bad journalism, bravo pet food, dehydrated dog food, dog food, dogswell, freeze-dried raw, grandma lucy's, honest kitchen, minneapolis, nutrisca, primal raw, raw diet, salmonella, sojos, st. paul, stella and chewy's, twin cities, veterinary nutrition
On the Shiba Inu Forum, Nicole/Saya pointed out a recent news story on commercial raw dog food. Coming out of WCCO in Minneapolis, Jamie Yuccas reports on “Pros & Cons To The Raw Pet Food Diet: Is It Worth It?” Interviewed were Liz Cummiskey of a Twin Cities-based holistic pet food store, Woody’s Pet Food Deli, Dr. Julie Churchill from the department of Veterinary Clinical Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, and a pug owner rather condescendingly described as a “believer” of raw diets. Crudely polarizing the salespeople against the scientists, the report basically gave Dr. Churchill the last word, coming down against raw diets by ridiculing the costs, hyping potential risks, and dismissing anecdotal claims made by proponents.
Now, I understand that personal observations only go so far, and there are very compelling reasons for many pet owners to not feed raw. However, it drives me batty when journalists fall back on any type of authority without properly contextualizing what is presented as fact, just focusing on who says what they want to use as news. This is true in any venue in which “expert” testimony is solicited, but even more frustrating when it comes to scientific reporting in mainstream media — precisely because I’m not a scientist and need others to filter information for me in an accountable manner.
This is exactly what we expect journalists to do, so it’s maddening when the task is carried out so sloppily. Take, for example, the presentation of this “factoid” from the news report:
In a recent University of Minnesota study, the department looked at 60 raw meat diets available at stores in the Twin Cities. Seven percent of them tested positive for salmonella.
All sorts of alarms clang when I read statistics framed in such a vague context. First of all, the University of Minnesota is a large research university with many departments — which department conducted the study? What is the title of the report? Where was it published? Who funded it? How did they select the samples for testing? What brands? How did they handle the samples? Did they bother trying to trace the source of the contamination, or is the mere presence of Salmonella meant to be damning in and of itself?
Curious about details, I looked up the study. Not too hard to find, though it would have been nice if the report had been cited to begin with.
- Mehlenbacher, Shelley, Julie Churchill, et. al, “Availability, Brands, Labelling and Salmonella Contamination of Raw Pet Food in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area,” Zoonoses Public Health 59.7 (November 2012):513-20.
Abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22551080
The study looked at 60 different types of raw dog food from eleven different unnamed brands, including frozen, dehydrated, and freeze-dried varieties. Five unnamed kibble brands were tested as well. Though the samples were anonymized, a table was included comparing the first five ingredients, so it’s not too difficult to figure out that they appear to have sampled all the major, nationally-available brands, and probably some regional ones that I’m not familiar with.
The way that the study is being used to foment paranoia about raw dog food is problematic to me. Here are a couple details that I find interesting enough to highlight:
- “The 2010 Food Safety and Inspection Service progress report on Salmonella testing of raw meat and poultry products sold in retail stores indicated the Salmonella prevalence was 18.8% in ground chicken, 10.2% in ground turkey, 6.7% in broiler chickens, 4.6% in turkeys, 2.4% in market hogs and 2.2% in ground beef (United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2010). A 2009 Consumer Reports study indicated that the prevalence of Salmonella contamination between store-bought organic and non-organic brands was similar and ranged from 6% to 29% (Consumer Reports, 2010).” (p. 514)
In other words, by their own review of findings, the presence of Salmonella in 7% (four out of 60 samples) of commercially available raw dog foods falls within the low end of the TYPICAL amount of Salmonella found in grocery store meat fed for human consumption. If this information is remarkable at all, it should be pointed out that this is actually on the low side of the spectrum, especially given the conditions under which the meat was prepped for this study.
See, here’s the funniest segment to me (because I always go to public health journals for light comedy…):
- “Products were purchased, placed in a cooler and transported to the University of Minnesota and stored according to package instructions until processed. For [lab] processing, frozen diets were thawed at room temperature in original packaging for 12–16 h.” (p. 515, emphasis mine)
Wait, what? This was allowed to pass as appropriate procedure? You know, a long time ago, I worked at a food safety testing laboratory… No doubt the lab’s clients, which included several national restaurant chains, would have terminated their contracts and charged us with rigging the results if we had thawed their frozen hamburger patties by this protocol!
