What to feed our dogs? Raw, home-cooked or commercial dog food.
At a dog rescue, Butter Cup, a fawn-colored puppy with bright brown eyes and black muzzle, came running to our feet. Dogs were yapping, many up on hind legs, front paws on gates. To escape the chaos, Butter Cup scampered into a crate but managed to sneak a peek to see if we were watching. Within a week Buttercup was ours and renamed Zachary. He looked to be part Boxer, but DNA reports came back with Staffordshire Bull Terrier and some Coonhound in the mix.
What to feed him
I never agonized over what to feed my chocolate lab Hershey. I bought canned dog food and mixed in table scraps. That was before the scandal of pet food recalls in 2007. Between Hershey and Zachary much has happened in the world of feeding dogs. There are advocates of feeding dogs raw meat and bones; others favored home cooking, but many still argue that a well-balanced, premium dog food is safest.
There is a lot of controversy, a lot of theory, a lot of anecdotal information that can be drawn from nutritional science but there is very little hard evidence about whether dogs do better in terms of health, fitness and longevity when fed one of these diets or another.
“Raw is better” is the mantra of those convinced that feeding dogs raw meat and bones is best. “Dogs evolved from wolves who caught and killed and ate raw game,” say advocates, “so raw, the diet of their ancestors, must be good for our dogs.” The origin of the raw-is-better movement can be traced to the 1993 book,“Give Your Dog a Bone,” by Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian who claims that many animals he treats become healthier when fed raw meat and bones, along with some raw vegetables.
On August 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association approved a policy position on the raw diet that discourages feeding raw meat to cats and dogs because of a risk of illness from pathogens to the animals, and to humans that must handle the food. The AVMA recommends providing fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food to cats and dogs.
So what to do
Whatever course you take in feeding your dog, it should be a balanced diet that contains all the necessary nutrients.
Veterinarian Marilyn Thompson, of Companion Animal Hospital in Springfield, says, “What I am now recommending is that dogs be fed half of their daily calories in a high-quality, meat-based dog food and the other half in fresh cooked meats and vegetables, and fruit if they like it.” After studying parasitology, Thompson says she is not a fan of feeding raw, but adds, “No dog food can supply 100 percent [of a dog’s] nutrition because it is processed and not fresh.”
Veterinarian Jennifer Kelly, who works with Thompson, takes a more neutral view, emphasizing quality, freshness and variety in a chosen diet, whether raw or cooked.
Diana Greiner, proprietor of Felix and Oscar in Springfield, a pet food store specializing in natural, premium pet foods, including ingredients for raw diets, says it is amazing to see the turnaround in health and vitality in some of her customers’ dogs who have been switched to a raw diet. But she agrees that whatever diet one chooses it should be made with premium quality ingredients.
Patsy Leininger, a dog trainer with Fairfax County Parks, follows the advice of her veterinarian, Carol Lundquist of Singing Stones Animal Wellness Centre in Fauquier County. Leininger feeds her dogs a raw diet. A main objection of the AVMA to the raw diet is the risk from handling the raw food. That risk can be minimized by carefully washing hands and surfaces that have been in contact with the food. Leininger says its worth it. She sees definite health benefits in her dog from the raw diet.
For me and Zachary, raw was not the way to go. I tried some raw diet for Zachary. He would never touch raw chicken. He just pushed it around with his nose. He would eat raw beef, but not other raw foods. Since I have the time, I cook his food. He gets home-cooked, human-quality food, supplemented with a high-quality, commercial dog food. –Joseph Hight