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A Natural Perspective ~ Raw Diet

So, how might one go about providing an optimal diet? Very few of us can drag home a deer or elk carcass, and leave it lying in the yard—or worse yet our apartment—until our domestic wolf finishes it off. Those that do try to provide an optimal diet generally take an approach termed “rawfeeding”, or more specifically “prey model diet” or “frankenprey”. This approach isn’t that anthropomorphic BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet

foolishness that has no scientific basis. Of course even the terms noted for this approach are often misused, so let’s examine the essential intent.

The objective is basically to feed, over a reasonable time span, as much of a whole prey carcass (less the stomach contents) as can be procured. This is commonly approached using a guideline of approximately 80% meat, 10% bone, and 10% organs (half the organs being liver), which is tweaked as one sees appropriate. Understand that no one is suggesting that this 80-10-10 proportion guideline is supposed to be representative of an average prey animal, as proportions vary considerably between species and even

individuals, and prey varies over the wolf’s range. It does thoughbear a reasonable resemblance when one considers that larger bones and hide are not commonly eaten when prey is plentiful, and the approach considers some otherwise organs to be meat.

In the “organ” category are what are thought of as secreting organs like liver, pancreas, spleen, reproductive organs, brain, kidney, and thymus. Organs considered in the meat category include tongue, heart, tripe, lungs, and gizzards. Note that in this scheme liver, being one of the larger internal organs and the most nutrient dense, should comprise half the organs, or 5% of the total diet—keeping in mind that excesses of liver could open the door to potential toxic effects of some nutrients (e.g. vitamin A). Another guideline of this approach is that an active adult be fed approximately 3% of its body weight daily (commonly as one meal), and puppies can be fed up to 10% of their body weight daily

(commonly at first as three meals, then two daily), not exceeding 3% of their likely adult weight. Initial weaning, until a pup has sufficient bite strength, may employ ground/chopped portions (but whole pieces like chicken breasts are employed more often), and larger bones in addition to diet can benefit teething puppies. Again, all this is simply a guideline which is tweaked as appropriate.

For beginners, it’s usually better to start on the low side of what might be fed daily as dogs are commonly able to put on weight faster than lose weight. Overweight leading to many problems in our domestic wolves—sometimes because of our pleasure in seeing

how they delight in a natural diet—it’s better to err on the side of less is better. In one experiment, captive wolves that were fasted for 10 days were able to regain all their weight in 2 days fed ad libitum.

Another heads-up for beginners is that a dog will normally drink noticeably less water on this more natural diet. In midwinter at northern latitudes, wolves drink little or no water, yet their fat-free wet mass is still over two thirds water [44], but wolves in warm

climates require extra water intake for thermoregulation. Since water is the universal solvent for a diverse array of chemical reactions in the body and is regularly lost (e.g. urine, breathing, feces, lactation), why, except for the additional demand of thermoregulation and periodically lactation, do wolves normally need so little free water? First, the primary component of the prey eaten by wolves is water, ranging anywhere from 50% to 80%

(depending on species and body part). Then, the water produced by digestion is also substantial—digestion being essentially a process of hydrolysis. For example, 100 g of fat actually yields 107g water (the extra mass coming from inspired oxygen), and complete oxidation of 100 g of protein yields 40 g of water [45]. Our domestic wolves drink considerably more water mainly because of their inappropriate diets. Not so incidentally, the water a dog does drink should be as free of contaminates, and man’s added chemicals, as possible.

As a simple example of this approach, say one has an older 50 lb. dog which, not being very active, is fed the equivalent of approximately 2% of its weight daily—i.e. a 1 lb. daily serving combination of meat, bone, and organ . If on a procurement adventure, one obtained approximately 16 lb. of meat, 2 lb. of bone, and 2 lb. of organs, for a 20 lb. total, this haul should last 20 days.

Note that this diet is fed raw, and as large pieces, to provide oral exercise and cleansing. Cooking destroys healthful benefits, and especially pertinent is that cooked bones are dangerous because they become brittle and splinter easily. Also, smaller butcher cuts

of larger bones (such as in pork chops and steaks) are avoided by most raw-feeders, and large weight bearing bones have caused tooth fractures in mature dogs, especially those with preexisting dental problems. Raw bones that are the easiest for our domestic

carnivores to handle are the softer neck, rib, poultry, fish, and the like.

