Diet Considerations. Kibble? Raw? Home Cooked?

Beanie did most of her growing before 5 months old. Then she very slowly grew upwards until she’d reached 16 inches at around 8 months. Between 8 and 10 months she muscled up a little, but only put on half a pound in weight. In the last three weeks she’s put on 1.5 lbs and her build has changed quite significantly. It’s not fat gain – there have been days when her ribs have started to show at times as she’s actually lost fat in order to build lean mass. She’s eaten an unbelievable volume of food. It just seems that her body has suddenly decided to mature virtually overnight. Her rib cage has expanded and her whole frame is suddenly more solid.

Now it stands to reason that with this very sudden maturity there will be a plateau or even decline in her physical performance whilst her nervous system catches up with her new body. And we have indeed noticed that there has been a leveling and perhaps even a little dip in her physical performance that coincides with the recent growth spurt. Whereas her endurance and speed improved consistently between the ages of 6 and 10 months there has been a definite leveling in the past three weeks and perhaps even a backward slide.

It could well be that his is just natural development – she’s certainly developed as predicted by her vet (albeit more suddenly). But we have little alarm bells ringing simply because the growth spurt and dip in physical performance coincided with a switch to a raw food diet. There is so little scientific research into raw diets so we’re embarking upon this dietary change with more than a little trepidation.

Raw meat and bones

We made the switch primarily because we felt it might help her allergies. We received a lot of dire warnings about the danger of feeding a home prepared diet so we’ve researched it very carefully. And the more we read the more unhappy we are about feeding her kibble. We aren’t yet certain that raw is the way to go though.

OK. The most significant difference in a raw vs kibble diet is that on a kibble diet a dog gets most of it’s energy from carbohydrate. Most kibbles are fairly low protein and low fat. But they’re full of grains or other carbohydrates. I’ve yet to find a study that concludes that carbohydrates are necessary for dogs. I’ve found some studies that claim they are harmful, and I’ve found studies that have proven that working dogs, sled dogs etc do better when they get their energy from fat rather than carbohydrate. Those studies imply that the same would be true of dogs that perform anaerobic activities. Yet I haven’t found a single commercial dog food that doesn’t have quite a substantial percentage of carbs. The (often fanatical) raw feeders claim that the pet food manufacturers only use carbs because they’re cheap. The pet food manufactures and very many vets claim that the only safe way to feed your dog is on a complete commercial diet because it’s vital to get the nutritional balance perfect – only they have the resources to have their diets laboratory tested for balance. Anti-kibble feeders claim that the vets advice can’t be trusted because they get their nutritional training from pet food manufacturers…and they get commission for selling their food. So who to trust?

Now common sense tells me that if young mothers can be sent home with new born babies and trusted to raise healthy adults without a nutritionally balanced, scientifically tested, complete food, then we can learn to do the same for our dog once we’ve learned the basic rules of dog nutrition.

Common sense also tells me that if experts advise humans to eat as wide a range of foods as possible to ensure we get all the right nutrients in our diets then it can’t be good to feed a dog for life on a dried product that contains just a handful of ingredients. In humans experts tell us that they don’t yet know all of the nutrients that we need so the stress the importance of diversity in our diets to increase our chances of a balanced nutrient intake. In humans experts tell us that getting nutrients in artifical form (additives, vitamin pills and powders) doesn’t work. We need to eat foods that contain these nutrients. So why is it different for dogs?

So we’re cautiously moving forwards with the raw. Our vet tells us that all the raw fed dogs that she sees are doing well – although she cautioned us about the fanaticism of many raw feeders.

Anyway, we’ve evaluated Beanie’s diet in light of her recent slow down (which as I’ve said, is quite possible a perfectly normal reaction to a sudden growth spurt). It’s occurred to us that the fat content is far too low given that she no longer has carbs. When choosing meat for her I applied the same rules as I’d apply to us – lean cuts only, skinless chicken breasts and so on. So we’re increasing the fat content of her diet by ensuring that all poultry has the skin on and that we get cheaper, more fatty cuts of meat.

The other big, scary step is we’re going to cut out her kibble entirely – just for a one month trial. (Up until now we’ve been hedging our bets and feeding her raw in the mornings and kibble at night). It occurred to us that it’s probably not good to be forcing her body to get energy from carbohydrates for one half of the day and from fat (or worse still protein) the other half.

