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Is A Natural Food Diet Really Healthier For Your Gun Dog?

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July 28, 2011

Is A Natural Food Diet Really Healthier For Your Gun Dog?

By Chad Love

The subject of canine nutrition and the crucial role it plays in the well-being and performance of our dogs is one of the most vitally-important, yet easily-confused and misunderstood (at least for dim bulbs like myself) issues facing dog owners. What to feed, how to feed, when to feed, hydration, supplements, conditioning--these and other variables act in concert (and sometimes against one another) to make up the sum whole of the canine machine.

The sheer amount of information floating around out there is dizzying, and to the layman gundog owner trying to make informed decisions about the health of their pooch, it can be a daunting task.

Unless, of course, you have a bunch of scientists explaining everything to you. As luck would have it, that's exactly what I've been doing. I just returned from three days at the Purina Event Center in Gray Summit, MO attending a host of seminars highlighting the latest canine nutrition, health and performance research discoveries from the research scientists at Nestle Purina Petcare and the Canine Health Foundation. In addition, our group of dog writers were able to attend several informative training seminars from Tom Dokken and get a sneak peak at the latest training and tracking aids from Garmin.

There was, to put it mildly, a lot to digest (pun intended) and in the coming days I'll be sharing what I learned, but on a related note, resident Wild Chef blogger David Draper recently sent me an interesting story about the burgeoning butcher-shop dog food movement in (where else?) New York, where high-end butcher shops are now offering your dog, basically, the same cuts of meat they offer you.

From this story in the New York Times: 
From the moment Mookie tasted his new dog food, he was a forever-changed Jack Russell terrier. He devoured that first meal, his tongue lapping even the underside of the bowl, desperately searching for more. And then Mookie, who is 9, started barking — at the refrigerator. “It was like an affirmation,” said Mookie’s owner, Liz Wiseman, whose other Jack Russell, Melanie, had a similar reaction to the new food. “They liked it and it was good for them; I knew we were on the right track.” Mookie and Melanie are beneficiaries of one of the latest trends for New Yorkers with pockets deep enough to ensure their dogs get only the best. To pet owners like Ms. Wiseman, who lives in the East Village, premium dog food is not good enough. Instead, they are opting for freshly made cuisine from high-end local butchers who already supply the choicest cuts for upscale restaurants.

These purveyors insist that their products, from grass-fed and locally raised animals, are not a gimmicky appeal to doting dog owners, but rather another way to promote sustainability of small-scale local farming. “...The dog food is kind of taking it to the next step,” said Mr. Dickson, 31, who demonstrated the “nose to tail” sustainability aspect of Farm to Bowl, his new dog food operation, by spreading out an array of animal parts on brown butcher’s paper. The paper quickly turned pink as it soaked up blood from hearts, tongues and livers. But the meat mélange also included a generous slab of New York strip, which, if it had not been faintly oxidized, Mr. Dickson said, would have sold for up to $34 a pound. Like other butchers tapping into this niche dog food market, Mr. Dickson said that while offal and other cuts were perfectly safe for humans, he used to throw them away, largely out of cosmetic concerns or because of a surplus. Nowadays, he grinds them up, roasts them and combines them with seasonal produce. The product is sold fresh in one-and-a-half-pound, $10 packages as dog food. He sells about 100 a week, and according to the company’s Web site , the packages last seven days refrigerated and longer frozen. At one meal per pouch for a medium-size dog, Farm to Bowl is expensive — after all, a 34-pound package of Purina Puppy Chow can be had for $23.

This is, of course, just the latest (albeit upscale) incarnation of the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods or Bones and Raw Foods) diet. Proponents of BARF-esque diets claim they're healthier for dogs than commercially-prepared dog kibble. I've never completely bought into the whole BARF argument, and after spending a few days with the research scientists at Nestle Purina Petcare I'm even more disinclined to buy into it the notion that blending a few old cuts of meat with some vegetables will cover a hard-working dog's nutritional needs as well as, say, Pro Plan (and in the interests of full disclosure, I feed both my dogs Pro Plan Performance , and yes, I pay full retail for it).

But I'd like to hear some contrary opinions. What do you think of the story? Anyone else feed a BARF-like diet? Do you blend it yourself or buy it commercially?

