Wonder what dogs think about? Food! In nature, dogs would need to be hunting or scavenging for a major part of each day. If they were blessed enough to get a full tummy then they could take a break and rest, but as soon as that meal was absorbed they would be right back at it. Eating is a vital part of your dog’s world and it is important to do it right.
It is essential to teach your dog to eat in a timely manner, and that the food belongs to you not him. Leave the food down for your dog for approximately 10 minutes. If you leave the food down for too long then the dog begins to believe it belongs to him and will not feel the need to finish it right away. He will come and take a little bit at a time and walk away from his food to chew it elsewhere. This is not what a dog’s body was created to do. He is built to gorge now and digest later. If the food is in the bowl for only ten minutes he learns that you, as the leader, will take it away and he will condition himself to eat it all at once.
This is important when your dog is older and/or ill. He needs to eat a hearty meal – not just take little bits here and there. Eating a proper meal can help insure a faster recovery, or keep an older dog more alert and enthused about his feeding routine. It is also great for when you have to feed in a hurry. You are on a road trip and you need the dog to eat now so that you can keep driving. This way the dog is more cooperative and the whole schedule runs more smoothly.
If you say, “but my dog is a slow eater and he is rather picky”, then our reply is – if he were living in a natural state he couldn’t afford to be so picky. You have actually trained him to be this way. We had a friend who thought her dog would only eat if she fed it by hand – no, in fact she had trained the dog to believe that if he waited long enough to eat, she would rescue him by hand feeding him. If you begin the ‘ten minutes down and then it’s gone’ routine today, in approximately three days he will be eating much more quickly and looking forward to his meals.
Young Puppies (6 weeks to 6 months) – need to eat three times a day
Older Puppies (6 months to 12 months) – should eat two times a day
Adults (12 months and older) – can eat once or twice a day.
The bigger breeds also have disproportionately smaller stomachs in relation to their larger bodies, and the smaller breeds have larger stomachs in proportion their bodies mass. The giant breeds benefit from having an evening snack. It doesn’t have to be as large as the morning meal, but needs to be substantial enough to prevent him from getting a grumbly tummy in the middle of the night, or you might notice them throwing up yellow bile in the middle of the night. Try feeding a light evening meal and see if this helps.
Some small breeds also benefit from two meals a day as they can get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Know your dog and do what suits him best.
Dogs with deep chests (sight hounds, Great Danes, German Shepherds…), or who gorge their food, have a tendency towards bloat and need to be monitored in their eating habits. Do not feed them and then vigorously exercise them, or visa versa, this causes the food to expand more quickly in their heated bodies and can lead to bloat, or cause the full stomach to flip and cause torsion. Deep-chested dogs could benefit from their largest meal being feed at night, so they can digest their food during quieter hours of the evening.
Certain breeds, ie Great Danes, benefit from having their stomach stapled, when you have their neuter/spay surgery, which is a preventative measure for gastric torsion.
We are fans of moistening the kibble before you feed it. We let it soak in warm water for 10+ minutes before feeding. This allows the dog to take water in with the food as he would if he were eating a rabbit. Then he will typically drink less water overall. But if you ate a bowl of cereal without milk you would probably guzzle a ton of milk afterwards, just like dogs drink lots of water after their meal. It creates a false need for too much water which can hinder house-training.
Kibble: Kibble is the hard cereal-like substance you buy in a bag that makes life a little easier for us all at mealtime. Kibble has only existed for a very short time in the history of dogs, as it was created from the surplus in the processed foods industry. Someone thought that the ideal use for these by-products would be to convince the public that it was good to feed to their pets.
The problem is that this product is typically manufactured with very poor quality ingredients (wings, beaks, feathers, feet, noses, diseased tissue, corn, corn husks, even the euthanized bodies of other pets (sorry, its gross!), etc.) and processed at extremely high temperatures, then extruded into the kibble that you scoop into your pet’s bowl. The extrusion process is similar to dehydration – the moisture is removed and the product is reduced in volume. When the animal drinks water (which it always does right after it eats kibble) the kibble begins to expand in the animal’s stomach – this is not natural or healthy for your pet. Even if the kibble were made from the best ingredients possible, the processing removes and destroys most of what was ever good in it in the first place. There are some kibble products that are baked and those are at least better than the extruded.
