I field a lot of questions about why we transitioned our dogs from kibble to raw food. I also get asked about our choice in the type of raw food. Believe me when I say, it wasn’t our first choice, or even our second. It has been an onerous process involving discussions with numerous experts and many hours of research. Quin. Quinn is the reason. I’ll start at the beginning.
|Introduction to obedience and agility|
A German Shepherd is a serious commitment but all dogs are not created equal. It soon became evident that Quinn's energy needed to be managed; that, if given an inch, she was going to run with the whole mile. I needed to step it up if I was going to remain at the top of the pack. She is intelligent, agile and dominant. She needs not one job but several. We were already working with a trainer, we added weekly dog club for socialization and training for both her and me. We have now worked with the breeder and several trainers to introduce Quinn to obedience, agility, scent and protection work.
|Fun and Games|
Her first winter, when she was about 8 months old, we noticed she was doing a lot of scratching. While she never scratched herself raw, she continuously licked her paws and scratched everywhere. Our vet indicated Quinn may be prone to allergies, a condition becoming more common in dogs, and that food was often the culprit. He hinted at the dilemma we might find ourselves in; that we could spend a copious amount of time and money trying to treat this condition without ever finding any solid resolution. He suggested we first eliminate as many toxins in the home as we could. He explained that allergies to certain proteins was common and to try a limited ingredient kibble. If that didn’t work, perhaps switch to a hydrolyzed kibble, which goes through a process to break the proteins down to particles so tiny that the body can’t actually distinguish that it’s even a protein. He also had clients that transitioned their itchy dogs to raw, some with great success. We were given a short-term prescription of Vanectyl P to get us over the hump. And it worked, for awhile. And then, once again, we found ourselves living with Itchy Skin Quinn.
So began the purge. While we didn't use a lot of chemicals in the home, we disposed of traditional cleaning products in favour of nontoxic options. We went from washing her bedding with laundry soap to nothing more than hot water. We kept the humidity up because our winters tend to be so very dry. Most of our furniture was leather; we had no carpets. Our animals were never allowed on the bed but we took it a step further and banned Quinn from the bedroom. We sanitized her doghouse and kept as hygienically clean and dust-free as possible. We groomed daily and wiped her down with a damp cloth to remove dander. We added fish oils other supplements to her diet. We began feeding a high quality limited ingredient kibble. The scratching continued.
By the time Quinn was a year, she had received all of her puppy vaccinations and was of a proper age to spay. Because we were intent on having a German Shepherd that was properly socially conditioned, we not only were active in dog club but enrolled her in puppy day care, the latter of which required Quinn to be fully vaccinated and medicated for flees. We chose Bravecto because we were advised it was safe and provided a full three months of control. What we didn’t anticipate was the lethargy and loss of appetite from it. The vet suggested we follow up with FortiFlora, a prescription probiotic. Within a week, her appetite and high spirits returned. The scratching continued and, this time, with a vengeance.
Our community did not have a dermatological vet, but there was a general vet who specialized in allergies. At our appointment, we were advised that Quinn had allergies but diagnosing the cause would not be easy. Allergy testing was not recommended as results were inconclusive until she reached 3 years of age. The cause may be environmental but food was the easiest to rule out because it can be controlled. Since a limited ingredient diet didn’t seem to help, we should try an elimination diet. We had concerns about hydrolyzed protein kibble; what good could possibly come from such a highly processed diet? We had access to wild meat. A hunter herself, she was not opposed to a homemade diet providing the protein was one which Quinn had never previously consumed. Together, we settled on a diet of moose, potatoes and Hillary’s Blend, a supplement providing all of the essential vitamins and minerals. We had to continue this diet for a minimum of eight weeks; the longer the better. In addition, biweekly baths using the Chlorhexidine-based shampoo, Duoxo; regular doses of Dermoscent Spot On and over-the-counter Loratadine were added to the protocol. Quinn was fast becoming a very high maintenance dog. I began a journal to track how itchy she was, on a scale from 1 to 10 and noted all treatments. We explored the various over-the-counter and prescription medications, including apoquel, atopica and allergy shots. After copious amounts of research, we did not invest in the last three, simply because none of them appeared to prove effective, all appeared to have considerable side effects and they were costly. We agreed with the vet to abstain from vaccination updates, which tend to stress the body and aggravate skin conditions.
