Recently, I received an email from someone asking about my journey with Rodrigo, why I began to feed a raw food diet, and how feeding fresh food helped to resolve Rodrigo's health issues. While I do write about this all the time on Keep the Tail Wagging®, I don't think I have a complete timeline in one blog post (or I haven't written on in a while).
So here it is! Thanks, Emme, for the inspiration.
What is Raw Feeding for Dogs?
Raw Feeding for dogs is our attempt to replicate the diet of the Grey Wolf, a distant relative of today's dogs – yes, even your Chihuahua. People who feed raw understand that dogs aren't wolves – they have adapted over the centuries to be our companions and family members. We also understand that the internal makeup of a dog is still very similar to a wolf and therefore feed them as follows:
- 80% Muscle Meat
- 10% Bone
- 5% Liver
- 5% Offal (secreting organs like kidneys, spleen, pancreas, and testicles)
Many raw feeders also add whole food supplements to their dogs' meals to account for nutrients not found in the meat and bone. I add raw sardines for Omega 3 fatty acids (joints, brain health, and skin and coat health), raw goats milk and kefir (digestive supplements and probiotics), raw eggs (multi-vitamin), spirulina (immune system), kelp (iodine), oysters (zinc, manganese, and selenium), vegetables (fiber and other nutrients).
Visit my second blog for my easy raw dog food recipes.
Benefits of Raw Feeding for Dogs
Raw feeding is biologically appropriate for dogs, and the reason it worked so well for Rodrigo is that he was no longer on a diet that promoting an inflammatory reaction in his system. Other benefits include:
- healthy skin and shiny coat
- clean, white teeth
- fresh breath
- healthy digestive system
- stronger immune system
- decreased allergies
- healthy body weight and muscle mass
- no doggy odor
- smaller, less smelly poop
And the bonus of raw feeding is that many health issues can be resolved with diet. Small things that used to be a call to the vet are now a small shift in my dogs' raw diet. And raw feeding has inspired me to find other natural solutions for flea repellents, grooming products, laundry detergent, and more.
Order your copy of A Novice's Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs to learn more about my experience as a raw feeder.
My Journey with Rodrigo
I adopted Rodrigo on a Saturday morning when J and I attended a rescue event in Smokey Point (near our home) to “ask questions.” The second we saw Rodrigo, the only Border Collie mix in the litter, we immediately adopted him and told the group his name. I used to always say that I'd have a black and white cow and name him Rodrigo – well, this is close, right?
A few days later, we adopted his sister, Sydney, and brought them home the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in 2010. According to a DNA test for dogs, Rodrigo is 50% Border Collie and 50% Great Pyrenees.
Rodrigo started his life with us having diarrhea here and there, and I didn't think anything of it. When his loose stool persisted, his veterinarian at the time told me that this was normal. During the first three years of Rodrigo's life, he experienced the following consistently:
- Loose stool and diarrhea
- Joint issues (this started before he reached two years of age)
- Itchy paws (he'd lick them until they developed sores)
- Skin rash
- Yeasty skin
- Chronic ear infections
- Destructive behavior
With each issue, I took my dog to the vet and was given medication. Rodrigo went on several rounds of antibiotics to “cure” his skin issues, and the veterinarian failed to educate me about the damage being done to Rodrigo's gut or tell me that with each round, his gut was becoming more unhealthy, his immune system was becoming more compromised, and the prescriptions were exacerbating the issues and requiring more vet visits.
And I failed to do my homework because I trusted my vet and his education and experience. And I didn't want to offend the veterinarian. Looking back, I should have taken my dog to a new vet the moment his doctor showed that he didn't like being asked questions. But I didn't know.
I was also switching up Rodrigo's kibble every few months to find one that he could eat for a long period. I never found one.
Why I Switched My Dogs to a Raw Food Diet
A week after Rodrigo completed his third round of antibiotics (he was three years old), J was petting him on the sofa and noticed bumps on his back. He parted Rodrigo's hair and found huge welts that were scabbing over. So they started when he was still on antibiotics. That was when I realized that something was WRONG. I had already been exploring raw feeding for blog posts and possibly switching my dogs, but now I knew that I had to stop feeding kibble. If raw feeding could cure my dog, then I was going to give it a try because nothing else was working.
