Raw Feeding a Service Dog
A Guide Dog Handler Shares Her Experience of Feeding Raw
In honor of International Assistance Dog Week, I wanted to speak to someone who works with a service dog first hand about their experience with raw feeding. Pam Bilyeu is a guide dog handler, nurse, massage therapist and also serves on the Alumni Council for the Guide Dog Foundation. She is also legally blind and hearing impaired.
Why did you decide to start feeding raw to your service dog?
Piper was constantly itching. We had gone through several changes of dog food to attempt to control
allergies. Her allergies progressed to the point where she was chewing her pads, causing them to crack, split and bleed. We were spending money for all these different creams, waxes, and potions to help her. She had pulled so much fur out – she had bald spots on her thighs and backside.
One vet wanted to put her on prednisone. As a nurse, I knew that was serious business. Then, when calling someone who sold a salve for her pads, the woman said we needed to feed raw. Totally grossed me out, but my husband researched it and made the decision to switch her. I argued it wasn’t safe and it was too expensive. He replied that since the Guide Dog Foundation had spent $50,000 to breed, raise and train her, this was a small way to invest in her as well. She was a premium dog that deserved premium food.
So we switched her. She stopped the furious secret scratching in 2 days. She lost her excess weight in 3 months and was off antihistamines and her coat was all filled in as well, gleaming!! She lost 13 pounds and is now at her original weight when I was given her in 2009 and has stayed there since.
Are there any benefits from feeding raw that you feel are especially important for a service dog?
She is more comfortable; no itching means no distraction. She is willing to work, has more energy, and sleeps better. She would jump up several times during the night and scratch for several minutes. Her pads were cracking and bleeding, which some days prevented me from using her due to limping. We have not had that problem since the switch to raw.
I like that her stools are firmer, and no more anal gland issues. The poop smells less and is much easier to pick up. . As a blind person, it is challenging to find all the remnants and keep them from falling apart or smearing all over. This is especially important since our guides are with us everywhere and need to relieve themselves in unique places, unlike most pets who go in the yard or in a specific place in a walk around the block.
Have there been any benefits for you because you are feeding your dog a raw diet?
Foremost, peace of mind; knowing my dog is getting the best food and the food her body was meant to eat.
We have lower vet bills and no meds, no potions, lotions, special dips and baths to deal with as we did on previous diets. I think of her as my thoroughbred horse. She is an elite athlete type of dog that needs to be at peak performance. A raw diet is the only way to get to that level.
Anything else you might like to add?
As a vision-impaired person, the complexities of feeding raw are an obstacle. Making your own diet can be messy, time-consuming and challenging to say the least. I was always worried if I measured right if my counter was clean after meal prep, did everything refreeze ok. Purchasing the raw components, mixing a 50 lb. batch, then weighing into daily portions, bagging and freezing were labor intensive, and frankly, without the assistance of my sighted husband, I couldn’t have ever started raw feeding.
We are so grateful to have found Darwin’s. It’s delivered to my door – since I don’t drive, that is HUGE! It is all pre-measured, sealed and ready to go. The program offered for qualifying service animals puts the cost right in line with what we were spending before, but without the work and worry. Darwin’s makes it possible for a single, blind person to feed raw. Before, it was a hard sell when I would tell other blind people about raw feeding.
I travel by air a lot too. I never had my thermal tote with Piper’s raw food frozen in baggies taken, but it did raise eyebrows because it wasn’t labeled. Your vacuum sealed pucks are labeled and easily identified as raw dog food. This helps me feel much better about traveling by air with it.