Everyone who has been reading for a while, knows that I can be a bit fanatical about what my dogs eat. I think it partly stems from my own awareness about human nutrition and trying to eat healthily. Today I come back to dog nutrition. I have really been researching what it would take to feed my dogs a raw diet, but I've gotten a lot of mixed information and thus mixed feelings about it. Let me explain where this all came from first. *Side note: you may want to grab a snack. This is a long post*.
Roscoe, Mr. K's 68 pound Leader dog, has always had funky smelling breath and extraordinarily slimy slobber. He was a kissy monster from day one, but no one wanted his lovings because they stayed stuck to your arm/face/hand after the kissing was done. Very gross, but it was just something Mr. K decided to accept about him. From there his grain allergies, which we did not know existed then, just became worst. Besides the stinky and gloppy slobber, Roscoe started developing ear infections and it wasn't because he was swimming in a swamp. He would get them even in the winter, despite not playing out in the snow. There was no reason for them, but a little light went off in the back of my mind, telling me that I had seen this before. I thought perhaps that he was allergic to chicken as Jetta had grown to be, but I didn't say anything because I wasn't entirely sure. Then, Roscoe blew his entire coat; well, almost all of his entire coat. and he has a very thick, wavy coat. Why do you think we call him "Shaggy Dog?" It came out in chunks and it wasn't just the under coat. His top coat flew off too and the very thin layer of fur still covering him was coarse and wiry to the touch. It felt brittle and dry. I told Mr. K what I thought was going on and Mr. K took Roscoe off of the chicken based food and switched him to a food that had salmon as its protein source. Roscoe did well on this for a while. His breath improved drastically, his ears cleared up, his coat grew back in thick and shiny and his slobber wasn't as thick. Oh yes, and his poop was much smaller; all signs that we had found a good food for him. The problem is that it didn't stay that way. Roscoe seems to get used to the food he is on. At least, that is the conclusion I have come to.
Roscoe is just over four years old and I can't tell you how many different brands of food he has been on and it's not because we like screwing with our dogs' digestive tracts. If my count is right, Roscoe has been on four to five different brands of dog food. He does well on them at the start, but within six to eight months, his allergic symptoms come back; and it's started with the food we have them on now. I think Mr. K might think I'm nuts, but it's true.
Last night we asked Roscoe to come up on the bed. It's a treat and neither Glacier nor Roscoe are allowed to be up there without us asking them. He was being his usual goofy Roscoe self, rolling around, snorting and wagging his tail vigorously. That's when I noticed his breath. It was horrible. I haven't smelled it this bad in a very long time; it nearly made me gag. While he was flailing about on his back, his ears flapped open and I could smell them and they did not smell good. They kind of smelled like a warm potato-and not one with sour cream, bacon and cheese on it. More like a warm potato that is close to the rotting stage; a starchy smell. Roscoe had an ear infection when he was up visiting Glacier and I in Ontario and he got another one when he got back to SC, both of which I was able to clear up with a home made ear cleanser. Since those ear infections-one in May and one at the beginning of July-I've kept a pretty steady regiment of cleaning his ears once a week. With that in mind, his ears should not have smelled like that. I wiped them out this morning and was horrified at the amount of wax that came out on the tissue. So, the ears and the breath are definitely a problem.
On top of those two issues, Roscoe's coat has been flying off in clouds of black fur. He'll shake and a huge puff comes off of him. If you rub him enthusiastically, wads of fur come flying off and small furballs are left in your hands. It almost makes me not want to pet him. I could "Furminate" him for hours and it still wouldn't be enough. He's also started chewing on his paws, which we originally thought was him trimming his own claws-because he does that-but upon inspection, I realised that he was nibbling away at the pads. This is another indication that there is something wrong in his diet. Last night we bought a bag of treats and I made sure they were grain free, but even if the previous treats had grains, they weren't getting them enough for him to be reacting so severely.
This brings me back to feeding our dogs a raw diet. I know it works. I know a few people who feed their dogs this way and it has been successful for them. I'm not disputing the validity or the goodness of feeding your dog raw, but I have a few concerns.
1. First of all, some of the people who have designed websites around feeding your dogs raw, do not make you feel welcome. They are abrasive and almost seem like you are joining a cult. They make a lot of big claims without backing them up and one site wanted me to feed my dog a dead animal carcass as a part of their regular meals. The person writing this particular website made you feel like a sinner for not feeding your dog properly and for supporting commercial dog foods. I don't think this attitude is going to get people to switch. She tore vets a new one for being sponsored by commercial dog food companies, but it was an attack more than anything. I think to some degree, raw feeding is not for everyone and being forceful about it is not the way to get people to do it. If I didn't already know about it, I definitely would have been turned off.
2. It is hard to figure out how exactly you should be feeding your dog. Our dogs are working dogs and I am hesitant to switch them to something that could potentially under feed them; we can't have it impacting their working capability. One website told me to just feed my dog "a salmon filet with some organ meat." That is all it said. No mention of organ meats, especially liver, being high in vitamin A and having to watch your dog's intake. They also said that your dogs don't need fruits or vegetables. Okay, perhaps they don't need fruits, but don't they need some kind of ruffage to keep things moving and to clear out bad cholesterol? Your dogs eat grass for a reason and it's not because their stomachs are upset. I think raw feeding could be done incorrectly and these websites could potentially contribute to that. I did find one good website that talks about the "basics of raw feeding" and it was much more informative and friendly. It decreased some of my anxiety over raw feeding Glacier and Roscoe, but it just seems like there is not enough information out there for me to feel comfortable making the switch.
3. What if it's a change I can't maintain either for financial reasons or time restrictions? Doing most things as a blind person usually takes twice as long as doing the same task as a sighted person. What if I get into Physiotherapy school and do not have the time to prepare their meals properly? Also, how the crap do you feed raw if you're in class? Kibbles are more sanitary and easier to dump into a collapsable bowl, have your dog gobble them up and then carry on. Glacier has to be fed on a regular schedule for two reasons. First, he throws up if he has an empty stomach; something fairly common in Labs. Second, a schedule keeps his poop regular and I know when he's going to go; most of the time. That means, I know when he needs a bathroom break or if he's going to go in the morning or before bed. There aren't any surprises in the mall or grocery store. Some websites claim that feeding raw is cheaper than comercial foods, but I'm not entirely sure how that is possible.
4. I am also concerned with keeping things sanitary. It's difficult cleaning when you can't see, and feeding your dogs raw meat and things could get disastrous very quickly.
5. Guide dogs are not supposed to eat human food as it causes begging behaviors and that is completely unacceptible when out in public. Not to mention, I do not want a begging dog in my house. I'm not sure if raw feeding would interfere with Glacier and Roscoe's training. Could we go to a butcher without them salivating a river? Dogs are smarter than we think and they learn very quickly what is theirs and what is not, or what they think should be theirs.
It's something that I would really like to be able to do for Roscoe's sake, but I think I need to do some more research. I am just not comfortable with my dogs gnawing on raw rabbit or chicken carcasses in my living room. I know it would be beneficial for both dogs and if it's something we decide to do, we'll just have to get creative and find ways to feed them efficiently and safely.