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Lisa Nicolello

Doing It Naturally

By Linda Monroe

(With Linda's permission, I have taken portions of a recent e-mail response to questions regarding natural, raw diets which was posted to the Mastiff List. Portions in bold italics are the questions that Linda is responding to. Since this was a long post it will be presented in two sections. We will also be featuring more information on this feeding method from other breeders and their results - Ed.)

Since your post is typical of the responses I get, I thought I would use it to answer all the similar responses. I will preface all this with a few sentences to everyone:

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FEED A NATURAL DIET WITHOUT FIRST LEARNING WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT!!! Read the books on the subject, observe others who feed raw, join a mailing list about natural feeding, and ask questions, read every post, learn as much as you can. If you have reservations about it, DON'T DO IT!!! Do NOT mix a raw diet with commercial food until you learn what foods to add and what to delete, how to balance the calcium/phosphorus ratio, what supplements you will have in excess, etc.


If you do decide to feed a natural diet, be prepared for the following:


  • To store extra food and to have to search out the best places to buy meat and vegetables.
  • To possibly have to buy a freezer. (I have two and need another, plus am getting another refrigerator this week).
  • To have the dog turn it's nose up at either the meat or veggies or both after all your hard work. (I thought one of mine was a vegetarian for months and had to disguise the meat so she would eat it!)
  • To possibly have vomiting up of bone fragments or have fragments in the stool, especially an older animal.
  • To have digestive upsets for a few days or weeks until the system adjusts.
  • To possibly have the dog go through detox where the body is trying to rid itself of all the chemicals, drugs, and toxins that have accumulated for a long time. You may see skin changes, runny eyes, mucous, whatever, but with persistence, this goes away, and a new dog emerges.
  • The nails grow at an enormous rate and need trimming more frequently.
  • You won't be able to board your dog just any old place unless they agree to feed the natural diet, which you will have to provide. Nor will your neighbors be as willing to come in and feed for you while you are away.
  • You will have to wash your dog bowls after feeding, especially the meat meals.
  • If feeding more than one, the dogs may fight over the food for a while until they get used to the idea that this isn't a one time deal, winner take all.
  • Some will develop pimples or signs of skin infections (most don't), so these will have to have their faces and paws washed after feeding, at least until their immune systems are strengthened.
  • You will have to mop your floors, or wash bedding in crates and elsewhere more often, since most dogs drag the meat out of the bowl and carry it off to chew on.
  • You will have to find a spot to thaw the meat and remember to take it out of the freezer early enough to be completely thawed. I use a cat litterpan on the counter for some, a plastic swimming pool set on top of my chest freezer for most. (Both can be bleached or disinfected). Thawing meat in the sink will result in a smelly drain, but a little bleach or vinegar now and again will kill the bacteria.
  • You will need space in your fridge for bloody meat that will leak no matter what you do, so find space for a large bowl. You will need space for extra yogurt, buttermilk, cottage cheese, eggs, etc., if using dairy products. Your spouse will complain that everything in there is for the dogs and he/she has nothing to eat!
  • It is more work and time consuming that dipping a can in a bag of dry and dumping in a bowl. (You get used to the added few minutes).
  • People will stare at you in the grocery store when you cart is full of chicken backs, turkey necks, liver hearts, kidneys, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables.
  • Your vet will have a heart attack. The vet will tell you how horrible you are and make comments about how much money they plan to make off you with obstructed bowels, infections, etc. After a while, they will call you to see if you've moved or died, and wonder if you've changed vets. You will say, nope, everything is just hunky dory, but I thought I might pop by to weigh one. (e-mail language for "grin")
  • You will have to get creative with bait for the ring since they will not want processed junk any more. Chicken necks work well. :-) (e-mail for a "smile").
  • You will have to listen to people tell you why feeding raw and natural is not a good idea, you will kill your dog, you are crazy, what about infesting your family with disease, etc. (This is the same chicken that I thaw, cut up, and cook for my family, on the same counter, in the same fridge, and with the same hands, hello!)
  • You will feel guilty eating at fast food restaurants, or nuking a prepackaged meal. You will spend more time preparing fresh food for yourself and family, who will think you have lost your mind. The kids will go into Twinkie withdrawal.
  • You will have to explain a thousand times why you feed this way, defend your position, answer a million questions. You will be thought of as a kook and no one will want to sell you a puppy. (Except other natural feeders will be delighted!)
  • You will have a secret life from your friends, family, and veterinarians until you finally confess. When asked what kind of dog food you feed, you will say whatever is on sale.