We’ll keep you posted! (And of course, if there are any experts on dog nutrition out there we’d love to hear from you).

10 Responses to “Diet Considerations. Kibble? Raw? Home Cooked?”

  1. Lee Cullens Says:

    There is a lot of confusion about a species appropriate diet for dogs. The “why” is that we have crossed the line between science and prolific industry propaganda. Since the 1950s vast sums of money have been poured into shaping public perception because the profits are enormous. Not to mention that “we the people” have a tendency towards anthropomorphism, and convenience is a driving force.

    For unbiased scientific information see the “Ol’ Shep’s Plight: Diet” article at: http://achinook.squarespace.com/

    There is also a “lighter” fabricated “Dr. P. Kibble Interview” and other articles following different threads of industry’s manipulation.

    My best to you and yours,
    Lee Cullens

  2. Susan Wesltlake Says:

    We fed Beanie raw last night. Nice fatty mince. This morning she had chicken with skin on. So no kibble in 36 hours.

    Paul’s just phoned from the park to say he’s on his way home because Beanie ran out of steam….that’s a first! Apparantly a little labradoodle that she normally runs into the ground was just too much for her.

    It’s sooooo tempting to go back to Burns kibble. But we’ll stick this out just a little bit longer and see what happens. She might need time to adjust to the new energy source, or it could just be a phase in her development. It certainly won’t do her any harm for a few days.

  3. Susan Westlake Says:

    OK. So a one day experiment without kibble and we’ve chickened out already :)

    We talked this over and we’re both agreed that Beanie’s raw diet isn’t quite right for her. She looks good on it, but we think performance is a much better indication of health and that’s taking a nose dive. And it really seems to be directly related to her food. It’s possible that she just needs time to adjust to processing fats rather than carbs, but there are so many other unknowns with a raw diet and so little research that we’ve decided we aren’t prepared to experiment futher without getting hold of a few more studies.

    Beanie positively thrived on Burns. She was increadibly fit and consistently so. The only drawback was that the Burns experts said we were feeding her too much – and in the case of humans it’s certainly the case that people that eat less volume of food have been shown to live longer. They recommended we switch beanie to their ‘Active’ kibble. Because of her itchy skin and the fact that dogs overfed on burns can get itchy skin we decided to switch to something else altogether. But now we’ve found out the cause of her itching there’s no reason to avoid Burns.

    Burns Active breaks down as follows:

    24% protein
    20% oil (same as fat?)
    40% carbohydrate

    According to my calculations (which may not be entirely accurate :) ) when you do the sums it works out that she would get..

    21.31% of her energy from protein
    43% from fat
    35.5% from carbohydrates.

    I have quite a good book on Performance Dog Nutrition, and Burns active is closer to the levels that they recommend for active, high energy dogs. Although it is still very high in carbs (apparantly 10 – 15% carbs has been shown to be best in most studies) and a little low in protein. Fat levels are spot on. But we can’t ignore the fact that she did increadibly well on Burns mini-bites and that too was lower protein / high carb.

    And it perhaps gives us scope to add the occasional bit of raw meat to help keep her gut working as it should.

    We’ll see how it goes.

  4. River Says:

    Have you see this blog: http://ieatrawmeat.blogspot.com/
    They are documenting every meal everyday for their dogs and they are over 200 days on a raw diet. Of course every dog is different just like humans!

  5. Julie Gill Says:

    Our Beagle, JB, does wonderfully well on Hills Natures Best dry kibble, mixed with Pedigree Better by Nature meat. He gets a variety of flavours from the meat (it comes in four different varieties), plus I give him vegetables I cook for us (only in small quantities, but it all helps to keep him interested in what goes in his bowl!) We don’t get hung about the mix of carbs/fat, we just try to avoid giving him too many titbits that are high fat. On this diet he’s full of energy, his coat is fantastic and his weight remains stable at 20kgs.

