After poring over dog food labels, you may well be so fed up with commercial dog-food manufacturers that you start searching for a better way. Dog-food manufacturers aren't the only ones who can create a food that dogs thrive on. People have been feeding dogs the same foods that they eat for decades without half the problems the dog-food industry has created.
The more available the nutrients in a food are without having to be broken down by digestive enzymes, the more likely the dog is to gain the most benefit from the food.
If this information has you rethinking your choices, you might consider a homemade or raw diet. Many great resources can be found on the Internet (along with all the really great canine nutrition books out there) that describe how to prepare nutritious, wholesome food for your dog. Investigate how these diets are put together, and determine whether or not they are right for you and your Golden. People switch to a homemade or raw food diet for their Goldens for all kinds of reasons. Most have to do with the dog's improved overall health and increased longevity. This is also a good way to address basic problems like allergies, dull coat, intestinal upset, frequent ear infections, or skin and coat problems.
The ability to hand-pick what goes into your dog's food by making your own makes reading dog food labels a nonissue. By making nutrients available in a usable form, your Golden can use his food a lot more efficiently. This means he gets all the benefits of good-quality and carefully selected ingredients.
Bones and Raw Food Diet
The bones and raw food diet (commonly known as BARF) was popularized by an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst. He believes that dogs require raw meaty bones and meat as the basis of their diet, with fresh vegetables from a variety of sources and very minimal grains. Dr. Billinghurst has written several books on what he calls the natural diet (listed in Appendix A).
The volume of stool output is a good indication of how well the dog's body is able to absorb the nutrients in the food it is eating. People who feed a raw diet claim that stool output is minimal, meaning that their dogs are gaining maximum benefit from the food they are eating and creating very little waste.
This diet calls for giving raw bones to dogs in the form of chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb. “Raw” is the key here. Cooked bones are dangerous to dogs because they splinter and can perforate the stomach and intestines. They should be avoided completely. Some folks who are squeamish about giving whole raw bones grind them or chop them up into smaller pieces.
There have emerged several resources for people who want the benefits of feeding raw but don't have time for the labor of preparing meals. Several companies make a raw diet, which consists of ground bones and vegetables, and package the resultant mix in frozen patties or sleeves. Trying this out requires a little room in the freezer and a bit of preplanning. The basics of this diet are simple, and though you can supplement the bones and raw meat and vegetables with vitamins, the simpler you keep it the better. Supplementing with essential fatty acids (like cod liver oil or fish body oil) may be beneficial to some dogs depending on their current overall state of health. The type of vegetables used should be varied, so that they come from both an underground and an above ground source.
You don't have to make every meal balanced, so long as your Golden gets the variety of foods he needs to be healthy. Dr. Billinghurst recommends thinking about your dog's diet the same way you think about your own diet. Every meal that you eat is not complete and balanced; you get the nutrition you need over the course of a week's time, not at every meal.
There are several sources out there that recommend their own version of a homemade diet. Check the person's credentials before following their word as gospel. Most homemade diets are at least partially cooked, and most don't include bones.
Some of these diets are what is commonly referred to as the “kitchen sink approach.” They include a little bit of everything, all tossed together in one big porridge-like mixture. Most of the home-made diets include some grain, meat, and vegetables along with supplements like alfalfa and kelp, with vitamin E, vitamin C, and essential oils.
Homemade diets are definitely more time-consuming for the dog owner, but some people prefer them to the convenience of kibble. One benefit of a homemade diet is that you can fine-tune it to your own individual dog's needs. In fact, many people who have come up with these homemade diets started out doing so out of necessity. One of their beloved pets could not eat storebought food because of a medical condition or allergy, and so they developed their own diet that lacked the ingredients that aggravated the problem. People who feed a home-prepared diet swear they would never go back to commercial food, and they are always looking for ways to make their home-prepared mixture better and more nutritious for their very lucky pets.
Thoroughly research any diet, and make sure you understand how it works before feeding it to your Golden. If your dog has any allergies to certain proteins like chicken or beef, or to grains like wheat, you'll want to provide meals that steer clear of those ingredients but still meet his dietary requirements.