"If you are one of the many people who are still on the fence about changing your dog's diet, you are not alone. Many people are skeptical about making a complete switch to a raw or home-cooked diet. Don't worry. Changing your dog's diet does not have to be an all or nothing affair." (Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olsen PhD)
There are many ways to maximise the health and nutrition of your dogs without breaking the bank or frying your brain. Here are your options listed from the freshest food for dogs to the most processed:
Whether you decide on a home cooked or raw food diet for your dog is a personal choice. I feed Zuma and Perro raw and I cook for Gracie. Some people jump straight into feeding raw, others are happy that home-cooked is good for their dog and do-able for their lifestyle. And many people begin by simply adding fresh food and gradually reducing kibble or tinned.
Two common concerns about switching dogs from processed to fresh food are the cost and the complexity.
Taking cost first; meat is definitely more expensive than kibble, particularly here in Switzerland. So yes, your dog's food will cost more. But there are ways to reduce the costs and ultimately, your vet bills should be far, far lower in the long run. My biggest advice is to figure out when your local supermarket discounts short dated meats and buy up as much as you can. In my case it's Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Migros sells fresh meat for dogs at CHF10/kg but because its very short dated, I often get it at half that price. Get to know your butcher. Add lower cost ingredients such as tinned tuna, courgette and eggs to bulk out meals for hungry dogs. And of course, keep any leftovers from family meals (no onions, seasoning, potato or cooked bones).
In terms of complexity; feeding your dog a fresh food diet is no more challenging than feeding your family a fresh food diet, despite what the pet food industry would have us believe. There are online forums, books, DIY options, pre packaged frozen complete meals and home delivery services. There is an initial learning curve and you will need freezer space, but once you're up and running, you will see how easy, cost effective and rewarding it is. And you will have a healthy, happy, slim, fresh smelling dog with a shiny coat, good teeth and just the right amount of energy.
If you think raw food is the right option for you and your dog, here is some more information on getting started. If home cooking is your preferred route, I really recommend buying my book of the month as a starting point. And if dry or tinned food is the right option for your dog, or you're not ready to make the switch to fresh food for whatever reason, here is some practical, easy advice on maximising the nutrition of kibble.
Boosting the nutrition of dry or tinned dog food:
Why not boost the kibble or bite the bullet entirely?! Feed your dog fresh food for three months and see for yourself? You can always switch back if you don't see the benefits. PLEASE let me know if you take up the challenge! And IF you want to jump directly to feeding raw food please read this article next.
"Why would I sit down to homemade soup and give my dog processed food?! It has only taken me 3 years to cop on to this." That was a text from an owner following my September blog on nutrition. I must admit, it took me a lot longer than that to consider what I was feeding my dogs. I only became really interested when our second dog Bruno died at the age of 9. I was shocked to learn that cancer rates are sky rocketing in dogs and cats, along with auto immune diseases, allergies and degenerative diseases.
It is difficult to source unbiased, accurate information due to a lack of routine reporting on the subject, but according to "The truth about Pet Cancer", there is an "epidemic of cancer... and in younger and younger animals". Processed pet food is widely blamed for this, along with vaccines, parasite preventatives and environmental toxins. I believe that Bruno's death was due to the well known supermarket brand I had been feeding him, exacerbated by chemical tick & worm prevention. I have been studying canine health and nutrition ever since and whilst I can't bring Bruno back, I can share what I have learned in his name.
"Fake industrial food...works to the detriment of cats and dogs producing a pandemic of degenerative disease. This pandemic began following the introduction of processed pet foods to the lives of our pets" (Dr. Ian Billingham, Pointing the Bone at Cancer In Dogs, Cats and Humans.)
Could you imagine if we were told to feed children a diet of dry nuts to balance their nutritional needs? We know that a diet containing excessive amounts of potato chips, breakfast cereal and fast food would not be good for our long term health and contributes to obesity, diabetes and other illnesses and disease. The same applies for our pets. Kibble is convenience food and while some brands are better quality than others, (click here to compare), it is important to recognize it as such. Click here for some specifics about the issues associated with feeding kibble in the long term.
