If you’d asked me a year ago whether I spoiled our dogs, I would have whole-heartedly said yes. I mean, I love our dogs, they’re part of our family. And for years, I also thought I was doing everything I could to look after them. In this, I know I’m not alone.
About 15 years ago my husband Frank and I rescued a mini-schnauzer cross, Oscar, and then two years later, a toy poodle cross, Millie. At the vet’s suggestion, I put them on a diet of premium, prescription dog biscuits.
Over the years, I’ve watched Oscar’s anxious behaviour grow, from barking at dogs on the TV, to people at the door. From licking the leg of a chair – yes, honestly – to pacing from room to room. He’s also been a bit overweight, with several elevated liver enzymes, one of which is common to the breed.
Millie has Cushings, and as she’s been getting older, a bit of cognitive decline has crept in. She’s started to slow down and has to be where I am, looking for me in every room.
Of course, I’ve been to the vet for annual checks and, while I’ve asked about diet, we never really discussed specifics or the role diet may play in their overall health. The answer always seemed to be: “Keep feeding them those prescription dog biscuits.”
Anyway, fast forward a few years, until about a year or so ago. A local woman started a company making supplements that you add to fresh meat to make complete and balanced meals for dogs. She asked me to be part of a trial and it completely opened my eyes.
To be honest, I was bit like ‘duh’ about it. Of course, now that I think about it, fresh food has got to be better than ultra-processed food out of a bag. I mean, I know this, and I believe this in my own health. I just don’t know why I never questioned the conventional wisdom of dry dog biscuits before. I think what the trial helped me do though, was easily make fresh food for the dogs, but also know that they were getting everything they needed, nutrient-wise.
And I can see the difference. Oscar and Millie – now about 13 and 15 years of age – are both more active; they pester me less for food; they’re satisfied between each meal. Their poos are smaller and less stinky. Oscar’s also lost about 10% of his body weight – putting him right where he needs to be. And, the best bit, one of his liver enzymes has come down. The vet was amazed. “What are you feeding them?” he asked me.
I’ve had a bigger revelation though. I think back to why I rescued the dogs in the first place, and I realise that my motivation was more about what the dogs could do for me, than what I could do for the dogs.
That seems harsh I know, and I feel like I spoiled them, as I said before, but if I’m honest, I didn’t really research what was best for them. I didn’t question what my vet was telling me either. That’s not to say we shouldn’t listen to vets. We should, but more critically, I think.
So, if I had my time again, what would I do differently?
• I’d definitely feed my dogs fresh food, adding supplements (like the one I use from Bestie Kitchen), to keep it complete and balanced.
• I’d rotate my proteins so they had a really diverse diet. After all, we don’t want to eat the same thing day in, day out, so why should they?
• I’d get on top of anxious behaviour much earlier – I’ve seen how it just becomes embedded, and when they get older, it can become much more of a problem.
• I’d do more structured enrichment with them – I’ve learnt that this is fundamental to great health and especially brain heath as they get older.
• I’d consider adding dietary supplements, like these health jellies I now use, to help slow or reduce cognitive decline and anxiety.
• And, I’d probably go to a holistic vet rather than just a traditional one, to get a more rounded perspective on good health.
If I did all of that, I honestly think my dogs would live longer, be healthier, and I’d spend less time and money at the vet!