Update: Shortly after writing this article I was introduced to a great raw pet food source that I wanted to share: Raw Pet Food Delivery Market. They are located in Springfield, TN but can ship throughout the US. They have lots of educational material on their website if you want to learn more about raising your pet on raw meat products.
I am writing this article in memory of our dog Puck, who died after being hit by a car the day before Thanksgiving last year. Raising him was a labor of love. I wanted to share what I learned about raising a healthy dog based on my research, what I learned from friends, and our experience during the short time he was part of our family.
Both my parents grew up on a farm and dogs were considered working animals, not pets. So no dogs in our family growing up. Only gold fish, which we usually won at our church fair every summer. 🙂
So getting a dog as an adult for our family was a big deal. Our son wanted one for years, but it seemed overwhelming, never having had one before. Like many other families, the time finally came when the quarantine hit in 2020. We ended up getting a 6-week-old mini-schnauzer. He stole our hearts, including mine.
However, there was a big learning curve. When it was time to figure out how to feed him and what dog products to obtain, I was surprised to learn there were few truly healthy options available, especially if you considered food, bedding, toys, and healthcare. I am still learning about pet care, but I wanted to share what I know so far about raising a healthy dog.
1 – Watch the foods you give them
The food part took a while to figure out. Many commercial brand foods, the brands we have learned to recognize, are made with corn (which is a high pesticide, GMO and moldy crop) and many other questionable ingredients I would normally avoid. Many dog foods are also “fortified” with vitamins that are usually man-made, not natural.
If you consider a dog’s “ancestral diet,” wolves mostly ate meat from animals they hunted and other wildlife like berries, tubulars, and certain greens. Therefore, we elected to raise Puck without grains. Puck’s main meals consisted of raw grass-fed beef, raw veggies, and a scoop of a dehydrated (raw) dog food from Instinct. (Later I learned that as a puppy it would have been better to use steamed or pureed veggies.)
You do need to be careful to get all the necessary nutrients in, especially as a growing puppy, so working with a holistic-minded vet is a good idea. Although we often used ground beef for the ease of defrosting being able to use it more quickly, I would also add pieces of beef liver, heart, or other beef scraps from the butcher to cut and put into his meals. We also added homemade bone broth regularly and gave him wild caught salmon and/or cod liver oil several times a week for a source of omega-3 fatty acids. (Canned sardines several times a week would be another good source; make sure it is in water and without salt.)
We would rotate the veggies and sometimes add fruit like blueberries or apple cores. He loved all veggies including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, kale, lettuce, sprouts, etc. Puck additionally supplemented his diet with a small wild animal now and then; he especially like rabbits which were abundant in our old neighborhood!
2 – Select healthy treats
Many dog treats are also full of unnecessary ingredients and preservatives, made to look and taste more like human processed foods. We learned early on that we could use pieces of raw vegetables as treats when training Puck, things like softer broccoli flowerets or pieces of cucumber when he was younger and pieces of harder veggies like carrots, celery, or kale stems when he was older.
When looking for store bought treats, the cleanest I could find was “single ingredient treats” like dehydrated sweet potatoes, coconut strips, or grass-fed beef parts like gullets and tripe. You can also find dried fish, like wild caught salmon pieces, minnows and herring, for additional omega-3 fatty acids.
More natural dog treats are typically dehydrated, freeze-dried or air-dried. When it came to bones for chewing, I looked for beef bones from the local butcher or farmer’s market. Antlers are another good option when they are older and have their adult teeth.
3 – Create a healthy sleeping environment
There are many cute dog beds and special homes available these days. However, most are toxic. When I first started looking, there were few options I felt comfortable with. Many where made of polyester or other man-made fibers and/or had memory foam interiors. Doggie homes made of wood or wicker can also have toxic finishes. All of these off-gas quite a bit. Polyester, which is made from the same ingredients as plastic, and foams deteriorate over time. Your dog’s nose is right up against these materials, breathing in the toxins every time they sleep.
