The Spring Itch: Part 2 – Is it a Yeast Infection?


In our last blog post we explored the various causes of allergies and itching that your dog may be experiencing. Your dog’s itching can be due to pollen, a food intolerance, use of antibiotics, chemical flea preventatives, high starch and carbohydrate diets, or a combination of factors. 

Tip: Many dogs are sensitive to those scented candles you love, air fresheners and fragranced dog shampoos. 



“About 90% to 95% of all dogs will have a skin problem at some point in their lives. At this very moment, about 15% of all dogs are feeling itchy, losing hair, flaking with dandruff, and so on.” 

– Dr. Adelia Ritchie, PhD 



Aside from making your dog feel utterly miserable and stressing you out, excessive itching causes skin damage. Through scratching, small abrasions provide a home for bacteria and infections to take hold. It’s very easy for allergies to be the catalyst for infections like Malassezia Dermatitis (Yeast Dermatitis). 

Your dog’s microbiome 

Malassezia (yeast) is a naturally occurring microorganism that resides in small quantities on your dog’s skin and ears as part of a happy ecosystem. This ecosystem involves lots of different bacteria and yeast on the skin, keeping each other in balance. Other similar ecosystems inside your dog’s body, like the gut, are home to Candida, a yeast that helps digest your dog’s food. These microbiomes can be delicate and need to maintain a perfect balance of good bacteria and yeast to function optimally. 

What is a yeast infection? 

Humidity, heat, allergies, and a compromised immune system all create the ideal environment for yeast to thrive. Malassezia particularly favours areas such as the ear canal, paws, armpits, tail, belly, backside and skin folds. The overgrowth of Malassezia leads to a rather itchy and uncomfortable yeast infection – Malassezia dermatitis.

Common symptoms of yeast infections include persistent itching, redness, inflamed skin, a ‘yeasty’ corn chip odour, dark discharge from the ear, greasy or flaky skin. Another thing to check for is the presence of tiny dark speckles on your dog’s skin. Breeds with more skin folds such as bulldogs or pugs are particularly susceptible to this type of skin infection. 

How do I treat my dog’s yeast infection? 

It is essential to look for the root cause of the itching, and not just treat symptoms with medications. Otherwise you are simply putting a bandaid on the problem, without ever resolving it. Consult your vet if you do believe your dog has an undiagnosed infection or disease. It is equally important to consider holistic factors, like gut health and the impact of diet, which are often overlooked. 



“The most common reason for a dog to develop a yeast infection is an unhappy skin or gut biome” 

– Dr. Conor Brady, PhD 



Our top tip? 

Goodbye kibble, hello raw meat. Switching to a raw diet can be a game-changer when it comes to addressing your dog’s skin issues, allergies, and yeast imbalances. Raw diets rich in high-quality proteins, healthy fats and essential nutrients help promote optimal gut health and strengthen your dog’s immune system. 

By eliminating highly processed ingredients, starchy carbohydrates and potential allergens found in commercial kibble, you reduce the risk of triggering reactions. Moreover, a raw diet can help restore the balance of beneficial bacteria in your dog’s microbiomes – crucial for controlling yeast overgrowth. The natural enzymes and probiotics in raw foods can aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, leading to improved overall well-being. Remember – what we see externally is a reflection of what’s going on inside with your dog’s health. 



“Remove all high carbohydrates, chemically preserved dry food and treats from your dog’s life. Give your pet a fresh meat and bone diet, free of carbs/sugar. Do not compromise your dog’s gut flora or immune system with anything else.”

– Dr. Conor Brady, PhD 



The Butcher’s Dog’s Kangaroo and Veg is a novel, single protein, low fat hypoallergenic meal suitable for dogs with suspected food sensitivities, or skin allergies. If your dog has sensitivities to beef or chicken, the Turkey and Veg is another excellent alternative with a more mild flavour. 

So much of our dogs’ immune response relies on maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. You can see why we place so much emphasis on your pup’s diet. It is probably the single biggest factor you alone can influence, so they can enjoy a comfortable and itch-free life. 

Read more about your dog’s gut in this post here, by Pet Nutritionist Clare Kearney.

The Spring Itch: Part 1 – Allergies or Something Else?

As the days get longer and the weather warms up, the wattle starts to bloom and those of us with springtime allergies start to feel the dreaded itch at the back of the throat. Similarly, our dogs may start to scratch more than usual, lick their paws, rub their eyes and shake their ears.

For all its magical, sunny afternoons, Spring can be a battleground for those of us who suffer seasonal allergies, and even more so for our animals who can’t tell us what is causing theirs. Because while for us it’s usually a pretty clear cut case of pollen being the culprit, dog “allergies” may worsen in the springtime, but can be caused by a number of underlying issues that are present year round.

In fact, we are hearing more and more from pet owners that their dogs have food allergies. Dr Conor Brady shares in his Feeding Dogs book that in actuality “A food allergy is rare (1-3% of the dog population). It is the inappropriate response by the body to  an everyday allergen. It’s sudden, dramatic, very serious and involves the IgE antibody. It happens in the blood”1

Food intolerance is far more common (we’ll go into more details further below).

What about the products that are “designed” to protect our pets?

Other causes of these ‘allergic symptoms’ can be attributed to a dogs response to over vaccination and too many chemicals like tick and flea treatment preventatives. 

Vaccine bases are derived from chicken embryos and bovine (cow) which we start to give to puppies at a very young age, and then continue annually for many dogs. Now the nature of the vaccines is that they are designed to set up an immune response, so unsurprisingly many dogs end up with chicken or beef allergies. The body has been ‘taught’ to recognise it as a foreign invader and inflammation occurs as a result.

Then there are the combined treatments (for the convenience for us pet owners) that cover everything from heartworm, intestinal worms, fleas and ticks that are being given every few weeks. Just consider the amount of man-made chemicals that are bombarding the dog’s natural immune system and microbiome.

We are not saying you shouldn’t use these to help protect, just to be aware how often you are using them and if you are using it year round “just in case” as opposed to using it when the season comes around.

Being aware (if you can be) of what chemicals have been used on public grass areas is important. Take notice of council notification when weeding of a dog park is being planned as the chemical sprays and fertilisers used on lawns, parks and gardens can cause reactions or irritation to the skin when our dogs are rolling around on the grass. Smaller breeds can suffer more due to their undercarriage being much lower to the ground. 

