SPECIES APPROPRIATE DIET
© Lynn Harrison 1999
In recent years, animal owners appear to have a growing interest in scrutinising general husbandry techniques. 'Unquestionable' advice taken from veterinarians, feed manufacturers and drugs companies in the past is now being queried and analysed by even the pet owner, prior to implementing methods of feeding, vaccination, parasite control, rearing, medication, etc.
With the realities of BSE and CJD, and considerable suspicion of Genetically Modified produce, diet ingredients now warrant thorough investigation not only for ourselves but for our animals too. Through instant access and communication media such as the Internet, it is apparent that these concerns are universal and simultaneous and not just one country's problem or even fad.
When you realise that the so-called 'complete' diets (kibble) for dogs, cats, horses, cattle, etc. have only been developed in the last 65 years, for example compared to the domestication of the dog of some 14,000 years (a new theory puts this nearer 100,000 years), it does put into perspective that if kibble and other convenience foods truly are the b-all and end-all as their manufacturers and connections would have us believe, how on earth did all the various species survive!
Looking back, even the horse served man adequately grazed on native grasses and herbs. The 'husky' breeds of dog evolved on produce that also sustained their masters in the harshest of environments - seldom fed every day, let alone in precise quantities, let alone with 'balanced ingredientWith various ailments such as cancer, skin problems, eye defects, dental disease, organ deficiency, digestive disorders, weak immune systems, etc., etc. now plaguing our animals without any apparent let-up despite advances in technology, many owners are now looking back to the husbandry of yesteryear for enlightenments' in each meal.
One train of thought is to feed our animals on a 'species appropriate' diet. The 'husky' breeds being considered the closest to the dog's believed wild ancestor, the wolf (carnivore, hunter, scavenger, opportunist and vegetarian), are perhaps the simplest to apply; although even the Chihuahua's digestive system has not altered through its evolution from the wolf.
So, what did/does the wild wolf eat? A balanced diet for a wolf, yes, but the balance certainly wasn't on a daily basis - more like over weeks or months. Hierarchy, age and location were also of significance. Kills for a pack would see older/dominant members securing the choice cuts of large prey - organs, muscle meat, cartilage, skin, hair; leaving larger bones, attached meat, stomach and contents, hooves, and skin for the underlings. The more common kills would be smaller, of rodents and birds whereby the whole prey would be devoured by an individual wolf. In-season nuts, fruits, herbs, marine life and the raiding of eggs would also feature for further variety in certain locations.
Analysis of a common kill, for example a rabbit, reveals a meal consisting of bone, muscle meat, organs, skin, fur, intestines/stomach and contents - all raw - wolves are extremely busy people and have no time to build barbies, pasteurise milk or domesticate grain... The rabbit being a herbivore will have raw natural grasses, herbs and vegetables in its digestive system from chewed-up intake. Whilst rabbit forms only part of a wolf's balanced diet, it does give an excellent example of the ratio between bone, meat, offal, stomach contents and pelt required to sustain that wolf.
A few days could pass before a bird, mouse or deer is secured as the wolf's next meal. In times of plenty, kills can be stored for later consumption - often in putrid state, as a scavenged meal often is. Hands up those who have never pulled a husky out of the dustbin?! The benefit? The bacteria breaking down the food actually assists a healthy digestion - different to ourselves where such bacteria is a problem for our very different digestive tracts. If we take time to see, our animals are showing us what they require to eat. They haven't changed dietary needs during their evolution, it is us who are insisting they do.
'Professionals' will tell us that it is very difficult to attempt to feed a dog properly on our own; if we miss out certain vitamins and minerals we will cause severe deficiencies, bones are very dangerous, you need to cook meat to kill germs. The growing ranks of raw feeders not only think otherwise, their feeding regimes have proved otherwise! It is a fact that when most vitamins and minerals are heated they lose their worth. Indeed some become toxic, as do fats. Kibble and other convenience foods are heat-manufactured, and most contain domestic grain which is not a dietary requirement of the dog.
