To Cook Or Not To Cook? – Part 1

2016-02-02 01.38.42Many hard core raw feeders are often aghast at the idea of anyone cooking for their pet.  Admitting to rustling up the canine equivalent to a hearty cooked breakfast is often ridiculed as being contrary to what Mother Nature intended, and the argument that cooking destroys the goodness in our food is frequently trotted out without a second thought as to its veracity.  This results in yet another raw feeding myth being perpetuated and taking on a life of its own.

At a very basic level, stating that cooking destroys the nutrients in food is clearly and blatantly incorrect – otherwise we humans would have died out a long time ago, as the vast majority of our foods are cooked or heated to some degree.  We have, after all, developed over thousands of years to thrive on cooked foods – indeed, we have become so used to these that our bodies can no longer tolerate some of the bacteria found in or on raw meat and vegetables, unlike our pets who were only introduced to processed foods within the last 150 years.  We therefore need to cook for ourselves.  Our pets, who usually rely on us to supply their food, have not developed in this manner and are essentially designed to eat their foods raw.  Their mouths and stomachs contain enzymes which we lack in order to deal with any potentially harmful bacteria, their stomachs are nearly four times as acidic as ours, and their intestines are considerably shorter.  This means that even if they eat something that would kill a human, it is either neutralized by their body or swiftly expelled before any damage is caused.

So let’s firstly deal with why some people choose to cook for their pets:

  • Vegetables Or Meat For The DogThey enjoy it.  Speaking as someone who literally can’t cook/won’t cook, I don’t get the urge or desire to cook dinner for my dogs  (especially as I can barely feed myself) – but some people really like to take the time to dutifully prepare their pet at least one proper cooked meal each day.  They enjoy being in the kitchen and making something for their pet, and it is an expression of their love; something they can give their faithful companion to thank them for their unwavering love and loyalty.


  • Some people are wary of the bacteria found in raw meat, and prefer to cook their pet’s food to ensure the safety of their pet and their family.  Leaving aside the reality that the same bacteria are found everywhere in nature (and not just in raw meat) and the necessity of always practicing good hygiene in the kitchen no matter what food you are preparing, cooking your pet’s food is often advisable if you have very young children or elderly people around your pet, or those who suffer from a compromised immune system.  Cooking will destroy any harmful bacteria and remove the risk of illness from the bacteria originating in the meat.  I stress “in the meat” because it is still quite possible to become ill from the same strains of bacteria in dairy products, fruit and veg, contaminated water and the soil around us.  Dogs and cats can be the source of a number of potentially harmful bugs, from their mouths, coat or feces, and it is always advisable to wash your hands after playing with your pet and to avoid too many wet kisses – you just never know what they may have digested whilst out on a walk!  For more about the myths surrounding raw meat and bacteria, read this article.


  • Some dogs definitely prefer their meat cooked.  No matter how hard core raw you are (or would like to be), if your dog isn’t in to it no amount of cajoling or tears will change this.  Cooking their meals can however be the next best thing if raw isn’t going down well in your home.  Heating meat releases not only that wonderful smell, but also causes the juices to flow more freely creating an enticing gravy.  This can sometimes miraculously encourage an otherwise reluctant dog to eat.  My Chihuahua definitely prefers her chicken cooked, especially at breakfast – even though all my other dogs will eat anything I put in front of them, raw or cooked.


61UduAXWhML._SX470_BO1,204,203,200_If you do decide to cook for your pet, careful thought should be given to the content of the meals you plan to serve.  There are numerous books on the market which can provide plenty of recipes and inspiration if you’re feeling creative.  (Some of our favorites are by food therapist and award winning vet, Judy Morgan: “What’s For Dinner, Dexter?” and “Canine Kitchen Capers”.)  Many dogs have different nutritional requirements and it may take a period of trial and error to establish your dog’s ideal ingredients.  In order to ensure that your dog doesn’t miss out on any important proteins, vitamins or minerals, I would strongly suggest researching cooked diets thoroughly first, rather than just throwing together what ever takes your fancy in the kitchen! Don’t forget that every meal needn’t contain every element of an ideal diet – it is what is fed over a period of time that matters.

You should obviously not only be aware of what your dog or cat requires at meal times for optimum health but also take careful note of foods which should NEVER be served (whether cooked or not):

  • Avocado – These contain persin, a substance harmless to humans, but toxic to dogs in large amounts.  The pits are also extremely dangerous if swallowed and can caused blockages.
  • Alcohol – As much as you might enjoy a drink with your dinner, booze is a big NO for your dog!  Just a small quantity can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues, coma and even death.
  • Onions & garlic – Garlic in small quantities can be beneficial, but too much can cause poisoning.
  • Grapes & raisins – These can cause kidney failure.
  • Macadamia nuts – As few as six nuts can cause severe illness in your pet, or even death.
  • Candy & gum – The sweetener xylitol used in some of these products can cause liver failure, vomiting and death.
  • Salt – Can cause excessive thirst and urination, and can lead to fatal sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, tremors and seizures.
  • Cooked bones – whilst a raw non-weight bearing bone can be a fantastic addition to your dog’s diet, cooked or dried bones should never, ever be fed.  For more information about feeding bones, see this article.

So, are there any nutritional benefits to cooking for your pet?  To find out, read Part 2 of this blog, coming soon!

To Cook Or Not To Cook? – Part 2

Part 1 of this post covered why some people like to cook for their pets, and dealt briefly with what should be included at mealtimes.  (Missed Part 1? Catch up here!)  But is it better to cook, or serve your pets’ meals raw?

fruit-vegIt should be remembered that there have been many studies which indicate that cooking food can be beneficial.  Some people like to include an amount of fruit and vegetables in their dog’s diet, as it is well known that these contain a wide range of minerals, nutrients and vitamins that can benefit your canine companion – leaving aside the fiercely debated issue of whether or not your dog would eat these ingredients in the first place if let loose in the wild.  Dealing firstly with vegetables, an article published by Scientific American (Fact or Fiction: Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones) confirms that not all raw vegetables are healthier than those that have been heated.  For example, cooked carrots, broccoli and spinach supply more antioxidants than when eaten raw, and boiling or steaming better preserves antioxidants than frying – although boiling was deemed the best method of serving these veggies for optimum goodness.