Most people today don't remember a time pre-kibble, but processed pet food only exists since the 1930's when it was marketed as the ideal, low cost alternative to feeding dogs meat. It was a great way to commercialise nonhuman grade meat and waste products from grain mills and slaughter houses. Initially the sales pitch for kibble was an economic one, but gradually the industry became bold enough to claim that processed food was the only way to feed dogs a nutritiously balanced diet, further enhanced in the 1950's with the introduction of scientific, prescription dog food. Pet food manufacturers such as Hills even wrote the nutritional textbooks used in veterinary colleges. Over the decades, marketing became more and more sophisticated with TV advertising, celebrity endorsements, food dyes to make nuts look healthier and special diets for different breeds and body types. Today's buzz words are organic, grain free and natural, but the reality is that kibble is still predominantly comprised of sub standard meat or meat meal, grain, fillers, starches, fibres and grain by-products cooked for far too long.
"The pet food industry continues to write and publish pet nutrition textbooks for veterinary colleges. Aspiring vets are taught to tell their clients that only processed dog foods are scientifically proven to meet their dog's nutritional needs." (Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olsen PhD)
In truth, industry controls what our pets eat and also what we understand about their nutritional needs, thanks to the marketing power of pet food manufacturers. Happily this is now changing, as more and more pet owners and vets are demanding healthier nutritional alternatives, for ourselves and our pets.
If this has got you thinking and you'd like to learn more, I'd encourage you to watch the eye opening Pet Fooled documentary on Netflix. And if you're feeding kibble, it is never too late to improve your dog's health and well being. There is so much you can do from simply adding in some supplementary real foods (click here for more information), to completely switching your dog over to a raw diet (click here for advice).
Last word for now to Dr. Olsen, auther of my book of the month, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: "It is not easy to disregard what we have been told over the years. However, if you look at what is good for you nutritionally, it makes just as much sense to feed your dog whole, fresh foods as it does to feed yourself and your family the same.... If you want your dog to live a longer, happier life, it is time to start looking at canine nutrition differently and bring back the common sense approach to good health and nutrition".
If you believe that raw food is best for dogs but lack either the time and/or the knowledge to do so, I recommend Babarf.ch/en. I first met Babarf when they attended our Natural Dog Seminar 2017 and having recently switched Perro onto their food, I visited the manufacturing facility in Bussigny where Megan & Morgane (below) showed me around and explained their philosophy. I was so impressed with their ethos, quality and service that I have agreed to partner with Babarf to spread the word amongst dog owners.
What is Babarf?
Babarf is a Swiss company based in Bussigny that prepares balanced complete raw meals for dogs delivered directly to homes. They are in fact the only company currently offering this service in the area. Meals follow BARF principles (biologically appropriate raw food) and comprise muscle meat, meaty bones, organ meat and lightly cooked veg with a little fresh fruit. Balanced meals are delivered frozen and pre-prepared into daily portions, personalised to each animal's needs and adapted to their ideal weight on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis depending on the preference of customers.
The production facility (see photos above) is impressive. Spotlessly clean and extremely well organised, it was great - and reassuring - to see first hand how the process works. The meat & fish comes in from Switzerland, France and Belgium and the fruit and veg comes from the farm down the road. Menus are specifically devised to ensure seasonal fruit and veg with a good mix of white & red meat proteins and meats are rotated on a monthly basis. Everything is fresh and there are no chemicals, preservatives or additives.