When we left for our annual three-week vacation in March, 2018, we left Quinn in the hands of a capable dogsitter, armed with a book of instructions and enough homemade dog food, precisely weighed and meted out in single serving bags, to last a month. A calendar laid out precise scheduling of her medications and baths. The day we arrived home, our dogsitter told us that Quinn had, the day before, nibbled a small piece of her ball away and then later threw up a wee bit of blood. We weren’t terribly worried; the piece was miniscule and should easily pass. But, being the doting helicopter parents we are, for the next several days, I followed her through the cold and snow so that I could inspect her pee and poop. What I discovered was that she had diarrhea with a bit of mucous and blood. While I didn’t actually see her vomit, I found a couple of piles that also appeared to contain a bit of blood. We waited a couple of more days; long enough to collect samples, and off to the vet we went.
|One of many reasons to crate train|
The original thought was that there was nothing urgent. Quinn appeared to be in excellent health and superb condition. She was the proper weight; her coat looked great and she was alert and active. We could take a 'wait and see' approach or run tests. We opted for the tests. An ultrasound pointed toward some kind of blockage. It was agreed that Quinn remain at the clinic, with a follow-up ultrasound at the end of the day. The call we received late that afternoon was that Quinn did indeed have a blockage and consent was needed for surgery. A few hours later, our vet advises that what was thought to be a blockage was actually ‘a gelatinous mass of bloody diarrhea’. Deep chested dogs (which Quinn isn’t) sometimes suffer from intestinal distress due to bloating. It is not uncommon to stitch the intestines to the upper abdominal wall to avoid this life-threatening condition but Quinn was so raw internally, the vet decided against this procedure. Instead they opted to remove the infection as much as possible and close. Antibiotics and fluids would be administered and Quinn would be ready for home in a day or so.
A couple of days went by, during which time Quinn continued to wane. While we had supplied the clinic with her several feedings of her elimination diet, a decision was made to switch her to hydrolyzed canned food for easier digestion. When her health continued to decline, she was tested for Parvo, not once but twice. The original stool and vomit samples had been destroyed without analyzing; the clinic wanted new ones to test for parasites. They were adamant that there was some other underlying condition. Antibiotics were switched. Always an excellent source of advice and information, I stayed in touch with the breeder who, by this time, was a good friend. She phoned to tell me, if a decision was made to euthanize Quinn, she would give us another puppy. My heart skipped a beat or two, I began to cry, and told her we weren't 'there' yet. Of course, she knew that; she just wanted me to know. It took much longer than anticipated but Quinn did eventually begin to recuperate. Five days and $2,200 later, we took her home.
We chose a different path
forward. We found an integrative vet who also practices acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). We told
him that we were done with the ‘boutique’ style of veterinary medicine
consisting of a lot of very expensive suggestions without any real
resolution. While we knew Quinn
definitely had health issues, we weren’t convinced it was allergies. We felt it was something deeper. We had played by the book; we tried the vast
majority of recommendations, we were vigilant on her skin care, we were deeply
invested. And we almost lost her. It was
time to change course.
This vet took the time to explain who he was and what he did. He is self-described old school, that doesn't always find expensive concoctions yields positive results. While some of the old drugs do indeed have side effects, one has to weigh not only the cost but the amount of medication needed to keep Quinn comfortable. He supplements traditional veterinary medicine with TCVM, which is based on food, rather than medication. He also augments his practice with acupuncture. He suggested a homemade diet consisting of meat, vegetables and grain. The list of appropriate vegetables and grains, I have since learned are classed as ‘neutral’ or ‘cooling’ foods. While raw is preferred, it could also be cooked. While it was best if the ingredients became the entire diet, it could also be used as a topper. He added the Chinese herbal supplement Si Miao San. To provide Quinn with some relief from her discomfort, he prescribed a very low dose of Vanectyl-P. We continued the weekly baths with medicated shampoo to remove any dander or irritating substances from Quinn’s skin which would give her some temporary relief. He agreed that we should abstain from vaccination updates.
I had already done a lot of research on feeding raw. I had a grasp of the differing philosophies between feeding Prey Model Raw (PMR) and Biologically Appropriate Raw (BARF) with the latter also incorporating a limited amount of vegetables, seeds and fruit. In general, PMR feeders don’t believe plant matter is appropriate for carnivores. The diet focuses on whole prey (meat, organs, bone). BARF operates on the belief that dogs are omnivores or obligate carnivores. Diets consist of muscle meat, organs and bones, up to 10% fruits and vegetables, sometimes dairy and supplements.
