29 May 2011

For better or worse?

A conversation arose today concerning a man and his small, white terrier-type dog who were staying at a nearby campsite.  One lady spoke of how she nearly got her nose bitten whilst stroking the dog, a man told how the dog had bitten the back of his leg as he passed by, and there were various other tales of bites, near bites and launched attacks.

Then someone said about the man, "But he's worked so hard with him, he's so much better now than he was."

Trying to imagine the most ferocious little white terrier I possibly could, I asked, "What on earth was he like before?"
The reply, "Oh really scared and nervous of people, he'd cower with his tail between his legs or run away."
"And so in what way is he better now?" I said.
They got my point.
The moral of the story?  If in the process of trying to change a nervous dog's behaviour what you are doing is causing it to become aggressive, you are doing it wrong.  Your dog is not getting better, it is getting worse.  So stop kidding yourself.  Re-evaluate what you are doing.  Get professional help before your 'training' causes your dog to bite someone who makes a complaint that results in you having to have your dog PTS.  Because it really doesn't have to end like that.

10 May 2011

Raw convenience

If somone who already feeds a raw-food diet to their dog speaks to you, you’ll likely be bombarded with a whole bunch of benefits and reasons why it’s the ONLY way to feed a dog.  You might even be made to feel like a failure for not feeding your dog a raw-food diet, that you’re poisoning him with pouches and toxic, tinned food, killing him with kibble, denying your dog his birthright – that you’re a BAD DOG OWNER who should be TAKEN AWAY AND SHOT or at least NEVER BE ALLOWED TO OWN A DOG EVER AGAIN! 

Sound familiar? 

Well you’re not alone.  I’ve been in that firing line too.  Maybe you saw me … I was the one wearing the t-shirt that says “I’m not ignorant, but I do have a meat-phobic vegetarian husband who shakes, pales and vomits at the mere thought of having ‘bits of rotting carcass’ in the house.”

Being confident that I’m providing my dogs with a balanced diet is a huge issue for me.  One vital aspect of this balance is the calcium:phosphorus ratio, which for an adult dog needs to be around 1.2:1.  This is important because if the ratio is out of balance, it gives rise to a whole host of chronic health problems.  The calcium:phosphorus ratio is (allegedly) one of the reasons why commercially produced, ‘complete’ kibble foods came about – back in the day when vets were regularly seeing skeletal abnormalities and renal failure in pet dogs fed on home-made, meat-without-bone diets that were low in calcium and high in phosphorus.  You can read about calcium and phosphorus and the importance of the correct calcium:phosphorus ratio here … http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2&aid=652 .

A year or so ago, I came across a company that was making and selling 'veterinary approved', ready-made, raw-food meals for dogs.  This, I thought, could be the way to gently persuade (cajole, badger, nag, wear down) David into letting me give raw feeding a go.  This food was conveniently minced and packaged, no identifiable bits of dead animal, and no chopping and portioning up, so I mentioned the food to David and then kept quiet about it for a while.  Then I mentioned it again, and in time, again, until to my absolute astonishment, he agreed that if we bought a separate freezer for the dogs’ food, I could give it a go.

And so, my mission had suddenly changed from one of husband persuasion, to creating enough space in our miniscule kitchen for a freezer.  After a major clearout of the under-stairs cupboard and some very careful and precise measuring up, without the small fridge, there was in fact enough space for a fridge-freezer for our food and a chest freezer for the dogs’ food.  And here they are, all squeezed in, along with the vacuum cleaner, dogs’ kibble bin, and a rather large box of dog toys!
What I hadn’t considered up until this point was what an expensive risk I was taking.  I’d bought an entire chest freezer just to store raw meat and bone meals for the dogs, not to mention having to buy at least 5kgs of the stuff to meet the minimum order requirement.  What if the dogs turned their noses up at it?  What if it didn’t agree with them?  How would I dispose of 5kgs of frozen, raw dog food without causing a major health hazard?  Would my freezer purchase turn out to be a very expensive, top-loading cupboard mistake?

I have heard tales of people deciding to give raw feeding a go and either dogs refusing to eat it, or having some pretty major digestive upsets.  But my two had been used to a varied diet with different protein sources, and had had no digestive upsets to date.  And I think that this alone probably helped immensely with the switch to raw.  We didn’t do a gradual switch either.  Our first raw food order arrived on a Friday, and with David away for the whole weekend, the dogs dined exclusively on raw until Monday morning.  No upturned noses.  No digestive upsets.  I was slightly concerned that Beau’s eyes would pop right out of his head though.  So all in all, our adventure into raw feeding so far has proven successful.  The dogs still get Acana for breakfast to save David’s stomach and sanity in the morning, but they have a raw meal at teatime.  

The hardest thing about raw feeding has been training myself to remember to take a tray out of the freezer first thing in the morning so that it’s defrosted in time for tea, although whenever I go to get anything from the under-stairs cupboard these days, the dogs are right behind me, so I get reminded, constantly.

For all the hard-core, raw-food fanatics out there who might be reading this and scoffing at me for taking the ‘ready made’ route, I KNOW that these ‘convenience’ raw meals don’t provide the tooth cleaning benefits of whole, raw meaty bones, but there are other ways of keeping a dog’s teeth clean.  And as my dogs eat nothing that contains grain or cereal, their teeth appear to stay clean anyway.  And they do get the occasional lamb rib bone as a post-teatime extra.  My reason for wanting to feed raw is to provide a natural, whole food diet for my dogs, not to use chomping on bones to keep their teeth clean.  And to be honest, even after a month of feeding raw for one meal a day, I haven’t noticed any outward health improvements, although this could be because except for the occasional injury, my dogs have always remained in tip-top health – no digestive upsets, allergies or skin problems, good energy levels, glossy coats, cold wet noses.  I don’t use chemical tick, flea or worming products, and in place of vaccinating I use titer testing to check their immunity against the main diseases.  I don’t use chemicals to clean my home, I don’t use chemical room scenters, I don’t use fertilisers or poisons in the garden – what I’m saying is that for me, feeding my dogs a raw-food diet is the final piece in the holistic puzzle of long-term health.


Update, 11th January 2012:

Since writing this article, I have stopped feeding my dogs a raw food diet.  Please see this article for further information: "Feeding for health and longevity ~ raw vs. kibble vs. calories"