Throw a Dog a (Raw) Bone…And Maybe a Carrot Too!

I would be remiss in my column this issue focusing on animal welfare not to mention the importance of what we feed our companion animals. Many years ago, after losing a dog at mid-life, I switched from a traditional vet to a more holistic one, aligning how my animals were cared for to how I had always managed my family’s health. Along with using blood titers to assess immunity strength and incorporating homeopathic remedies I also changed what I fed them.

Roma, a Standard Poodle, is 6 years old and best friends with Jasper, below, a 12-year-old lab/mix rescued as a puppy from Northeast Animal Shelter.

throw-a-dog-a-bone-image3By switching from what I thought was a high quality kibble food to purchasing brands that I make at home, and focusing on the addition of raw components, I saw an improvement in my older dog’s coat, breath and digestion within a week. I have a very healthy, spunky 12-year-old Lab mutt, Jasper, who was adopted from the Northeast Animal Shelter. My other dog, Roma, is a 6-year-old black Standard Poodle adopted from a medically challenged owner who was not able to properly care for such a spirited young dog. I also have a brother/sister pair of two-year-old cats adopted from the NEADS cat program in Princeton, MA.

Pet owners have been lulled into thinking that feeding our pets is literally a job that takes about a minute: you measure out the appropriate amount of dry kibble, put it in a bowl and you’re done, right? Well, unfortunately truly nourishing our beloved companion animals may take a little more effort than that.

Cats and dogs are prey animals and typically ingest food that is 70% moisture, so that dry, highly processed kibble that you buy once a month and stick in a cupboard is not really the best choice for them. The lack of moisture is particularly problematic for cats, which don’t drink the amount of water that dogs will to make up for the lack in their diet. This can lead to low-grade dehydration that stresses their organs, particularly kidneys, and can result in urinary tract infections and more serious complications as they age.

Low cost and convenience are a seductive combination and can be really hard to let go of, but think of it as preventive medicine that will pay off with a healthier pet and very likely reduced vet bills over the course of their lives. I am now comfortably in a routine where I make up the dogs’ food a couple of times a week, but it does take a little bit of extra organization and time. Some people find their comfort zone is to feed kibble at one meal and do the raw meal at another so they can always fall back on the kibble if they get overwhelmed.

There are resources to make your own pet food from scratch in your own kitchen. Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats is a good one, as is the information on Dr. Mercola’s website healthypets.mercola.com, which features Dr. Karen Becker, a respected holistic veterinarian. A word of caution: do not switch from what you’re feeding now without doing some research. Making your own pet food is more complicated than putting together some protein and veggies from your own meals. Dogs and cats each have unique nutritional needs that require specific ingredients.

throw-a-dog-a-bone-image4Although I initially had thoughts of making my own pet food from scratch, with a hectic work schedule, an active teen still at home and four animals to feed I found the best compromise for me was to buy a dry mix that I cook (Dr. Harvey’s) and mix with raw meat/bone logs from Bravo, available in the freezer section at reputable pet supply stores. I simply follow the recipe, adding in my own vegetables and fruits as I have them.

The bones and their nutrients from prey animals are an important component of a healthy diet for our dogs and cats. There are two categories of raw bones that are recommended by holistic vets for our pet: edible and recreational. There are important guidelines to follow depending upon the size and type of animal you are feeding so it is critical that you get the appropriate information about what to feed your individual pet, but never feed cooked bones. Again, do some checking with the resources listed in this article or at a holistically focused vet or pet supply store, and then throw your dog a bone…a raw one that is!

Transitioning my cats to a raw diet has been a greater challenge. They both started with a very high quality canned food and one of them has successfully moved to Primal, a frozen raw food specifically formulated for cats. I am in the process of sneaking a little bit of the Primal food into the canned food, increasing amounts of the raw until the more finicky one transitions. Cats can be very picky eaters so don’t be surprised if first attempts are met with suspicion and disdain….you know those cats — they want what they want when they want it! Be patient and ask for samples at a high quality pet food store until you find the right brand for your cat.

throw-a-dog-a-bone-image2Whether it’s feeding ourselves, our families or our beloved pets, it does take extra thought and often time to properly nourish ourselves. Although I try to create dishes that are versatile and can be worked into a number of different meals, inevitably there is a lot of prep work that is required. A dear friend of mine, Phyllis, who at 79 years young still has her own garden design company, will often spend several hours on a Sunday chopping all of her veggies for the next several days so she can quickly put together a meal after a long day in someone else’s garden. I will often spend a few hours in the early evening getting a salad dressing, dip or soup made that can help out during upcoming busy days. Accompanied by a glass of wine and some good music, it’s a bit less of a chore! Find whatever works for you and enjoy the bounty that is fall in New England.