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Why The Food You Give Your Dog Matters!
If you're like most dog owners, you probably assume that commercial dog foods with brand names that are easily identifiable - Purina, Iams, Pedigree, etc. - must be good for your pets, right? After all, millions of pet owners buy them and feed them to their beloved pets, and surely they wouldn't all give their dogs something harmful. Unfortunately, this may just be the case.
Now, before I get any further along, let me make it clear that I am not a veterinarian. I do, however, have a science background and education, and I've had more dogs in my care in one year than most people will have in a lifetime. As an observant and naturally curious person, I've paid close attention in the past 20 years to the general health of my pets and those I've had in my care through a rescue shelter I was involved with for several of those years. I've also picked the brains of several top vets in my state in my quest to get to the heart of the matter concerning the best dog diet.
What has become abundantly clear is that one type of diet stands well above all others in terms of fostering good health and long life. More on that later...
I've seen dogs fed commercial foods, both wet and dry, from the cheapest brands to the so-called "premium" brands. I've also seen dogs who were fed vegan or vegetarian diets, as well as those fed raw meat and bones (known popularly as the BARF Diet). While individual dogs will do just fine on any of these widely divergent diets, what I've looked for are general trends in population subsets. How do these 10 dogs fare in their lifetimes when they eat cheap kibble every day? How about those 12 dogs who are getting a vegetarian diet all the time? And what happens to those 25 dogs who are being given a raw meat and bones diet? These are the types of questions I've asked as I've dealt with large numbers of dogs and their owners or keepers over the years.
These have in no way been controlled experiments, and I would never attempt to pass them off as authoritative or as adhering to any strict interpretation of the scientific method. In other words, take my conclusions with a large grain of salt. I'm really just out to get the wheels turning in the minds of all dog lovers who read these words.
After all of this careful observation and tracking, clear patterns have emerged time and time again...
Dogs that eat commercial kibble or wet food have lots of health problems later in life and tend to die youngest. This is even true when they've been fed "premium" dog foods, sadly.
Dogs that are fed vegetarian diets do better, but must be given large amounts of alternative protein sources to make up for the lack of it in standard vegetarian fare. A purely vegetarian diet is difficult to provide that will satisfy a canine's basic nutritional needs, but it is healthier and leads to slightly longer lifespans than any commercial brand diet.
Without any doubt (based on what I've seen over many years and hundreds of dogs), the best possible diet to feed your dogs is raw meat and bones with an occasional slop made up of vegetables, fruits, and organ meat. I've seen clear and compelling evidence that this diet leads to three amazing results: much better overall health, excellent dental health, and longer lifespans.
Countless times, I've seen dogs with repeating, nagging health issues (obesity, allergies, etc.) turn completely around on a raw meat and bones diet. And it doesn't take long to see how much whiter and cleaner their teeth become. This is actually very important (dental health), because a growing number of vets suspect a link between the bacteria produced by poor dental hygiene and internal complications as dogs age. Because dogs have to crunch through raw chicken, beef, or pork bones daily, they get and keep very clean teeth in short order.
It still amazes me to hear the feedback from a dog owner who has converted to the raw meat and bones diet. Virtually without fail, they all become true believers. In some cases, the improvement in their dogs is nothing short of startling.
A common fear voiced by many owners is the worry over the bones getting caught in their dog's throat or splintering and cutting them internally. This is a common misconception that actually does apply to COOKED bones. Never give your dog a cooked bone (especially chicken bones)! Raw bones, however, are no more of a threat than any other mouthful of food your dog chews. I have yet to deal with even one case of a dog on this diet having any kind of serious problem with the bones (out of hundreds).
Yes, handling raw meat and bones requires a commitment many are uncomfortable with. You have to get over the 'yuckiness' and embrace the benefits to your dogs! Another issue is finding a good source of affordable products. It's a good idea to locate a chicken processing plant nearby. They will often sell chicken cages (breast bones and related parts). Chicken cages are ideal because they provide a good balance of meat and bone - not too much of either in proportion to the other.
However, you should not always feed chicken. Mix things up to vary their protein sources a bit. Get some pork and some beef now and then to keep things lively and to provide your dogs with important nutrional elements that the chicken alone probably isn't providing. And don't forget to mix up a slop of green veggies, carrots, apples, bananas, and some raw livers or hearts at least twice a month. [*Note: have your pet checked for allergic reactions to any of those ingredients before trying this for the first time. Adjust accordingly.]
This is the main idea behind the success of the raw meat and bones diet: it comes closest to simulating the exact types of foods dogs ate all during their evolution. Think about it. Did dogs eat processed commercial food from bags or cans? Did they grow and harvest vegetables, fruits, and grains? Did they dine on cooked meats? Of course not! They evolved eating prey the pack took down and scavenging the carcasses of former kills. All raw!
You might be wondering, given this evolutionary perspective, why I'm suggesting that you prepare and feed a veggie-fruit slop every now and then. Good question! It's a bit unsettling to ponder, but consider the state of the prey (or dead bodies) that dogs ate all those years they were evolving. The animals they ate also ate, and more often than not, that meant their stomachs contained undigested vegetables, fruits, and other plant matter. The dogs dining on them didn't ignore that stuff - it got eaten along with everything else that could be stripped from the body.
So you see, this diet works because it mimics what dogs naturally fed on for tens of thousands of years. It really is that simple. There's nothing deep or esoteric about it at all.
Just try it. Take this challenge: give your dogs a raw meat and bones diet for 60 days. Try to find a meat and bones source that is close to a 50/50 meat-bone ratio (chicken breast cages from a processing plant are great, but you can also try pork necks or beef ribs from any grocery store). If you go the pork or beef route, give your pet plenty of time to wear down the raw bones. Chicken bones are soft and easily chewed up, but pork and beef bones take much longer. If you don't see any noticeable improvements - healthier coat, more energy, better teeth, excellent blood work-ups - go back to his former diet.
If you do take the challenge, I'm betting you'll be fairly amazed and continue. About 90% of those I know who've tried it stick with it. Give it 60 days. Isn't a healthier, happier dog who lives longer worth it?
John Schwartz has written extensively about dog health issues, safe dog products, and humane dog training practices. He is a passionate advocate for ethical dog adoptions and promotes spay and neuter education. His website can be found at http://www.puppies-dogs-supplies.com
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