Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Raw Diet

Bruschi and Kodi both dine on a raw diet as their primary, twice daily food source. Raw food is meat based, protein rich, and fresh or frozen. Chicken, duck, quail, beef, bison, turkey, and rabbit are all among the available varieties. In additon to the meat, these varieties include animal parts that humans might find revolting, but dogs need to aid digestion and overall healthful-ness. In comparison, kibble or dry food is usually grain based, although some is vegetable or potato based.

We purchase the raw diet from a retailer (our local daycare/training center) where it is sold in 1 or 2 pound tubes. We slice it into the proper proportions, then defrost what we need for the day. It looks a lot like those tubes of ground beef you see in grocery stores. Since the food is perishable, we keep it frozen until use. It costs about $1.50 a day for us to feed Kodi and Bruschi this diet, and we purchase the food in quantities that get us through 3-4 weeks at a time.

Brian and I arrived at feeding the raw diet after about a 6 month struggle with Bruschi, allergies and kibble/dried food. Like many, I did a fair amount of reading and research on dog foods prior to selecting a food for Bruschi. I read about the raw diet, but initally found it just too rogue for me. Others I came in to acquaintance with told me how much they liked it, and what it did for their dogs, and I sort of stored that information in a back-brain cache-- in case Bruschi ever showed issues with food.

Well, Bruschi was showing issues with food, although we didn't immediately make the connection. He was dining on high-quality brands with lower levels of filler, higher portions of meat, and limited or no grains. The daily quantities were appropriate, and the dog was getting plenty of exercise. His coat was of good texture and shine, however he had severe gas, crazy energy levels, and, vomited frequently. Bruschi was also overweight at 29.8 pounds (he is now 23 pounds).

Our vet assured us that this was part of puppyhood, and nothing to be concerned of. In December 2006 I switched to a different, even higher-quality food that was vegetable based. Almost immediately, Bruschi developed little bumps on his head that he would itch until they bled. We applied some lotion, they went away, and more appeared. We pointed it out to the vet, who said it was probably an allergy, but not a food allergy, and not to switch food. Instead, we were to give Bruschi a combination of antibiotics and an antihistamine. Mind you-- I take neither of these myself out of principle, but accepted the prescription for Bruschi because clearly something was wrong...

Well, the medicines didn't work, although the antihistamine did leave us with one very sleeply puppy. Still stumped, I started to think maybe it was the flea and tick medicine. Because, clearly I was feeding him the best kibble food, right?

My tipping point was one weekend in April (11 months ago now), when Bruschi licked his itching paws so bad that he couldn't walk on one of his legs. He was rushed to a different vet who prescribed another combination of drugs, and said his current diet was not the problem. Needless to say, I wasn't convinced. For the past 5 months, I had been wracking my brain looking for cause and effect, and couldn't shake this feeling that all this had started back in December with the new kibble food.

I made some calls to feed stores and trainers, asking their opinion, recognizing that they had been around dogs a whole lot longer than I. On information gathered, and the hypothesis that perhaps it was the type of vegetable base in the food that was irritating his skin, Bruschi was on a new, different duck and potato-based kibble immediately to tie us over until Brian and I could start Bruschi on a raw diet. We were headed out on a vacation a week or so later, and I didn't feel comfortable asking my parents to administer something so new. Bruschi's symptons did subside with the duck and potato kibble, but some skin allergies remained.

Before making the switch, I did additional secondary research, but it was my trainer that ultimately complimented what I had learned with her experiences with raw food and dogs and allergies, telling me how she arrived at feeding raw. She also told me it can reduce the need for dental care, and, the dogs can live longer.

Within 2-3 weeks of starting the raw diet, Bruschi's skin bumps disappeared, his paws weren't as red or inflamed, his bowel movements were reduced, and his stools were teeny tiny. Within a month, Bruschi lost weight, his coat was ridiculously super soft and shiny, and his energy was more level over the course of a day. Now, 11 months later, Bruschi has amazing muscle tone, quite a handsome coat, he doesn't shed as much as he did (although that could be because he is a pup), and he hasn't been to the vet save for a rabies shot and due to a random cow-hoof eating incident. There are no signs of allergies, and he rarely vomits due to food intake. Kodi also sports a high-class fur and good, level energy.

