Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding: Part 2 in a Series.

Focus on the fact that food is food. Whether you’re human, dog, cat, horse or parrot, we all eat food.  What matters is how much protein, fats and carbohydrates you put together, and the vitamins and minerals added depending on the species, i.e. dog vs. cat.

In the modern world, with its many carcinogens, one in three dogs will contract cancer. Just as with people, the addition of highly colored fruits and vegetables to a diet can cut the rate of cancer in dogs by 30%.

Is it safe to feed my pet a raw diet? Safety issues are probably the biggest concern for pet parents when considering a raw diet for their pets. This is not a surprise considering how much contradictory and flat out misinformation exists on the subject. You’ll find an equal amount of information that supports raw feeding as well as discourages raw feeding.

Meet Kato and Drake, two Cane Corsos both on a raw diet with products found at Groovy Cats & Dogs.

The risk involved in feeding a raw diet to your pet is minimal provided you understand what they are and how to manage them. Many veterinarians are not advocates of the raw diet. Their concern, understandably, is that pet parents may not be fully informed about just what a raw diet consists of, and how to properly prepare a raw diet. Throwing down a chunk of raw chicken or beef with some rice in a dog’s bowl is not a raw diet. Veterinarians are also rightfully concerned with the fact that if not properly prepared, a raw diet will lack in certain nutrients, and those deficiencies may eventually make the dog ill.

You’ll want to be aware of the following risks when feeding your dog a raw diet:

Concern #1: Potential for contamination by various bacteria (same risks to humans as when cooking your family a chicken or meatloaf dinner); when feeding a commercially prepared raw diet, your risk is likely lower than when handling meat from your grocer or butcher.

Solution: Any safety concerns regarding bacteria such as salmonella, E-coli or other types of bacteria when handling raw meat are mostly aimed at the humans handling the raw meat, not the family pets. As far as the risks to humans, take the same precautions as handling raw meat to prepare a chicken dinner for the family. Avoid cross-contamination, wash all surfaces and hands thoroughly, for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm soapy water. When it comes to pork, there are additional safety precautions due to potential of trichinosis, so it requires extra care by either freezing it for a longer period of time, or cooking it thoroughly. To read more on safety issues when handling raw meats, visit this link, Safe Food Handling: What You Need to Know.  

Concern #2: Your pet and the type of chewer he is will dictate the types of raw meaty bones, if any, you give to your pet.

Solution: Most do-it-yourself raw diets call for a certain percentage of raw meaty bones to be fed as part of  the diet. Bones and cartilage contain good nutrients for pets such as fats, calcium and phosphorous. Bones also provide a wonderful recreational exercise for pets that is hard to beat. Additionally, bones help keep a dog’s teeth sparkly clean. Dogs were designed to chew, tear and shred. So when buying bones, it is essential to make the right choices based on what kind of chewer the dog is in order to minimize any risks. Is the dog a chomper or a gulper when eating food? Has the dog displayed tendencies to swallow large objects whole? Dogs displaying these tendencies are not good candidates for bones.

Dogs can be trained to chew properly, but plan on committing enough time to train the dog and gain the confidence to add bones to the dog’s diet. Another area of concern: some dogs become very food aggressive over bones. They become fixated on them. Many a dog fight has broken out over a bone. The best way to deal with this issue is to separate the dogs in a multiple dog family and/or place them in their own crate. Never leave a dog and a child alone together while the dog is eating. An alterative to feeding bones is to add bone meal (bones ground up into a fine powder) as a supplement. There are several options on the market today which have the meat, bone and cartilage all ground up together.

Concern #3: Does your pet have a compromised immune system? Take that into consideration and monitor carefully when starting out on a raw diet; consider raw diet alternatives such as dehydrated raw and freeze dried raw.

Solution: The current health of the dog must be taken into consideration before going on a raw diet. If the dog has a compromised immune system (meaning the body does not have the ability to defend against illness or medical challenges such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer) precautions should be taken. This doesn’t mean that a raw diet is totally out of the question. It may require a little longer time to transition the dog onto a raw diet. Another consideration may be to utilize one of the raw alternatives available at holistic pet stores to make it easier for the dog to handle and digest. Another option may be to cook the dog’s food to help him transition off commercial kibble and then ease into raw. Consider easy-to-prepare meals by Dr. Harvey’s, The Honest Kitchen, Grandma Lucy’s, Stella & Chewy’s or SOJOS.