The all-important price issue:
Babarf portions and pricing are based on the ideal weight of your dog. There's a simple calculator on the website here so you can work it out yourself. For Perro (30kg), the cost of Babarf is CHF7/day or CHF218/month including delivery. That's double the price of Orijen kibble, one of the better dry foods on the market. That's fine by me because I believe that fresh food means happier, healthier, longer living dogs and lower vet bills. But surprisingly for me, the cost of Babarf is the same as my DIY raw solution and cheaper than the frozen complete mixes I had been buying from local pet shops for the past number of years. And best of all, the Babarf solution is totally hassle free, all the ratios of meat, bone, veg, fruit & organs are worked out for you on a daily basis. All you need to do is open the bag and serve!
Advantages of Babarf over DIY raw or pet shop pre-mixed completes:
Interested in switching your dog from processed to raw?
If you would like to transition your dog yourself, here are the basics of raw feeding in a nutshell and here is a step by step guide to follow. I recently used this Perfectly Rawsome online guide with Zuma, it is really helpful. But be warned, there is an initial learning curve and a lot of weighing and measuring. If you want to take a much easier route, Babarf has a lot of experience in switching dogs to fresh and raw, and they offer the transition service at no extra cost. All you need is freezer space. Whichever route you choose, please, please, please transition from processed to raw food carefully and slowly otherwise you will have a dog with an upset tummy to deal with. This is because his gut acidity will need time to adjust to digesting raw food.
If you do switch to fresh food, you should see noticable improvements in your dog's energy, weight, coat, teeth, breath and poo within a matter of weeks. Please keep me posted, I would love to hear from you! Oh, and if you decide to subscribe to the Babarf service please be sure to tick the box on their website acknowledging Happy Dogs Aigle as the referral site, let me know and I will send you a bag of our brand new happy dog healthy treats as a "welcome to the club" gift!
One of the positive aspects of the Covid 19 situation is that we get to spend a lot more time home with our dog. However, unless handled carefully, spending all this time together could potentially lead to issues with separation anxiety down the line. As we return to work/school/external life, our dog will be expected to stay home alone for periods of the day. I'm keenly aware of separation anxiety, probably because it's one of the issues I routinely look for with new (especially young) boarding dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety get stressed, upset, loud and/or destructive if left alone. It can can lead to behavior change, illness, psychological issues and neurotic behavior (like obsessive paw licking, tail biting). There are simple steps you can and should take to make sure your dog becomes - or remains - well adjusted and happy when alone.
Most importantly, don't let everyone smother the dog with attention all the time
Doing this will cause an unnecessarily dramatic change when you are apart. If you think about it, most dogs regularly spend time alone and and it's really important that they don't lose the ability to do that. Give your dog time alone, even (or maybe especially) when the whole family is at home. Let him relax on the other side of a baby gate, in another room or outside in the garden while you're in the house. This will diminish the contrast between human presence and absence. Be sure he doesn't see it as a punishment, leave a kong or treats for him but do let him chill alone from time to time.
Physical & mental exercise:
Providing plenty of physical and mental stimulation is a vital part of treating many behaviour problems, especially those involving anxiety. Exercising your dog’s mind and body can greatly enrich his life, decrease stress and provide appropriate outlets for normal dog behaviors. Additionally, a physically and mentally tired dog doesn’t have as much energy to expend when he’s left alone.
Here are some well accepted suggestions:
Kongs and brain games:
Those of you that follow the adventures of Happy Dogs Aigle know we love kongs and snuffle mats to keep dogs occupied during hot/rainy weather, recovery from injury or home alone time. A Kong stuffed with something really tasty like chicken, doggy peanut (peamutt) butter, tinned tuna, tinned dog food and/or some healthy treats like Archies Bonbons or RiRaw is a godsend. I highly recommend freezing the Kong so that getting all the food out takes even more of your dog’s time and energy. Change what's inside frequently and be sure to remove the Kong as soon as you get home so that your dog only has access to them - and the high-value foods inside - when he’s alone. You could feed your dog breakfast or even all of his daily meals this way. Keep in mind, though, that this approach will work best for mild cases of separation anxiety because highly anxious dogs usually won’t eat when home by themselves.