Positive Benefits

  • Once they become accustomed, there will be a tremendous reduction in the stool volume with hardly any yard cleaning to do.
  • They drink about 75% less water, due to the high water content of meat and veggies, so no sloppy floors and constant cleaning and refilling of water bowls. (My guys all drink outside now and only want water about twice a day.)
  • The coats get softer, shed out faster, and are shiny.
  • The teeth never need cleaning and any plaque and tartar is removed by chewing on bones. The breath is sweet.
  • Chronic problems like ear infections, hot spots, etc., are diminished or vanish completely.
  • Fleas are minimal or non existent.
  • The immune system is strengthened.
  • Less bathing and the dog smells wonderful, no wet dog odor.
  • Food consumption diminishes as they become accustomed to the raw diet and their systems are supplied with nourishment. Many even skip meals or leave food left over. In the beginning they will act like starved maniacs that can=t get enough to eat and you will think you are not feeding enough. They will beg and want more, more, more, and may try to steal food off the counter, but that gets better with time once they realize that this is an every day deal.
  • Dogs that need to gain weight do, and it's easy to put a fatty one on a diet.
  • The dogs lose a lot of body fat and gain lean muscle. I have seen a huge difference in the overall appearance, hard muscle buildup, less flab.
  • If you are on the road, you can stop at any grocery store for food, or drive up to a Wendy's and order an extra baked potato with broccoli and cheese for the dog.
  • You will have a reduction in vet bills and generally only see the vet for vaccinations, prebreeding stuff or heartworm preventative.
  • You will learn a lot about nutrition that you never thought about, and find yourself eating and feeding your family better. You will become addicted to fresh fruit and veggie juices. You will start reading and understanding labels of processed foods and be appalled.
  • You will become an advocate for changes in the laws, and expect the USDA to care what goes into commercial dog food.
  • You will make new friends and find a lot of support both with ideas and suggestions, and encouragement.
  • Now on to the other stuff. Warned you this was long.

Beautiful loyal pet Golden Retriever at the clinic once with a wedge-shaped bone stuck at the outlet of the stomach into the small intestine, and the resultant bloat was severe -- dog was so shocky that it died following decompression with a stomach tube before we could even get it into x-ray or surgery.

Was this a raw bone or cooked? Big leg bones are not a problem for obstruction.

Knock wood, so far, I have not had any problems with my dogs eating any kind of bone, be it chicken or beef femurs. If I ever do, I will consider it a problem with that particular dog, and not condemn the others for being more careful chewers.

I never advocate anyone just jump in and start feeding BARF (bones and raw food) without first reading as many books on the subject as they can get their hands on. Dogs on a commercial diet have lost most of their digestive enzymes as well as the muscle tone of the stomach and intestines. BARF must be started slowly and carefully until the dog builds up the enzymes and muscle tone again. The older the dog, the longer it takes. Fresh raw meat and bones have their natural enzymes which help to break down the material and aid digestion. (That=s why meat is hung in coolers for days after slaughter so that the enzymes can break down some of the connective tissue and tenderize the meat.) The same goes for plants also. (That=s why veggies are blanched before freezing, to stop the natural process of the enzymes breaking them down.) Cooked, steamed, processed bones are dead, with the consistency of cement. They are practically indigestible and can cause impaction in the bowel.

But as someone else pointed out, what about the

Neospora problem?

Saw that one and it was discussed in depth on the Wellpet list with lots of good information, case studies, and research at the Universities. Bottom line is that it has been around for a good while but was misdiagnosed as other diseases. A strong, healthy immune system should be able to handle this just like any other bacteria, protozoa or whatever. I can forward a lot of information on Neospora if you=d like.

Another problem that has not been mentioned here is bacterial infection or toxicosis -- chicken is notorious for Salmonella, and we all know about the E. coli scares in people from undercooked meats. Our dogs are no less at risk than we are. There are a lot of other bugs like that lurking on fresh meats, too. All in all, I can't see where it is worth the risk.

Well, let me tell you what prompted me to go all natural in the first place. It started years ago but the total idea didn't finally come to light until last year when I had all my dogs poisoned by Eagle Kennel Pack, a commercial dry food. I had already started two dogs on natural before the incident, and they were unaffected by disease. The rest came down with diarrhea, skin problems, sloughing the pads, and assorted other ailments. No two were the same. It turned out that the dog food was contaminated with mold, one from the penicillin family. I lost one dog who went into liver and kidney failure, a three year old bitch. Fighting with Eagle was worthless.

Prior to that, I had ten pups come down with Salmonella from contaminated powdered Just Born milk replacer (Farnum). After mucho money spent at my vet trying to find what was causing diarrhea and illness, treating the pups with antibiotics, and one dying, the nine remaining pups ended up at Texas A&M for several weeks. ($2,500 there alone!). They finally found Salmonella in the pups, the formula, and an unopened can as well. It was a horrible and long battle to save the pups, but we saved all nine. I had to place all as pets except the one I kept since there was no way to know how much damage may have been done to internal organs.

When I first started testing, and did thyroids, ALL of my Mastiffs were low. I got suspicious and tested a Basset and my current Chihuahua. They were low also! I was feeding Diamond at the time. I started looking at the iodine content and switched to a food that had the most. All improved and none needed Soloxine (thyroid replacement medication). Hmmmmm . . .

Over the years (I=ve been married nearly 30 years), I have had terrible things happen to my animals from poor quality control at feed plants and have lost thousands of dollars as well as many good animals. For instance: $1,900 worth of exotic waterfowl died when the feed was found to contain 5% salt instead of .5%. $800 worth of show rabbits died when the feed was found to contain rat poison. Seems they sweep up the fines off the floor and swept up a bar of rat bait and tossed it in the processor.

