Those of you with dogs who board with us will almost certainly know Lou & Nicola, our Irish family here in Switzerland. Coco is a beautiful 4 year old shepherd mix recently adopted by them from the SPA in Ardon, Valais.
Since her adoption 3 months ago, Coco has had intermittent and ongoing stomach issues, alternating between normal poos and a runny tummy. She looked skinny and was always hungry and searching for food. At that time, she was eating a mix of quality kibble & tinned food with about 20% fresh food added. About a month ago, frustratingly, her digestive issues markedly disimproved. The vet felt she might have a form of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) but wasn't totally convinced. She gave 5 days of antibiotics and advised an easily digested diet. If things didn't improve, further tests would be carried out.
So without a definitive diagnosis or an acute illness, we decided to follow the Hippocrates principle "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food". Nicola had always intended to feed Coco a raw diet but wanted to get her gut as robust as possible first. There were a couple of issues to consider. Obviously we knew nothing about Coco's previous life, health and nutrition. Additionally, along with her ongoing runny tummy, antibiotics have a tendency to disrupt the gut microbiome (micro-organisms, both good and bad that live in the digestive system). Both factors pointed to a need to replenish and rebuild Coco's gut health if we could.
With that in mind we immediately switched her off all dry and tinned food and onto fresh. For the first couple of weeks, Nicola fed a lightly cooked diet. White meat is generally easier to digest than red so we started there. We introduced easily digestable meats gradually and in the following order: turkey, chicken, low fat beef mince, low fat pork, tinned fish and eventually a little cooked liver, heart & kidney. We slowly and gradually added in poached courgette (great for hungry dogs), poached pumpkin (brilliant for gut issues), porridge oats cooked in water (filling and easy to digest) and scrambled eggs (a superfood for dogs and us). We also added in home made bone broth (a tablespoon per day), probiotics (a sachet of fortiflora per day) and StoolRite seaweed blend (2 teaspoons per day). Finally we gave goats milk yoghurt and cottage cheese occasionally, both reputed to aid good gut bacteria. This diet seemed well tolerated and Coco was certainly happy.
One of the best and easiest ways to judge how digestion is going in dogs is to evaluate their poo. Here's a helpful guide with plenty more information on that. Over the course of those weeks, Coco had consistently and improving poos every day (the poo emoji was very useful at this time!). And equally importantly, her coat became visibly shinier, she gained 1/2kg and she began to play for the first time. It was abundantly clear that things were going in the right direction.
At this point, Nicola had a decision to make. She could have switched Coco back to kibble & tins with some fresh food added. She could have kept Coco on the home cooked diet provided it was modified to make it nutritionally correctly balanced. Instead she decided to progress to raw. Two weeks ago, she began Coco's transition to raw food with the help of Babarf and, happily, things are going perfectly. While it's early days, both she and I wanted to share this story to give hope to anyone who might be going through a similar situation. If your dog isn't acutely unwell but has ongoing occasional digestive disturbance, I would strongly recommend trying the following steps. Bearing in mind that this is our personal experience with one dog and we are not medical professionals, here's a summary of what worked for Coco in a nutshell:
These steps are only recommended as a short term measure to give the gut a chance to recover and function correctly. If you see improvements and decide to continue feeding your dog a fresh food diet, whether raw or cooked, you must properly balance nutrients to ensure the correct ratio of fat, protein, vitamin & mineral. This is not as daunting as it might sound and I'd refer you as always to Lew Olsen's Raw & Natural Nutrition for dogs book or contact me for more information. I would like to also acknowledge the Raw & Holistic Cat & Dog Support Group on Facebook as an invaluable source of information and advice.
Dealing with digestion issues in dogs is frustrating and slow but it's very rewarding to see progress especially without resorting to long term medication and/or expensive prescription kibble. Here's the last word to Coco's brilliant mum Nicola: "We adopted Coco to give her a loving home but felt very helpless when we couldn't figure out why she was unwell for so much of the time. Aileen suggested the best option would be to get her gut right and try cooking her food, After just a week of cooked food with probiotics and bone broth, Coco was already a different dog! The feeling of watching her play with Zuma now that we have (hopefully) solved her tummy issue is like no other; happy and proud are words that come to mind, but we are also excited to see her flourish, somthing that seemed impossible until now."
Aileen Woulfe, Irish expat, lifelong animal lover, Swiss qualified with a diplôme cynologique in breeding, grooming and kennel management and owner of Happy Dogs Aigle boarding and daycare in Vaud, Switzerland.