All our dogs have been fed kibble. Our first dog, Kayak, a malamute-mix, ate grocery store dog kibble. She did fine on it, healthy, happy, and long-lived (almost 15 years). Cleo, a Chow-mix of some kind from the Humane Society, also ate kibble. Having lived on the streets, she was used to scrounging, so she also self-supplemented her diet with food off the counters and dining room table. She was a contented dog with a beautiful dark tri-colored coat, who lived only to about 6-ish, dying early of a heart defect – nothing food related.
It was only when we got our first purebred dog, Cooper the Irish Water Spaniel, that I began to learn that there even existed higher- and lower-quality kibbles.
As a puppy, Cooper came with instructions, one of which was a recommendation to continue feeding what he’d been getting, which was definitely not to be found at my local grocery store. So we switched to a kibble that looked pretty much the same as the grocery store brand, but was about twice the price.
But hey, he was my special puppy, and I wanted to do what was best.
As time went, we moved in to more and more high quality kibble. Cooper developed Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy, and I started reading. In addition to all the recommendations about salmon oil and vitamin E, almost everything I read recommended feeding a grain-free food. So, OK. I can do that. And again, the kibble looked about the same, but cost three times the price of the grocery store brand. Admittedly, the ingredients read much more like food and much less like chemicals. There was no corn, wheat, rice, or any other grain. And there was more recognizable meat ingredients, like “beef liver” and “chicken fat” instead of “meat meal”.
Then two things happened. We got another Irish Water Spaniel puppy, Carlin, who almost right away lost his coat due to skin infections, and I finally got really tired of Cooper’s cycling through seasons of shiny thick coat, then dry woolly coat. Tooey can eat anything and stay perfectly healthy doing it, but for the boys I thought maybe better food might be at least a partial answer to their skin and coat issues. So I decided to try feeding raw food. As in mostly raw meat.
If you’re interested in really jumping into controversy and argument, try reading about feeding raw food to dogs. Try asking a raw-feeding advocate a question, and then prepare to duck. Unless, of course, you’re talking to someone kind and reasonable – I’ve been fortunate to have found several of those. But even so, strong opinions are held in this arena, and a few folks can be quite combative. Based on my reading and conversations, here are some things people apparently want to argue about:
- Should you feed fruits and/or vegetables to your dogs? What about grains?
- Can you feed both kibble and raw foods? If so, must you feed them in separate meals, or can you mix them within a meal?
- Can you cook some of the meat, or do you have to feed it all raw?
- Can you mix meats in a single meal?
- Can you grind the meat, or do you have to feed it in chunks, or perhaps even in the form of an animal part or whole animal?
- Is there a proper ratio of muscle meat, bone, and organ meat? If so, what is it?
- Is it OK to feed your dog fish? If so, what kinds? And does it have to be raw?
- Should you add any supplements?
So basically I’ve come to my own answers, and here’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months.
So far, it seems to balance convenience and quality, the dogs love it, and it’s only four times more expensive than grocery store kibble (if four is an exaggeration, it’s not by much):
- Weekday breakfast consists of half (by approximate calorie count) very high-quality kibble and half ground meat. Usually the meat is ground beef heart and green tripe, but sometimes its ground turkey or chunks of pork. Lamb is just way too expensive, and I think chicken is too “hot” (in the Chinese medicine sense) for dogs with skin issues. Weekend breakfasts don’t include kibble.
- Dinner consists of something boney, like a chunk of turkey neck or chicken wing, plus some kind of ground or chopped meat. About once a week I’ll include whole cooked high-fat fish like sardines or mackerel (the dogs make disgusted faces when given raw fish and won’t eat it), organ meat like beef or lamb liver, or an egg.
- To each meal, I add a vitamin supplement formulated for raw diets.
- Each meal also gets moistened with hot water, or if I have any, hot homemade meat broth.
- Dinners also include a teaspoon of coconut or olive oil, plus a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar.
- About three or four times a week, I add chopped and blended raw vegetables to the dinners, usually leafy green, cruciferous, and/or non-starchy vegetables blended with water and fresh garlic.
I don’t know yet if this is having an impact on their coats. But here’s what I do know:
- They almost always eat all of the food. (Well, Tooey has always eaten all of her food plus whatever the boys leave, but since I’ve been feeding mostly raw, the boys don’t leave her much anymore.)
- The skin on Cooper’s elbow calluses has softened.
- The inside of their ears stay clean longer and are much less gunky.
- Cooper has much less discharge from his eyes.
- Less poop.
If I didn’t feed any kibble at all, probably that would be even better. It’s just that I get so rushed on weekday mornings, that including some grain-free kibble has been just easier on me.
So, how much do I feed? I know the approximately calorie count of the ground meat and kibble I feed, and I just adjust up and down based on whether or not I can feel the dog’s ribs. Right now, I feed the equivalent of these amounts:
- Carlin, 1 year old intact male: 2.5 .lbs of meat per day (plus a bite of apple for dessert, please)
- Cooper, 8 year old neutered male: 1.6 .lbs of meat per day (sometimes he asks for more, and I give it to him)
- Tooey, 6 year old spayed female: 1.0 .lbs of meat per day (which she believes is way, way too little)
Most likely I’ll adjust all this as I go along. But as long as I can afford it, I’ll keep feeding mostly raw.