We started with all-cotton towels (organic preferred but we used old ones that had been washed for years) layered in a crate. Other options include all cotton bath rugs or t-shirts. Eventually, I found a dog bed by Fringe where the outer top layer was 100% cotton with a zipper and the inner foam insert could be removed. (Molly Mutt is an other option. Also avoid covers with chemicals added for waterproofing and/or stain protection.) I washed the outer layer multiple times in Borax and good quality soap, threw out the interior foam, and stuffed it with cotton towels.
If your dog sleeps with you, be conscious of your own bedding (and consider quarterly parasite cleanses for both you and your dog as dog as parasites can be passed to humans – see #6 below).
Another part of a creating a healthy sleeping environment is being conscious of the electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) in your home. If you use Wi-Fi you definitely want to turn it off at night. Not unlike children, the smaller bodies of our dogs get hit harder by the effects of wireless radiation. Make sure your dog is not sleeping near the Internet modem/router (or other appliances like a refrigerator) and keep your cell phone away from your dog. (For more EMF reduction tips go to this article.)
4 – Look for non-toxic toys
Many dog toys are just as toxic as the beds. Plastic, polyester fabrics, memory foam filling, rubber surfaces, tennis balls, etc. Dogs will put these in their mouths, chew pieces off as they play with them, and sleep with them close to their noses.
It was challenging to find toys that were not toxic. The ones I liked the best were knotted ropes made of cotton rope (I would cut off the tennis ball), raw leather chew toys, and wool soft toys. If you do use more conventional toys, like a ball or Frisby, wash them first (to remove any residue from the manufacturing process) and limit their use so they are not constantly chewing on them.
5 – Find non-toxic body products
Another thing that was hard to find is soaps and tick/flea products that were non-toxic. Like human shampoos and body products, most dog shampoos were full of chemical additives. These ingredients get absorbed into the dog’s skin when shampood. I looked for brands that had the least number of ingredients and ingredients that I recognized. Usually the hypoallergenic options were the most natural. Two brands I found that were fairly good were from Earthbath and Pure, however, we often used Dr. Bonner’s organic liquid soap, especially as he got older. When we got Puck groomed by someone else, I always supplied the soap and asked that no other body products or perfumes be used.
Another thing to consider is flea and tick products. Most of these are quite toxic. The chemicals found in typical flea and tick collars and the drops that are put on a dog’s neck get into their blood stream as well as the blood stream of the humans that pet and hold them. A friend of ours recommended Vet’s Best Flea and Tick yard spray and topical essential oil mix that you could put on your dog’s spine; both are used once a month or so. It worked well for us, especially since we had a smaller fenced in yard.
If your dog does get a tick or other bug bite that concerns you, you can use the homeopathic Ledum as explained here. I also recently learned that you can give your dog cistus tea to drink on a daily basis to prevent fleas and ticks, but I have yet to try it.
6 – Stock up on helpful supplements
Just like humans, there are certain supplements you may want to consider for your dog. Things like probiotics, omega-3 oils (or fish oils), and a multi-vitamin. What you give your pet and how often will depend on the quality of food you give them, their environment, and their overall health. Some dog foods often have some of these supplements already added. Be sure it is a quality brand, made with whole foods (not fortified), to get the most nutrients into your pet.
You can also use more natural products for other dog-related issues. For example, every few months I added ground up raw organic pumpkin seeds to Puck’s meals for a couple of weeks. Pumpkin seeds are known to kill parasites. Puck never tested positive for parasites when checked. You can also use a homeopathic called Cina for parasites.
If Puck had an upset stomach, which usually showed up as loose stools, I would give him pumpkin puree. As a young puppy, at the time when he seemed to inhale his meals, I often added chamomile tea to his food to calm his stomach and help with digestion. I would prepare the tea ahead of time and keep it refrigerated and use it over the course of several days.
