Please note that this blog post is written from personal experience and advice received, and that it does NOT take precedent on visiting your veterinary. When unsure, always turn to the professionals.
First of all, here’s a little back story to this blog post:
As you may know, since they have both been featured on the blog before, we have two beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Chester (2) and Paddington (8). When we got Chester in May 2017, it was the first time we had a pet together. We both grew up with dogs, but things are different without mummy and daddy taking care of them for us! We therefore had a lot to learn and made many rookie mistakes, just like anybody else. A few months after Chester joined the family, he started with severe anxiety triggered by an unfortunate dog attack at the park; Our little 4 month-old was bitten and scratched by a badly behaved dog. Chester expressed his anxiety by being VERY clingy to me (still is now) and also by having real panic attacks (barking and howling). The vet suggested we put him on drugs, which we refused despite the fact it was seriously affecting our everyday life with complete lack of sleep. Instead, we chose to go the natural way first, with the backup plan of getting him a prescription. This was the start of our journey to raising pet(s) naturally.
Fast-forward one year: we adopted Paddington from a wonderful rescue “Frontier Animal Rescue”. He is a puppy mill survivor who was in a very bad shape when rescued: bad teeth, ears and eyes infections, 14 pounds overweight (for a dog that is supposed to weigh 28 pounds, that’s a lot!), his vocal chords had been cut, he had never been for a walk in his life… But his tail never stopped wagging. It still hasn’t. Adding Paddington to our family helped Chester a lot. His anxiety got a lot better and he became a lot less afraid of other dogs.
Last January, I joined two amazing Facebook groups about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (“Pawsome Cavaliers“ and “The Healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel“) and it was the best decision ever, completely life changing. It has changed the way we raise our pups, what we feed them and what medication and vaccines we give them. After joining those two groups, I also became a member of “Raw Fed Healthy Cavs“, where I really discovered everything I know about feeding my boys.
So, here’s what we have learned so far when it comes to raising dogs the natural way. After all, if I only buy natural and organic products for Andrew and I, along with as unprocessed food as possible, why shouldn’t I do the same for my pups?
1. No more yearly boosters
I wish I would have known that sooner. After his 16-week vaccines (to which he reacted very badly), Chester had his annual booster shots the following year. He once again was sick, feverish and lethargic for 24-48 hours. This year, we skipped them altogether and will get both our boys a titer test in 2 years as they are only needed every 3 years or so. What is tittering you ask? It’s the action of analyzing the blood to test immunity to diseases they are vaccines against as puppies. I have read many stories in which dogs still didn’t require a booster shot even after 10 years! Our reasoning: why put them through it if it is not required?
It is however extremely important that they get their puppy vaccines and I am in no way telling people to stop vaccinating. I am simply sharing what I have learned: we are over vaccinating, at great risks for our pups.
2. No more tick and flea meds
Another thing that we gave Chester before we knew any better: tick & flea meds (which I won’t name). Once again, he reacted terribly to it but we thought, as the vet told us, that he was simply more sensitive than other dogs to things like that. Turns out there are many dogs who experience severe side effects to these, even death. I am sure you have heard about the recent lawsuits… If not, I suggest you look it up as it’s a true eye opener.
I wish I would have stopped to think about what I was giving my pup at the time. I mean, these pills or oils enter the bloodstream and kill any flea or tick that bites your dog. Can you imagine how strong those chemicals are, all the while running through your pups’ blood vessels?! We are basically giving them pesticides. It’s scary!
Now, we go the natural route and it’s been amazing. I make my own tick & flea spray at home using a great recipe from the Canine Journal (click HERE) and top it with a commercial one when we go to the forest or areas I know are more risky. As we’re in Canada, we buy the one from Héloise Lab (click HERE). There are many amazing natural brands in all countries, so you can easily find one that works for you.
3. No more kibbles
One of the biggest changes we have made is to start feeding our pups raw food instead of kibbles. It’s fresh, nutrient rich, diverse and, in our case, made a big difference. There are many amazing companies who provide packaged frozen raw food, which is complete (meat, organs, bones, fruits, vegetables). We also give them dehydrated food when we travel, as it’s a lot more practical. You can also find a lot of information about it online, which I strongly recommend you do.
