RISK MANAGEMENT by T.L DALE
Raw food comprises a mass of complex nutrients and textures providing intricate nutritional and medicinal benefits. When appropriate raw food meets the complex anatomy and physiology of dogs things usually go well. However, some dogs refuse to eat raw food—a bit like a child refusing medicine. For other dogs, taking their medicine can be associated with unwanted side effects. Let’s take a look at some possible side effects and strategies for avoiding or dealing with them.
Dogs vomit more readily than humans. The loud heaving and smell may not be to your liking but usually you need not be concerned when your pet vomits raw food—and then eats it again. Some dogs eat too quickly and then vomit. The best solution is to offer food in one big piece requiring plenty of ripping and tearing. Some dogs are either sensitive to or allergic to a particular meat.
If your dog consistently vomits beef, make changes; for instance try feeding rabbit, turkey or venison. Some dogs vomit bile. In general this poses no risk for your dog but, if in doubt, consult your vet. If your dog vomits and appears unwell it’s best to call your vet.
Eating too quickly or sensitivity to certain foods are reasons why some dogs regurgitate. You may have difficulty distinguishing between regurgitation and vomiting. Your vet can help.
Diarrhea is defined as ‘abnormally frequent intestinal evacuations with more or less fluid stools’. Sometimes diarrhea follows the introduction of and is associated with raw food. Maybe a dog’s enzyme systems need time to adjust or maybe it’s to do with the population of bowel bacteria that need time to change. Sometimes the diarrhea derives from the pet being exposed to new bacteria for the first time. Usually, diarrhea following introduction of raw food is short lived and resolves itself. Your role is to keep an eye on things to make sure your dog does not look or act unwell and to clean up the mess. Dietary sensitivity or allergy may be a trigger for diarrhea. Some dogs, allergic to cooked meats in processed food, eat the same meat raw without ill effect. If a dog occasionally passes soft or loose stools it’s seldom a cause for concern. However, if your pet appears unwell, or if stool abnormalities persist, then best to consult your vet.
Choking occurs when food or other material obstructs the airways. This is an emergency requiring prompt removal of the obstruction. Try to stay calm. If an animal loses consciousness it’s safe to reach in and grab the obstructing item. Meaty bones cut too small can lodge across the airways, but so too can kibble, chew toys and plastic bones. In 2003 Jake, a 10-year-old lion and king of the pride at a New Zealand zoo, died after choking on a chunk of meat. The zoo owner reported: ‘Jake leapt into the air when a big chunk of meat struck him on the wrong angle. It went like a bullet down his gullet and got stuck.’ Lions and dogs don’t need meat in bite size that can be swallowed whole; they need raw meaty bones—in large pieces.
Raw bones can and do get stuck in the esophagus (food tube between mouth and stomach). But when investigated the reason can usually be traced to bones which are too small. Chicken necks and wings can be ‘vacuumed-up’ by large dogs and sometimes create blockage. Ox tail or other vertebrae cut too small and with sharp edges get stuck. Sometimes rib bones wedge in the roof of a dog’s mouth. Patients paw at their mouths and drool sticky streams of saliva. Prevention is always better than treatment. Ensure bones are of suitable size and covered in lots of meat.
Wolves in the wild and domestic dogs fed whole carcasses pass feces dressed in ‘little fur coats’ or sprouting feathers from a recent meal. Digestion of natural food is highly effective and if your dog is fed predominantly raw meaty bones then the fecal residue will be about one third that of dogs fed processed food. Passing the small pellets of powdered bone requires effort compared with the sloppy, smelly excrement of kibble-fed dogs. Moderate straining helps tone muscles and evacuate anal glands (two small sacs at the anus). Severe straining signals that your dog may be constipated. Constipation, providing there is no blockage, can usually be managed by ensuring a diet of whole carcasses, raw bones covered in plenty of meat and a larger proportion of offal. Some owners add cooked pumpkin or other vegetables to the diet. Indigestible vegetable fiber retains water and keeps feces soft. If constipation persists there may be physiological or anatomical problems that require veterinary attention. Bulldogs and other dogs with powerful jaws sometimes gobble bones without sufficient chewing. The resultant boney fragments move down to the rectum and form an immovable mass. At times like this you need to call the vet. (Prevention, using meaty bones in large pieces, is a better option.)
