Tellington TTouch Instructor, Marie Miller Looks at the Natural Approach to Feeding Dogs
When I was a child, more years ago than I want to remember, my grandmother used to feed her dogs with the family leftovers and any extra meat, bones or offal that the butcher had going free. I’m sure there must have been tinned dog food available but, like many of her neighbours, she just couldn’t afford it. Granny always had a black and white dog called Patch and with startling regularity he disappeared to stay on a farm. After a little while Patch would re-appear looking a bit different and amazingly we little ones just accepted him at face value, as if he had done a Dr. Who and re-generated! Attitudes to dogs were different then – dogs roamed, coming and going as they pleased. The ‘Patches’ all seemed healthy enough and I suspect they were more the victims of road traffic accidents than their natural diet.
When my husband and I had our first dog we were advised to feed it a complete food. We were told that this was the way to go for optimum growth and health. We wanted to do the best for our beautiful Golden Retriever puppy, Cindy, so followed the advice of ‘the experts’. As our family of dogs grew we continued to feed complete food but my husband often commented that our dogs were never as long lived or healthy as his Dad’s dogs who were fed some tinned meat and biscuit but also a lot of butcher’s bones, offal and table leftovers and cooked vegetables.
A few years passed and with the arrival of the internet my research into one of our dogs’ skin problems became much easier. During this process I discovered information about raw feeding and found a couple of internet forums. My goodness that was quite a shock! People were so passionate about this subject that huge, scary arguments would break out. Raw feeders accused kibble feeders of not caring about their dog’s health, while kibble feeders accused raw feeders of trying to choke their dogs with bones. I managed to steer my way through the debris of raw emotion and thought it would be interesting to see if feeding a natural diet might improve Jake’s skin condition.
I began to resource raw, organically fed meat, bought a blender for pulping down vegetables, bought in a stock of supplements and away I went with raw feeding. Totally removing grain from Jake’s diet had an amazing effect and, although it did not completely cure his chronic skin condition, there was a huge improvement with no grain and feeding him naturally.
It is a great way to feed if you have the time to resource good quality meat and bones, freezer space to store it and can manage the raw food hygienically. Logistically we also had to find space to feed five large dogs so they did not feel the need to resource guard, especially as they all ate at different speeds. It is important to research your subject carefully and ensure that your dog is also being given the supplements that he may require. I had to be creative about getting the dogs to eat their veggies but it was a good experience when I had the time, space and resources to feed raw.
When I had to spend more time away from home travelling with my dogs it all became less manageable and practical. I could not source enough good quality raw meat and bones for five large dogs at a price I could afford. Luckily, by this time, vacuum packed natural foods had become available and also some much better quality kibble which does not contain all of those damaging preservatives and additives.
An important thing to remember though is that the most expensive is not always the best. A food sold at your vets (unless it is a prescribed veterinary diet), in the supermarket or pet store might only be there because the company is offering a good trade discount deal. Read the ingredients on the packaging to know what is really inside a bag or pack of food. Treat dogs as individuals: if a food does not suit your dog, you’ll see it in his coat, general condition and in his stools. If he passes huge quantities of smelly poo it is very likely that something in his diet does not suit. It doesn’t matter if this diet is perfect for your friend’s dog, clearly yours needs something different.
My advice is that now we genuinely have more healthy choice, do your own research and feed the very best that you can feed taking your circumstances and finances into account. Raw feeding is brilliant if done correctly but don’t beat yourself up if it is not possible for you to do it. There are also other healthy alternatives to try.
How do you work?
Kerri Bee Looks at Healthy Feeding Dogs and What to Avoid
Please don’t accept what breeders or other people recommend at face value and certainly don’t fall for the marketing techniques of the pet food industry. Do research dog food as much as you can and make an informed choice. It’s ok to try a few, see what your dog likes, and ask for samples. There is a confusing array of foods out there and many are full of cheap fillers, little real meat, and pumped with salt and sugar and have vitamins and coat conditioners added rather than them be naturally occurring within the food. Be very aware that ones that look appetising to you, may be ill-advised for your dog. Foods that look like meat and two veg, may well be just that, or they may be soya, flavoured with cheaply and coloured to look appetising.