Before feeding raw and natural I have had litters born with E. coli, staph, and God knows what, or become ill shortly thereafter.

The bacteria, protozoa, fungus and disease is there whether we feed raw or not!

I got to pondering why the stray dogs can have a litter under a porch, out in the woods, in dirt, half starved, and eaten up with who knows what, yet they seem to manage to raise pups just fine! These poor bitches have to eat out of garbage cans, hunt rats, eat road kill, probably not eat for days, and drink from muddy puddles if they are lucky, yet they manage to have milk, raise and wean pups. What is the deal here? I used to scream at my vet that I was going to let my dogs breed in the back yard, have pups under the porch, and harvest them when they came out! (Haven=t tried that one yet! :))

Then it dawned on me what the difference was. One, these strays are exposed to every parasite, disease and bacteria known to man. They either build an immunity or die. They are eating a varied diet of all sorts of things, including bones, guts, left overs, peelings, and stuff from garbage, whole animals in the form of rats, road kill, whatever, and yet still manage to live and reproduce. What about wild dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingo's, etc.? Hmmmm . . . they live off of killed prey, scavenge dead carcasses, raid gardens for fruit and vegetables, swallow mice whole, raid henhouses, and even trash dumps. They aren=t dead, are they?

Dogs and wolves are identical genetically and cannot be differentiated from one another by their DNA, therefore, they must be very closely related, and evolved from the same ancestors. Up until about 40-50 years ago, there was no commercial dog food, nothing came out of a bag. Dogs were fed what the people got, and the scraps from butchered cattle, pigs, sheep, etc., whatever was not used for people. Some were lucky to have a bone tossed their way if anything at all. Yet, they still thrived, reproduced, and were selectively bred to become the different breeds we have today. Slaughtering of animals was not regulated, inspected, stamped, disinfected, and chilled, frozen and preserved like it is today, and most never heard of bacteria, much less know what it was. Why didn't everyone become sick and die? Because they were exposed to disease in small doses and built up an immunity to just about everything. They weren't raised in sterile environments with sterile food, were one day they suddenly got exposed to something and got horribly ill. Same for the human children that played in dirt, got cut, helped with the butchering, etc. Horrible plagues happen when a previously unknown entity enters a population that has never been exposed and have no natural immunity to that particular disease. That's what is happening right now, all over the world, and is happening to our dogs because we raised them in the most sterile environment that we know how. We don't let them eat raw meat, drink milk, or drink out of stagnant ponds. I decided to see what would happen if I let my dogs be dogs and let nature take it's course.

My first Mastiff, Thor, drug home a deer skin that was putrid and gross. I found him chewing on it out in the woods. (Some idiot evidently was poaching.) He also killed and ate my turkeys and probably a few chickens as well. That's when I built my first kennel, to lock up Thor, and save him from dying a horrible death and to save my birds.

Years ago, my old Basset Hound dug up and ate some rotten chickens that had spoiled in the freezer and were buried. Had to bathe her for days to get the smell off. She didn't even get sick past a little diarrhea for a few days, not medical treatment.

Most of my dogs would graze on grass and weeds and vomit up undigested grass and bile. They ate wood and rocks, and chewed on everything.

My Kuvaz, who was supposed to be guarding the livestock, killed and ate them and died for her effort to educate me as to her nutritional needs.

A turkey flew over the fence in with a litter of eight week old pups, curious no doubt. The pups gutted the turkey alive and I had to fight them off and then kill the turkey to put her out of her misery. I hated those pups after that and didn't keep any of them!

If only I had paid attention years ago to what they were all trying to tell me! I am a little slow on the draw sometimes, and this one took me years to get the hints.

I started slow, introducing raw meats, veggies, fruit, milk products, one thing at a time, over a period of time. Some adjusted quicker than others, but all adjusted eventually. The younger ones and pups were the easiest. It's only been a little over a year since I started this, and for some, only a few months. I don't know how this saga will turn out in the long run, but I intend to find out.

I am not saying that feeding natural is a cure all for every problem, or that it is the right thing for everyone to do. I just know that it is the right thing for ME to do and that is how I choose to raise my dogs here and now. I may be crazy or eccentric, but that is my choice. Everyone has to choose to do what they think is best, and what is right for them. I'll let you know in a few years how it all turns out.

Sorry for the book, but I wanted to cover as much as I could at one time so I can get out and finish up that chicken pen, build a garden, and figure out where the new calves and lambs are going to go, not to mention the 256 unanswered e-mails sitting in my in box. I'm not chicken about feeding raw nor sheepish about discussing it, even though most people have a cow when they find out what my dogs are pigging out on. They think I am just offal. Hey, I'm not going to duck, so might as well go whole hog, huh? Anyone want to pick a bone with me? ;-)

Just my $10 worth.

(More articles for our "Doing It Naturally" column with appear in coming issues. Anyone who would like to "come out of the closet" and tell us how they are doing it is welcome).

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