Microbes and parasites
Bacteria—without them life would be very dull; there would be no life at all. Soil bacteria help plants grow. Gut bacteria assist herbivores to digest plants and help carnivores digest herbivores. The waste product of digestion, feces, contains trillions of living bacteria. Sometimes carnivores take a mouthful. It’s their way of accessing essential nutrients in the bacterial ‘live prey’. Despite their essential role bacteria suffer from a poor image. It’s true some bacteria give rise to diseases, but healthy carnivores generally suffer no ill effects, even when exposed to high levels of harmful bacteria. Nevertheless we should give some thought to the harmful bacteria that may be found in raw food.
Salmonella and Campylobacter.
Salmonella and Campylobacter are common bacteria found in a variety of locations. The municipal pound, boarding kennels and the droppings of wild birds may be sources of infection. Many kibble-fed dogs carry the bacteria. When humans become infected the source may be traced to salad vegetables or the roast chicken served for dinner. It’s best to consider all chicken, including chicken for human consumption, as a potential source of harmful bacteria. Theoretically the very young, the old and those with a reduced immune system are at greatest risk. When pets are
first introduced to raw food, especially chicken, they may develop diarrhea. Salmonella, whilst often talked about, is seldom a factor. Sometimes, though, the diarrhea is due to contamination of the chicken with Campylobacter. Campylobacter induced diarrhea can be treated by your veterinarian. Once recovered, dogs are unlikely to suffer from the problem again.
Bacteria in putrid meat.
Dogs, like people, enjoy fermented foods. Bones fermented in the garden bed are a firm favorite—with dogs if not with humans. Soil bacteria seldom give rise to health problems. Although rare, the bacteria in putrefying meat can create digestive upset. Decomposing carcasses of chickens and ducks can be a source of botulinum toxin. Sufferers become weak and paralyzed and need urgent veterinary attention.
An unusual microbe, Neorickettsia helminthoeca, lives in parasites which live in fresh-water fish along the west coast of North America from San Francisco to Alaska. If dogs eat infected fish they may develop the potentially fatal disease ‘salmon poisoning’. Long-time residents of the region know not to feed their dogs raw fresh-water fish. Newcomers need to take note and, if in doubt, obtain further information from local veterinarians.
Aujeszky’s disease is an uncommon viral disease of young pigs. Rarely, dogs living on pig farms may be found dead after contracting the disease. If you are concerned about Aujeszky’s I suggest you consult your vet about prevalence in your region. In general, pork neck bones, pigs’ trotters and pigs’ heads are a safe, economical source of food for dogs.
Raw meat, even though passed for human consumption, and the feces of cats, usually kittens, can be a source of Toxoplasma infection—for you and your dog. Because of risks to unborn babies, pregnant women are encouraged to take extra precautions when handling raw meat or cleaning the cat litter tray. Freezing meat at -10 °C kills Toxoplasma organisms. For more information consult your doctor, library or internet.
Neospora caninum is an uncommon protozoal parasite of dogs. Puppies may be aborted or develop progressive paralysis. Current opinion is that females consume infected meat and pass on the parasite to the fetuses in the uterus. Freezing meat at -20°C for one day kills Neospora.
Dogs seldom suffer any ill effects from consuming Sarcocystis infected meat. Diarrhea and vomiting may occur. Humans who handle raw beef or pork may become infected. Good meat handling and hygiene recommendations apply.