When I was a kid, my pediatrician told my mom that she needed to take me for allergy shots, because I had been so sick from allergies. Nothing about that made sense to my mom, and she decided to exaust every other option before turning me in to a pin cushion. She found that a combination of chiropractic care and vitamins provided me the relief I needed from the sneezing, wheezing, sleeplessness, and itchy-watery eyes. Of course, this was in the early 1980's, and she received a fair amount of criticism and scoffs from other parents and doctors. But, her daughter did not need excessive medicines and needles to get through the day.

I feel the same way about Bruschi and raw food. Some vets cringe at our food choice, and I am sure other pets owners feel we are a little ridiculous, and clearly, raw food is not mainstream-- but our dogs are incredibly healthy, and Bruschi has no need for medicine. We had to look for alternative options, because the connection between the food and his allergies was just too strong to ignore. Whether it was the kibble base, or the way the food was processed, I don't know... but I can not deny this massive difference in Bruschi since the switch. We clearly found Bruschi's relief from allergic reactions, uncomfortableness and ineffective meds in raw food.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You are BANANAS!!

Does this look like the face of someone who just ate a banana peel?


Sunday, March 9, 2008

SWEET Potatoes!

One of the best side dishes I can think of are sweet potatoes-- Baked, roasted, mashed, fried, scalloped, and, if you are a dog, even dehydrated! This tasty vegetable is so versatile, so easy, and so healthy that it certainly deserves a highlight this March. I've long loved the sweet potato, and when I learned of its canine appeal, I immediately worked it into the dogs' regular diet.

Many of the sweet potato dishes I typically prepare include a delicious blend of roasted garlic, onions, or olive oil. While I'd happily share them with others, I wanted to offer up a recipe with fully dog-safe ingredients for this post. Garlic and onions are big doggie no-no's because they wreck havoc on the GI tract.

So to my Kitchen-Aid I went, and put together a recipe that omits the standard, heavier, non-dog approved ingredients, in favor of lighter, more healthy options. I found that chicken broth, honey, low-fat yogurt and pumpkin pie spices blend quite well with the soft sweet potato flavor, and most of the ingredients are kitchen staples, making the preparation realistic without excessive shopping.

Whenever preparing sweet potatoes, I always cut off a slice or two for the pups. This evening, as I was experimenting with this recipe, they both ate some of the potato skin, and were looking for more. I started sharing sweet potatoes with the dogs about a year ago, when I found a doggie treat company retailing dehydrated sweet potatoes. Bruschi and I both loved them. He got a treat that he could knaw and chew on for a while, and I found a product that I could feel good about giving him. And, as an added bonus, they didn't leave behind any messy residue on the furniture, or have an unpleasant odor, like some long-lasting chews. My mom recently purchased a food dehydrator and regularly supplies Bruschi and Kodi with volumes of dried sweet potatoes. Bruschi now treats these as potato chips, eating them in just one crunch, and putting his paw back in the bag for more.

Brian and I do not serve our dogs table scraps or left-overs, nor do we give them a portion of the meals that we eat, but I sure do enjoy sharing some of the ingredients during the preparation phase with them when they keep me company in the kitchen (and, i am sure that is why they keep me company in the kitchen).

Creamy Spiced Sweet Potatoes
Three to four sweet potatoes (Three large, or two large and two small)
1/2 cup, chicken broth
1/2 cup, low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup, honey (I used tupelo honey)
1/4 tsp, sea salt
Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend


Microwave sweet potatoes until soft, then spoon out potato into a bowl

Add chicken broth and yogurt and mix together, or blend. Adjust amount to achieve your desired consistency (chunky to smooth)

Add honey and continue to mix. Adjust amount to achieve your desired sweetness.

Sprinkle 1/4 tsp. of sea salt into mixture, and mix again

Sprinkle any mixture of cinnamon, cumin, ginger and nutmeg. I used about 1/2 tbsp of these ingredients, along with a shake of a pumpkin pie spice blend.

Mix together well, and taste. Adjust any ingredient to get your desired flavor

Place in microwavable container and heat when ready to eat.

If the batch made more than you can eat in one or two sittings, consider freezing a container.

