I’ll try to make this as brief as possible. Last year my border collie mix was very ill in spite of my good intention. She was eating raw ~ ground meat, hard cooked egg w/ground shell ~ veggies like green beans and pumpkin. After a few weeks, she got worse and I saw a vet. Two of the vets looked at me as if to say “you did this.” They loaded her up on repeated antibiotics for two weeks – told me with no question – to get her off the raw diet plan, immediately.
They recommended Taste of the Wild – which she has been on since last year. I use it mixed with green beans, coconut oil, pumpkin; a few times a week, I scramble an egg and add it to the above. I love this dog – she came from a Virginia kennel that practiced with their dog’s lives – they had little chance for survival – they were used as Pit Bull dog bait. So, she’s come a long way ~ but still is afraid of life and sometimes, even me – I can see she doesn’t fully trust me. I want to see her enjoy life before something else stands in the way of this happening. What if I put her on softly cooked meats; that is to say, not overcooked but enough to keep her on the healthy side of life..with meat? I so hope you will read this – and reply to my questions.
What are the best nutritious foods for an adult dog’s diet? I have a 14 year old standard schnauzer mix and a 6 year Old English Sheepdog
Dear Carole and Joy,
I support and applaud your desire to provide the best possible diet for the dogs in your care. There are as many different healthful diets for dogs as there are healthful diets for people. Many vets truly believe that only dog food companies or nutritionists can balance a diet properly for a dog. However, many people can balance their own diet by eating a variety of appropriate foods and supplements; these same principles can be applied if you wish to feed a homemade diet.
Any diet is only as good as its ingredients. Homemade diets have a great advantage over commercial diets in that they are made of fresh ingredients and minimally processed. There are some excellent commercial diets, particularly the fresh-frozen varieties, but excellent diets are more expensive than brands with fillers and additives. Many people find that, by buying in bulk, it can cost less to feed a homemade diet than a commercial food. Conventional veterinary journals contain many case reports of inappropriately balanced home prepared diets, which is why many vets reject al home prepared diets. If you choose to prepare your own diet, remember the importance of supplements, and consider having your diet reviewed by a veterinary nutritionist.
Pets don’t care too much about variety. If they did, they wouldn’t be bolting down the same old kibble every day! A varied diet helps to provide the best balance of nutrients, however. Pets with food allergies or other problems may need to have a restricted number of food items in their diet. Most of our foods are grown on soils that have been intensively farmed for generations. You can avoid the problem of nutrient depletion by feeding only organically sourced food from soils enriched with trace nutrients, but many of us won’t find this practical. A good alternative is to supplement the diet with a whole food vitamin and mineral supplement. Most pets benefit from supplementation with an omega fatty acid source, like fish oil, as well.
Our dogs and cats have evolved to eat raw meat, including raw bones. However, it is understandable to be hesitant about feeding raw meat and bones. You shouldn’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. If your local vet is extremely opposed to raw feeding, it may be difficult to persevere in a raw diet. The major potential hazard of raw feeding is increased exposure to pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella. This is not a big problem for a healthy dog, as their acidic digestive tract eliminates most pathogenic bacteria. It is a concern if people have poor hygiene in handling raw meat; all bowls and prep surfaces must be washed well with hot soapy water. Raw fed dogs can shed more bacteria in their stools, so if there are immunocompromised individuals in the home, raw feeding may not be the best idea. As always, you need to educate yourself, so that you feel secure in your choice. One of my favourite websites for raw feeding information for clients is the Carnivora Learning Centre.
Start by feeding ground meat, lightly cooked and slowly increase the size of the pieces. If and when it feels right, try feeding the meat raw. If you decide to feed bones, make sure they are raw and appropriately sized for your pet. Older pets, stressed pets, or those with immune problems, should have their meat lightly cooked to ease digestion. Protein sources (meat + bones +organs + skin to maintain the proper nutrient and mineral balance) should account for 25 to 70% of a dog’s diet and 50 to 90% of a cat’s diet. Eggs can be used as a protein source 1 to 3 times a week. If feeding whole bones worries you, there are frozen ground raw diets available which may suit your lifestyle better. Ground diets with very finely ground bones can be lightly cooked, but diets with sharp bone pieces should not be cooked. Homemade diets without bones need to be supplemented on a daily basis with calcium carbonate or calcium citrate at a dose of 1 g of calcium per 30 lbs body weight for dogs, 1.2 g per cat. If you choose to add calcium to the food, you would do so at a dose of 800-1,000 mg per pound of food.