  6. Jan Says:

    Can’t agree with eating less food and live longer,as you know all my dogs 18 of them pass and present lived to 15plus ,and two were over 17.Depends how much energy you want you dogs to have,but if you have a pack to live with you don’t want to be scraping them of the cieling ‘cauce they are soooo hyper,like athletes that need an adrinelin rush dogs can be the same so it all depends what you want out of your dog,for me having a pack I want a calm house hold,having just the one and if you have the energy to keep up that is good enough.Goo d luck

  7. Susan Westlake Says:

    Jan, I think the Burns people were concerned that because Beanie gets through so many calories in a day she was having to eat far too much kibble to maintain her weight. They felt she’d do better on a richer diet that gave her more calories with less volume of food. Hence the Burns Active – which incedently is VAT free because it’s made for working dogs :)

    They’ve told us that it’s fine to mix the Active formula with the Maintenance foods in order to get the perfect ratio of fats/carbs and protein for Beanie.

    After just a couple of days back on Burns she’s MUCH more like her old self. It was awful to see her a couple of days ago. It really knocked her self-esteem not being able to keep up with her buddies in the park. I thought she was nearly back to normal yesterday, but Kirby’s mum (if you’re reading) thought she was still off form.

    I’m not certain, but I think it was the high protein in the raw that didn’t suit her.

  8. Jan Says:

    I agree about the high protein,in dogs that are not puppies I also change to a lower protein food after they reach about 18months[had problems in the past with the protein being to high]dogs temperment changed and not always for the better]

  9. Kathleen Macdonald(Mochuisle Beagles) Says:

    I know that on the infamous ‘Atkins diet’ which is a high protein diet and no carbs allowed, humans reported feeling lethargic and suffered other awful side effects like awful bad breath and disgusting bowel movements (brother-in-law did it for a time.) Numerous health professionals condemned it and I would have to agree with them,anything that produces these side effects can’t be good for you. Also, I know from my own human biology studies in the past, that proteins are the hardest food type for our kidneys to process, therefore not good to have a diet which contains a high quantity of them. Personally I think same for dogs as humans a balanced diet where they have not too much of any one particular food group. So I think that as you said Susan, although predominantly back on the kibble, there is still scope for adding in quality meat and pureed veg and knuckle/marrow bones in order to vary Beanie’s diet. Anyway you tried the raw diet and no harm done,you didn’t feel it agreed with Beanie as it affected her normally infinite energy levels and I have to say I would have done the same in your position and went back on kibble. Without extensive research to back it up, all you can do is judge the diet by how it affects your own small experimental sample i.e Beanie! I’ve started giving my pack a little ‘dog milk’ for their bones/joints etc and it also contains green tea extract which boosts their immune system,they love it! See how Burns works out but you could maybe give ‘James Wellbeloved’ a try I noticed it contains prebiotics ( inulin from chicory root to maintain a healthy gut flora) and high in omega 3 fatty acids etc. my lot do really well on it and I notice their coats are in much better condition. I fed mine on Burns for a number of years and although I found it pretty good on the whole I didn’t like the dander that they sometimes had on their coats (which I know Burns says is result of feeding them too much) but if they are maintaining a healthy weight I don’t agree that they can be getting too much and I slightly question a food that if you give slightly too much of it, it produces dander on their skin! Be in touch soon.

  10. Susan Westlake Says:

    The kibble beanie was on had 21% protein.
    Raw meat on average typically works out as 20% protein, 20% fat, 60% water.

    There’s only about 8% moisture in kibble, so the actual protein concentration in the meat is much higher. In practice closer to 50%.

    Or look at it this way. Guidlines recommend 100grams of kibble a day for Beanie.
    They recommend 250grams of raw meat a day.

    So on her kibble diet she would have got 21 grams of protein a day whereas on the raw diet she gets 50 grams.

    Now she was always a muscular little thing and never had any problem recovering or healing. So 21 % protein was clearly enough for her. Her muscles did bulk up a bit on the raw diet suggesting that she could perhaps use a tiny bit more.

    But that extra 20+ % of protein would have been either used for fuel or else processed by her kidneys and discharged as waste.

    In Beanie’s case I suspect the former was the case given that she has such high energy requirements. Which means that her body was trying to use protein as fuel. And it’s known that protein is a very poor source of fuel. This would explain Beanie’s loss of fitness on the diet.

    Burns Active has slightly higher protein (24%) and higher fat (20%) than Burns Mini Bites. But I think this could actually be better for her.