Organic diet key to healthy dogs: breeder

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” —Groucho Marx
When you walk into the living room of Bob and Jo-Ann MacDonald’s home, what you see looks much like any nursery. The floor is strewn with stuffed toys, things that squeak when you squeeze them, and lots of brightly-coloured balls and rings.
But this is no ordinary nursery—as quickly becomes apparent when the door to the adjacent room is opened and you suddenly are swarmed by 10 furry, yellow bundles of energy crashing into everything, including each other.
Welcome to Loonwater Registered Labradors.
The MacDonalds have been raising Labrador retrievers at their Bears Pass home for nine years and this year’s batch of puppies soon will be gone, leaving the home to the couple and their two permanent dogs—Amber and Barley.
Amber is the mother of this horde and shows the kind of patience for which mothers are universally revered as the puppies jump on her—scratching and sucking for the last vestiges of milk in her rapidly-drying teats.
The puppies are seven weeks old and almost weaned, but Amber shows the amazing tolerance and calmness for which the breed is renown.
For the MacDonalds, no other breed of dog exists.
“We got a Lab two weeks after we were married and it’s been Labs ever since,” said Jo-Ann as she prepared another of the special meals she feeds her puppies.
The MacDonalds specialize in yellow Labradors, which means they must breed selectively because the predominant colour is black. There also is a less-common chocolate phase that is increasing in popularity.
“Black is the dominant gene and yellow is recessive,” explained Jo-Ann, which means even when two yellow dogs are bred, you still may find the odd black puppy in the litter.  Through successive generations, however, the tendency toward yellow will increase and that’s one of the things the MacDonalds look for.
The most important thing, however, is quality. As with any registered breeder, potential health and behavioural problems are the bane of their business and every effort is made to eliminate undesirable traits by selecting sires with extreme care.
They even offer a warranty.
“We guarantee our pups for hips, elbows, and eyes,” said Jo-Ann. “The hips and elbows are certified for three years and the eyes for six years.”
The father of this litter carries the official name of Ch. Corhampton Northumbria Top Gun W.C. J.H.—better known as “Chase” to his friends. He is owned by Kathrina Ridley of Thunder Bay, and is certified as both a show dog and field trial.
That’s important to the MacDonalds, since their customers have a wide range of interests and purchase their puppies for different reasons.
“Our priorities are temperament, conformity, and hunting in that order,” said Jo-Ann. Temperament is practically a non-issue since Labrador retrievers are among the most gentle, sociable breeds available.
Most of her customers buy them as companion pets, but some want to show them and others train them for hunting. These sometimes are conflicting objectives.
“If you want a field trial dog, they tend to be tall and thin, but conformation dogs are stockier,” MacDonald noted. In this case, the puppies have good bloodlines in both areas and that is one reason they command good prices.
The puppies sell for $700 and as of last week, all but one already had been spoken for.
But how does one feed all these animals a healthy diet without going broke? Here the MacDonalds have gone back to basics.
Jo-Ann is a strong advocate and practitioner of the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, sometimes known as the Bones And Raw Food diet. In either case, it is commonly referred to by its colourful acronym—BARF.
The BARF diet is simplicity itself and is based on the premise that dogs, like wolves, have a digestive system designed for raw food. It is the result of the research of Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian who spent 18 years researching dietary causes for animal diseases and allergies and has written several books on the topic.
For the last two years, MacDonald has been feeding her dogs exclusively a combination of raw, meaty bones (mostly chicken necks and backs), beef, venison, pork, and vegetables (except onions). The latter are finely ground so they can be absorbed more easily.
She sometimes substitutes chopped liver and whole fish and in addition, she supplements the food with vitamins and minerals. These are readily available at any vet clinic.
“Even though dogs have been domesticated for centuries, they still have the same digestive system as wolves,” MacDonald remarked.
What may not be well-known is that wolves have a fair amount of vegetable matter in their diets, too. It is generally acquired by consuming the stomach contents of their prey.
And contrary to popular belief, feeding poultry bones to dogs is not necessarily dangerous.
“Chicken bones only become hard and brittle when they’re cooked,” she explained. “When they’re raw, they’re no problem.”
As a special treat, she also gives her dogs small amounts of yogurt and cheese as well as eggs. These also are given raw—shells and all.
Two years ago, MacDonald published an article in the Labrador Retriever Club of Northwestern Ontario newsletter in which she described how the health of her older dog, Barley, improved by leaps and bounds after switching to BARF.
The cost of such a diet is about what one would pay for a premium-quality commercial food.
Dr. Dan Pierroz, of the Nor-West Animal Clinic here, also endorses the BARF diet, albeit with certain caveats.
“It’s a controversial thing, but I support people using it if they choose,” he said. “I certainly use it in situations where there are allergies to the additives in commercial food.”
Dr. Pierroz acknowledged BARF is not for everybody. There is a lot of work involved in the preparation and people need to take certain precautions.
“Bear in mind, you’re dealing with raw meat and it’s important you make sure you aren’t exposed to salmonella and E. coli,” he warned.
That’s why it’s important to wash all utensils and surfaces thoroughly, and the meat must be properly refrigerated. Also, Dr. Pierroz advises that if feeding your dog raw fish, it should be frozen first to kill any parasites it may be harbouring.
He said it’s also important that the vegetables be thoroughly ground up so they are easily absorbed.
MacDonald said the ideal ratio of raw bones and meat to veggies and eggs is about 60-40, although that can vary slightly. The important thing is to monitor your dog carefully and make whatever adjustments are necessary.
More information on the BARF diet can be found online through an e-mail group at RawDogCanada-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
There is also a Web site that addresses the most commonly-asked questions concerning BARF. It can be found at http://www.njboxers.com
(Fort Frances Times)