This article is based on interviews with the following Canaan owners who feed their Canaans a raw diet. Dionna and Robert
Begg (Ontario); Cathey Dunn (Colorado); Jill Hillman (Indiana); Renee and Evan Kent (Rhode Island), Christina Miller (Australia); Larry Myers and Michelle Harrington (Ontario); Wendy and Victor
Feeding a raw diet is hardly a new concept. Well before the recent pet food recalls, there have been owners who feed their canines an alternative to commercial food products. Cathey Dunn has been feeding her dogs a raw diet for over 16 years. Although the raw diet is much more visible these days in terms of discussion, it is still viewed, for the most part, as controversial with much debate centred on the different “approaches”.
Why “Go Raw”
For some Canaan owners their decision to go raw is encouraged by the breeder of their new puppy while others are motivated by articles or books they have read. Renee and Evan Kent were in search of “ a food that agreed with all of the dogs that allowed them to maintain a healthy weight, clean teeth, and normal stool.” At that time the Kents had a dog who always had gas, greenish smelly stools, and looked thin no matter how much they fed him. In January 2001, the Kents switched to a raw diet and never looked back. Wendy and Victor Sanchez feel fortunate that they have obtained their dogs from breeders who also feed raw, “all of our dogs have been raw feed since birth.” Michelle and Larry’s Maccabee was on kibble for a year. Their decision to investigate an alternative to commercial pet food was borne from the fact of wanting his environment as natural as possible. “We had moved away from vaccinations and felt a raw diet was the next step.”
Illness has also inspired other owners to explore alternative diets for their dogs. Dionna and Robert Begg resisted the raw diet for a long while because they were afraid it was too complex. Then when “Tiffy” suffered from an autoimmune disease when she was about 2 ½ years of age, they decided to research an alternative to her diet and have been feeding her raw ever since. Chris Miller’s “Spock” was the catalyst that drew her to a natural diet:
“Spock was diagnosed with Lymphosarcoma early in his life. I wasn’t going to go the chemo therapy route, as Lymphosarcoma had a very high reoccurrence rate after treatment. I couldn’t change the diagnosis, but I could change the way I looked at a lot of my animal husbandry. This was the point that I completely changed the dogs’ diet to a raw meat based diet. I also became more firm on my stand of limited vaccinations for puppies and basically no vaccinations for adult dogs – only titer testing.”
Where does One Start?
Jill Hillman was inspired by her breeders Wendy and Victor Sanchez of MidSummer’s Canaan Dogs. Jill owns two Canaans, “Raizel” and “Shani” who thrive on a raw diet, which includes “BARF Burgers!” Working together with friends who are interested in exploring different lifestyle choices for their canines can also be very beneficial. Cathey and a group of her friends compared research and diets and purchased food together in larger quantities to reduce the cost. She like others also found inspiration in reading books, articles, and attending seminars by raw food practitioners. To further increase their knowledge, Wendy and Victor subscribed to different raw feeding groups: “As soon as we felt comfortable with the ins and outs, we began to make our own modifications.”
Different philosophies - Where do we go from here?
Some people follow the “BARF” diet by Billinghurst or other raw practitioners, like Volhard, Pitcairin, or Schultze. Not unlike humans, dogs are individuals and sensitive to certain foods. Most of the Canaan owners interviewed have followed a particular practitioner from the onset but overtime have modified the diet according to how their dogs adapt. Chris had started with the Vollhard diet, which later she modified into what worked best for her and her dogs. She prefers “a 70% meat to 30% bone ratio, but that doesn’t happen at every meal.” She also tries to implement offal at least 4 times a week into their diet, and likes to keep the meat sources as varied as possible.
Michelle and Larry’s basis was also founded on the Volhard approach. Although more complicated (i.e. more ingredients) than a BARF
diet, the concept of a “complete kill” meal made sense. The ingredients are to encompass the complete feeding of a killed animal. They too have since modified the diets of their Canaans
according to how they look, feel, and react throughout the seasons. “Macc had demonstrated a habit of licking his rear leg during the winter months. He
also resisted eating the raw beef. A section in the Volhard book suggested that he was reluctant with the beef as it was a “cold” meat. We switched him to a “warm” meat, chicken, and he
eagerly ate it all. He also stopped licking his leg. We moved back to beef when the warm weather returned.”
