Sunday, November 17, 2013


Hi all! Sorry it's been a while since my last post. If you're a friend of mine on Facebook, you know I've been working through the unexpected surgery of my fat old shepherd mix, Grendel, who was diagnosed with cancer, then un-diagnosed, then rushed to surgery for one of the most impressive piles of bladder stones the vet had seen. She's recuperating fine and is back to normal, aside from her stubbly, shaved belly.

Bastas, in his typical egocentric fashion, was disappointed at Grendel's period of convalescence - his playmate was confined to the leash and not allowed to run around until her stitches healed, and Bast had to be kept separated from her because he's enormous, energetic, and completely oblivious to the social cues of other dogs.

With his forced estrangement from his buddy, and the cooler weather coming in, Bast has been brattier than usual the past few weeks. He's never been the most... placid... of creatures, but he's really kicked it into high gear with the coming of autumn. As he matures, he occasionally tests his boundaries with me to see if any of the rules have changed, small things like, "Okay, it wasn't all right to play rough before, but how about now?" As someone used to having an obedient shepherd to work with, training Bast is a challenge. He absolutely thrives on attention, whether positive or negative. For example, when he wants to go out and play, he will search until he finds a shoe and then throw it proudly into the living room. Either he knows I don't go outside without shoes, or he can count on getting in trouble immediately and getting my attention for assaulting my footwear.

Think of all the determination of German Shepherd and the cleverness of a Border Collie. Now gives those intense qualities to an animal that has absolutely no desire to use its intelligence for good and you get Bast. He's a furry super-villain.

To fuel this evil mastermind and keep him in tip-top dastardly shape, Bastas eats an entirely raw diet. As I've mentioned previously, when we first adopted Bast from the pound, he was emaciated and sick. Bast weighed in at 36 pounds when he was 9 months old - as a comparison, his more well-cared-for younger siblings weighed in the 60-70 pound range at 9 months. Yikes.

We could not find a kibble that he would tolerate when we first brought him home. Every one that we tried made him vomit and diarrhea - in most cases, he would throw the kibble up almost whole within half an hour of eating it. I worried that because he was so skinny, he was scarfing his food and thus the barfing, but even when he slowed down his eating, he kept chucking up every dog food we tried.

In desperation, I looked online and started researching raw diets. It made sense to me - he's part wolf, right? So meat, yeah? Yeah. Bast took to a raw immediately. Within a day of eating some chicken breasts, his vomiting stopped completely.

Well, hell. As in a lot of areas of with Bast, I was sort of in over my head with this one: So, he can just eat raw meat? How do you feed raw, just buy some meat and toss it out there? What kind of meat? How expensive is this going to be? Aren't bones bad for dogs? How much do I feed him? Is he going to get sick? Is he going to turn into a blood thirsty monster with an insatiable need for raw flesh?

So I Googled. I mentioned in a general sense in a previous post that I learned what I could about raw feeding, but I've had a lot of curiosity and questions addressed to me about raw feeding, so I thought I'd go into a little more detail about feeding my beast of evil.

So, everyone take a huge grain of salt - I am not pretending to be a raw feeding expert. I've been doing this for only 6 months and I'm always researching it and refining my methods to make sure Bast gets everything he needs in his diet. I'm just telling my friends what I do since everyone is curious.

Okay, disclaimers done. When it comes to feeding dogs, kibble is a relatively new invention. Think about it - you think people two hundred years ago were going to PetSmart and picking up a bag of Purina? Seems kind of silly when you actually sit and think about it. So yes, dogs can eat raw meat. In fact, they can eat more raw meat than we can. Bast isn't limited to sushi and steak tartar; he can eat raw chicken and pork, as well. His stomach is way better equipped to handle raw meat, although I am still cautious and make sure that everything is still handled in a sanitary manner.

Raw feeding isn't just buying steaks and throwing them on the floor, though. Muscle meat like that doesn't have all of the nutrients that a dog needs to be healthy. Processed foods like kibbles are regulated to have certain vitamins and minerals that dogs need, whereas meat is, well... meat.

Bast needs more than just muscle meat. He needs organ meat as well, things like liver, kidneys, hearts, and other offal. He also needs raw bones. There are a lot of raw feeding models out there that help you gauge how much of what component you need. We follow the BARF model for Bastas - Biologically Approved Raw Food, or Bones and Raw Food. This model suggests a balance of approximately 70% muscle meat, 15% organ meat, and 10% bone for meals. Some models suggest 80/10/10 or variations thereof. We follow this as best we can, although it isn't always exact for a variety of reasons.

To find out how much I was supposed to feed him, the raw diet models suggest anywhere from 2%-3% of a dog's ideal body weight. Since I wasn't sure what Bast's ideal weight was supposed to be at first, we just sort of winged it until I figured things out. Now, he hovers around 65 pounds, so he gets around a pound and a half of meat a day. Some of these calculations can get very in depth. I occasionally refer to this chart, which I did not make but I don't know who did so I can give them credit:

You can see, it gets sort of complicated. As if this weren't difficult enough, Bast refuses to eat organ meat, which is the most nutritionally dense part. Liver contains a number of the vitamins he needs, but he won't touch it. Not raw, not cooked, not frozen, nada. Not happening. To make sure he gets what he needs, I supplement his diet with a multi-vitamin.

Bast's absolute favorite part of his raw diet is the bones. Normal people's homes have comforting sounds - the pitter-patter of little feet, grandfather clocks ticking in homey parlors... You know, soothing crap like that. My place is filled with the sharp cracking of bones as Bast pries them open to eat the marrow inside.

But dogs aren't supposed to have bones, right? Ah. Dogs aren't supposed to have cooked bones. The process of cooking softens the bones and causes them to splinter - this is why cooked bones can break apart and seriously harm or even kill a dog if ingested. Those splinters go into the stomach and start tearing things up. A raw bone, however, is very soft. It folds and grinds and is easy to digest. Bast's very favorite meal is chicken drumsticks, although he doesn't get them as often as he'd like because he winds up getting too much bone matter in his diet and gets chalky little turds.

All this sounds pretty gruesome! A lot of people ask me - won't feeding your dog raw turn them wild? No. No, it does not. The idea that giving dogs raw food turns them into savage beasts is a myth, but like many myths, rooted in a small, misunderstood truth. We all have known a dog in our life that has food or toy guarding issues - fighting with other dogs, growling at people approaching. This is a kind of resource guarding where dogs are trying to protect their food or high value toy from others. Any dog is capable of it.

People say things like, "Well, I know for a fact raw meat turns dogs crazy. My dogs always eat dog food, and I threw them out some meat once, and they went crazy fighting over it." Well no shit, captain. Here you have a group of dogs used to eating plain ol' dog chow, and all of a sudden you toss one piece of meat in for them to fight over? That doesn't have anything to do with meat turning dogs into savage killers; it has to do with you tossing a high value treat into a volatile situation.

So, no, feeding Bast raw is not going to make him "turn wild" or any other weird superstition like that. I can hand feed Bast his raw meat, and I can reach right into his mouth and take it from him.

All in all, I'm very satisfied with a raw diet. Although it began as a necessity for Bast's barfing, it's easy to see that it's done wonders for him. Bast radiates good health and temperament - glossy coat, clean teeth, fresh breath, and endless energy for mischief. I take his health very seriously and am always checking on new resources to find out if I could be doing this better. Because the risk of screwing up could result in malnutrition, I want to stay on top of his diet and make sure he gets the best. He's worth it.

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