Guide to Dog Food: Feeding Dogs the Natural Way

To keep your dog safe, you need the best ingredients. Healthy all starts with how you fuel your puppies life.

What Is Dog Food, Anyway?

Many people these days are under the impression that the only dog food is processed dog food, primarily dry kibble. This has not been true for most of the history of dogs, of course; kibble has been around less than a century. Before that, dogs lived primarily on people’s leftovers. Millions of dogs the world over still live this way, sometimes as family pets, sometimes as feral animals at the dump. Not all of them eat well. Kibble is a step up from feeding at the dump, for sure. But is it the best option?

Why Kibble Is Less Than Perfect

 

READ LABELS. Many brands list corn as the primary ingredient. Corn is used because it’s cheap, not because it’s good for dogs. Many dogs are allergic to it, and develop skin and coat problems. The meat in dog food is often that declared unfit for human consumption, and may include diseased and cancerous animals. Consider the meaning of some of the common terms on dog food labels…

Meal – This is any part of the plant or animal ground up, such as beaks, feet, hooves, cartilage, etc.

By-products – All sorts of slaughterhouse waste… manure, hair, feathers, even bloody sawdust off the floor.

Meat – When the label doesn’t specify but lists only “meat,” it could be anything, from nearly any source.

BHA, BHT amp; ethoxyquin – Evidence suggests these artificial preservatives may cause cancer.

Besides poor-quality and inappropriate ingredients, manufactured dog food is, by necessity, processed and cooked. This removes vitamins, enzymes and other nutrients, some of which are replaced artificially, often lowering their digestibility. Also, kibble is dry. Those who sell it tout this as a good thing, but it may cause bloat in large dogs, kidney problems, urinary tract infections, and even incontinence, because dogs drink a great deal of water to compensate. As for the claim that dry food cleans teeth, it’s nothing to what a raw bone can do.

Or Think Of It This Way…

Some dog food brands include only the best ingredients. If you must feed kibble, pick a real quality kibble, and expect your dog to live a relatively long, healthy life. But if there were kibble for humans, would you eat it? How about every day, exclusively, for the rest of your life? Could science really create a food that contains complete nutrition for all people? The nutritional needs of humans are far better studied than those of dogs. Even so, researchers are constantly discovering new benefits and drawbacks to just about every food they look at. Dogs can do fairly well on kibble, but it’s a poor substitute for the variety of natural foods their bodies were built for.

A Personal Experience

I was there when Starling was born, on my bed, to a rescued stray. A mere five years later, she looked and acted like an old dog: grumpy, inactive, slightly arthritic, and prone to chills, among a list of other complaints. Less than two months after switching her to a natural diet, the change was amazing. Her coat is soft again, her arthritis apparently gone, and most importantly she’s happy, and playing for the first time in years. She’s joyful again, and seems younger at five than she did at three. I only wish I’d figured out earlier she wasn’t a naturally a grumpy dog; it was only what I was feeding her. There are many similar stories, some far more impressive. If you’re suspicious of others’ anecdotal evidence, well, no one has paid for the scientific studies, but why not try it on your dog and see if it makes a difference?

You Can Do Better

It can be messy at times, but feeding a natural diet is far from impossibly complicated or time-consuming, and can be cheaper than feeding any halfway decent kibble. It is not (or need not be) a precise, scientific-minded enterprise requiring a degree in animal nutrition. Sure you could mess it up by feeding nothing but junk food, but with a little knowledge and common sense, it’s easy enough. Start with a main portion of raw meat on the bone… stop there, or throw in some vegetables and grains, some eggs, and maybe some beans, fruit, yogurt, cheese. Don’t worry about balancing every meal. If you roughly balance it out over the day or over the week, you’re doing fine. Variety is more important than precision.

The Meat Of The Matter

There are several homemade diets for dogs, some called RAW or BARF. Some suggest feeding almost entirely meat on the bone, known as Raw Meaty Bones or RMBs. This may seem most natural, because dogs are carnivores… right? Wolves are carnivores; dogs are not wolves, and they’re not strictly carnivores. Dogs have, for as long as they’ve been dogs, eaten what they stole or scavenged from humans. They survived and often thrived on just about anything. Coyotes, jackals, and foxes are also not strictly carnivores, so omnivorous diets are the rule among canines. Dogs do fine on RMB diets, but I prefer to feed a more mixed ration, for variety, cost-efficiency, and moral reasons. My dogs eat raw meat as roughly half their diet. Dogs’ digestive and immune systems are fully capable of handling the bacteria found in raw meat. What sort you feed is up to you. Ask your local butcher for low-cost, lean cuts. Hormone- and antibiotic-free meat is absolutely best if you can get it. I feed mostly poultry, because it’s lean, high in protein, and cost-efficient. Raw bones are safe to feed to dogs. Only cooked are they brittle and dangerous.

Things Get Mushy

Besides raw meat, my dogs eat primarily “mush.” Although it varies every time, a generalized recipe would be 6-8 cups thick cooked oatmeal, 2-4 cups other grains (cooked or sprouted) and/or cooked beans, 5-10 raw eggs blended with shells, 5-6 cups blended vegetables, plus spices and supplements, such as garlic, which may help ward off fleas and intestinal worms. Fruits can be added, but I feed them separately, as treats. This recipe can be halved or quartered for single or smaller dogs. It will keep in the fridge for about 5 days, or can be frozen in portion-sized containers and thawed in the fridge before feeding. Feel free to vary this recipe frequently and drastically, or feed ingredients separately if your dog prefers.

Pulling It All Together

I feed about 1-1 ½ cups mush per 30 lb dog per day, plus a roughly ¼ – ½ lb raw meaty bone, such as a chicken drumstick. A 70 lb dog would get about 2-3 cups mush daily, and about a pound of raw meaty bones. These aren’t strict portion sizes, by any means. Adjust freely according to your dog’s preferences and needs, and don’t worry about precise measurements. If you’re in a hurry and out of mush, add extra RMBs and call it even. Or vice versa. In a pinch, your dog will readily survive on nothing but oatmeal and eggs for a day, or just about anything else you can find with a bit of protein. Treats can be a healthy and daily addition, in the form of fruit, nuts, or a spoonful of yogurt or cottage cheese. A little junk food or even kibble is fine too, so long as it’s only every now and then!

Making The Change

Dogs can be switched from kibble “cold turkey,” or gradually. You may have to cut the raw meaty bones into chunks at first, until your dog learns to tackle them whole. Expect your dog to show some signs of digestive upset, or other symptoms of apparently poor health while making the switch from kibble. This does not mean things are going badly, but is simply the body adjusting to a radically different diet. Some holistic veterinarians say the body is cleansing itself. This process may take a few weeks in some dogs.

You’re Not Done Yet

I highly recommend doing further reading if you’re interested in feeding your dog a natural diet. There’s a great deal more information available, including loads of recipes and success stories. Beware: some of the information is contradictory. In the end, there is no one “best” way to feed dogs, and what works for one dog might not for another.