Obviously, translating this concept into reality takes a little simple math. For example, bone alone isn’t a component that’s usually found, except for the likes of “soup” bones which aren’t all that edible. This is overcome by including something with high bone content that is easily found—e.g. chicken backs. In doing so though, one needs to be aware of relative bone content, as for instance a chicken back is only somewhere around 50% bone (according to the USDA [41]), so the other 50% of weight counts towards meat.

Before this all seems a bit complicated, remember that we’re just talking guidelines, and it all really comes down to eyeballing input and results. In the wild, wolves don’t sit around working out percentages or counting nutrients, and the composition of their diet

works out over time if prey is sufficient. For example, in a healthy dog if stools are too runny for several days, then maybe there isn’t enough bone in the diet. On the other hand, if stools are hardened to the point of constipation and/or turn white too quickly, then

maybe there’s too much bone in the diet. If small fragments of bone are seen in stools, then the dog’s digestive system is compromised, more commonly by inappropriate diet components and/or medications, and one might reduce the bone component and include only the softest bones, even possibly resorting to grinding bones for a limited time. Another example is that if a dog is gaining unneeded weight, then maybe the dog is either getting fed too much, or the meat has too high a fat content—their digestive system metabolizes and uses fat much more efficiently than ours does, and stores excesses quickly since it’s their primary fuel.

What some do is put together a quantity of meat, bone and organs that approximates appropriate percentages, then package up meal sized portions and pop them in the freezer. Others take nature even more to heart and feed larger meals less often,

mimicking the gorge and fast feeding of wolves.

The prey-model/frankenprey approach does not focus on trying

to reconstruct any specific prey species, but rather on a full

complement of components (since basic body composition is

compatible). As an example of component variety, 100 lb. of this

diet to be fed over an individually applicable time span, using the

80-10-10 guideline, might include:

2 lb. beef liver

2 lb. pork liver

1 lb. mutton liver

1 lb. deer kidney

2 lb. buffalo spleen

2 lb. pig brains

2 lb. chicken necks (approx. ½ bone & ½ meat)

2 lb. chicken wings (approx. ½ bone & ½ meat)

3 lb. chicken leg quarters (approx. bone & meat)

3 lb. chicken feet (approx. bone & meat)

6 lb. stewing chicken (approx. bone & meat)

6 lb. whole beef ribs (approx. ¼ bone & ¾ meat)

3 lb. pork ribs (approx. ½ bone & ½ meat)

4 lb. buffalo heart

2 lb. green beef tripe

1 lb. mutton lungs

14 lb. beef meat

14 lb. beef trim (including tendons, excess fat discarded)

4 lb. deer tongue

16 lb. deer trim (including tendons)

10 lb. mutton meat

At this point some may be wondering how/where to procure

enough components to constitute an adequate approximation of a

whole prey diet. Since sources vary widely by caregiver habitat,

cost, and accessibility, a good source of information is usually one

of the non-commercial rawfeeding/natural-rearing lists on the

internet. One of the oldest and largest of such lists is Raw Feeding

for dogs and cats. The important consideration of cost is usually

also discussed on these lists. In addition, there are regional

cooperative groups that can be searched for.

*An occasional item in a dog’s diet is whole organic free-ranging

chicken (culled from laying stock), that is first frozen for at least a

week to kill any parasites. For an older dog that isn’t that active

anymore, one chicken counts as two days meals.

*A pup’s first meal at 8 ½ weeks can be a whole, raw, bone-in

chicken thigh.

As to the quality of components, the best source is healthy wild

prey found far from man’s crops, chemicals, GMOs, and artificial

diets (though nothing completely escapes our pollution anymore).

The second best choice is organic/grass-fed/free-ranging‡23

livestock, which is likely the best that many of us can obtain. Then

we get down to industrial livestock (that intended for human

consumption), which isn’t overly healthy for us, let alone our companion carnivores, but still better (if one is careful) than the pet

food industry’s products. Industrial livestock (including fish‡24) is

raised in cramped, filthy conditions, fed inappropriate diets, and is

highly medicated to get them to market. Some consequences of

industrial practices are fatty acid imbalances, reduced taurine,

excess fat, and industrial contaminates that accumulate in mainly

fat and organs—in short malnourished, toxic, and sickly animals.

On top of industry’s production practices, the food processing

industry further reduces quality with their emphasis on packaging

attractiveness, shelf life, and taste enhancers. This entails many

additives, and even residues of chemicals used in processing that

don’t show up on a label. Read labels‡25 carefully, and if you don’t

know what an item is, or a term is general (e.g. broth, extra juicy,

extra tender), do your research before feeding it. These additives aren’t well researched for human consumption, and hardly at all for

animal consumption. One example is many raw-feeders

experiences with enhanced meats (mostly chicken and pork) at

least contributing to sensitive digestive system problems—and no

one really knows the long term consequences.

