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Our View on Diet

In 1996, we changed the way we feed our dogs. The article below, written by Julie and published in the August 1998 issue of The Basenji magazine, explains why we made the change:
DIET - Does It Make A Difference?
by Julie Jones

Some of you may recall that in May of 1995 our top producing bitch, Ch Jasiri-Sukari Jess Be-Kaus, started spilling sugar. I am happy to be able to report that as of today, three years later, Jessie remains without any symptoms of Fanconi syndrome. Regular blood and urine tests reveal that although Jessie spills "trace" amounts of glucose in her urine, all other values are normal. I should also mention here that our dog Ch. Sukari Raider Of The Lost Bark, CD, JC, Fch. also spills sugar. Although we were very disappointed when Raider stripped positive, we were not surprised. His pedigree contains several Fanconi afflicted dogs which we were not aware of at the time we did the breeding. Raider also remains without symptoms of Fanconi. He also has regular blood and urine tests which reveal normal values, except for the glucose. Jessie and Raider receive absolutely no treatment and no medications.

The "secret" to their survival, I believe, lies in their dinner bowl. While looking through an issue of Dog News magazine in January of 1996, I was intrigued by an article. The article, "Reflections From A Breeder," was written by Sylvia Hammarstrom, breeder of Skansen giant schnauzers. Ms. Hammarstrom has been breeding and showing dogs for over forty-five years and has bred over eight hundred (800) Giant Schnauzer champions.

In her article, Ms Hammarstrom discusses how so many different breeds of dogs today are wracked with medical problems, problems that didn't exist forty or fifty years ago. She points out that breeders are as good today as they were back then, probably even more knowledgeable. She said she realized that the one thing that all these different breeds have in common is the commercial dog food that they all get fed. Most dogs, she noticed, eat foods coming out of a bag or a can, food that is processed. It is important to understand that enzymes that are vital for digestion are killed as soon as anything gets heated. Also, many vitamins are also destroyed by heat.
The vitamins listed on the side of a bag of dog food are what were there before the food was processed/cooked. They don't have to tell you what is there or not there after processing. Forty or fifty years ago no one had ever heard of processing dog food.
Having worked in many kennels while growing up, she reflected that all of those kennels fed fresh, raw meats, raw egg yolks, cooked potatoes and rice, vegetables and all kinds of grains, raw milk, goats milk and raw, uncooked bones. With this knowledge and the fact that she had studied nutrition for years, she decided to run a clinical test on her own dogs. For several years she fed one half of her kennel one of the best commercial dogs foods available and the other half an all-natural, raw diet. Here are a few quotes from her article; "The dogs on the unprocessed natural food are thriving, excellent hips, much denser bone, never hot spots, no cancer, thyroid or other weaknesses, like dislocated knee caps." "When I sell my dogs I do guarantee their health and for hip dysplasia, but only if fed raw, uncooked meat, grains and quality vitamin supplements, etc. Any dog fed commercial processed food is not covered by any guarantee. "
Ms Hammarstrom now feeds only the natural diet.

I was very intrigued by this article. What if some of the health problems we experience in Basenjis are related to diet? Could I do better by my dogs simply by feeding them a natural diet? I called Ms Hammarstrom, told her that I was interested in what she had written and asked if she would send me her "recipe" for the natural diet. About 3 days later I received a bunch of information from her, which included all the ingredients for the diet. I then bought several books on natural diets and eagerly read them. Catherine Ongaro got me a book that listed all of the nutritional requirements for dogs.