It’s always a good idea to seek guidance from a holistic veterinarian, homeopathic veterinarian or a holistic nutritionist experienced in nutrition for companion animals. Adjustments may be required throughout the process, and a supportive professional will assist to achieve the desired goals.

Cats and dogs have different digestive systems than humans.

Things that we eat safely can make our pets sick and vice versa. Generally speaking, dogs and cats have a much shorter digestive tract than humans. A pet’s digestive system is able to handle raw meat better and food is processed in their digestive systems much more quickly than humans. Also, cats and dogs have a higher level of acidity in their systems, making it harder for the bacteria to grow and multiply.

Many commercially prepared raw food diets available today pose even less risk for bacteria because more care is taken to remove potential pathogens. Follow the same safety precautions as suggested by the Food & Drug Administration for handling raw meat in the kitchen when preparing a family meal.

Is a raw diet balanced and complete? Most commercially prepared raw diets are already completely balanced with the right levels of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Certain brands or formulas  are called “prey model.” These typically only include meat, ground bone and offal, or organ meats. When starting out, stick to the complete diets that include fruits, vegetables and vitamins. (We’ll revisit prey model and some different approaches to raw feeding, as well as preparing home cooked meals for pets in Part 3 of this series).

Proteins and fats will vary based on the different formulas. Different meats have different protein and fat levels, so based on what kind of meat is in the formula, these levels will vary. Most people start out with chicken, turkey or beef. If the pet has a known food allergy he may need a unique or novel protein like rabbit, goat or pheasant. Novel proteins are becoming increasingly more available in commercial raw pet foods for pet parents whose pets have severe allergies.

Some popular commercial raw frozen diets include: BARF World (stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), BRAVO, Northwest Naturals, O.C. Raw, Oma’s Pride, Primal Pet Foods, Stella & Chewy’s and Vital Essentials. Another consideration would be to start off with a dehydrated or freeze-dried formulation. I recommend Dr. Harvey’s, Grandma Lucy’s, The Honest Kitchen, Stella & Chewy’s, Primal Pet Foods and SOJOS. The main difference between raw frozen and dehydrated or freeze-dried foods is the packaging process. Raw frozen has never been cooked. The foods are chopped, mixed and frozen. Just thaw and feed. Freeze-dried foods have never been cooked. The foods are chopped, mixed, and then forced into a hard freeze. Simply rehydrate by adding water and allowing the mixture to soak for about 30 minutes (for easier digestion) before feeding. Dehydrated has been “gently” cooked with a very low temperature, which removes the moisture and leaves many of the natural enzymes intact. Any of these options are easy to handle. The dehydrated/freeze-dried formulas are great for traveling with the family pet as they are lightweight and can be prepared easily with minimal space and utensils.

How do I transition my pet to a raw diet? Many people make the mistake of switching their pet to a new diet too fast, resulting in gastrointestinal (GI) upset and/or diarrhea. Whether you are switching your pet to a raw food diet, or just a new brand of dry food kibble, you should always ease them into their new food to minimize GI upset. Raw food is processed differently than kibble, so avoid feeding raw and kibble together. It will confuse the body and likely result in excess gas. The best way to transition your pet to any new diet, is to feed the new food as a treat at first. On day one, try giving the new food as a treat a few times throughout the day. Watch the poop. If the poop remains normal, then continue using the new food as a treat throughout the day for the next several days. After a few days with the poop remaining normal, replace one meal with the new raw frozen diet. I recommend feeding the raw meal in the morning, and a kibble meal in the evening. If your pet handles the one raw meal per day for several days, then it is safe to switch completely to the new raw diet. Now, if your pet has only eaten one kind of food for their entire life, or for a number of years, you will need to slow the process down and transition over a longer period of time. Allow your pet’s gut to learn to manage this new food type. It may need some additional support, such as probiotics and/or digestive enzymes. We’ll talk more about these and other supplements in Part 4 of our series Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding.

So, what is the difference between commercially prepared raw diet and do-it-yourself raw diets? Most commercially prepared raw diets are already balanced with the proper ratio of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. When you do-it-yourself at home, you buy the meat, add the proper ratio of fats, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. In the beginning it can be overwhelming for some people. It is not a question of what is better for your pet — it is a question of what are you most comfortable feeding. Most pet parents just starting out feeding raw, start with a commercially prepared raw diet. Be sure to select a “complete and balanced” diet. There are some products available that do not include anything but meat and bone, so that is not considered a complete diet. If you buy a complete diet, there is no guesswork involved. You just determine how much your pet needs to eat on a daily basis and you feed the proper portions. I encourage my customers to start by feeding just one meal of raw per day, feeding the raw meal in the morning and the kibble in the evening. When you become a little more comfortable feeding raw and see your pet thriving on their new diet, you will probably feel more comfortable putting it together yourself. Most of my customers come back eager to learn more after a few short weeks of observing their pet on a raw diet. They see their pet(s) more eager to eat, with shinier coats, brighter eyes and generally renewed healthy, vibrant demeanor.

