Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Raw Diet Essential Equipment

Ho hum, another boring post about all the boring un-eatable stuff about feeding raw. Momma is so meta. Sorry for being so delayed, I was partying after my Special Judge's Award at Mango Minster. (thanks, Bolo!) Then Momma was saying something about business and work and all that. Excuses, excuses. But here's Momma's list of all the stuff you should have on hand to make a raw diet (especially one for a Biggie like me) easier and cleaner.

Momma, I'll tell you easy. Just give me the whole chicken or a whole salmon and I'll just eat it. I don't need a bowl; I'll just take it to the flokati, ok?


Again, crates are really important to keep the dinner from running away. They don't do much for keeping the dinner in the bowl, however:

A crate with a plastic or metal floor helps contain the mess. Biggie has his own pace of eating - sometimes he eats his salad around his meat, but other times he pulls the pieces of meat out of the bowl, drops them on the floor, eats the veggies and yogurt out of his bowl, and then eats the meat. Usually after that he licks the floor clean. Still, cleanup is a LOT easier if you have a surface in a contained area that can just be wiped down with antibacterial wipes.

An added benefit: teaches pups to like their crates, making crate or kennel training infinitely easier.

To make the veggie mix. Like humans, dogs can't break down the cellulose in plant cell walls, and thus can't get the benefit of all the good vitamins and nutrients unless those cells are broken open. Humans do it by chewing with our molars.* Dogs don't have flat-surfaced molars like we do, so even though they do chew vegetables somewhat, it really helps to grind the vegetables for them.

*And even humans, with our omnivores' teeth, don't always do a great job breaking down vegetables. Just think about how we eat corn and what comes out the other end...

Unless your dog is 200lbs or more and you're feeding him whole chickens, or you have a butcher who will custom-cut your order, you will need good strong kitchen shears or a boning knife to break the meat into meal-sized pieces. While your butcher will have to cut the beef and the lamb for you, poultry and fish can be done at home - some small dogs may only eat a chicken neck or half a wing in one meal.

These are good for storing my veggie mix and smaller sized meat, like my fish pieces or my liver. You could spend money on nice Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers that you can stack in your freezer. Or you could do like my Momma does and order cheap Chinese food delivery EVERY SINGLE NIGHT and save those plastic containers to store the veggie mix. Hey, at least it's recycling.

Momma likes to use, reuse, reuse and reuse those Ziploc-style freezer bags. When they are new she packs my meat in them. Usually 4-5 chicken leg quarters (about 4 pounds) will fit in a gallon bag, and the bags are pretty stackable in the freezer. Once a freezer bag is used for my food, it is only ever re-used for my food. A quick rinse with some soapy water (zip it closed and shake the bag) is all it takes for the next batch of meat. When they bags are near the end of their useful life, they finish their lives as storage bags for my meals when I go to camp. Momma packs one meal per bag and puts them in the freezer and the Nice Camp Lady gives them to me (thawed out, of course). Once my bags go to camp, they don't come back.

This is just useful for storing all the foodables in the fridge. Especially if the freezer bags are getting somewhat old and leaky. Then you don't have meat juices leaking in the fridge. It's also easy to put all the dinner ingredients in the bin so when it's time for dinner, voila! pull out the container and all the ingredients are right there. Sort of like how on those cooking shows everything is all out and ready for the chef.

Momma uses these to wipe down the counter, my crate and any other surfaces that might contact the Salmon Ella. Actually Momma doesn't wipe down my crate as often as she used to, because I lick my crate very thoroughly after I lick my bowl clean. So far, so good, it's been 18 months and I haven't seen Salmon Ella AT ALL.

Well, duh.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why go raw? Pros and cons of switching to a raw diet for your dog

Biggie's disclaimer: Warning!! BORING times ahead. Instead of feeding me yummy raw meat, Momma has decided she's going to talk about it instead. Bla, bla, bla. And not even talking about THE MEAT; instead she's just talking about WHY she does it. I'll tell you why: BECAUSE IT IS DELICIOUS and MOMMA IS ONE CRAZY DOG LADY. That's why.