Wendy and Victor Sanchez’s initial approach to raw feeding was based on the BARF diet but they also introduced modifications: “Over time we realized that our style of feeding evolved so much over the years that what, and how, we fed our dogs no longer fell in line with the Billinghurst model. After some research we made a more complete transition to the Prey Model approach which more closely resembled the style of feeding that we have graduated to over the years.” Dionna and Robert continue to stick with the diet suggested in Wendy Volhard’s book, but have also made some slight adjustments such as “feeding only one meal, reducing the amount of meat, and adding pumpkin for bulk.” These adjustments were made on the advice of their veterinarian as Tiffy needed to lose significant weight that she had put on taking steroid medication when she was ill.
Renee digested several approaches and decided not to follow one specific diet: “Being bogged down in details is overwhelming for me and can certainly intimidate someone new to the diet. I just feed mostly raw meat and bone and throw in extras and veggies when I think of it or when the condition of the dog warrants it.”While being educated on the different approaches, Cathey adopted her own diet based on the concept that “your dog should eat what he/she would have eaten in the dog’s country of origin.”. She believes that one should customize the diet to the dog. Each dog is different and has different dietary needs. Some of her Akitas love fruit cantaloupe, blueberries, bing cherries, and raw eggs, while her Canaan will not touch fruit or raw eggs. However, her Canaan will gobble up the fruit if it is ground up in the meat. “My Canaan Dog can be a very picky eater, and I will often switch her from one food to another, i.e. raw beef to chicken or turkey, more frequently than I switch the Akita’s food.”
Benefits of Raw
“Softer shiny coats”, “smaller non-smelly stools”, and “clean white teeth” are the top three observations that these Canaan Dog owners notice when they implement a natural diet. Since the stools are generally much harder and more compact on a raw diet, anal gland secretion is also more effective. For many, the introduction of chicken necks and backs helps polish up teeth nicely, and picking up less poop is always a welcome reward! “Enhanced energy levels”, “improved muscle tone”, and an “overall solidness of the dog” are other notable improvements that these owners proudly admit. Michelle and Larry need their Canaans to be in top shape for herding lessons, trials, and events so overall conditioning is very important: “herding requires a well-conditioned dog to perform outruns and cover great distances in the pastures.”They maintain that the raw approach aids in stamina and overall performance – and the proof is always in the pudding!
Owners also comment on the “reduced vet visits”, “minimal shedding”, “decrease in water consumption”, and the “eagerness of the dog to eat their food”. Cathey says she witnesses her dogs having “ a contentment when finished eating.” Chris loves the fact that her dogs have “better smelling breath, larger litter size and larger puppy birth weight and just an overall better wellbeing.”Wendy and Victor are enjoying the advantages of “increased strength of immunity, and vigorous puppies.”
The Importance of Supplements
For these Canaan owners the “complete” diet consists of various supplements added to the meat. Foods rich in Omega-3, which include flaxseed oil, safflower oil, salmon and other cold water fishes help maintain healthy coats, appropriate weight, and keep fluid in the joints. For digestive purposes, Michelle and Larry add apple cider vinegar and yoghurt to the meat. Vitamin B, C, and E in powder or capsule form along with Alfalfa and sea salts offer many minerals and essential vitamins. Cathey gives her dogs a tablespoon of cod liver oil, or a Thorne Super EPA (essential fatty acid supplement) capsule -alternating them, one day, the other the next. When the need arises, Wendy and Victor use probiotics and Vitamin C to balance the immune system in times of stress. Renee and Evan make sure their puppies get some Vitamin C to support ligament growth, and are “more vigilant on adding extras to a bitch about to be bred, in whelp, or nursing a litter.”
ON THE ROAD
Whether it is traveling for vacation, showing, or performance trials these owners try and carry out the same regiment that they would when their dogs are dining from home. Jill takes a cooler full of frozen chicken when boarding — she says, “It makes all the other dogs jealous!”Wendy and Victor take a lot of camping trips and find it easy to pack a cooler full of meaty beef bones and raw chicken. When traveling from Canada to the U.S, Larry and Michelle buy the raw meat in the supermarkets and pre-pack most of the supplements. They are still hoping that Customs won’t be too curious as to what the bags of dry herbs and white powders are. Chris tries to bring her own water from home or buy bottled water for the dogs. Being on well water, without all the added chemicals of city water, she finds it easier on the dogs to have their own water. To help out a nervous traveler, she also packs some slippery elm and/or yogurt in case they get a loose stool. Cathey travels with a plug-in “refrigerator,” which she can plug in to the van, or at the motel to keep everything cold.
