Canine Nutrition

Better nutrition for healthier dogs

During my time as a vet nurse and dog lover, I’ve observed balanced, raw, fresh-meat diets making huge improvements in everyday health, both in my patients and my own dogs. Apart from helping reduce and prevent long-term problems such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies and dental issues, dogs on raw food diets live longer, healthier lives… and this save a lot of money on vet bills!

With the mass consumption of dry and canned pet food over the past few decades, vets have seen an alarming increase in degenerative problems like skin disease, teeth issues, bowel problems, arthritis, diabetes, pancreatitis and some cancers. My own dog is the perfect example.

Drummer had an intolerance to the level of carbohydrates and preservatives in highly processed commercial foods – even the most expensive super-premium brands such as Royal Canin and Eukanuba could be problematic for him, albeit far less so than cheaper brands. He struggled from puppy hood with underlying metabolic problems which caused vomiting, skin allergies and low-grade pancreatitis flare-ups. When he was feeling ‘off’ he was agitated and irritable. It’s not a pleasant experience having such an unhappy dog, so I was at my wits end, having tried many conventional and alternative treatments to make him well.

About twenty years ago, Dr Bruce Syme, a highly respected holistic vet from Melbourne, developed his carefully researched range of Vets All Natural (VAN) pet foods – which follow the BARF principles of Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods. When I discovered his range a few years ago and tried them on Drummer, our problems were solved!

I gradually replaced Drummer’s highly processed Royal Canin diet with Vets All natural raw food, and he has been a different dog in every way. The raw diet has completely resolved his metabolic problems, so he no longer regurgitates his food or vomits frothy bile, his skin has cleared up, he is much more relaxed, and my vet gives him top marks at every health check. His energy levels are also better… which is not necessarily a good thing in a bouncy boxer! I am also saving hundreds of dollars a year because I no longer have to buy his expensive human pancreatic-support medicine.

You can’t put a price on such a fantastic improvement in the health of a treasured pet, so the small additional cost in using this brilliant feeding program is absolutely worth it!

The science behind raw food

Dr Syme’s theory behind his superb range of dog food – supported by international research – is that canines (and felines) evolved over millions of years to be the way they are today. They survived by hunting live herbivore prey, and they ate the entire beast, starting with the abdominal cavity, so their intake included vegetable matter as well as raw flesh, organs and bone. The metabolism of our pets hasn’t changed with domestication, so they still require a diet of mostly raw meat with a (very important) small proportion of vegetable matter, for optimal health.

It’s also very important to note their natural diet incorporated very little carbohydrate. The canine species did not evolve an ability to metabolise large quantities of carbohydrate – yet this is the very substance pet food manufacturers use to expand their highly processed dog foods to make them cheaper! You can be assured that the cheaper the dog food, the more carbohydrate ‘rubbish’ that has been processed into it.

As a vet nurse, I could tell as soon as a patient walked into the waiting room when it was being fed one of the low-cost processed dog foods, simply by looking at the condition of the animal’s skin and coat. The predisposition of these patients towards obesity, arthritis, allergies and diabetes was also a dead giveaway, and their resistance to infection and other immune-related disease was generally poor. What they saved on dog food was lost in vet bills!

Raw is cool!

The high-temperature cooking of dry and canned pet food during the manufacturing process creates deficiencies: it destroys natural enzymes, vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids, proteins and microbial content in food. Many pet food manufacturers have partially overcome this by adding synthetic vitamins, however many deficiencies still occur in cooked and highly processed pet foods. Vets All Natural uses a low temperature pasteurization method to ensure the enzyme, vitamin and mineral quality is maintained.

Similarly, some owners spend hours in their kitchen, lovingly preparing cooked meals for their pooches, using good quality human foods. This dedication is admirable, but, just as eating raw, unprocessed food is better for us, so it is for our dogs. Our metabolism is different to dogs: they tend to get fatter more quickly when fed cooked human food, and they are missing out on essential nutrients that are destroyed during the cooking process. Wild dogs did not cook their food, so, as our domesticated pets, dogs are healthier eating uncooked food. I recommend owners save themselves the trouble and time: feed raw foods instead, and use the time you save playing and exercising together!

