a good article on home-made diets.

By the way, we’re hosting a seminar with Kymythy Schultze next year. Click here for information.

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