If dogs eat their natural raw diet of meat, fish and bones they are likely to contract parasitic tapeworms. Some round worms can also be transmitted to dogs via small rodents. However, in the domestic situation there is no cause for alarm. Raw meaty bones cleared for human consumption contain few if any worm cysts. Similarly, low numbers of adult worms do not create health problems for carnivores. The few worms that do develop can be controlled by regular use of modern worming medicines. And daily removal of feces helps to limit the spread of worm eggs.
The hydatid tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus needs mention, not because of its effects on dogs but for the potential dangers it poses for humans. The adult worms are tiny and live in the intestines of domestic dogs, dingoes, wolves, coyotes, jackals and foxes. As with other tapeworms the eggs are passed in the feces and scattered on the herbage. If those eggs are eaten by a suitable intermediate host, for instance a sheep, kangaroo or deer, the eggs hatch into larvae which proceed to the lungs or liver and occasionally other organs. A hydatid cyst develops. It’s this cyst, when eaten by a dog or other canine, which develops into the adult worm. In Australia and the United Kingdom dogs are usually the primary and sheep the secondary hosts. Other strains include a wolf/moose strain in North America, dingo/wallaby strain in Australia, coyote/deer in California and fox/ hare in Argentina. Providing the worm stays in those hosts there are few problems. The situation changes if worm eggs find their way into a human and develop into a hydatidcyst. The cysts, if located in an important organ, such as the heart or brain, can have fatal consequences. How do hydatid tapeworm eggs get into a human? Mostly they come from an infected domestic dog. The eggs are slightly sticky and adhere to the coat of the dog. Transfer
to a human, more commonly a child, occurs if the dog licks itself and then the person. Petting a dog, getting worm eggs on fingers and then handling food or sucking fingers achieves the same outcome. How do domestic dogs become infected? Not by eating raw meaty bones purchased from the butcher—meat passed for human consumption poses little or no threat. They become infected by scavenging on sheep and wallaby carcasses found dead in the paddock. Some farmers slaughter sheep for home consumption without checking the offal for signs of hydatid cysts. If infected offal is fed to farm dogs, or city dogs spending time on the farm, then they may become infected. Generally, however, hydatid problems are restricted to rural dogs living in well-known rural areas. Local veterinarians can advise, whether for farm dogs or visitors, regarding prevention and treatment of hydatid disease.
Raw meaty bones and table scraps potential problems.
It’s possible to have too much of a good thing—especially when a pair of imploring eyes beg for more. Some people feed an excess of minced meat without bone and others feed excess amounts of starchy foods and vegetables. Theoretically it’s possible to feed too much liver and create vitamin A excess problems. Too much raw white of egg can reduce the amount of biotin (a B group vitamin) available for your dog. Who feeds lashings of egg white? I’ve never met such a person. And in any case raw egg yolks contain lots of biotin which mostly compensates for any losses. A steady diet of some fish, for instance carp and herring, can lead to a reduction in vitamin B1. Too much oily fish can give rise to fatty acid excess. Veterinary teaching and pet-food company marketing have, for many years, been directed against table scraps and created unnecessary alarm. Table scraps, both cooked and raw, can provide welcome calories, trace elements and micro-nutrients for dogs, but there are a few things to watch out for.
Items to avoid:
• excessive meat off the bone — not balanced
• excessive vegetables — not balanced
• small pieces of bone—can be swallowed whole and get stuck
• cooked bones—can get stuck.
• excessive starchy food e.g. potatoes and bread—associated with bloat
• onions and garlic—toxic to pets and can produce anemia
• grapes and raisins—toxic for pets and can lead to kidney disease
• fruit pits (stones) and corn cobs—get stuck in the bowel
• milk—associated with diarrhea; animals drink it whether
thirsty or not and consequently get fat; milk sludge sticks to teeth and gums
• chocolate—toxic for dogs (beware at Easter and Christmas;
keep chocolate away from curious canines)
• mineral and vitamin additives—create imbalance
Cooked products claiming to be ‘natural’.