What a big step to go raw, though. Where do you find the courage to feed that first chicken wing to your dog or cat? Just how much of your time will it take to prepare the other raw foods? How much more expensive will it be?
Apart from drawing strength from an owner already en route, the Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst's book "Give Your Dog A Bone" is an excellent starting point. He has recently written a follow-up called "Grow Your Pups With Bones" some six years on, but the first book is considered 'The Bible'. It is worth pointing out here that the grain and general vegetable oils advocated in the first book are now replaced with sprouted grain and only cold-pressed oil recommendation.
Just over two years ago, I decided myself to put our Siberians on a raw diet - meaty bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, vitamins and mineral supplements. Fed up with niggling visits to the vet, the avid poopa-scooper of 5 years, sore ears, dirty teeth, scratching, the olds gaining lumps, etc., etc., I felt their systems needed purging for a while in some way. With summer coming on, what was there to lose? Come autumn they could go back on the kibble ready for training; we'd been feeding kibble for 21 years after all.
I did not know there was a book on feeding raw at the time; I had just picked up a few snippets from a couple of articles and by word of mouth. A chance conversation with Sue Williams (Malamutes and GSD) revealed she had been feeding raw for a couple of months, had borrowed Billinghurst's book from a friend, and was already impressed with the results.
Although I gained courage from this, it was still a very worrying time when I handed out a raw chicken leg quarter to each of our bemused pack. We had the sense to chain them individually and if it wasn't so nerve-wracking we could have had a good laugh - a couple of them scoffed the legs straight down, others wanted to carry them off somewhere else, some wanted to eat them but didn't know how, and a couple more just licked and licked them!
By the end of that summer, the purchase of 'The Bible' in the September at a lecture given by Billinghurst in London, and much experimenting with different 'prey', vegs, fruits, nuts, etc., I broke the news to my husband, Mike, that the dogs were doing so well on raw that they were going to race on it too! (In fact, everyone else I know who has tried raw feeding along the Billinghurst lines has never gone back to their previous diet either.)
As regards to the time taken to prepare the food and the expense. Once you've got your food sources and storage in hand, and a routine sorted for the blending/juicing of the vegetables, fruit, etc., it really is no big deal. After all, all you are doing is putting a portion of your own meals to one side for the dog - you cook yours, the dog goes raw. Worshipping the butcher and fishmonger reaps great rewards; wheeler-dealing can see your previous diet costs cut by half or more.
This type of diet gives YOU control over the quality, quantities and processing of raw foods and supplements that form the ingredients of kibble and other manufactured foods which, of course, require heat processing and the addition of preservatives for shelf life, no matter how 'natural' they are claimed to be. Your 'at source' ingredients do not even require the manufacturers' common additive of salt for taste. With the guidance of the book written by a vet, which lists all the requirements of dogs (and cats) and explains why in a simple fashion, the only inconvenience to an owner is initial - taking the time to read up on the subject, finding room in the freezer, sourcing a butcher, grocer and health food store, and purchasing a blender if you haven't already got one.
Hints for Wannabes
NEVER FEED COOKED BONES
Raw meaty bones must form approximately 80% of this particular diet (in respect of the balancing period chosen, not each meal).
Get an old freezer to take advantage of butcher deals.
Buy an axe or chopper - meaty bones aren't uniform!
A blender and/or juicer is essential for breaking down the raw veg. and fruit. (Feed as soon as possible after preparation, 1 heaped tablespoon per dog is enough, 3 or 4 times per week.)
Feed only foods and supplements for human consumption (animals are slaughtered young and in good condition).
Buy organic and free range whenever possible.
Use cold-pressed oils.
Kelp from Icelandic waters is considered the least polluted; likewise fish from the Atlantic is preferred to the Pacific.
Don't feed Vit E and garlic together (they cancel out).
Feed Vit E when using oils.
Huskies being huskies are best fed their bones secured apart from each other and not near their beds as the dogs can become very protective over their bones and where they have eaten them, especially during the first few blissful introductions. 'Softer' bones should be selected for the older first-timer huskies who have been raised without their teeth ever reaching full potential and so have weaker-set teeth to the jaw. Taking the axe to crush the bones is also effective. Younger dogs seem to take the bones in their stride, presumably their teeth and jaws are still maturing with the rest of their bodies; young pups having the full potential for jaw and teeth development as do wolf cubs.