Comments (17)

Top Rated
All Comments
from RES1956 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

With a kennel full of Labs, anywhere from 5-20, I do not forsee in this lifetime feeding primo butcher shop cuts, regardless of what the owner may feed when the pooch is at home.
I feed my dogs Purina Beniful, Healthy coat formula. I really don't think better results could be had feeding rib eyes and salmon. The puppies get Purina Puppy Chow until they are 18 months if they have not been placed with their new hunting families, of course at which time the new owners can feed whatever they prefer.
I highly recommend to the new owners that they feed the same food as I have for the new dog's life.
BTW, I don't pay full price, Chad, and you shouldn't either-LOL.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenc7971 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I don't argue that the high-end, prime cut dog food described here may be healthier for the dogs than our typical brands. Im a health nut myself and would love to be able to afford to buy free range, grass-fed beef any day of the week for myself and my family. But, since I can't, no way would I pay more to feed my dog what I can't afford to feed myself. Hmmmmm, I wonder how it tastes..

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from EZ Hunter wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

We put our Golden Retriever on a BARF diet two years ago. She had started to show signs of entering her Golden years: Shaggy coat, lethargy, sore hips. She acts like a puppy now. No signs of hip displacement; she has more energy; her coat softened up. The only physical drawback is she passes wind more often (which IS a problem since she's an indoor dog!)

I approached our local grocery store and explained my intent to put our dog on an all-meat diet. They agreed to save me their unsold, outdated meat, provided I promised that none of it would go to human consumption. We bought a special freezer, to keep it separate from our meat. Our dog has never been healthier!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I have had three hunting dogs over the last 25 years and they all did well on Purina dog foods until their later years when they went on a low residue food. It seemed that they reached a certain point in their life that they couldn't digest Purina as well. Perhaps, as EZ said above, the BARF diet would be easier on them when they get older.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hair_boxers wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Both myself and my parents switched our dogs to Fromm foods. Not quite BARF, but from what the package says and what I have read online closer than what you find in a lot of the more common kibble.

My parent 8+ year old Brittany went from being pretty lazy and getting fat over the summer to acting like a puppy and being nothing but solid muscle.

Good food makes a difference, but I think it's all about finding the one that's right for both your dog and your wallet.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from bbainbridge wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

If anyone is going on the all-meat or alot-of-meat diet for your dog, please be careful. My wife is a vet and continually warns our friends and neighbors about staying away from that kind of diet. The high meat content can lead to an increased risk of pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis can be very painful for the dog and your wallet if you have to hospitalize them. In some cases it can be fatal. There are lots of very high quality dog foods out there (Purina Pro Plan being one of them). Be safe for your dog and stick to the standard dog food.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ricklondon wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Having worked in various types of media, I understand why you wrote the story you did. The BARF movement is still relatively knew and is not postured to be (NOW), but given my experience, it won't be long. Will your "opinion" be the same; and that is really all it is is opinion; based on what you "heard" and "saw" from the big dog (no pun intended dog food experts. I know how powerful their lobby is; I respect that; thank God there are enough vets out there doing their own research and know of B.A.R.F. I rescured Thor when he was about 13 years old (according to the vet who observed his teeth); he was barely living. The vet brought him back to life and I fed him the highest grade commercial dog food money can buy. He came back to life again and nearly died again a year later from various health issues in including CHF. I researched the web and as a last resort (had never heard of it and was VERY VERY skeptical) I tried the b.a.r.f diet. One week later. Nothing. Two weeks later nothing. A month later Thor was jumping on my bed, with his leash begging for his 4 mile walk. His stool had no odor nor did his urine. His hair turned thick and eyes clear. We eventually moved to the mountains where he walked with me about 4-5 miles a day for another 4 years until app age 18. He looked and acted like a puppy. No further vet bills since age 14; at age 18 his stage 4 CHF turned into state three and I cut his walking back to 1-2 miles. He could still walk several blocks at age 20 and finally died (with a few vet bills at age 22). I would NEVER ever ever ever ever have another fur baby companion dog or cat NOT on the raw diet (with an addendum to herbs and raw vitamins). Knowing what I now know (with so much communications with animal lovers of similar stories; it would be animal cruelty for me to do much less. I look forward to the day when America, like Europe and Australia don't really give a crap about how powerful the pet food lobby is. They care much too much for their pets to even think about something so strange; (as someone killing our animals in a most inhumane long drawn out way). Thank you. Rick London, Londons Times Cartoons www.LondonsTimes.us

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mutt wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

if you do your research. dog are allergic to corn and soy which are usually found in the first three of the ingredient list. also vets and human doctors alike nutrition classes are non required electives that most don't take.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

"after spending a few days with the research scientists at Nestle Purina Petcare I'm even more disinclined to buy into it"

Well of course. They have an interest in convincing you that their system is the best.

