The Menu at Redstart Farm; Feeding Dogs
So many of you have asked what I feed my dogs that I feel compelled to answer. I sympathize, truly, nutrition is such a complicated and sometimes contentious issue. I’ll honor your requests if you’ll honor mine: Read the following carefully before getting to the menu!
1. I am not an expert on canine nutrition, not by a long shot. I know lots of people, professional and committed dog lovers, who know much more about the topic than I do.
2. I don’t believe that my dogs get the perfect diet. I do the best I can, and I know that my dogs do better than most, but there’s no question that the way I feed them isn’t perfect.
3.What I feed my dogs changes, depending on the dog, the week, how busy I am and what article I read the night before.
4. I think diet is important, but so are genetics. My first Border Collie, Drift, lived 15.5 yrs on plain old supermarket Purina. Dry kibble, no additions, no supplements. Lassie is the same age, and you’ll see that things have changed. I like to credit her longevity in part to her diet and how I take care of her… but how do I know what effect it’s having?
That said, here’s what I believe (then I tell you what Lassie and Willie ate last night.):
Variety is good. Dogs are omnivores, and they are predisposed to eat a variety of foods. Coppinger’s hypothesis that dogs derived from bold wolves who found a new ecological niche in human settlements (garbage and poop) seems to be the best guess that we have of how this whole amazing relationship started. Wolves specialize in large ungulates, but they’ll also eat anything they can if they are hungry. Dogs, specialize in, well… food. “Picky about food” does not describe their behavior or their digestive systems. (I know, there are exceptions, but they prove the rule because it’s news when a dog won’t eat chicken, right?)
I was profoundly affected when someone (Billinghurst? Don’t remember) asked “What would you think of a parent who fed their child the same food, day after day, even if it was “nutritionally complete?” Yikes! How would you feel if a friend of yours fed her children the same kind of cereal for every meal, every day? How could that possibly support health? I was talking to my vet about diet and asked him the same question. He now feeds his dog half commercial dog food and half table scrapes!
I know that allergies are often caused by repeated exposure to the same thing, and wonder how many food allergies are the result of eating the same food every day, year after year. I also always wondered when we were/are advised to change a dog’s food very gradually. In general, that just makes no sense, if you think about it. How could a healthy dog not be able to tolerate eating chicken one night and beef the next? You can, why shouldn’t your dog? Well… if they’ve only eaten one food and only that food for years, then it makes sense, but that hardly sounds healthy. (Of course, we should go slowly if making a radical change or we have a dog with a sensitive stomach, but those are special cases.)
Non-processed is good. Fact? Heck if I know. I subscribe to the Micheal Pollan approach: . “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.” (see In Defense of Food, great book) The “mostly plants” is for humans, but the “eat food” means REAL food, not food that has been so processed and converted and changed that it is barely recognizable as such.
Fresh veggies are good for dogs. Again, is this a fact I can back up with research? Not directly. I can tell you that my DVM Chinese Medicine Vet read an article that dogs fed cooked, green veggies had lower rates of cancer. I haven’t taken the time to look it up yet myself, anyone out here seen it? I also know that the ‘new’ foods by some dog food companies that are supposed to extend the healthy life of a dog contain more of what I would call “real” food: vegetables, even fruits full of anti-oxidants.
Organic is good. Whether it is better for our dogs or not, I think it’s important to be benevolent to Mother Earth. We haven’t been doing so well on that score lately. Ideally I’d feed my dogs nothing but organic meat raised locally by producers who put the welfare of their animals over that of their own, but I can’t manage that much of the time, I just strive for it. When I can afford it and it’s available, I use organic, especially vegetables. I belong to a CSA, and they are very generous with seconds, so Will and Lassie get a lot of broccoli, green beans, squash etc that wasn’t pretty enough for the weekly shares. I collect it whenever I can and freeze it in my huge, chest-style freezer.