Of course some dogs are primarily irritated by pollen, much like we are, but others experience issues that are a bit more complex. Some dogs can be allergic to particular grass varieties, which is a terribly challenging problem to have and typically involves lots of wiping down paws and, sadly, avoiding grassy play as much as possible. Naturally this worsens in Spring, but grass allergies can also be exacerbated by an inflammatory diet and, ironically, overuse of medications intended to treat it.

Other causes of allergy-like symptoms?

An inflammatory diet is a common cause of an itchy dog, regardless of the time of year, and is often mistaken for a food allergy. While true food allergies are quite rare and are generally not caused by eating certain foods (rather, eating certain foods triggers an acute allergic reaction), an inflammatory diet can burden the system over time and may present in a number of ways, such as a sudden or gradual intolerance to certain foods, persistent digestive upset, dull or greasy coat, rashes and constant scratching, inflamed paws and paw licking, gunky eyes and irritated ears.


How to determine if it’s an allergy or intolerance

There is considerable overlap between the symptoms of true allergies, intolerance and stress caused by an inflammatory diet, and working out what you are dealing with is half the battle. True allergies can be tested for, but these tests are expensive and not always accurate. A full elimination diet over several months is the best way to get to the bottom of a suspected food allergy or intolerance. If you’re able to determine the source of a true allergy, the solution is fairly straightforward; you must avoid that food forever.

If your dog is experiencing some of these symptoms but has previously eaten similar foods without any major issues, you are likely dealing with inflammation or a food intolerance (or both). 

An imbalance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 can cause inflammation

One cause of inflammation in the body that is related to diet is an unbalanced ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. While both of these fats are essential and deficiencies of either can cause serious health issues, in reality the modern diet (both human and canine) is overflowing with omega 6 and low in omega 3. This is a problem because, when present in excess, omega 6 has inflammatory properties, whereas omega 3 is anti-inflammatory.

Processed dog foods are generally upwards of 50% grain or legume based, neither of which contain digestible omega 3 for dogs, but DO contain absolutely loads of omega 6. Meat in these foods generally comes in the form of meat meal which has been heat treated to the point any natural fat is rendered off and must be added back in later during the cooking process. These fats oxidise and goes rancid quickly, meaning the added omega 3 in processed dog food may actually be doing more harm than it is good. 

This issue of poorly balanced fatty acids is compounded when we look at modern farming methods. Chicken – a common scapegoat for all things inflammation – is naturally higher in omega 6 (and it always has been). However, chickens of the past would have scavenged on pasture for insects and grasses that contain a balanced fatty acid ratio, whereas now they typically eat food based on ingredients like corn, wheat and soybean meal, all of which are loaded with omega 6. 

How a leaky gut can impact on allergies and intolerances

Another major factor linked to allergies or intolerances is intestinal permeability or hyperpermeability. The wall of our intestines have tight junctions that prevent unwanted or harmful substances from passing through into the bloodstream, while allowing water and nutrients to cross over. If the intestinal wall has increased or hyperpermeability, bacteria, toxins and even food proteins may enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation or an immune response. This is often referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome and has been linked to conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, Coeliac Disease, food allergies, IBS and even diabetes.

This is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation in the sense that individuals with these conditions have been observed to have increased intestinal permeability, but the condition is not necessarily caused by it; in many cases it is the other way around and it is these conditions that compromise the integrity of the intestinal wall. But in some cases it’s both. For example, food allergies can cause increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut, which then leads to food proteins entering the bloodstream and causing an immune response, leading to additional food allergies. 

Similarly, a poor diet can lead to poor gut health, which is linked to intestinal permeability or leaky gut, thus resulting in the manifestation of food allergies triggered by proteins entering the bloodstream. In this case it’s not necessarily the protein (eg. chicken) that caused the food allergy, but rather repeated feeding of a highly processed and unsuitable food containing chicken led to the circumstances that resulted in a food allergy.

Medication can lead to a leaky gut


Another cyclical trigger for leaky gut can be the repeated use of anti-inflammatory drugs, which are often prescribed to treat “allergies.” These have been studied and definitively linked to increased intestinal permeability[1], meaning that it’s essential to try and break the cycle of medication and treat the underlying cause of the inflammation if we are to have any success in resolving it long term.

How to heal a leaky gut

Depending on the severity, these reactions can often be reversed by healing the gut and transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet (such as The Butcher’s Dog), loaded with digestible proteins, antioxidants, pre and probiotics, and omega 3 fatty acids. If an allergy has taken hold, unfortunately you will need to avoid that protein forever, but this is relatively rare. In some cases it can take some time to reverse the damage and restore the integrity of the intestinal walls, but this can be achieved with patience, good food and support from some gut health targeted supplements. Fortunately, in our experience it’s extremely common that dogs with these symptoms who are eating a processed diet simply get better once the food is changed to a natural, nutritious, species appropriate diet. So enjoy the sunshine, but avoid the temptation to reach for the anti-inflammatories at the first sign of springtime allergies.


  • Dogs can take a human anti allergy tablet like claritine for seasonal allergy
  • Betadine foot baths are great for dogs who chew their paws or have grass allergies.


[1] Brady, C., ed. (2020) Feeding Dogs. London: Farrow Road Publishing



Treats – the good, the bad and the toxic

Dog treats can be an enjoyable part of your pet’s routine, enhancing training and strengthening your bond. Dogs absolutely love them and they are a fantastic tool when selected wisely. And my goodness they’re great to ease dog parent guilt! How many of us fill up a KONG or hide treats around the house as entertainment because we feel bad when leaving them at home?

The Healthy Treat Hunt

Unfortunately the market is flooded with a plethora of dog treats, ranging from wholesome, natural options to those filled with sugar to disguise the bitter taste of poor quality ingredients and make them more palatable and addictive to your dog. These artificial options can be filled with empty calories and chemicals, all in the name of rewarding your dog. As with our own diets, it’s important to carefully consider the choices we make when it comes to dog treats. 

Reading ingredient labels is essential to make informed choices. If a treat sounds like a science experiment, it’s probably not the best choice for your pup. A long ingredient list does not equal better quality. 

Look for products that are made in Australia and contain naturally occurring ingredients such as bone, organs, dried meats and vegetables. Be wary that some treats contain preservatives, chemicals and sugars that can have nasty (and windy) effects on your dog’s tummy. This can often be the case in treats imported from overseas as they are processed in ways we don’t allow here. Look for treats that use 100% Australian meat and ingredients, with no chemical additives and preservatives.

Training with Treats.

