YOUR WHOLE PET
Real food for dogs is easier than you think
Although you may eat nearly every meal at the greasy spoon near your office or live on microwaved Lean Cuisine and Diet Coke, you at least know what you should be eating: a varied, balanced diet of fresh foods, with a minimum of processed, packaged convenience items.
But that's you. You're a mammal with two legs and opposable thumbs -- and therefore must have completely different nutritional requirements from mammals with, say, four legs and an amazingly sensitive nose, right? How else to explain the lifetime of processed, packaged foods that is apparently just what the doctor ordered for the family dog?
We cheerfully accept that kibble is a wonderful way to feed our dogs, when we rarely choose to live on Ensure meal-replacement drinks ourselves. But is it possible that the same foods that make up a healthy diet for humans -- things like eggs, meat, vegetables and dairy products -- might form the basis of a healthy diet for dogs as well?
Could the emperor that is the $15 billion pet-food industry not be wearing any clothes?
Not exactly. There's plenty to learn from the nutritional sciences, including research done by pet-food companies. Diets that are excessive in some nutrients can be toxic to dogs, just as they are to humans, and nutritional deficiencies can cause illness in dogs as well. But it's always a good idea to ask questions about research funding and design and the industry ties of researchers and experts. After scrutinizing the reliability of the information, decide for yourself which parts of it are credible.
Certainly some people won't want to feed their dogs a fresh-food diet even if it might be healthier. Hell, I know plenty of people who secretly wish they could subsist on a nice bowl of Human Chow three times a day. And a homemade diet really is more expensive and time-consuming than pouring pellets into a bowl or opening a can.
But let's imagine you suddenly were struck with how unhealthy it would be to go the rest of your life eating nothing but Total cereal. To never eat a salad or a piece of roasted chicken or a peach. And so you decide you'd like to include some fresh foods in your dog's diet, without setting him up for nutritional problems or dietary disturbances. How would you go about it?
Twenty-one years ago, when I started making my dogs' food in my own kitchen, there were only a couple of books about homemade diets and very few vets who supported the idea. People like me were mostly on their own.
Today, it's comparatively easy to learn about using fresh foods in canine diets. Feeding our dogs out of our own kitchens has become such a widespread practice there are even dozens of competing ideologies: Raw food, prey model, home cooking, breed-specific, vegetarian and more -- pretty much every ideology found in human nutritional circles has its canine counterpart. Thousands of dog owners in the Bay Area feed their dogs diets wholly or partially based on fresh foods, and there are tens of thousands more nationwide.
Many dog owners have even formed regional co-ops to buy fresh foods for their dogs in bulk, to bring down costs. There are many veterinarians who enthusiastically support homemade diets. Dog owners can investigate the dozens of books, e-mail lists, Web sites and articles to find out more about feeding dogs a fresh-food diet.
The best results usually come when the dog owner is exposed to a variety of approaches and ideas, rather than blindly following one guru or feeding plan. There are many worthwhile books on canine diets, and it's a good idea to read several of them.
Two useful starter books are the Rodale Press classic, "Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," now in its third edition, and "Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative," by renowned veterinary gastroenterologist Donald Strombeck, DVM, Ph.D. Both are loaded with recipes for homemade diets -- the Pitcairn book even includes a few simple recipes meant to be mixed with kibble. There is no "one true way" to feed a dog, so try different things and see what works best for your dog and your lifestyle.
It's easy to know if something is practical for you as an owner, but how do you judge if a diet is working for your dog? Although a dog's appearance is no guarantee there isn't a hidden health problem, dog owners use such clues every day to decide if their dog is doing well on a specific commercial food. The guidelines are no different for homemade diets: Does she have a shiny coat and clear eyes? Does she have lots of energy? Is she itchy? Does she have bad breath? Is her stool normal? And of course, does she like the food? After all, the nutritional value of a diet your dog won't eat is zero.
Are there pitfalls? The primary one is the convenience factor. Pet foods exist because humans benefit from them. They're infinitely easier than making fresh meals for our pets and nearly always less expensive. Still, after a period of trial and error, you'll probably find it's much easier than you think to increase the amount of fresh food in your dog's diet.