Another option is a snuffle mat (purchase here) which forces the dog to use his nose to seek out the food, thereby tiring and relaxing him. Alternatively a simple, zero cost idea that works well is to put your dogs favourite toys into a box and throw a handful of treats in. They will have great fun using their brain and nose to find the food and that is actually as good, if not more so, than a stroll for a dog from time to time.
Finally, I often scatter a handful of treats or dry kibble in the garden (don't do this if your dog is a digger but sniffers will have a lot of fun!).
Ensure your dog CAN sleep alone: it's ok to share the sofa and/or bed with your dog if that's your preference, but making sure that he/she can actually sleep alone happily is also important. Some day your dog is going to need to stay without you, perhaps at a boarding facility or a friend's house or the vet. Crate training, whilst controversial in Switzerland, is (in my opinion) a great way to provide a safe, enjoyable space for your dog to relax. I find that crate trained dogs usually settle really well at night in my boarding facility. There is lots of advice available online on how to crate train. It's really important to do it correctly, otherwise you can make things a whole lot worse and have a very distressed and/or destructive and/or noisy dog. But whether in a crate or not, you should ensure your dog is capable of sleeping alone, because some day he may need to.
If all else fails and your dog cannot stay alone happily, it would be worth considering the professional guidance of a behavioural expert, the sooner the better. Good luck!
I get asked for my opinion on dog food A LOT. Luckily, it's a subject that really interests me. I am not a nutrition specialist or a vet and my opinions are just that, my opinions. I do however spend a lot of time with dogs as well as reading, learning and researching about their nutritional needs, so this article is a summary of my beliefs and practices. Please note - this is an enormous topic summarised into one short blogpost. I will list numerous reference websites for further reading or contact me for more information and/or questions. I hope you find it to be "food for thought".
IMO - in a nutshell - the less processed the food, the better. For dogs and for us.
I want my dogs to be lean, healthy, shiny and fresh smelling with great teeth and the right amount of energy for their age, so I feed them fresh food. Perro & Zuma get raw muscle meat (80%), raw meaty bones (10-20%), organ meat (5-10%), some fruit and lightly poached vegetables (5-10%). Read more about raw feeding for puppies and dogs here and here. This option sounds daunting but it's really not. Ready mixed frozen complete meal options of chicken, turkey, rabbit, beef, lamb, kangaroo, ostrich & duck can be bought from quality pet stores such as Petfriends and Meiko. There are also companies such as Babarf who deliver customised and frozen complete meals in a bag to your door once or twice per month, it couldn't be easier. I buy as much human grade meat as possible from supermarkets when it's on sale as well as tinned tuna, sardines and mackerel (in water, not oil or brine) and I buy frozen chicken hearts, stomachs, backs, feet & necks and sardines & mussels from my local Portuguese supermarket. A couple of times per week I add hemp seed or coconut oil, seaweed powder, cottage cheese, raw eggs, bone broth and probiotics. That's it in a nutshell.
For Gracie who is a grand old dame (and for Siddy who died this year aged 20), my preference is cooked food, the same ratio as above but everything very lightly poached. I personally believe it's easier for really old dogs to digest cooked food. I realise many raw feeding advocates would disagree and that's fine but my golden oldies thrive on this so I intend to continue. I also mix in a little quality tinned senior food from time to time (Terra Canis, I order online here) and for upset tummies I highly recommend having a few tins of Recovery Recipe in the cupboard.
I do not feed dry kibble to my dogs and definitely not to senior dogs. Dry kibble is the most convenient dog food but is also (IMO) the poorest of all the options. Here's some additional reading on kibble. Some dry foods are better quality than others (this is a good comparison site). For kibble fed dogs, I really recommend adding as much fresh food as possible (and reducing the dry food accordingly). Here's a throw back to my blog post on how to make frozen power cubes for dogs. Important not to mix kibble with raw food as that plays havoc with digestion but you can significantly increase your kibble fed dogs' health, longevity and happiness by adding eggs, sardines, poached veg, leftover meat or porridge, blueberries etc as often as possible. Read this for some great tips. Next month I will touch on some of what not to feed dogs (dentasticks and rawhide bones will definitely make that list).