Catherine and I went through all of the ingredients of the diet and determined that this was indeed a well balanced diet. I then asked my Veterinarian her opinion about switching to a natural diet. She said that as long as the diet was balanced, there was no reason not to.
Feeling that I was armed with enough information, in February of 1996, I started the big switch. I have never looked back. Raider was 8 years old when we switched diets. He always ate his dinner, but he never got real excited about it like some dogs do. On about the third day of the new diet, Raider was dancing and talking for his food! If we didn't give it to him fast enough, he would open his crate door with his toenails and run in and out of the crate whining until he received his food!
However, it was Jessie that provided me with the most interesting results to the diet change. We continue to regularly sugar strip Jessie and Raider so that we can monitor their situation. The kind of strips that we most commonly use requires you to dip the stick, count to ten and compare the stick to the chart exactly ten seconds later. The instructions warn you to disregard any changes after ten seconds. Normally when I would strip Jessie, the stick would immediately start to change, although at ten seconds it was never past the first color on the chart. Two months after switching Jessie's diet, the strip didn't change for twenty-nine seconds! It has remained this way for two years. The fact that it does eventually change indicates that there is something not quite right, but it seems like she has gotten at least a little better.
Then there is the kibble thing. One of the things I feed now is Sojourner Farms dog food. It is not a kibble, it is a grain food. The main ingredient is rolled oats. There are other things in it like ground nuts and kelp and such, but it looks just like forty pounds of oatmeal! Jessie ate the oats the first time I offered them to her and then proceeded to throw them right back up. Now she won't touch them! So we cook other grains, mostly millet and brown rice, and feed each dog a combination of grains. About two months after switching diets we had somehow let ourselves run out of cooked grain.
Being that it was Saturday night and we had a dog show the next day, we knew we would not be able to replace them until Monday. I still had a lot of kibble left, now being fed to my Bullmastiff, so I fed her kibble in place of the grain. I added the same meat, vegetables and vitamins. That night Jessie got up about twelve times during the night to drink water and insisted on going out at about 3a.m. to pee.
Up to this point she had never exhibited these symptoms. The next night I fed her the same and exactly that same thing happened; up and down drinking water all night and insisting on going out around 3a.m. to pee. Since it was just about a year since she first spilled sugar, I figured that she was progressing into Fanconi.
The next day we bought the grains and fed them to her. She did not get up even once that night to drink water. As a matter of fact, she only did that one more time. About six months later I was at a dog show and saw a bag of Hund-N-Flocken dog food. I was very interested in this food, as many of the ingredients were the grains that I was cooking for my dogs. I decided to try it and bought a small bag. I fed it to Jessie once and, you guessed it, up and down all night, out at 3a.m. to pee. I have never fed her kibble again and she has never done that again. I can not provide scientific reasoning as to why this happened. I can't say that kibble causes Fanconi. I can only say that based on my experiences I will only feed an all-natural, raw diet.

I try to convince all of my puppy people to feed a natural diet as well. I believe that diet must play a role. I've had people argue with this saying that the such-and-such dog lived to be fifteen years old and ate only kibble his whole life. I can only answer this by saying that my foster parents are eighty-three and eighty-eight years old and have both smoked cigarettes for over fifty years. That does not mean that cigarettes are healthy for us, just that somehow they have beaten the odds. I have put together a small "packet" of information about the natural diet. I have sent this packet to many people. Every person that has actually made the switch to the natural diet has told me that they see a positive difference in their dog(s) and that they will not go back to feeding processed foods.

Several of the books I read draw reference to the taurine deficiency in cats. Taurine, an essential amino acid for felines, is found only in animal tissue. Cooking meat greatly reduces taurine levels. Several years ago, many cats were coming down with PRA, reproductive problems and heart disease. Most veterinarians were calling these problems hereditary even though they seemed to come out of nowhere. Somewhere along the line someone figured out that there was almost no taurine in processed cat food. As soon as taurine was added, these "hereditary" problems went away.
Is there something, like taurine, that our Basenjis need, but are not getting from processed food? Something, perhaps, that occurs in a natural diet but is destroyed or missing in processed foods? Fanconi has proven not to be a simple recessive. It has proven not to be a simple dominant. What if diet does play a role? What if the pre-disposition is hereditary but diet determines the final outcome? It seems that many breeders in England and Australia feed a more natural diet, is this why they have less incidents of Fanconi? Could we actually turn the tide here just by changing what we feed our dogs? Raider and Jessie have convinced me that it's certainly worth a try.

Answers to your Questions about the RAW/NATURAL DIET by Julie Jones

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