Another issue with food industry processing is that of irradiating

foods. On one side there is concern that this molecularly alters

natural foods detrimentally, and there are studies since the 1950s

that have linked irradiated foods with neurological (and other)

problems in animals. However, industry on the other side wants to

irradiate (unlabeled of course) as a quick and cheap fix to their

sanitation shortcomings.

Some raw-feeders grind this diet, and the pet food industry has

begun addressing raw-feeders with convenient patties of frozen

ground meat, bone, and organ. Better, if one can be sure only

appropriate ingredients are included (which from an industrial

source is doubtful). However, such isn’t really a “natural” diet

where shearing and crushing are involved, which naturally keeps

teeth clean and gums healthy, and provides eating exercise. A wolf

doesn’t grind its food, even in the process of eating like we and

herbivores do. Some providers also play the human angle by

including ground plant matter.

If a significant portion of (carefully selected) human grade

industrial livestock components are included in this diet, then there

are a few tweaks that might be considered. One is to try to source

organs from organic/grass-fed/free-ranging livestock, as they are

usually less expensive than the meat of such, and are where many

of the contaminates in industrial livestock accumulate. Another, to

insure sufficient taurine, is to include more heart, which might also

be from organic/grass-fed/free-ranging livestock. Since industrial

livestock is deficient in proper fatty acid balance, yet another tweak

is to include a good omega 3 source. One source is some smaller

wild cold water fish that have below average toxin levels, and

another source is high quality unrefined, wild Sockeye Salmon

oil‡26 or Krill oil. Be aware with fish oils, that even here the food

industry has screwed up an essential nutrient source with

rendering, deodorizing, coloring, and molecular distillation (which

may damage omega-3s). A quality unrefined, wild Sockeye Salmon

oil has a natural rich orange hue from its complement of

astaxanthin, and doesn’t need man’s vitamin E additives. Cod liver

oil is not an option, because it introduces the same problems as

excess liver in the diet, and it’s a poor source of omega 3.

*A usual evening treat for two lucky dogs: Each get an

organic/free-ranging chicken egg straight from the henhouse, with

shell for calcium, and high quality unrefined wild Sockeye Salmon

oil (in pure fish gelatin capsules) because part of their diet is

industrial meats.

Beyond the meat-bone-organ diet, there is nothing wrong with a

dog eating a small amount of fresh fruit, such as blackberries or

strawberries (but not grapes/raisins), as an occasional treat. There is

also nothing wrong with a dog doing a little grazing occasionally,

as they know best when they need a little digestive system

cleansing. Be careful though, that the fruit or grass has no residues

of man’s chemicals. Some also give a small amount of dairy

items‡27 as occasional treats, which presents no problem generally,

if a dog can tolerate dairy, as long as one sticks to fresh whole raw

milk and butter straight from healthy stock on the local family farm

—not the industrial excuse for milk that so many unwittingly

consume, or even raw milk from an industrial dairy.

This diet is about as close to nature as most of us can reasonably

get, and provides our pet carnivores with all the superior nutrition

and whole food synergies they evolved to thrive on, as evidenced

in nature’s ultimate laboratory, and experienced by many long time

natural approach caregivers.

Yet, even within the realm of those supposedly following this

model, there are those that haven’t completely broken through the

fog of propaganda and anthropomorphism, and insist on adding

supplements to this diet. They must not recognize that even we

wouldn’t need supplements if we ate a proper well-rounded, whole

natural foods diet, or else they’re aware of wolves raiding a health

supplements store.

Ol’ Shep’s Well-being: A Natural Perspective

by Euan Fingal

*You can throw stuff together when your bitch isn’t pregnant, but I stick to very good puppy food with salmon oil (gel tabs) for DHA for brain development when they are pregnant. No chance of toxins with certain organs, fish or chickens. No guess work on if she is gaining too much weight due to too much fat in her diet or if it is pups. I can weigh my dog before she has a litter and estimate how many pups she is going to have with accuracy. I want to know exactly what is going on with my dogs and be able to predict the outcome of my actions. It isn’t going to have a huge adverse effect on their long term health to put them on dog food for a couple of months IMO. This is just my opinion of course. Every breeder out there does their own thing, but I sure don’t want any birth defects in my litters and if they ever do show up I will know it is due to genetics and not diet.

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