Not so long ago there was the choice of mass produced commercial food or making your own at home but there are now some foods that attempt to bridge the gap and some established manufacturers are improving their ingredients. These foods offer convenience with assurances of all natural ingredients, no colours or additives, hypo allergenic, some are organic and so forth. Some are very expensive because they do have good meat as the main source, but some are pricey because they are just marketed to make you think you’re getting a perfect diet. Less well known brands may have good ingredients but cost less because they aren’t known well. As with human food, it is a good idea to learn to read food labels so that you can make the right choice for your dog’s health and your own pocket.
A Very Brief Guide To Dog Food Labelling
Ingredients have to be labelled with the greatest ingredient first and the least last. Look for foods where the first two ingredients are specifically named. These will probably be a meat and a cereal, so make sure they are named i.e. ‘chicken’, ‘rice’ and so forth. Avoid maize based products.
Avoid products which contain ‘derivatives’ of meat, just ‘meat’ or ‘animal fat’ or any general terms like this. ‘Meat meal’ is fine as long as it is named i.e. ‘Duck meat meal’ this just means dried, ground duck.
Don’t worry too much about protein content as labels can be very misleading. Many people say that high protein levels cause over activity or behaviour problems and neither is scientifically proven, in fact low protein levels have been proven to cause behaviour problems in some cases. Labels are very misleading because they give the total protein content including the cereal and vegetable proteins that your dog cannot use as well as meat protein. Look instead for equal or higher meat content, checking for all the cereals not just the first one in the list – they often split them so they don’t look as much.
If you buy small bags, check the ingredients on the corresponding large bag in the shop – small bag labels don’t have to be as detailed by law.
Avoid foods that contain EC permitted additives, or have the additives listed by name or ‘E’ number. Most details should be in the ingredient list but they may be elsewhere on the packet as well.
Avoid BHT and BHA (preservatives), these are banned in human food in most countries as they have been found to be carcinogenic in animals (cancer causing).
Be aware that many popular brands contain very high levels of sugar which cause higher activity levels, tooth decay and also make it more difficult for the dog to accept a healthier food.
There is no definitive answer to whether dry food or moist food is better, see what your dog likes and just make sure it’s healthy.
If you want your dog to enjoy dry food more, try using some of the pet mince you can buy locally. Don’t teach your dog that by refusing food he will get tastier’ and tastier things added, just see what makes it more palatable for him.
Try feeding food in food dispensing toys – much more fun for your dog and make help him enjoy it more too.
Don’t buy dry foods in too big packets for your dog’s consumption. As soon as food is opened, the vitamin content starts to deteriorate so use airtight containers and don’t buy too much.
Biologically Appropriate Raw Food
Many people ask me about raw feeding and the best advice I can give is to point you in the direction of a couple of really good books.
‘Real Food for Dogs and Cats’ by Kymythy Shultz
‘The Barf Diet’ by Dr Ian Billinghurst
More and more people are switching their dogs to raw foods and seeing remarkable benefits but it is important to read up on it and find a feeding plan that suits you and your dog. *
Dogs should be fed a diet that is high in bone content and contains about 50% liquidised fruits and vegetables (half meat half fruit & veg). Fruit and veg should ideally be over-ripe and definitely liquidised and mixed with mince.
Bone content can be provided by buying meat from suppliers who mince the bone too, or by feeding lots of raw meaty bones. The meat should be varied and of the best quality you can afford.
Provide fresh organ meat once a week, e.g. liver, heart etc. Liver can be too high in vitamin A for dogs so feed sparingly, heart is a good option.
Dogs do not need cereals or rice or pasta and these are common allergens and even when dogs are not actually allergic they do not suit their systems well. Things like buckwheat, millet and Quinoa can be added as fillers if you want to.
You can choose how ‘convenient’ you want your dog’s raw diet to be. Companies like Natural Instinct mince the meat with vegetables and brewers yeast and kelp, so you can just defrost and serve. Other companies provide meat chunks and minces that you have to add your own fruit and vegetables.
It is easy to DIY through a local butcher but you will probably pay more. A number of companies make BARF feeding really easy.
