Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Local Thoughts on a Global Problem

I often worry about the boatloads of disastous diet advice pet owners receive from misinformed veterinarians, from glossy print advertising, and from adorable television ads.

I worry how anyone can intervene to change the stranglehold the Pet Food Industry (kibbles and cans) has on veterinary education, and therefore on public information about how to feed pets. The stakes are huge: the health of tens of millions of pets and billions of dollars in vet bills, caused by feeding pets sickening diets from bags and cans.

Big Stud Dog, Stormy

I ponder how to right these wrongs, when the wrong side is funded by $50 billion a year in pet food sales. Generous portions of their huge profits (as much as 40%) are spent wooing veterinary students, endowing veterinary schools, supporting selected research, keeping huge numbers of vets on their payrolls, supporting animal welfare and purbred animal groups, and lobbying Congress to keep the de facto unregulated status quo. The PFI puts their money to good use in their own interests, not however in the interests of pets or their owners.

When I get really depressed about the plight of domestic carnivores, I look at my beautiful dogs. I have 10 adult Labrador retrievers, two older puppies who will join the breeding program, and usually a half-dozen puppies, who will go to new homes at 8 to 10 weeks of age.

For exercise, the dogs and I run around the 9-acre coffee farm -- they run, I ride an ATV. Everyday dogs and puppies swim in the dog pool. Labradors love water, but they need experience to become good swimmers

Abigail and her brother Buddy

Labs cool off after a run, Cody

From the adorable puppies to the beautiful adults, with their pearly white teeth and healthy pink gums, everyone at Aloha Labradors is fed exclusively on raw-meaty-bones. It was not always so.

Some of the Family, Leo

When I began raising Labs 8 years ago, I followed veterinary advice and fed permium quality kibble. Fortunately, I knew enough about dogs to supplement kibble with raw meaty bones a few times a week to keep their teeth clean. Very quickly, I found myself consulting vets about itchiness, hot spots, ear infections, and sore joints. And the poor dogs left behind huge piles of semi-solid, malodorous poop. Vets prescribed antihistamines, steroids, and various other toxic medications. Symptoms sometimes disappeared or improved, but other health issues cropped up. It was puzzling that well-bred dogs on a premium diet should have so many problems.

After 8 months of suffering, I found an alternative vet, who said she refuses to treat pets who eat kibble, because it causes so many health problems. With her instruction, the dogs were fed a BARF diet of raw meats, meaty bones, and a conglomeration of cooked grains and raw minced vegetables. All disease symptoms disappeared in a matter of days. It was a miracle. Simply eliminating kibble from their diet made them healthy. Getting rid of the medications probably helped, too.

Life on the BARF diet went along fine, until I had a severe asthma attack and could not prepare the tons of cooked grains and minced vegetables for a BARF diet. Cooking and mincing all that food takes a lot of time and energy. Thus, for a brief period 18 months ago, I returned to using a super-premium kibble to replace the cooked-minced part of the diet, with disastrous results.

Again, I learned the hard way that dogs do not thrive on cooked carbohydrates with lots of preservatives that give them long shelf-life. Itchiness and skin symptoms returned, and the dogs looked unhealthy, even though they liked the taste of the kibble (FYI: kibble is sprayed with rendered fats after manufacture to seduce dogs into eating it).

So, I read more about carnivores, dogs as a subspecies of gray wolves, and the history of commercial pet foods (quite unsavory), and decided to switch the dogs entirely to a diet of raw-meaty-bones -- the honest carnivore diet.

This time I eliminated everything from their diet but a variety of raw meats, raw-meaty-bones, raw eggs, occasional left-overs, and a few fruits and cooked vegetables from time to time. More than 95% of their diet is raw meats and meaty bones -- chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Now the only energy required from an asthmatic owner is to shop for a variety of meats and meaty bones and to hand them out to the dogs.

I don't have to tell you that they thrive! My goodness, their coats are thick and shiny, teeth sparkling, energy and enthusiasm for life at an all-time high. Now here's the clincher -- the dogs excrete less than 1/2 of the poop they had from a BARF diet and less than 1/4 of the kibble-induced poop.

Why is this significant? First, amount and kind of poop is an indicator of the digestibility of their food -- less poop from more digestible food -- and second, having 10 adults and several Lab puppies excreting on my property, makes highly digestible food a true blessing for the person who has to clean it up.

So, when I get discouraged about how to reform the unholy alliance between pet food manufacturers and veterinarians, I try to think of

  • how much I have learned as a dog breeder,

  • how much joy I get from observing and playing with my beautiful Labs,

  • how much I can teach puppy buyers, almost all of who adopt a raw-meaty-bones diet for their dogs, and

  • how much I can help local pet owners through the Kona Raw Pet Food Co-op (KonaRaw.org) to learn how to feed a raw-meaty-bones diet.

Think globally, act locally. It's good advice and it will have to do, until I can come up with a global solution to the junk pet food problem.

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