Nutritionally, there are both risks and benefits to feeding a homemade diet. Fresh foods can be a surprisingly good investment in your dog's well-being. After all, when we make food in our own kitchens, we don't have to worry about shipping, shelf life, packaging, advertising, merchandising or price point. We can make decisions based entirely on our dog's nutritional interests. Commercial pet-food manufacturers, from the tiniest boutique companies to the largest multinational conglomerates, don't have that luxury.
While it's important to use recipes and feeding plans appropriate for dogs, there's actually a lot of wiggle room in formulating a dog's diet. Canines are, overall, rather forgiving nutritionally. That's part of their success as a species. Certainly modern pet dogs, who don't hunt or scavenge, have few opportunities to fill nutritional gaps on their own the way wild animals do, and therefore it's up to us to get it right. Growing puppies and dogs who are being bred have special nutritional needs as well.
But the human race and its assorted domesticated animals have managed to survive and reproduce for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years, without the assistance of the modern food-manufacturing plant. This isn't a license to feed dogs a poorly constructed diet -- but rather a little reality check on the idea that your dog requires such a precise, nutritionally specific diet that you need finely calibrated laboratory equipment and a degree in nutrition to make his dinner. Aside from the willingness to do it, you really just need a few balanced recipes and the same measuring spoons and cups you'd use to make a cake from a mix.
Pet owners have been sold the idea that there's something inherently different about "people food" and "dog food." There isn't. Food is food. Recipes are recipes. It doesn't need to be processed into pellets to be "dog food." Putting together a varied, nutritious canine diet in your own kitchen takes some awareness and some thought, but it's genuinely no more (or less) difficult than putting together a healthy, nutritious diet for yourself.
And who knows? Maybe you'll do that next.
Christie Keith is a contributing editor for Universal Press Syndicate's Pet Connection, and past director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online. She lives in San Francisco.
April 19, 2007
Dear Royal Canin USA Customer,
It is with sincere regret that I inform you of a new and unfortunate development with some of our pet food products.
Although we have no confirmed cases of illness in pets, we have decided to voluntarily remove the following dry pet food products that contain rice protein concentrate due to the presence of a melamine derivative.
ROYAL CANIN SENSIBLE CHOICE® (available in pet specialty stores nationwide)
- Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Senior DRY DOG FOOD
- Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Puppy DRY DOG FOOD
- Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Adult DRY DOG FOOD
- Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Senior DRY DOG FOOD
- Rice & Catfish Meal Formula Adult DRY DOG FOOD
ROYAL CANIN VETERINARY DIET™ (available only in veterinary clinics)
- Canine Early Cardiac EC 22™
- Canine Skin Support SS21™
- Feline Hypoallergenic HP23™
ALL PRODUCTS WITH AN EXPIRATION DATE OF APRIL 19TH, 2008 ARE MADE WITHOUT CHINESE SOURCED VEGETABLE PROTEINS AND ARE SAFE.
We are taking this proactive stance to voluntarily recall these products to avoid any confusion for our customers about which Royal Canin USA products are safe and which products may be affected.
Pet owners should immediately stop feeding their pets the Royal Canin USA dry pet food products listed above. Pet owners should consult with a veterinarian if they are concerned about the health of their pet. No other Royal Canin diets are affected by this recall and CONTINUE TO BE safe for pets to eat.
In addition, Royal Canin USA will no longer use any Chinese suppliers for any of our vegetable proteins.
This decision to recall some of our dry pet food products is driven by our philosophy that the “Pet Comes First”. The safety and nutritional quality of our pet food is Royal Canin USA’s top priority. Pet owners who have questions about this recall and other Royal Canin USA products should call 1-800-592-6687 or (800) 513-0041.
On behalf of the entire Royal Canin family, our hearts go out to the pet owners and everyone in the pet community who have been affected by all of the recent recalls. We are as passionate about the health and happiness of our customers’ pets as we are of our own, so we are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure this never happens again.
President and CEO
Royal Canin USA
Ownership of APBTs is controversial, due to a well publicized series of attacks by dogs considered to be of this breed over the last few decades. These attacks have led to the ownership of APBTs and Pit Bulls in general being restricted or banned in many parts of the world. Many owners of APBTs claim that well-bred APBTs are not human aggressive, and suggest that the problem is due to the breed's appeal to irresponsible segments of society who may breed or train the dogs to guard and fight. APBT owners are also concerned that many of the dog attacks attributed to Pit Bulls are not perpetrated by actual registered American Pit Bull Terriers, but merely by poorly bred dogs that "look like" APBTs.
