Feeding My Dog A Raw Diet: Better Health & Quality Of Life

Amy and Daisy hiking.

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Daisy is a rescue from the Hawaiian Humane Society and she came to me with a load of health problems. Severely underweight, she suffered from a heart murmur, enlarged spleen, mange, green mucus in her eyes, dry eyes, black and smelly gunk in her ears, hearing and vision loss, and poor teeth. But the worst were her allergies. This kept her (and me) up the whole night because she was so itchy she couldn’t sleep. Her fur and scabs littered the floor and she was always bleeding and patchy all over her body.

Like most of us who have dogs that suffer from allergies, I was going out of my mind. I tried all kinds of shampoos, foods, sprays, medicine, salves…you name it, I’ve probably tried it. I even took Daisy to an allergy specialist that would fly over from the mainland to Hawaii periodically. It cost me a lot of money and I learned how to give her shots without feeling queasy, but other than that it didn’t really help since Daisy was practically allergic to everything (including human dander!).

I finally moved Daisy to a raw diet and it’s been the best thing for her. By documenting this experience, I hope this will help someone out there who may be going through the same experience I did.

Aloha with love,
Amy

Daisy after her allergy test.
Daisy after her allergy test. She was allergic to a lot of things: all kinds of grasses, trees, pollen, cotton, human dander, and extremely allergic to bugs. Basically, if a bug lands on her, she’ll start scratching uncontrollably.

Before going raw

Daisy seemed to go through a cycle. She’d become patchy, lose her fur, and bleed from too much scratching. This cycle lasted about a month where she wouldn’t be able to sleep at night and couldn’t go on walks because she was either too busy scratching or knocked out because she was exhausted. Then she’d have about a week or two where the itchiness dialed down and we would hope and pray that it would last this time. It never did. Eventually, the itchy frenzy would start all over again and we’d all lose sleep and feel miserable with her.

Her skin also oozed black stuff for several months. When you pet her for a long time, your hand would come off oily and black. It was as if something in her body was slowly seeping out of her skin. Besides her skin, her ears and eyes leaked stinky and dirty gunk all the time. You could smell it whenever you were near her. For those first two years, I cleaned her eyes 3 to 4 times a day and her ears at least twice a day. Her ears were often red with infection and the cotton balls and q-tips would come back filled with smelly nuggets.

For about a year I tried everything. Shampoos from the vet, shampoos recommended by word-of-mouth, all kinds of dog food, homemade dog food, antibacterial sprays, antifungal sprays, antisebborheic medications, steroids, ear and eye washes…the list doesn’t end. I researched her breed and joined Facebook groups dedicated to dog allergies. I joined forums and shared Daisy’s situation online. Everyone had a story and a lot of people were extremely helpful! But, unfortunately I didn’t see the same results they did with whatever product worked for them.

Daisy right before I put her on a raw diet.
One of Daisy’s more miserable days right before I put her on raw dog food. Her skin was flaky and raw and you could tell that she wasn’t feeling good.

The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to get Daisy off the medications. I didn’t want her on steroids or any kind of medication that would suppress her immune system. So I stopped paying for her prescriptions and continued to do some trial and error on my own. One thing I learned was that those oatmeal baths that everyone praises was one of the worst things I could do for Daisy because she seems to have a too much yeast problem (scaly black skin especially near her private area). The oatmeal just feeds the yeast and keeps it going. I learned about sebborhea in dogs and what starches and carbs did to dogs. I read papers and studies and learned what different medications did to their bodies. I’m in no ways an expert, but putting all of this together naturally led me closer to a trying out a raw diet for dogs.

Daisy hiding and napping upstairs.
After a long night of scratching, Daisy went upstairs away from everybody and just slept. You can see the raw patches on her from the night before.

Honestly, the biggest roadblock for me was the price of raw dog food. Depending on which raw dog food supplier I chose, it worked out to $4 – $5 per meal for Daisy who is 50-55 lbs. That’s $8 – $10 a day since she ate twice a day and $240 – $300 a month. I don’t make a lot of money and that’s just too much to spend on dog food. But I went for it because I was at my wit’s end with what to do with Daisy’s itching and nothing else was giving me results.