Treats are particularly helpful during training sessions to reinforce that good habit and encourage them to repeat it in the future. Puppy training would be even harder without them! However, do be mindful of the portion size to avoid overloading their calorie intake. Many dog parents use a breakable treat such as Liver, as it can be broken into tiny pieces – better for the dog and your wallet! And it’s a bonus because your dog should have liver in its diet – it’s like a multivitamin and many dogs prefer it in the air dried form.

Fussy dog?

Beware of Overindulgence.

Too many treats is often the primary reason for “fussy dogs” at meal times. If your dog isn’t enthusiastic about its food at meal times, consider how many snacks they are getting. 

The stuff that’s hard to hear.

While treats have numerous benefits, overindulgence can lead to detrimental effects and excessive treats can lead to weight gain, digestive problems, and those finicky eating habits.

Remember that treats should only constitute a small portion of your dog’s overall diet. A general rule of thumb is that treats should make up no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. It’s important to prioritise your dog’s main meal portions, to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. If your dog seems to lose interest in their food, it may be because they have had too many treats in the day. 

The ones to avoid.

  • Synthetic bone substitutes such as raw hides contain toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process
  • Brightly coloured green chews are full of dyes and synthetic ingredients
  • Deer antlers can break your dog’s teeth if they’re a vigorous chewer
  • Basted, smoked and decoratively tinted treats are full of nasties! 

New to dog treats or looking to add some variety to your dog’s snacks? The Butcher’s Dog has created a range of meat treats, air-dried to retain flavour and nutrition for your dog. The Kangaroo Tail and Beef Spare Ribs make for great dental treats that can help clean plaque from your dog’s teeth and gums as they chew. For training treats, try Lamb Crumble or Liver which can be broken down into appropriately-sized pieces. Like with their food, your dog will enjoy a variety of flavours and textures, so keep a few different treats on hand. 

Our top treat tip : Only feed treats that would naturally be part of your dog’s diet and then try and stick to the 10% treat rule.

Stop pulling on the lead!

Stop pulling on the lead

It is a common request of dog owners to help them train their dog to stop pulling on the lead. But as all good dog trainers know, stopping dogs from doing anything is not the way to approach the problem. Instead, we need to identify what it is we want the dog to do instead of the problem behaviour.

Why do dogs pull on the lead anyway?

It can’t be comfortable! Some dogs even gag and choke on the tight lead. Punishment techniques are no fun for dog or person and not easy to master for the average dog owner. All too often, when a corrective jerk on the lead is applied or the owner yells, the pulling typically returns after just a few seconds, or minutes if you’re lucky. So why do they keep doing it?

Because it works for them! Or so they think. I’m sure in their minds, many dogs believe that they have to pull on the lead in order to progress forward; if they didn’t pull, they would be standing still. Think about it: what happens when the dog pulls on the lead? They move ahead. You could say, that every step you take with the dog pulling on the lead, is reinforcing the pulling by the fact that the dog is moving ahead.

Reinforcement of pulling stops now!

There are many techniques that ensure pulling is no longer reinforced. Every time there is the slightest tension on the lead, the walker could:

• Immediately stop-dead; no further progression on a tight lead;

• Immediately take two or three steps backwards; no further progression on a tight lead; or

• Immediately turn and walk in the opposite direction. Initially, you will probably be walking in circles!

It’s not easy to be successful with these types of techniques alone, because: pulling on the lead probably has a strong history of success and reinforcement; the dog walker would need to be absolutely consistent in ensuring that any degree of pulling is not ever successful again (if it works occasionally, they’ll continue to check if it will work now); and it’s really tedious for both dog and person.

Show the Dog What to do Instead of Pulling

Sorry, but there is no easy way around training the dog. You’re going to need to commit to a training programme. Groan! Hey… look on the bright side: you love your dog so you’ll probably actually enjoy the training once you get started; and your dog will definitely enjoy the special interaction with you.

Set up for Success!

• Identify your dog’s favourite food treats. Don’t be lazy! If it’s cooked chicken meat, then so be it! Get a good supply of whatever treat your dog deems to be top of the pile – divide it up into small quantities and keep a good supply at hand in the freezer.

• Get yourself a quality food treat pouch. Plastic bags are the worst! My favourite is The Trainer’s Pouch, from two of my favourite people, Jenni and Ryan Tate.

• Ensure your dog has a high food drive before conducting a training session: his next meal is due or overdue. If your dog lacks food drive generally, you might need to do a little investigation – it’s not natural for dogs to be picky eaters. Adjustments might be needed.

• Before you head out for a training session ensure you are comfortable: you’ve been to the bathroom; had a drink and something light to eat; you’re wearing your comfy joggers and they’re double-knotted; your clothing is comfortable if not fashionable; and you’re not due to be anywhere for the next 30 minutes minimum.

• Ensure the dog is comfortable: had the opportunity to toilet; had a drink but nothing to eat recently; and is comfortable in the training environment.

• Find a training location that is minimally distracting for the dog. The aim is to avoid competing with environmental distractions for your dog’s attention. Accept the fact that your dog will be in training sessions, not going for a walk as such, for some time yet. You might need to load the dog in the car and travel to a location where he is allowed off-lead, such as a friend’s yard, whilst undergoing lead training.

Start Training

• Decide where you want the dog’s head to be whilst walking with you, because that is where the food treat will be delivered. Commonly, we advise delivering the food treats on the outside seam of your pants, at the dog’s nose height.

• Do whatever it takes to get the dog’s head to the correct position, facing the same direction as you. You might move yourself to the correct position so that you can deliver a food treat. You could hold your hand full of food treats to the dog’s nose and manoeuvre him into the correct position.

• The idea is simple! Deliver food treats when the dog is in the correct position. Take care not to allow the dog to push your hand forward or wide of the correct position. Food treats will only be delivered when the dog’s head is in the correct position.

• Reinforce the position heavily with praise and food treats. It’s a great place to be for the dog.

• Initially, aim to deliver food treats continuously: as soon as the dog swallows, the next one is there. It’s like there’s a food tap above his head in that magic spot. There is no reason for the dog to move out of position.

• Keeping your food-loaded hand on the dog’s nose, take one step forward continuing to deliver continuous food treats. Repeat at least five times.

• Now try taking a right-about turn on the spot – still delivering food treats continuously.

• Take three steps forward – continually delivering food treats.

• The first aim of our training is to get the dog to move with us whilst holding the nominated correct position.

• Start combining randomised number of steps and turns, speeding up, then slowing down, continuously delivering food treats. Try a left-about turn where the dog has to move out of your way.

• Once your dog is enjoying the challenge of moving with you in the correct position in order to gain food treats, we’ll start to randomise their delivery. Hold position for two steps – reward – hold position for three steps – reward – hold position for one step – reward – hold position for right-about turn and two steps – reward.