Furthermore, cooking carrots increases their levels of beta-carotene (the substance which gives them their color), which the body in turn converts to vitamin A – a very important necessity for vision, reproduction, bone growth and the immune system.

Similarly, when cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are heated, the compound indole is formed – and research has shown that this helps kill precancerous cells before they turn malignant.

10264657_10205354023161366_1208441591225570251_nCooking or lightly steaming vegetables also breaks down their cellulose, allowing the dog’s body to better access all the goodness inside.  With the cellulose still intact, most dogs will simply pass the veg matter in their stool.

Assuming that you are therefore one of those feeders who adds vegetables to your dog’s dinner, there is much to be said for going to the effort of cooking those veggies first before offering them at dinner time.

On the flip side, and in all fairness to those who maintain that raw is best, there is a down side to the cooking of vegetables. Heat has been shown to damage the enzyme tyrosinase, which breaks down glucosinates in broccoli in to a compound called sulforaphane.  Sulforaphane is believed to block and kill pre-cancerous cells, and can assist the fight against the bacteria which causes ulcers and can lead to stomach cancer.

And despite the benefit of increased beta-carotene when cooking carrots, heating them has shown to lead to a total loss of polyphenols – which have antioxidant properties, and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

A well known disadvantage to cooking vegetables is that it can result in some vitamin and mineral losses, although surprisingly few vitamins are destroyed by heat – and heating alone will not destroy minerals (although they may be leached in water).  For  an in-depth look at this issue, see this very informative site. Vitamin C is soluble in water, highly unstable, and degrades when exposed to oxygen and heat, but a number of important facts should also be borne in mind:

  • cooked vegetables will still retain as much as 50% of their vitamin C content even after heating;
  • dogs, like most mammals (with the exception of humans and Guinea Pigs), produce their own vitamin C, so introducing this from an external source is not always necessary.  However, as vitamin C production is reduced by, for example, stress or exertion, working dogs often benefit from an additional boost from their food.
  • vitamin C is widely available in many fruits and vegetables and therefore any loss sustained through cooking can easily be made up from raw fruit or veg elsewhere in the garden; and
  • as when cooking any fruit or vegetables, if you keep and use the water in which they were cooked, you will still be able to access some if not all of the nutrients lost through heating.  You can therefore still benefit from the vitamins and minerals that have been dissolved or leached in to the cooking water.

Allprovide Ingredients jpgThis last point is equally applicable if you cook meat for your pet’s dinner.  Whilst cooking has been shown to destroy the enzymes in meat, many  nutrients are by and large unaffected, although some quantities can be reduced by up to 40% in some cases.  As when cooking vegetables however, any vitamins or minerals lost in cooking can often still be found in the juices created by heat, and if this is poured over the meat your pet is still able to benefit from this goodness, and little is therefore lost.

Studies have shown that cooked meat actually can pack more nutritional value than meat served raw.  Cooking appears to “unwind” the proteins in meat, making it easier to digest – and the body expends far less energy processing cooked meat as a result, as well as being able to absorb more energy from the food. Therefore it is easier to lose weight if eating a raw diet because more calories are burnt digesting the food, but conversely it is easier to maintain weight if eating a cooked meal.

In a similar vein, the body’s immune system is saved the trouble of fighting off food borne pathogens if the food is cooked first (thereby destroying harmful bacteria).  However, those feeding a raw diet to their dogs often believe that because the body is not struggling to process an “unnatural” food such as kibble results in an immune system better able to deal with external issues such as allergies and fighting infection.

2016-02-02 01.27.30Taking all the above in to account, it would appear that it is not possible to infer one general rule, or to be able to state that cooking your dog’s food is definitively better or worse than serving it raw.  There are pros and cons on both sides, with much depending on the type of food served (meat & vegetables/just meat etc) as well as the temperature and duration of cooking.  The general view seems to be that which has always been the case: you should strive to serve your pet a varied and balanced diet consisting of a wide range of proteins, mineral and vitamins from different sources in order to ensure he or she receives the best nutrition for optimum health – whether you serve a cooked meal or opt for raw!

Pet Food Animal Testing – Necessary Or Not?

As pet guardians, most of us want only the best for our furry friends – and that usually includes a desire to feed them good food.  Many will actively research and investigate the background of any potential food choices, but some will simply rely on the bold statements made by pet food companies on their packaging, correct in the belief that their foods must have passed regulatory tests and met certain standards in order to end up in the pet food aisles.

AAFCOThe Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets out the nutritional levels required by pet foods.  Many manufacturers undertake feeding trials in order to ensure that their foods meet the AAFCO standards, and consumers understandably tend to feel assured by this.

The AAFCO also permits pet food companies to substantiate their nutritional adequacy statements by reference to laboratory analysis.  Many companies will brag about their products being proven as a result of trials but the reality is that such trials are usually laboratory based, last only six months, may include as few as eight animals, and utilize one breed of purpose breed animal that never sees the light of day.

The reality is that such feeding trials are, in fact, totally unnecessary.  It is possible to analyze and test a product in a laboratory without recourse to live animals, in order to establish the nutritional content.  There are even websites and software which list every conceivable ingredient and the established nutritional breakdown for each – all one needs to do is plug in the recipe, and you can print off a list of every vitamin, mineral and nutrient it contains which can then be assessed and tweaked in order to meet the AAFCO’s demands.

