Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Homemade Dog Food - The Green Wolf's Natural Diet

Sunshiney greetings today from Dr Renee, your online Holistic Vet!  Today I am inspired by Miyuki to write this post on the physical and mental benefits of providing your pet with a natural diet.

I was watching our Earth Doggy guard our chickens this morning; one of her favourite activities as it means she can opportunistically scavenge in the chook pen for scraps, poo, and all things delightful (at least to a canine, and, as it turns out, a toddling human baby!).  It appears that one of the benefits of providing your pet (and your human family members...) with a homemade diet true to their natural make-up is a strong gut and robust immune system that is resistant to pathogens and disease. 

Our healthy chooks foraging for their daily greens.
If you were to put a small child in a room with a banana and a bunny, it is likely they would eat the banana and play with the bunny.  If you were to do the same with a cat or dog, I can guarantee they would make a very different choice.  Our pet dogs and cats are instinctively carnivores.  They need animal tissues, including meat, organs and bones, in their diet in order to thrive.

Raw meaty bones for a healthy pet.

A dog in the wild would likely keep a "food diary" that reads like this:
Monday – Feeling energetic today, might go hunt down some prey.  Ooh, that’s a tasty deer, I’ll go round up the pack and hunt him down.  Stalk, target, run, chase, catch, success!  Yum, tasty innards, wow, yummy digested grass and stuff in the tummy, mmmm, a bit of spleen and liver, okay, full now, let’s cache this and come back tomorrow.
Tuesday – Woohoo, still have yummy deer to eat today, mmmm, scrape some meat off his bones, yum, kidneys, oooh and a little bit of fat.  Woah, full again, need a drink, will come back tomorrow to finish him off.
Wednesday – Yay! Still have deer to eat.  Ooh, raw, meaty bones to chew, yum, yum, yum, oh and some tendons and a bit of sinew, soooo good, I’m in heaven. And my teeth feel so clean!

Honey the Great Dane with a Great Dane sized bone!
Thursday – Might go check that deer carcass again, oh hello, still have some bones and a bit of meat left here, ooh and some brains, my favourite!  Yum, yum, now where’s that waterhole?
Honey the Great Dane checking her bone cache.
Friday – Argh, finished that deer off yesterday, what to eat today?  Oh look, a bird’s nest, yum, I love raw eggs, and look, some berries on the ground over here, might snavel them up before anyone else finds them, oooh, and some horse poo, yippee!!
Saturday – Slim pickings today, oh hang on, just spotted a little bird, might chase him down and eat him, stalk, target, run, chase, catch, success!  Yummy, quail!  So gourmet, not so keen on all those feathers though.
Sunday – Not much around today, feeling a bit lazy, might just chew a bit of grass then lie down here and have a little rest.  Mmmm, gentle breeze, warm sunshine, comfy grass, ahhhhh, bliss.

Miyuki and her old friend Chevi basking in the Winter sunshine.

Dogs, if left to their own devices, naturally eat quite a varied diet, consisting of raw animal flesh, raw meaty bones, some plant matter (mostly in the form of the stomach contents of their prey), and some scavenged or foraged fresh or decaying animal or plant material.  What's more, the actual act of hunting prey and devouring the catch provides much mental and physical activity that is lacking in the modern dog’s dietary habits.  Now the question is how do we mimic this for the modern urban dog?  How can we simply and practically provide our pets with a fresh, natural diet, that provides mental stimulation as well as physical nourishment, without sending them out to hunt down their own rabbits?
Miyuki & Chevi sniffing out rabbit trails at the back of our local sand dunes.
The answer is quite simple – look to Mother Nature.  Provide your pet with raw animal flesh, including organ meats, raw bones, and some plant matter presented in a ‘pre-digested’ form, ie. pulped or blended. 
Miyuki's blended vegie ration.
 If possible let them scavenge and forage in the garden/compost heap/chicken pen and great outdoors for fresh grasses, rotting berries, and the occasional meal of horse poo, or provide pots of fresh grasses and herbs around the home.  And rather than serving your pet's meal neatly in a bowl everyday, make use of feeding toys like Kongs or the West Paw Tux and Nina Ottosson puzzle toys, and food foraging games, to make the procurement of food more challenging and exciting.
Miyuki enjoying her stuffed Kong.
It is important to get the balance right with regards to natural dietary ingredients, and I recommend consulting with a Holistic Veterinarian when first embarking on the natural pet food journey.  The types of ingredients that will suit your pet, and their optimum ratios, will vary depending on your pet's age, weight, body condition, and health status.  What's more, some pets really benefit from the inclusion of certain supplements in their diet, like "Wellbeing for Dogs Super Nutrition Everyday" or "Missing Link Canine/Feline Well Blend".  By consulting with a Holistic Veterinarian, you can be sure that the diet formulated for your pet will be appropriate for their individual needs. 

Preparing Miyuki's vegetable ration.

What's more, there are a few differences in feeding pet dogs and pet cats, as their nutritional requirements and preferences do differ slightly.  Miss Monique has been harassing me trying to sit on my laptop whilst typing this, so I think she is suggesting she may write a post on Natural Feline Diets, including her suggestions for Homemade Cat Food soon...