I think somewhere between all meat and bones and the fortified protein cereal lies the best diet.

Dogs are wolves of course, and what did wolves eat? Meat and bones. But they also ate all the guts, and in the case of smaller prey (Yes, wolves eat small rodents. Contrary to popular belief, they eat more than just trophy elk...), they ate what was inside their stomachs, completing their nutrition.

On the other hand, they've been evolving away from wolves alongside us for quite some time. They have adapted to eating a lot of things wolves wouldn't.

Canines can be/are more omnivorous than most large predators that wouldn't be considered omnivores, unlike cats. I've seen coyotes munching on blueberries (Rattlesnakes too for that matter. You don't have to believe me.) Cats, on the other hand are all meat all the time, and require more protein.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff Bowers wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

They mention all the choice meat and bits, but what about the other stuff? Taurine? Vitamins?

I have known just one snob in the past who fed their dogs one of those custom butcher-choice diets, until one died due to a mineral deficiency.

I really do try to stay away from as much gluten as possible. No matter what they say, chemically, it's just a cheap way to substitute fake protein for real ingredients.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dogwood wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I can still remember the smell of beef kidneys my grandmother would cook once a week for her dogs. It smelled like someone peed in the corner of the kitchen. Her last two dogs, Taffy and Shing, each lived to be 18 years.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Angela Pham wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I feel like the natural dog food movement is often misrepresented in articles like those above as a frou-frou, outlandishly priced Yorkie/Chihuahua-style diet, rather than a sensible alternative to mainstream foods. There are ways to take your dog's diet to a gourmet level, but this is far and away not the most common "natural" diet. Manufactured foods like Canidae, Fromm's, Bravo!, Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild, Mulligan Stew, etc. have a lot of credibility and a lot of testimonials from a wide range of dog owners to back up the claims.

Veterinarians are still wary of making suggestions like these, but I think the industry is eventually heading in that direction. In the meantime, it does make sense to me to consider spending a few extra dollars for foods that are made of higher quality ingredients with less filler, rather than dismissing natural foods as a trend or glamour-dog movement, as many are apt to do.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from F150Green wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I'm a little confused:

So are the meats in say 'Taste of the Wild' or 'Blue Buffalo' for example, all raw? What about Pro Plan, Eukanuba, etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mdunlap wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Would people be healthier if we ate the exact same compressed mix of the necessary nutrients every single day. Instead of a varied balanced diet. I highly doubt it, and I believe the same applies to dogs.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from LRPfonner wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

If you want to raw feed your dog, do it correctly: the dog needs meat on the bone and offal. If you can't or won't feed whole animals, you have to supply the ingredients separately. I've been raw feeding for three years: the dog gets about 1.5% of her body weight a day, averaged over a couple of weeks. I use chicken parts for bone, pork and venison for meat and livers, kidneys and raw green tripe for the gut. Her feces are dry and blow away; her teeth are clean.

Dogs cannot digest cellulose, and do not need carbohydrates at all. The bones and hair of prey are their fiber, the fat supplies energy and the meat is protein. Raw diets have little risk of pancreatitis from over-feeding protein, because all meat is over 60% water, unlike dry kibbles, which over-supply many nutrients, though not necessarily in bio-available form.

Read veterinarian Tom Lonsdale's book Raw Meaty Bones and check these websites for research and consultation:

http://www.rawmeatybones.com/
http://preymodelraw.com/how-to-get-started/
http://www.rawfed.com
http://www.rawfeddogs.net
http://www.rawfeeding.net
http://www.rawlearning.com
http://blacksheepcardigans.com/ruff/raw-diet/
http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/groups.rawfeeding/

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

i know sled dogs are fed salmon. i'd be interested in learining more about this diet. thanks for the links LRPfonner

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff Bowers wrote 2 years 35 weeks ago

Reading a few of the above links makes me really analyze our labels more.

