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

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 melange 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](http://www.proplan.com/dry-dog-food/performance-formula/default.aspx year-round) , 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?