Feeding Your Aussie
"When do we eat?"
I want to discuss the very important issue of feeding your Australian Shepherd. Just like people, animals are what they eat. If you skimp here and feed a cheap, bargain brand food you may be setting your dog up for a lifetime of poor health. I can't stress enough to pick the best quality food you can find. It may cost more than the discount brands, but you will more than make up for that by feeding less, and having a healthier dog that will not constantly be at the vet with health problems. I feed my dogs a diet that includes human grade raw meat, bones and organs, select supplements, and premium dry dog food. At the present I feed a variety of kibbles including Holistic Select (mostly the chicken and rice formula), Fromm Four Star (not the grain free, I don't like gran free), Merrick, Blue and a little Eagle Pack Power Formula, mostly to puppies. I used the Power Formula for over 20 years and it was my go to dry food but recently Eagle Pack changed all their formulas to grain free. Since they use a lot of peas, I won't use the food. Any grain free still has to have a substantial amount of non-meat, so they use potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas or other items. None of these is really ideal for dogs, any more than grain is. (See the update below.)
Update August 2014: Since Eagle Pack changed all their formulas to include peas, I am now looking for a different food. I don't want to use it for intact dogs who may be bred. I still think it is okay for pets who are spay/neutered. I still use mostly raw food but do include some kibble for variety. At this point brands include Holistic Select and Fromm Four Star in various formulas (not grain free), Whole Earth Farms Adult dry which is made by Merrick and others that I am sampling. I do sometimes use Eagle Pack Original since it has less peas than the Power Formula that was my go to dry food for almost 20 years.
The big key is to look for foods without a lot of fillers, and with meats and whole ingredients as the first 5 ingredients on the list.
Many people can't feed raw, either due to lack of time to do the research to learn how to, or they can't afford it or the time it may take. That's okay, you can still feed your dog fairly well with the various quality dry foods on the market. Expect to pay about two dollars or more a pound for good foods. Most of the really good foods are as much as three dollars a pound. Using good ingredients isn't cheap! Also, some of the brands that have a lot of advertising put more money into that than quality ingredients. Some of the best foods will not be widely advertised. Most can be found at the better pet stores, rather than discount stores, grocery stores, feed stores and such. Look for brands with no soy or wheat, or fragments such as brewers yeast. Also avoid ones with "mystery meats" such as "meat byproducts" or "meat meal" in favor of foods that list whole meat sources like beef, chicken or lamb. Mystery meats may include all kinds of nasty things including euthanized pets, road kill, rotting meats and worse. Finding a food with meat as the first few ingredients is very important, especially if you are not going to feed any real meat. Even the very best foods are still half grain, and with dogs being carnivores, they don't need that. Definitely avoid the dry foods with food coloring, semi-moist bits or other "funky" things. Just because there are pictures of vegetables, wholesome cuts of meat or other items on the bag, does NOT mean the food contains those same healthy ingredients. I also recommend avoiding treats with the same, the semi-moist, artificially colored stuff like the snausages type treats, fake bacon types and so on. It is soooo bad for dogs! I also included a list below, of foods to avoid.
Another thing to do is watch how your dog does on the food. Does he eat it well, have a nice small, firm stool, and does he thrive on it? Does he have goop in his eyes, dirty teeth, dry or irritated skin, loose or smelly stool? All of these are signs of poor nutrition.
If you do have to switch foods, take your time. Mix the old kind in with the new kind for several days or a week. This is because processed food lacks the digestive enzymes that would be found in fresh, raw food. The dog's body must learn to manufacture the correct enzymes for whatever kind of dry food he eats, and that takes time. This is one of the drawbacks of feeding a diet of dry food only, as it does deplete the body over time, since the body must constantly make enzymes. Fresh, raw food has all the necessary enzymes for proper digestion, so doesn't stress the body. This all has a positive effect on the immune system. Even if you can't feed raw all the time, adding it as you can is better than none at all.
WHAT NOT TO FEED:
This is not an all inclusive list but will have examples of common low quality foods. These include:
Beneful - all formulas
Ol' Roy - all formulas
Any food that is of a semi-moist texture like "Moist and Meaty" , as the propylene glycol used to make it is not good for health
Any food that has food coloring or colored piecies such as Kibbles N Bits, Beneful and others
Any food that has food fragments like brewers rich, soy flour, "meat" by products as thos can legally contain anything inlucluding road kill and shelter pets that are euthanized.