On the rare occasion that he hurt himself, like bumping his head or pinching a paw, I would give him the homeopathic Arnica to help with the trauma and the pain – I would pop a couple pellets into his mouth (or you could add it to your pet’s water).
When Puck had some buildup in his ears, the vet recommended a mixture of 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar to clean the ear canals. I would make it with slightly warm water and put the mixture in the ears with a squeeze bottle daily for a week or so. After rubbing his ears for a while, Puck would shake his head to remove the liquid and I would gently wipe out the top part of each ear. You can find alternate organic ear-cleaning products on FullScript.
I created a “Pet Support” protocol in my Fullscript dispensary where I list many pet-related products and remedies. (Sign in to see the protocol. Anyone can join for free and get 10% off all products.)
7 – Select your veterinarian carefully
Just like there are a wide variety of people doctors, there are many types of veterinarians. You can even find holistic vets or ones who do acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments. I asked around to find ones that were more natural minded and met with two different vets before settling on one. I wanted a vet that would listen to me and not jump directly to medications to solve a problem.
One thing I researched quite a bit was dog vaccines. Looking at many different resources on-line, I was surprised to learn that dogs now get many of the same diseases as humans. This makes sense once you realize that they are given many of the same medicines and vaccines as our children. Combine this with junky dog food and other common environmental toxins and it can be difficult to keep your dog healthy.
It used to be that dogs received minimal vaccinations such as distemper as puppies and tetanus and rabies. However, vaccine schedules for dogs have increased quite a bit in the last several years, not unlike the human childhood vaccine schedule. I suggest doing your own research and at least delay vaccines and spread them out whenever possible.
You can also request a titers blood test to see if your dog is already immune to a particular disease, especially if you want to avoid boosters. If you do vaccinate, the homeopathic Thuja can be used before and after to support your dog’s immune system as it deals with the injected microbe and the toxins in the vaccine. (Homeopathic remedies are a great resource for pet health, see Wellevate “Pet Support” protocol.)
8 – Consider your dog’s emotions and energetic body
One thing we learned from Puck is that he was energy sensitive. I believe most dogs are as they have fewer filters than a human. It first became apparent when several people commented when they were holding him that they could tell Puck was a healing dog. It also showed up when I first checked his emotional health soon after we got him. I posted about it here. Frequencies and flower essences work great on dogs!
We noticed it each time Puck was groomed as well. We used a traveling grooming service and never could get the same person twice. (Groomers were hard to find during and after quarantine.) Many times he acted totally different after being groomed. One time it was probably the groomer’s energy but thanks to a friend we realized he was picking up the energy of other dogs that had been in the van. It was very interesting to observe. After a grooming, we learned to smudge him using sage or use other techniques to energetically clear him and he would return to his normal self.
9 – Limit toxic household products
Consider the cleaning products you use in your home. Toxic floor cleaning products, for example, leave chemicals on the floor. Dogs will lick the floor and sleep close to the floor. Plug in “air fresheners” are another highly toxic product that often use over one hundred chemicals to create just one scent. These again are usually close to the floor near your dogs as well as spread chemicals throughout the house. More commonly used laundry detergents and dryer sheets do the same, spreading toxic fumes throughout the house that are not good for humans or dogs.
If you have not yet switched over to more natural versions of these and other household products, start reading ingredients. If you see long technical names you can’t pronounce or words like natural scents, parfum, etc., switch to something else. The fewer the ingredients the better. You can also use the EWG website to determine how toxic your products are. Consider replacing your cleaning products one at a time and switch from nasty plug-ins to organic essential oils if you want a nice scent in the house.
Puck was a very healthy dog. We rarely went to the vet but when we did he always got good reports. He will be dearly missed. However, there is a happy ending to this story. We now have two new mini-schnauzer puppies; Puck’s half brother and sister. A little more work but at least much of the learning curve is done.
Let me know if you have any other raising a healthy dog tips to share!