Let’s talk about the importance the right nutrition for your dogs. As a firm believer in the notion that “Nature knows best”, I strive to provide my dogs with a diet as close to natural as possible. I was very inspired at the outset of my dog breeding venture by a book by veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst called “Give Your Dog a Bone”, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to gain more depth on this important subject. Dr Billinghurst drew upon his observations and trials during 25 years as a small animal veterinarian to develop a diet based on raw meaty bones. He found that dogs placed on such a diet showed dramatic improvement in their health, and often also spontaneously recovered from some of the common dog ailments including flea bite allergy. Much of what follows is drawn from his work and my own application of his ideas.
Though in appearance most breeds are far removed from their ancestors, all dogs are descended from the wolf, and so their diets should simulate the eating habits of healthy wolves. Who am I to argue with millions of years of evolution? And who are commercial dog food companies and the veterinarians who pay homage to them, either?
They may argue that commercial dog foods are carefully balanced to provide for all the minerals, vitamins and essential oils and other nutrients that a dog needs – and I would agree with them! The fact that such foods are often also heavily laden with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, as well as containing damaging rancid and oxidized fats is only to be expected of any processed foods – whether they be for you or Rover! But what they don’t provide is equally, and perhaps more important.
When your pup eats bones, its teeth are cleaned and its gums are massaged. The stress of bone eating while your pup is young and growing strengthens the teeth and ensures they are firmly rooted in the jaws. Conversely, on purely commercial diets, the health of dogs suffers in many ways. One big giveaway is the buildup of tartar on the teeth and development of foul breath due to lack of chewing. Dogs raised on commercial diets often have poorly anchored, weak teeth. Indeed, dental problems, once unheard of in dogs, now provide around a third of the income for small animal veterinarians! That many dog owners are now encouraged to actually brush their dog’s teeth is an ignoble fate for the descendants of the wolf, and totally unnecessary when a natural diet is followed!
Bone eating is great exercise for a pup, of every muscle and bone in its body. In bracing, tackling, ripping and tearing its meaty bone the puppy works its jaws, neck, shoulders, back and both front and rear limbs, promoting toned, sound muscular and skeletal development.
None of these benefits derive from feeding commercial dry biscuits, mince or wet canned slops!
Build your pup’s diet around raw meaty bones.
Your puppy needs food that will support proper growth, which means adequate protein, fat, energy, vitamins and minerals. Most of these come conveniently packaged in the form of raw meaty bones. As a simple rule of thumb just give your pup a diet that is 60% to 80% raw meaty bones.
The best of these are chicken wings and chicken necks which provide high quality protein, a good balance of essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins, some B vitamins, and ample energy and all essential minerals. The bone marrow is a particularly good source of iron to build up the blood and immune system. The bone itself is a great, perfectly balanced source of other minerals, especially calcium and phosphorous. It is much easier to correctly balance your pup’s calcium needs this natural way and augment the need for artificial calcium supplementation, particularly in larger breeds of dogs.
Despite some of the B vitamins being in short supply in raw meaty bones, pups raised on them and little else still do better than those fed on the best of the supposedly complete and balanced commercial dog foods.
And because they are derived from very young animals, chicken bones are lower in toxins than meat from other species which are generally much older at slaughter.
It is very important that your pup actually eats the bones, and those of chickens are small, soft and easy to chew for your puppy. Reserve meaty bones that are harder to chew – such as lamb shanks and ribs – for older dogs, or your pup may miss out on the bony part of the parcel.
For small and finicky pups, particularly those that have never seen a bone before, it can be very helpful to pulverize the chicken wings or necks a little at first, using a meat mallet. You may even need to mince up the chicken and add a little to the diet the pup has grown accustomed to, gradually weaning it onto the proper diet over a few days. Then mince/pulverize the chicken less and less until the pup is coping with a whole wing or neck by itself.
The Other Part of the Diet
The other 20% to 40% of the diet should be drawn from as wide a variety of foods as possible. Dogs are basically omnivorous so need vegetable as well as meat in their diet. Consider the wolf – when it eats a rabbit or a partridge it ingests the offal and intestines too, along with the vegetables and grains that they are filled with. If the prey is a baby or lactating mammal, that wolf will also get a good dose of dairy foods. They will also eat eggs, herbs and berries. Since all of these are essentially raw, then it makes sense to furnish as many raw foods as possible to your dog.
For the offal component of the diet, give liver, heart, kidney or brains once or twice a week. Also feed occasional milk or vegetable meals.
Leftovers (minus any cooked bones) are a great supplement to the meaty bone diet, and very practical. Soup, pasta, cooked vegetables, cheese, yoghurt, rice, in fact any remains of wholesome household meals add to the variety of your dog’s diet. The more different foods you feed your puppy, the healthier he will be.
Dog Food Recipe
Here is a recipe for a high fibre, high energy supplementary meal adapted from “Give Your Dog a Bone”:
1 cup of soaked or cooked quick oats, or cooked brown rice
1 tspn honey
1 tspn olive oil (substitute cod liver oil in winter once a week)
1 tspn brewer’s yeast
5 desert spoons of vegetables (grated fresh combined with some lightly cooked and mashed, or juiced and then recombined as pulp and juice)
1 Tbspn dried fruit
1 desert spoon shredded coconut
1 tspn kelp powder
1 egg or egg yolk (optional)
The recommendation is to give this meal 3 to 4 times a week. Though it is low in essential minerals and protein, that doesn’t matter because the raw meaty bones more than make up for it.
I find it very useful to provide the meaty bone part of the diet to my dogs whenever I need to leave them for a period of time. Gnawing at a bone provides useful and rewarding entertainment and can alleviate loneliness and boredom, thus circumventing possible destructive behavior.
Herbs to Grow for Your Dogs
Comfrey is a herb that grows readily in most areas and is rich in calcium and magnesium. I have some growing in a large pot around a lemon tree and recently noticed my dogs avidly grazing on it. Animals seem to know what they need. If it is there they will avail themselves of it whenever necessary.
How Much Should You Feed?
In the wild, natural state, wolf cubs were always a little hungry. Adult wolves did not hunt until motivated by hunger, and often had to wait until a successful kill before sating their appetite. And so, it is natural and healthy for your dog to rest its digestive system occasionally. You can simulate this by skipping a day’s feeding once a week in the adult dog.
Many people see virtue in growing their puppies as fast as possible, and the end result is frequently problems with bones and joints in the adult dog. This is particularly so of the larger breeds. As a guide, keep your puppy slim and athletic rather than roly-poly by:
- Feed about ¾ of what your pup would eat were it allowed to eat as much as it wanted.
- Once or twice a week fasting your pup on fluids for twelve hours.
- Let the pup eat its fill for 15 minutes at each meal, then take the food away (this also makes toilet training easier – see our section on House Training)
Feeding Frequency Guide
Feeding frequency depends upon the age of the pup or dog. Here is a general guide:
|0 – 1 month||Pup suckles its mother exclusively (unless circumstances warrant earlier supplementation)|
|1 – 3 months||3 to 4 meals per day|
|3 – 6 months||2 to 3 meals per day|
|6 – 12 months||2 meals per day|
|After 12 months||1 meal per day|
To further simulate natural conditions, vary the time of feeding, if your routine allows, and don’t necessarily feed the dog according to when it is hungry.
The important exception to these guidelines is the lactating bitch. Your breeding bitch is a production animal and needs to be cared for as such. Lactating bitches have very heavy demands on their nutritional and energy reserves and I believe they should be fed as much as they desire, often two to three times what they would normally require, particularly if the litter is a large one. Even under such a regime, many bitches will lose weight during lactation.