The first question is to determine whether or not you wish to feed your dog on a kibble, home-cooked or raw diet. There are pros and cons to all!
Raw Food Diet/BARF Diet
Pros: top quality nutrition, dog is less prone to allergies, possibly a longer life span, considerably less poop to clean up.
Cons: more washing of bowls, need to be careful to keep good hygene when handling raw meat.
This is it, in a nutshell: take your adult dog for a decent walk first thing in the morning (30 to 45 minutes for this breed), then give them a meal of raw food once a day when you get home from the morning walk. (And play with them and enjoy them!)
We feed raw food to our dogs, and they have done wonderfully on it. Some vets do advocate BARF diets and many recommend against it and tell us pet owners that “commercial dog food has been scientifically formulated by canine nutritionists to be a balanced food and has all the nutrients required to keep your dog healthy”…
HMMM! Sounds just like what they told everybody in the 1960’s when breastfeeding babies was discouraged and most were told that “formula is the best for babies because it is scientifically developed for babies and is the best for them”! Since then, that little piece of advice has been retired and we are encouraged to feed our children REAL FOOD. Most of us understand that processed, dehydrated and canned food is not as healthy for us as freshly prepared food, and the same logic applies to our pets as well. There is lots of information about the BARF diet or raw diets on the web, but here is what we do:
We feed raw chicken backs and beef liver in a ratio of 9lbs chicken backs/necks to 2 lb ground beef or other muscle meat and 1 lb flash frozen veggies such as beans, peas, carrots, etc. Sometimes we add cheese in or cottage cheese, sometimes we add yogurt. We will also add in powdered greens every now and then. Fresh veggies can be added too, but the dogs will get the most out of fresh veggies if they have been pureed in a food processor or juicer (add the juice and pulp back together).
We will give them raw rib bones to enjoy as a treat, and sometimes will give them the raw chicken backs or necks whole rather than coarse ground. Since feeding raw, we have found that their poops are very small and easy to clean up… it’s obvious that the dogs are getting a lot out of the food, because there is sure not much left to clean up! We also have less problems with tartar build up and no problems with skin allergies in our dogs.
We generally feed once a day, in the morning. We feed once a day, as dogs need the sensation of “gorging” to feel full. They have stretch receptors in their stomach wall (which is pleated and folded like an accordion) and when they eat a full meal once a day, the stretching of the stomach wall sends signals to the brain that they are satiated. We feed in the morning, because in the wild, they would be up and covering ground as a pack while they hunted for breakfast. Once they gorge, they relax and NAP, which is great for when you need to be at work! Which is also why your dog should have a really good walk before you leave for work. Don’t make them wait until the evening when you are tired and they are hyper from being cooped up all day!
On average, we feed between 2% to 4% of the dog’s weight daily. Pregnant and nursing moms are fed more… sometimes a lot more! Puppies will need more like 5% while they are growing quickly and will need to have that divided into two or three meals when they are between 8 weeks and 7 months of age, so we do the “rib test” often when we pet our dogs. Your dog’s ribs should feel like a xylophone covered by a heavy sweatshirt when you run a flat hand over the ribcage. If you can’t hardly feel ribs, then your dog is too fat and needs to have the amount of high protein feed cut back. And if he’s skin over bone, it’s time to worm the dog and then increase the food (or if you’ve been feeding a lower quality kibble, you need to switch to a premium quality kibble or do a good fresh-prepared diet for him).
If you are feeding both raw and kibble, you can feed them both at the same time if you wish! But if you are switching your puppy from one type of food to another, do so very slowly so the puppy does not get an upset gut and then get diarrhea. Also, we do not give our dogs cooked bones of any sort, because cooking them makes them brittle and difficult to digest. There are other risks too, so we just don’t do it!
Our butcher in town does two grinds a week for us, but many families with just one dog in the house will get it done every two or four weeks and freeze portions in baggies or on a cookie sheet and then simply take out the needed amount every day and put it in the bowl. That’s pretty easy! You can also purchase premade raw formulas in frozen chubs and take out what you need. Prices vary from $1.00 per pound to $6.00 per pound so it pays to do some checking around.
Do read ingredient lists or ask questions, as some raw formulations contain no bone, and you want to make sure that the dog has bones in the diet so they can have healthy teeth and bones themselves. One family we met was feeding their dogs on boneless/skinless chicken breasts bought from the grocery store and some broccoli done in a pressure cooker along with New Zealand green lipped mussels. Very expensive and well meaning, but totally not meeting their dog’s needs for calcium! I can’t stress enough that when we mimic nature as closely as possible, things will be in balance.