When should a raw diet be avoided? If your pet has cancer, a suppressed immune system, advanced liver or kidney failure, pancreatitis or serious digestive issues, then it is probably best to avoid a raw diet. Start with home-cooked or a dehydrated or freeze-dried alternative raw option that will be easier for your pet’s digestive system to handle. If your pet has any of the conditions mentioned, I strongly suggest you seek the advice of a holistic or homeopathic veterinarian.

In Part 3 of our series, we’ll discuss how to prepare meals from scratch for your pet. In other words we’ll cover how to make do-it-yourself meals in your own kitchen. We’ll cover raw and home-cooked meals. The series, Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding is a contribution by Yvonne Guibert, written exclusively for The New Barker dog magazine. Yvonne is the owner ofGroovy Cats & Dogs, an all-natural pet boutique located in Tampa, Florida. Their focus has always been on all natural food and treats for cats and dogs.

To find the products listed within this article, call or visit your local, independent pet retailer: Animal House Pet Center, St. Petersburg/727.328.0503; Dog Mania & Cats, Dade City/352.457.9616; Fluffy Puppies, Clearwater/727.446.7999; Groovy Cats & Dogs, Tampa/813.265.1333; One Lucky Dog, St. Petersburg/727.527.5825; Paw Paws Pet Boutique, Madeira Beach/727.329.8789; Pawsitively Posh Pooch, St. Petersburg/727.892.9303; Pet Food Warehouse, St. Petersburg/727.521.6191; Pet Supplies Plus, Pinellas Park/727.541.1199; Pet Supplies Plus, Clearwater/727.726.5544; Royal Pets, Tampa/813.448.6744; The Doggie Door, Winter Park/407.644.2969; The Green K9, Mount Dora/352.729.6172; Wet Noses Boutique, Sarasota/941.388.3647.

The Store-Bought Puppy.

It’s a rare human being who is able to resist a puppy. The sweet puppy breath, soft fur, pink bellies and paws. Yes, people flock to a litter of puppies like migrating birds heading South for the winter. It’s true. We witnessed this phenomenon during a recent Bark in the Ballpark at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Generally led by a female human, her first reaction upon seeing the puppies was to let out a high shriek, “Look, puppieeeezzzz!” This was followed by an Oh-My-Gawd hand to mouth motion which alerted the other women in the flock, all running towards the puppy pile. The age of the girls did not matter – from youngsters to grandmothers – the reaction, once the puppies were discovered, was always the same. The puppies, in this case, were being hosted by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Thankfully one or two were adopted as a result of their appearance that day.

Puppies have a way with our hearts. All our senses are lost, replaced with the impulse to buy and no regard to the cause and effect of this spur-of-the-moment decision. We’ve heard, and repeated this fact before: people spend more time researching and contemplating the purchase of their cars than they do on the acquisition of a puppy.

After President Obama and his family were presented with the gift of Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, sales of that breed increased across the country. At the time, upon hearing of Senator Ted Kennedy’s gift to the Obamas, Dr. Jana Kohl, an animal-rights activist said, “This will fuel the breeding industry, which will fuel the puppy mill industry, which will increase homeless dogs at shelters and increase the numbers of dogs euthanized every year.”

A Florida groomer we recently spoke with said that after Bo arrived at the White House, she saw four new clients, each with Portuguese Water Dogs. That was somewhere between 2009 and 2010. The groomer told us that those dogs are no longer with those families, and more than likely ended up at the shelter. People forget that puppies grow up, oftentimes to be big, slobbery, peeing, pooping and eating machines. People also don’t realize the expense that goes in to caring for a dog, whether it is healthy or not.

But, even more troubling is the fact that by purchasing a puppy over the internet or in a store that profits from selling puppies, the puppy mill industry continues to thrive. Many Florida pet stores obtain puppies from out-of-state #puppymills and dupe consumers into thinking their newly purchased puppy came from a local breeder.

Stuffed into small cages, covered in their own waste, the breeder dogs languish in horrible conditions. The dogs are often exposed to the elements, suffer chronic illnesses and rarely, if ever receive veterinary care. Consumers who typically purchase these puppies online (sight unseen), or in a storefront have no clue as to the conditions under which the puppy was bred and raised.

