Pit Bull Specific Nutrition: Questions and Concerns
You've read the first part of the species-appropriate pit bull nutrition series, and you like the idea of feeding your dog a diet you prepare yourself based on what canines eat in the wild.
No more worrying about pet food recalls; you'll personally select the ingredients for your dog's food to ensure that everything your boy or girl eats is fresh, healthy, and species-appropriate.
But you have some concerns. If you're like most of the folks I know, those fall into three categories:
I will discuss each concern separately and hope to answer your questions in the process.
How much is it going to cost?
Many people hear the words "fresh whole foods" and "meat-based diet" and immediately start thinking, "that's going to cost a fortune." After all, the main reason there's so much grain in commercial dog foods is cost. Keep in mind, though, that no one is suggesting you feed your pit bull filet mignon and prime rib. Many of the meats and bones we feed our dogs are less desirable to humans (turkey necks and chicken backs, for example) and hence quite inexpensive.
How much you'll end up spending on feeding your pit bull a species-appropriate diet depends on your access to inexpensive meats and bones. If there's a raw food co-op in your area that you can join, you may be able to purchase raw meaty bones (RMBs) for as little as 30 cents per pound. If there's no existing co-op where you live, consider forming a buying group with other raw feeders in your area to get better deals. Talk to butchers, rabbit and emu/ostrich farmers, restaurant suppliers, and grocery store meat department managers about ordering in bulk.
Depending on where you live and how resourceful you are, feeding a species-appropriate diet could actually cost quite a bit less than one of the better kibbles. If you can find poultry RMBs for $0.60/lb, you can afford to pay up to $1.50/lb for red meat, organs, etc., and still spend only around $40 a month to feed your 50-60 pound pit bull.
Another factor to consider is that many people report drastically reduced vet bills after switching their dogs to a species-appropriate diet. In a clinical study conducted by Dr. William Pollak, DVM, 74.7% of common diseases in dogs were eliminated with proper diet modifications alone. And what type of a diet does Dr. Pollack recommend? You guessed it--a species-appropriate raw food diet.
Particularly if your pit bull has skin and coat problems, ear infections, allergies, or dental issues (affecting nearly 80% of adults dogs eating commercial pet foods and potentially life-threatening due to the increased risk of heart disease), the money you save on vet bills and teeth cleaning could more than make up for the potential increase in your food bill.
How much time is it going to take to prepare my Pit Bull's meals?
If you're used to pouring kibble into a bowl, making your pit bull's meals from scratch can seem like a daunting prospect. Fortunately feeding your dog a species-appropriate diet isn't nearly as complicated or time-consuming as most people think. For one thing, species-appropriate diets are raw diets, so there's no cooking involved. Nor is there any need to "prepare" raw meaty bones; just put the whole thing in your dog's bowl and that's it. Consequently feeding your pit bull two meals a day will take no more than 5-10 minutes.
The only part of the diet that can be a little time-consuming and work-intensive is the veggie portion, and that's optional. Fruit and veggies are chock full of vitamins and minerals, but in order for your dog to access those nutrients, these plant foods need to be completely pulverized using a food processor or juicer. To cut down on food prep time, you can make enough veggie mix for several weeks and freeze it in serving-sized containers. Then thaw as needed.
Is it safe?
This last question is the biggie. It usually breaks down into four specific concerns:
- Concern about food-borne pathogens such as E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella in raw meats and eggs.
- Concern about parasites in raw meat and fish.
- Concern about feeding bones, especially poultry bones.
- Concern that the home-prepared diet won't be 100% complete and balanced.
Let's take these one at a time.
PathogensDogs, like other carnivores, have a short and fast digestive tract, giving bacteria little time to proliferate. Consequently dogs are far more resistant to food-borne pathogens than humans. Let's face it, we're talking about animals who lick their butts every day. Talk about bacteria!
Also remember that dogs and wolves didn't just evolve as hunters, they're also scavengers, routinely eating meat in various states of decomposition. You've probably seen your pit bull find some long-dead, half-rotted animal and devour it before you could stop him. A healthy canine can handle bacteria loads far greater than anything you're likely to encounter when purchasing meat intended for human consumption.
ParasitesWhile not really an issue with farmed fish and USDA-inspected meats intended for human consumption (though some people still feel there's a slight risk of trichinosis when feeding raw pork; freezing the meat for 20 days at 5 degrees fahrenheit or for 3 days at -4 degrees fahrenheit will kill the worms), parasites can be a concern with wild fish and game meats. Moreover, freezing isn't always sufficient to kill the parasites in these cases. In the next article, I'll discuss in some detail what's safe to feed and what isn't.
BonesYou've probably heard that you should never, ever feed chicken bones. That's partly correct. You should never feed cooked chicken bones; in fact, you should never feed any type of bone cooked. Cooking makes bones hard and brittle, and in that state they could indeed cause injury. Raw poultry bones, on the other hand, are soft and pliable. Chicken necks and backs, in particular, are great for puppies and dogs just starting on the species-appropriate diet because they're so easy to chew and digest.
Most raw feeders distinguish between food bones (RMBs) and recreational bones. RMBs contain a decent amount of meat (examples include turkey backs, chicken leg quarters, lamb necks, and ox tails); these meaty bones comprise the main part of the diet and are consumed in their entirety. Recreational bones, by contrast, are large femur or knuckle bones that dogs gnaw but don't consume entirely. Most dogs, that is. Pit bulls have such powerful jaws that any bone can become a food bone, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
The vast majority of bone-related injuries and fatalities are the result of eating cooked bones (including those smoked and flavored bones sold in pet supply stores), and the small number of raw bone cases disproportionately involve large recreational bones. Cow femurs and the like tend to be quite hard and, if nothing else, they can wear down--and possibly chip--your dog's teeth. I suggest avoiding them with pit bulls (except for teething puppies) and sticking to softer, easily digested bones.
If you like the idea of feeding a species-appropriate diet but aren't comfortable giving RMBs, it's possible to purchase a meat grinder that can crush poultry and rabbit bones. It's a lot of extra work, and your dog will miss out on the teeth cleaning benefits and the crunching and ripping exercise of eating whole bones, but it's important that you feel comfortable with what you're feeding.
BalanceWhen you feed a commercial pet food, every meal is "100% complete and balanced" (at least theoretically; as discussed in the first part of this series, what's on the label and what your dog can utilize aren't necessarily the same thing). It has to be, since you're feeding the same thing day in and day out. By contrast, with a species-appropriate diet, balance is achieved over a period of time. This, of course, is also how we feed ourselves, and it's actually preferable because some nutrients interfere with the absorption of other nutrients.
In the next part of this series, I'll provide you with a sample diet plan for a 50-60 pound pit bull that is designed to achieve balance over a period of ten days.