TCVM is based on much the same principles as we humans apply to ourselves; better nutrition will cause our bodies to perform better. Processed foods, sugars, dyes and high carbohydrates, as found in most commercially prepared foods does not equate to good health. Certain conditions or diseases produce a lot of heat in the body, including inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes and Cushings Disease. Certain foods, such as venison, chicken and lamb add heat to the body, while melon, cold water fish and rabbit have a cooling effect.
Si Miao San is a Chinese formula directed at treating inflammation and commonly used for inflammatory bowel disease, allergic dermatitis, Cushings and diabetes. It also has anti cancer properties and supports good digestion.
|Food Therapy From the Chi Institute|
I have never fully come to a conclusion whether Quinn actually has allergies exacerbated by her diet, or whether she had a gut problem. I think it’s safe to say that she had a weak immune system. The early UTI was our first clue; her reaction to Bravecto was the second. We learned that Quinn’s diet was wrong from the start, which began as a quality lamb and rice kibble which supplemented with venison-based. Both choices add heating elements to an already inflamed dog. We were literally piling on fuel for the fire!
For more than a year, we stuck to the cooling diet like glue. While we experimented with
different combinations of cooling foods we maintained the balance of 30%
vegetables/fruit, up to 10% grains and cooling or neutral protiens, consisting
of beef, moose and fish. One day, Quinn decided
she wasn’t going to eat if we continued to include Si Miao San in her diet. I admit, I never tasted it but we were warned it is bitter and many animals won’t eat it, in which case, it’s
available in pill form. By this time, Quinn was looking radiant and her itching had diminished considerably.
We took Quinn on a 35-day RV road trip across Canada in 2018. It was a bit of a challenge preparing her meals at times. We certainly didn’t have freezer capacity to prepare all her meals at home and carry them with us. Instead, we relied on commercially prepared PMR foods which we supplemented with vegetables and grains. We looked for Pet Value stores when it came time for her weekly bath.
Quinn remains a high strung, high energy dog, somewhat prone to anxiety. While she loves people, she doesn’t always play well with others. This aspect continues to be a work in progress. During our travels, we preferred small, municipal campgrounds which were not only sparsely occupied; they came with ball diamonds and lots of open space which lent themselves well for off-leash work to allow Quinn to burn off a little energy. Through Ontario and Quebec in particular, we found ourselves in very large, heavily occupied facilities and, wouldn’t you know it, we almost always were designated a corner lot where everyone would walk their dogs! There are a LOT of people travelling with dogs these days! This required considerably more vigilance on our part and it definitely generated additional stress for our little family of three but we managed the situation. We ultimately put her back on a low dose of Vanectyl-P before we returned home. She had two doses of Revolution as we were concerned about Lyme disease (ticks) and didn’t really relish the thought of a trailer full of fleas.
Fast forward to 2020 and we still check Quinn’s poop on a regular basis. We are slightly more lenient with the diet in that we no longer make all of our treats and sometimes we even slip in a bit of raw chicken. Meals are now about 8% cooling/neutral grains and cooling vegetables/fruits has been reduced from 30% to 15%. We do not vaccinate. In the event that we decide we need to, vaccinations will be stretched over several months so as not to overwhelm her system.
Bravo and Quinn, Christmas 2019
We’ve added another German Shepherd to our pack which has been good for Quinn and us. Bravo may be almost double Quinn's weight but she is the boss. Apparently, that's a common trait of the female gender😀. While Bravo's diet is similar, (about 5% vegetables/fruit and 5% grain), he tends to run on the hot side, so his diet is also based on neutral and cooling foods.
Our breeders stopped by for a visit earlier this year. I commented that Quinn's intelligence and dexterity better lent itself to a home where someone would do some serious agility work with her, rather than an old couple in their 60s. Our breeder was quick to point out that Quinn landed herself in the right home, one that had the time and financial resources for that deep dive into resolving her health issues. Anyone can see that both dogs are the epitome of good health. I've personally lost 20 lbs and walk up to 5 miles daily. With the exception of run-ins with porcupines, we've managed to keep both dogs away from the vet. We aim to keep it that way.