Now, this wasn’t an easy transition for us humans. While the pups couldn’t get over their luck, we as vegan and vegetarian struggled with our ethical beliefs. It’s one thing to say “dogs are mainly carnivores, so I won’t force a vegan diet on them”, and entirely another to say “right, let’s cut this turkey neck in half as a full one is too much for Chester”. This conflict is one of the main reasons we buy frozen packaged food as it is then a lot easier to pretend it’s a veggie burger all the while being complete. Take the time to do some research on the brands available where you are and pick a very good quality brand.
Despite the fact that my pups are thriving on the prepackaged raw, I really do hope to eventually transition to mostly DYI. I have slowly started on that path, but there is so much to learn in order to ensure you feed a complete diet over a period of time of a week or two, that I will take my time and ensure I am entirely comfortable before completely transitioning. Thankfully, the Raw Fed Healthy Cavs Group (mentioned in the introduction), is a place I can go ask questions, feel supported and learn from others.
I know I may get some backlash on this as many vegans would be against that decision, but when we took on 2 dogs, we knew they were carnivores (omnivores) and I will not change that.
4. No more chemical dewormers
Until a few months ago, I didn’t even know there were natural options for this. I mean, I simply listened to our veterinary. Just to be clear, I do believe you should always listen to your vet and take his/her advice into account, BUT you should always do some research on the side and make an informed decision from there.
After doing my own research and asking very knowledgeable people, I found out that there are many natural ways to keep your dogs worm-free:
- Grated pumpkin seeds
- Crushed garlic (yes, garlic is actually safe for dogs in reasonable doses, but never for puppies under 6 months)
- Vegetables (carrot, cucumber, fennel…)
- Kefir (goat kefir works very well for us)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (in their water)
It is important to adjust the quantity based on the weight of your dog. At the exception of apple cider vinegar which I give everyday in their water, I give my pups two of these per day, with their meal. For instance, Chester weighs around 35 pounds, so he gets 2 of the following: 1 tsp of grated pumpkin seeds, one crushed garlic clove, 1 tbsp goat kefir, etc. There are great websites out there to help you with that such as Dogs Naturally (click HERE). This is an amazing website and I consult it regularly.
When going the natural route however, it is imperative that screening be done. To make my life easier and also for cost efficiency, I get it done in the UK by Wormcount. They take samples from everywhere, are very efficient and do a very thorough screening. When I had it last done in August, it cost us around $100 CAD (for 2 dogs) and we got the results less than a week after mailing the samples. It actually worked out a lot cheaper than visiting our vet, where it would have cost us around $250-300 CAD. You can look them out by clicking HERE.
5. CBD oil
This is something else I discovered earlier this year: CBD oil can be extremely beneficial for dogs. It has helped Chester a lot with his anxiety, as well as giving him relief from what we think is SM (syringomyelia). He has not been officially diagnosed, but an MRI scan will be scheduled in the new year. I spent many hours researching it and reading everything I could about it before giving it to him and before moving forward, I spoke to our vet (which you absolutely should do BEFORE giving CBD oil as each dog/condition is different). I was so happy to discover an amazing brand called “Creating Brighter Days”, who offers many different options based on what the issues with your pup are. They are vet-approved, organic and non-GMO. You can read more about them HERE.
Over the past year, I have discovered a few experts I trust completely when it comes to educate myself in the holistic way of raising my pups. Don’t get scared away by the term “holistic” as while they promote natural alternatives when suitable, they will never push for natural remedies when pharmaceutical medicine is required and that is why I trust them so much.
- Dr Judy Morgan, renowned author, speaker and holistic veterinarian: you can find her website HERE and it is an absolute goldmine. I honestly consult several times every month. Divided per category (collections), it is easy to find the information you are looking for and always so interesting!
- Caroline Spencer, dog behaviourist: positive and proactive dog training method. She, and a team of people, have a business called “Pure Dog Listeners” based in the UK. Their website is also wonderful, with great blog posts and general info. I have recently purchased the book written by Caroline “Why Does my Dog Do That?” and I am telling you that it is a MUST read. You can access the website is HERE.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments. If I am not sure of the answer, I will guide you in the right direction.
I want to take a moment to personally thank Marita Tilley, Jane Lister, Jen Prescott and Sheree Andrews who are completely selfless when it comes to helping others with their pups. There are many other people who have helped me through this journey with my boys, but these four ladies made all the difference.