If you wish to feed a fresh cooked diet, Dr Pitcairn’s Guide to Wholistic Vet Care has a wonderful chapter on recipes for a balanced diet for dogs and some for cat also. I bought mine second hand from Amazon.com for under $10.
Pros: convenient, less washing of dog bowls, no raw meat to handle
Cons: more volume of poop to clean, dog is more at risk to develop allergies, possibly shorter life span
Kibble is easy, clean and the most convenient for many families… AND there is a tremendous variety of processed kibbles available. They vary in quality of ingredients and cost. I believe that the most healthy diet for your new dog is either a well balanced raw diet or home-cooked diet, but if that is not workable, here is a bit of info about various types of kibble and how to choose a good one!
If you are going to feed kibble, we have found that almost ALL of the typical dry dog food brands have fillers in them… which also means that you scoop more poop when you feed these poorer quality foods, sometimes double the amount of poop to clean up! If the first ingredient in the list is a grain, do not buy it. Obviously, the cheapest dry dog foods are not great and will have a lot of grains or undigestible ingredients in them, so I don’t like them. Top quality foods will have the first ingredient listed as a meat meal of some kind; for instance: chicken meal, fish meal, lamb meal, etc. This is important, because by the time the meat is dehydrated into meal, it is a very dense source of nutrition. If a bag of dog food has simply “chicken” listed as a first ingredient, then by the time it is made into kibble, it will be much farther down in the ingredient list, making it very likely that the main source of the food is grains such as corn, wheat or rice. And while grains can be ok, your dog is a CARNIVORE, meaning that it’s main food source should be meat and bones, not grains!
And by the way, “chicken byproduct meal” is NOT considered to be a quality ingredient, as it is made up of all manner of parts that aren’t all that great, such as the feet, heads, feathers, intenstines, etc. If you choose to use dry dog food, then you want a kibble that proudly boasts “human grade ingredients used”.
Many kibbles have a lot of chemical preservatives in them, which gives a long shelf life of up to two years. BUT they are likely the leading cause of skin allergies or other digestive allergies in dogs. Natural preservatives such as rosemary, vitamin E or other herbs will generally have a shelf life of six months or so… so it needs to be bought from a place that has a good turn-over of stock and then used up. Here on the West coast of Canada, there are a number of premium brands recommended, such as Go!, Orijen, Holista, Riplees Ranch, to name a few. Your own area will likely have dog foods that are manufactured fairly locally and will be of good quality. Not as good as “real food” but certainly better than “Pedigree” or “Mainstay”.
Food allergies are troublesome to narrow down sometimes, as commercial kibbles often have many allergens in them. If your dog reacts to the kibble, is it the preservatives, the wheat, the rice or the chicken??! The most common allergens we have found are preservatives and grains. Some dogs may also be allergic to certain types of meats and some dogs can also be allergic to environmental things such as grass.
If you find your dog has any or all of these sypmtoms :
has welts, hives, or pimples on his/her skin
is vomiting its food or not wanting to eat
has chronic ear infections
has loose or runny stools or is messing in the house because he can’t make it to the bathroom…
Either do a raw diet or find a kibble that has only one protein source and one carb source AND that is an unusual source, such as duck/potato or salmon/oatmeal, or try a grain-free formula. The simplest way to figure out food allergies for dogs is to give them only ONE food source for a week. Try lean ground beef from the grocery store for a week. (I know it doesn’t have calcium but this is a short duration just to test if the dog is allergic to this type of protein.) If the dog’s sypmtoms seem to improve, you now know your dog does well on beef and can then source out a beef food that has calcium, etc, in it. Then try the dog on chicken for a week, etc. If the dog’s sypmtoms return when you give them a certain food, then avoid feeding that to your dog! When you do this kind of thing, make sure that no other foods, table scraps or commercial dog treats are used as most of them have grains and/or preservatives in them that can cause allergies.
For puppies, as an alternative to fasting, you can put the dog on a temporary two or three day diet of Porridge made from oatmeal and water ONLY, or try them on cooked white rice for a couple of days. You can also drizzle a bit of canned chicken broth on top for flavour. Of course, if the dog is allergic to grains then that won’t work, but oatmeal is fairly low on the list of allergen-causing grains. This will prevent them from going hypoglycemic but will still give their digestive system an easy time of it so it can clear the toxins and begin healing.