Ever since Phoenix was diagnosed with Idiopathic Vestibular Disease on December 3rd, we’ve been trying to make a decision on what to feed him. Dr B does not want him eating kibble because he doesn’t chew his food and worries he will aspirate, but she also wonders if changing to more of a natural diet might also help clear up his ears and get rid of some of the other annoying issues he has from both old age and his pesky life-long allergies.
You’d think this would be an easy decision, but there are several factors which need to be considered – cost, preparation time, safety and our other dogs, just to name a few.
Cost is something I always think about when deciding to change something with my dogs, because I do not work and Huib has been wonderful about supporting me, but I don’t want to push his loyalty too far. We’ve been looking at the possibility of buying a bigger chest freezer and ordering large quantities of meat from local farmers, but so far have run into the problem of where to find reasonably priced beef, pork and lamb – we will continue to get our chicken from the Maple Lodge Factory and whole chickens from the farm down the road. When you live in northeastern Ontario like we do, there is a limited supply of farmers who raise and sell their own livestock. As for finding the veggies at a reasonable price we’ve decided that it will be easiest to get stuff when we’re in Waterloo at Costco and the St. Jacob’s Farmers Market or check out the discount section in the grocery store for a little more variety. Then in the summer we will be able to grow some of our own veggies and catch some pike and bass in the lake behind our house.
Right now we feed Phoenix a mixture of a cup and a half of moistened kibble (Fromm’s white fish & sweet potato) and a can of wet food (either Merrick’s Before Grain or Performatin Ultra) each day so it works out to be about 3-5 dollars a day. In order to feed Phoenix a homemade diet he will need to have a mixture of muscle meat, organ meat, veggies, and a small amount of dairy and grains, in addition to supplements which include a high level of calcium carbonate. This supplement can be highly expensive, even though farmers use it as a part of their fertilizers, so this is one factor that has made our decision to move from commercial food more difficult. In a raw diet, half of the diet should be raw meaty bones (ie. Chicken necks, pork feet or beef tails) which eliminates the need to supplement with calcium carbonate because the bones are ground up with the meat, as opposed to removing them, like in the homemade diet. Taking just cost into consideration we’re thinking that homemade diets are out, but still aren’t sure if a raw diet is right – even though it would also mean we would eat more healthy, since it would be silly only to feed the wonderful veggies and meat to Phoenix.
Next we’ve been looking at preparation time. When feeding Phoenix his current diet of commercial food it takes about 30-45 minutes to prepare because we have to turn on the kettle to boil the water needed to moisten the kibble, then we have to wait for the mush to cool before adding the wet food and necessary supplements (for old age & allergy prevention). If we were to change to a raw diet we would need to think much further ahead and it would take a bit more time to prepare, but if we made more than one meal at a time would it be easier in the end? I think the barrier to feeding raw here would be, what will we do in the case of our visits to Waterloo every six weeks…?
After looking at the above factors – cost & preparation time – we’ve begun looking at the safety of a raw diet. There are many people who would say there are absolutely no risks involved with feeding a raw diet, but with Huib being a nurse and me not having the greatest vision this is something we need to think long and hard about. The University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College hosts a blog where various pet related issues are discussed and they have posted a very informative pdf file on the raw meat controversy, which can be found on their resources page. The main concerns they outline are the possible transmission of infection and disease (for example salmonella), a potential dietary nutritional imbalance and the issue of swallowing foreign bodies (such as bones). Even though proponents of the raw diet would consider these as being a non-issue, Huib and I need to really look at safety as a possible deal breaker in making this change with Phoenix – he needs to worry about his patients and I need to think about my safety as well as the safety of the other animals.
One way in which we could avoid the risks of swallowing foreign objects would be to ground the bones along with the meat so there would be no possibility of choking or injury to Phoenix’s throat or intestines through splintering. Since eating slowly is not something Phoenix knows how to do, I think making his food into a smoother consistency would be a good idea. As for the risk involved in the transmission of disease, I think it’s reasonable to think that this would be something we’d need to look at in not just his food, but our own as well. I guess all we can do here is to make sure we only buy our meats from a respectable supplier and take care in the storage and preparation process. No matter how careful someone is though, there is always the possibility of something going wrong, so as long as we’re always conscious of safety, I don’t see feeding Phoenix a raw diet as being out of the question.
Finally, there is the consideration of our other dogs. Cessna and Canyon have always been picky eaters and as a result we’ve had to try and think of creative ways of keeping them interested in their kibble. We’ve tried adding canned food or juices and fats from cooking once in a while, in addition to changing their kibble all together on a semi-regular basis. This has worked well in the past, but we’re wondering if by feeding Phoenix differently, we might run into some problems with getting them to continue with their commercial diets. We have thought about changing everyone over to the same sort of raw diet, but Aspen is doing well with her current food and we worry that by changing her we might irritate her sensitive bowel. Then there’s Cessna, our always willing “hunger striker” – would she even consider eating something (raw meat) we ourselves wouldn’t even think of? I wonder this because my aunt’s friend is a hunter and one day while preparing a venison stew for us decided to give Cessna an uncooked piece, she immediately dropped it on the floor and looked up at him in disgust – she ate a piece later though that I offered her from my leftovers before throwing them out. I’m sure Canyon would be totally willing to change over to this way of life, but I’m not so sure about my little Cessnaroo.
I guess it would be easiest and make most sense to just focus on getting a diet ready for Phoenix before worrying about who else might benefit or be willing to change. But, if we’re wanting to use Canyon as a stud it might be something to consider in the future…
I know this post ended up being a long-winded ramble, but I hope it helps others out there who might be considering whether a change to a homemade or raw diet could be better than the commercial food their dogs are currently eating.