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Written by T.M HEATH

Feeding dogs is now big business with every dog food manufacturer trying to persuade us that their food is the only one which will develop the full potential of our dog and keep him in splendid condition. Feeds have been developed for every stage of the dogs life through from puppy to the time when, clocking up the years, your dog is now a respectable geriatric deserving of a special diet. Added to that we have all the medical diets for all the conditions that the diet can effect eg. kidney, reducing, calorie controlled. The end result is a veritable maze which the owner has to traverse in reaching the decision on what is going to be best for my dog.

We finally decide on brand X and for a while things seem to be fine then you notice your dog is scratching a lot so you take him off to the vet, Lots of tests are done for parasites which all come up negative but the dog is treated for parasites anyway just in case we have missed seeing them. The dog is still scratching like mad so he is then treated for urticaria (itchy skin) and requires antibiotics for the damage he has done to his skin with all the scratching as the lesions are now infected.

Then we have a breakthrough, we speak to a friend who is using brand Y and her dog is in beautiful condition. So right, we will now try brand Y on our dog and he loves it. So we sit back with a nice smug smile on our face since we seem to have cracked the problem without having to pay for professional help which cost a fortune the last time and did not solve the problem anyway. However we are now seeing a very lively dog who seems to have forgotten every iota of training he ever had and not only that, he is now developing what can only be described as compulsive/obsessive behavior and is driving us all to the funny farm with the crying and screaming should we try to remove the object of his obsession. Again we trip back to the vet, enduring a nightmare journey there as we had to remove his object as he was now getting aggressive if anyone went near it and we do not want the vet getting bitten. A more enlightened vet would give you the correct advice but your young vet has never seen this syndrome before so the dog is put on sedatives which dope him up but do not noticeably have any effect on his bizarre behaviour.

In desperation we now go back to the breeder who we are convinced has sold us a crazy dog. She is not much help as she swears blind that no other dog in the litter is behaving like that and she has the mother with her who is a perfectly sound bitch displaying no bizarre behaviour at all. Now what? We do not want to put him to sleep because before all this started he was a lovely affectionate dog and although he is driving us crackers at the moment we are really very fond of him. We also want to get to the bottom of this for the dog is obviously unhappy and we don't know what to do.

As a last resort we consult a behaviour therapist but we are not at all impressed when we eventually get to see the great man who is highly commended in the dog press. He spends such a long time taking the dogs history and seems to be overly concerned with what we are feeding him. It cannot be anything to do with the feed. This is a well known make, one of the most expensive on the market and all the advertising states that top breeders use it so it must be all right. We can't believe we are hearing correctly, this man is telling us to feed our dog human food for the next week and then report back to him. Since we have nothing to lose we do exactly that and cast believe it when our dog gradually reverts back to the lovely dog he used to be. We duly report back to the behaviour therapist and he explains to us that our dog has been reacting to the additives and colourants in the complete diet and should we wish to feed him a complete diet we must find one that is guaranteed free of additives, colourants and flavourings. At the moment the dog is enjoying his new diet so until we are sure he is really stable again we intend keeping him on it.

Does that little story ring any bells with you and does it relate to behaviour changes you have noticed in your dog? The Canine Health concern has done research on this very subject and the results are frightening. There is no legislation which insists that dog food manufacturers must state exactly what ingredients are included in their feeds. Meat and meat derivatives, fish and fish derivatives, chicken etc. but what exactly does that tell you. Most dog feeds will tell you the percentage of protein in the diet but nowhere does it state what the protien source is, it could be anything which comes under the heading of meat and meat derivatives etc. and that label could cover ground up bones. feet, beaks, feathers and anything else which contains protein in any form. Take fresh beef, chicken and lamb and give it to the dog , you know exactly what he has eaten and how much.

Those of you who are in your fifties or older will know doubt remember the days when we did not have all these fancy feeds with all the additives and flavourings which are supposed to make your dog grow big and strong. The dog was fed on what was available at the time, sheeps heads, breast of lamb and any cuts the butcher would give you for the dog. He also had all the scraps from the family meals and usually had his cereal or porridge in the morning when the family were having breakfast. Dieticians nowadays would throw their hands up in horror claiming the dog was not getting a balanced diet but are they? The curious thing is, in bygone days we were not taking our dog to the vets with the same frequency as we do now. Breeding was easier and we had a lot less infection and disease than we have now. If you still doubt the validity of natural feeding, think on the dogs in the wild. None of them know how to use a can opener, delivery of complete diets are nonexistent. They eat what they kill, getting the vegetable matter from the gut of the kill, protein from the flesh and somehow without human interference they survive, breed and unless killed by accident or other predators live out a happy life never seeing a vet or having courses of antibiotics. Are we killing our dogs with kindness? Certainly gives us something to think about

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