Thanks, Biggie for that lovely introduction. Biggie's parents are raw-fed, his mom was raw fed while she was pregnant and nursing, and Biggie's been raw fed since he was 3 months old. In short, he's probably been eating kibble only about 7 weeks in his entire life.


There are a lot of sites that talk endlessly about the raw or "BARF" (Bones And Raw Food) diet but in this and the next few raw diet posts, I'll be talking mainly about what I do and how I feel about it.

1. You know what your dog's eating.
Given all the dog food recalls and scares of the past couple of years, it is pretty reassuring to see what goes into your dog's belly. It's all human grade and higher quality than any "meat byproduct" or corn or soy derivatives that end up in dog food.

2. It's healthier: weight control issues
A well-balanced, low-carb, low-fat diet does wonders. Jack, one of Biggie's terrier-mix friends, lost 5 pounds. It's also easy to manage your dog's caloric intake without making him feel STARVING by just changing the veggies-to-meat ratio. It's basically like increasing the size of the "salad" course so your dog doesn't miss the meat quite so much. It's also good for putting weight on: just add a little bit of richer meat, like liver or ground beef or lamb.

Finally, for a large/giant sized pup, raw is ideal for growing them slow. Large and giant breed pups can suffer from panosteitis and run a risk of joint problems later in life if they grow too fast. Too many people want to make their dogs gigantic, too quickly, and kibble contributes to that. When we went to Korea for a lengthy trip last year, we switched Biggie to kibble for a couple of weeks at the kennel, and he came back looking a little chubby. Switching him back to raw slimmed him down right away.

3. It's healthier: food allergies
Corn and soy and grains can wreak havoc with a dog's digestive system. If you have a dog with food allergies, feeding them raw is a quick way to pinpoint exactly what bothers their tummies, rather than playing a guessing game with the 20+ ingredients in kibble.

4. It's healthier: teeth
Chewing all those bones keeps teeth strong, healthy and CLEAN. It saves brushing time and keeps those pearly whites pearly and white. And when Biggie was a puppy and losing his baby teeth, all that raw diet helped him with his teething and helped the baby teeth fall out faster.

Oh yeah, and "dog breath" isn't an insult any more. No need for greenies, flossies, mint biscuits, or any other myriad products designed to get rid of dog halitosis because really, there isn't any.
5. It's healthier: temperament and behavior
Dogs need to learn how to chew. And dogs on raw who chew their food eat a little more slowly. If you have a dog who inhales his food (and chokes or gets gas or stomach upset from eating too quickly), a raw diet with bones helps slow the process down. Some believe this reduces the chances of bloat as well.

Also, dogs that learn to chew on bones and food have less tendency to chew on inappropriate objects. I can't say that Biggie never chewed on anything inappropriate (one leg of our wooden 4-poster bed has some deep teeth marks in it), but the only chewing casualties in a year and a half have been one bed leg, a lightly nibbled sneaker, and one rubber flip flop. And the last 2 were done more for attention and tearing something up than a real chewing need. Considering that Biggie spends most work days in our bedroom with a few toys and his crate, and a wooden bed and a wooden dresser and no one to tell him no when he starts chewing, he could have done a lot worse.

Finally, all that chewing on good bones tires a puppy out, making him calmer. Maybe that doesn't matter so much with an adult dog, but for a teething pup it was a godsend.

6. It's healthier: poop
When you walk a 110-lb dog around NYC and have to pick up poop, this factor quickly rises to #1. Dogs process raw food more efficiently and there are no fillers or artificial flavorings like kibble, so as a result the poops are pretty darned amazing. Biggie's poop on raw happens less often, in less volume, and is FAR less stinky. Some people go so far as saying it doesn't stink at all; I think the veggies make it smell a little but it's not nearly as bad as kibble poo. Also, they are really easy to pick up - as an added benefit, they're solid enough to express the anal glands, so you don't need a human to do this. Solid enough that if you ran out of bags and had to, say, use a stick to roll the poop into the sewer or under a bush, the poop stays intact and rolls nicely and doesn't leave a mark on the sidewalk or the stick, and you are not about to faint from the stink. I'm just sayin'.

