“Transitioning” and “Detox” – Pet Food Myths?

A recent comment on a Pet Connection post regarding the Blue Buffalo pet food recalls brought up a frequently repeated pet food article of faith – the “slow transition” theory.

“Slow Transitioning” posits that, whenever we change a dog from Kibble Brand “A” to Kibble Brand “B”, we need to do so sloooowly, usually over the course of a week or so.  Specifically, we are advised to do so when switching from a lesser quality dry food to a higher quality one – or when switching to raw from kibble. In  a few cases, I’ve seen ‘experts’ advise taking as long as a month to change a dog from one food to another.  One of the reasons given for why we need to introduce foods so slowly is that the better quality ingredients in the food we are switching to will ‘overwhelm’ our dogs’ digestive systems.

This ‘overwhelming’ can manifest itself as diarrhea or other digestive upsets. We’re also told that this enhanced nutrition can result in our dogs undergoing something called “Detoxification” – Detox, for short. Raw foodies, in particular, say that we can expect our dogs to undergo detox when we switch them from dry kibbles to raw food.

Descriptions of the detox process vary, but the central idea is that your dog’s body will “flush” itself of all the toxins it has accumulated from being fed a dry diet. This ‘flush’ will be noticeable externally, via a long list of symptoms – vomiting, diarrhea, mucus pouring out of their nostrils and coating their stools, runny eyes, hives and even seizures (!). Pet owners are told that none of these symptoms are anything to worry about – that it is simply their dog’s immune system ridding itself of toxic poisons.

In one of my favorite descriptions of the detox process, the author writes that “dogs experience this (detox) process because their bodies have to build all new healthy cells to replace the old ones”. Isn’t science wonderful?

I’ve become very skeptical of the concept of detox. Over the years, I’ve switched literally dozens of dogs from dry food to raw diets, and in almost every case, I’ve done so cold turkey. No ‘transitioning’, and no signs of anything like detox.

In my experience, switching dogs from one food to another should be a relatively simple process, and particularly when switching dogs from kibble to raw. Take weaning, for example.

Anyone who breeds dogs has had the unpleasant experience of the weaning runny poops – puppies weaned onto dry kibble, no matter how ‘premium’ the brand, tend to get diarrhea for at least the first few days. As the puppies acclimatize to their new diet, their poop becomes more solidly formed, and their diarrhea ends. Like most breeders, I just believed that this was all a natural part of weaning, although I don’t know why – we don’t automatically accept our that our (human) babies will develop raging cases of liquid poop when we switch them to solid food, so we do we accept it for puppies? My wake up call came when I first starting weaning puppies onto raw. The change from nursing to solid food was seamless – no diarrhea, no upset stomachs, no reluctant eaters.

Most recently, I’ve changed the diets of our two foster Frenchies, Harley and Peanut, from dry kibble to raw. In both cases, I switched them almost instantly, and in neither case did they suffer from ‘transitioning’ issues or detox symptoms. If anyone should have, it was Harley – he came to me eating an overpriced Vegetarian Kibble with potato protein as the main ingredient, and with a diagnosis of severe protein allergies. You’d think that switching Harley over to a high protein raw diet would have thrown him into a state of detox panic, but instead he threw up once from eating too fast, and then settled down to being just another happy, raw fed dog.

Christie Keith on Pet Connection put it best –

I wonder if you’d find it odd that every time you ate a different food or, you know, changed brands of cereal, you got diarrhea.


If switching your dog’s food causes him to start pouring out mucus and diarrhea while having seizures,  there’s a problem, and you need to get him off the new food and to a veterinarian, pronto. If switching your dog between brands of kibble causes him digestive upsets and diarrhea, there’s a problem – and if this happens no matter which ‘premium’ brands you switch him to, maybe it’s time to rethink your entire feeding policy and switch him to raw.

It’s just a matter of common sense, really.

Tasmanian Devils and Bad Breeders

I love feeding my dogs a raw diet. I truly and honestly believe that it is the best, most biologically appropriate diet for dogs, and that many digestive and skin issues can be cleared up with a raw diet.

What I don’t believe, however, is that raw is a magic bullet. This puts me into direct conflict with certain segments of the raw feeding population, who will tell you that raw fed dogs won’t ever get rabies, can’t contract parvo and don’t get cancer.

I take issue with all of this (mainly because it flies in the face of logic), but I actually get fairly pissed about the cancer claim.

Read more

Breaking what isn’t broke

Teddy eating his first meal of raw dog food mixed with goats milk.

I’ve been raw feeding my dogs off and on for almost twenty years now. Back when I started, raw feeding was something that you turned to in desperation, when all the other diets had failed you. It was also something you didn’t advertise to most people, as you were almost assured of being considered a ‘kook’. I remember several potential puppy buyers who balked when informed that my pups were raised on raw food. A few thought it meant that they’d be walking salmonella farms, and one or two actually believed the old myth about ‘raw meat making dogs savage’! Times sure have changed – you can now buy raw diets commercially, some puppy buyers specifically come looking for pups who’ve been raised on raw and lists for raw feeders abound on Yahoo Groups.

No matter how long you feed raw for, it’s still possible to have the occasional crisis of faith. Mine came when it was time to wean the chipmunks. As always, I started them on a slurry of raw dog food mixed with goats milk. I then gradually reduce the milk, until they’re eating just raw. This time around, a week or so in and the little hellions all went on a hunger strike. In an adult dog, this would be time for a case of tough love – eat or go hungry, is generally my motto. With babies, it’s a little bit more worrisome – they can’t afford to skip meals, and they don’t have the energy reserves to make fasting practical.

