Sunday, March 28, 2010

Transitions from Kibble to Raw-Meaty-Bones

I am accumulating experiences with pet owners and puppy buyers, who have not thought about raw feeding before.  Experiences are data.  Traveling down the road to raw-meat-bones with motivated pet owners and prospective puppy buyers highlights what people believe about the nature of pets and their diets.

Most people have never seen a dog eat half a raw chicken.  They can't believe it's safe or healthy until they watch me hand an adult Lab half a chicken.  The dog takes the chicken gently in her mouth, retreats to a private spot, and proceeds methodically to chew it up, leaving no morsel behind.  People are astonished -- she ate it, bones and all!  Nearly all of them exclaim that they had been told never to feed dogs chicken bones.  An explanation about cooked versus raw bones follows.

Bacteria?  Yes, I wash my hands very carefully and clean all the surfaces the poultry touched.  People can become quite ill from bacteria in raw meats, but healthy dogs can handle bacterial loads quite well.  They evolved to eat whole prey and carrion (aka, rotting, bacteria-loaded meat).  I don't feed rotten meat, but they have been observed to dig up days-old bones and chew on them.  Nearly everyone has had the same experience.  An explanation about dogs' short gut and acidic digestive system, that dissolves bone, follows.

The next step is a discussion about how a diet of raw-meaty-bones can be "complete and balanced".  Vets use this phrase so frequently to sell commercial kibbles and canned mush, it has assumed the status of a pet-food mantra.  People chant, "100% complete and balanced", while searching their brains for what it means.  "What do wolves eat?" is a helpful question at this point.  They all know that wolves eat whole prey of various types and sizes.  They know that wolves do not eat grains.  So, wolves get all the nutrients they need from whole prey, right?  Yes, it must be so.  Do wolves eat some grasses and berries?  Yes, a bit from time to time, when prey is not available.

Now it's time to cement the idea that dogs are a subspecies of wolf.  Surprisingly, nearly all pet owners realize that dogs are modified wolves.  The veterinary myth that dogs are omnivores has not caught on with the pet-owning public.  People know dogs are wolf-carnivores, for whom a carnivore diet is most appropriate. If dogs are wolves, and wolves get a "complete and balanced" diet from whole prey, dogs must also get a "complete and balanced" diet from whole prey.  Yes, logically, of course.  Can dogs, like wolves, eat some vegetables and fruits? Yes, most dogs enjoy bits of veggies and fruits left over from your table, and avocados, papayas and mangoes they find on the ground in Hawaii.  Raw eggs are good, too.

Oh!  Now they are puzzled about why, for so many years, their vets have sold them Hill's Science Diet and told them it's a "complete and balanced" diet for their dogs.  Science Diet must have the same nutrients as whole prey, doesn't it?  Well, no, kibbles are primarily cooked starches, not raw meats and meaty bones.  Even if the bag lists meat as the primary ingredient, it isn't.  Eyes widen as people hear how pet food labels list ingredients in order of their pre-processed weights.  Meats are 75% water, which is eliminated in cooking, leaving only traces of denatured meat in the kibble.  Kibbles are cooked starches.  After a moment of reflection, that idea makes sense, because kibble looks like the cooked cereal it is.

So, how can kibble claim to be "complete and balanced" nutrition of carnivorous dogs?  Well, manufacturers spray the cooked cereal with vitamins, minerals, and fats to make it pass minimum requirements as pet food.  Spraying nutrients on kibble really gets them.  They are astonished.  The glimmer of having been hood-winked begins to show on their faces.  You mean I'm paying $50 a bag for cooked crap?  Well, yes, but you don't have to do that any longer.

Cats?  Are cats carnivores, too?  Oh my goodness, of course, cats hunt birds and rodents.  The light dawns.  Pet owners I know are more focused on dogs, so cats are often an after-thought.  I point to my Daisy, a Maine coon cat, who happily eats chicken legs and thighs, beef tenders, pork butt, and gnaws on meaty bones.  It's obvious, once they gave it some thought, that cats are entirely carnivores and don't eat even bits of vegetables and fruits.  Feeding cats kibble becomes an easy abomination.  How could we do that?  Cans of cooked food?  Atrocious!

People who have owned dogs before tell me poignant tales of woe.  They describe a litany of skin problems, ear infections, and chronic diseases that took the lives of pets before their times.  Yesterday, a couple who had recently lost an Akita to cancer said their vet bills averaged $200 a month for the last year of their dog's life.  Steroids, allergy medications, immune system boosters, surgeries, various shots and palliatives cost them a fortune.  The dog had a lifetime of itchy skin and ear infections.  And all the time they were following vet instructions, feeding Science Diet or Iams or Eukanuba. Now they are angry, because they realize, belatedly, how they have been misled and robbed, not only of money but of their pet's longer life.  I have heard this story many times.

Now, prospective pet owners and new members of the raw-meaty-bones co-op want instruction on how to feed, what to feed, how often, how much, and so forth.  I guide them to web sites that can help, give them my guide to feeding a puppy to healthy adulthood, and offer to take the journey with them.  Yesterday, a friend shared her transition from kibble to raw-meaty-bones with the couple who had lost their Akita.  Her 4-year-old dog had sore gums and was reluctant at first to chew rmb.  She gave him raw meats and poultry at first, until his gums were healthier.  Now he gnaws and chews like a dog fed rmb all his life.  The couple realized that they have 6 weeks to wait for their puppy to be old enough to go home with them, and their raw-fed puppy will be an eager rmb eater.  They have 6 weeks to plan (maybe buy a freezer, he said) and get comfortable with feeding the rmb diet. 

Left hanging in these discussions is what to do about local vets.  Every pet needs a vet from time to time to treat injuries, give prescriptions for heartworm and flea medications, and provide inoculations.   I worry I am creating a dissident group of pet owners who realize they've been had.  They blame vets for fleecing their pocketbooks and creating illnesses their pets did not have to suffer.  Not everyone lives close enough to use my dear mobile vet, who is now 100% behind the rmb diet.  Several are clients of the dreaded vet practice, which has caused so many problems for raw-fed pets (see earlier blog entries about vet malpractice).

I reduce the number of times they need to use a regular vet practice by organizing low-cost inoculation clinics for puppies and providing flea/tick and heartworm medications at cost.  My mobile vet provides medications  to me at cost, a benefit I can pass on to other pet owners..  Puppy buyers pay only $5.00 for the inoculations my mobile vet administers.  A visit to a local vet for the same shot would cost more than $100, because he charges to examine the puppy, insist on one or more "tests", and charges $35 for the inoculation that costs $5.  Of course, he has an office and staff to maintain.  A visit to my farm clinic is free, thanks to my mobile vet, whose modest visiting fee I am happy to pay for everyone.  Heartworm and flea/tick medications cost $6 to $8 a month.  Vet offices charge $18 to $20 for the same pills and topicals.  Pet owners who buy medications from vet clinics are overpaying by $144/ year per pet. Most owners have more than one dog and/or cat.  So, one way to reduce contact between dissident pet owners and local vets is to provide outpatient services at greatly reduced prices.

I will collect more data with each new litter of puppies and with each new member of Kona Raw Pet Food Co-op.  I am learning to predict and understand the transition from commercial pet foods to raw-meaty-bones.  It's an adventure in re-education and awakening what common-sense pet owners already know.

1 comment:

  1. My two year old border collie is a light eater in spite of her high level of energy. I would like to put her on a RMB diet but am afraid it would take her days for her to be hungry enough to eat a raw meaty bone. How do I do this?