Now, I understand that the study is geared in part towards their final recommendation that proper handling guidelines need to be added to raw pet food packages. But honestly, that information is just as accessible as how to handle raw meat for human consumption. Is a consumer safety sticker saying “HEY! RAW MEAT IS RAW!” really going to protect the clueless??
When I thaw frozen meat for myself or for the dogs, I know to do it overnight in the refrigerator, or not more than a couple hours at room temperature and ideally submerged in cold water. Perhaps I am being too generous in assuming this is basic information that any cook already knows. It seems, however, that this study was designed by someone playing dumb in order to promote the growth of all sorts of icky germs…
Thus, it’s no surprise to me that the four samples that DID test positive for Salmonella were indeed frozen raw products, which were thawed out using the process described above. “It was interesting to note,” the report reads, “that Salmonella was not recovered from the processed samples, perhaps warranting further research into the use of processing methods such as HPP or freeze-drying for the prevention of bacterial contamination” (p. 518). Let me put it another way: it’s interesting to note just how safe raw dog food may actually be if properly handled in the first place, because the way I see it, the problem isn’t with the diet itself, but the way the researchers prepped it for the purposes of conforming to their own agenda.
A note to future veterinary nutritionists designing and writing up these types of studies: You might do better negotiating the “belief structures surrounding this practice” (p. 514) of raw feeding if you started by acknowledging the existence of your own. When experiments seem designed, for example, to suggest that raw feeders are idiots, it’s no wonder they provoke an irate, defensive response…
We just discovered that the refrigerator has apparently been dead long enough that most of the freezer has already thawed… though the lights are still on.
Bowdu is offering to assist by gorging on all the meat I just happened to have stocked up on last month…
EDIT: A phone call and $200 later, crisis averted… I still have a lot of cooking to do tonight though!
EDIT AGAIN: Whups… the freezer side wasn’t actually fixed, and everything continued to thaw…
Because I document mundane things obsessively, I decided to track what the Bows ate for dinner every night for about a month. Full records can be found in this Flickr set.
Breakfast is not pictured because it’s pretty much always the same — fish-based kibble, with a side of about a tablespoon of plain yogurt. Kibble amounts are adjusted in anticipation of how much dinner meat each dog is to eat.
Observations and notes from this exercise:
- Bowdu has mastered “Sit to say please.” Or in his case, it’s more like PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE OH PUH-LEEEEZ!
- Bowpi, on the other hand, is very fidgety, and even moreso when I’m taking my time photographing her food. I wonder if someone taught her to walk on her hind legs at some point, because that’s her natural inclination when pushed to impatience. Or maybe it’s a breed thing.
- Honest Kitchen products made an appearance at virtually every dinner. We regularly feed their complete meals (HK Embark, a grain-free turkey recipe, is their main course at the moment), their pre-mix HK Preference, or one of their supplements, which sprinkles easily onto meat if not mixed into wet food. I had never planned on such an expensive brand becoming a regular part of their diet, but given the way we mix in fresh proteins and veggies, each box goes a long way!
- I do not count calories or calculate nutrients, in part because I rely on conveniently pre-formulated, commercial supplements to do the numbers for me. Except I don’t follow the instructions. For example, it’s supposed to be one part HK Preference (dry) to one part meat, but if I did that, I’d be overfeeding them — so I usually cut down on the pre-mix. I’d eventually like to prepare and freeze my own veggie mixtures, but currently, I spend as much time creating perfectly balanced meals for them as I do for myself, which is to say… not a whole lot. I know what’s good for me and what I like to eat; my feeding philosophy for both humans and pets is built from the intersection of these two primary categories.
- We do not regularly feed red or dark meats, and this may be a problem. The green tripe/trachea/gullet mix, which only Bowdu accepts, and cut up pig’s heart are about the only proteins from four-legged animals that are regularly consumed here. So even though Bowdu’s latest blood test showed that he’s in great shape with a steady diet of poultry and fish, and I’m expecting the same for Bowpi, I want to think about how to fill in this part.
- The Bows are always very happy at mealtime!
On Tinkerwolf.com, the blog of a raw-fed Chihuahua named Ted, the Bows were recently featured as #151 and #152 of 1000 raw-fed dogs that the blog author aims to collect.
If you’d like to submit pictures of your dog for their ongoing project, click here.
Speaking of tinkering… I’m trying to make some improvements to the dogs’ diets, as I realize I’m all over the map about what and how I feed them. I compiled a list of every brand and type of protein that the Bows have eaten for main meals over the years, and was a little boggled by the length of my own list.
