On feeding The Dog raw food: why and how

We had decided long before we got The Dog that we were going to feed her raw food, or what some people know as BARF diet (with BARF being Bones And Raw Food). It's been almost a year now and it's part of our daily routine, and The Dog's - morning and evening.

I have it pretty well sorted in my head now and every now and again someone asks me why we do it, closely followed by how, so simply in the spirit of sharing - in case anyone else is wondering why it's worth it and then how exactly this thing works - here's a little rundown of what we're doing, and why.

So first of all, why.

There isn't a consensus on which food is better, kibble (ie, commercial dog food) or raw food, and there are upsides and downsides to both. I suggest you Google and research before deciding, either way you do it, but we do it because I believe that feeding The Dog raw food makes for a happier, healthier dog, with a shinier coat, stronger teeth, better breath. Dogs and their digestive systems have evolved in the environment of scavenging for meat, supplemented by other "edible" scraps, and I have doubts about how much nutrient exactly they are able to uptake from commercial dry foods.

It's like vitamin supplements for humans - what's written on the package is different from what is actually taken up by the digestive system, so a lot of what people take in in the form of vitamin pills simply gets peed out in their urine. Not all of it, by any means, and the amount differs depending on what other foods are eaten alongside it, and the digestive system itself - but the basic idea is the same.

I feed my dog raw food because from what I have learned, she will uptake more (and more relevant) nutrients from unprocessed foods, just as humans are recommended to eat veggies and fruit rather than rely solely on vitamin pills.

So what do we feed her?

On a daily basis she gets a mixture of:

* Tukkathyme which is a (commecial) mixture of oats, vegetables, fruit, garlic, barley, kelp, green herbs, flaked rice, flaked corn, molasses, lecithin and alfalfa. It comes in 1 kg and 5 kg bags; I order 15 kg about 3-4 times a year through internet, delivered to my home.
* Vitamin supplement of wheat germ, dolomite and vitamin C which I mix up myself (or Bruce Syme's commercial product, essentially the same thing, depending on what I can get hold of).
* Minced chicken (carcasses) so there's bone in there, meat, ligaments - pretty much everything a chicken is made of.
* Cooked rice to bulk it all up.
* A drop of rice bran oil.

This is how it looks:

We keep The Dog's bowls on a high-sided oven tray so that most of what she spills lands inside the tray which I then wash with soap and water. Occasionally I wipe down the area where she eats, too.

Proportions of her food are:

* 2/3 meat
* 1/3 Tukkathyme and rice
* 2 teaspoons of vitamin supplement (1 teaspoon of vitamin C plus 1/2 teaspoon of wheat germ and 1/2 teaspoon of dolomite)
* 1 teaspoon of rice bran oil

I buy our meat from Halswell Butchery where they mince up all their leftover carcasses into pet food. Most people probably buy it in those "sausage shapes" where I think the butchery has already cooked the meat, but I simply call them up and ask to set aside 3 boxes of meat, uncooked, and it comes at a whopping $1.50 per kilo.

I then dish it into yoghurt pots, ice cream pots, plastic bags etc so every package is about 1 kg big and stick it all in our upright freezer. I take out 1 pot/bag every 3 days or so and keep it in our fridge on a "doggie shelf" which is assigned for dog's food only so every human in this house knows not to put any human food on the same shelf.

To make sure chicken doesn't drip onto the shelf (which I wash down with soap every now and again anyway), I keep the meat pot/bag inside a big Tupperware container so it's easy to handle and keeps everything around it clean / free of chicken meat.

Now, this (what I've just described above) is the main part of her food, but it does differ a little bit each day in a sense that:

* whenever we are cooking and there are leftovers of celery stalks, carrot ends, apple cores, banana - pretty much any fruit or veggie (except potato, onion, avocado or grapes (!), the latter of which can cause renal failure and death even if it's only a handful of raisins!) - The Dog gets it in her food. In a family where there is a small child, we get plenty of leftover fruit and veggie, so The Dog gets it all, and what she doesn't, goes in the compost bin.
* Once a week she gets a whole raw egg, shell and all.
* Once(ish) a week she also gets cottage cheese or yoghurt, usually when it is simply sitting in our fridge, due to be used up and we haven't eaten it ourselves.
* Pasta instead of rice (if there's leftover pasta to be used up).
* If there are any leftovers of red meat (beef, deer etc) when we've been stripping meat off bones, The Dog gets those leftovers (but by that I mean raw bones, not cooked ones!)

About once a month I give her a whole chicken carcass as a treat which then keeps her occupied for an hour or so (but only outside! It would make a mess if I let her do it inside...) And I should probably add here that you know that age-old adage of "Don't feed your dog chicken bones! They split lengthwise and may get stuck in their throat or perforate their bowel"? Well, to that I can only say that cooked chicken bones split lengthwise. We give our dog raw ones.

