by Steve Kotowske
I guess that question has many answers depending on who you ask. For me dog food is life-giving, health supporting, good tasting, coat shining, teeth-cleaning, goodness in a bowl. I think most of my readers feel the same way. Some may believe it is simply something in a bowl that keeps the dog from yapping at them or digging through the trash; a mere belly filler. Or, all of the above.
I have spouted off about 'quality' kibble in the past and have had great success with my dogs on such a diet. I tried to bridge the gap of convenience and all of the colorful qualities I listed above. I measured the decision with a great deal of wisdom that suited my needs... convenience still being the greatest factor.
We participate in SV style shows and they are often sponsored by well-known kibble producers with amazing graphics and colorful displays on their bags and marketing items. For typical consumers and pet owners, the thought begins forming that 'it must be good' the moment we walk into the pet supermarket and the staffers tell us how the food is sorted... from highest quality to lowest. Or my favorite... the unique boutique dog store with fancy named 'holistic' foods with catchy, hipster packaging. How about that clever specialty feed store that lines the shelves with great spontaneous purchase items that have the look and feel of things like 'real smoked sausage' and real elk antlers? They certainly must know something, right?
They all know this: Americans spend 2 billion dollars each year on dog food, yes $2,000,000,000.00. The new craze to feed raw is sweeping through the nation at an alarming rate. There are more theories of what is best for your dog than you can shake a stick or a 'naturally harvested' (picked up off the ground) elk antler at. Do you feed organs and bones or just muscle meat? Do you cook your vegetables or feed them raw? Do you use 'healthy' grains or no grains at all? It can be utterly mind boggling!
Time for a deep breath and perhaps a cup of calming tea. I will give you a minute. . . . . . . . . .
Let's move on to what I have learned.
I spoke with a scientist, a veterinarian, a dog food producer and a friend who is also a breeder to collect information. They all had different answers. I built my conclusion on what the scientist had to say along with the very successful breeder and show participant, followed by the veterinarian then the dog food producer.
The scientist and the breeder were pretty close in opinion. The breeder used a less expensive form of product, much like a dog food manufacturer would source fillers - rather than use choice primal cuts exclusively, she supplements with bone and organs. It all started to make sense because all of it is eaten in the wild. Given a choice, I suspect that wild dogs would eat the prime cuts, though they may settle for gnawing down a bone - it is also fun for our domestic dogs to do. The filter organs (kidney, liver, spleen) are also eaten but they trap bad stuff, so I see why the scientist prefers to stay away. She even says cow tripe is off limits because of the bacteria that can be trapped in the stomach. Dogs seem to love the stuff, but I understand her reasoning, plus it smells horribly so I can can do without it in my kitchen.
Dogs are classified as  carnivores, but considered omnivores which means they eat a little bit of everything. Wild dogs do eat vegetables on occasion when foraging, and they eat grass. By the way, grass is a grain. A squash would suffice as a tasty treat and a moisture-filled means of hydration. Vegetables seem to make perfect sense. Hey, even those clever food manufacturers are putting pictures of vegetables on the bags.
Now what about those grains? Well, I always thought oatmeal and brown rice were part of a healthy diet, and they are for humans. The vet prescribes a bland diet sometimes of turkey and rice, and it makes sense because your own doctor has most likely prescribed you the very same thing when you were sick... and it worked! Oatmeal is heart healthy, is great for solving skin itching and hair issues. The problem is, that while it may be a great bland diet or a wonderful ingredient for a human it is not a required nutrient for your dog to survive. In general, both oatmeal and brown rice are a good minor component for a dog's healthy diet.
I learned that dogs DO NOT metabolize carbohydrates into energy like humans do, but can benefit from those healthy grains for bulking (and producing lots of waste if eaten in excess). I knew this already and have fed a limited grain kibble diet for years - we have seen great results.
The high quality kibble maintains convenience, but should not be relied upon as a sole source of nutrition. The vet likes the stability of kibble and 'knowing' what the dog is eating. This a great concept when treating a species with limited communication. The issue with that thought is quite vast since the actual protein from meat is diminished greatly (even if it is the first ingredient) by the addition of other protein sources. There are often several cleverly disguised sources of protein on each bag of the finest foods. Even worse, many ingredients are not even listed, according to The Dog Food Project.
From a scientific perspective, kibble lacks moisture that must be made up in order for your dog to process it. Kibble slows the natural processing time from 3-4 hours to 12-16 hours. This can tax the dog's digestive system. Kibble has no truly regulated meat source and often has bizarre fillers such as fruits that add sugar to the diet of an animal that doesn't do well with sugars - even if they enjoy them. Sound familiar?
So what am I changing for my dogs?
Well, I cooked a pot of organic vegetables that included: sweet potatoes, carrots, yellow squash, bok choy, celery, peas, spinach and crushed tomatoes in a little water... I ground it and it was so good I wanted to keep it to eat for myself. I also cooked free-range b/s chicken breasts in a little water with garlic and rosemary. I poached some eggs in the same liquid after pulling the chicken out. I cooled everything completely. I mixed the chicken and the eggs with 4oz cottage cheese per pound to increase fat content. Then I began adding fresh, 80/20 market ground beef until I had equal parts of raw beef to chicken mixture in weight. Next I added vegetables until I had a mixture that consisted of 2/3 MEAT and 1/3 VEG. I am happy with this mixture.
I am adding this to 1/2 my kibble ration for now at varying rates. Special diet is added at 2.0% of ideal body weight per day divided by 2 meals divided by 2 to make up 1/2 of the meal portion. Some use as little as 1.0% and up to 3.5% when feeding a natural diet. You must adjust according to your dog's unique requirements. We will decrease kibble in a week and add more of our natural diet.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we also add a couple of products on top of the diet so we can be specific for each dog. They are: ULTIMATE to get vitamins, minerals, amino acids that may be left out of dry or natural food; PROBIOTIC MAX that is essential for digestive and immune system well being. Those products are the same as you will see in our online store. Since my dogs are rather active I also add PHYTO-FLEX bone and joint supplement. I strongly recommend all three supplements to any diet. Our store is located here: http://vonherderhaus.com/products/ (you will find the door locked on the nutritional items if you visit before August 1st... come back to visit)
My vet didn't like the idea of using raw beef since it can/has bacterial issues associated with it, but for now I will continue with it. I may cook the beef and add in finely ground oatmeal to the beef pot in order to capture the rendered fat component on the next batch.
I will keep you posted on our progress with the new routine. You never know...all those years as a chef may just lead to a new exclusive dog food line by Chef Stefan!