Breeders are interesting people with interesting preferences. I know that. However, I was not quite prepared for adventure that was coming my way with my Anatolian Shepherd puppy.
It is a long story on how I got to the puppy, but suffice it to say I ended up at Rock Farms in the next state being handed a pup by the breeder, Deb. I have no problem with breeder selection and have had good luck with it before. Good breeders are good judges of temperament and character, both for the pet and the owner.
I was not prepared for what came next. We arrive at the farm to find the pups and their parents living with goats. This fosters an affinity for livestock at an early age. The pup looks confused: he is not used to so much human contact. Usually, the breeder does not allow her pups as pets, but I have chickens and am obviously heartbroken over the loss of my last dog. We bond over dogs and herbs and she approves me. We sign the papers, money changes hands, and I wrap the huge pup in a blanket to travel home because goats are not clean.
This is when she springs it on me: “By the way, your pup has to eat raw.”
Reminder to self: don’t mention raw feeding to strangers.
What? I have no idea what that means. She proceeds to tell me that her dogs get raw veggies, raw chicken, raw goat ends, etc. for meals. I must look dubious, and she demonstrates by reaching inside a cooler and flipping a chicken haunch at my 15-week-old pup, who promptly downs it. Great, I think, I am bringing a puppy home with a bowel perforation. Next thought is, how expensive is this going to be?
She recognises my consternation and begins to explain how she prepares the pup food in the blender each morning, because they won’t eat the vegetables whole and pick around them for the good stuff. (Hmmm, that sounds familiar. I think my kids did that.) For dinner, just give him a handful of meat. She hands me a 30 lb. bag of goat ends and a book on how to feed a dog raw food, apparently now as concerned as I was that the pup would not make it to his first birthday.
We drive home. The dirty pup cries the whole way, then throws up. Carsick? Dying? Not sure which. We stop at Petco for a do-it-yourself bath before heading home. Then, the research starts – and I mean real research, not the advice that every single person had on how to do it. Reminder to self: don’t mention raw feeding to strangers.
The breeder recommended enzymes for the first year to help the pup digest bones. I find the suggested ones on Amazon for an amazingly cheap price. I use Source Naturals Daily Essential Enzymes; there are many others out there, but I can swear by these as the pup did indeed survive. I read the book Deb gave me and ordered several more from Amazon. Raw Feeding 101 or Raw & Thriving are good ones. There are also a ton of articles online that are free. Always research the author.
At the end of the day, this is what I came up with: don’t listen to anyone who is not an expert on canine nutrition and don’t be afraid to supplement until you get it right. Dogs have nutritional needs, just like humans. Vitamins, minerals, healthy oils, along with vegetables, fruits, proteins, and, yes, even some grains are important for good health.
I stopped using a blender early on because I found that if I used bone broth, I met many mineral needs and my pup, Rex Bellator, didn’t mind vegetables with bone broth. I added organ meats to the vegetables and bone broth along with apples, cottage cheese, whole eggs and some Dinovite I had a coupon for. Rex always leaves the apples behind. For dinner, Rex ate raw chicken with whatever meat ends the local butcher provided. He thrived.
I know that after that one year guarantee I could stop, but Rex is healthy, lies at my feet in gratitude when I make his food (yeah, lets go with that), and I take a little pride in it.
I thought I had it covered until his one-year check up when the vet said he was beautiful, healthy, and 10 pounds underweight. ‘How can that be? He doesn’t beg or scrounge for food.’ She suggested adding cooked rice or cooked cereal to his food. So, the recipe changed again to meet his needs. Breakfast changed to California mixed veggies, cottage cheese, eggs, organ meats, bone broth, and a combination of baked potato, oatmeal, rice, or the like. Dinner is now rice, bone broth, and mixed raw meat.
Is it expensive? No, it is less per pound than good kibble. Is it time consuming? No, I make food 1-2 times each month and it takes 30 minutes. I know that after that one year guarantee I could stop, but Rex is healthy, lies at my feet in gratitude when I make his food (yeah, lets go with that), and I take a little pride in it.
Cooking for your dog is not everybody’s thing. I get that. And, just as a reminder, you cannot go from straight kibble to a raw diet overnight. Another thing to remember is that a dog that digests raw bone from a pup is different from a grown dog who no longer has those enzymes, so please do not give your dogs raw meat with bones unless you have talked to your vet. But, if you are interested in beginning, here are some tips:
• Research before you start. Find resources online and don’t forget to check with your vet.
• Invest in a good chest freezer. The food must be kept refrigerated or frozen and thawed when needed.
• Local butchers will give you their ends to supplement the lean meat you buy. I have gotten 20 lbs. of beef or pork cuttings for $3. Not $3/lb., just $3.
• My friends now give me freezer burned meat or venison when they clean out their refrigerators. Rex doesn’t care.
• Aldi’s and some other markets have organic meat for under $1/lb. This is where I get my chicken and sometimes my vegetables.
• Vegetables go on sale. Make sure you are aware of what a dog can and cannot have. Nightshade plants are never good for pets. Veggies can usually be found for well under $1.
• Dogs need omega oils. Don’t be afraid to throw sardines or other oily fishes into the mix.
• Never be ashamed of supplementing.
• Prepackage meals in gallon freezer bags or reusable plastic containers for easy use. (The last point may be a deal killer for you but is something I do regularly to make sure my dog is healthy.)
• Drop stool samples off at your vet as needed. I look at my dog’s poop and if there is too much mucus (some is normal) or if it is soft or runny for more than a couple days, I bring a sample in to make sure he didn’t eat anything that isn’t good for him.
Rex is now a happy, 2-year-old therapy dog who works a few hours every week and loves playing with his friends, both human and canine. And I am a relaxed Chef Chien enjoying time with her pup.
Images by Shel DeLisle and Genesee Pet Resort.