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Dog food decisions can be riddled with confusion and guilt. With so much conflicting information, what is a dog owner to do?
Concerned dog owners are bombarded daily with messages about dog food.
“Kibble is fine, don’t believe those raw fanatics.”
“Raw is dangerous, ask the CDC.”
“Dogs are carnivores, don’t believe the myths about raw dog food.“
“Dogs are carnivores, go grain-free.”
“Dogs are omnivores, wolves eat grains, grain is fine.”
“Balance, make sure you have balance – not too many calories, too much calcium, phosphorus, or vitamin D.”
“Coconut oil is awesome!”
“Coconut oil is not all it is cracked up to be.”
So what is the answer? What is a dog owner to do in this confusing, guilt-ridden doggie-diet space?
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Love For Raw Dog Food
I hesitate to call this dog food other than the fact that you are feeding it to your dog. Raw can range from a commercial raw diet like Primal Raw (which I mentioned in The Labrador Retriever May Hold Answers To Feeding Woes In Big Dogs), Raw Paws Pet Food, and Darwin’s Pet Food, to whole raw meat, bones, and organs (fed in a ratio of 80:10:10). Some raw feeders are very strict and don’t feed anything else, while others will add fruits, vegetables, and other grains as well.
Sulley was raw-fed from 10 weeks until he was 2 years old. I loved feeding raw. Sulley LOVED me feeding raw! Some people are grossed out by it. I loved that I was preparing his food and knew exactly what he was eating. And I strangely enjoyed watching him eat. It was like watching a wolf eat its prey only with enormous jowls and profuse slobber.
Feeding Sulley raw was a transition from fancy packaging and mystery ingredients to 50-pound cases of beef hearts and turkey necks.
Dog Food Allergies
At about 18 months old, Sulley started getting constant ear infections. Constant.
Despite regular cleaning, antibiotics, and ear solutions, Sulley was plagued with inflammation, gunk, and fluid in his ears. He would pace our bedroom at night shaking his head unsuccessfully trying to get the fluid out.
My vet suggested doing a food trial by taking Sulley off raw and putting him on a limited-ingredient prescription dog food. I opted not to do that as I am not a fan of prescription diets and did not want to take him off raw.
Instead, I did my own food trial.
I started by eliminating chicken as chicken is very commonly the culprit in food allergies in dogs. Almost immediately, Sulley’s ear infections cleared up and his ears have been clean ever since. A blessing…sort of.
Without chicken, a raw dog food diet can be costly if you are not able to find local sources of meat economically. At that time, I reluctantly decided to switch him to commercial dog food, Zignature. A decent dog food, but a decision that brought with it tremendous guilt for not doing more for my sweet Sulley.
Commercial (Kibble) Dog Food
I am not going to go through the plethora of commercial dog foods out there. There are too many to count and, quite honestly, I’m not sure there is that much that separates them from one another. They all use the same basic method of manufacturing and processing the kibble so that it is shelf-stable.
Now that I have put myself out there so vulnerably, I might as well go all in. I fed Dog Chow not that long ago, and AFTER feeding Sulley a 100% raw diet for two years. Double GASP!
Why, oh why would I stoop to the bottom of the barrel like that?
How could I, an educated, professional woman who actually had a business selling holistic dog food before holistic was even a thing, inflict such abuse on my poor dog? Seems like an inexplicable choice given the plethora of other commercial dog food options.
Junior’s Miraculous Recovery
When Junior came home at 10 weeks old I switched him to raw. I prepared Junior’s raw dog food exactly as I had prepared Sulley’s raw food two years before. But within two weeks I started to notice alarming changes to Junior’s hind legs.
He seemed painful at times and his structure and movement were off. Really off.
I consulted his breeder and my veterinarian and the three of us agreed to switch him back to commercial dog food and observe him over the next few weeks.
Enter the devil: Dog Chow.
I consulted several experts in the Mastiff breed whom I trust and they almost unanimously recommended Dog Chow. “You want as low a protein dog food as you can find in order to slow the puppy’s growth down,” they all said.
I was so worried about Junior that I would have agreed to boil chicken for three squares a day if I thought it would help my Mastiff puppy.
Feeding Dog Chow, while putting my gag reflex to the test, was within the bounds of reason to make Junior better.
It is no exaggeration when I say that Junior improved almost immediately.
By day two on kibble, Junior was back to being his playful, crazy self. And within a week, his hind legs were completely back to normal. The Dog Chow worked.
Dog Food Mystery
Bring on more guilt. Guilt for feeding Dog Chow. Guilt for causing Junior’s issues in the first place.
To this day I do not know what exactly caused Junior’s deformity and pain for those two weeks. Too much bone? Too little muscle meat? Excess liver? Or could it have been an extreme case of Panosteitis and not attributed to his diet at all?
I will never know with certainty.
Dog Food Choices Today
So what are Sulley and Junior eating today?
Right now, they are getting both; about 50-75% commercial dog food (Fromm Family Foods) and 25-50% raw.
The raw component has ranged from Primal Raw to raw chicken (for Junior), duck necks, liver, tripe, eggs and any other raw meat I am preparing for my family that day.
In addition to the meat and kibble, I add coconut oil, fish oil, NWC Naturals Probiotic and Enzyme Powders, and Vitamin c powder. I don’t do all of these supplements everyday. They are varied each day so that over time both dogs get what they need.
While raw feeding purists will argue against my feeding regimen, my perspective is that some raw is better than no raw for Sulley and Junior.
The Irony Of Dog Food
How ironic is it that a woman who drinks too much Diet Coke, loves salty foods, and bakes bread with extra gluten would lose sleep over what to feed her dogs?
There is only one explanation for this inexplicable irony.
I love my dogs. I believe the care I provide Sulley and Junior should be commensurate with the unconditional love they give me. That is a tall order and one that keeps me up at night.
Let Go Of The Guilt
So, right here, right now, I want you (and me) to let go of the guilt about dog food.
I am here to say kudos to you for the wonderful dog mom or dad that you are. The fact that you made it to the end of this post PROVES you love and care about your big dog’s health and wellness. If you didn’t you wouldn’t have made it past the title.
My goal here today is not to change your mind if you feed kibble. Or to scare you if you feed raw. Heck, I feed both so I guess that makes me a bit like Switzerland at the moment.
My goal is to let you know that you are not alone.
In addition to sharing this with your friends, here are some things you can do starting today:
Tips For Large Breed Dog Owners
- Pay attention to your dog, how he looks, and how he is feeling.
- Be knowledgeable about the dog food choice you make and why.
- Be flexible and open-minded.
- And, most importantly, get some sleep.