The scariest label manipulation is an example that lists, after the meat, 'brewers rice, brown rice, and rice flour'. All three of these are exactly the same thing, just in various textures. But when added together, equal more than the included meat.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from RES1956 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

With a kennel full of Labs, anywhere from 5-20, I do not forsee in this lifetime feeding primo butcher shop cuts, regardless of what the owner may feed when the pooch is at home.
I feed my dogs Purina Beniful, Healthy coat formula. I really don't think better results could be had feeding rib eyes and salmon. The puppies get Purina Puppy Chow until they are 18 months if they have not been placed with their new hunting families, of course at which time the new owners can feed whatever they prefer.
I highly recommend to the new owners that they feed the same food as I have for the new dog's life.
BTW, I don't pay full price, Chad, and you shouldn't either-LOL.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenc7971 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I don't argue that the high-end, prime cut dog food described here may be healthier for the dogs than our typical brands. Im a health nut myself and would love to be able to afford to buy free range, grass-fed beef any day of the week for myself and my family. But, since I can't, no way would I pay more to feed my dog what I can't afford to feed myself. Hmmmmm, I wonder how it tastes..

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from EZ Hunter wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

We put our Golden Retriever on a BARF diet two years ago. She had started to show signs of entering her Golden years: Shaggy coat, lethargy, sore hips. She acts like a puppy now. No signs of hip displacement; she has more energy; her coat softened up. The only physical drawback is she passes wind more often (which IS a problem since she's an indoor dog!)

I approached our local grocery store and explained my intent to put our dog on an all-meat diet. They agreed to save me their unsold, outdated meat, provided I promised that none of it would go to human consumption. We bought a special freezer, to keep it separate from our meat. Our dog has never been healthier!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from hair_boxers wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Both myself and my parents switched our dogs to Fromm foods. Not quite BARF, but from what the package says and what I have read online closer than what you find in a lot of the more common kibble.

My parent 8+ year old Brittany went from being pretty lazy and getting fat over the summer to acting like a puppy and being nothing but solid muscle.

Good food makes a difference, but I think it's all about finding the one that's right for both your dog and your wallet.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

"after spending a few days with the research scientists at Nestle Purina Petcare I'm even more disinclined to buy into it"

Well of course. They have an interest in convincing you that their system is the best.

I think somewhere between all meat and bones and the fortified protein cereal lies the best diet.

Dogs are wolves of course, and what did wolves eat? Meat and bones. But they also ate all the guts, and in the case of smaller prey (Yes, wolves eat small rodents. Contrary to popular belief, they eat more than just trophy elk...), they ate what was inside their stomachs, completing their nutrition.

On the other hand, they've been evolving away from wolves alongside us for quite some time. They have adapted to eating a lot of things wolves wouldn't.

Canines can be/are more omnivorous than most large predators that wouldn't be considered omnivores, unlike cats. I've seen coyotes munching on blueberries (Rattlesnakes too for that matter. You don't have to believe me.) Cats, on the other hand are all meat all the time, and require more protein.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from LRPfonner wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

If you want to raw feed your dog, do it correctly: the dog needs meat on the bone and offal. If you can't or won't feed whole animals, you have to supply the ingredients separately. I've been raw feeding for three years: the dog gets about 1.5% of her body weight a day, averaged over a couple of weeks. I use chicken parts for bone, pork and venison for meat and livers, kidneys and raw green tripe for the gut. Her feces are dry and blow away; her teeth are clean.

Dogs cannot digest cellulose, and do not need carbohydrates at all. The bones and hair of prey are their fiber, the fat supplies energy and the meat is protein. Raw diets have little risk of pancreatitis from over-feeding protein, because all meat is over 60% water, unlike dry kibbles, which over-supply many nutrients, though not necessarily in bio-available form.

Read veterinarian Tom Lonsdale's book Raw Meaty Bones and check these websites for research and consultation:

http://www.rawmeatybones.com/
http://preymodelraw.com/how-to-get-started/
http://www.rawfed.com
http://www.rawfeddogs.net
http://www.rawfeeding.net
http://www.rawlearning.com
http://blacksheepcardigans.com/ruff/raw-diet/
http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/groups.rawfeeding/

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I have had three hunting dogs over the last 25 years and they all did well on Purina dog foods until their later years when they went on a low residue food. It seemed that they reached a certain point in their life that they couldn't digest Purina as well. Perhaps, as EZ said above, the BARF diet would be easier on them when they get older.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bbainbridge wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