Understanding Dog Food and How It Can Affect Our Dogs - by Tellington TTouch Practitioner Alex Wilson
There are many different dog foods on the market today, compared to years ago today’s pet owner has some great choices out there to meet budgetary requirements as well as what is in the foods. ALEX WILSON looks at how to analyse dog foods to make sure your dog is getting the best that they need and looks at the effect of food intolerances.
Reading the label of a tin of dog food or the bag will determine how good or bad the food is but the analysis provided can be confusing especially if you are trying to compare a wet food with a dry food. As a general rule, dry food will be the most economical to buy but will it be the best for your dog? Another valid point is that the lower the price of the food the more you are going to feed each day to the dog, so your price per Kg or lb. might be lower but your price per meal will be higher as the budget brands will contain less meat an expensive ingredient. The ingredient listed on the food will tell the whole story. Beware that publishing full ingredients on small bags is not compulsory, only on bags over a certain weight and many pet food companies do just that.
If we were to try and compare a dry and a wet food the first thing that we need to do is to convert the dry matter of the food in each example, this will vary whether you are feeding a dry food, a canned food or a raw food – canned or raw diets will have a much higher level of moisture. On average a dry food will have 10% moisture - generally, the moisture level is not provided by the manufacturer. A wet food more like 78% moisture and can usually be found on the analysis of the food on the label. The moisture levels that are stated on the wet food are based on as it is when it is being fed, not on the basis of dry matter so we need to convert the three foods moisture levels to the dry matter to be able to provide an accurate comparison – This takes a small amount of maths!
A Good Quality Dry Food - we will assume that the moisture level is 10% so we can assume then that the dry matter accounts for 90%. Now we take the protein percentages within the food that accounts for 26% and we divide it by the dry matter (90%) to give us the figure of 28% protein on a dry matter basis. Good Quality Tinned Food - The moisture level is 71% so the dry matter will account for 29%. The protein levels are 8.4% and doing the maths gives us 29% protein on a dry matter basis.
Raw Barf food - The moisture level is 73.1% so the dry matter will account for 26.9%. The protein levels are 12.3% so doing the maths gives us 46% protein on a dry matter basis.
From this, we can see that although we are looking at three good quality dog foods in a similar pricing bracket, the protein levels of the dry and the tinned food are similar but the raw food has a much higher protein level.
We are able to do the same thing using the same formula to analyse other ingredients of dog food for example.
Dry 13% fat on a dry matter basis
Tinned 29% fat based on dry matter
Raw 37% fat based on a dry matter basis.
Many dog foods that claim to have no added preservatives may choose to buy in ingredients that are already preserved.
Vitamins are often used as natural preservatives: Vitamin A 22,500 IU, Vitamin D3 1,800 IU, Vitamin E 700 IU. Vitamin E is a natural found in many foods that can act very effectively as a preservative. Low-grade pet foods often use synthetic preservatives and there is evidence to show that these can interfere with bitches heat cycles.
In conclusion, there is no “best” dog food on the market it will all depend on the individual dog, their lifestyle, the amount of exercise they take etc. Some need higher protein and fat levels some prefer tinned food over dry. Raw may not be a suitable option for some households.
The possible signs and symptoms of food intolerance.
Food is not the only thing that causes allergies in dogs, in fact, it only accounts for around 10% of all allergies that dogs can suffer from. It is the third most common cause of allergies after fleabites and inhalant allergies.
When talking about intolerance we need to understand what we are talking about allergies or sensitivity as there is a big difference. Let us first address allergies. This is usually a negative response to the protein in the food, which can cause anything from chronic diarrhoea to loose poo, itchy skin caused by inflammation, coat loss, chewing between the toes, hotspots, ear infections or even runny eyes. The best solution to helping these allergies is to change the dog’s diet to a lower protein diet and/or to change the protein that the dog is eating. For example our Dalmatian, who is raw fed and having a mixture of a number of different meats including meat and poultry was getting a lot of mucus in her poo and was becoming very vocal. By changing her diet to poultry only we managed to both eradicate the mucus from her stools and it cut down much of her excessive vocalisations. There are certain foods that more commonly can cause allergies in dogs and scientific studies have shown that the following are often causes of allergies: beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, eggs, corn, wheat and soya. Many of these ingredients are commonplace in many processed dog foods.
