DISCLAIMER: In no way am I suggesting that if you don’t feed your dog or dogs the way I do that you are a bad dog person, so if you feel defensive while reading this discussion, you may need to examine your confidence in your own beliefs. I am also not a vet or canine nutritionist. I am simply going to share with you what I do and why I do it.
In June of 2016 I changed the way I feed my dogs.
This came about directly because of our personal tragedy of losing our dog Miranda unexpectedly. It is also the way I always wanted to feed them, and have done so in the past but stopped doing because I was afraid I was doing it wrong. There is so much information and mis-information, opinions and facts on the internet now on the subject of feeding whole, real foods to our dogs that one can get confused.
My motto is simple: if you haven’t been in that person’s exact shoes and in that exact situation, don’t judge.
Feeding My Dogs
When I first got a dog, I started her out on grocery store brand dog food. I knew nothing about dogs except that I knew I wanted one. After about a year, I started getting more into training and dog stuff because Shasta was fear aggressive and I needed to help her. Also, I was always interested in eating well myself so after a lot of research, started to feed my dog AND my two cats raw. For some reason this way of feeding my pets really resonated with me.
The cats were a little more challenging to do this with than the dogs were and eventually I went back to dry cat food. But my dogs (by now I had two), kept getting raw fed.
At some point I stopped feeding raw because I became worried that I was doing the feeding incorrectly. Many people at the time were opposed to feeding dogs raw meat, believing it was too expensive, too difficult to prepare, and too dangerous. I got sucked in by the hype.
When I went back to feeding dry dog food, I initially fed what ever I could obtain cheaply and locally. As time went on, I started to feel bad that I was giving my dog corn based food. It didn’t feel good. So I changed to a grain free dry food.
At the time of Miranda’s passing, we were feeding “high end” dry dog food, but it never really felt right to me. I always had the idea of going back to feeding something other than store bought dry dog food.
Then our tragedy happened. Miranda, a seven and a half year old Australian Shepherd had her teeth cleaned in February, and one tooth with an exposed root was removed. By the middle of April, she started chewing her feet – an immune response called pemfigus. My suspicion was that she had a reaction to the anesthetic for surgery, which is the most common cause of pemfigus, but there was no proof of that. No biopsy was done to diagnose the disease either. But Australian Shepherds can be sensitive to anesthetic and other meds so it was possible. Unfortunately, I have to put the blame on both the vet and myself for this awful incident.
Because of this chewing she was put on a high dose of Prednisone to put a cap on the immune system. It worked for a bit but the chewing came back when we started to wean her off the meds. So she was immediately put on another course of meds without time off or a blood test to see if there was any issue or infection, which is recommended by the company who makes the drug. If I had been paying attention, I would have realized that she should have had a blood test before the next course of meds and demanded it.
We didn’t even know she was sick until the evening before she passed away. She crashed and we rushed her to the closest clinic while we were camping. They did what they could but it was too late.
She died of septicemia from an infection – either a bladder infection she had picked up or menigitis from the infected tooth. The prednisone took out her immune system and made her susceptible to infection. The pathologists report said she likely had something brewing even before the meds were given. The infection was missed by us because she showed no symptoms until the last 12 hours for us to know she was sick.
What does this have to do with what I am feeding my dogs? Everything.
I had to do the only thing that made any sense to help me get through that, and that is be with my dogs all the time and not working with other people’s dogs anymore. That includes feeding my own dogs the best I can, which is what I wanted to do in the first place but didn’t have the guts to do until this awful thing happened.
So now you know why. Here’s how.
Our oldest dogs McCoy and Finn started to not want to really eat dry dog food. When I started adding things to the dry food to get them to eat. It worked but only sort of.
What did work was when there was no dry dog food in the bowl.
This made me clue in to what they really wanted. So I changed McCoy and Finn over to whole foods.
Whole foods are those that have only one ingredient (NOT the store by that name). They may be cooked or raw but are not what we would normally call processed foods. They are meats like chicken, pork, beef, fish, and other things like veggies, eggs and even cooked grains like oatmeal. McCoy also ate butter and milk and a little goat’s cheese. You could call these things processed but they are not full of additives/preservatives like junk food and canned and boxed foods. They have one main ingredient.
I also started slowly adding whole/real foods into my three other dog’s dry food as two of them had a history of bad digestion with quick food changes. I used canned sardines and no salt added salmon, vegetables of all kinds – whatever we had from the garden, juice from cooked meat and small pieces of cooked meat as well as raw chicken necks and other parts that we don’t eat from chickens that we would cook for ourselves.
They all got used to the food changes and stopped having digestive issues (loose stools).
In the past I have found that feeding low quality dog food is just as expensive as feeding the high quality dry. My dogs were eating twice or three times as much of the low quality food than the high quality dog food and pooping way more. So I was spending about the same amount of money on the larger quantities of low quality dry food as the high quality dry food.
McCoy, Finn and AJ, who have now all left us, were all fed raw meat for certain periods of time in their lives.
AJ had allergies (scratching all the time and chewing her feet raw) and a very sensitive stomach. This went away while she was eating raw but came back when I put her back on dry food. I even had a vet ask me if her ear infections flared up when I started on cheaper dry dog food, which it had.
McCoy and Finn had more time on raw than AJ and lived accordingly in my opinion, 16 years and 15 and a half, respectively.
After the three older dogs passed away (between July 2016 and April 2017), I went back to mostly dry food, adding in sardines, salmon, eggs, and veggies. We had a new puppy by then (Ira) and he was all for any kind of food.
Then in July of 2017 we got another Aussie puppy. I could no longer prevent myself from moving closer towards feeding a better diet to my dogs, so I started doing research every day on raw feeding.
My need to follow what I felt was right for me and my dogs was overwhelming.
My main concern was that my dogs would get sick and die if they ate meat from the grocery store or meat from someone’s freezer that they no longer wanted. Back when I got my first dog and fed raw meat from the grocery store I was afraid of the same thing. That is mainly why I stopped. I had no “proper” source for meat for my dogs and no knowledge of what “proper” was.
Apparently, I was told, raw grocery store meat has high quantities of bacteria that will make dogs sick or even kill them.
I made the complete change over for two of the dogs at the beginning of August 2017.
Many people stop or are worried about feeding raw when their dog starts having diarrhea. I can understand this. It is a very troublesome issue but is one that will resolve itself at some point.
In the fall of 2017, we obtained some meat from our friends who raise grass fed beef.
Because we are homesteaders and work from home, we grow all of our own vegetables and some of our fruits. We will also at some point be raising our own meat and eggs for the dogs. This means that the meat will be the highest quality, raised with care and humanely treated.
Doing all this won’t bring Miranda back. But what it will do is make me feel as though I am doing the very best I can for my dogs – what I should have been doing for Miranda and what I believe would have helped her and saved her life to begin with.