Going raw

For me, there were two stages of going raw:

Premade food: Logs or patties that already have the right proportions of protein, bones, organs, vegetables, and supplements mixed together. All you have to do is take it out of your freezer and give your dog the correct amount, which is about 2 – 3% of your dog’s weight. Most dogs don’t even mind if it’s still frozen. This is expensive for most people and I somehow managed to budget for this for about 2.5 years before I decided to make the jump to DIY raw dog food.

DIY food: Sourcing your own raw food, vegetables, and supplements. This is usually done to 1) save money, and 2) have more control over what your dog is eating. You spend extra time cutting up the meat, bones, and vegetables, and freezing them to the right sizes, but after a few practice rounds you can get a month’s worth of food done in an hour.

Daisy chewing and licking her feet.
I had my foot on Daisy so I could stop her from constantly gnawing and licking on her feet. She would bite them until they were bleeding and couldn’t walk because she’d limp due to the wounds.

The transition

For the longest time I didn’t have the confidence in myself to be 100% responsible for Daisy’s food and health. It took me such a long time to make the jump from premade food to DIY food. It’s scary when I kept thinking:

  • “What happens if I put in the wrong amount of organs or not enough bones?”
  • “What if Daisy becomes sick and it’s because my recipes were wrong?”
  • “Can I handle being the only one responsible for making the wrong choice?”

It took me 2.5 years to finally answer these questions confidently. I’ve done the research, I know what I’m putting in, and her becoming sick won’t be just because of her diet. Her age and other health problems will eventually creep up and this raw diet I provide for her is going to give her the best quality of life and natural longevity. There’s no reason to believe that the food I make for Daisy will be any less healthier than the food made by a raw dog food company.

Once I could admit this, then I felt much more comfortable in transitioning to DIY raw dog food.

After raw

As with anything to soothe allergies for dogs, it takes time. I didn’t see results immediately and there was very little change in her itching cycles for several months. However, what I did notice after a couple months of raw dog food was that her ears were much easier to clean. They weren’t red and infected inside all the time and while the q-tips still came out full of gunk twice a day, the amount seemed to be less than usual. Instead of cleaning her eyes 3 – 4 times a day, I only had to clean them twice a day. This was the most change I’d ever seen so far so I continued her on her raw dog food.

By the time a year had passed, Daisy’s skin had made a vast improvement. I’m not saying she became itch-free (I don’t think she ever will), but there was a noticeable difference of itchy frenzies compared to a year ago. In my opinion, the effect of raw dog food on Daisy’s skin has been slow and steady. I can’t see improvement from month to month, but when I compare her to last year, the year before, and the year before that, she has improved each time.

Unexpectedly, her fur has also improved quite a bit. It’s a lot softer now and even other dog owners are amazed at how smooth she is. She still has occasional itchy cycles, raw patches, and sleepless nights, but that’s usually because she’s touched something that she’s allergic to (most likely she’s rolled around on grass when we weren’t looking). The cycles still last a month and drive us crazy, but at least now it’s manageable because we know it’s a trigger for her. It’s my belief that the raw food has strengthened her immune system so that she doesn’t have an allergic reaction to every single thing she touches. Things like cotton and pollen during spring and summer will still set her off, but it’s nothing compared to where she was at just a few years ago.

My thoughts

I’m exceptionally happy that I made the decision to put Daisy on a raw diet. Everything related to her itch frenzies have decreased to a manageable degree. Her annual checkups have had great results so far and her vets are impressed how far her skin, ears, and eyes have come considering that I opted out of their recommended allergy medication, am not feeding Daisy their recommended dog allergy food that they sell in-house, and use a generic antiseborrheic/antifungal shampoo from Amazon (and not the allergy shampoo they sell). The biggest variable is the raw dog diet she’s on and it’s interesting to see the vet’s reaction when they ask what she’s eating.

It’s important to acknowledge that raw food for Daisy is never going to fully erase her allergies. I’m pretty sure that she’s always going to have these health problems because she isn’t the most healthiest dog. Considering the environment and health issues she lived through, she’s most likely inbred which comes with its own set of problems such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. But raw food has certainly made the largest improvement for her in terms of quality of life. It’s strengthened her immune system enough to give her a chance to live life that isn’t ruled by uncontrollable itching. Knowing how bad her situation was when I first got her, I don’t think I can ask for much more than that!

Amy with aquaponic zucchini.

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