Monique with the catch of the day.

I strongly believe that for optimal health every species should follow their natural diet, that is, the diet Mother Nature intended that species to eat, or as close as possible to that.  In an urban situation, it is rather unpractical to allow your cat to prey on mice and small birds for their daily ration, or to send your canine friend out to hunt for rabbits.  We can, however, mimic their natural diet in order to provide them with the essential building blocks they need to live a long, healthy life.  This is one of our many responsibilities as pet guardians.

Another one of our responsibities (cleaning up poop!) is much easier on a raw diet!

If you would like more information on formulating a natural diet for your dog or cat, or how to make feeding time more interesting for your pet, please visit me over at Roar Kingdom - your online holistic veterinary service.


  1. Dr Renee, thanks for this great post! I try to feed a varied and natural diet, but sometimes I start to worry that I'm not doing enough. It's hard to resist the blandishments of the big pet food company, whose advertising is in my face every time I enter a pet food shop. (Though I do mostly feed things I buy on special at supermarket meat departments, or through my own butcher, or plant-based ingredients that are similar to what we eat ourselves.

    I'd love to ask you something I cant find any information on. I asked at one of the Yahoo Groups I am a member of - won't name it, as I'm disappointed and angry about the only response I got, which was that my question was inappropriate, because I should only feed meat, as this is the only "species appropriate food". Not true, as you have noted, given that in a natural environment, dogs will scavenge some plant matter.

    My question is this: I grow yakon, which is a very different plant food, in that it has inulin in it (a great food for human diabetics, might be interesting to know if it would be useful for diabetic dogs...). My dog, Penny, LOVES it, and I occasionally give her tiny scraps.

    Do you know of any studies that look at the effect of inulin on dogs?

    And if you can give me some advice, wuld it be okay to post your reply on my own website? (Fine if you prefer not, of course.)

  2. Dr Renee, I forgot to say what a relief it is to read that you agree with dogs doing some foraging. Penny forages possum poo frequently, eats grass, loves compost (though I limit that, as I know someone whose dog would get 'high' on compost), adores horse poo.

    The thing I am always careful about, however, is when we are in the shopping street and she tries to forage cooked chicken bones. We humans are so messy.

  3. Hi Parlance. Interesting question about yakon, and funny timing as I have been experimenting with it myself! There is one study I have come across in the Cambridge journals on the effect of oligofructose (which is the carbohydrate in yakon) in companion animal diets, as well as a few on PubMed. One study showed that inulin "may favourably alter the composition of the colonic bacteria", which is one of its functions as a prebiotic. There is certainly nothing suggesting yakon would be harmful included in the canine diet (in moderation). Some pet foods include chicory root as a source of inulin so it seems that pets do benefit from it. Read more about that here:
    Not sure whether it would be helpful for a diabetic pet or not, as pet's nutritional requirements are very different from humans. Hope that helps, and glad to hear Penny enjoys foraging for all things delightful!

  4. Great post! While we dont let Darwin eat poop (I let her give me a lot of kisses and poopy mouth kisses just doesnt seem sanitary) she does get almost daily raw bones (knuckle bones) and her usual dinner is a raw veggie blend I make (cauliflower, broccoli, kale and carrots) mixed with ground meat (usually beef or turkey). Our holistic vet recommended it when we took Darwin in for back problems (she was a little overweight from being on Prednisone for a month). She loves her raw mix!
    Im curious as to what other veggies are good to include in her mix.

  5. Good to know my raw diet pretty much mirrors your suggestions :D I've been on this diet for over a year now and feel great! Mom found out recently that veterinarians here in the US, regardless of what type of medicine they practice, now will not really discuss this diet as they've been advised that they can be held liable for anything that may go awry with the pet that might be traceable back to the diet. Sigh. We live in such a sue happy society. Really gets in the way sometimes! Glad you aren't subject to the same in Australia :D

    Waggin at ya,

    PeeS: Glad you enjoyed the kayak trip. It was a blast. Mom was so happy the tide was low enough to produce a large sandbar I could run free on. There really are very few places I can do that besides my yard so this is a very special treat for me. It makes Mom very happy to see me go nuts with glee :D

  6. It's pure joy watching your dog enjoy off-leash time Roo! I'm glad you got the opportunity to enjoy that sandbar!
    Parlance - I forgot to say it's totally fine for you to post my reply on your blog.
    And Brooke, check out my "Green Sprouts Amidst Falling Leaves" post in the April archive, I leave a comment in reply to another question about what vegies are suitable for our pets. -Dr Renee.

  7. First - am so pleased to see that some of my blog friends have found their way over here! :-)

    And second - what a fantastic post! Love the pictures and you give such a good summary of everything. Hsin-Yi is really pleased to read that you'll be doing a post about Feline Natural diets soon coz she still worries abit about whether they have got Muesli's raw feeding right (coz they only swapped me & Lemon to raw after we grew up but they never had to bring up a baby animal on it) - so it would be great to compare what we're doing with your suggestions and make sure that we're on the right track! :-)

    Honey the Great Dane

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