• Now our aim is to have the dog chasing the food treats

• Continue to randomise delivery of the food treats, sometimes stretching it out longer than ever before and other times delivering a treat after just one or two steps.

• Get the food treats out of your hand – keep them in the food treat pouch. Now you can mark the correct position with a ‘Good’ or click, then reach for a food treat from the pouch to deliver to the dog.

Some Extra Considerations

• If the dog moves forward of the correct position, forward movement must be halted. I find taking my hand short down the lead towards the dog’s collar and simultaneously taking two or three backward steps, is most effective. Keep the lead short so that the dog cannot move away or even sniff the ground. Hold this position for ten seconds before stepping off again. A scolding voice is not necessary – the dog has lost forward progression and no interesting alternatives are available – you can be speaking in a praising tone of voice – the fact is the dog has lost!

• If you start training lead walking, but then you take the dog for a run to the shop to pick up a bottle of milk and let him pull like a steam train because it’s not a training session, give up now!! Your dog needs you to be consistent: pulling on the lead is never going to work in any way for the dog ever again!

• If you have a highly practiced and persistent puller, you might like to consider making the dog’s entire food rations dependent on polite lead walking. He’ll starve if he doesn’t walk nicely on lead! Just to be clear: don’t starve your dog! Ensure that he gets all the nutrition he needs but set it up that it is dependent on him finding and holding the correct position whilst walking.

• We need to be absolutely clear as to what behaviour gains reinforcement: Precise correct position is imperative at the outset. As the dog’s learning progresses and he is offering correct behaviour (because it’s in his own interest to do so and pulling on the lead is pointless anyway), you might choose to relax a little and start to blur the boundaries of the ‘correct position’. Your choice!

• If it’s all too hard, and it often is, because the dog is so practiced in pulling on the lead, you might like to consider equipment that will reduce the effects of pulling on the lead. Walking harnesses are popular at present and do make walking some dogs more manageable. Head-halters are probably the most effective tool to reduce pulling. However, they must be correctly fitted (snug/tight) and the dog must be conditioned to wearing one, rather than just forcibly putting it on the dog. Jean Donaldson gives a great demonstration of conditioning her Chow Chow to wear a Gentle Leader.

Remember how much you and your dog love one another. They really don’t mean to make things difficult for us! We’re supposed to be the cleverer species…

Introducing Steve and Vicki Austin

Introducing Steve and Vicki Austin

Steve and Vicki Austin are Australia’s very best dog trainers and dog behaviourists which is why The Butcher’s Dog is excited to be partnering with them to provide you with the best training tips for your dogs. They have been feeding their dogs The Butcher’s Dog and absolutely loving it! Both Steve and Vicki have an impressive seventy years of combined experience in canine behaviour and training.

“We have seen first-hand the benefits of a naturally balanced raw diet and we are so excited to partner with a company that is as passionate about the wellbeing of dogs as we are.”

Vicki with a recent Puppy Class Instructors group

About Vicki

Vicki is an experienced and respected dog trainer with a strong passion for education. She is a self-confessed ‘nerd’ of the Science of Learning and Behaviour. Her experience ranges from achieving the title of Australian Obedience Champion, being an obedience judge and perhaps most importantly, puppy class instructing.

During her extensive experience in providing behavioural consultations, Vicki became concerned that many behavioural issues in her clients’ dogs could be traced back to poor experiences and advice from puppy classes, so she became motivated to provide specific education in instructing puppy schools with the aim of reducing the numbers of pet dogs being surrendered.

Steve and Bunya in Springbrook National Park in Northern NSW looking for endangered Black-tailed Antechinus for conservation purposes.

About Steve

Steve has provided various handler and canine training services to assist a number of worldwide government agencies and organisations throughout his career. He is arguably the most successful canine scent detection trainer in the world.

He has trained dogs and handlers in quarantine and scent detection for Australia, Japan, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Trained dogs to detect koala scent, trained dogs and handlers for wildlife conservation groups to help save endangered species including Bells Turtle, Gould’s Goanna, Earless Dragon and more.

He trained the first truffle detection dog in Australia that found the first truffle grown in Australia! He also continues to train dogs to detect water leaks for Sydney water, among other great achievements!

Truffle Hunting

Steve & Vicki are also passionate about giving back to the community, a couple of projects that we particularly resonated with are as follows:

How they are supporting the Australian Community

Animal Conservation where they provide training to handlers and their dogs for scent detection of various endangered mammals, bird species, reptiles including detecting pests that are a risk to the endangered species.

Defence Community Dogs where they provide training to inmates of NSW Corrective Services to assist with the handling and training of rejected dogs who are then provided at no cost to serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) Members, who need physical and emotional support for mood, depressive and anxiety disorders; including PTSD.

Recommended Read:

Vicki Austin’s guide on how to stop your dog pulling on the lead

Why feeding your dog raw is safe

Why feeding your dog raw is safe

Have you ever heard that raw feeding is unsafe? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. As feeding real food to dogs and cats has grown in popularity, so too has the scary messaging that you could be putting your animal or your family at risk of the dangerous pathogens lurking in raw pet food. Handling any meat has some risks and we always encourage you to practice safe food handling for your whole family, including the four-legged members. But it’s not nearly as unsafe as you may be led to believe and it’s also important to put this in context of our pet’s physiology, and of pet food more broadly.

It goes without saying that our dogs and cats have evolved from animals that always ate their food raw, so really, raw food is how nature intended for them to eat. Whether it’s digging up an old bone or catching mice, dogs and cats are resilient creatures built to handle pathogens that would likely make you or me unwell. Dogs, for example, have antibacterial qualities in their saliva and a stomach that is up to 100 times more acidic than humans, so they’re well equipped to neutralise pathogens.

Is salmonella dangerous for dogs?

Opponents of raw diets LOVE to fear monger about salmonella, and it is true that raw fed dogs can carry and shed salmonella. Bugs like salmonella live naturally in the gut of dogs and cats. Salmonella in their intestines is a very normal phenomenon, so this is actually a very good reason to ensure your pet’s gut health is in good shape, which is best achieved with a fresh diet of living whole foods. Salmonella is actually more dangerous for you than it is for dogs and cats. The place you’re most likely to come into contact with these pathogens is from their waste, which we don’t recommend getting up close and personal with regardless of what they eat! Salmonella are not always pathogenic either – in fact, most aren’t. While there are over 2500 serotypes of salmonella, less than 100 are responsible for causing illness in people.