(When our landlord shot some rabbits I also gave her whole carcasses of rabbits, though to be honest I probably wouldn't do it again because eating a whole rabbit at once The Dog had "runs" (ie, diarrhea) the next day, I presume from the amount of kidney, liver and heart she got in one sitting - and besides, if I keep feeding her whole rabbits then I would also need to de-worm her more often just in case, and that just becomes cumbersome.)

If I ever happen to run out of meat because I've forgotten to take some out of the freezer then I know that this protein can be substituted with egg (shell and all), or yoghurt, or cottage cheese, or a can of baked beans, or a can of mackerel, or rolled oats with honey and egg.

Where do I buy this food?

* Meat - comes from Halswell Butchery. I call them up, ask for 40 kg of minced carcasses, uncooked, and they tell me what day they will have it ready and I come pick it up.
* Tukkathyme - through their website, www.tukkathyme.co.nz, usually arrives within 5 days of ordering, and I order 15-20 kg at once.
* Vitamin C - through Sana Direct, www.sana-direct.co.nz , and these 2 kg will probably keep me going for another year at least...
* Wheat germ - from supermarket,
* Dolomite - from The Dog's breeder who buys it through TradeMe in bulk and gives us some.

All in all, feeding this labrador costs around $2 dollars a day. If I were un-lazy enough to mix up my own veggie-fruit-oat mixture instead of buying Tukkathyme, it would be around $1.50 a day, but I just find Tukkathyme nice and convenient... ie lazy =)

Time-wise it takes me 2 minutes to dish up her food and 1 minute to later wash down her bowl. When I buy meat it takes me about 1.5 hours (3-4 times a year) to dish it up into 1 kg packages which i then store in the freezer. It takes me 5 minutes (3-4 times a year) to mix up a jar of dolomite, wheat germ and vitamin C. It takes about 3 minutes every 3 days to wash down the Tupperware container before I place a new meat package in it. Oh, yes, and it takes me about 2 minutes now to order Tukkathyme (3-4 times a year) through internet because the website remembers all my contact details and I do not have to re-type my address every time I do it any more.

So all in all, in some ways you could say that I feed her raw food partially out of my own convenience (poop is SO much easier to clean when a dog eats raw food!) and because it makes her look wonderfully healthy (and a bloody nuisance energy-wise) (and we all love you, dog!), so in some ways it is not much different from people who feed their dogs kibble.

But having said that, when I was growing up my family fed our dogs kibble - still do - and most of the sled dogs I worked with in Alaska and Svalbard were fed kibble (with Svalbard dogs being supplemented with raw reindeer meat because of its fat content to help them keep warm in -30 C), so dogs that are fed kibble also lead wonderful lives, but... kibble and kibble is different. Many sled dogs are fed exceptionally high-quality and therefore expensive kibble which is formulated precisely for working dogs who then also get the benefit from all this exercise.

If I were feeding my dog kibble, I wouldn't feed her Pedigree, or some other generic, low-cost supermarket brand, but would probably do quite a bit of research on what sort of formula is best for her and would probably dish up quite a bit of money... which (the dishing up money part) bums (ie, sucks), because I prefer saving up money for other relevant things in my life, and labradors eat a whole lotta food!

...but having said that, I prefer feeding my own dog the food that we are currently feeding her, ie a mixture of meat, veggies etc, because I trust the knowledge of people like Dr Ian Billinghurst and also our dog's breeder, and I can see how wonderfully well The Dog is doing, physically. Mentally we have a lot of distance to cover with her still, because she is an energetic puppy! (and sometimes a royal pain in the a$$...) (though it's getting better!), but physically... she is beautiful.

And I intend on keeping it this way.

It was daunting getting organised for raw food initially because I had never done anything like that before and it seemed like A LOT of detail!, but now that I have a system going and I know how to do it in a way that keeps my home hygienic (raw chicken meat!) and prepare most of it in bulk, it's no more troublesome than living my own life in a way where I am actually cooking my meals as opposed to buying ready-to-eat processed foods from the supermarket. It's a choice of quality.

PS. A word of caution, in the words of our dog's breeder, "A mix of poor natural diet, supplemented by dry food is the worst combination as this doesn't give either method the best chance. You run the risk of over supplementation. You need to make a commitment and choose to go one way or the other."

So, yeah - that's about it.


1 comment:

  1. It’s a good thing you pointed out that there are two sides to both raw and processed dog food. It’s a very complex topic and both sides actually do have legitimate claims. I guess what really matters is, whether you’re giving your dog raw or commercial food, is to ensure the cleanliness and quality of the food. Also, it’s best to have the advice of a veterinarian.

    Vyvian Gorbea