Many companies will defend their use of laboratory animal testing by stating that only by feeding their products to a controlled sample of specimen pets can they truly establish the nutritional adequacy of their products.  This is a fallacy.  The AAFCO has already undertaken numerous investigations to establish the nutritional requirements for complete or supplemental foods, for all life stages of your pet, and these are published at great length for anyone to review and apply to their products.

dog with doneHowever, there are obviously some aspects of pet food which cannot be tested with the use of a computer, such as palatability and flavor.  These will clearly require the involvement of live animals as even if a product meets all the nutritional standards set out by the AAFCO, it does not automatically follow that any animal will willingly eat it.

At Allprovide, we have six dogs of various breeds and sizes in our offices – from a 10 lb Chihuahua (who of course rules the pack) to a 180 lb Great Dane puppy (who is still growing and falling over his huge paws) and Dr Judy Morgan, our consulting veterinarian, has nine dogs of her own – all are our food testers.  They have taste tested our products at every stage from start to finish, and all our recipes have to be puppy approved, otherwise they don’t make the final cut.

10264657_10205354023161366_1208441591225570251_nWe insist on only feeding the best, and all our ingredients are selected with our pack in mind.  Account is taken of how voraciously the food is devoured, or not as the case may be, and our recipes are tweaked and tested again and again – much to the delight of the pack! Even the humans have been known to grab a spoonful too to demonstrate how great Allprovide tastes!

Each of our collective dogs and cats may have their own preferred protein, or specific dietary requirements, but all are thriving, healthy, happy and shiny – a testament to the benefits of a balanced healthy diet, without resorting to the use of laboratory animals.  We pride ourselves on the quality of our foods and you can be assured that we love your pets as much as you do!

Playing “Chicken” With Your Dog’s Dinner

FDA RecallsOver the last few months, there have been a significant number of voluntary recalls in the raw pet food market, involving some of the best known and largest brands (Nature’s Variety, Bravo and Stella and Chewy’s to name but a few).  According to there were in fact eight such recalls in the month of July 2015 alone – nearly the same as for the whole of 2014.  The reasons for the recalls were the suspected or actual contamination of raw pet food by pathogens such as Listeria and Salmonella.

Those who are familiar with this blog will know that pathogens are all around us, and not limited to just raw meat.  Fruit and vegetables, soil, and dairy products can all contain potentially harmful bacteria – but we never see any recalls for any of these products.  So why all of a sudden does there appear to be a concentration of recalls in the pet food market?

BacteriaThe answer to this question is largely due to a change in policy by the FDA – the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA in its wisdom has announced that it will begin considering any pet food contaminated with pathogens to be “adulterated” and therefore illegal to sell.  This policy is regardless of the type of pet food or pathogen.  For those unclear, the dictionary definition of “pathogen” is as follows: ‘A pathogen (or infectious agent) is a biological agent that causes disease or illness to its host.’  So whilst some strains of bacteria such as E.coli are potentially harmful to humans, some strains are not – indeed, some are positively beneficial and are used every day to create cheese, yoghurt and so on.

The problem with the introduction of this policy is that is clashes considerably with that of the FSIS – the Food Safety Inspection Service.  According to the current FSIS policy, raw animal products such as beef or poultry are not deemed adulterated (that is, contaminated with harmful bacteria) even if they contain Listeria, E.coli or Salmonella. That position, however, changes once the meat has been processed.  Therefore whilst beef containing E.coli is not considered adulterated, and can be legally sold, once it has been ground up, the status of that beef changes and it becomes illegal to sell.

The new FDA policy will apply to all raw pet food, processed and unprocessed.  This has some major implications for not only those who produce or buy raw pet foods but also the non-pet owning consumer in the average grocery store.

UnknownFor example, under the FSIS, it is perfectly legal to sell a joint of meat contaminated with E.coli, Listeria or Salmonella, if that meat is to be cooked and fed to your family.  However, as soon as that same piece of meat is labelled as “Pet Food”, according to the FDA it becomes illegal to sell it.

Ridiculous, right?

Consider the following examples:

  • you are sold a beef steak which is contaminated with naturally occurring pathogens, and feed it to your family.  If you cooked it before serving it up, you will have destroyed any harmful bacteria and it will be perfectly safe to eat.  In accordance with FSIS policy, nothing illegal will have taken place.
  • if you give a piece of that same contaminated steak, uncooked, to your dog, according to the FDA this means the original seller has committed an offense – even if your dog has no adverse reaction.

As a direct consequence of the conflicting nature of the FDA and FSIS’s policies, this will presumably lead to the somewhat absurd situation where your local butcher is now under an obligation to enquire whether the meat he sells you is for you to eat, or for your pet.  If you tell him that the steak in your hand will be used to make your own raw dog food, he will commit an offense, according to the FDA, if he proceeds to sell it you.

The FDA’s policy will either turn all raw feeders in to liars, or will give rise to some sort of rebel black market where meat destined for our pets will have to be purchased in dark alleys or slipped in to our grocery bags with a nod and a wink from an understanding butcher.

Lab and boneThe full, ludicrous, nature of such a policy is revealed when one considers other posts elsewhere in this blog which deal in detail with the fact that dogs are different to humans, and have built in defenses which allow them to ingest bacteria which would be harmful to us. Humans have evolved over centuries to the stage where we cannot safely ingest most raw meats due to the naturally occurring pathogens they contain, which can at best be merely unpleasant and at worst down right deadly. Our pets may be domesticated, but they are still animals – and evolution is a wonderful thing, but excruciatingly slow. A change in our dog’s digestive system and physiology rendering him or her unable to cope with raw meat and the bacteria it contains would take many, many centuries – far more time in fact than has passed since the invention of processed commercial pet foods in the late nineteenth century.  Many scientists and governmental bodies such as the FDA and AVMA seem to forget this simple fact: dogs and cats were fed raw meat and table scraps and wild game and anything else they could find before Mr Spratt invented the dog biscuit in London around 1860.  The passage of 155 years is not sufficient for Mother Nature to have made the fundamental changes required to the design of our pets in order for them to need processed foods!