Processed pet food exposed

It is extremely sad to think that we spend so much money on the contents of our own shopping trolley, only to buy the cheapest ‘junk food’ available to feed our treasured furry-friends. Processed foods consists of ground up cow and horse heads, hooves, scraps off the abattoir floor, offal, and other useless bits of the beast. There’s barely any muscle tissue – hence protein – in processed dog food. This awful concoction is then loaded up with unpalatable and useless carbohydrate-meal to bulk it out, before it’s slathered with fat and salt to make it palatable enough for our pets to want to eat such garbage! This mush is then dried into biscuits or a small amount is shoved into a can and filled with 90% water.

Don’t believe me? Sadly, I’ve seen it with my own eyes! As a uni student doing an economics unit for an agricultural science degree, I followed a beast through an abattoir – from the stock yard to the tin can. Not only was this a horrific experience for a naive 19-year-old animal lover, it taught me that we are paying an incredible amount of money for the dubious privilege of feeding ground up horse heads and floor scrapings to our pets.

There is very little nutrition in these foods, so the dog needs large quantities to exist on it. Their stools are correspondingly large, and they have a disgusting smell and consistency, because all that carbohydrate the dog eats but can’t metabolise, must end up somewhere… out the other end! It’s little wonder why many dogs on processed rations, particularly the low-cost options, look so poor and have large deposits of foul-smelling stools.

The solution

Please give your treasured pet a chance to enjoy a long, healthy life, free of unnecessary and avoidable diseases, by feeding them good quality raw food. There are other benefits: you won’t need to feed as much, because high-quality protein is nutrient-dense; also, what comes out the other end is smaller and ‘healthier’, because more of the food is taken up by the body. This makes the unpleasant task of picking up all your dog’s poop a much more bearable chore.

Making the transition to raw food

Ideally, dogs should be started on a raw diet right from the day puppy weaning begins, so all breeders should be feeding Vets All Natural raw diet. Any pet, even the elderly, can make the switch from a processed commercial diet to VAN, so long as you do it gradually – over a week or two is ideal. With a little time and perseverance your furry friend will be enjoying a nutrient-dense, balanced diet of fresh meat and vegetable matter in no time.

Gradual familiarisation is the key

If your pet is used to a diet of highly processed or cooked food, there could be some initial resistance and some intolerance if you switch to quickly. The artificial additives and flavours in the vast majority of commercial foods – such as fat, salt and chemical flavouring compounds – are what make highly processed foods palatable, because the food has been ‘bulked up’ with carbohydrate fillers and they are relatively tasteless and unappealing. Most dogs need a little time to be weaned off the addictive taste of fat and salt, and ‘fussy’ eaters may need time to be weaned off the familiar taste of their normal ration.

Dogs can find it hard to tolerate sudden changes in their diet, and may refuse or regurgitate unfamiliar rations. This can certainly be the case if the dog has never (or not regularly) been given meal-sized quantities of fresh raw meat in their diet. Many dogs on diets of processed food find it difficult to tolerate chewing on raw meaty bones – a sad state of affairs, since raw bones are an essential element of canine nutrition and dental health. Once they’ve made the change to the VAN diet, however, raw bones will be easy to tolerate and can become part of your dog’s nutritional program.

It’s best to start the transition to raw food by mixing a small amount of your prepared Vets All Natural raw diet into their usual commercial food. Slowly increase the amount of VAN and decrease the amount of the original diet with each meal until you’ve switched to 100% VAN. This should take at least a week, or two if necessary.

Frequency of feeding

Develop a healthy appetite in your pet by feeding them at a set time each day. Animals who are fed too often and with too much variety often become picky with their food. Always putt the food down and give them a maximum of 5-10 minutes to eat. What they don’t eat, put straight back in the fridge and offer it again in 12-24 hours’ time (no less), depending on whether you’re feeding the pet once or twice a day. Throw away any food that is more than 24 hours old to keep it fresh and tasty.

I recommend feeding twice a day, especially in large, deep-chested breeds, to avoid the risk of GDV. Gastric Dilation Volvolus is a condition involving the twisting and bloating of the stomach, which can be exacerbated by eating too much in one feed, and exercising too soon after eating.