How small is small? Biggie's poops are about the size of our old dog Boo's. Boo was a 25-lb American Eskimo. Also - because raw food doesn't have anything artificial in it, it biodegrades VERY quickly. If the dog is eating food with a lot of bone in it, the poop will be almost white and crumble to dust within 24 hours. Generally within 24-36 hours the poop will be ... disappeared.

7. It's better for the environment.
Since the food has no additives, preservatives or chemicals, Biggie's pee and poop are less harmful to the environment. His pee doesn't kill the grass like kibble pee does, and as I said before, his poop disintegrates pretty quickly as well. Basically, you have a walking compost pile if you have a dog on a raw diet. There are many things a dog on raw should not eat, but there are also a lot of byproducts from cooking (e.g. meat and vegetable trimmings) that don't have to spend years in a plastic bag in a landfill before returning to the land.

8. Good food is always available.
You're only a supermarket run away from good food for your pup, and you don't need to worry about finding the right brand of food if you happen to run out. And, if you cook at all, chances are you have enough food in your fridge to tide you over for a meal or two. We realized this on a drive home form Vermont in a blizzard last winter. A 4-hour trip ended up taking close to 10 hours, and when we stopped for food we found a supermarket in town where we got a snack for the puppy as well. Sure, we could have gotten some dog biscuits, but instead we bought a pack of baby carrots and a pack of raw chicken wings. No bowl necessary - Biggie just chowed down in the parking lot and snacked on carrots on the long drive home.

(A side benefit is that having all that meat and vegetables in the house also means that I'm more likely to use some of it to cook dinner rather than calling for delivery - so this "pro" goes for the people in the house as well.)

9. Dogs love it.

Mealtime is one of the happiest times in our house. Not so when Biggie was on kibble, but we have one attentive dog when there's raw meat around.


Ok, but why NOT raw? Here's a number of common reasons why people are afraid to try a raw diet:

1. It's expensive
A pre-made, mail order raw diet is expensive, I agree. It can cost upward of $5 a pound. Considering that for raw food, an adult dog should eat about 1.5%-2% of his body weight, it would cost $10+ a day to feed Biggie. Which is why I make it at home. We're lucky to have a great butcher on our corner, so a variety of meat and bones cut and trimmed to order is readily available. While we will splurge on beef liver or lamb on occasion, we usually look for bulk deals and sale items. Even in NYC, we can feed Biggie on organic vegetables and chicken and turkey and fish scraps for about $1 a pound. While this is still more expensive per meal compared to kibble (raw food is heavier due to the water content), it's not necessarily cost-prohibitive. And if you find a good bulk meat supplier or can go to Costco, it can be cheaper than high quality kibble.

2. It's a lot of work.
Well... yes and no. There is definitely more prep work involved than opening a bag of kibble and scooping it into a bowl. There is the repackaging of bulk meat into manageable portions that can be taken out and defrosted when necessary (that's what I'm doing in the picture above), and there is also the Processing of the Vegetables, each of which can be a daunting task when you're first starting out, but once you get into a routine, each of these only needs to be done once every 3-4 weeks. Then, when you're feeding, it takes maybe 20 seconds more to put together a raw meal - a scoop of vegetables plus whatever supplemental stuff gets mixed in, and then plop the meat in the bowl and you're ready to go. It does take more time to feed your dog raw, but you will save time in fewer trips to the vet and less frequent teeth brushing.

3. I'm worried about salmonella.
If you dress like this, you should be ok:

But seriously, the dangers of salmonella are more of a concern to the humans in the household than the dog. It is important when handling raw meat to make sure you don't cross-contaminate utensils and food prep surfaces. But if you are cooking for humans you already know to do that, and it's really no different when prepping the dog's human-grade food.