Recently, #TheNewBarker dog magazine was invited to photograph six “survivors” of a puppy mill. The dogs were part of a rescue effort of around 60 dogs pulled from a North Florida puppy mill, transported to the Bay Area by Laura Fletcher of Loving Friends Transport. VIP Rescue Florida volunteered to foster 20 of the dogs.  At least two of the dogs were pregnant. In fact, Terri Ensign of VIP Rescue Florida telephoned several hours after we had taken the photos to let us know she was, at that very moment, “birthing puppies.” The rescue group is currently in dire need of foster homes. And, by the way, the North Florida puppy mill was not shut down, only fined. “Guess what we’ll be doing in another six months,” Ensign rhetorically asked.

Once you’ve seen a breeder dog, smelled a breeder dog and looked into the eyes of a breeder dog, you will be forever changed. It will bring you to tears. Sunday, September 22 is National Puppy Mill Awareness Day. To those of you who are volunteers with a rescue group, thank you for your hard work and dedication. This work is not for the faint of heart.

A Puppy Mill Dog, photographed by Anna Cooke for The New Barker dog magazine.
A Puppy Mill Dog photographed by Anna Cooke for The New Barker dog magazine.
NFLA Puppy Mill
A Puppy Mill Dog, photographed by Anna Cooke for The New Barker dog magazine.
A Puppy Mill Dog, photographed by Anna Cooke for The New Barker dog magazine.

September 11, 2001. Just Like Any Other Day for these Working Dog Heroes.

There have been many heroic stories of search dogs working what became known as Ground Zero after the tragedy of 9/11. But we also remember two separate stories about the guide dogs who brought their humans to safety as the day’s events were unfolding.

Guide Dog Roselle at the American Hero Dog Awards ceremony in 2002. Photo by Spencer Platt.

Roselle, a yellow Labrador Retriever, and Michael Hingson first met on November 22, 1999 at Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was his fifth guide dog. “It was obvious from our very first walk together that we were a perfect match,” said Michael.

The teamwork they developed was put to the ultimate test on September 11, 2001. As a computer sales manager, Michael was working at his desk on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the other side of the building, 18 floors above. Roselle guided Michael down 1,463 steps out of the building. Just as they emerged from the building, the south tower collapsed. “While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job,” said Hingson. While debris fell around them, even hitting them, Roselle remained calm. She found a subway station and led them both underground to safety.

As usual, Dorado, a yellow Labrador Retriever was lying under the desk of his charge, Omar Eduardo Rivera when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Rivera’s office was on the 71st floor and he heard, felt and smelled what was happening. He also felt the unbearable heat. As he and Dorado moved toward the exit, Rivera thought about the number of stairs ahead of them and felt he would never make it. “Not having any sight I knew I wouldn’t be able to run down the stairs and through all the obstacles like other people. I was resigned to dying and decided to free Dorado to give him a chance of escape. It wasn’t fair that we should both die in that hell,” said Rivera. He unclipped Dorado’s lead, ruffled the dog’s head, gave him a nudge and ordered him to go.

Rivera felt himself alone for several minutes, but then felt a familiar fuzzy nudge beside him. “He returned to my side a few minutes later and guided me down 70 flights, out into the street,” said Rivera. They did get separated by the panicked crowd for a few minutes in the stairwell. But within moments, the dog found his way back to Rivera and again nudged his leg. As the two were making their way down the stairs, a co-worker caught up with them. Rivera held her arm with his right hand and with Dorado guiding him on his left, the dog helped them get down the stairs and onto the street. It took them more than an hour to get down the stairs and reach a safe distance before the tower collapsed.

Service Dog In Training and Handler Detained by Southwest Airlines.

A Southwest Airlines employee said he was sick and tired of people with their “fake service dogs” getting a free ride on the airlines, and decided to take matters into his own hands. But, he may have taken out his frustrations on the wrong person, dog and organization.

Richard Starks, a trainer with Florida’s K9s for Warriors, was all set to travel from San Jose, California to Tampa, Florida with Stew, a service dog in training on Saturday, August 31. Starks was transporting the 112-pound Bull Mastiff, scheduled to be assigned as a service dog to retired Staff Sgt., Alonzo Lunsford, a survivor of the 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting.

