Many of my readers know a little bit about my beloved Ridgeback Daniel, the dog who rescued my heart after I lost Luke so suddenly and so cruelly back in 2006. Danny has been a soulmate for me since the day I clapped eyes on him, a wide eyed, sweet faced puppy of 10 weeks, who brought me so much love and laughter in the weeks and months following my loss of Luke, I can’t express it (but you guys are dog-people, you already know what I’m talking about!).

This coming October it will be five years since I brought him home. He’s the heart of my life, really my centre in so many ways – and he’s been so vibrantly healthy, overall. I did a home made, cooked diet for him from 10 weeks till adulthood, with a little commercial food as I had to (I researched brands and food/nutrient content like ever before, in case I had to use some, and I settled on Innova Large Breed Puppy, which was not P&G back then, and then Fromm Fourstar Duck and Sweet Potato later on. I do not like kibble, but I’m a realist, and an overworked one at that) His growth diet was NRC based, and utilized turkey, organic brown rice, squashes, beef liver, sardines, eggs, a small amount of rotated vegetable matter, along with essential supplements (calcium, zinc, iodine and so on) and some  supplements for health-support (probiotics, spirulina, coconut oil, fish oils).

This is Danny – lean, muscled but not overly, alert, fast, and focused.

Danny’s optimal diet – nutrient wise – has always been a little outside of my comfort zone; he can’t handle the high levels of protein I so often use – he does super well on fish and root vegetables alone – he reacts to things I use all the time professionally and he thrives on a chicken and brown rice-based recipe.To be looking on the bright side, I think this has much value for me, as it pushes me to explore more, learn more, move away from dogmatism. I start a lot of clients off with turkey, when in fact chicken *might* be an equally good choice – depends on the type of chicken! and, of course, the dog… But – for this entry – I want to stay focused on Daniel. This is what’s been happening this year, and how I’ve been dealing with it. Maybe my own discoveries and insights will be helpful for others, and at the very least it gives me a place to explore my own dog, and move outside of whatever dogma is holding me back, if indeed there is any of that left after all these years.

So let’s start with the history.

Danny has always been reactive. This is reflected in his digestive system but it is also in his personality. Dan gets over-excited, he seems to move outside of himself – as in, he gets worked up about a cat in the house and nothing I do or say can bring him back to himself. VERY different from Luke, who would get outside himself  too, over other things – and my hands on his flanks, on his lower back, would elicit an immediate “Wow,  what was I thinking?” kind of response, he’d swing his head around and stop whatever macho thing he was engaging in. Dan could care less if I Tiger Touch his ass end, he just accelerates (so  I don’t do that much anymore, lol). He’s  the classic “fool around” type dog – if we see responses to stress as “Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fool Around”, Daniel takes the frenzied approach to life to new levels altogether. I am both challenged and grateful to him for teaching me new skills. Luke was biddable in comparison to Danny – and for those who knew Luke, you will agree that’s saying something!

For the first two years of his life, the only issue I ever had was the week I fed Orijen, a massively high-protein food that caused him to basically run up and down the stairs all day long like a baboon on steroids. Studies have been varied on this topic but I know what I saw – an energetic, upbeat dog becoming crazy with a need to run all day long, and I do not believe that can be good for the system. Reduction from the skyhigh 40-something protein content of Orijen to a moderate, but still well above RA of Fromm Fourstar (@25%) literally gave me back my dog. We did very well for three more years with moderate protein, moderate fat,  and a higher than I usually use carb presence of about 45%. Dan is healthy, his hyperactivity controlled, his stool good and appetite really excellent, neither excessive nor picky. Then, again, as I settled into a comfort zone – things changed.

I should add that from the age of 2 till this summer, so about 3 years, Danny would indeed show some periodic bowel sensitivity – from me indulging him in some wheat or cheese, from getting into catfood (with 13 cats this can be a challenge to avoid) or from emotional stress. I also tried feeding Acana Grasslands, a more moderate but still high protein food at about 30%, and he became nauseated and inappetant. I had to wrench myself away from my preference for high protein diets, and feed what suited him…amazing how after preaching this for so many years I still had to force myself. I did not want to feed so much carb, I’ve been affected by the recent anti-carb mania and I just kept looking at the dogma instead of the dog. His classic pattern was a very firm and good stool in the morning followed by a drippy one later one – no matter what happened, the excitement of his run elicited a faster gastric transit time and he’d produce a loose poop n our walk. If we didn’t walk, he wouldn’t have a loose stool. This suggested to me that his emotions fueled at least some of his biological reactions, and this of course makes perfect sense.

Clients sometimes ask my why I need information about their dog’s behaviour and temperament – this is why. Mind and body cannot be separated.