Here’s my rundown of what the Bows have eaten, in no particular order. Bolded brands are in regular rotation:
Hill’s Science Diet (Bowdu’s first years)
Kibbles ‘n’ Bits Wholesome Medley (Bowpi with her previous owner)
Taste of the Wild
Freshpet / Vital
lamb (cooked and raw)
salmon (cooked, also roe)
pork (cooked and raw)
raw turkey (especially necks, tails, organs)
raw chicken (all parts)
raw whole sardines
raw whole mackerel
raw whole anchovies
raw smelt (rejected by both dogs)
beef X (neither dog has done well at ALL with beef, either raw, cooked, or in kibble form)
raw grinds from Creston Valley Meat (combos of the aforementioned) with supplements
Castor & Pollux Organix
… and home-cooked mishmashes of the occasional appropriate leftovers from human dinners.
Though I maintain that variety and a healthy combination of fresh foods is good for them, I think I’m leaning too hard on supplements to round out their nutritional needs. They appear to be doing well on whatever they’re eating now… but I’m reaching for better.
Placed an order with Creston Valley Meats and picked it up today. Some folks stocked up enough to feed a household of mastiffs for weeks on end! I just got one little 11.4 lb box of ground turkey meat and bone.
Not a complete meal, but it’s a good start. This was $1.90/lb purchased directly from the USDA-inspected butcher who travels to various drop-off points between Northern and Southern California where you pick up the goods yourself.
… and this bonus leap day picture concludes another round of Roll of 28. Thanks for enduring all my extra posts! The House of Two Bows now returns to our regular M-W-F posting schedule. Except, of course, when spontaneous inspiration strikes.
One convenience of California living is 99 Ranch Market, an Asian American supermarket chain that specializes in imported brands, ethnic meats, and produce that one might have difficulty finding elsewhere. I think of it as Chinatown Lite for consumers who prefer to shop for their ethnic goods in less cramped, more hygienic, and better lit quarters. At 99 Ranch, you get variety without the typical street market stench, and all items have the advantage of being clearly labeled and priced — though you still have to keep an eye on expiration dates. Since these supermarkets are usually part of a large strip mall, parking is more convenient than Chinatown, where one often has to jockey for space alongside tourists and urban workers sharing the same vertical space.
On weekends, one must still be prepared to play a mean game of bumper grocery carts with some vicious and competitive shoppers… But at least a well-trafficked supermarket means that items are (presumably) turned over and replenished quickly, which I’ve not always been able to say of Chinatown mystery meats.
Vegetarian readers may want to skip this post, because it’s all about MEAT — in particular, the cuts of meat that might not be as readily available in your average grocery store, with an eye towards raw feeding. 99 Ranch stocks a number of parts that I would hesitate to cook with, but am willing to incorporate into my dogs’ diets.
This post is also my record of the cost of some meats at a reasonably-priced grocery store in the SF Bay Area. Many items can be found elsewhere for cheaper (chicken and beef can be cheaper on sale at other grocery stores, and “real” Chinatown butchers can beat a lot of these prices, too). Nor is this the best quality or most humanely farmed and raised meat. The prices here are relatively modest for what you get though. Plus, there’s the convenience of all of this in one location.
Items displayed as a slideshow for layout purposes:
And a list beneath the cut. Prices from 11 February 2012.
I still remember the first time we gave Bowpi a hunk of raw turkey neck. She sure enjoyed it, but regurgitated it 15 minutes later. Perhaps she consumed it too quickly, or was just not accustomed to digesting uncooked meat.
Despite this failure, we persisted with our culinary trials, since she seemed enthusiastic enough about this process of eating something that actually takes a bit of work. We refrained from giving her thicker bones and heavier cuts while she developed her chewing technique and habits. After much practice with various chicken parts, she now takes to most poultry pieces with gusto.
Our delicate little Basenji flower sure can crunch a mean bone! Raw fish is another favorite. She usually rejects anything with hooves though — beef, lamb, and pork get pulled out of her bowl, plopped onto the towel, sniffed with disdain, then abandoned. Bowdu, who will eat pretty much anything, gets whatever she rejects the next day.
Every now and then, her stomach gets a little unsettled, and she’ll suffer a bout of early morning nausea. She puked bile nearly every morning when she first arrived, a problem which we eventually remedied over the course of a month or so by offering a snack right before bedtime and getting her accustomed to just one kind of higher quality, grain-free kibble than what she was eating before.