We, ourselves, do not use beef bones at all because of their ultimate hardness - our own dogs find it a personal challenge to eat all that's put before them in one sitting, even if it is an 18" marrow bone. 'Normal' dogs use these larger bones to pass the time of day in a much more sedate fashion.
In order that a dog's digestive system is at rest during work, whole meaty bones can be minced if fed the previous day for quicker digestion (bonemeal is not a good substitute as it is heat-manufactured and often from old animals).
Husky folk I know of in this country who have converted to raw feeding, apart from Sue Williams (Hants), are Peter Duncan (Scotland), Den & Niki Keeler (Northants), Clay & Jo Moule (Dorset), Ivan Passmore (Devon), Jan Sapsford (Kent), Sue Timon (Devon) and Chris Walker (Devon).
There are more in other parts of the world (mushers too), plus many owners of other breeds and species, both at home and abroad.
A RAW EXPERIENCE OF THE PUPPY KIND
© Lynn Harrison 2000
We had had a litter from the dam of these pups previously, so a comparison would be interesting. As usual, her diet remained normal maintenance till Week 6 of the pregnancy. Then, as per Billinghurst recommendation, a gradual quantity increase and change to 25% meaty bone content in three meals per day was effected to whelping, the last couple of days the diet becoming somewhat laxative.
The whelping was on time and easy for the bitch; the pups weighing just over the breed norm of 1lb. However, at two weeks of age it started to become apparent that the pups were exceeding our other litters in development. We usually start to wean pups at about 3½ weeks - grinding complete diet to powder and mixing in gravy to make a gruel - but these guys had no intention of taking anything except their dam, despite offering them the best minced steak. Come 4½ weeks and the babes had only just started to take interest in chopped chicken wings. Another week and they were nearer three meals per day (we have never fed four meals as we prefer their systems to get some rest from continual digestion).
It was a bit scary to have four week old pups not remotely interested in solid food but the fact that they were doing better than previous litters already on solids, put some perspective on the issue and kept us sane. Feeding a raw diet does tend to keep you in tune with wild animals' needs so the commonsense view would be that wolf cubs of a dam with a plentiful food supply would stick to her nourishing milk for as long as possible. Concentration, therefore, remained with the bitch in providing her with her wants - which were, indeed, plentiful. Fed on demand, at the height she was on eight meals per day. The most surprising meal was one she specifically requested at about 6pm every evening for about a fortnight - 'the fruit bowl'. This consisted of one apple, one pear, one banana and four clementines, and sometimes a portion of melon - all sliced and placed in her bowl. Needless to say, there was no need for Vit C supplement! Not once did this bitch become loose in stools; neither did she lose any body condition as she did with her previous litter.
The pups continued to thrive and thoroughly enjoyed their meaty bones. Such a contented bunch, it seemed having to work at their food satisfied chewing and playing as well as hunger needs. Mind you, their stamina saw hard and fast playtimes - their favourite being the cavalry charge in our long kitchen. Being Christmas time, there were whole turkey carcasses available to amuse them with - bigger than each of them. A mini wolf pack feeding on a kill! On these days of plenty, the pups were only interested in one other small meal per day.
The dam was so well in herself that this time she wanted no aunties to take the load off until the pups were a lot older - much to the disappointment of some of our other bitches who were obviously dying to play a part in rearing this litter as they always have with others. The dam played a lot with her pups and taught them how to forage in the garden for bugs and roots, and continued regularly feeding them her milk to ten weeks of age when suddenly the milk just stopped. She did not spend more than a moment out of their sight and always made sure they were full up by presenting them with chunks of her own raw food before eating any herself.
A truly amazing experience and certainly a lesson in mummy knows best, if given the opportunity. We plan another litter in 2001 so will be able to see if this bitch's peculiarities and development of her pups were true to herself, or just a natural breed's reversion to the wild way of feeding and raising (or as close as it gets).