Often repeated propaganda takes hold in people’s minds, hence the repetition of the word ‘natural’ in processed petfoodads. No matter that grains are not a ‘natural’ part of a dog’s diet; no matter that cooking and pulverizing alters the nutrients and destroys the texture of natural food. Fad diet books for dogs list so called natural ingredients— grains, vegetables and minced meat—which you are then told to cook on the kitchen stove. Niche marketers use the same confused and misleading concepts to sell their ‘premium’ cooked products. ‘Human-grade ingredients selected and mixed according to a special recipe’, they say. ‘Cooked and sealed in the bag for your convenience.’ If dogs could talk, what would they say?
Raw products claiming to be ‘natural’
These days, alongside the cooked commercial products there’s a wide range of raw pet-food recipes and niche products generally marketed as ‘barf ’, a colloquial term for vomit. ‘Barf ’ proponents dispute that dogs are carnivores. Instead they claim dogs are ‘omnivores’ and, according to them, should consume large quantities of vegetables and fruit. Several companies manufacture ground meat, bone and vegetables to a ‘barf ’ formula. One ‘barf ’ advertisement claims: ‘Quite possibly…the world’s perfect food for your pet!’ Dogs in the wild don’t read raw diet ads or spend much time in the vegetable patch. They are too busy catching and consuming prey animals. Ripping and tearing at whole carcasses provides wild dogs with the full medicinal effects of ‘tooth brushing’ and ‘flossing’ at every feeding session. Pity the pet dogs fed ground raw concoctions—no teeth cleaning for them. Pity the dog owners who swallow the ‘omnivore’ marketing hype.
It’s often quipped that expensive vitamin supplements make for expensive urine—excess water soluble vitamins pass out through the kidneys. Are there other costs? In my opinion, yes! If a diet is thought to be inadequate I recommend that the principal items of the diet be changed. Attempts at finding a suitable artificial supplement to plug nutritional gaps presupposes you know what the gaps are, how wide and how deep. Let’s face it; most of us feed ourselves and our families on good food for all our nutrient requirements. Why is it that, when it comes to dietary supplements for
dogs, we succumb to marketing hype? Marketers sell flaxseed (linseed) oil, kelp and cider vinegar for their alleged nutrient properties. How does anyone know if their dog suffers a flaxseed oil deficiency? Especially since flaxseed forms no part of a wild dog’s diet. Some people feed raw food to their dogs and then supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint repair —little realizing that raw meaty bones contain an abundance of glucosamine and chondroitin. A diet of raw carcasses or raw meaty bones provides a good balance of calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D. By adding supplements it’s possible to do harm by giving too much calcium and vitamin D, especially to growing pups. We know that junk food manufacturers strive to identify and plug nutritional gaps in their products with additives and supplements. For us, rather than gain a false sense of security with bottled supplements, it is much better to follow Nature’s lead.
Old-wives tales and other scare stories abound. We’ve all heard the statements:
• Never feed chicken or fish to dogs—the bones are dangerous.
• Feeding raw meat to dogs gives them a blood lust.
• If you feed lamb to dogs they will chase the farmer’s sheep.
• Cooked chicken and fish bones may be dangerous. Feed only raw chicken or fish.
• All dogs, potentially, can inflict a nasty bite. A small minority, when
fed a natural diet, become more dominant and aggressive. However,
most dogs fed raw food tend to be calm and placid by comparison with those fed junk food.
• Many working sheep dogs are fed sheep offal; dogs on pig farms scavenge
dead piglets; packs of foxhounds are fed whole carcasses of
farm animals. Working dogs do not harm the farm animals and even fox
hounds ignore the farmer’s flock of sheep as they pursue the fox they will not eat.
Sometimes family and friends tell scare stories with the best of intentions. Often it’s people with commercial interests who raise hypothetical and bogus concerns. Vets repeat petfood industry propaganda. How often have you heard the statement: ‘Only scientifically produced packaged foods provide a complete and balanced diet?’ As a reader of this book you know to be on your guard. You can weed out the half-truths and scare stories before they take root.