By Larry Saavedra

How much medical attention would you give a dog? I asked that same question to friends and industry contacts that happen to be waterfowl hunters and AKC competitors and trainers. I was surprised by their responses.

Not one person would even consider putting a dog down, unless it happened to be the last option, or if the costs of the medical bills were going to be more than they could afford to pay.

I was facing a similar situation after a visit earlier this year to the veterinarian. My 10-year old Lab had been diagnosed with bone cancer. I couldn’t believe what I had heard!

I had taken my dog from puppy hood to the pinnacle of AKC competition, and she appeared to be healthy and alert. But I did see her limp on the rear leg occasionally after training, and so that’s why I originally took her in for a check up.

According to those I trust for this kind of advice, I basically had two choices; euthanize, or amputate the cancerous leg and pray. Most of the trainers I work with said to “get rid of the leg,” and she will compensate for it and enjoy her remaining years.

Still it was a tough decision. There were the hefty costs involved and a considerable amount of recovery time. Thousands of dollars are spent fighting cancer on one dog, and there was only a small chance that my Lab would survive if we went ahead with the amputation.

What made it even more unbelievable is that I was working in post-production for Retrievers in the Field, the DVD from Quick Dog Productions. There I was each day, editing fantastic video footage of retrievers in their prime, while my dog, my teammate for a decade of my life, was facing the biggest obstacle ever and all I could do was sit by and watch it unfold.

I decided to have the vet amputate the leg, and relieve her of pain. A friend thought I was unrealistic to spend that money on a 10-year old dog. But it wasn’t about money. I had a very sick family member, and we shared a lot of good times together. You be the judge. I would do it all again if faced with a similar issue.

Anyways, I was becoming good at mending this particular retriever. She had two ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) surgeries in competitive life, and so I was ready to tackle whatever recovery program the vet requested.

Then my wife had an idea, and I’d like to share it with you.

Building the Immune System

She told me about holistic feeding, and the potential to build the dog’s immune system by increasing her intake of certain good minerals.

I still know very little about feeding raw, or the holistic approach to making a dog healthy, but one of the first things I did on the expert advice of a trainer that I work with was to immediately change her diet.

I went from dry kibble to a hybrid of uncooked chicken backs and necks, sardines, cottage cheese, and lots of chopped up green vegetables. My wife and I had been feeding her dry food since she was 8 weeks old, and we knew it was time to make some drastic changes. If the holistic approach worked, it would be worth the effort. Surprisingly, the costs remained about the same as the good quality dry food.

Research First

My research to recovery proved invaluable, and I recommend Jane Anderson’s raw feeding guide for starters. There’s also the biologically appropriate raw food website, also known as BARF. Weird name, but lots of great information and videos about raw diets that I think will help you make a good choice should you decide to put your retriever on a balanced diet, away from dry food and grains.

I’m not suggesting that dry foods, especially the good ones like Canidae offers, are anything less than the package label says. I don’t proclaim to know anything more than you do about how dry dog chow is manufactured, and where the feed actually comes from. What I do know is that the dog’s ancestor (the wolf) did not eat processed grains, and whatever the companies dump into their product to give it a “meaty” appearance.

Why on earth would a dog get a human disease unless it was introduced through a food source?

The Prognosis

It’s been several months and Jetta is doing very well after surgery. I actually brought her to a friend’s ranch and we shot her a live flier. I decided to edit that particular scene in the DVD so that others could see that a dog with lots of drive will compensate for anything!

I attribute her newfound spirit to the balanced diet of raw foods, and the fact that the vet removed the cancerous leg. I’m not oblivious to the fact that cancer cells spread to other regions. But I’m confident that she is out of pain and hopefully free of this awful disease forever.

The mostly raw diet is meant to boost Jetta’s immune system by increasing her intake of Omega-3 fatty acids found in products like sardines (in fish), as well as, providing her with products like eggs and fine-ground veggies that are loaded with Selenium, a mineral that helps to make special proteins, called antioxidant enzymes, which is said to play a part in preventing cell damage.

Some of the research suggested a balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6, but I’m no expert on how these two fatty acids should be used properly. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in some better natural dog foods, but it is an essential acid that cannot be made in the dog’s body, and must come from a quality food source. You can learn more about it at http://www.omega3learning.uconn.edu.

In case you were wondering, the pro trainers that I work with don’t necessarily prescribe such a drastic reversal in feeding. They simply can’t do it when they have 20 or more dogs in their kennels. But even the best pros are looking at the virtues of raw food fatty acids with more respect. And, a long list of very respected AKC competition enthusiasts are starting to use a holistic approach to better health for their dogs.

For me to buy and prepare a raw diet twice a day for two Labs is not the point. What it comes down to is treating our dogs just as we’d like to be treated.

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