But overall, Daniel has been very healthy – just a “hot” type dog, what I think of as Pita/Vata in an Ayurvedic sense – so I used higher carb, lower protein, more anti inflammatory type fats, and cooling herbs to  compensate for that. Plus, loads of offleash exercise and mental stimulation, to help prevent boredom and frustration.

We did really well, and then a few weeks ago I noted some drippy stool. He does get this so I kept watching. I’d been in town several days getting medical help and one day, for a surgery – his  digestive issues could well have been stress and empathy related. I observed several days running of loose stool.. and began to worry – he’d been walked in new places, he was clearly concerned about me – so I decided, Hell I better make a batch of home made food and let him just stay on that 100% for now. Usually I give him a cup of Fromm for breakfast (I am unspeakable in the morning, it is not my best thing to add supplements and warm up fridge-food at 5 am) and then home made for lunch and dinner.

Backing up a wee bit, I have Danny, and a senior RR girl I rescued 3 years ago, at age 8, after she had been abandoned in a boarding kennel in montreal. Tina, my rescue, had some kidney problems a while ago, but is well managed with diet and supplements. In many ways, she is hardier than Daniel. She eats a bit of Acana Light and Fit, and the rest a home made cooked renal diet. Going strong at 11.I also cook for two other dog,s belonging to my partner – a geriatric (13 years) Lab mix who is doing fabulously on a home made diet with a little Acana here and there, and a six year old Malamute mix on pretty much the same. Neither of these dogs are especially gastrically sensitive.

I use home made cooked NRC recipes for all the dogs with a little kibble as I need to. Neither Tina nor Dan are candidates for raw food, so I keep it simple by cooking everyone’s food.

So after my two weeks of medical stuff and Danny’s loose bowel, I made a moderate protein and fat, gluten free (rice and sweet potato based) NRC balanced recipe for Dan, with the same essential supplements I have always used – NOW calcium carbonate, Monica Segal kelp, Natural Factors zinc, and so on.

Danny ate his dinner with relish and then promptly began to scare the bloody Hell out of my by pacing and having liquid, projectile diarrhea all night long. We’d have had the vet the next day except for the fact he was alert, his temperature normal, hungry and active. He just had something really not good going on with his bowel. So, I got him onto plain, skinless, local/free range chicken and brown rice RIGHT THAT DAY. Super low fat content and obviously very deficient in multiple nutrients, but my goal was to keep his symptoms under control. And that, we did – within about 36 hours he was back to normal stool. at that point I felt comfortable adding in some slippery elm – a teaspoon a day in divided doses – and verrry slowly adding in everything this diet is low in – calcium, iodine, fat and fatty acids, iron, copper and zinc, Vitamin D – one step at a time.

Meanwhile, two weeks have passed – with the slow introduction of nutrient/supplements every day or so –  and again I have tried Dan with a cup of kibble, with added Prozyme (digestive enzymes can be great for dogs, but they are by no means a panacea, and nor will one type be the right one for every dog). I found more gassiness with the Prozyme than without, but the slippery elm remains essential. This suggests to me that I examine the properties of that herb and see what it it providing that makes so much difference to my dog.

It suggests my dog’s ability to break down food into nutrient components is fine, but his colon is inflamed, and the slippery elm soothes and eases this irritation.One part of the puzzle, for me so far – and the intolerance for fat is also notable.

Right now I am able to use lean skinless chicken, brown rice, butternut squash, a wee bit of sardine (some is ok, more is not) and lamb liver to form the basis of the diet.  He’s reacting to calcium so I’m using new ones, he can’t do Prozyme but slippery elm is good; a popular probiotic blend I use a lot (HMF powder) is no go but a plain acidophilus is helpful.

So, one step at a  time one day at a time toward optimal nutrition and health for my darling one. That’s how it often goes.I feel privileged to be learning from, and helping my sweet and special dog – as I always do for every one  of my clients.

Chicken, brown rice, squash, liver and sardines can form the basis of a good diet for many dogs, but, ok –  what type of chicken? how much sardine? and what supplements to cover the deficits? are all individual issues. Often people accost me and start saying that “dogs this” and “Dogs that”. To me it’s like saying “humans should all eat____”. I have never done well on vegetarian  diet no matter how hard I’ve worked at it, and others I know really thrive on meatfree. Dogs are individuals like we are – and perhaps more particular due to their semi-carnivorous metabolism. We do well to watch, record results, and remain open to what the individual – not our favourite theory, or even our education and experience, tells us. The real live dog is as important as any of that.

I will keep you posted as Dan and I travel into the murky waters of digestive sensitivity. 🙂 Bless his smiling sweet devoted heart for teaching me how hard this is to live with, that I may serve my clients with greater empathy. Danny is mild compared to so many dogs – my heart goes out to you all, as does my ongoing research and work.