When sending a bitch to be bred, Renee and Evan will send frozen raw food to the stud dog owners - if they don’t feed raw themselves. They believe it is tremendously important to their overall health and is one area they won’t bend on.
Finding a vet that you are comfortable with and who is willing to work with you can be very beneficial. However, not all veterinarians are supportive of individuals who make the decision to go raw. Renee and Evan found themselves switching veterinarians. They found that their previous vet immediately blamed the diet for anything. They “mostly see the vet in the case of injuries or health testing for breeding and that’s it.” When Wendy and Victor lived in Colorado their vet was open to the idea of feeding raw, and in time he converted. Since moving to Minnesota they have found it more difficult to locate a good vet that supports raw but find it less necessary since they are comfortable with their choices and natural rearing philosophies.
Michelle and Larry actively sought out a holistic vet who has been great working with them to keep their Canaans “natural”. They also do annual titer testing to make sure of their immunity and to monitor any problems with their diet. Although Jill’s vet says he doesn’t’ like the bones - he would prefer that she ground them up – he hasn’t given her grief about the overall diet. He also says that her Canaans teeth are “picture perfect and clean as a whistle”. Chris’s vet in the Sstates was very open to her decision to feed a natural diet. Seeing the improvement in the overall wellbeing of her dogs motivated her vet to switch her own dogs and now recommends a natural diet to some of her clients! Cathey says she has two vets: one is the “scientific vet” and the other is the “holistic vet.” Neither vet has a problem with the raw food diet. She also freely states that the area she lives in is “very much into the natural and organic lifestyle and philosophy for themselves and their dogs (but of course not raw food, as in raw meat for humans!)”
“YOUR DOG EATS RAW MEAT?” - Reactions from the community and Family
When the supermarkets in Georgia had a sale on meat, Chris was there to stock up! The usual comment was “Gee, when is the party?”When Chris replied that it was for the dogs people either rolled their eyes or were genuinely curious. Since moving to Australia, Chris says that raw feeding is a natural way of life: “Every butcher has their own “pet section” with a variety of meat and bones. Many of the vets don’t even stock kibble in their practices. There are companies that will deliver fresh meat to your door for the pets. The kibble section in the grocery store is about ½ the size of what you would see in the states. It’s very refreshing to see a non-kibble driven pet society.”
Like Chris, other raw feeders have found people’s curiosity peeked, especially when they see the shape and condition of their dogs. At first, Michelle and Larry felt a need to justify their decision to go raw to others: “Since most people take the “tried and true” method of feeding kibble we thought we needed to show both why we were doing it and how well the dogs were responding. Now 3 years later, it really doesn’t matter what people think. We have a high level of confidence in our decision and the proof is in the dogs. Both are happy, lively and very fit.”
Dionna and Robert have found people in general to be quite curious but at the same time very nervous about dealing with raw meat.
Their children, 12 and 10, think it’s gross! Wendy and Victor’s boys are becoming raw feeder savvy. Wendy mentions the story of when “one of our pups might
not be fed raw in their new home, and the boys became noticeably upset. They asked me if I had explained to the new owners why feeding raw is better, and if I told them how easy it was to do.
To this day they still worry about that puppy because they see how happy the pups are when they eat raw in our home.” Chris’s son Ethan has no problems with
the natural diet for the dogs. However he was a little upset a few years ago when “Guinan” raided their chicken coop to bring back a fresh kill for her litter of puppies. When Chris explained,
“that’s a natural Canaan Dog”he accepted the loss of the chicken.
Contemplating the Raw Way?
These owners will tell you that making the decision to go raw has been worth the research, time and effort. Dionna says “It’s not that difficult. Just get set up and go for it. It also helps to have a mentor that you can ask questions of.”The first thing to do is to determine what results you would like to see in your dog and decide if a raw diet would give this to feed in this manner have to be explored. This is not an exercise that can be done with half measures. If you want to keep your dog healthy you must look at the time, cost and dedication required.