4. It seems too complicated; I'm worried I'll mess it up.
This was a worry for us when we started, too. Luckily there are many good resources on the web (Stan and Big Pupi's blog has many links; I'll put some up too), and I had two kuvasz breeders I could email with questions. It seemed like every day I had another question, but there is a pretty supportive community out there and it's easy to do some web research and figure out the answer.

I also learned to relax over time. If each meal isn't perfectly balanced, it's not the end of the world, so long as over time the dog's getting what he needs. Sometimes Biggie got too much meat (one time I did my math wrong and he ended up eating a whole chicken over the course of a day), other times he might miss a meal or only get vegetables or only get meat because I ran out of something and was too tired lazy to get the other. But Biggie continued to grow and thrive, so it seems to be working just fine even if each meal isn't always the perfectly balanced, perfectly portioned Ideal Raw Meal it is meant to be.

5. I'm worried that if my dog eats all that raw meat, he'll develop a blood lust.
Hm. Well, you got me there. Biggie obviously has the blood lust, as you can see by his latest (unsuspecting) dinner:

Question: If you feed raw, what is the biggest benefit you get out of it? And if you don't, what is the biggest deterrent?

TOTAL NON-SEQUITUR: I'm participating in Mango-minster this week too. Stop by Mango's bloggie to see some recent pictures of me in all my raw-fed glory! I hear that SOMEDOGS (Madison, I'm talking to you!) are getting all professionally groomed and such for Mango-minster, but I had to make do with a lame-o shower with P-Daddy because my humans are too cheap to shell out $150++ for a pro grooming. So I expect there will be some serious competition there.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Would I lie to you?

My buddies Stanislaw and Big Pupi, fellow raw meat eaters, gave this Honest Weblog award.

The rules:"When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to said person so everyone knows he or she is real.

Choose a minimum of 7 blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have 7 friends. Show the 7 random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with “Honest Weblog.” Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon. List at least ten honest things about yourself. Then, pass it on! "

Stan and Big Pupi are quite honest about their peeble and pooble adventures, and their frank openness - let's face it, they let it ALL hang out - has made it oh so much easier for me to go on my rants. Stan and Big Pupi didn't include an icon in their post, which maybe makes this the cheapest award ever - no prize, not even an icon! So I'll just make one up of my own:

oh never mind. Momma is too lazy to figure something out. This honesty thing sure is fun!

Since I was about to embark on a series of posts about my raw diet (and this is especially cool since Stan and Big Pupi were the ones who gave me this invisible "award"), I figured I'd tell you 10 honest-to-goodness-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth facts about my diet and my eating habits:

1. When I am hungry I go sit in my crate and wait for food to appear. (I always get fed in my crate.)

2. I'm almost ALWAYS hungry.

3. When my 2nd human gets home from work, I'll look at them and then go sit in my crate and wait for dinner, even though 1st human already fed me. This trick has never worked before, but it *might* work the next time I try it!

4. I'm slightly finicky about my fruit, but give me any lightly cooked orange vegetable (pumpkin, yams, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes) and I will gobble it up.

5. I LOVE carbs. Anything starchy is my favorite.

6. I like to eat snow though I don't care about ice cubes.

7. I once caught a live duck but Momma made me let it go.

8. ditto, but a NYC street pigeon.

9. ditto, but a mouse.

10. I was on a leash when I did #8 and #9. heh.

Now, to pass it on to 7 friends:

Madison - She's a big girl who is learning to be a great Ft. Lauderdale ambassador and healing her family's broken hearts

George - Because he is so open about how much love he has to give (basically, it's endless)

Amber-Mae - She let "anonymous" have it! You tell 'em!

Wally - for all his Barking for Barack, he's definitely keepin' it real.

Misty the Alpha Poodle - for reminding me about the Idiotarod.

Peanut and Flash - for their uncontained and open joy at Dad's homecoming. (He's a veterinanarian)

Dannan - for his indomitable spirit.

Now off to more posts about RAW FOOD!