APBT and APBT-looking dogs are often associated with the urban and hip hop culture, and many young, predominantly male, people purchase them on the grounds of wanting a 'tough dog' — sadly, dogs of any breed acquired for such purposes often end up maltrained, misused and in poor health.
The APBT is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, unlike the closely related breeds the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It is, however, recognized by the United Kennel Club, and by the American Pit Bull Registry.
Pit Bulls can be very sweet, curious, intelligent, and clownish. They are noted for their outgoing, affectionate, eager-to-please disposition and their fondness for people; they love attention and relish the company of humans. When raised with a firm but fair hand a Pit Bull can make a wonderful family pet, however, APBTs can also be stubborn, pushy, and prone to display aggression towards other dogs. Thus, they should not be the first choice of dog for a novice dog owner.
The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. breed statistics as of December 2005 show an 83.5% passing rate for Pit Bulls as compared to an 81.2% overall pass rate for all the different breeds they test, showing that these dogs have stable and dependable temperaments. However, a firm, even hand and early obedience training are musts for this and many other breeds. Inexperienced owners tend to find them to be too much to handle - Pit Bulls can be quite "bouncy"! They generally have a lot of energy and high prey drive; they need exercise and stimulation in order to channel that energy properly and not become frustrated, bored, and destructive.
Despite the stereotype, the average, sound-minded pit bull is not a threat where children are concerned. Though the AKC and UKC recommend that no child be left alone with any dog, the Pit Bull, like many of its relatives, is a breed more likely not to know its own strength and knock a toddler down totally by accident rather than by force. (This is another big reason why training is important.) With slightly older children they can be a patient and exuberant friend: Pit Bulls were bred to have a high tolerance for pain and thus will put up with a child's tail yanking, horseplay, and tumbling with little complaint and no snapping. It is also a breed that is very strong for its size and weight, so adults and older children are better recommended to take the dog on its leash.
Pit Bulls often display some level of dog aggression, especially towards strange dogs of the same sex or level of assertiveness. Early socialization and good training can mean that many individuals of the breed never display this trait. As a breed they mature later than usual, between the ages of two and three years. A responsible dog owner (of any breed) does not let their dog interact with strange dogs unsupervised, and knows how to avoid a dog fight.
Pit Bulls were never bred for human aggression or guarding behavior. In fact, they were bred against human aggression because in the pit fighting days the handlers had to be able to handle their dogs as well as treat their wounds, and if necessary, quickly pull the dog out of a fight for various reasons. Any dog that did show the slightest sign of human aggression in that day was 'culled', and therefor, not allowed to carry on its bloodline. For that reason stable examples of the breed are generally not suitable as guard dogs. It is important that Pit Bulls who display any sign of human aggression are not bred, in order to preserve the stable and friendly nature of the breed.
When selecting a Pit Bull puppy, it is paramount to find a breeder who selects puppies for their good temperament and not for aggressive tendencies towards other dogs or towards humans. A good breeder should know the UKC standard, and should both health test and temperament test their breeding stock. A breeder who boasts about their dogs' "guard dog" skills or "protective" behavior is a giveaway that their dogs are bred for improper human aggression. It is also a good idea for prospective Pit Bull owners to research the breeder, ask for references and ask to see their facilities and other dogs they have raised. It is a good policy for owners to have their dog micro-chipped where possible as this breed is often stolen for ill uses; in the U.S. a dog license is recommended as well as most areas require them.
Adult Pit Bulls are frequently also available from animal shelters. Reputable shelters will temperament test their dogs before adoption, so that only dogs with stable temperaments are available for rehoming. The advantage of obtaining an adult dog from a shelter is that its temperament is already known, and a dog with low dog aggression or low prey drive can be selected if desired.
As bright, athletic dogs, American Pit Bull Terriers excel in many activities, including weight pulling, search and rescue, dog agility trials, flyball, and can even do well in some advanced obedience training. In the United States they have been used as narcotics detection police dogs, Border Patrol dogs, and Search and Rescue dogs because of their tenacity, high energy drive, and versatility. In a home they can make wonderful dogs to go on a morning run with, take out on errands, and play fetch. It is true that Pit Bulls grab and hold on - but what they most often grab on to and refuse to let go of is your heart.. as a previous Pit Bull owner and advocate for animal rights, I created this community to join the others in helping dispell some of the myths about this wonderful breed.