Tyler celebrated his 11th birthday this week, and what caught some people’s attention even more than his handsome grey face was the fact that he’s actually healthier now than he was a year ago!
In fact, one year ago at this time, he was so sick that we were starting to say our goodbyes. My beautiful Boxer boy was having seizures, losing weight, growing tumors–all the bad stuff. To be honest, none of my dogs were doing well that year. Georgia was in a cone because she had an eye ulcer that wouldn’t heal. She was mostly bald, with the skin in the bare places turning black from sun exposure. Her feet were so itchy she was chewing them raw. Then Tyler got the same eye ulcer Georgia had. And Lily was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and seemed to be in pain, even though she was doing her best to hide it.
Something Was Missing from Their Diets
My vets were on top of their medical symptoms, but that meant a long list of medications that had to be handed out every day. I knew in my heart there had to be a better way. Even though I was already giving them high-quality kibble, I felt strongly that all of these issues came down to something missing from their food. If I could just give them better nutrition, their bodies could do a better job of healing themselves.
So I researched how to improve my dogs’ nutrition. We could talk for years about which dog food is the best and healthiest for your dog, but from my research there were two ideas that resonated with me and what I felt was going on with my dogs:
- Even the best kibble can have small deficiencies, but that deficiency grows in magnitude if you feed the same thing year after year (which I had been doing).
- Just like me, my dogs can benefit from eating more whole, natural and unprocessed foods.
If you haven’t heard of or considered adding fresh, whole foods to your dog’s food, this TEDTalk is a great place to start. When Rodney Habib’s dog Sammie was diagnosed with cancer, he went on a global search for how to cure her cancer through nutrition. Along the way, he found research and anecdotal evidence showing that—just like us—our dogs’ health can be dramatically improved by adding some fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs.
Sounds Easy Enough, Right?
Even though I was convinced my dogs would benefit from more fresh food in their diets, figuring out exactly how to do that was overwhelming. First I had to decide: was I going to feed them raw food? Raw prepared food? Dehydrated food? After reading up on the options available, I tried at least a dozen times to make the transition to healthier dog food. I would go to the dog food store or the butcher shop, start reading labels—and then get completely overwhelmed. Time after time, I’d give up and walk out with the same bag of dog food I always fed. I was not at all confident that I could adequately provide the right nutritional mix for my dogs.
I met with my regular veterinarian and got her advice. I scheduled a consult with a veterinary oncologist and got her advice. I was referred to a veterinary nutritionist at Michigan State University.
Unfortunately, all three of them had different—and often conflicting—advice. Overwhelmed, I finally loaded my dogs into the car, drove to my local holistic pet food store, Must Love Dogs, and said, “I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”
Complete with tears, of course.
In true frazzled dog mom fashion, I did this about five minutes before closing on a glorious Saturday afternoon, right as the saintly woman who was helping me received a text from her husband that said, “Hurry home. I have drinks and dinner waiting.” (True story.)
Sorry, hubs, ice those drinks. This dog mom was in meltdown and her dogs were in cones and stitches, and Jessie the shop assistant (and sister dog mom) wasn’t about to let me give in to the overwhelm. We talked about their symptoms, my confusion about all the foods out there, my fears about feeding raw and not getting the right nutritional balance, and how scared I was that I wouldn’t be able to afford a new diet for three dogs.
So We Started Small
I walked out with a plan and, better yet, some hope that I was finally going to be giving them the nutrition they needed and deserved.
I saw immediate results.
Tyler stopped growing tumors. Just stopped.
As an added bonus, he started running and playing a lot more. He didn’t need his arthritis medicine as often. He went up and down the stairs more often. He could keep up with the younger dogs on our walks now.
Georgia grew her hair back. Her skin was less scabby and dry. She stopped chewing her feet raw.
Her eye healed, and she hasn’t had any more eye ulcers since.
