Fresh food diets...can they be bad?
Lately there seems to be an explosion of people talking about cooking for their dogs, sharing recipes in Facebook groups and a general movement recognising that maybe commercial dog food isn't the way to go.
It's brilliant that owners are thinking about what they feed their pets and that the trend towards 'natural' and 'fresh' is gaining momentum. Obviously I have a vested interest in this trend haha but, "Is there a BUT?!"
Yes and No
No, if you are feeding 75% commercially prepared food - kibble, cans, rolls, anything else you find in the dog food aisle of the supermarket - then any fresh food you add, be it 'human' leftovers or dog food recipes off Pinterest then you are good to go (well, with the obvious disclaimer that they are food safe for dogs and not your leftover pizza and beer). But essentially, you are good to go. Have fun cooking for your dog, mix up their food, keep them interested in mealtimes with different foods added to their commercial diet - there's no such thing as too little fresh food. This is because the commercial food is 'complete and balanced' i.e fortified with vitamins and minerals to the the levels accepted/determined for their health*. So, provided commercial food makes up 75% of the overall diet then your dog will get the minimum amounts of the vitamins and minerals they require and you are just boosting their diet with the goodness that comes from naturally derived, unprocessed foods (check out the studies on cancer rates/benefits of adding orange and green veg to kibble).
Now for my bug bare haha and the reason I include the things I do in the Wholefood Hounds's meals because, funnily enough, I don't grind eggshells for fun and the smell of liver turns my stomach ;)
So many times lately I've seen the question lately "I want to cook for my dog, what do you all feed?" and the replies along the lines of "Kangaroo and veg - my dogs loves it!". I don't doubt they love it - just the smell of kibble is off-putting, I dread to think what it tastes like so I'm sure meat and veg smells and tastes much better!
But YES there is a 'but' with feeding fresh and this is it - If you aren't feeding a balanced fresh food diet then actually, it is worse than feeding nothing but kibble for their entire life. Much worse.
So, what is 'balanced' when we are talking about fresh food diets?
It isn't about feeding a 'complete and balanced' food at every meal the way it is with kibble, it's about achieving a balanced diet over the course of a week or month and the key to this is variety. Just as a human eating steak and chips everyday wouldn't be eating a balanced diet, if a dog is eating the same protein and veg, day in day out, then their diet isn't balanced either.
What are the things to look out for in fresh food diets?
Step One - Rotate Proteins
Unless you are doing an elimination diet to test for allergies (and I'd recommend doing this under an expert's guidance not D.I.Ying it) then feeding a variety of protein sources helps get a good cross section of amino acids into the diet. There may be meats your dog can't tolerate but you don't just need to stick to roo as the alternative to beef and chicken - look for venison, buffalo, goat etc (I can't bring myself to say horse or rabbit!)...there are specialist butchers around selling all sorts of alternative proteins. Eggs, oily fish and white fish are also easily available alternatives to feed a couple of times a week.
Step Two - Calcium
Dogs have a much higher requirement for calcium compared to humans, specifically it's the ratio of calcium to phosphorus that's key (meat is high in phosphorus). Yoghurt just isn't going to cut it! Yoghurt, dairy kefir etc can be great additions to a recipe/diet if your dog tolerates dairy - some do, some don't - but they aren't going to meet the calcium requirement. If you aren't including bone in your dog's diet (and most cooked and some raw diets don't) then you need a calcium source - this is why I grind eggshells haha. Checking the ingredients list for a calcium supplement is the quickest way to decide if something is any good and worth feeding/making.
Step Three - Organ Meat
Organ meat is essential, it is essentially nature's multivitamin. The best way to include it is in small amounts daily rather than larger amounts less frequently as it's very rich and can cause stomach upsets.
Step Four - Other Supplements
Omega Fatty Acids - I include sardines and salmon in several of the Wholefood Hounds' meals but I also feed my dogs sardines most days for breakfast and give them salmon skin and leftover fish any time we are eating it. You could also add a fish oil supplement.
Kelp - this is in the Superfood Pesto along with kale, oranges, malt and apple cider vinegar. Kelp is a natural source of iodine which balances glandular function.
Turmeric - this spice is getting some serious press at the moment and has a list of benefits as long as your arm. It is particularly helpful in reducing inflammation and dogs with arthritis may benefit from extra supplementation in the form of Golden Paste (Wholefood Hounds have Golden Paste chews in the online shop in addition to the turmeric added to all the meals).
Above are the supplements I add as standard to all of the meals and there is also the option to add coconut oil. Obviously, there are other supplements which can be beneficial and some dogs will benefit from them more than others but it simply isn't practical or cost effective for me to add every possible supplement. I have some other supplements such as Flaxseed oil (which isn't as good as fish oil for proving omega fatty acids as dogs don't convert it well but if fish oil isn't an option due to allergies then flax might be) which you can request or add yourself. You can also add vitamin E, canine multivitamins, aloe, probiotics (either commercially prepared or from fermented foods) etc.
In my next blog I will talk about grain and starch, where I stand on the issue and why I offer original, grain-free and now the new High Protein/Low Starch options but for now here are the three essentials to look out for in fresh food feeding:-
1) Variety, in particular rotating proteins
2) Calcium Supplement
3) Organ Meat
Rant over haha ~ Stef & Whiskey x
*This in itself could be an entire dissertation thesis but we'll just go with it!