By Doreen Simpkins
There is much discussion in newspapers at the moment about the credit crunch "forcing" dog owners to give their pets up to rescue centres because they can no longer afford to keep them--- but what are the real costs of keeping a dog? What are the "essentials" of good dog care, and what is simply "window dressing? How much are we as dog owners influenced by the advertising industry? I am not advocating that everyone should do as I do—merely that it is best to have access to independent research evidence and information so that you the owner can make informed choices. The pet food industry is a multi million pound one, and owners need to consider whether the facts supplied by those companies are likely to be fully independent or not.
For many people feeding their dog means popping into the supermarket or local pet store for the "must have" complete or tinned dog food—but was it always this way? The answer of course is no. For many years dogs were fed on a combination of table scraps and plain dog biscuit. Many associated with the pet food industry might argue about so called balanced diets quoting standardised vitamin and mineral content. These same people however are unlikely to highlight the research which indicates that the additives in many commercial dog foods are carcinogenic in nature. If you wish to access a very useful site for an alternative view of what we should be feeding our dogs is independent research figures on this topic go to http://www.canine-health-concern.org.uk or,
Practical measures which can be taken by dog owners to contain the costs of feeding their dogs include the following. Consider bulk buying with a group of friends, neighbours or family members, as many manufacturers of hypoallergenic dried foods will offer discounts on bulk buying. Use that old freezer in the garage for bulk buying of fresh or frozen meats (think of those bargain buys at the supermarket) suitable for feeding your dog(raw beef mince, raw chicken mince, chicken necks etc)Family butchers often have high quality pet mince available at a very reasonable cost, and again with costs reducing for bulk buys. Offal is often cheaper because it is less popular and for adult dogs is a perfectly acceptable form of protein. Bulk buy brown rice and when boiled add a variety of steamed vegetables (either from the garden or on special offer at the shops) and add whatever raw meat is available. This can be put into bags and frozen, removed and used when required. Use up leftover food such as stew, mince, rice, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, fish as this is fine for the dogs—and think of how you are helping the planet! If the quality of food offered to dogs is high, one meal a day instead of two is fine for adults and fasting for one day is thought to replicate more accurately the feeding pattern of dogs and wolves in the wild. Tinned pilchards in tomato sauce is a cheap but marvellous source of protein and omega oils which help protect the joints and maintain healthy skin and coats without the need for expensive dietary supplements.
Of course food is not the only expense for dog owners what about necessary veterinary care and such things as insurance? What constitutes "necessary veterinary care" however is a moveable feast (no pun intended!) The evidence for yearly boosters for example is conflicting to say the least. Although the British Veterinary profession recommends yearly boosters not every country follows suit. The whole issue of vaccinations and the side effects they can cause is a complex one and the canine health concern web site gives comprehensive information to enable owners to make informed choices. Popular worming and anti flea and tick treatments can have alarming side effects in some animals. There are a range of natural alternatives which do not have the same capacity to cause side effects and which can maintain you dog's health. Garlic granules for example given on a daily basis are effective in preventing worm/flea infestation, and Neem products used for many years in India have natural anti fungal and anti bacterial properties.
For many years in this country the public have been conditioned to consider insuring their dog as part of responsible dog ownership. For some breeds which have a high likelihood of certain inherited conditions this may indeed be a sensible option. However, for many dogs who are quite healthy this may not be as necessary. Maintaining a healthy immune system through a mainly raw diet, and ensuring satisfactory standards of animal husbandry as well as adequate exercise and stimulation is likely to minimise the risks of health problems occurring. Some might say that in those circumstances putting a sum of money away in a separate account to help cover unexpected expenses will in many cases be sufficient.
As for the plethora of canine toys, many of which are full of either colourings or preservatives getting raw lamb or beef bones at the butchers are quite frankly cheaper, more effective in terms of reducing dental plaque and safer. Is you dog poorly off because it does not have colour co-ordinated collars and leads, or the latest celebrity canine accoutrement—the answer is no! If your dog needs grooming do you have a friend who can do that for you----and you can do something for them? Lots of easily available and relatively cheap products can be used to help reduce the likelihood of flea/tick infestations, rather than buying expensive and possibly toxic products. Holiday time can mean extra expense with boarding kennels but many more places are dog friendly now for more information on this go to http://www.dogfriendlybritain.co.uk/index.asp. Or, reduce the stress for your dog and have a family member or friend care for them at home.
As a dog lover of many years standing I feel genuinely sorry for those people who are faced with the trauma of giving up their dog, but I feel people need to know that there are things which can be done to avoid that happening. Things need not be quite so dismal as some newspapers appear to be indicating!