As many as 44% of clinically healthy dogs are thought to carry salmonella, with up to 15% of household pets shedding it (racing greyhounds and stray dogs tend to have higher levels), and this is for all dogs, not just raw fed ones.

Dry petfood has more product recalls than any other dog food

In fact, salmonella is the leading cause of dry dog food recalls, by a wide margin. When you look at the stats of raw vs dry dog food as a source of salmonella poisoning, in the five years between 2007-2012, the CDC linked 132 cases of salmonella poisoning to dry dog food, and between 2010-2015 there were 19 large recalls of thousands of tonnes of dry dog food due to salmonella contamination in the United States.

To minimise the risk of mycotoxins and salmonella in dry pet food, manufacturers often treat it with chemicals to prevent fungal growth, which can’t be good for them.

Dry petfood has a lot to answer for…

In Dr Conor Brady’s book, Feeding Raw, he states that dry pet food has contributed to the deaths of thousands and thousands of pets in the last decades. And that there have only been ‘a tiny handful of deaths from fresh/raw dog food, with most stemming from people feeding poorly balanced meals to their pets. Further he states that ‘no pre-made raw food to date is documented to have killed a single pet.’ Moreover, Dr Conor has done a huge amount of research on the benefits of feeding raw.

Science backed proof that raw feeding is not only safe, but also better for your dogs health and wellbeing

Dr Conor Brady refers in his book to a ground-breaking study from the University of Helsinki in Finland, where 632 raw fed dog owners were surveyed. It was found that raw feeding resolved 74% of skin issues, 88% of gut issues, 79% of eye issues and 53% of urinary tract issues.

In our own experience at The Butcher’s Dog, we have found that 20% of customers come to us because of ongoing allergy complaints (such as chronic itchy skin, ear and eye infections) due to processed food diets.

Why would raw food be dangerous for a carnivore?

It simply doesn’t make sense for all raw pet food to be considered dangerous. In 2016 the three biggest salmonella outbreaks in Australia were caused by mung beans, bagged salad and bakery products. If you’re not worried about salmonella and dangerous pathogens in the food you eat, then you shouldn’t be losing sleep about them in raw dog food, particularly as healthy dogs have highly effective defences against these bugs. But more importantly, at The Butcher’s Dog we are sourcing the same (human grade) quality of food as you buy from your local butcher or green grocer – because that’s where we get it. As a carnivore, feeding your dog a biologically appropriate raw diet simply emulates the food and nutrition that nature intended. They’re built for it.

We make raw feeding safe

While some raw pet food comes from what is commonly referred to as the “pet grade” supply chain, everything that goes into our food is from the human supply chain. This is a very significant difference, because the rules and food safety requirements between the two are completely different, with far more scope for pathogens in pet grade meat permitted. We make all our food in a fully licenced and NSW Food Authority compliant facility, with strict food safety protocols in place. But most importantly, we’re feeding real food, which nourishes your pet, strengthens their immune system and their natural defences against pathogenic bacteria found in just about any food. This ensures they live a long and healthy life with you, which is really all that matters.

We don’t call it dog food, we call it real food, for dogs

So next time you hear someone mention that ‘raw feeding isn’t safe’, remember, there is a huge difference between ‘normal’ pet food manufacturers and The Butcher’s Dog. You can be confident in saying that raw feeding is not only safe, but it is the best and most nutritional food you can give your dog. Our food is good enough for you to eat, except maybe the crushed bones!

For more information on other raw feeding myths read our blog Common myths around feeding raw food to your dog


Why raw feeding will save you money

Why raw feeding will save you money

As many of us become increasingly conscious consumers, there is more and more thought that goes into all the choices we make when caring for our families, regardless of whether they have two legs or four. Choosing the right pet food is easily the biggest decision you will make for the long-term welfare of your pet.

In a perfect world we would all eat organic food, buy bamboo loo roll in bulk, and wear sustainable fashion from ethical makers. In reality, organic produce is often less convenient, fast fashion follows sought after trends, and not all of us have the space to store months and months’ worth of toilet paper. And these choices all have one other thing in common: they often cost more.

Fresh pet food is an investment in your pet’s health:

There is a perception that fresh pet food falls into this “would be nice” category, and of course we acknowledge this is true for some people. However, buying real pet food, made with wholefood (instead of processed food), raw feeding will SAVE you money over their lifetime. It’s also not as hard on the hip pocket as some will have you believe.

It can be tempting to dismiss the abstract idea of long-term savings due to reduced veterinary costs over the life of your raw fed dog, so let’s dig into it a bit deeper.

Puppy eating raw meal

Itches, infections, growths and cancer affect so many dogs:

According to the veterinary journal Today’s Veterinary Practice, in 2018 the top ten ailments that dogs visit the vet for are:
1. Skin conditions (22% of all insurance claims)
2. Stomach issues
3. Ear infections
4. Eye conditions
5. Pain
6. Growths
7. Urinary tract infections
8. Allergies
9. Cruciate ligament tears and surgery
10. Cancer

In 2019, digestive issues overtook skin issues with 26% of claims, and cancer moved from number 10 up to number 7. That stomach issues are accounting for more than one quarter of all vet visits should be a MAJOR red flag, when the health of the gut is so inextricably linked to overall health.

Dog laying down with cone on head


Scientific evidence is increasingly pointing towards the importance of gut health:

Gut health directly informs our ability to fight infections and disease because at least 70% of our immune cells live in our gut, and it is where we absorb the nutrients from our food. Without a healthy gut it is very, very difficult to remain healthy and disease free, so it’s pretty unsurprising that as stomach problems take the lead, in just one year we see cancer move up 3 places.

No matter which way you look at it, diet can be a major contributing factor for at least seven of these ailments, including the top three, and obesity is a risk factor for at least two more, with processed pet food contributing significantly to high rates of obesity in pets today – more than 40% of Australian dogs are overweight or obese.

These conditions are often preventable (not always – even raw fed dogs fall ill occasionally!) and can lead to high care bills that quickly outstrip any savings made on cheaper food. Unwell dogs simply need to visit the vet more.

Vet conducting ear inspection

Are you spending a fortune on vet bills?

Many dogs are repeatedly prescribed expensive medications for ongoing problems, without ever identifying the underlying issue.

With a consult usually starting at around $100, urinalysis will run you anywhere from $40-150 if pathology is required, bloodwork is the same again.

Skin issues in dogs are common and costly:

A simple course of antibiotics can put you out as much as $50, as can antihistamines for dogs with skin conditions and allergies. Monthly steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory injections or tablets will usually cost at least $100 plus consultation fees every 4 weeks.