Grains and potatoes are best digested thoroughly cooked. This imitates the way carnivores would eat carbohydrate sources when they eat the intestines of prey. Depending on the age and condition of your pet, simple carbohydrates can account for 0 to 50% of the diet. Many allergic pets do better with a starch free diet. I do not feed any grains or potatoes to my own animals, but many people do, because starches are a less expensive source of calories and bulk.
Vegetables can provide 10 to 50% of the diet, depending on the age of your pet. Raw fruit in small quantities is fine for both dogs and cats. Vegetables can be given raw, juiced, or cooked to the point of softness. If vegetables are passed in whole pieces in the stools, this means your pet needs them cooked more to aid digestion. Be careful about the size of raw vegetables and fruit. Since animals naturally bolt their food, pieces of raw hard foods must be small to prevent choking.
You can use whatever vegetables or starch (if starch is appropriate for your pet) you have to hand, or make up a little extra. Meat can be browned, and then frozen in quantities sufficient for one or two days. Microwaving the food to warm it is not a good idea, as this decreases the nutrient quality of the food. Most pets like it cold, or you can let it sit out for fifteen minutes to get the chill off, or you can add some warm water. Try to use glass or ceramic bowls and clean them daily. Stainless steel is acceptable, but plastic is hard to clean and will worsen allergy problems.
If you choose to purchase your pets’ food, you need to do your homework. You need to be a label sleuth to seek out foods that contain high quality ingredients, like whole meats and vegetables, and avoid low quality “meat by-products” and fillers. Be aware that dry foods (kibbles) are almost all extruded, and this processing process requires that the foods be about 40% starch.
Let’s suppose that we have carefully selected diets that have only high quality ingredients. We then need to decide what form of food to feed.
- As a general rule, the less processed a food is, the more nutrients are retained. That is why I feed raw to my own animals, and recommend it to clients. Some people may not be able to feed raw, and I can certainly sympathize with vegetarians who find handling raw distasteful.
- If the people can not feed raw, or the animal can not tolerate raw, there are cooked frozen diets as the next best alternative.
- Canned diets retain nutrients fairly well, though they are heat processed.
- Dehydrated and freeze dried diets retain more nutrients than kibbled food.
- The extrusion process of kibbling makes food more digestible, but it does destroy nutrients, which are then sprayed back on the food. All of the dried foods will lose nutrients as soon as they are exposed to air. This is why it is important to roll the package up tightly after removing food. Dry food should never be stored loose in plastic containers, as chemicals can leach from non-food grade plastic into the food, and any plastic can absorb some of the nutrients. Stainless steel is acceptable, but must be kept securely closed.
If you choose to feed kibble for whatever reason – and cost and convenience are powerful reasons – buy the best you can afford, and store it properly. It is good to supplement any commercial canned or dry diet with up to 20% of the volume in the form of freshly cooked meats and vegetables. Dogs on a canned or dry diet may not have sufficient digestive enzymes to permit easy digestion of raw food, so it is best not to add in raw foods.
If you are transitioning a dog to raw foods, first add one small meal of raw food in place of either breakfast or dinner. Gradually increase the size of this meal, then replace the other meal with raw as well. I strongly suggest the addition of a supplement like Aunt Jeni’s Enhance Digestive Aid during the transition period, as the probiotics, digestive enzymes and soothing herbs make the transition easier on the digestive tract. Most animals will benefit from probiotics daily, and some do better with digestive enzymes added to the food as well.
If you have a holistic vet as part of your health care team, ask him or her for specific recommendations for your individual pet. Different foods are available, depending upon where you live, and they should know what is available in your area.