Most of you who follow this blog know that I’m a big proponent of raw food diets for dogs and cats, but I’m not what you’d call a raw food purist.
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I mostly adhere to the principles of Chinese food medicine which say that some patients have health problems that indicate raw food is not a good idea, and some patients simply have Spleen Qi that is too weak to handle raw food efficiently for the entirety of their diet.
The general rules in Chinese medicine state that young individuals, very old individuals, and those with significant Damp or Cold disorders should not be primarily fed raw. In puppies I consider anyone younger than 4-6 months to be too young to handle raw food ideally. If you want to start feeding raw at this young of an age, you can make it easier on your pet’s digestion by mixing enzyme supplements into their food.
Of course, there are many reasons why your dog might be unthrifty, which is to say not gaining weight as we’d expect. The first thing to check is always the amount you are feeding. The average dog needs 2-3% of their ideal bodyweight fed daily in raw food. If you’re feeding less than that, this is the first thing to try to fix.
If you know that you’re feeding the appropriate amount (and most of my clients are), then it’s time for a general health check up with a veterinarian. Your vet (or me) will likely recommend bloodwork to check on the thyroid and other organ function as well as an intestinal parasite screen.
I’ve had a number of raw fed patients who are eating enough, don’t have parasites, and have totally normal blood work results. These guys often just have a metabolism that runs too well on protein, which is where the majority of the calories come from in raw diets. These dogs need a different macronutrient added to help them gain weight.
Usually I have people start by adding fat, such as coconut oil, in small amounts. If you’re going to try this, make sure that your dog does not have fat sensitivities or a history of pancreatitis as adding oils can trigger fat sensitive pancreatitis in some dogs.
Many of my patients who fall into this category of skinny dog fed raw end up needing starchy carbohydrates, which are not well provided in a typical raw food diet. Starchy carbs tend to also be a safer source of calories in the sense that they do not have as much potential to trigger pancreatitis as fats do. Remember that all starchy carbs need to be cooked to be useful for weight gain. Dogs do not process raw vegetable matter well unless it is cooked or finely pureed. I generally find that starchy carbs do best when cooked.
My carbohydrate of choice is sweet potatoes. I have also recommended white potatoes or rice in some cases of dogs who are allergic to sweet potatoes. The best part of using sweet potatoes is that, like pumpkin, they help to build Spleen Qi, so if this deficiency is part of why your pet isn’t as thrifty as they should be, the sweet potatoes are excellent food medicine to get them back on track.
As always, if you have questions email me! I love blogging, especially when I know it’s answering my tribe’s questions.
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