Kibble is touted to be the miracle tooth cleaner for dogs, yet we are now being asked by our vets to brush our dog’s teeth and have them cleaned professionally every year to the tune of hundreds of dollars. If wolves’ teeth were at risk to the degree that our canine companions are today, then wolves would have died out a long time ago. They would not be able to take down an animal, tear at the meat and crush the bones because their teeth would be weak and infected – too painful to function properly. Instead wolves have thrived for thousands of years, because they clean their own teeth on the bones they are eating. They work on a large marrowbone for hours scraping away the marrow along with bits of calcium. They work all of their teeth as they shave pieces from the bone. Their gums are exercised beautifully and any tartar that might be there is cleaned off. The pH of a naturally fed animal also creates less tartar in the first place – so there is less to be concerned about. Heck, if we ate more naturally our teeth would be better off as well.
A Natural Diet:
If you know that dogs are wolves inside, then let’s look at what a wolf might eat in the course of a week. He might consume: a rabbit, some mice, some apples that have fallen from a tree, a nest of eggs, a little grass, a bird, the bones of a dead deer left in the woods. You get the picture. Wolves and dogs are hunters and scavengers - they are built to be hungry 24 hours a day. Today might be a feast, but tomorrow might be famine, so eat all you can today.
Think about this wild diet – did he peel the meat off of the rabbit and sauté it over a nice fire? Were the mice filleted? Were the apples the best he could pick from the tree? Did he crack the eggs over a hot rock and serve them sunny side up? The old dead deer – yuck, way too much contamination– what was he thinking?
Do you get the point? Dogs can eat it all and do just fine. It is important to remember that the raw state of most foods is what is natural and best. To imitate the wolf diet you need to think raw most of the time.
Grains and Vegetables: The only foods that must be cooked are the grains and vegetables. Dogs do not have the enzymes to break down veggies so they should be blanched or cooked to break down the cellulose walls so the dog can access the nutrients. A wolf would get these from the stomach of the animal he is eating and therefore are already predigested and help him break it down more easily. Grains are complex carbohydrates (sugar) your dog doesn't need and are not valuable to a dogs diet. If you feed a manufactured diet we highly recommend it is grain free. If you want to feed grains then remember they expand when heated with water, so you need to cook them in advance to prevent expansion in the stomach. Some dogs will eat grass (especially in the spring), usually as a cleanser and it will make them vomit – don’t panic, they do it to cleanse their system.
Dairy: Dairy doesn’t exist naturally in the adult dog’s life, they do not have the enzymes to digest it and they will get diarrhea. The counterpart to that theory is that cultured dairy products like yogurt and cheese are great for your dog – full of good protein, bacteria and enzymes. Your dog would love a tablespoon of yogurt (plain or vanilla) in every meal or cheese for treats.
Eggs: The eggs are raw and should be fed on a minimal basis – the wolf would only find a nest full of eggs on a rare occasion, but one egg once a week is good for your dog. Too many eggs can interfere with your dogs absorption of Biotin, so it is best to keep eggs to a minimum.
Fruit: The fruit is not picked from the tree, but scavenged after it has fallen to the ground and is slightly over ripened and digesting in its own enzymes. Your dog can have all kinds of fruit – when it is a little too soft for you it is perfect for him. He will have his own tastes and love some fruit and not others. Be patient, some fruits are an acquired taste. Do not feed raisins or grapes: they have been related to renal (kidney) failure.
Bones: Your hackles are probably raising at the thought of your dog eating chicken bones. We have been told to never feed our dog a chicken bone – it will splinter and tear him up inside. Well, a cooked bone just might do that. It becomes more brittle and far less nutritious when you cook it. A raw bone is easily crushed and digested and full of good nutrition. Our dogs have been eating raw chicken bones for years now and we have yet to see a problem. They are loving the food, digesting it well, and pooping out glorious poops that are so full of leftover calcium that they just crumble into the ground (and they don’t stink!). Our clients who have taken the step towards a natural diet see all kinds of changes in their animals. They experience digestive improvements, energy shifts, allergy corrections, coats that glisten, over all health improvements, some even swear to a change in their relationship with their dog.
*This is not to say that a dog has never had an ill effect from eating raw bones. If you are at all uncomfortable with allowing your dog to chew up bones, then consider putting some chicken wings in the blender and break them up into small bits in advance. Feeding chicken necks is great because they are just cartilage and there are no bones to worry about.
Yes, we do feed a high quality kibble to our dogs, heck, our family eats breakfast cereal too, but all things in balance ~ make sure you supplement with fresh foods as well.
Please educate yourself before you begin making these changes. There are many great books out on the subject and great raw-meat products you can get from your local specialty dog store. We really like Dr. Ian Billinghurst's books - "Give Your Dog a Bone" or "Raise Your Pup on Bones". They are simple and basic, so it is easy to understand and still do a great job for your dog.