Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Raw Diet Experiment

Well in case you didn't know one of the biggest factors in bloat/torsion is a dry dog food diet. Recent studies have shown that feeding canned food reduces the risk of bloat by 30%, while feeding actual human food, in other words non-processed meat, cuts the risk by 60%.

And if you didn't know it, torsion is the second leading cause of death for large breed dogs.

I've already had 3 cases of bloat among German Shepherds I've owned. Two ended in the sudden deaths of the dogs, and the third cost me a lot of money in surgery. So I've decided to throw out the dry kibble.

My first stab at it involved a plain raw diet of food I picked up at the grocery store. I got the idea for this from leerburg kennels, a nice website that has lots of info on raw dog food diets. I followed their suggestion and began feeding my dogs chicken leg/thigh quarters, raw ground beef, and eggs.

Apparently the bones are safe to feed to dogs if they're raw. They are softer and pliable and the dogs chew them up pretty good, so no chance of brittle shards injuring the dog. I wasn't so sure about that and found one of my shepherds basically swallowing the chicken legs whole. Then they got diarrhea and my Weimaraner, Lucy, had a major vomiting session. OK raw chicken is out.

This was kind of disappointing because it wasn't all that expensive. Compared to dry kibble it is, but I was feeding one of the shepherds canned food. He weighs 90 pounds so was getting 4 cans of Purina One per day. These run roughly a buck a can, so that's $4 per day.

Chicken quarters have been going for 89 cents per pound at the local grocery store. You're supposed to feed a 90 pound dog about 2 pounds of meat per day, so on chicken he would be costing me around $1.80 per day! WOW! Less than half the cost of canned food.

But alas I couldn't use my dogs as guinea pigs any longer, and had the good fortune to come across some mildly processed raw dog food. First I found some "Country Pet" rolls at Whole Foods, which are pasteurized rolls of chicken and lamb. I am sure they have beef available too but I haven't seen it. Besides being pasteurized and eliminating the bacterial pathogen factor you've got from raw chicken at the store, they have ground bone it it, so the dog still gets the benefits of eating bone.

The problem is this stuff is pricey. It costs $6 per roll. Not bad if you have a small dog, but a dog like Jake, checking in at 90 pounds, is going to eat a little more than an entire roll per day. So he would be costing me around $7 or so in food per day. That is a bit much.

Learn About Country Pet Dog Food

I also came across some patties at a local specialty pet store called "Stella and Chewies". This is frozen raw meat with some veggies, vitamins etc. thrown in for good measure. Also certified to be bacteria free. Jake seemed to really like those. It was $25 for 16 patties, which lasted about 4 days.

Read About Stella and Chewys

The food is frozen, so you have to plan ahead and defrost. But the dogs definitely LOVE the patties. Another good side effect is their poops get a lot smaller when on a raw meat diet, so less cleaning up to do in the yard.

I'm not quite done with the experiment, I ordered two cases of chicken patties from barfworld. Check out their website, you can learn all the wonders of the raw dog food diet.

Prophylactic Gastropexy

Update on the bloat. I call my regular vet, and he proposes doing a larthroscopic prophylactic gastropexy. Got that?

Basically this is an operation where the surgeon uses some kind of microscope thingy to look in the stomach area. They grab the stomach, and basically staple it to the body wall. The idea is that while the dog may bloat again, his stomach can't turn over and kill him. While its initially stapled, over time the tissue grows together and the stomach becomes permanently attached to the body wall.

I've already had 2 dogs die of bloat/torsion, so its a no brainer to get this done. Here's the catch: the cost is $1263.

Well I went ahead and got it done. Once a dog has bloated, and Tony is only 3, chances are very high they're going to bloat again. Next time I might not be so lucky and get him to the vet on time.

The surgery was scheduled and I dropped him off at 7 AM. Everything went smoothly and I picked him up and took him home the same night. Instructions were relatively simple, keep him quiet and don't let him romp around for 21 days. Kind of hard since I've got 4 dogs.

The first night after the surgery he was quite groggy. They gave me some pain meds that would last about a week, and let me tell you the first week was kind of rough. His belly got kind of swollen and he was just acting "under the weather" the whole time. I was worried something had gone wrong, but then he started pulling out of it. By about 2 weeks time, he was getting back to his old self.

If you are considering getting prophylactic gastropexy, I strongly advise it if you've got a large dog prone to bloat. Generally this includes breeds like Great Danes, Boxers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. and to a lesser extent labrador retrievers and the like. It is expensive, but its alot cheaper than surgery for torsion and better than risking the sudden death of your dog.

Another Case of Bloat

About 6 weeks ago another one of my dogs bloated. It was about midnight and he was kind of puffing air out of his mouth. I thought that was odd so stayed up with him for awhile. It seemed to stop and he went and laid down, so I went to sleep thinking I had come ever so close to another bloat and potentially dead dog, but avoided it.

I woke up around 6:30 AM and found him puffing air out again, and then he began throwing up foam. OK at this point there is no doubt that it was bloat. I quickly got dressed, put him in the car, and drove to the nearest emergency vet. Luckily I got him to the vet on time, and they were able to stick a tube down his throat and evacuate the gas.

But while I was waiting, they are thinking they're going to have to do surgery. So they get in and do x-rays to see if he's had torsion, and how bad it is. Then the vet comes out with a cost estimate. She says $6,000. I about fell out of my chair. At this point what are you going to say? They wanted half down, and I wasn't going to say "yeah OK just euthanize him". I gave her my credit card and ouch! they charged me $3,000. I slinked away depressed, they said they would call me later and let me know how things were going.

It was a few hours later that they called and informed me the surgery wouldn't be necessary. Turns out there had been no torsion-so death looked in the eye and averted-this time. The dog is a German Shepherd so I knew he was at high risk.

So they sent me home with some gastric motility medication, and instructions to feed him 4 times a day and get a prophylactic gastropexy.