The low priced foods often sold at feed stores, farm stores and grocery or super stores like Wal-mart. These may include store brands or name brands that are the low quality end of the line of foods.
Because the company has a long history of fairly frequent recalls, I personally don't use or recommend any products made by Diamond including their Premium line, Taste of the Wild line and all others.
These brands are not going to help your dogs maintain the best health and condition they can, since they are just not made of the kinds of ingredients to support that level of health.
For those of you who want to continue to educate yourself about pet food, check out this site:
Another website that can help you rate your food is
I use and recommend adding probiotics on a regular basis (even if you only feed dry food.) Most of a mammal's immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract, so keeping that healthy goes a LONG way toward overall health. Most products come in the form of a powder you add daily to meals, or at least a few times a week and especially in times of stress. If you ever have to give antibiotics for any reason, adding probiotics daily is recommended. Two brands I use are Forti-Flora which comes in single serve packets, and a formula I buy from Nature's Farmacy called Probiotic Max. UPDATE: My brand of choice is Gentle Digest. You can order online.
UPDATE - I MADE A WHOLE PAGE DEVOTED TO RAW FEEDING, WHICH HAS A LOT MORE DETAIL THAN I LISTED BELOW. THE PAGE IS CALLED "FEEDING A RAW DIET" AND THERE IS A LINK ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE, NEAR THE TOP.
These Aussies are excited by their raw diets!
Getting Started with a Raw Diet
This is to be an introduction to the concept of feeding raw foods. It shouldn't be taken as a sole guide, as it's hard to cover everything in just a small article. If you are considering feeding your dog a healthy, balanced raw diet, it's good to study a variety of sources and find the method that fits your dog or dogs best. Also, part of your menu will depend on what kinds of foods you can find in your area, and that may vary depending on what part of the country you are in.
Why would an owner choose to feed raw over the commercial, processed dogs foods? To me, the answer is simple. It's healthier. Processed food loses a lot of it's nutrition. Some of the cheaper foods are made from horrible ingredients (you wouldn't want to know!). Processed food has lost any beneficial enzymes, meaning the dog's body must make the necessary ones to digest and process the food. Their bodies become depleted. Raw food, on the other hand, has all the necessary enzymes to digest that particular type of food, and doesn't deplete the body. Rather, it enhances health and well being. Fed in proper balance, I believe it's the best you can do for your dog. Their teeth stay cleaner (I never have to brush my dogs' teeth yet they are nice and white, even in middle age). They build up more muscle in their heads by chewing their meals. They ENJOY their meals far more, though they aren't picky and would eat just dry kibble. I enjoy preparing their meals more since I feel good feeding them the best I can.
The first concept I abide by is "variety over time." By that I mean I don't try to make each and every meal 100% balanced. That would be too hard to do. Think of how we humans try to eat (assuming we are trying to eat a healthy diet.) We vary our menu but try to have fruits, vegetables, meats and grains, hopefully in variety and proper portions. Dogs have no need for carbohydrates, so their diet is balanced with meat, bones and organs. There are varying opinions as to the % of each, but I try to go about 50% meat, 35% bone and 15% organs. Then within that, I vary the sources and include chicken, turkey, beef, fish and when I can, venison, bison, emu or other more unusual meats. Notice I try to have red meat and poultry, to give the dogs a variety of protein sources. I also try to select cuts that fit my dogs' sizes and chewing styles. I avoid large weight bearing bones (legs and even turkey wings) with them, though many people feed them safely. I like turkey necks, gizzards, hearts and liver, chicken necks, backs, breasts and ground whole chicken (minus feathers), beef heart and when I can afford it, stew beef, frozen smelt or other small whole fish (avoid Pacific salmon and trout), and when I can get it, venison meat or bones, bison, and ground emu. If I can get rabbit or duck, I use that too, whole or ground. I try to feed more boney raw meat bone cuts (like turkey necks) on a day when I will feed a piece of meat like beef heart, to balance it out. I feed gizzards, liver or beef tongue a couple times a week too. To help add calcium, I get what many raw feeders call "bone dust" which is the shavings left over when a butcher cuts meat. It is full of bone shavings, marrow, fat and some meat. It's very rich and should be fed in small amounts unless your dog is very active. I use it to balance a more meaty meal, such as chicken breasts. It's great for puppies too since there is no risk of choking on bones if they don't chew well. It's a finer mushy ground texture than hamburger.