Cancer rates are through the roof in dogs. Highly processed dry food is seen as a major contributor by many proponents of fresh food. Purdue University did a study on the effect on rates of bladder cancer in Scotties with the addition of fruit & veg and concluded "that consumption of certain vegetables may prevent or slow the development of TCC (transitional cell carcinoma) in Scottish Terriers." Dogs don't need a lot of fruit & veg (5-10% max), but a little really does go a long way to a healthier life.
Dr. Conor Brady, PhD, Author, Blogger, Lecturer and all round expert in canine nutrition shared a recipe for home made power cubes at our Natural Dog Seminar in Montreux in 2019. Publishing an updated version here with his permission:
A large sweet potato boiled (with skin on) or some porridge oats can be added for hungry dogs. Lightly boiled courgette is also a good, healthy filler for hungry dogs. I play around with the ingredients depending on what I have to hand but roughly follow the principles and it will be great. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, blend using a hand blender, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Voila - just pop one on your dog's food daily for a tasty, easy vitamin and mineral boost.
A. Global Worming.... (so sorry)
Now, on to more serious stuff! First things first, and possibly most importantly, before blindly routinely treating dogs every month or quarter for worms that they may or (probably) may not have, please consider spending the money that you would pay for worming tablets on a faecal worm test instead. Then treat the dog for worms if they are present.
The faecal worm test* checks for the presence of roundworms, tapeworms and coccidia and involves collection of a little fresh poo collected over 5 days (keep refrigerated), posted off to a lab and the results come back very quickly. I have just gone through the process and it could not be simpler. Your vet should happily provide the collection tube and give you the results. It costs about CHF60. Assuming the worst, you need to treat for worms. You should take advice from your vet on what is best for your dog.
Signs that dogs may have worms include: diarrhoea and/or vomiting, fever, scooting/licking rear end (scooting can also indicate other issues), reluctance to eat, lethargy, dull coat, mucus coated stools, worms or “rice bodies” in poo. If you notice any of the above, speak to your vet, it would be a good idea to get a worm test done. Otherwise you could consider routinely testing annually.
If you decide to do preventative worm treatment throughout the year, perhaps because your dog is a scavenger (especially if he eats snails, slugs, fox poo or other animal poo), you live in a high risk area for worms and/or you'd rather not do routine faecal tests, here are some natural anti-helminthics (worm preventers) to consider:
*For heart/lung worm testing, a blood test is required. Incidence is low in Switzerland, I suggest discussing with your vet if you have specific concerns.
Dogs generally visit the vet for two reasons - vaccinations and illness. Neither experience is much fun, for dog or owner. Our new wellness days are designed to focus on dog's health and happiness holistically, to learn more about natural dog care and simple ways to keep our dogs in optimal condition throughout their lives, to meet happy dogs and their owners from the area and to have fun.
Our first Wellness Day will take place on Tuesday February 18th with the wonderful holistic vet Dr. Victoria Unt (Vet Equilibre). A UK native and now Swiss based, Victoria is a vet with an appreciation, training and expertise in both eastern and western veterinary medicine. Many of you know her from the Natural Dog Seminar where she teaches on TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine). Victoria will do a one to one health consultation with your dog* (by prior appointment with Aileen please). A range of services will be available on the day, depending on your dogs' needs - for example acupuncture, urinary analysis, blood & worm count tests, geriatric assessment, vaccicheck/antibody check - determined on a case by case basis and charged individually by Vet Equilibre. There is a cover charge of CHF60/dog for admin/travel/event costs.
*To protect all the dogs, both visiting and those staying in Happy Dogs Aigle, we can only offer this service to dogs that are not currently "actively ill" (chronic, non infectious and/or age related issues are ok).
