Dog food part 1: picky eaters

I freely admit that nutrition is probably my weakest subject when it comes to canine knowledge. (And human knowledge, for that matter.) Nevertheless, when talking dogs, “what do you feed and why” comes up quite often.

Braam was around 8 months old and eating Blue Buffalo just fine when one day he decided that eating wasn’t his thing anymore. I took him to the vet, and all we got from that visit was a diagnosis of “picky eater.” We entered our first show when he was 10 months old, and he was quite underweight – I hate to look at those pictures of that skinny guy!

I spent the next year and a half rotating through different brands/flavors/protein sources of kibbles, canned wet foods, premixes, dehydrated foods, etc. Basically… if you see it in a pet store, I tried Braam on it. The pet store people were great about helping  me try to find anything that skinny Braam would put in his mouth (shout outs to Mud Bay Ballard and Pet Pros Magnolia!) and letting me return foods he refused. I tried altering foods by softening them in water, warming them up, and adding broth or meat or oil, all in various combinations. I tried borrowing friends’ dogs for mealtime to socially-pressure B into eating. I literally force-fed him quite often. Everyone would say “let him refuse food, eventually he will eat” but when I tried (which was one of the first things I tried when he first refused) he didn’t eat for 3 days and lost even more weight off his already underweight frame, to a low of 16.5 lbs (for reference, at ideal he is 20-21 lbs).

All this led me into a lot of research on dog feeding and nutrition. I resisted home-cooking meals and raw food for quite a while, because I work near and am thus influenced by the veterinary industry, which generally teaches vets to frown on these diets (I now think this is very incorrect and detrimental to dogs’ health… but veterinary dogma is a whole different blog post). However, we switched vets and our great new vet recommended I read Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, which was a wonderful resource and a good primer for diving into homemade meals and ultimately transitioning to raw. I spent a few months home-cooking all of Braam’s food in a slow cooker, one week’s worth at a time, using these books as a guide but not adhering to the recipes strictly. He did better with this, but still was never excited about eating the meaty sludge that came out of the crock pot.

So I dove in to raw feeding in fall 2015. Raw feeding is SCARY to get into. It’s labor-intensive, messy, potentially expensive, requires careful food handling, and keeping track of the nutritional content of what you fed in the past vs. what you mean to feed today and in the coming days. I worry every day (still) that I’m feeding too much or too little of some nutrient, that I’m going to give myself salmonella, or I’m going to feed something new that upsets their system. BUT: Braam loves it! He eats it and is excited about doing so! Well, he eats most proteins. (Raw feeders refer to “proteins” meaning “different species of dead animal you are feeding bits of to your dog.”) He loves rabbit, lamb, beef, and pork, will eat chicken, turkey, frog, and small fish like sardines, but shuns any larger fish, quail, and duck. However, he is terrible at eating organ meat. As raw diets are meant to be 80% muscle meat, 10% bone and 10% organs, I knew he would be missing a lot if he refused every organ every time. I buy commercial raw diets that are already in that ratio so he is getting some of it, but those are extremely expensive. So… he isn’t on 100% raw, and neither is Casper (who will eat anything). They get kibble for small breakfasts and to use as training treats – although to preserve their guts (different digestion is required to digest kibble vs. raw food), I don’t feed raw and kibble within a few hours of each other. This works for us quite well – Braam is eating and maintaining a healthy weight, and both of the dogs have wonderful coats and teeth. I still get peace of mind by rotating through protein sources – with both raw and kibble. I regret that I didn’t start raw sooner.

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What a cheap-meat shopping trip looks like

In Dog food part 2: my recommendations I list my dog food recommendations based on the lessons we learned on this picky-eating journey.