Starks and Stew had been cleared for boarding by Southwest Airlines Customer Service. They made it through security. But just moments before setting foot on the plane, Starks was detained by a Southwest Airlines supervisor who began loudly interrogating him, even stating, “You look fine to me…” Even after Starks presented the proper paperwork including Stew’s service dog ID, the employee would not allow the pair to board the plane. He insisted that Starks publicly disclose the details of his own disability before being allowed on the plane.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly states that a service dog is permitted access to public places, including restaurants, hotels, theaters and taxicabs. A provision in the law designed to protect the privacy of people with disabilities and to prevent discrimination clearly states that the individual does not have to prove his or her disability. In fact, only two questions are permitted to be asked: 1) Is your dog a service dog? 2) What tasks has the dog been trained to perform? Businesses cannot require special identification for the dog or ask about the person’s disability. It does not matter whether the dog is wearing a service-dog vest or whether the owner’s disability is visible. These provisions have been approved by the Department of Justice.

But, the service-dog issue is posing some special problems for airlines, due partly to people traveling with dogs wearing jackets indicating that they are service dogs when they are not. The jackets are simply purchased over the internet, no questions asked. Employees, confused over the definition between a service dog and a therapy dog, are often not well-versed enough in the law and/or trained to act accordingly. To make matters more confusing, other laws supersede the ADA when it comes to air travel and housing. Unlike the ADA, the Air Carrier Access Act allows airlines to require passengers with emotional support and psychiatric service dogs to prove they are disabled and that their dog is trained to assist them. This is done via the requirement of a letter on the letterhead of a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker stating that the passenger has a medically recognized mental or emotional disability and is under the professional’s care. The letter must be dated within one year of the flight.

Apparently, there have been enough passengers trying to board with emotional support and psychiatric service dogs (who fly in the cabin for free) that the U.S. Department of Transportation is letting airlines use their own discretion with regards to allowing such dogs on planes. So, was the Southwest Airlines supervisor operating within the guidelines or was he making up his own rules? At this time, Southwest Airlines is taking the position that he acted properly and within the guidelines. We would like to see those guidelines, especially the part where it states an employee is allowed to verbally abuse a passenger they believe is traveling with a “fake service dog.” 

And, here is the rub, Southwest Airlines: it’s estimated that 13 to 20 percent of the more than 2.6 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, have or could develop Post Traumatic Stress Disease (formerly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Every 80 minutes, a veteran commits suicide, which means the total number of deaths by suicide is more than 6500 veterans every year. That is more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq to date. 

Dogs, whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support, do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, according to the ADA, dogs that calm a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack are considered a “reasonable modification to ADA policies.” We would hope those policies include a person’s right to privacy and protection from discrimination.

Once the Southwest Airlines employee was satisfied with Starks’ answer, he allowed the pair to board the plane. Other passengers came up to Starks and apologized for the disgraceful conduct displayed by the Southwest Airlines employee. By the time Starks and Stew reached their layover in Phoenix, Southwest Airlines staff were on hand to greet them and ensure the rest of their trip was incident-free. But Starks admits that he was adversely-affected by the incident. He was, understandably, angry and upset and is currently contemplating his next step.

Finally on the plane, Stew provided relief to a fellow passenger. Photo provided by Richard Starks.

But, why aren’t the airlines lobbying Congress to correct these problems and clarify the laws, provisions and rules? It’s a question Shari Duval, Executive Director for K9s for Warriors is asking, and one that she will surely find an answer to as she plans to go before Congress herself. “Southwest Airlines could be the leader in righting these wrongs,” Shari told The New Barker dog magazine. “They could be an advocate for educating the public and industries that service the public on the ADA provisions, as supported by the United States Department of Justice,” she added. “Veterans who go through three weeks of training with their service dogs here at K9s for Warriors, deserve better treatment than this. And, believe me, I will fight for them,” said Shari.

About K9s for Warriors: A non-profit organization that provides and trains service dogs for veterans with PTSD. Ninety-five percent of the dogs come from rescue shelters. The office and training facility are located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The veteran is given a service canine, complete training, certification and housing during their training. There is no charge to the veteran for the service that K9s for Warriors provides. The Department of Veterans Affairs will not cover the cost of dogs assigned for mental disabilities like PTSD, according to new federal regulations. They will pay for service dogs assigned to veterans with impaired vision, hearing or mobility. Therefore K9s for Warriors relies on community support, donations and fundraising efforts. To learn more about this organization, please visit http://www.k9sforwarriors.org.

Stew, safe and sound in Ponte Vedra, Florida with K9s for Warriors executive director, Shari Duval.