Our second Wellness Day takes place on Monday March 2nd with veterinary herbalist Jo Arbon (Holistic Hound). A UK native living in Ireland, many of you also know Jo from speaking at the Natural Dog Seminar. She is a font of knowledge on herbs and essential oils for dogs and will offer:
(1) A class on herb selection for illness, focusing on how to breakdown an illness to match and blend herb choices, and subsequently feel more empowered to use herbs.
(2) Deep dive into 2 current “hot” herbs: Turmeric and Hemp/CBD for dogs. We will make golden paste, throat magic and a hot spot treatment (using turmeric) and discuss hemp to CBD and it’s many uses, then make a hemp macerate. This afternoon workshop costs CHF100/delegate with lots of goodies to take away afterward.
Needless to say, since fun and play is such an important contributor to canine health, it is included in our wellness days, along with coffee and cake for the humans. Should these wellness days prove popular, we plan to repeat them a couple of times per year with a variety of experts and subjects. Please contact Aileen with questions or to make an appointment!
As our Siddy gets older (he will be 20 in March), he is fussier about food and it's tricky to predict what he'll eat from one day to the next. Adding a little bone broth to his food seems to make everything irresistible as well as being so good for his health. With Perro's multiple knee surgeries and Gracie's recent serious health scare, we are going through bone broth at a faster rate than usual in our house! Luckily it is very easy & cheap to make using a slow cooker (ideally) and plenty of patience.
The health benefits of bone broth include:
Here is a good recipe to follow - be sure to consider the recommended additions such as kale and nettles. If you're short on time or patience, or simply want to try some before making it yourself, Jo from Archie's Bonbons makes & sells it fresh frozen in individual bone shaped portions (which makes life very easy!) so just message me for her phone number or you can pick it up from Happy Dogs Aigle. Happy broth-ing!
An issue we all face as dog owners from time to time is a poorly pooch. Very frustrating when we know they're sick but don't know why. Dogs vomit for a multitude of reasons, some serious, others nothing to worry about. Figuring that out is very tricky but of course the rule of thumb should be if in any doubt, seek veterinary advice, especially if your dog is elderly, has underlying medical issues or if the tummy upset continues for longer than 24 hours. And speed is of the essence if you suspect your dog has eaten something toxic such as chocolate (especially dark), grapes, macademia nuts, onions, medication, garden fertilizer, rat poison, antifreeze (has a sweet taste to dogs), lilies, daffodil/tulip bulbs among other things.
General Advice if your dog has vomiting &/or diarrhoea:
1. Fast adult dogs for 24 hours. It is not advisable to keep puppies fasting so skip this step for the under 6 month's.
2. Re-introduce easy-to-digest food very slowly. Contrary to popular belief and advice, many holistic experts advise against cooked rice as they believe it is an inflammatory food for dogs so while some vets recommend it, I personally do not give rice to dogs.
3. Feed easily digested proteins such as home made chicken broth, poached turkey or white fish, bone broth (brilliant for gut recovery, click here for a recipe), oats cooked in water).*
4. Lily's Kitchen do a Recovery Recipe Tinned food, very handy to have one or two in the cupboard, you can purchase here. If you're stuck and live close to me, I always keep a few tins in stock.
4. Feed little and often for a day or two to allow the gut to recover.
5. Reintroduce regular food gradually over 3-4 days.
6. Consider giving pre & probiotics (available from your vet) to replenish gut microbiome (healthy bacteria) which can be depleted following gastric issues/antibiotics.
*If you don't have recovery recipe or bone broth to hand, here is a simple chicken broth from the Dogs Naturally website. Really quick, tasty and full of nutrients, its the ideal easy-to-make gentle reintroduction to food:
Hopefully within a day or two your dog will be back to normal but if he suffers from chronic issues it could indicate ongoing inflammation which would be worth discussing with a vet or nutrition specialist.