Even though I don’t intend to ever bear children, I’m kind of amused that my “maternal” reflexes are such that I can snap awake even from deep slumber at the first sound of her retching and get a paper towel or something under her in time to catch her vomit before any major damage is done. I also recognize a very distinctive facial expression, which I describe as the “Lisa Simpson” look, just before she lets it all go.
There was one time I failed to catch her vomit — I haven’t been able to forget. Both Bows had just finished up a meal of a raw chicken leg quarter. This monstrous chunk, including a segment of spine, was noticeably fattier than their usual fare. I tried to hack it up a bit, but I probably overfed Bowpi that evening. And on this particular night, ‘Pi had managed to burrow her way deep under the covers so that she was trapped in the middle of the bed when I first heard her muffled horks and felt her writhing against my thigh, as her stomach pumped and revved up for launch.
Charlie Capen and Andy Herald, “Baby Sleep Positions” from How to Be a Dad
Before I had a chance to move the covers, our little “Snow Angel” had deposited a putrid, chunky pile of undigested carrion onto the center of the bed. Panicked and still groggy from this most unwelcome awakening, I wondered which end it came out of. I propped my hand against RJ’s back, jolting him awake, and coolly instructed him, “Something really bad just happened. DO NOT roll over, DO NOT MOVE, or it’s going to be worse.”
He laid there steeped in the miasma and paralyzed by the nightmare that he had just shit himself in his sleep, as he later confessed, while I quickly fetched some paper towels and disposed of the bulk of the mess.
So at four in the morning, we had ourselves an emergency clean-up and laundering session, then moved to the futon in my study den for the remainder of our interrupted sleep.
I’m certain that the stench of Bowpi’s vomit wouldn’t have been nearly as bad had she just eaten kibble that night. And unlike her first turkey neck, which hadn’t sat in her stomach long enough for any real digestion to occur, this one was crawling with all kinds of nasty gut flora that had, quite literally, revolted against their job.
A lesson learned: the risk of horrendously rotten vomit is certainly one drawback seldom mentioned by rave reviewers of raw feeding. I have smelled very few things as nasty as what I smelled that night… not even the corpse flower was as bad as waking up to that.
Recently, we tested out a couple dehydrated meatless pre-mixes that I got as free samples from a local pet boutique. I hadn’t been very interested in this stuff in the past, as frankly, it seemed economically silly to pay for this insta-food when you’re adding your own meat — the actual meal. It’s sort of like springing for soup and stew flavoring powder mixes, when it’s really not that hard to shake your own blend of spices into a pot of meat and water.
But the idea of these pre-mixes is to offer a means to balance a meal with high quality ingredients (more nutritionally dense than canned or kibble), yet still easy to prepare and customize. Feeding the Bows just the raw ground turkey that I had stockpiled in previous months wouldn’t be enough. So blending it with these formulas would help round out and add some variety to their diet.
We tried these two brands —
Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Pre-mix (2 oz. trial size)
Ingredients: Potatoes, flax, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, apples, bananas, blueberries, cranberries, garlic, rosemary, Vitamin A, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Niacin, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, manganese, chloride, copper, magnesium, pyridoxine, cyanocobalamin
- Crude protein, min. 13.5%
- Crude fat, min. 9%
- Crude fiber, max. 9%
- Moisture, max. 10%
- Calcium, min. 1%
- Phosphorus, min. 0.37%
- Magnesium, max 0.16%
Honest Kitchen Preference (1 oz. trial size, says it makes about 1/4 cup of food)
Ingredients: Dehydrated sweet potatoes, organic alfalfa, cabbage, organic coconut, apples, spinach, zucchini, bananas, celery, organic kelp, honey, tricalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc amino acid chelate, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, potassium iodide, potassium chloride, iron amino acid chelate, copper amino acid chelate.
- Protein, min 12%
- Fat, min 6%
- Fiber, 10% max
- Moisture, 10% max
- Calcium, 1.67% [dry matter basis], 0.76% hydrated*
- Phosphorus, 0.71% [dry matter basis], 0.33% hydrated*
- Magnesium, 0.24% [dry matter basis], 0.11% hydrated*
* not on package, information from the Honest Kitchen’s nutrient profiles.
Both were prepared the same way — rehydrated and mixed with ground turkey, served at dinner time.
Both were very easy to rehydrate, with instructions claiming that five minutes is all it takes. I found this certainly to be true for Grandma Lucy’s, as everything reconstituted almost immediately into a thick, mashed potatoey goo. It smelled great, and I sampled a bit and found it to be quite a smooth blend.