If anyone is going on the all-meat or alot-of-meat diet for your dog, please be careful. My wife is a vet and continually warns our friends and neighbors about staying away from that kind of diet. The high meat content can lead to an increased risk of pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis can be very painful for the dog and your wallet if you have to hospitalize them. In some cases it can be fatal. There are lots of very high quality dog foods out there (Purina Pro Plan being one of them). Be safe for your dog and stick to the standard dog food.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ricklondon wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Having worked in various types of media, I understand why you wrote the story you did. The BARF movement is still relatively knew and is not postured to be (NOW), but given my experience, it won't be long. Will your "opinion" be the same; and that is really all it is is opinion; based on what you "heard" and "saw" from the big dog (no pun intended dog food experts. I know how powerful their lobby is; I respect that; thank God there are enough vets out there doing their own research and know of B.A.R.F. I rescured Thor when he was about 13 years old (according to the vet who observed his teeth); he was barely living. The vet brought him back to life and I fed him the highest grade commercial dog food money can buy. He came back to life again and nearly died again a year later from various health issues in including CHF. I researched the web and as a last resort (had never heard of it and was VERY VERY skeptical) I tried the b.a.r.f diet. One week later. Nothing. Two weeks later nothing. A month later Thor was jumping on my bed, with his leash begging for his 4 mile walk. His stool had no odor nor did his urine. His hair turned thick and eyes clear. We eventually moved to the mountains where he walked with me about 4-5 miles a day for another 4 years until app age 18. He looked and acted like a puppy. No further vet bills since age 14; at age 18 his stage 4 CHF turned into state three and I cut his walking back to 1-2 miles. He could still walk several blocks at age 20 and finally died (with a few vet bills at age 22). I would NEVER ever ever ever ever have another fur baby companion dog or cat NOT on the raw diet (with an addendum to herbs and raw vitamins). Knowing what I now know (with so much communications with animal lovers of similar stories; it would be animal cruelty for me to do much less. I look forward to the day when America, like Europe and Australia don't really give a crap about how powerful the pet food lobby is. They care much too much for their pets to even think about something so strange; (as someone killing our animals in a most inhumane long drawn out way). Thank you. Rick London, Londons Times Cartoons www.LondonsTimes.us

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mutt wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

if you do your research. dog are allergic to corn and soy which are usually found in the first three of the ingredient list. also vets and human doctors alike nutrition classes are non required electives that most don't take.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff Bowers wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

They mention all the choice meat and bits, but what about the other stuff? Taurine? Vitamins?

I have known just one snob in the past who fed their dogs one of those custom butcher-choice diets, until one died due to a mineral deficiency.

I really do try to stay away from as much gluten as possible. No matter what they say, chemically, it's just a cheap way to substitute fake protein for real ingredients.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dogwood wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I can still remember the smell of beef kidneys my grandmother would cook once a week for her dogs. It smelled like someone peed in the corner of the kitchen. Her last two dogs, Taffy and Shing, each lived to be 18 years.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Angela Pham wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I feel like the natural dog food movement is often misrepresented in articles like those above as a frou-frou, outlandishly priced Yorkie/Chihuahua-style diet, rather than a sensible alternative to mainstream foods. There are ways to take your dog's diet to a gourmet level, but this is far and away not the most common "natural" diet. Manufactured foods like Canidae, Fromm's, Bravo!, Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild, Mulligan Stew, etc. have a lot of credibility and a lot of testimonials from a wide range of dog owners to back up the claims.

Veterinarians are still wary of making suggestions like these, but I think the industry is eventually heading in that direction. In the meantime, it does make sense to me to consider spending a few extra dollars for foods that are made of higher quality ingredients with less filler, rather than dismissing natural foods as a trend or glamour-dog movement, as many are apt to do.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from F150Green wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I'm a little confused:

So are the meats in say 'Taste of the Wild' or 'Blue Buffalo' for example, all raw? What about Pro Plan, Eukanuba, etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mdunlap wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Would people be healthier if we ate the exact same compressed mix of the necessary nutrients every single day. Instead of a varied balanced diet. I highly doubt it, and I believe the same applies to dogs.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from wisc14 wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

i know sled dogs are fed salmon. i'd be interested in learining more about this diet. thanks for the links LRPfonner

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jeff Bowers wrote 2 years 35 weeks ago

Reading a few of the above links makes me really analyze our labels more.

The scariest label manipulation is an example that lists, after the meat, 'brewers rice, brown rice, and rice flour'. All three of these are exactly the same thing, just in various textures. But when added together, equal more than the included meat.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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