The general rule of thumb with amounts is to feed daily about 2% of your dog's body weight. That will vary widely depending on your dog's weight, activity level, age (growing pups may need 3-4%), and so on. Watch their weight and stools and adjust accordingly.
Many people feed raw and quality dry kibble, and if you do so, it's ideal to feed separately. I feed raw in the AM and kibble in the PM, most days. Since raw foods digest many times faster than kibbles (dry dog food) I feed them separately, and for me feeding raw in the AM works since I feed the evening meal closer to the morning one. Feeding the dry in the evening means there is a longer time to digest it before the next morning meal.
I also add supplements, and would no matter what I feed (all raw, all kibble, etc.) Every day the dogs get about 2000 mg of salmon oil, and a few times a week I may give 500 mg of vit C, 400 iu Vit E, and kelp granules. All but the kelp are "human" supplements that I take too. I order the kelp from a pet supply catalog, usually Jeffers. Seasonally I may feed cod liver oil (a couple times a week at most, only in winter.) I feed these supplements because any oils in dog food lose their potency shortly after exposure to air. So any oils added to dry dog food have almost no bioavailability to the dog, by the time it is consumed. These oils help the dog's coat, immune system and even drastically reduce shedding! I start adding the salmon oil in a pup's diet by about 10 weeks of age, and the kelp can be started then too. I add the rest starting about 3 months of age, as the Vit C in particular can soften stools.
You can start your puppy on raw foods fairly young. I recommend using the pre-ground mixes such as those sold by Bravo or My Pet Carnivore, until the pup has enough teeth to chew whole pieces. You can sometimes find raw foods for sale at the smaller, upscale pet stores. The first whole pieces I give my pups are chicken necks, since the bones are smaller and softer. I give one and see how it goes. If they have a looser stool, I may not feed another for a couple days, then try again. Usually it goes fine and I start mine on raw and never stop. You can add small bits of muscle meat or organ too, but it's VERY important not to feed too much meat without bone, as dogs, growing pups especially, need calcium in the right balance.
Below is an example of meals I would feed a young puppy, such as 10 weeks old. There is about a pound or pound and a half of food each day. In this meal there are several chicken necks, a piece of beef heart, some "bone dust" (see above), and some chicken meat. I can then add kelp powder and the other supplements. I rotate the meats, sometimes adding turkey or other meats, and a few times a week they get gizzards, livers and other organs added. All the dogs get a piece of beef tongue about twice a month.
I find some of my raw food supplies at the local super store grocery. I get some from my butcher by special order. The majority of my raw food comes from My Pet Carnivore out of Indianapolis. Their site is www.mypetcarnivore.com I've gotten good at finding sources, and of course I buy in bulk, and store it in a couple large freezers. Buying in bulk saves time and money. I may thaw bulk frozen supplies just enough to repackage into smaller amounts, that I thaw daily in the refrigerator. I use a plastic cat litter pan (new) to hold it, to keep juice from dripping all over. It fits in the bottom shelf just fine.
Anyway, that's just the bare introduction to raw feeding. Soon I hope to add some links to supply places, and to good informational websites. I also plan to add some photos of meals to give people an idea of what I am feeding. Here also is some information on the supplements I use.
I add salmon oil supplements to improve the coat, and it seems to dramatically cut down shedding when they are grown, as well as give them a healthy coat and skin, and a stronger immune system. I get it at Wal-Mart in the people vitamin/supplement section, though you can buy it at other place supplements for humans are sold. I give a puppy 1 of the 1000 mg capsules on their food. I don't pop it open, just add it whole in the meal and they generally eat it. As older pups or adults they get 2 of the 1000 mg capsules daily. My dogs also get Vit E a few times a week, in the form of 400 iu gel caps. You may want to wait until the pups are about 10-12 weeks old to start this, and start gradually. They won't be shedding this early anyway, but it will really, drastically cut shedding in your puppy as it becomes an adult, and less shedding means a healthy coat and skin. When choosing Vit E, choose the d-alpha natural formula, it's superior to the dl-alpha formula (which is synthetic.)