With food sensitivity the symptoms are pretty similar but it is caused by sensitivity to an individual or a number of ingredients within the diet rather than the amount of protein or the type of protein - the best solution with food sensitivity is to feed a diet with fewer ingredients or eliminating various ingredients so that these foods are not in the diet.
As a pet owner, it makes little difference if your dog is suffering from food allergies or food sensitivity (if you were treating it as a vet, they might look in more depth at the difference.)
When looking at the problem the first thing to understand is what are you feeding your dog, this will include the meals that they are receiving, any treats and any supplement, for example, many of us give our dogs Glucosamine products if they have bad hips or joints and this product derives from Green Lipped Mussel. If we are to go for a 100% change in the diet we need to consider that there are some ingredients common to many foods so we are best to try and change individual ingredients. This can be done by having a full understanding of what is in the diet we are feeding, help can we found at www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk or by preparing your dog’s food yourself.
Another consideration when thinking about food intolerances is the link between food and behaviour. I can often spot a dog at 100 yards that is fed on a low-grade food readily found on the shelves of your nearest supermarket, rather than a food recommended by your pet shop or trainer, by its hyperactivity, its lack of being able to concentrate and in many cases its high arousal level.
Australia vet, Bruce Syme writes that the links between animal behaviour and food has not been properly researched and is pretty unclear. What we feed ourselves has a dramatic effect on our behaviour which is why we are always told to eat our 5 a day. Removing processed food from a dog’s diet can in some cases have a marked change in the way that dog behaves, its ability to learn and its ability to cope with situations that it has to encounter. This might be down to the removal of the preservatives, colourings and flavouring or it could be down to the fact that the dog is getting a better quality of food especially if that change is to a high-end food or a raw diet.
Anxiety, hyper-excitability, even aggression in some dogs can be helped by a change in diet, changing from a processed diet to a natural or raw diet. In the 1930s Dr Pottenger conducted research with cats that showed that those fed on a cooked diet showed more signs of aggression to other cats and their handlers compared to those fed on a raw diet. When the cats that were fed on the cooked diet had their diet changed to raw, Dr Pottenger saw changes in their behaviour with less aggression.
There is also evidence that separation anxiety can be linked to food allergies or sensitivities, veterinary behaviourist Dr Gabrielle Carter worked with her dog who suffered from food allergies and separation anxiety and after she changed her dog to raw feeding there was a marked improvement in the food allergies as well as changes in the separation anxiety. I am not saying that this was totally down to a raw diet, the same might have happened if the dog had had its diet changed from a low end processed food to something good.
Dr Syme also explains,
“…raw meat does improve the natural improve the natural levels of 5-hydroxytrptophan, which is the body is natural precursor to produce serotonin (a neurotransmitter), which has a powerful impact on mood, and other behavioural traits…”.
In conclusion, there are two things that we need to consider when thinking about food intolerances. Firstly there are the physical issues caused by the dog either being allergic or sensitive to foods that they are eating. These things include upset stomach and diarrhoea, increased size of the dog’s excrement, it is interesting to note how small the poos are from a raw fed dog compared to the poos from a dog fed say on a cheap budget diet. The dog may also have a lot of wind, itchy skin, runny eyes; they may lick their paws or scratch their ears a lot. They may even be touch sensitive. Some dogs may also be fussy feeders and not terribly interested in their food
Then there is the behavioural effects; excessive barking, high arousal levels, hyperactivity, biting, mood swings, tail chasing, lack of an ability to learn, amongst others.
Technically dogs are omnivores so like us they need balance in their diet. The fact that many dogs will eat just about any things does not mean that they would be better off with a balanced diet of meat and plant matter.
They are What They Eat, a simple Guide to dog nutrition by Kerri Bee (above)
Dog Food Labels – Drs Foster and Smith Educational Staff http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+1659&aid=668
Links Between Behaviour and Nutrition Dr Bruce Syme www.vetsallnatural.com.au
Nan Arthur’s Whole Dog Training – How Does Diet Affect Behaviour in Dogs
Impact of nutrition on canine behaviour: current status and possible mechanisms – G Bosch, B Beera, WH Henriks, AFB can der Poel, MWA Verstegen – Nutritional Research Reviews (2007) 20. 180-194
Get the latest news you need, straight to your inbox.