Dr. Cathy Alinovi was paramount in my switch to raw feeding. She helped me write several articles and explained the various models of raw feeding to me. I still remember the day when I was standing on a train platform, heading home for the day, and I called Darwin's Natural Pet Products to set up our first order. Darwin's was fantastic because they helped me figure out the budget and had food out to me immediately.
For the first few months, I fed my dogs a hybrid diet – raw in the morning and kibble in the evening. I wasn't comfortable going cold turkey because I worried about how Rodrigo's gut would react to such a swift change and because I didn't think I could afford it. My boyfriend wasn't onboard with the change, and I didn't want to ask him to share the cost. Today, he is a huge proponent of raw feeding because he's seen the benefits first hand.
How Feeding Raw Helped Rodrigo
Within two weeks of feeding my dogs a raw food diet, I saw huge changes. During the first week, Rodrigo's skin issues and rashes cleared up. And in the first two weeks, we noticed a change in how much he licked his paws. Within the first few months, his joint issues cleared up – he was no longer limping and didn't need a joint supplement I was buying at the time.
How I “Cured” Rodrigo's Gut Issues
The only thing that didn't clear up right away was his digestive issues. They improved, but he continued to have days when he would have loose stool and diarrhea. Feeding raw helped him drop weight, but his gut issues lead to additional weight loss because he wasn't absorbing nutrients from his food. Rodrigo's poop was always a very light color (it was grey once), always very soft, and he developed bad breath, started eating his stool (when it was solid), and his anal glands wouldn't express without help.
This was when I began to take his gut health more seriously, something I should have done from the start. While raw dog food naturally contains living enzymes*, it wasn't enough for Rodrigo, so I began adding food and supplements to support his digestive health, trying this and that until I found a few things that work great for him.
I had him tested by a local nutritionist and learned that he had an intolerance to the following proteins:
- pea protein
- guinea hen
Supplements that Directly Supply Digestive Health
My other dogs also get In Clover Optagest, a prebiotic that serves as food for gut bacteria and helps to create healthy, native gut biome. At this time, Rodrigo can only stomach (pun intended) a small amount of OptaGest, however, the other dogs enjoy it daily.
Whole Foods that Directly Support Digestive Health
*My statement about living enzymes may not apply to raw that has been subjected to high-pressure pasteurization (HPP).
Feeding Premade Raw Dog Food
As I stated, I started by feeding my dogs a commercial premade raw diet by Darwin's Pet. During this time, I also tried food by Bravo Pet Foods, Primal Pet, Stella and Chewys, Nature's Instinct, Sojos, Seattle's Natural Pet Pantry (a local brand), and a dehydrated food by The Honest Kitchen.
My dogs did great, however, feeding commercial raw was expensive – too expensive for my budget.
Feeding Raw Raw Dog Food with a Base Mix
When the owner of a local pet store retired and closed the store, I took advantage of the liquidation sale and purchased all of the base mix offered by The Honest Kitchen. Shortly after, THK had a BOGO sale, and I ordered several cases of The Honest Kitchen, and that became my jam. However, as I began to learn more about dog nutrition, I began to question a diet heavy in grains and potatoes and the impact that diet had on my dogs' dug health and weight.
Feeding DIY Raw Dog Food
In 2015, I switched my dogs to DIY raw dog food. It was a rocky start, and I reached out to Dr. Cathy Alinovi for assistance. Once I was able to secure freezers for storage and a local source, taking the lead with my dogs' diet slowly became easier. Each year since I began feeding a raw diet, I learn something new and it's hard to believe that there was a time when I questioned if this was the right move for my dogs.
When it comes to raw feeding, we're always learning.
Rodrigo is now eight years old. He's at a healthy weight (65 pounds), he no longer has any of the health issues that inspired the change in his diet, and he rarely has gut issues. When he does have loose stool, I simply add Olewo carrots to his meal, and he's right as rain the next day.
His protein intolerances aren't much of an issue anymore because I found quality sources of proteins and all of my dogs enjoy a varied diet with lots of proteins, including a few of the proteins that used to cause him tummy issues. Rodrigo's first vet said that my dog would live a short life; I'm happy to say that Rodrigo marched into his senior years and he's a gorgeous, smart, well behaved (most of the time), healthy, amazing dog.