Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feeding the Dog

At our most recent veterinary check up Ranger and I fell afoul of the new veterinarian in the practice. The subject was what Ranger eats. The veterinarian didn't approve. Ranger eats a largely raw diet and I don't plan to change that. Yes, I know there are some concerns about bacteria. Yes, I know there is not solid science demonstrating that Raw is healthy. Yes, I know lots of dogs do well on kibble only. Yes, I know cooked food diets are an alternative to Raw if I want to put in the work. I also know that since we started feeding him raw food Ranger has not had any health issues, his teeth are very white and shiny, he smells less doggy and his coat glows. In addition I know that I did a lot of research before we switched and that I try to keep abreast of what science there is on the subject. This wasn't a lightly made decision following a fad it was researched, reasoned and frankly agonized over.

I do wish that there was solid science available but the fact is there is not. There is a lot of anecdotal data and there are several flawed and/or inconclusive studies. What I know from personal experience is that we adopted Ranger and fed him exclusively on high end kibble (Blue Buffalo). We'd had him just a few months when he had his first bout of gastro-enteritis necessitating a trip to the emergency vet, x-rays, subQ fluids and a lot of terror. He wouldn't eat the Blue Buffalo after that so we switched or Orjens and Acana brands of kibble. Six months later he had another go around with gastro-enteritis necessitating more vet visits, subQ fluids and medication. This happened twice more as he continued to eat Orjens and Acana,  grain-free high end kibbles. At this point we'd had Ranger two years and he'd had four bouts of gastro-enteritis. Several people told me they'd had similar problems but the problems had gone away once they switched to Raw. Anecdotal evidence but from people I knew and whose dogs I knew and something had to be changed; if there was some way to put a stop to these recurrent bouts of illness I owed it to Ranger to find it. I started reading everything I could find on the subject of feeding Raw. I learned that dogs evolved as scavengers and opportunistic eaters. I discovered that a dog's digestive system is much shorter than that of a human and that their stomach acid is comparable to battery acid. I was reminded that it wasn't that long ago that dogs were fed exclusively on table scraps and human leavings. I learned that what most veterinarians are taught about feeding dogs while in veterinary school is sponsored by dog food manufacturers. With some trepidation I determined on a two week experiment. For two weeks I'd feed him a Raw diet and see what happened.

The first thing I discovered is that Ranger will only eat raw meat that is chopped up fine and ground meat is better. The second thing I discovered is that organ meat needs to be chopped and lightly sauteed in olive oil before he'll eat it. Still he was eating raw meat and seemed to like it. At the end of two weeks his coat positively glowed, his poop was smaller and less smelly, he was drinking less water, his teeth that had been getting yellowish were white and he'd lost a bit of weight. He hadn't been overweight before but he had been at the top healthy weight. It seemed logical to me that the smaller poop meant he was making more use of the food he was eating. Drinking less water because he was getting more water from his food seemed a good thing since some studies have shown a correlation between drinking lots of water and likelihood of developing stomach torsion. The weight of the water is thought to stretch the tissue holding the stomach in place making torsion more likely. As a big dog Ranger's risk of stomach torsion is already higher than that of his smaller cousins so doing something that reduced his risk struck me as a good idea. Over all he appeared healthier at the end of two weeks. He also really really wanted his kibble. The books and websites tell you that you shouldn't switch back and forth between kibble and raw, that doing so will make the dog sick because his digestion can't switch easily between the two. The more I thought about it the less sense this made so I gave him his bowl of kibble. In fact I started feeding him more and more variety of foods with Raw being the foundation of his diet. That was over two years ago and since that time he hasn't had any stomach upsets. Maybe it is coincidence, maybe he outgrew the gastro-enteritis, maybe he'd do just as well on a cooked food diet. I don't know but I do know I'm not willing to experiment now that he is healthy.

I'm not a fanatic. I don't think everyone should switch to Raw food but if that's their choice it should be respected. Next time I'll discuss the impact his diet has on his job.

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