Nothing says lovin’ like earth greens and raw chicken.
In recent efforts to lengthen lives and tighten waistlines, raw chicken, cow, lamb, bison and turkey have been filling the bowls of more and more Whitehorse dogs.
An increasing number of K9 owners in the city have opted to forgo the wheat and corn-based kibbles that make pooches tubby in favour of a more “natural” diet, said Leslie Joanisse, a local raw pet food distributor.
“It’s raw dog food and a lot of people call it the BARF diet,” said Joanisse, who also breeds Bernese mountain dogs.
BARF stands for bones and raw food, or biologically appropriate food and was made famous by the work of Australian vet Ian Billinghurst, who wrote a book on the subject titled Give Your Dog a Bone.
The idea behind raw food is to bring dogs back to their carnivorous roots.
There are varying schools of thought; from feeding your dog raw meat once in a while to dropping a whole carcass in the backyard once or twice a week, said Joanisse.
“I’m kind of in the middle somewhere. That’s kind of evolved over the years that I’ve been doing this.”
At feeding time, Joanisse’s Bernese hounds — Faith, Finesse, Abba, Darwin and Gidget — now get different kinds of meat, including whole turkey legs.
That’s a little different than the ground meat they used to get when they first started their “new” diet.
But, Joanisse sells a variety of raw food meals she gets from her Outside suppliers, from chicken backs and turkey livers to pre-packaged ground meat and vegetable meals.
Right now she has 25 people buying from her, that’s up from four a couple of years ago.
Joanisse put all her dogs on raw food around 2003, a short time after one of her dogs became ill with an auto-immune disease, bad hips, severe allergies and, in the end, cancer.
When the dog got sick, she started studying.
She surfed the internet and discovered the raw food diet.
Her dog later succumbed to the terminal illness, but lived longer then the vets thought it would.
By 2004, she was wholesaling raw food to dog owners who had also begun to make the switch.
“I kind of liken it to feeding children, when you have a kid, the doctor doesn’t give you a bag of baby kibble and say ‘this has been formulated by doctors so this is what you should feed your baby,’” said Joanisse.
It’s more expensive and time consuming, so it’ s not for everyone. But, if you’re looking to make the switch, your dog will have more energy, better teeth and a shiner coat, she said.
Barbara Frain Gower has been feeding her family’s dog, Jake, raw food since they got him about two years ago.
Jake’s a healthy shepherd/husky cross that rarely, if ever, has to make a trip to the vet, she said.
The family acquired Jake after their old pet, Heidi, fell ill with cancer.
“A day after we got the diagnoses (about Heidi) I got on the internet and started reading about the garbage that’s in premium dog foods,” said Gower.
“We think we’re feeding our dog top quality food when really it’s processed.
“It’s like giving your kids corn flakes all day.”
Fellow Whitehorse dog owner Jocelyn Laveck went raw when one of her shelties started battling ear infections.
“I spent hundreds of dollars on medication that didn’t seem to work very well.”
After switching, the dog’s coat improved and the ear infections were cut in half.
She thinks the extra money she spends feeding her two dogs raw — about $80 a month up from the $60 she was spending on kibble — is worth it.
And, after a lot big companies’ dog foods were found to contain melamine, a chemical found in plastic, last year, she’s never going back, she said.
“The whole business of the dog food industry and the deaths last year, that was scary.
“I have to say I’m one of these people who thinks the labeling sucks in Canada. I don’t even trust what we’re being fed.”
Patty Anne Hoslan is the owner of Club Canine, a raw dog food manufacturer, in Vancouver.
Hoslan started feeding raw in 1996 and has been distributing raw food all over western Canada, including Whitehorse, for the past eight years.
She believes in raw because it’s natural.
She doesn’t believe in processed dog food like grain-based kibble because she thinks it’s junk food, she said.
“Dog’s don’t normally eat grain. A lot of the dry dog food is like 80-per-cent grain, that’s why dogs get so fat.”
Club Canine sells all kinds of raw food from chicken necks and backs to fish, veggie blends, elk, ostrich and goat for between $10 and $30, depending on what you buy.
A 4.5-kilo package of lamb tripe, for example, will run you $15.
But tripe and the like is natural, good for your dog and will help keep its energy levels up, said Hoslan.
“(Processed food) has all those preservatives and chemicals, and those chemicals cause cancer.”
Add to that the spray-on nutrients and your dog’s belly is in for a rough ride, she said.
“Processed is just not healthy.”
Brenda Hagel has her finger on the pulse of the nation’s raw dog food scene.
Hagel and her husband, Dennis, run Urban Carnivore, a Saskatoon-based raw dog food company that ships meat and supplements all over Canada.
The mad cow thing has kept them out of the States.
Urban Carnivore’s menu includes Earthgreens, a combination of concentrated fruits, vegetables, plant nutrients and probiotics, as well as cold water fish oil, which is designed to keep your pooch healthy.
The company also distributes frozen beef, chicken, goat, lamb, duck, rabbit, bison, elk and quail that they have butchered.
Raw food will give your dog better teeth, more energy, a shinier coat and better health, she said.
The reason is meat, and not the grain or cornmeal found in many pet foods, is what dogs and cats ate when they were in the wild, said Hagel.
“Dogs and cats are built to be carnivores.
“You certainly wouldn’t feed a horse a steak.”
Hagel doesn’t buy the arguments by vets and pet care experts that raw has germs that can be harmful for your pet.
“Keep in mind, these people are trained in schools that are sponsored by pet food companies and they carry those foods in their clinics.”
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada disagree with the raw-food enthusiasts.
The two organizations not only disapprove of feeding your pets raw, they outright rejected the idea in a joint statement issued in November 2006.
“The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada believe that there is evidence of potential health risks for pets fed raw meat based diets, and for humans in contact with such pets.
“Currently there is little scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of these diets.”
The two organizations called the raw food diet for pets a “trend” that had no scientifically proven benefits.
The Iams, owned by Proctor and Gamble, and Hills dog food companies were mum on the whole debate. They didn’t return phone calls.
Keith Schopp, a press agent for Purina, owned by Nestle, said he preferred the Pet Food Institute in Washington DC answer for his company.
The Pet Food Institute said it would rather the Pet Food Association of Canada in Toronto speak for the benefits of kibble.
Nobody at the pet food association was manning the phones Thursday.