All these medications can have a devastating effect on the gut, creating a vicious cycle of illness that is difficult to break out of.

Vet holding needing in right hand, dog in left hand

“My experience with commercial canned and dry pet foods, is that they are a prime cause of periodontal disease in all dogs and cats.”

Dr Tom Lonsdale D.V.M, ‘Raw Meaty Bones’

Dental care is a relatively recent addition to the veterinary industry. Yet regular teeth cleaning is now commonplace and recommended every 6-12 months, in large part due to the popularity of processed foods. It will cost at least $500 for a basic clean plus anaesthesia. Of course, this very quickly increases to many thousands if sedation or extractions are required. Anaesthesia also brings with it other significant risks and should be used only when absolutely essential.

By 3 years of age, most dogs will have oral hygiene issues and gum disease issues, which can be prevented with a raw diet and meaty bones.

Quick tip: bone shaped kibble does not clean your dog’s teeth any better than an Anzac biscuit will clean yours.

The veterinary industry and pet insurance is booming:

It’s estimated that Australians spend $2.6 billion per year on veterinary expenses, with 84% of dogs visiting the vet each year, up from 79% in 2016. This is undoubtedly behind the growing popularity of pet insurance, with many people spending around $100 a month to insure their animal against ongoing vet bills. And while pet insurance may solve the financial issue for pet owners, it doesn’t solve the issue of increasingly unwell pets.

When did we become scared of real, fresh food?

A fresh diet provides dental health benefits for pearly whites, results in natural anal glad expression, is hydrating for renal and UTI support, delivers a steady stream of highly bioavailable nutrients, gut loving probiotics and disease fighting antioxidants, and is the key to resolving skin and digestive conditions for many dogs. So, while it may feel like a gamble to outlay a bit more on food now for big savings later, it’s hard to deny the cold hard reality of how food influences the health of our pets, and the frequency of their need for veterinary care.

Bowl of fresh raw food and bowl of kibble

At the end of the day, all any of us wants is for our pets to live long and happy lives, free from illness or discomfort. In the same way that we make investments in our own health by eating fresh fruits and veggies and avoiding processed sugary foods, we can invest in the health of our pets’ health by selecting a fresh diet that ultimately allows our bank balance to keep thriving along with them.

So exactly how big are these short-term savings?

Not that big, actually. We crunched some numbers on a popular “premium” dog food and worked out what it would cost to feed a typical 10-kilogram dog using their adult dry food, compared to The Butcher’s Dog. We took the price of a 3kg bag from a big pet retailer and used the feeding guides provided by both companies. This what we got:

cost comparison chart


Surprised? Don’t be. These products aren’t just a risk factor for lifelong health problems and increased veterinary spend, they’re also notoriously bad value for money. If you end up needing a specialised “veterinary” variety to combat health issues that may or may not be triggered by the poor-quality food to begin with, you are looking at $4 per day (plus all your vet bills). These are popular high-end brands and they are still full of imported waste products, wheat, corn, rice, soy and chemicals instead of actual nutrition.

You deserve better than that for your hard-earned money, and so does your pet. We’ll resist the urge to make a coffee analogy and simply point out that for less than 50 cents a day you could feed them a completely human grade, species-appropriate, whole food diet that will genuinely support their health, longevity and quality of life.


    • We calculated the premium dry food cost using a 10kg dog consuming 180g per day. At $52 for a 3kg bag, and 16.66 days of food in a bag, the daily cost to feed a 10-kilo dog is $3.12
    • We calculated the “veterinary” dry food cost using a 10kg dog consuming 152g per day. At $52 for a 2kg bag, and 13.16 days of food in a bag, the daily cost to feed a 10-kilo dog is $3.95
    • Purchasing a larger bag of kibble will reduce costs, but increases the likelihood of mould and fat rancidity, and their associated health problems.
    • We calculated The Butcher’s Dog cost using a 10kg dog consuming 250g per day. At $133.90 for the 7.5kg Carnivore Box, and 30 days of food in the box, the daily cost to feed a 10-kilo dog is $4.46


Kibble – reading the labels, what REALLY goes in it?

Kibble – reading labels, what really goes in it?

In fact, given that you’re probably not an “expert” on pet food, as I suppose I sort of am, this may well have happened to you many times. The fact that it does still happen to me every now and then is testament to just how easy it is to be led down the garden path by canny processed pet food producers, experts of marketing spin.

So, while I do still occasionally, albeit briefly, fall for their marketing sorcery, I have learned a good few tricks along the way to work out what you’re reading, from very basic pointers, to the level of semi-professional label reader. And through doing this, as well as by asking companies lots of questions, by reading Australian Standards from cover to cover, and by heavily researching the topic to the point that it’s actually a bit embarrassing how much I know about processed pet food, I feel quite well placed to explain a few things about it.

Dog food container

Check the ingredients on the pack:

Some kibbles do not even list or name the specific protein they use. Processed dog food is almost always centred around a main animal protein, and we’re led to believe it is brimming with juicy chicken breasts and shiny salmon fillets, as per the glossy photos on the bag, but the reality is quite different.

Although you absolutely should expect to see meat as the first ingredient in any dog food product, there is a little more to it than that. If a company does not name the specific protein they use, this is a big, big red flag. If a business cannot even tell you what animal the meat comes from, there is no possible way they can tell you anything resembling genuine transparency around the supply chain this meat came from, prior to ending up in their food.

There is also a big difference between “meat” and “meat meal.” One is 75% water, the other is basically devoid of any moisture. So while the idea of “meat meal” might horrify you (more on that in a minute), it is almost guaranteed that a food that lists meat meal at the front of their ingredients list actually contains a lot more animal protein than one that lists “meat” in its whole form. This is because ingredients lists are required to be listed by weight, meaning an ingredient that is 75% water is going be far heavier than an ingredient with no water, despite the fact that this water is all removed during the cooking process. Tricky.

female dog owner with dog reading dog food packaging & it's label

What the heck is meat meal?

Meat meal is a shelf stable meat powder that is made from rendering meat and bones not fit for human consumption. It is the same process that is used to separate tallow for making things like soap, whereby the fat and water is split from the meat using very high temperatures. According to their own website, The Rendering Association considers themselves to be a recycling service, above all else, and they acknowledge that plastic ear tags are not removed from heads of livestock before they are rendered to be turned into pet food.

