First published in October 2019, updated July 2020
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 (3) and Paddington (almost 9). 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.
In January 2019, 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. 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.
And guess what? I am now part of the fabulous team moderating the groups and helping members. Two years ago, I was truly uneducated when it came to dogs without knowing it… I have since discovered that research is KEY and that we owe it to our pets to do our very best by them. 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? If you want to learn, it isn’t too late! Join us into this wonderful journey of raising pets the natural way.
So, here are some very important things that I have learned so far.
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. Over the past 2 years, we skipped them altogether and will get both our boys a titer test next summer, as they are only needed every 3 years. 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?
Rabies vaccine is still required by law in many places, so you may not have a choice about this one. When it comes to the others though, such as leptospirosis, bordetella or Lyme disease, I strongly encourage you to read about the severe possible side-effects before going ahead with them. As they only offer “short-term” protection, you can’t titer for those.
So what can you titer for? Parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus.
It is however 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 and that’s the fact that 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 believes our vet when he told us that Chester 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.
The key is to layer different natural repellents. This is what we do:
- We alternate between Wondercide and a homemade spray from the Canine Journal (click HERE).
- They also wear a little scarf around their neck, which I spray every time we go out.
- I spray their harness a few times a week.
- They get apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon per day) with their breakfast.
- I also feed them garlic daily (yes, garlic is perfectly safe and in fact extremely beneficial for dogs EXCEPT for Akita and Shiba Inu).
- One week every 2 months (as indicated on the pack), I add Earth MD natural oral flea and ticks repellent (click HERE) to their meal (and stop feeding garlic during that week).
There are many amazing natural brands in all countries, so you can easily find one that works for you. In fact, I suggest you join our amazing group The Healthy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It may be breed specific, but a lot of the information we share applies to all breeds.
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 freeze-dried food when we travel, as it’s a lot more practical to feed on our way to and from our destination but as soon as we arrive, they’re back on their fresh diet. 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.
I feed a combination of premade raw (Big Country Raw, Tollden Farm are my two favorites here in Eastern Canada). If you are in the USA, Answers Pet Food and All Provide are a very good brands to start with.
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 and never to Akita and Shiba Inu)
- Vegetables (carrot, cucumber, fennel…)
- Kefir (goat kefir works very well for us)
- DE (diatomaceous earth) food grade organic
- Apple Cider Vinegar (in their water)
It is important to adjust the quantity based on the weight of your dog. They both get daily: 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon of ground raw pumpkin seeds OR 1 teaspoon of DE, 1 cfrushed garlic clove, and about 5-10 grams of vegetables.
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, 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 about a year ago: CBD oil can be extremely beneficial for dogs. It has helped Chester a lot with his anxiety, as well as giving him relief from his condition called SM (syringomyelia). I spoke to our vet (which you absolutely should do BEFORE giving CBD oil as each dog/condition is different) and the use of it was encouraged. I was so happy to discover an amazing brand called “Source CBD”. They are vet-approved, organic and non-GMO.
6. Natural anti-inflammatories
When Chester was diagnosed with SM last December, I embarked on a journey to find a way to treat him as naturally as possible. He still gets Gabapentin 3 times a day but in order to keep the dose low, natural supplements are a must. Guess what? It has worked so far!
Here’s what he gets on a regular basis:
Golden paste, 1/4 teaspoon: It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, has anti-bacterial properties, natural detoxification, natural pain relief and even anti-cancer properties.
Omega 3 fish oil, 1/2 teaspoon: It’s an anti-inflammatory that helps with conditions that causes inflammation of the heart, kidneys, skin, and joints. It helps with allergies and reduces itchy skin.
5 defenders mushroom powder, 1/8 teaspoon: Mushrooms help sooth inflammation and are very good at stimulating white blood cells and improving circulation. When choosing a brand, please make sure it doesn’t include mycelium as it is toxic.
Green lipped mussels, 1/4 teaspoon or so: It is a natural anti-inflammatory that also boosts immunity. It strengthens the bones and reduce joint pain. It can even prevent development of arthritis!
Over the past few years, 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.
* Chester is a tall cavie and weighs a healthy (for him) 35-37 pounds. Quantities have to be adapted to the size of your dog.
* Supplements need to be given differently and need to be adapted for puppies of less than 6 months, lactating/pregnant dogs and dogs with conditions taking medications. Garlic isn’t suitable for Akita and Shiba Inu.
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. You can also benefit from their knowledge by joining the Facebook groups I mentioned above!