Feeding and raising our dogs

Here at Espinay we feed our dogs a diet of primarily raw and natural foods in combination with some dry food (Holistic Select Large and Giant Breed Puppy and Adult foods). After years of research into canine nutrition and feeding our dogs natural foods for around 20 years we are happy that the type of diet we feed is for us one of the easiest and best ways to ensure the optimum health and wellbeing of our dogs and growing puppies.

Just like us, it is healthy for our dogs to eat foods that have had minimal processing and additives. Feeding raw and natural foods involves feeding our dogs foods that are ‘species appropriate’ for a carnivore. Like wolves and wild dogs, our domestic dogs are carnivores, and at Espinay we believe we have an obligation to feed and rear them on the foods nature intended to the best of our ability.

While genetics play their part, it has been shown that diet is strongly linked to the development of orthopaedic problems in dogs as well as other species. Overfeeding and a rapid growth-rate can predispose animals to all kinds of problems like osteochondrosis (OCD), panosteitis, and hip dysplasia. We believe that for bone and muscle to develop normally, the nutrients have to be there in a form that the dog can assimilate. Genetic testing is only the start - we need to feed and raise our dogs to give them the best chance of a long healthy life too. For our puppies we have found that feeding a combination of natural foods with Holistic Select (or Eagle Pack) Large and Giant Breed Puppy food has given us the best results for slow growth and good health when combined with only the amount of exercise that the puppies want to do. This means that instead of long boring walks with repetitive motion on hard surfaces, puppies are allowed to be puppies, playing and running in a safely fenced area much as they wish and letting them stop and sleep whenever they wish.

We constantly hear these days about the number of problems that are affecting dogs. Allergies, digestive issues, cancer, thyroid problems, diabetes to list just a few. Many people spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to deal with these and other issues in their dogs. Many of them have a common link – a malfunctioning immune system. It is our belief that we can do a lot to prevent (or in certain cases, delay) these conditions if we feed for optimum health. A dog in optimum health has an immune system in optimum health.

We have found that our dogs raised and fed on a primarily raw and natural diet which includes raw meaty bones have less issues with fleas, less skin issues, are less prone to ear infections and have healthy teeth and gums. It is a sad fact that around 80% of dogs these days will have periodontal disease by the time they are two to three years of age. Regular teeth scaling and cleaning performed by a vet is expensive and general anaesthetic is always risky, particularly with Pyreneans as they have a low metabolic rate. Dogs who are fed raw meaty bones ‘floss’ their teeth naturally with their food and most never need their teeth cleaned. A healthier mouth means not only better smelling breath, but healthier organs (periodontal disease not only causes problems in the mouth but can infect organs such as the heart and liver) and a healthier immune system.

Feeding raw, species appropriate foods is not hard. It takes us almost no preparation and the only really essential piece of equipment we need is a freezer. Of course we are feeding multiple dogs, so need more space than the average family! For one or two dogs, their food will easily fit in the average freezer along with food for the human members of the family. It is not expensive to feed a raw diet either, though cost can depend on your sources. Here at Espinay we tend to buy in bulk, which costs us less. You can, however, easily and economically feed a dog or two on a raw diet just by buying from supermarkets and stores in your local shopping centre or markets. There are also many companies that now make ‘ready made’ raw meals. These can be convenient, but they can cost more too. Here at Espinay we sometimes use a ready prepared meal for convenience when travelling with the dogs.  Our favourite brand available in Australia is K9 Natural.