Continue with this removal-of-leftovers process as long as you need to, and don’t pander to fussy behaviour by offering other foodstuffs. Chances are you are feeding too much! If you are a bit of a softie and find this difficult, remember the following mantra: There is no such thing as fussy eaters, just dogs who are not hungry enough to eat what is put down! They won’t starve themselves to death, so be firm and develop this psychologically healthy approach to eating.

A special note for cat lovers: while uneaten food-removal can be good way to encourage regular eating habits in your dog, it is important not to use this method with cats, as fasting can lead to liver problems. For our feline friends, a slow and steady transition to VAN is the key, so be prepared for it to take weeks, or even months, to fully transition cats to a raw food diet.

Brrrrr… Yuk!

Pets don’t dig cold food! Remember that they evolved from the wild where they killed live prey to survive. The meat from a fresh kill is at body temperature, so always serve your pet their new diet at room temperature or slightly warmer. Cold food straight from the fridge can be a big turn-off, especially for cats.

Where do I get it?

It’s easy to source Vets All Natural food, and there are several styles to choose from. Most leading pet suppliers either stock it, or will happily order it in for you. I live in a remote location, so I order my VAN products online, receiving my deliveries quickly, and often with free postage!

It comes in two main styles:
• The Vets All Natural Complete Mix range is a carefully balanced, preservative-free ‘muesli’ which is soaked and mixed with fresh meat. Formulated to meet all the daily nutritional requirements of your pet when combined with fresh meat, VAN Complete Mix contains the protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals for optimum health and longevity. A truly natural balanced diet consists of vegetable matter, raw muscle meat, organs and raw bones: VAN Complete Mix forms the essential vegetable matter portion of your dog’s healthy diet, by mimicking the gut content of a wild prey animal. Complete Mix products are available for adult dogs, puppies, weight loss, gluten free, sensitive skin and cats.

• The Vets All Natural HealthRolls range combine top quality, lean kangaroo meat pre-mixed with a balanced ratio of the key ingredients from VAN Complete Mix. This ready-to-feed diet includes all the macro and micro nutrients required for optimum health and mimics the protein (muscle and organ) content and vegetable (gut) content of a prey animal. The unique formula has no wheat, flour, expanders or fillers but provides a perfect balance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

I buy the dry Complete Mix because it is so economical, lasts a long time, and is much easier for me to store (pantry versus the fridge). To feed it, I simply scoop out the required amount in a measuring cup and soak it overnight, or, if I forget, I pour near-boiling water onto it and leave it to ‘take up’ for half an hour or so before feed time. This is then mixed into fresh pet mince which I buy from my local butcher, at half the cost of mince in the big supermarkets. Be sure your butcher is responsible about his pet mince and does load it up with fat. If this is the case, spend the money on better quality mince, preferably kangaroo mince.

VAN’s HealthRolls are much easier to feed, since they do not require the soaking and mixing process, so if you are time-poor but have ready access to a supplier and a big fridge, this may be the better alternative.

Life-stage and target feeding

The growing needs of puppies require different ratio of nutrition to their elders, to account for their rapid cell reproduction, so be sure to order the Vets All Natural Puppy range for your babies. This includes any small breed dogs up to a year old, medium to large breeds up to eighteen months of age, and up to two years of age for giant breeds.

Older dogs are usually less active, so have fewer demands for quantity, but equal or higher demands on quality. This means we must feed our oldies less, but use top quality food. The VAN range is perfect to achieve this balance for optimum geriatric canine health. Many older dogs suffer from arthritis, however, so they are likely to benefit even more from the VAN Joint Support HealthRoll, to help with their creaky old bones. If your senior (or any dog) has lost their waistline and is looking a little overweight, use the HealthRoll Weight Loss range, and feed to the target weight, not the dog’s existing weight! Dogs with skin issues will benefit from the Sensitive Skin range available in both the Complete Mix and HealthRoll range.

Want more?

For further information, Dr Syme is a wealth of knowledge, so visit There are links to purchase your pet foods online and loads of great articles and tips on pet health and management. It’s brilliant!

If you would like to contact me for further info, don’t hesitate!

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