The very real problem we are all now facing is the possibility of the FSIS deciding to change its policy to bring it in line with that of the FDA.  What is likely to happen if the current state of the rules by both bodies is shown to make pet food safer than human food?

Many bloggers and pet food activists have already come out and denounced the FDA’s policy as scaremongering and illogical, based on irrational fears and without regard to science or indeed common sense.  The FDA has admitted that dogs rarely suffer from ingesting pathogens which are admittedly harmful to humans – they even report that in the space of nearly fifty years, only six cases have ever been reported of a dog becoming ill from Listeria.

Yes, you did read that right: only six cases in fifty years.waitwhat

What is equally disturbing is the amount of money being spent to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, under which the FDA obtained the power to proactively test food for bacteria.  It is estimated that the present budget is nearly one billion dollars, and even then more money is being requested. When you are informed that out of the total American population of some 320,000,000 people only 380 annual deaths have been reported as a result of Salmonella poisoning, it really does appear that the government in its infinite wisdom is using a sledgehammer to squash a microbe.  In my belief that money would be far better spent in two ways:

  1. People need to be properly educated about food safety and hygiene. There are a huge number of myths about the handling of raw meat and these need to be identified and eradicated, which can only be done by proper education.  Scaremongering and recalling raw pet foods is NOT going to achieve this.
  2. Rather than publicly shaming raw pet food companies whose products have been found to contain naturally occurring pathogens, which can be safely digested by our pets, money should be spent on tracing the source of these pathogens to the suppling farms.  Dirty farms lead to dirty products, and to call out the end seller of those products is truly barricading the barn door after the cow has been led to market, slaughtered, processed and placed on the grocery shelf.

So why have the FDA suddenly decided to pick at your dog’s bowl? There is, after all, no greater risk from handling raw meat destined for your family’s dining table than there is from feeding it to your dog.  If the FDA’s policy prevails, you will no longer be able to buy raw meat at the grocery store, whether it be for your family or your dog, and the apparent denial of the existence of pathogens all around us seems to indicate that the FDA has no interest in fact or science, but is merely jumping in to action without fully appreciating the consequences.  It is impossible to eradicate all potentially harmful bacteria from the world – and I submit that even if it were possible, the chances are that it would be catastrophic, leading to a general overall weakening of the immune systems of both humans and pets, which cannot be a good thing.  Bacteria are a necessary element of day to day living, and without them it is not possible to build up necessary, life saving, immunities.

So, out of the FDA and the FSIS, who do you think is likely to blink first and change their policy in this very real game of “Chicken”? We should all be very concerned indeed.

Ten Top Tips For Those New To Raw Feeding!

ChickenRaw feeding is one sector of the pet food market that has seen enormous growth of late, and more and more people are becoming interested in the benefits of feeding their pets a natural, healthy, biologically appropriate diet.

BUT – where does one start?  I am frequently asked, with the benefit of hindsight (not to mention years of experience from running raw pet food companies and talking to probably thousands of pet owners), what advice would I give those about to embark upon feeding as Mother Nature intended?

So I have compiled a short list of my top tips:

1. Don’t assume your pet will take to raw feeding straight away – if at all.  Although we all believe there is nothing more natural than a dog with a bone, some dogs really do think that a bone is just too much hard work.  They’ll look at you eagerly proffering the dismembered limb of some animal with a slightly puzzled expression which clearly says “You want me to do what with that?” Some may even tentatively take it in their mouths whilst backing away slowly – eager to please as you’ve clearly gone to some effort to secure this somewhat smelly offering – only to then hide it from you in the obvious hope that you’ll think they’ve eaten it. Owning four dogs of all different temperaments and attitudes to food, it has become almost routine to check in my bed and under my pillow at night, as I’ve often been surprised by the bloody treats hidden there.  Imagine that scene from The Godfather – but instead of a horse’s head, one discovers one is sharing a bed with various beef bones and a day old chicken carcass.

tiny dog, big bone2. Size the bone to suit the dog.  It should go without saying, but always make sure any bone is of an appropriate size for the dog to be fed.  Giving a 120 lb Ridgeback a two inch marrow bone is a gulping accident waiting to happen.  Obviously large bones can be fed to smaller dogs, but the only likely accident I can think of is a Chihuahua throwing its back out by trying to drag a beef shank four times its size in to bed.  They’re determined little dogs, and mine will fight all potential bone pirates of any breed when defending her dinner, even if it means dragging her prize up two flights of stairs.

3. If you’re going to go down the “whole prey” route of raw feeding, you might want to warn the neighbors.  Whilst a front yard littered with stripped bones may deter most burglars (and postmen), those living on either side of you probably deserve at least fair warning that your dog may be spending the day with the odd lamb head or half pig.  Those of us of a squeamish disposition do not generally want to look out of our windows in the morning with our first cup of coffee to see something resembling the set of True Blood or the Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s the quickest way I know to find oneself removed from next door’s Christmas card list.  You may also discover that your post has been left in the hedge.

dog with done4. If feeding bones, always supervise your dog!  Accidents, although rare, do unfortunately happen, and should anything go awry with your dog and his bone at least you are on hand to ensure action is taken immediately.  If feeding a bone for the first time, you may want to hold on to it whilst your dog gets used to eating.  Unless taught by their mothers when young, many dogs have no idea how to eat a bone properly and will view a chicken wing as something to be gulped in haste – before you realize your mistake in offering this wonderful treat, and take it away again.  I know one lady who was very nervous about feeding her dog his first chicken wing, and she didn’t want to lose a finger whilst holding it for him.  So she thought she’d be clever and tied a piece of string to one end of the wing whilst offering the other end to her dog.  You can imagine what happened – the dog swallowed the wing whole leaving the lady holding a piece of sting leading down in to his stomach…  After an unpleasant tug of war, the wing was recovered, the dog was fine and the lady recovered from the shock eventually!