I also give Vit C a few times a week, in the form of 500 mg tablets. I don't start until they are maybe 12 weeks old though, since it can give them a softer stool the first few days. A few times a week they get kelp powder which I order online either from Jeffers Pet or other pet supply places. The brand I use is Kelp Help. I don't feed any calcium or multi-vitamins though, as you can do more harm than good if you don't know how to balance them. I just give a top quality food, and the salmon oil, kelp and Vit C and Vit E.
Vit C is good in that it helps the immune system as well as joints. There was a study done that showed regular feeding of Vit C can actually help prevent the expression of hip dysplasia in dogs who are genetically prone to it. It also helps with lactic acid build up in muscles after exercise.
The salmon oil is also good for the immune system, as well as the coat and skin. The Vit E helps the body process and store the beneficial omega acids in the salmon oil. Kelp has trace minerals that are good for the dog as well. I would feed these supplements no matter what kibble brands I use, or if I did or didn't feed a raw diet too. These will make a big difference for your dog.
Here is a sample meal. I don't always feed so many different things in one meal, but this was a "variety" day. In the bowls there are all kinds of yummy things, including beef heart, venison, ground chicken meat/bone/organ, "bone dust" (the shavings from when the meat cutter cuts up a carcass), canned pumpkin, canned mackeral, chicken necks, a boiled egg, and their supplements. These include two 1000 mg capsules of salmon oil, a 400 iu capsule of Vit E, 500 mg of vit C, and some Kelp Help powder.
I often get asked how to switch a new puppy to a raw diet, so I thought I'd include my thoughts on the subject.
I don't switch a new pup right away. I want to give them time to settle in and adjust to the changes in their lives. I wait a couple weeks or so. Then, what I often do or recommend is to start adding just a small amount of raw food to the puppy's regular diet. This amount may be the size of a boiled egg yolk or even an egg, depending on the pup's age. Just to have an idea, we'll assume the pup is about 10 weeks old. Each day I may add just a little more, while decreasing the amount of other food. I watch the stool to make sure they are digesting it properly, and if so I keep adding quantity and variety. I should note that at this age, a pup can't handle bigger bones such as whole turkey necks or turkey neck pieces, so I often use the complete ground form of raw which includes meat, bones and organs. This is commercially made, and the brand I often use is Bravo, just because it's what I have access to. There are other good brands out there, and you can often find them at the better pet stores, if they have a section for fresh or frozen raw foods. Depending on the brand, you can often find small servings like medallions, or patties or even various sized logs of the product.
As the pup grows, I will add whole cuts, starting with small things like chicken necks, and build up to bigger cuts like chicken backs or turkey necks. That wouldn't be until they get their big molar teeth in at 5-6 months of age. I do give organ meats and other smaller stuff from early on though. As always, the BIG key to feeding a healthy raw diet is VARIETY OVER TIME. You can't just feed meats and call it balanced, but the dog MUST have digestible bone included, as well as organ meat.
All along I still add the supplements too. This is important no matter what else you feed.
Just take it slow and soon your pup will be happily eating a balanced raw diet! Also, once they are doing well on raw, if you want to still use kibble it is ideal to feed raw in one meal, and kibble in a separate meal. Since they digest at different rates, that's the best way to do it.
Here is a 5 month old puppy eating the upper half of a turkey neck. He was being silly, eating it in his play tunnel, so I just had to snap a photo!
Another benefit of feeding a raw diet is the nice clean, white teeth!
The interesting thing here is the picture on the left is of a 7 month old pup and the dog on the right is 7 years old. Both have eaten raw food since they were pups. The only difference is a bit of yellowing on the 7 yr old dog's teeth. He has never had his teeth brushed nor cleaned by the vet. Chewing through his raw food is all the tooth cleaning they need. Below is the same older dog at 10 years of age, and his teeth are still clean with nothing more than chewing raw food, especially turkey necks.
It should be noted that clean white teeth are not just appealing cosmetically, but are much healthier for the dog. The bacteria that can build up on dirty teeth can get down in the dog's blood stream, via the digestive tract, and over time can cause organ failure and even contribute to premature death. Many owners have to have their dogs' teeth cleaned by the vet, a procedure done under anesthetic. That comes with it's own risk. Some vets will even have to start the dog on antibiotics before cleaning the teeth, as a precaution for the bacteria that the dog will swallow once it's knocked loose from the teeth. To me, a HUGE benefit of feeding a raw diet, is being able to avoid all that.
"The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you."