Pro-biotics. I started Willie on Pro-biotics when he was a pup. Three months of off-and-on projectile diarrhea will teach you a lot about a puppy’s gut. He still gets them every day, even though his digestive system has stabilized, but many of the people I respect in alternative medicine argue that Pro-biotics are important for any of us who don’t eat natural food most of the time. (I take them too now, for whatever that’s worth.)
Raw versus Cooked: I don’t feed much raw. I don’t have the time (or the energy?) to make it myself, and am not convinced enough in it’s importance to spend the money to buy it commercially. (Please, oh please, don’t write me and tell me that if I don’t feed my dogs raw food I am a bad person and a bad dog owner. I know lots of stories of dogs who truly have done beautifully on raw diets, including dogs who had serious health problems beforehand. I also know dogs who didn’t do well on them, and lots and lots more who thrive on other diets.) I do give my dogs raw beef bones, usually the large joint bones or the long bones with lots of marrow inside. I am pretty conservative though, once they get eaten down a ways and start to look a little brittle I toss them out.
Kibble versus Non-Kibble: I don’t feed much kibble anymore. I add a bit to their dinners, but even high quality kibble is highly processed and lacks the moisture it seems dogs would need.
My favorite source for good information about dog food: Whole Dog Journal. Get it yet? If not, I highly recommend it.
Here’s what Lassie and Willie ate last night:
A tiny handful of kibble (Natural Balance Duck and Potato, 20 pieces?) for crunch (she loves it); cooked, organic Steel-cut oats (her kidneys are challenged so she needs limited protein, cooked beef (stew meat on sale at the supermarket), 2 TB cooked green beans, kale and broccoli, an Omega 3 capsule + her meds and supplements.
I vary the protein between duck, fish, beef and eggs. (The duck, fish and sometimes beef is usually Natural Balance or Wellness canned.) In Chinese medicine, duck and fish are ‘cooling’ foods, good for Lassie with her struggles with bladder infections and her kidney problems. Beef is ‘neutral,’ so I use a lot of that. Wouldn’t you know, lamb, which I have a freezer full of, is a “warming” food, and I am advised not to use it for Willie or Lassie either. Sigh. The dogs of my friends are very grateful.
I should add here that I have never seen any research about feeding dogs different types of protein based on their chinese medicine evaluation, but because I feed good, high quality food and give them lots of variety, I can’t imagine it would hurt them to follow that advice and it might help, so why not? (see Four Paws, Five Directions for more on this.)
I use Natural Balance canned food and Wellness most often for their primary protein if I don’t have something cooked up for them at home. I am always looking for specials at markets: last night I bought a somewhat obscene 10 pound roll of hamburger for $1.79 pound. I cut it up into one pound pieces and froze it.
Their veggies are usually some combination of broccoli, kale, spinach, green beans, celery, lettuce, potato, carrots and squash, all cooked.
Tonight I’ll give Lassie duck or fish, (canned), and since I’ve finished up her oats for now, she’ll get cooked Kashi for grains, (not the cereal, the grain) and cooked carrots and spinach for veggies. (I usually cook up batches of veggies for the dogs over the weekend. It helps to have TWO freezers at the farm!)
Last night Willie ate about a 1/4 cup of Duck and Potato kibble, about 2/3 of a cup of cooked beef, (much more than Lassie), 3-4 TB of veggies, a whole sardine (canned in water, no salt) and a Pro-biotic tab. Tonight he’ll get canned duck or fish and the same veggies that Lassie gets.
Both dogs get LOTS of water added to their dinners, even though there is so little kibble in it I basically feed my dogs soup in the belief that they need lots of fresh water. That may be crazy, but it can’t hurt them. They also are fed twice a day, getting only slightly more in the evening than the morning. In addition, they eat kibble and canned meat stuffed into a frozen Kong first thing in the morning.
I hope that is useful information to those of you who asked. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on all this.(And if you pay as much attention to your own diet as you do to your dog’s!?)
Meanwhile, back at the farm: I had hoped to add a video of leaping lambs that I taped this morning, but I’ve spent too long writing, and have 4 more papers to grade and hours more work on my UW lecture for tomorrow…. so here are some beautiful harbingers of spring for you, leaping lambs to come soon!