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Sunday, 16 December 2012

What would Bluebelle Eat? Feeding the Paleo Dog.

The other day a new dog owner asked for my advice about what to feed a dog. Bluebelle has been eating mainly paleo after her first year, when she seemed to be getting health problems from a diet of dried food and mince. These included trouble pooing and stiff hips or sore legs. She no longer has any of these problems, but we did have an issue with iodine deficiency on the new diet - see below.


A mainly carnivorous animal like Bluebelle (to wit, a dog) needs to eat muscle, connective tissue (gristle and skin), bones, organ meats, and fat to be healthy, from a range of animals including some fish. It is an omnivore and can tolerate some carbohydrate from starches and fruit, but should not have grain-based dry food often (OK for emergencies but not as regular diet). 

In terms of calories there needs to be [edit] 2-3 parts fat to 1 part protein. Fat is much denser than protein and all meat has some fat in it, so this mostly means using fatty meats or adding a little fat to the dish.

Kelp powder should also be added to the food occasionally to prevent iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism (we learned this the hard way), and salt added to cooked meals.
Symptoms of low iodine include “spooky” behaviour and depression, hair loss, discoloured patches on skin, and in Bluebelle’s case susceptibility to mastitis and allergies and hunched, stiff “aged” posture. This was quickly and completely reversed by kelp, which had a rejuvenating effect like watering a wilting plant. This was only diagnosed by my habit of reading the excellent Hyperlipid blog of vet Peter Dobromylskyj, who mentioned the symptoms in passing, for which I'm eternally grateful; our vet had drugs for the symptoms but didn’t recognise the cause.

Onions and garlic can be toxic to dogs (and cats, causing Heinz body anaemia) but most other veges are safe (and they will generally avoid onions anyway) when feeding leftover meat dishes. The inability to detoxify onions tells you that a dog is not as completely omnivorous as say a pig or human and its ancestors probably never survived by eating roots, shoots and leaves. Though, come to think of it, my goat wouldn't eat onions either. Gophers like them, apparently, and pigs aren't harmed by them (though some warn against feeding onions to pigs, research seems to show benefits). 


We feed Blubelle:

Minced beef and lamb

Beef (ox) heart, lamb heart, cut into cubes, raw

Offal: Liver or kidney (lambs or calves or ox or chicken) COOKED (lightly fried in dripping with salt, once or twice a week). If we don’t include some salt, Bluebelle drinks more sea water, and not all dogs have access to salt water.

Note: pork hearts tend to be flabby, pork kidneys I’ve bought have been deformed, coming from caged animals, so I don’t generally buy these or commercial lard. A bit of bacon scrap accounts for most of the pork in her diet.

Bones - beef bones probably best, also chicken necks, raw.

Kelp powder - a small teaspoon mixed in or sprinkled on food every few days.

Fats - we add a couple of tablespoons dripping (beef and lamb) or if available, free-range lard, to the less fatty meals. If the dog eats dripping (tallow in the U.S.), which is fairly flavourless, then it definitely needs fat. Bacon rinds or bacon grease and offcuts of the meat you prepare for yourself are also good.

Fish - a tin or sardines or half a tin of mackerel once a week keeps the coat shiny.

Chicken - we feed Bluebelle our roast chicken leftovers, including the bones. This may not be for every dog but it hasn't done her any harm.

Cheese - Bluebelle loves cheese, and enjoys milk and cream and yoghurt every so often. When the milk's a bit off, offer it to the dog. Probably not an everyday food though.

Fruit - Bluebelle likes a few raisins (edit - grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, don't feed these) or diced prunes occasionally. Other dogs like apples and pear cores, but she doesn't seem to. She won't eat potatoes or rice or cooked greens unless these are stirred into meat, so we don't offer these unless there's a very meaty leftover stew.

Dried food - Bluebelle eats toast crusts occasionally and will eat dog biscuits if there's nothing else, so it's a good emergency food occasionally, but it wasn't good for her digestion when she ate it more often. If you get a dog roll, I recommend looking out for the rice-based (gluten-free) versions, or for dog rolls higher in fat and lower in carbohydrate.

Water - Bluebelle doesn't always drink water, but when she does, she needs a lot, so always have some available.

Timing - Bluebelle is fed once a day, in the evening. If she's not interested in food, she's not fed until she asks for it; so every now and then she goes without. She's fed about a pound or more a day; if she asks for more, she'll get it. She might turn up if someone is eating cheese, in which case she'll always be given a bit, and any uneaten or old cheese (cheddar) is given to her.

Illness - it's probably worth giving a little cod liver oil in winter for vitamin D, Bluebelle loves this; just a teaspoon a day.
Parvovirus and distemper are lethal diseases of dogs which are similar to cholera in humans. The dog dies of dehydration, loss of fluids and electrolytes. Dogs can be kept alive till the disease passes (about a week) by force-feeding, twice a day, water and Gastrolyte, or other human "oral rehydration" formula (made up strictly as advised on the packet). I have saved two dogs suffering from parvovirus by this protocol; the dog that received the formula as soon as it became ill suffered no lasting effects, the other dog, which I treated after 3 days, was always a bit skinny afterwards. Another dog that was accidentally taken to the vet and received antibiotics, not rehydration (which a vet could give by IV drip), died there.
I don't know why this isn't widely known.


I'm sure this is a case where many readers will have dogs with unusual dietary needs, or have had experience of deficiencies, diseases and toxins that we can all learn from, so feel free to use the Comments facility. I think my own ideas are working well, but I don't consider them the last word yet.

5 comments:

nancan said...

What a gorgeous dog!

Suzie_B said...

Can you feed a dog eggs?

George Henderson said...

If the dog will eat them. Some people stir an egg into mince, for example.
Bluebelle won't eat eggs as such, but I'd try mixing them into mince if I didn't have offal, which supplies much the same nutrients.
Also you could grind up the shells for calcium if you didn't have bones. Eggs could be very useful if money was tight or shopping options limited.

Cyndiann Phillips said...

Do not feed your dog raisins or grapes. They will KILL your dog. This is by far the most important comment I can make.

Other less important tips. Don't mince the meat, let her have whole chunks to chew up. It's more satisfying that way. Red meats are most important but also include poultry (raw, not cooked) at times. Pork is a good red meat that is also cheaper than beer. Variety is key to avoid missing anything.

Fruits and vegetables can't be properly digested by dogs, they don't have the digestive system to break them down correctly. Please stop the raisins though. I killed a dog feeding him grapes so I know.

George Henderson said...

Thank you! You are correct
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grape_and_raisin_toxicity_in_dogs

The estimated toxic dose of grapes is about 19 g/kg,[3] and for raisins it is about 3 g/kg

So easier to kill a small dog. My dog's raisin habit was not great, probably 5g at a time for a 20Kg dog.
But when I stopped eating raisins, so did she.