Ingredient splitting is a trick:

Sometimes we see both meat AND meat meal, and this is because of a little thing called ingredient splitting. The function of ingredient splitting is to give the illusion of more protein. In the case of splitting say, chicken, into a fresh version and a dry version, the result is that now it appears twice and, to the untrained eye, looks to be much higher in chicken content (perhaps twice as much) than it really is. When actually it is just water weight and no additional chicken.

The reverse is true of less desirable ingredients like, for example, legumes. Splitting in this context enables low nutritional ‘fillers’ to appear smaller in weight to the so-called core protein. Often we will see as many as four or five different beans and peas, the nutritional value and function of which are incredibly similar, at least in this context. The reason for this is that each serve of the 5 different beans weighs significantly less than the sum total, and also less than the meat ingredient in number one position.

Dog with blackboard that has dog bone illustration of 2 + 2 = 4

How much ‘meat’ is really in there?

We aren’t meant to know! More than likely, if you see multiple very similar ingredients they have been selected strategically so that meat is the first ingredient. You may also see the same ingredient in a few different forms. This is common of things like peas, which may appear as “peas,” as well as things like pea protein and pea flour. All peas. Lotsa peas.

According to the Australian Renderers Association, as well as pet food industry insiders I’ve personally spoken to, it is typical for kibble to contain around 20% meat meal or less, and high end ones cap out at around 30%. This is partly due to the high bone content of meat meal, as well as other things like cost and the functional necessity for starches to tie the ingredients together.

What about all those carbs?

It’s not at all unusual for a dry pet food to be more than half carbohydrate based ingredients, like grains and legumes, which is necessary to form the biscuit dough. This is incredibly high, keeping in mind that dogs and cats have no mandated carbohydrate requirement at all.

image of different types of grains

The problem with starchy carbs is they quickly break down into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream, spiking blood sugar levels. This triggers the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that tells our cells to absorb the blood glucose for energy. Because this all happens very quickly with highly processed and high GI carbs, dogs can feel hungry more quickly, while also storing excess glucose as fat and over time risking diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Yeast infections and cancer both love sugar too, so the danger here speaks for itself.

What about all the so-called ‘superfoods’ and ‘vitamins’?

Aside from some additional fats (all the fat is removed from the meat meal, remember), kibbles contain artificial flavours (because there is no natural taste, and to make it smell nicer to us), and minuscule amounts of ‘superfoods’ (which sound amazing in the advertising), and a vitamin and mineral premix.

Is it complete and balanced?

Where vitamins or superfood quantities are so small, they don’t even register as a percentage. As a guide, if they are below salt on the packaging, this means less than 1%.

human hand releasing pinch of salt

These vitamins and minerals are usually cheap oxides, sulphates and other inorganic synthetics, rather than actual nutrients as they appear in nature, or even high quality isolates. The bioavailability of these is questionable, but studies have shown they are poorly utilised compared to higher quality synthetics, let alone nutrients in actual food. These synthetic nutrient supplements are essential to meet the required nutrient levels in the standards set out by the powers that be, because the repeated high heat treatment that processed food undergoes degrades any actual nutrients so severely they are largely absent. Importantly, it also enables manufacturers to use the term, ‘Complete and Balanced’…

Once all of these ingredients are mixed into a dough, it is then pushed through an extruder, which uses heat and forms the biscuit shapes. It is then cooked, and often cooked again, before being sprayed with flavours.

The end result is a product that can sit on the shelf for years before your dog eats it. There is no requirement to state a date of production, only a batch ID that is meaningless to consumers, and a used by date. Due to the self regulated nature of the Australian pet food industry, as well as the seriously relaxed guidelines in the Australian Standard that governs the marketing of its products, the label on a bag of food can be designed in a way that conceals much of what we’ve just discussed.

But the packaging looks great!

Bags often contain images of foods so premium we might eat them ourselves, emblazoned with a featured animal protein name, and sometimes even a bold claim of as much as 70 or 80% meat. When the reality is that this number includes a ‘rehydration factor’ of x4…remembering they can call meat meal ‘meat’.

pet food packaging
These marketing tactics are governed by the voluntary Australian Standard for the Manufacture and Marketing of Pet Food (AS5812), and it acknowledges that dry pet foods are “typically cereal based.” Despite this, the standard permits food to be named after a meat protein while only containing as little as 5% of the named protein, and it doesn’t actually have to even be the main meat protein if the word “with” comes beforehand. If you’ve noticed the recent trend of referring to a food as being with REAL beef, this is why. The “real” is a distraction from the “with” – because really, what other sort of beef would it be?? This standard also states that “justification of content claims, when using dehydrated ingredients, shall be calculated on a reconstituted basis using a recognised conversion factor.” In layman’s terms, what this means is that a claim such as “contains 70% meat,” will have had a rehydration factor of x4 applied to any dry meat ingredients, meaning that in fact it contains only 17.5% of a highly processed and heat treated scrap meat powder. It is totally permitted, arguably encouraged or even mandatory, for them to multiply this portion by 4 and advertise a hypothetical rehydrated percentage, even though it never actually existed in this food.

This would be sort of ok with me if everything was calculated using rehydration factors and we were comparing apples with apples. But they’re not.
bowl of raw food and bowl of kibble

And that brings us to the nutrient panel. You’d be forgiven for looking at the nutrient panel on a bag of kibble and thinking “26% protein! Amazing.” But what we need to remember here is that this percentage refers to the finished, dry product, so it is a very concentrated figure on account of all the water having been removed – as opposed to the claim on the front, which has had all the water added back in using “rehydration factors”. These companies pick and choose how they will inflate figures in the way that best suits them and makes their product look better, and as a result risk totally deceiving consumers. Best of both worlds, eh?
Because it is not normal for food to be completely dry, these nutrient panel values are not really comparable to what we are used to seeing. As a result, they often seem high, while actually being very low. While a fresh meat product might advertise a seemingly meagre 15% protein, the dry matter equivalent of this (ie. the percentage of protein once all water is removed) may be as high as 50%. Almost double the actual protein content of the processed food. Another thing to note is that there is no requirement to list a carbohydrate percentage, so most pet food brands choose not to, and many will decline to tell you if you ask (which I did, many times).
There is much more I could say on this topic, but the key point to takeaway is that these foods are almost always labelled and marketed in a way that intentionally has pet owners in a tail spin trying to navigate them, when ultimately the vast majority are extremely similar.

In summary:

The lack of transparency in the processed pet food industry is something I find deeply problematic, and is compounded by a complete lack of mandatory regulations. A few things are certain though; these foods are all made from ingredients that are totally unsuitable for dogs, they are all heavily processed and repeatedly exposed to high temperatures, they are all supplemented with synthetic vitamins and minerals in order to show they contain ‘adequate nutrition’, and they are all permitted to sit on a shelf for as long as 18 months before being fed to your pet.