Sweets as Doggie Treats:
-If a dehydrator is available, slice and dehydrate large sweet potatoes
-Without a dehydrator, slice up a potato and slow-bake in a metal pan at 100 degrees for several hours, until mostly dried. Let cool, and store in an air-tight container.
-Mash and add as dinner supplement

Enjoy! And please post your experience trying this recipe. I'd love to hear how you improved upon it!

That's a 'wuff' for now.

What to do on a rainy day...

1- Buy stylish rain coat for Spring
2- Take a walk
3- Pose for picture in new rain coat.
4- Dry off and take a nap

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Aye, Eye, Kodi!!

Kodi's eye is fairing really, really well! She's had a few follow-up appointments with the eye specialist (Dr. Kelly Corcoran of Vet Vision in Fairfax, VA, who is simply wonderful), and right now, we believe her eye issue can be managed with medicine and a light, light steriod (we call it "the clear" for fun).

One of Kodi's eyes does not produce tears, due to an injury to a tear duct. The tear duct will not repair itself, so the situation will not improve. Instead, we give Kodi a combination of lubricating medicines each day to keep the eye moist, and to prevent any ulcers from forming. If the situation worsens, or if Kodi starts to experience excessive pain, surgeons can perform a Parotid Duct Transplant where the olifactory gland is re-routed to the eye, using saliva to hydrate instead of tears. This actually used to be performed in humans as well, years and years ago.

Kodi is tolerant of eye drops, especially since she usually gets a VERY special treat after each application. And, we can totally see the difference the medicine makes. Her eye is open for most of the day, and so bright and pretty. The camera flash still irritates her, so she looks squinty in the photo.

That's a 'wuff' for now!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

March Munchies: Homemade Granola and Dried Cranberry Treat for Dogs

This blog isn't just about Kodi and Bruschi, although either of their personalities would fill at least two on their own. This month (March), I want to spend time on less common recipies, edible creations, and food options that are intended for humans, but safe for pets. I certainly do not condone giving dogs "people meals," and work hard to prevent my two from eating even a morsel of a people meal, however there are many ingredients that are a fine snack substitute for fido, especially certain fruits, grains and nuts.

The first March recipe share is Homemade Granola. I made it last weekend, and it is super simple, and ridiculously tasty. And, it produces a large quantity-- enough for sharing with two or three other friends or neighbors. It makes a very hearty breakfast, great snack, and, if used as a topping, you can totally justify a serving of icecream for dessert :) Added bonus-- all of the ingredients are pet-safe.

I read this recipe in the December 2007 issue of Cooking Light, and when making the granola for the first time, I followed the specifications almost fully. But, the recipe lends itself to countless other combinations of flavor, fruit, nuts and grains. I did add a little extra liquid, and for those who like clumpier granola, i'd recommend upping the liquid content, especially the honey. Oh, and i used cashews instead of almonds (because I didn't have any on-hand).

This recipe includes dried cranberries-- one of the fruits I love to give to Bruschi and Kodi. They are a really good vitamin source, good for their renal and digestive system, and the perfect sized-treat. The recipe also includes nuts, and from time to time, I share my handful of pecans the dogs, provided they sit, shake, or otherwise do something cute. In fact, Bruschi and Kodi both tasted a few granola clumps, licked their lips and came back for more. Remember though, dogs should never, ever have grapes or raisins, and should have nothing with excessive sugar. Honey is an ingredient that is used in many home-made dog cookies.

Take a look and consider trying out the granola recipe. If you give it a whirl, please share your approach and what you thought on the blog. And, try giving your dogs some cranberries, or a few nuts as a healthy snack!

6 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Cooking spray
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 300°.
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add syrup, honey, juice, and almond extract; toss well. Spread mixture evenly onto a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 300° for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Stir in cranberries and apricots. Cool completely. Store in a zip-top plastic bag.

Yield 10 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 384(20% from fat); FAT 8.4g (sat 1.1g,mono 3.7g,poly 2.5g); PROTEIN 9.8g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 57mg; SODIUM 52mg; FIBER 7.8g; IRON 3.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 68.1g

Thats a 'wuff' for now! Check back next week for a posting on sweet potatoes!!!

Disclaimer: I am certainly not a veterinarian or any type of pet-health professional. If the suggestions in any part of this blog are counter to what your vet recommends, or do not match your feeding routine/regimine/philosophy for your dog, then please ignore.