You Are What You Eat
Feeding dogs is a very controversial subject and first of all I must emphasise that I am no nutritionist, nor am I qualified in any such way, I am merely somebody who began to look into canine nutrition after experiencing problems when feeding a commercial diet. Neither am I, by writing this article, professing to tell anybody how they should or should not feed their dogs.
A balanced diet
Despite what many people say, feeding dogs fresh food is easy! Dogs do not require every single meal to be scientifically balanced; indeed, I believe that this is one of the problems with feeding a commercial food.
Most people know that a good healthy diet for themselves and their family is a varied one, consisting mainly of good quality meat, fruit and vegetables. It may come as a surprise, but it is just the same for dogs! The only difference is that where we should have more fruit and vegetables than meat, with dogs it is the other way round - they require more meat than veg. So, providing you feed a varied diet, it will balance itself over a period of one or two weeks. I personally take the attitude that too much of anything is not good for you!
It is well known that as soon as you cook something it loses its nutritional value. Not only are vitamins lost, but necessary enzymes (proteins) are destroyed. One of the most important jobs for enzymes is to aid in digestion, without them the pancreas is forced to work harder and produce more digestive enzymes. The changes brought about by cooking the food means that it is not so easily digested, which in turn means more and larger faeces.
Of course common sense must always be used when handling raw food, and the same precautions you take when storing and handling raw food for your family must be taken.
Bacteria is found everywhere - some are harmful, but many are part of the "friendly flora" that actually inhibits harmful ones so they do not grow in large numbers. E. coli and salmonella are a part of the normal bacterial flora found in the gut, and does not cause problems to a healthy dog. Let's face it, dogs are scavengers and will eat things like faeces, soil, contaminated meat, etc., with no problems.
There is also the fact that a dog's digestive intestinal tract is a lot shorter than that of a human. With our long intestinal tract, bacteria have ample opportunity to wreak havoc, a dog rarely has a problem unless the dog is very ill.
However, problems can arise if the amount of certain bacteria is excessive. This is why it is essential to feed your dogs only high quality food (fit for human consumption) which has been handled and stored correctly.
Meat supplies a dog with protein, fat and minerals. The protein supplied is of high quality and therefore easily digestible, far more than the protein found in vegetables. Although meat is the best source of energy for your dog, a diet consisting of just meat alone would not be good enough as meat lacks some essential nutrients. It would also mean a diet to high in protein and phosphorous.
Offal (organ meat) is also excellent for dogs. Don't forget that a wild dog will eat the whole of its prey - muscle meat, offal, bones, feathers/hair. Liver, kidneys, hearts, tongues, tripe and even brains are all an excellent source of essential nutrients for your dog.
Bones form an important part of a dog's diet. They don't just give him pleasure, they also work at keeping your dog's teeth clean and gums healthy, and are full of essential nutrients. Bones contain all the minerals a dog requires, more importantly they contain calcium and phosphorus in a perfect balance. Bones also contain essential fatty acids and the fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E). The marrow of the bone is important for the immune system as it contains blood forming nutrients, such as copper and iron. And because the bone is full of fat and protein it gives your dog energy. Chicken carcasses and wings are excellent.
But are they dangerous? Only raw bones should be fed. It is when you cook bones that they become brittle and will splinter more than raw. Numerous dog owners have fed their dogs bones for many, many years without a single problem. Of course this does not mean that there never has been a problem with a raw bone - there is danger in everything we do, it has been known for somebody to seriously choke on a prawn! Bones should be given under supervision, as indeed should all food.
Vegetables & Fruit
Vegetables supply dogs with most of his vitamin requirements, as well as essential fatty acids, and are also necessary for the fibre it supplies. But vegetables have a cellulose skin covering which prevents the dog from digesting it properly. In the wild, the dog will obtain his vegetable matter from the stomach contents of its prey - all suitable crushed and processed. If you give a dog a carrot, then you will recognise it as it comes out the other end and your dog will not have gained any of its nutrients. In order for the dog to digest and receive the nutrients from vegetables, they must be suitably crushed first. The best way to do this is to process the vegetables through a juicer or meat mincer. A food processor can also be used, providing it is run for long enough to crush the vegetables.
Although fruit contains mostly water, the major nutrient is carbohydrate - simple sugars and energy foods. But, like vegetables, fruit also contains vitamins, enzymes and anti-oxidants, as well as minerals.
Dogs in the wild do not consume large quantities of cereals and are therefore far less important than meat and vegetables. If given, they should only be fed wisely and in small quantities.
Oats are probably the best of the grains to feed, and a good source of iron. Oat flakes are already pre-cooked during the flaking and there is no need to cook them again, just soak them overnight in cold milk, watered milk or vegetable broth.
Barley is used by the Arabs as the principal cereal fed to their Arabian horses and salukis. It is an excellent blood cleanser and cooler during the hot weather.
Because rice is easy to digest and does not place any strain on the system, it is and excellent food for the invalid, and particularly good for diarrhoea.
Bread is not a good food for dogs. It is deficient of most vitamins and minerals and being high in carbohydrate and starch it can behave very similar to sugar, causing diseases such as sugar diabetes when fed in large amounts.
With the meat, bones, vegetables and fruit making up the main part of the diet, other foods can be fed to supplement the diet.
Raw eggs are a wonderful source of protein, essential fatty acids and calcium when fed whole, including the shell. But because they contain an enzyme inhibitor, they should not be given to sick dogs. The egg white contains a substance called avidin, which binds with biotin (part of the B complex vitamins) making it unavailable for the dog. However, because the egg yolk is high in biotin, this is not a problem when the whole egg is fed.
Honey is excellent as an antiseptic food. It is great as a natural energiser, nerve tonic and heart tonic.
Dogs also enjoy all kinds of nuts. Like vegetables, the nuts should be crushed and will provide natural oils as well as vitamins and minerals. It is very important to purchase nuts that are fit for human consumption, particularly with peanuts.
Cottage cheese is another good food for sick dogs, as well as healthy ones of course! But it is particularly high in proteins which aid healing of wounds and help to build up muscle. However, it should not be fed in large amounts to a dog which has heart problems as it is moderately high in sodium.
Plain bio (live) yoghurt is excellent because of the presence of living culture. Yoghurt helps to keep the dog's bowels healthy and to normalise the bacteria there. When a dog is put onto antibiotics, it should also be given yoghurt. Antibiotics kill all bacteria - good and bad, feeding live yoghurt helps keep the good bacteria.
Seaweed contains a number of minerals, but is best known for being an excellent source of iodine. Iodine is known for giving dark pigment and also for its powers to stimulate hair growth. Being a glandular tonic, it also stimulates body development and promotes strong bones.