The main thing we have found with feeding and teaching about natural diets is that people need to think a little differently about how they feed their dogs. We are bombarded with information from pet food companies that promote so-called’ ‘scientifically balanced’ products and claim that they are the only ones who really know how to feed dogs. As a result people lost trust in their ability. Unfortunately many vets promote and sell these products and many of these have only been ‘taught’ canine nutrition by these companies. Lets get realistic. Commercial pet foods really haven’t been around all that long (and only really gained a foothold in Australia in the 1970’s), and if someone tried to tell you that you were incapable of feeding yourself a ‘scientifically balanced diet’ and therefore to stay healthy you needed to eat this one product they produced, and nothing else, for the rest of your life – would you do it? In an age where natural unprocessed food is known to be much better for humans (and much better at keeping immune related conditions such as diabetes, cancer and so on at bay – an interesting correlation there), why would we think that it isn’t better for our dogs too? Step one, trust yourself and your ability to feed your dog. Step two, learn what is ‘species appropriate’ for your dog.

So, what exactly do we feed our dogs at Espinay? On of the most important things in our dogs' diet is raw meaty bones. These are bones with meat on them that our dogs eat in their entirety. That’s right, they eat both the meat and the bones. Some of the raw meaty bones we feed include chicken frames, or any piece of the chicken; whole lamb necks, flaps or other off cuts; beef brisket bones; turkey necks and sometimes legs or other parts; whole rabbit; pork hocks, trotters or tails; kangaroo tails. What we feed depends on price and availability. Chicken for example is easy to get and fairly cheap so is often on the menu. These raw meaty bones are fed in large pieces so our dogs get to rip, tear and crunch them. Eating raw meaty bones exercises their muscles, cleans their teeth and also keeps them mentally happy as well. Puppies start to learn to eat raw meaty bones from 4 weeks of age.  They eat them almost every day.

As a  portion of their diet our dogs also get things like meat without bone (such as chunks or minced beef or kangaroo) and organ meats such as lamb or beef heart, kidneys and liver. They are given fish such as canned salmon, mackeral or sardines around once or twice a week and a couple of eggs each a week too. In addition they share healthy table scraps and leftovers such as vegetables and rice when it is available, and also get things such as plain yoghurt and/or pureed vegetables added to their dinner. We NEVER give our dogs cooked bones, which can splinter and cause damage.  This dinner is generally mixed with a small amount (1/2 a cup to a cup) of Holistic Select dry food.

The main ‘supplement’ we regularly add to all our dogs diet is fish oil capsules which are a good source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. We do use other supplements such as Vitamin C (sodium ascorbate) for dogs such as growing puppies, and recommend this for dogs up to 2 years of age.

Like us, our dogs do not necessarily eat the same thing every day. Like us, their diet balances over time. Feeding them can be as easy as taking their raw food out of the freezer to thaw the night before (and even if we forget to thaw, that is no big deal – they either eat their meal partially frozen, which they love in summer, or get a fish and egg meal with their dry food that night). Our dogs are kept lean and fit, and along with plenty of free running in our large securely fenced yards and paddocks we find that feeding a more natural diet helps promote strong and healthy muscle development. In our opinion this combination also leads to less problems with strains, sprains or injury.

Below are a number of resources to help you learn more about feeding a more natural diet either on its own or in combination with a quality dry food.  Or feel free to contact us for more information on the way we feed and raise our dogs.

Veterinary Dental Specialist Dr Tom Lonsdale has an informative website Raw Meaty Bones. He has also written a number of books on the subject.  His book "Raw Meaty Bones Promote Heath" is particularly good for those who wish to know some of the science behind the issue.

Dr Lew Olsen has a range of very informative newsletter articles on her B-Naturals website. Also see her book "Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals"

Nutritionist and Newfoundland breeder Kymythy Schultze has a useful book titled "Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Diet"

The American raw dog food company 'Bravo!' publishes a useful booklet by Melinda Miller which provides basic information for beginners. "Bravo! Beginnings" is available free to download in PDF form.

Leerburg German Shepherd Dogs has a useful free PDF e-book called "Feeding a Raw Diet" on their website .  They also have a good article on feeding puppies at Leerburg Kennels.

Australian veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst has published a number of books on feeding a raw diet to dogs. Of his books, I still prefer his first book "Give Your Dog A Bone" for the basic concepts it provides on learning to feed a raw diet.