Opinion: Raw/Homemade Dog Food… And Our Dogs First Giveaway!
We love our dogs, don’t we? These hairy, drooly creatures who give us their unconditional love deserve the best cuddles, the best toys and, most importantly, the best food. We’ve all heard the saying ‘You are what you eat’. Well, our dogs are what they eat, too.
Love him or hate him, Cesar Milan makes a valid point when he stresses the importance of ‘exercise, discipline and affection’, in that order, to ensure a happy, well-adjusted dog. But where is the mention of food? Food is such a vital part of any living being’s health and well-being that surely we dog owners should follow the mantra ‘food, exercise, discipline, affection’?
Like most dog owners, I started my young boxer on dry pellets. She’s a dog, the bag had the words ‘dog food’ on it, seemed about right. It took me a few weeks of shopping around for the right food that she could enjoy and yet didn’t cause a stomach upset before I stopped and thought ‘What if I were to live on this dry stuff every day for the rest of my life?’.
Virtually all dog foods claim to contain the perfect balance of every type of essential this-and-that your dog needs. Yet there seems to be no existing ready-meal that contains a human’s RDA of practically every nutrient that is suitable for everyday consumption. The closest thing to this would have to be protein powders, yet even the most experienced body builder will agree that real food is better for the body than a protein shake any day. How then, is it possible for these companies to have come up with the perfect everyday food for dogs? The answer is, of course, that they haven’t.
The vast majority of commercial dog foods have a meat content far inferior to what dogs naturally require. Dogs require a high level of meat, so dog food which is composed mostly of grain is just not healthy for them on a daily basis. According to some 70 veterinary research articles gathered by Dr Fiona MacMillan (2008), commercial dog food has been linked to cancer, kidney failure, cystitis and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, along with many other illnesses. With so many beloved dogs succumbing to cancer, is this not ringing the alarm bells we need to hear in order to question what we’re fueling their little bodies with? Many veterinary schools are funded by pet food companies and, in turn, taught pet nutrition by them. To me, that’s as good as McDonald’s funding primary schools and teaching kids all about the burger pyramid. In other words, for all the amazing work vets do, you don’t necessarily have to take their advice when it comes to the food they recommend, especially if it goes against your instinct. That’s absolutely not to say that vets are willingly misleading you into feeding your dog rubbish. But I would question anyone’s opinion if they recommended processed food over fresh, no matter what their profession.
I went with my gut when my boxer was about 4 months old. After weeks of watching her ignore her food and suffer several stomach upsets, I was advised to feed her plain cooked chicken and rice. Even though this is still not an ideal everyday meal for a dog, I watched in amazement as she wolfed the lot down. It felt so good to cook proper ingredients and allow her to enjoy the taste of real food without any preservatives, excess salt or diseased meat. I continued my research and eventually cut the rice out altogether as many dogs are allergic to grain and gradually replaced the cooked meat with raw along with some fresh vegetables.
You may be concerned about harmful bacteria in raw meat and what it can do to your beloved dog. Provided your dog has no underlying health issues, you don’t need to worry about feeding her fresh, raw meat as dogs have a higher concentration of stomach acid, allowing faster digestion and killing bacteria.
If you’re thinking about switching your dog’s food from store-bought to homemade, you want to take it slowly. I made the mistake of feeding my girl a bowl full of raw meat when she was used to cooked food and was promptly rewarded with a wet pile of diarrhoea on my cream carpet. If this happens to your dog, please don’t let it put you off a raw diet altogether as they simply need their stomach to adjust to new food. Start slowly with say, 90% their usual food with 10% raw food and gradually work more of the raw food in.
Of course, nothing should be taken to the extreme. Although their bodies are optimised for eating meat, dogs have omnivorous tendencies so feeding them 100% meat and nothing else isn’t ideal either. Incorporating vegetables such as peas, carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli (avoid anything in the onion family) which dogs happily wolf down only makes their food more balanced and healthy. All you need to do is look at (and maybe even taste?) a bowl full of dry pellets next to a bowl full of fresh meat and mixed veg to see which one is clearly healthier.
While many dog owners have the best intentions for their pet, the cost of moving from kibble to fresh food may be a concern. Having made the switch myself, I can say that depending on where you shop, the cost will be in and around the same, although it depends how much your dog eats and weighs. A tray of chicken thighs in Aldi is €2.79 and they always have special offers on their vegetables ,which are already dirt cheap to begin with. Their bags of frozen mixed vegetables are even more convenient without being any less healthy.
Even more cost effective than supermarket meat is the wholesale meat provided by Dogs First, a Wicklow-based dog food company that delivers raw, human-grade meat to your door in most areas of Ireland. For convenience, they also deliver their pre-made dog food chubs composed of 85% raw meat, vegetables and offal anywhere in Ireland. This eliminates all the effort of preparing the dog food yourself and is ideal for beginners who are thinking about making the switch. These chubs work out cheaper than the highly-recommended Orijen dry food, which funnily enough, is praised for its meat and offal content. As for the really cheap dog food on supermarket shelves, this contains virtually no meat content so a fair price comparison isn’t even possible.
This article is in no way intended to point the finger at dog owners who feed their pooches commercial dog food. Some dogs are on prescription food, some are set in their ways or are just plain stubborn when it comes to food; there are always exceptions. However, since becoming a dog owner again and discussing the topic of food with other dog owners, it became glaringly obvious that a huge amount of us don’t really think about what we feed our pets simply because we’ve been brought up in a society where real food = human food and brown balls from a bag = dog food. Real food doesn’t just belong to humans; it belongs to every living being on this planet, including our dogs.