However, I usually find that it’s better to rehydrate Honest Kitchen for longer than their recommended time, and Preference was no exception. The mix was still fairly rough after soaking for five minutes (yes, I sampled this one too), so I let it sit for about fifteen minutes. Not a huge time difference to me, though every minute just ramped up the anticipation for the Bows.
If you visit Grandma Lucy’s very flashy Artisan site, there’s a fabulous chart comparing their products to other dehydrated and raw foods currently on the market, including Honest Kitchen, Sojos (which we were offered but bypassed, given the memory of our food failure with this brand), Stella & Chewy’s, and ZiwiPeak (which do not offer meatless pre-mixes). By their calculations —
- 3 pounds of Artisan Pre-mix selling for a MSRP of $19.60 would make 17 pounds of food, averaging $1.15/meal for a 30 pound dog.
- 3 pounds of HK Preference selling for a MSRP of $27.50 would make 12 pounds of food, averaging $1.15/meal for a 30 pound dog.
I’m a little confused by the feeding guidelines. Artisan recommends using 1.5 ~ 2 cups of dry mix for an “average” 20 ~ 30 pound dog (that’s what it says on the package, though it says the same thing for their complete formulas). For dogs up to 30 pounds, HK recommends 1/3rd ~ 1/2 cup of dry mix with enough meat to round it out to approximately 1 cup of food total, with a higher meat-to-Preference ratio for more active dogs. So it seems like each company has different expectations for how much a dog is supposed to eat in a day. At any rate, the Bows fall somewhere on the lower side of both suggested ranges; you should adjust accordingly.
The price per meal also seems to be calculated according to a single-feeding day (we feed two meals a day). Price-wise, these two brands are evenly matched. Both brands come out at nearly the same Kcal/cup (HK: 398; GL: 399), so even though the Artisan Pre-mix ultimately makes more food, you are expected to mix in less HK Preference to balance out a meal.
In terms of ingredients, my human nose found the Artisan Pre-mix to smell more appetizing than HK, but I think I was drawn to the combined aroma of potatoes and garlic. Some people prefer to leave garlic out of dog food. The Bows have never had a problem with garlic in small amounts, so I personally have no problem with seeing it in the formula.
However, we much rather prefer sweet potatoes, the leading ingredient for HK Preference. Though it’s the first item on the list, this blend appears very green and vegetation-dense. Like Grandma Lucy’s, all HK foods are manufactured in the United States, and sourced domestically whenever possible. In the final lap, the Honest Kitchen pulls slightly ahead because they use higher quality ingredients, and the company maintains a level of transparency, accountability, and customer responsiveness that we have found to be unmatched.
Since this was just a brief sample and not an extended trial, no letter grade is assigned to this review. We liked and would happily try both products again.
THE COST OF (PET) THINGS: September 2011
- FOOD: $57
- TREATS: $29
- ACCESSORIES & MISC: $23
- VET/MEDICAL: $35
(Running average for 9 months so far: $233 / month)
OMG, we still have so much Honest Kitchen Zeal, I’m starting to wonder if we’ll finish it all before the “Best By” date of December. We’re still on our first 10 pound box. I should have had no need to buy another 5-pound bag of kibble ($12) but it’s convenient to have on hand when we’re too rushed in the morning. Nor did I really need to buy more meats (approx $18 worth), except it’s hard to resist a sale (99 cents / pound of sardines!). I did need to replenish our supply of PlaqueOff (the last bottle was purchased in May), yogurt, and Vitamin E — supplements that are part of their core diet.
I decided to place our first order with Creston Valley Meats in this category.
We first heard about this California traveling butcher from Julie and the Inus. Creston Valley Meats stocks some unusual proteins and services lots of raw dog foodies at extremely competitive prices. I jumped at the chance to order some ostrich frames, which are not your typical grocery store fare. The awesome part: they cost a mere $0.75 / pound plus $5 delivery fee, and Bowdu loves them as an intense, edible workout. The not so awesome part: you’re required to purchase by the box, Bowpi turned her nose up at this offering, and they come with a minimal amount of attached meat, so they’re not really suitable as raw meals, but more like a dental treat. Which means it’s going to take us forever to get through this 18 pound box.
I bought a fleece jacket and arctic ‘fur’ jacket for Bowpi. Bargain scores at about 85% off! Yanow, I used to scoff at people who bought clothes for their dogs. Then we got a temperature-sensitive Basenji…
Bought an anti-itch and anti-skin irritation tonic (review forthcoming) and more dog toothpaste.
Next month, Bowdu is due for his blood draw and thyroid panel, so I don’t expect to fare well in this category. Stay tuned!