images5. Don’t be overly enthusiastic about what raw foods you feed your dog when starting out.  A common mistake is to think that your dog can change immediately from a processed food to eating all sorts of meat, offal and other goodies when in fact this is often the worse thing you can do.  A bowl piled high with chicken wings, turkey necks and organ meats, garnished with a dead rabbit and drizzled with coconut oil may look your idea of a gourmet raw dog’s dinner, but if your dog hasn’t eaten raw before you could find you need to invest in a carpet cleaner. There is a good chance that the healthy stomach bacteria with which the dog was born (and which are intended to help process a raw diet) may be depleted if the dog has not experienced anything but processed foods before, and introducing too many new things in a diet without proper preparation can lead to upset tummies and stressed owners.  Start with just one new protein, and save the Cordon Bleu presentation until you know your dog can cope! And whilst I remember: do not ever, EVER, try to defrost tripe in the microwave.  If the smell doesn’t cause you to pass out immediately, you and all your neighbors will probably have to evacuate for 48 hours and hole up in someone’s shed until the odor dissipates. How to describe the smell? It’s like something died behind a hot radiator – but not before it was rolled in manure, left in the sun to dry, and then sprayed by a skunk. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

6. To ensure a smooth transition to a new, raw, diet I often suggest adding a spoonful of natural probiotic yoghurt to your dog’s dinner for a few days.  A strawberry yoghurt left over in the fridge from the children’s lunch will not suffice! Natural yoghurt is full of good bacteria which will help fortify the dog’s gut and assist the digestion of the food.

7. Hold off on introducing bones to the diet too soon.  Just as it may take a while for the dog to get used to new proteins, wait before throwing your dog a bone.  Ensure the dog is settled to his new food before introducing a raw meaty bone as an occasional meal replacement.

8. Some people like to feed raw fruits and vegetables with their dog’s dinner.  There are no hard or fast rules about what do feed, and many like the idea of providing their pets with sources of valuable nutrition, vitamins and minerals other than those found in meat, bones and offal. There are numerous health benefits to be found in many raw produce so do your research and explore what your garden can offer.

images-19. Learn what NOT to feed.  The flip side of making your dog’s dinner yourself and having the freedom to feed what ever you wish is that you should also be aware of what you must not feed.  It is too easy to get carried away and complacent if you’ve been successfully feeding raw for some time, and erroneously assume that anything raw will go down just fine.  Most will know that offal should make up a small percentage of your dog’s diet, but many are not aware that too much liver can be extremely toxic and cause an overdose of Vitamin A.  This Vitamin is stored in the liver, so whilst it is ok to do without for a period, too much over too short a period can be life threatening.  A dog requires around 50 IU (International Units) per day per kg of body weight, although the optimal level is 100-200 IU – that’s the equivalent of 1000 to 2000 IU for a 22 lb dog or 3000-6000 IU for a 60-70 lb Golden Retriever.  It has been calculated that a Goldie only needs to eat 300g of beef liver daily for two months before dangerous levels of Vitamin A are accumulated.  Other things to watch out for are the seemingly innocent fruits and veg we might eat every day, such as avocado (causes vomiting and diarrhea), raisins (cause kidney failure), and walnuts and macadamias (nervous system damage) amongst others.  So when you’re next preparing dinner and your dog is practicing that well known canine super power of mind control (“if I stare at my human long enough I can make him give me his food….”), think twice before succumbing.  Fight the urge, however strong the force is in your friend, and think twice about tossing him those scraps.

can-science-help10. Don’t forget, many others have navigated the same path before you – if in doubt, just ask!  There are numerous forums and chat rooms online where you can ask the collective for their considered opinion – and no question is too dumb.  We all had to start somewhere. Here’s a few queries I’ve had to deal with in my time:

Q: How much does 1kg of frozen food weigh once defrosted?  A: It’s still 1kg….

Q: I’ve been feeding my dog 2% of his body weight but he’s losing weight.  What can I do? A:  Feed him some more… (The response to which was: “Am I allowed to do that?”!)

Q: If I feed my dog a 3 lb bone for one meal and two chicken wings with four slices of turkey meat and some beef heart for another, how much breakfast should I give him? A: Relax! The beauty of raw feeding is that you do not need to feed a balanced complete meal for every meal – we don’t eat like that and your dog doesn’t have to either.  It’s over a period of time that counts, so just as you wouldn’t eat a Big Mac for every meal (or at least you shouldn’t!) don’t deny your dog a treat meal every now and then.  Just make up for anything that might be missing in the diet over the next week or so.

Lastly, take pleasure in what you do!  In my view, feeding your dog or cat a raw diet should not be a chore but a labor of love.  They offer you a lifetime of unconditional love, loyalty and kisses. The least you can do is give them food they’ll enjoy!

What Is “Raw” – And Why Does It Matter?

If you search “dog food” or “canine nutrition” on any internet forum, you will find a plethora of posts about raw feeding.  Apart from being the fastest growing sector of the general pet food market (the raw food market is expected to increase by 25% this year alone), this subject is virtually guaranteed to fire up passionate discussion amongst not only those who do feed their dogs a raw diet, but also among those who don’t.  No other topic seems to come close to stirring the passions of dog owners, and whilst this is partly because there is still a huge debate about the benefits of raw compared to processed dog foods, this is also because there is no one definition of “raw feeding” when it comes to our pets.

So, What Is Raw?Unknown

At the most basic level, the dictionary definition of “raw” food is: uncooked or fresh. In terms of raw feeding most will agree that this could be defined as feeding any diet based on raw meat.  Many raw feeders, from those who purchase a commercially produced raw diet to those who “DIY”, sit somewhere on a scale between believing that kibble is simply biologically inappropriate food for canines right up to the firmly held belief that it is downright dangerous to feed dried or highly processed foods.