And as an added bonus, she stopped being so stinky! For as long as I’ve had her, she was just “my stinky girl.” I just accepted that she was a little funky and loved her for it. But shortly after changing her food, people kept remarking that she didn’t smell as bad. I never would have predicted that a change in food, rather than more baths, could have changed the way my stinky girl (and my house) smells for the better.
So What Was this Miraculous Change to My Dogs’ Diets?
I simply added some fresh meat and veggies on top of the high-quality kibble I was already feeding.
That’s it. I didn’t give up kibble, with it’s complete and balanced nutrient profile, affordability or convenience. I also didn’t have to formulate my own nutrient mix or count macronutrients by going completely raw. In fact, while I did start out adding raw meat to their food, I soon transitioned to cooked meat so I could make large batches at a time and not have to run to the store every day. While I think a raw diet is great and I’d love to work my way up to it someday, for a single mom with two kids and three dogs, raw feeding just wasn’t working for me.
So now once every six days, I pour myself a glass of wine, turn up the music in the kitchen, and I cook up about six to seven pounds of beef, turkey or venison (Georgia is allergic to chicken). I pull out my food processor and puree another three to four pounds of veggies. I add some coconut oil, and some fresh or dried herbs. I scoop in a dehydrated mineral and vitamin base mix like the one from The Honest Kitchen plus two to three cups of water. Mix and refrigerate.
I replace about half their kibble with this mix, and because my dogs are older and need the probiotics, I typically add a dollup of plain yogurt or a splash of Answers raw goat’s milk. If I have blueberries or egg shells, I might throw those on top, too.
Just this one change to their food is the best thing I have ever done for my dogs’ health.
I try not to regret anything in life, but I do wish I had started supplementing my dogs’ kibble earlier in life. I made it a big complicated math-body-weight-micronutrient problem, and in the meantime deprived them of even the smallest improvements in nutrition and healing. I still have a lot to learn about canine nutrition, and I still struggle to find the time and money to give them the “best of the best,” but every day that I make even the tiniest efforts, they reap the benefits.
The lesson here? Baby steps are better than no steps, dog momma. Don’t let the fear of what you don’t know hold you back from what you DO know: you want to give your dog the best nutrition you can. If you’ve got that mother’s intuition telling you that something is missing from your dog’s diet, or you see the benefits in your own body from eating whole, unprocessed foods and want to do the same for your dog, just start small with some simple fresh additions to his kibble. In the next blog post, I’ll share a whole shopping list of easy but powerful fresh food toppers that you can use right away to start boosting your dog’s nutrition, so make sure to sign up below so you don’t miss it. If you want to get started on home-cooking a portion of your dog’s food, here are some of my favorite resources for you to check out:
Dr. Karen Becker’s Homemade Dog Food Recipe
Planet Paws Healthy Pet Recipe Store
Feed Your Best Friend Better, by Rick Woodford
Have you seen similar improvements in your dog’s health by adding fresh, whole foods? Comment on the post below, share your story, or shout out on social media and let us know!
Baby steps, dog momma. You got this.
Better with dog,
I can so relate to the overwhelm when trying to learn all about dog nutrition. It took me forever to start transitioning from kibble to kibble mixed with some home cooked food. Thank you for sharing the tips and your personal experience! Makes me want to take the next step now (trying a greater variety). So glad to hear your dogs are doing well and happy birthday to Tyler!
Love this! Recently I started adding a little raw in my rottie’s food due to reading how much better it is but I still want him to be on some kibble in case a situation came up such as financial issues, boarding, etc. I am so glad to hear about you doing both and what you use! This is very helpful!
You make a great point about the boarding, Terrica! I did feed my dogs all raw for a short time when this first started, but then I went away for a few days. I showed up to my parents’ house with three dogs and half a fridge worth of portioned raw beef, veggies and supplements in 20+ individual containers, labeled by name and date. High maintenance, anyone? 🙂
It was a great learning from your experience. It will try to apply your findings to improve my my dog’s health. Thanks for this post!