Experience Matters: Why I Don't Feed My Dogs a Raw Diet | The Collared Scholar
I don’t feed my dogs raw.
I know. It’s kind of a big deal. And I may get totally obliterated by the Internet Bullies, but by now, I’ve gotten used to it.
Here’s the thing.
My dogs… they are my entire life. They are my best friends, and they form the foundation of my business. While my dogs are darn stable and have no issues when I walk out the door to run errands, I, on the other hand, suffer separation anxiety when I’m away.
It’s OK to call me crazy. It wouldn’t be the first time.
When I first started my journey in dog training, I drove myself completely insane with two things: (1) Keeping my dogs healthy and (2) Guilt that I wasn’t getting it right.
I was so afraid I would do something wrong, that I spent countless hours scouring the internet for the latest information on diet, training, and vaccinations. I was convinced that if I didn’t do everything “by the book,” my dog would get sick and it would be my fault. I was terrified that I’d misstep. And I loved them too much to let that happen.
The problem was, there is NO BOOK.
Go ahead. Poke around online. Find scientific research that supports things like a raw diet. And then go ahead and keep looking. Because I’m certain you’ll find scientific research in support of kibble.
And surely you’ll find arguments for and against vaccinations, with scientific research supporting either stance. And of course, you’ll find arguments both for and against holistic remedies, coconut oil, fish oil, raw eggs, and the like. And don’t get me started on the many opinions out there, each with their own supporting evidence, about dog training methodology.
The information is so convoluted, and there is SO MUCH of it. Navigating it all can get overwhelming. And it can be so easy to think you’re going to get it wrong, and your dog’s health will suffer as a direct result. And that’s terrifying!
So here’s what I did.
I bought what I believed were the best foods. I wrapped my dogs in proverbial bubble wrap. I went through phases where I vaccinated. Then I didn’t. I tried it all.
And I learned, over the decade or so that I FREAKED OUT about my dog’s health, that there is one thing that matters more than any Internet Forum. More than marketing agendas, and more than scientific studies.
The one thing that matters most (to me at least) is my experience.
Here’s what I mean. You bet I will research and weigh information. You bet I will read about dog foods, vaccinations, heartworm preventatives, etc. And you bet I will form an educated guess (because that’s what it really is, right?) about what will be best for my dog. But then, I will apply my information and gauge my experience. And it’s only through experience will I develop a plan.
I do the same thing in my training. Plainly stated, my experiences mean more than any scientific study. Because I can guarantee for every study that says one thing, I can find one that supports a counter hypothesis.
Guys, I’m a biochemist by degree and a statistics nerd who actually TAUGHT statistics for several years.
I promise, I can argue just about any study you throw at me. I can absolutely insert a good amount of reasonable doubt.
So when it comes to forming an opinion about my dog’s health, I use the studies to fuel my choices. After that, how I proceed is purely experiential.
For example, when I was navigating dog food choice, I cycled through it all. I have a LOT of mouths to feed at any given time, so what the dogs eat matters.
I fed pre-packed balanced raw food I was able to buy in bulk. But my dogs began dropping weight, and before long, my working dogs were skin and bones. Even with supplementation, we struggled to keep weight on a few of the really active dogs.
I moved on.
Next up was high-quality kibble. I tried Orijen – and hated it. Then we tried Merrick, Innova, Wellness, and Victor. But with all of those foods, we could never strike a balance. Some dogs would get digestive upset. Some would be thin, yet others would bulk up. I’d regularly find myself stocking two or three dog food options in order to keep everyone at their best.
Back to raw we went. The websites and forums were convincing! This time we went for meat, bones, organs and fat only straight from the butcher. Worst. Choice. Ever. The inconsistency, intermittent vomiting and diarrhea, coupled with a broken tooth on one of my malinois and a partial obstruction on another, and I jumped ship fast.
We migrated to a whole prey model, feeding primarily birds and rabbits whole, with smaller, more digestible bones.
We supplemented. We didn’t. We played around so much with their darn diet but couldn’t get something that worked for everyone.
Through all of our experimentation, I realized one thing very quickly. I’m not a scientist. Well, I am. But not a dog food expert. There are gobs of information available online and experts popping up on the daily. Unless studying this is your career, there is someone out there that knows more than you.
Late last year, despite quite a bit of peer pressure and, let’s be honest, bullying, I made the move back to kibble. I couldn’t deal with the hours meal prep took. I couldn’t deal with skinny dogs. Or vomiting. Or diarrhea. Or inconsistencies. I feed a truckload of dogs every day. It’s not just one or two diets I’ve got to get right.
These days, you’d be hard pressed to pry the kibble I’ve chosen for my dogs from my hands (or my dog’s bowls). Go ahead. Throw a study at me. I won’t be swayed. Why? Because I found a family owned pet food company with a kibble that works for everyone. A kibble that not only reads well in ingredients, but also performs well for EVERY one of my dogs. The high energy Malinois hold weight, the low energy basset hound isn’t getting fat and doesn’t have to feel deprived. Cleanup of doggy messes has never been easier, and there is rarely gas (unless we get crazy on the treats). I’m a convert. And I won’t budge. My dogs are doing better than ever, and that means more to me that a study I found online, or what someone says on a nutrition forum.
I share my story with you for a few reasons.
First, if you don’t feed a raw diet, believe it or not, it’s OK. People get passionate and can bully a bit if you opt for kibble or (GASP!) grains. But you need to choose what works best for your dog and your situation. Don’t take the Internet Forums as gospel. If a particular diet makes them sick, they struggle to gain weight, or they gain TOO much weight, don’t be afraid to try new things.
If you don’t love kibble, that’s OK too. I’ll always celebrate your choices because they are in fact yours and I know you are doing what works best for your dog.
You know your dog best.
Second, if you are passionate about your nutritional choices, your vaccination choices or any other choices, please seek to educate, but let dog owners make their own decisions. Don’t bully other dog owners. We are all trying to navigate this maze the best we know how. We all want what’s best for our dogs. Let’s not forget that. And just ask my basset hound, Mimi: Raw doesn’t work for everyone.
And finally, you can’t control everything. So stop freaking out. Take it from me, you can’t wrap your dog in proverbial bubble wrap. It isn’t good for them, and it isn’t good for your stress and anxiety. Do your best. Educate yourself, but don’t drive yourself crazy. Make a choice and let your dog tell you if it’s working for them. Your experiences are more important than anything you read online. So trust them.