However, even amongst those who do feed raw, there are still a wide range of feeding options, any one of which will have firm advocates or vehement dissenters.  Let’s take a look at the main options:

1. The BARF Diet:

The most basic “raw” feeding option is that based on what is commonly known as the BARF diet – for those unfamiliar with this peculiar acronym, it stands for either Bones and Raw Food Diet, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Diet, depending on who you ask.  Although the idea of feeding dogs anything other than kibble was not a new idea at the time, a book published by an Australian vet called Dr Billinghurst in 1993 called “Give Your Dog a Bone” certainly gave impetus to the idea of feeding as Mother Nature intended.  It went back to basics and looked at feeding dogs what they were effectively designed to eat.  According to Dr Billinghurst’s research, dogs are carnivores, vegetarians, scavengers, hunters and opportunists – so a diet of raw, meat, bones and offal was the ideal food for our companion canines, as this is what they would naturally eat in the wild – despite the fact that dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years.

In nature, many hunting animals tend to eat virtually all of their kill, including fur, and some stomach contents.  This “whole carcass” method of feeding is not for the squeamish, or those who live in an apartment, but biologically and physiologically dogs have not changed a great deal over time, and are not sufficiently dissimilar to their present wild cousins so as to require a different diet just because they live in our homes rather than in the natural world around us.  Some people however struggle to source the food suggested by Dr Billinghurst (his book favors pig carcasses and kangaroos!)

Those who feed their dogs parts from a number of different animal sources will maintain that these supply all necessary proteins, minerals and vitamins, as well as promoting healthy teeth, gums, joints and digestion, and many thousands of dog owners still revere “Give Your Dog a Bone” as the bible for raw feeding.

Since the original publication of “Give Your Dog a Bone”, however, Dr Billinghurst has slightly revised his feeding model to include 20% crushed vegetable matter and fruit.  It is original absence of these additions which historically set the next method of feeding apart from the BARF diet:

raw meaty bones2. The Raw Meaty Bones Diet:

Another major advocate of the raw diet, Dr Tom Lonsdale, in his book “Raw Meaty Bones” bases his diet on just those three words – raw, meaty, bones.  Whilst not opposed to dogs eating fruit and vegetables, most of the people who follow this diet will agree that the benefits of digesting fruit and vegetables can be obtained from other sources, and recommend feeding a “whole prey diet” – which would include tripe and smaller animals containing pre-digested vegetable matter.  Contrary to popular belief, Dr Lonsdale’s suggested diet contains up to a maximum of one third vegetation – much higher than that now recommended by Dr Billinghurst.  The differences between these two feeding camps is therefore very little, and often only exists in the minds of the supporters of each author.

The diet of wolves in the wild is regularly cited as an example to be followed by both those who feed BARF or raw meaty bones, and yet Dr David Mech (a recognized expert on wolves) has been quoted as saying wolves in fact are not strict carnivores, but carnivores that also eat omnivore foods, further blurring the definitions.

turmeric3. The Supplemented BARF Diet

The third example of a raw diet is similar to a BARF or raw meaty bones diet but with added extras, such as supplements like coconut oil or turmeric.  Dr Lonsdale does not recommend supplements, but Dr Billinghurst believes they are sometimes required.  These days many raw feeders believe that the addition of these “extras” to the diet can only be beneficial to the dog – after all, we all want our pets to live long and healthy lives, so why not feed them other foods with known health benefits?  This subject, perhaps more than any other, is one which is argued about the most passionately on every raw feeding internet site.  People fall in to either of two camps – those that do add extras which can include vegetables and fruit that the animal may not normally eat in the wild, and those who do not –  and each will argue the merits of their case until the internet explodes.  Those against the addition of vegetables, for example, will argue that the dog does not nutritionally require anything other than meat, bones and offal (as fed by the BARF people) in order to thrive, and would not eat these if left to its own devices.  The arguments raised are usually based on the belief that dogs are carnivores, not vegetarians or even omnivores, and therefore have no need of the nutrients and vitamins found in fruit and veg; but as seen above, even the experts are unable to fully agree.  The other side, those who do add carrots, kale, sweet potato and a wide range of other ingredients to their dog’s diet, will argue that these are all excellent sources of additional nutrients and vitamins, with known heath boosting properties, so why would one not feed them to one’s dog, even if the dog would not normally eat them in the wild?

4. The Commercial Raw Diet

Finally, there is always the option of feeding a commercially prepared raw food.  Over the last few years, numerous companies have started producing complete and supplementary raw foods, and although a few companies follow one of the above models exclusively, many others offer a wide range of different feeding styles, proteins, and packaging to suit every dog (and budget!).  Over 13% of US pet owners currently feed a fresh raw diet, and one third are actively interested in switching their present pet food for something more natural.  As more and more people are becoming aware of what they eat, this is gradually filtering in to the pet food market, with pet owners giving more thought to their pet food choices, and becoming more attuned to the ingredients of pet food, as well as the health benefits of feeding a more species appropriate diet.

Does Raw Matter?  And If So, Why?

So why does raw matter – and what is it about this subject that inspires such passion in its advocates – be they prey feeders, the raw meaty bones brigade or the BARFers?  Despite their differences these people will generally stand together against the one issue upon which they all agree – our dogs should not be fed dried processed foods.  (That is not to say there are no quality dried foods available –  but most will agree, where ever possible these should not be fed when a raw diet is a viable alternative.)