And so, I admit it – I panicked. I picked up a bag of premium quality, grain free kibble, I soaked it in some goats milk, and I offered it to the kids. And, of course, they loved it. Like sucky, over indulgent moms the world over, instead of just insisting that the kids eat their damned broccoli, I gave in and fed them the canine equivalent of a trip to McDonalds. Initially, it seemed a simple solution – give in, feed them dry and say ‘so be it’. It wasn’t quite that simple, however.

As soon as the pups went on to the dry food, they had constant diarrhea. This wasn’t the truly frightening, dehydrating diarrhea, either. Excuse the crudeness, but their poop looked like pudding, and poor Alvin was suffering from a wicked case of diaper rash as a result. Not life threatening, but not pleasant, either, and I was desperate to get it under control.

First attempt? Re worming. I use Safe Guard, which covers the widest variety of intestinal worms, and also addresses any potential Giardia. Nothing. Next attempt, a precautionary dose of Baycox, an  almost impossible to get wonder drug that knocks out Coccidia in one dose. Still no change. Alvin’s bottom was so sore I was applying zinc oxide cream four times daily, and the poor little guy still looked miserable. Next up, we tried a course of Flagyl (aka metronidazole), surefire cure all for all mystery cases of runny poop. No improvement. Final attempt, a pricey box of FortiFlora, which my repro vet swears by. Still runny poop, still scooting their little bums, and still a sore bottom on Alvin.

On Friday, I’d had it.

I decided to switch them back to raw, whether they liked it or not, and put down a dish of raw lamb dog food. Picky as always, they sniffed at it and said ‘no thanks’, until I sprinkled a remaining packet of FortiFlora over top of it, after which they scarfed it down like they were starving.

End results? By Saturday morning, their poop was fifty percent better, and by Saturday night, their poop was 100% normal, for the first time since I switched them to dry.

Lesson learned! I’ll be sticking to raw from now on, and if another batch of puppies get picky, I’ll ride it out and use tough love until they get their appetites back, instead of feeding them junk food. As Sean said “If you know raw works, why were you messing around with their food?”. It was a simple case of breaking what wasn’t broke, and I’m not going to make that mistake again!

The Puppies Eat Their First Meal

Well, it’s official – the puppers are growing up. Monday, they ate their very first meal – a tasty slurry made from raw beef mixed with warm, raw whole goat’s milk. Think ‘beef goat milk smoothie’.

Alvin (aka Striker) took to it like a champ – you could almost see him thinking “Thank god, it’s food I don’t have to chase across the whelping box”.

Teddy also got the hang of it right away – you could almost see him thinking “thank god, it’s food buffet style (whatever a buffet is)”.

Simon, on the other hand? Not so impressed. His basic opinion seems to be “I have fresh food on tap from mommy – why should I work so hard?”. He takes a little bit of coaxing, and even then he’s still more interested in licking left overs off of his brothers’ faces. Oh well, some kids just are slower to mature.

Here’s a short video, taken during that very first meal.

Distemper Outbreak in Toronto’s Wildlife

Raccoon nests like this one inside homes can spread Canine Distemper

Raccoon nests inside homes can spread Canine Distemper

An outbreak of distemper has killed off hundreds of Toronto’s raccoons and skunks – and has put dogs at risk.

From the Toronto Star

If you see a raccoon lying on a sidewalk in the middle of the day, call Toronto Animal Services – and keep your dog on a tight leash.

The animal is likely sick and dying, and could infect your pet with a lethal strain of distemper, an epidemic that has killed hundreds of raccoons and skunks in the GTA since May.

“It’s not transferable to humans but there is definitely a high risk to unvaccinated cats and dogs,” said Eletta Purdy, manager of Toronto Animal Services. “It’s not rabies but it kills quickly.”

Distemper is a highly contagious, highly lethal virus. The same virus affects dogs, skunks, ferrets, weasels, raccoons and possibly opossums.

It’s hugely irresponsible to not use the readily available, virtually risk free distemper vaccination to protect your pets from distemper. Prior to the invention of the canine distemper vaccine in the 1960’s, distemper ravaged thousands of kennels world wide, wiping out entire lines. A trip to the dog show could result in the death of all of a breeder’s puppies, and sometimes their older dogs, as well.

Advocates of no vaccinations often argue that it is only puppies with weak immune systems who develop viruses like distemper. They point to raw feeding and homeopathic remedies as a method to prevent and cure distemper. Raccoons and skunks are hardly surviving on a diet of take out food, and yet they still are highly susceptible to distemper.

The other argument made by no vaccine advocates is that their puppies only end up contracting distemper when  they come into contact with other puppies which have received the distemper vaccine, and are ‘shedding’ the virus. Ignoring the fact that modern distemper vaccines are made from killed forms of the virus, it’s an incontrovertible fact that any puppy not living in a bubble stands a good chance of encountering a raccoon, a fox or a skunk, even in the most urban environment. Your dog doesn’t even have to have a face to face run in with a wild animal to become infected with distemper – it can be spread via feces of infected animals just as easily (and who among us hasn’t seen our dogs snuffling up something gross and unknown on our daily walks?).

Please, get your dogs and puppies vaccinated. It’s such a simple preventative, for such a horrible disease.