UnknownThe Emergence Of Common Canine Illnesses:

As stated above, dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and for the vast majority of that time they ate what was naturally available to them – either from the woods around their homes or from our tables.  Processed pet foods such as kibble were not invented until the late 1800’s, when the first dried biscuit was marketed, so a dog’s diet probably consisted of any prey it could catch and scraps and bones supplied (or stolen from) it’s owner.  Commercial pet foods began to appear around sixty years ago, and were designed primarily for the convenience of the owner rather than the benefit of the dog.  I believe it is no coincidence that around the same time many common present day canine problems began to emerge – cancers, yeast infections, joint issues, blood disorders and so on.  Sixty years ago, it was virtually unheard of for a dog to die of cancer.  Whilst this is partly due to the extent of veterinary knowledge at the time, today more and more dogs are diagnosed with diabetes, cancers and tumors even at a very early age.  Similarly, more dogs suffer joint displacement in their early years than ever before.  Many believe these illnesses, and numerous others, are due to the fact that for the last sixty years, our dogs have been fed a highly processed, biologically inappropriate diet – that is to say, one which they were not designed to eat.

KibbleThe Avoidance Of Overly Processed Foods:

It is also becoming widely known and accepted that we humans should try and eat more fresh, natural foods and avoid those which are highly processed.  Although humans have evolved to be able to obtain their energy from fats and carbohydrates, meaning both are a requirement for a healthy human diet, dogs obtain their energy primarily from fats.  A canine diet high in carbohydrates (grains, cereals, rice) can lead to a number of health issues, such as yeast infections and digestion problems, as a dog’s digestive system is not equipped to process these ingredients in any large quantity; and yet, some dried dog foods can contain as much as 70 carbohydrates.  This goes totally against the ancestral, traditional dog’s diet which is believed to have contained as much as 90% meat – as little as 100 years ago.

The Benefits Of Feeding As Mother Nature Intended:

In my years of feeding my dogs a raw diet and running a number of raw pet food companies, I have spoken to probably thousands of concerned dog owners about the health of their pets.  Many have come to me as a last resort because their dog is suffering from a chronic health problem (itching, yeast infections, hot spots etc) which their vet was unable resolve – and in some cases, unable to even diagnose correctly.  Most vets have almost no training in nutrition, and unfortunately as a result often fail to consider a change in diet when confronted by many common illnesses.  By going back to basics, and feeding the dog a diet which it is able to process, containing all the elements which Mother Nature intended the dog to ingest, it is frequently possible to alleviate, if not eliminate entirely, these often distressing conditions. Occasionally some medication will be required for the more serious cases, but I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that the change to a raw diet saved their dog’s life.

My first dog, Maggie, was misdiagnosed for many years by numerous vets.  She was prescribed medicated shampoos and steroids for life, so that even at the age of two, her quality of life was virtually non-existent.  Her coat had turned gray, she was bloated, and we were advised to feed her a well known prescription diet.  Eventually, due to the chronic nature of her illness, this resulted in the loss of an ear. After her operation, someone (not a vet) suggested a change to a more natural diet and so after a period of intense research we started feeding her a home made raw diet.  Within three days, the change in Maggie was nothing short of miraculous.  Her coat started to come back, she lost weight, and we were able to stop the steroids.  We had our puppy back!

Knowing The Ingredients

One of the major benefits of feeding a home made natural diet is that you truly know each and every ingredient you are feeding to your pet.  This is extremely important to many people, given the dubious press recently about what really goes in to the foods produced by some of the major kibble companies.  Always check the ingredients list before feeding any prepared foods to your dog, and make sure you know not only what you are feeding but from where it was sourced.

In Conclusion:

Like many raw feeders, having made the transition from feeding my dogs a commercial processed dried food to giving them meat, bones, offal, veg and supplements, and seeing the wonderful changes in my dogs’ health, skin, coat and teeth as a result, I have become somewhat evangelical on the subject of raw feeding.  However, correct raw feeding can often be a challenge and it is sometimes difficult to ensure the appropriate balance of proteins, nutrients and vitamins for your dog’s optimum health.  For those wishing to make the change, I firmly suggest starting with a quality commercially prepared raw food, such as Allprovide.  Like a number of other companies, they have basically done all the hard work for you, and use only quality ingredients similar to those you’d feed the rest of your family.

Finally, if you need further persuasion as to why a natural diet matters, consider this: if you fed your children a Big Mac for every meal, not only would this be considered abuse, but they would be far from healthy.  Feeding your dog a highly processed unnatural food is exactly the same.  So, if you don’t already feed your dog a raw diet, why not give it a go? Your dog will thank you for it!

Dog Poo – Let’s Probe Further!

poo1Those who already feed a raw, natural diet will be well aware of the numerous benefits of feeding as Mother Nature intended but many non-raw feeders may not be aware of one major plus to feeding a biologically appropriate diet: much less poo!

Yes, really!  Many commercial canned or dried foods contain an often significant amount of fillers and carbohydrates – some as much as 70%.  Dogs are generally held to be carnivores, given their teeth, digestive systems and behavior (although this is a fiercely contested issue between vets, raw feeders and pet food companies) and most raw feeders agree that dogs are simply not designed to eat or process carbohydrates.  I frequently tell dog owners that if their beloved pet ran off today, he or she would not be found grazing the wheat fields, but chasing the rabbits.

(This is not to say dogs cannot eat carbohydrates – whose puppies do not love to crunch a carrot or piece of sweet potato? – but those carbs are not nutritionally required for a healthy life.)

Many dog food companies pack their products with carbs because they are usually cheap, last a very long time on the shelf and help bind their other kibble ingredients together.  But, given that our dogs do not possess the digestive system or enzymes necessary to process these carbohydrates, feeding a diet packed with grains, rice or potatoes can have a number of serious repercussions:

1. Feeding too many carbohydrates can result in the exacerbation of yeast issues, such as itchy feet and ear infections;

2. Starchy carbohydrates stick to the animal’s teeth, causing plaque and tartar (the dog’s natural enzymes are unable to keep the teeth clean from carbs, unlike when fed a raw diet);

3. Some research suggests cancers feed on sugars found in carbohydrates;

2047152_5aaecd304. and finally, (and some might say most importantly), if the dog cannot fully process the food it is fed, it is wasted, and becomes poo – lots and lots of poo!

Ever been to a dog show and noticed a poor dog being dragged on a lead whilst leaving behind a very large, very smelly, very runny strip of poo?  Who hasn’t felt that pang of sympathy for the dog’s poor owner, trying to scrape up a small lake of soupy waste with one hand in a hastily found grocery bag, whilst with the other hand trying to control their dog? I guarantee you that somewhere in the crowd watching this cringeworthy spectacle is a group of raw feeders, knowingly nodding at each other, saying, “That’s not a raw fed dog!”

For those who don’t know, the waste of a raw fed dog is usually much firmer, smaller, less smelly and generally easier to pick up as a result.  The reason why is simple: because the dog hasn’t eaten anything it cannot process or the body cannot use, there is very little wasted, resulting in very little waste.

Someone I know once carried out a simple experiment.  Personally I think she just had way too much time on her hands, but I have to applaud her efforts in the name of science!  She weighed the dried food she was currently feeding her dog, and then weighed what came out the other end.  She repeated that experiment for a number of days before changing her dog’s diet to a pre-made commercial raw diet, and then carried out the same procedure.

The results made for a very interesting discussion, and one which I have often now repeated to encourage others to switch their dog’s diet.

On a dried food, it turned out that her poor dog was excreting up to 70% of the ingredients which it had eaten the previous day.  Just imagine going into your local pet shop and buying a huge bag labelled “dog food”, only to find that it contained 70% dog poo – which you then had to dispose of.  You wouldn’t do it would you?  It is a complete waste of your hard earned money.  Many already complain about the cost of feeding their dog – imagine the realization that 70% of that money spent could just be taken straight from your wallet, wrapped in a poo bag and chucked in to a landfill site!

After the change to a more species appropriate, raw diet, the percentage of waste excreted by this canine test subject plummeted to 30% – and most of that was undigested bone.

It may not sound a huge amount, but that 40% difference can be extremely noteworthy, especially for those with larger dogs.  It can mean the difference between struggling with a shopping bag and a tiny plastic bag….  Think about it – how much poo can you hold in one hand?

Unknown-2Let’s be honest, no one likes picking up dog waste, and we’re all a bit icky about handling that warm soft package our pets leave us on a daily basis, even if our hands are safely wrapped in layers and further layers of poo bags. It’s a chore we put up with because its the right thing to do, a very minor downside to the otherwise joyful life-changing experience that is being the guardian of a dog.

But – there are serious issues with dog waste about which every dog owner should be aware, no matter what diet you choose to feed:

  1. Did you know that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies dog waste in the same category as oil spills?  It is actually considered a major pollutant.  To quote the EPA website: “Pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Pet waste also contains nutrients that promote weed and algae growth (eutrophication).  Cloudy and green, Eutrophic water makes swimming and recreation unappealing or even unhealthy.”
  2. American dogs alone create more than 10,000,000 tons of waste per year.
  3. It has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.  It can also contain Campylobacteriosis, E.coli, Giardia, Parvo, Tapeworms, Roundworms, Salmonella and Coccidia.  Unless scooped up, some of these bacteria can hang around in the soil for years…..
  4. Waste water treatment facilities are usually unable to filter bacteria from dog poo.  Therefore don’t flush it!
  5. Unknown-1Dog waste is also a known major contaminant of our water – once washed from your lawn or yard in to the water system, the waste breaks down releasing ammonia and bacteria which use up the oxygen in the water causing damage to fish and other wildlife – and making water unsafe for recreational use.
  6. 20% to 30% of the bacteria in random water samples have been shown to have originated from dog waste!
  7. According to the EPA, two to three days of dog poo from 100 dogs has sufficient nasties to close a 20 mile stretch of coastline to swimming or the harvesting of shell fish.  (Anyone else never eating clams again?)
  8. A study of air samples in Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan found that 10-50% of the bacteria in the air came from dog poo. I doubt they put that in their tourism leaflets.

So, next time, you’re at the dog park:

  • personalized21don’t leave it for someone else to pick up.  If it’s your dog, it’s your poo too.  Contrary to popular belief in some areas, the Dog Poo Fairy does not exist.
  • always carry at least two poo bags with you.  You know that little poo machine on the end of your lead is more than capable of doing it at least twice on a walk, usually in the middle of crossing the road if anything like my Maggie, or you may just be able to help out another dog owner caught short.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to go in to a store to beg a second plastic bag because one of my dogs has left a parcel on the pavement outside.  It is mortifying – especially if it’s one of the posher designer clothes stores.  I once had to shut my dog’s lead in the door of such a store (dogs were not allowed inside) with the dog on one side and me on the other, whilst trying explaining to very a snooty assistant across the shop floor that I needed one of their expensive cardboard bags to pick up my dog’s poo – and I did not want to buy anything.…  No more, however.  I now often look like a hobo with plastic bags overflowing from every pocket, but better safe than sorry!
  • don’t flush it.  Our water treatment systems are designed for us, not your dog.  Poo is biodegradable, after all, no matter what you feed your dog – so a landfill site is ultimately the best place for it.
  • once you’ve conscientiously scooped your poo in your poo bag, put it in a bin!  Do not hang it on a nearby bush.  Nothing spoils a lovely walk more than having to stroll through a lane decorated with colorful bags of dog waste hanging in the trees.
  • if you find you’re picking up more than a handful, or it runs through holes in the bag, its time to consider changing your dog’s diet.  Although it is frequently said that “you only get out of something what you are prepare to put in”, the converse is true when discussing the subject of poo – put the right stuff in (species appropriate, natural food) and you get (almost) nothing out!  You’ll not only be doing yourself and your wallet a huge favor, but also your dog and the environment.