No amount of labelling gymnastics will change these facts, and this is really all you need to know.

(In this article I refer to “processed pet food,” “dry dog food” and “kibble”, by which I mean the typical, biscuit based dog food that we find at the supermarket.)
Butcher's Dog food on platter

Bringing your Puppy Home

Bringing your Puppy Home

The tiny, adorable little bundle of fluff that is going to be your best friend for the next 15 odd years. It’s an important day, and you might be super prepared and ready for anything they throw at you, or maybe you’re just too excited and caught up in the moment to haven’t done much preparation. Either way, there are some important things to remember.

This is general advice, largely taken from personal experience, but hopefully, it will give you some ideas and pointers on your exciting new journey into puppy parenthood.

Puppy in the arms of human
The first and made most important thing to remember is that your puppy is a baby. And they will be for at least the next year. Even when it seems like they’re not anymore. Dogs grow and develop much faster than humans, but they are still wholly dependent on us to meet their every need, forever, but especially in their important growth stages and when we first bring them home. If your puppy is leaving its littermates and mum to join your family, this may well be the most significant day of its life.

Making them feel safe

We all know how keen a dog’s sense of smell is—thought to be 10,000 – 100,000 times more powerful than ours! Bringing a blanket from their new bed and rubbing it on their Mum to get some of her smell on it may help them settle, and bring a little bit of familiarity with them to their new life.

puppy sleeping in dog bed with toys
Giving your puppy a comfortable, safe space of its own is important to help your puppy settle into its new home. Make sure you have bought them at least two beds before you pick them up; one for their sleeping area, and one for the living space.

Puppy sleeping in navy dog bed
Teaching an “on your bed” command from early days is something I promise you won’t regret. And as tempting as it is to let your puppy curl up in your bed unless you plan on letting them sleep there forever, I would try to fight this urge if you can (do as I say, not as I do—I’ve learned this the hard way, many times over!). But giving your puppy their own space will also help them feel safe and secure, and it is essential to help them to settle at night long term. If you plan on crate training your pup, make sure their crate is cozy and comfy.

Puppy in dog bed with pink blanket in a crate

Making time

You are also going to need to clear your schedule. A puppy needs around-the-clock care when they are very young, and you will need to feed them up to four times a day and let them out to the toilet through the night. Babies, remember. Puppies need a huge amount of food for their body size and, because their tummies are so tiny, it needs to be spaced out into lots of small meals. When I brought my 8-week old kelpie home she weighed 4.5 kilos and ate the same amount of food as my 20kg kelpie in a day. It was quite remarkable to see! It’s important that we feed them enough to reach their huge energy needs and increased nutrient requirements, but not so much that they grow at an accelerated rate. We are seeking steady growth, not unnecessarily rapid, and this is especially important for large breed puppies. We also need to make sure they have access to clean water at all times. If they are in a new environment, make sure the water is somewhere they have access to and don’t need to go looking for. We put a bowl of water in our living room until she decided it was fun to tip over.

dog resting on top of owner on lounge

Toilet training

And on the topic of water, there is no time too soon to begin toilet training your puppy. I am personally not a fan of puppy pads, because really they just teach your pup to go inside. An effective (but more labour-intensive) approach is to take your puppy outside at hourly intervals, and after every time they eat or drink anything. A loud clear “toilet” or similar instruction in the area of your garden that you have nominated as their toilet will get them in the habit of going on your command, followed by high praise and treats when they do. Some dogs will get distracted and stop their flow if you congratulate them too early, so you may be better off waiting until they finish to offer praise. Try not to scold your puppy for accidents, and never rub their nose in. They go because they need to, and all you will teach them by doing this is to be afraid of you.

Puppy urinating on rug

Do puppies need special puppy food?

One of the most important decisions you will make for your new dog’s wellbeing is what you are going to feed them. This can be a really hard decision, which is sort of reasonable given how important it is. It’s especially challenging when you start looking into the available options and come up against an absolute mountain of advice and opinions, many of them contradicting one another. As a nutritionist who advocates for a whole foods diet (for all creatures), it probably comes as no surprise that I recommend selecting a raw or lightly cooked species appropriate food. In the case of dogs, this is a largely animal protein based diet. Meat. My own dogs are both raw fed, and I started my puppy on raw food the day I brought her home at 8 weeks old. You can learn more about raw feeding in this post, and about some of the myths surrounding it here.

overhead shot of Butcher's Dog food on platter

Raw feeding guide table for puppies
Regardless of what approach you take, it’s important that your puppy eats a food that is formulated and balanced to meet their unique nutritional needs during growth. According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is the body that sets out the nutrition standards for commercial pet food in Australia and much of the world, puppies have increased requirements for energy, protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, copper, sodium, manganese, selenium and all of the essential amino acids. This means that, not only will your puppy require a very large amount of food relative to their body weight and compared to an adult dog the same size, but also that this food must be designed to meet these increased nutritional needs. As I mentioned, young puppies need to be fed more frequently than adults—ideally 4 but at least 3 meals per day to begin with. You will need to weigh them at least weekly and update their portions in line with their growth.

The Butcher's Dog meal defrosted in storage bowl

I found my puppy had a series of growth spurts, where suddenly her ribs would be visible and I had to increase her portions significantly almost overnight, and then other periods of comfortably eating the same amount for several weeks. She still has these periods now and she is almost a year old, so it really is a long term task of carefully monitoring their physique, weight, portions and hunger. You may also need to factor treats into their daily food allowance, especially during periods of intense training. Using meals as an enrichment tool (by using puzzle feeders and other tools like this) is a good way to exercise little puppy brains too.

How much exercise does a puppy need?

It can be tempting to clip on your puppies trendy new designer leash and parade them around town all day for everyone to coo over, but it’s important that we don’t do this right away, for a couple of reasons. Puppies should only be exercised for very short periods when they are very young, otherwise it may impede their bone and muscle development. This is especially the case for large breed puppies. A common guide of how long to exercise your puppy for is 5 minutes per month of age, twice a day. This means an 8-week old puppy would go for two ten-minute walks in a day. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t engage your puppy in other ways for longer periods of time, and it’s important they have plenty of toys and mental stimulation in addition to short walks and active play. But rest is also important, so it’s more about finding the right balance.

Owner putting leash on puppy ready to go for walk

Protecting your puppy

A lot of people also worry about exposing their puppy to potential pathogens like Parvo virus before they are fully vaccinated, which is a very valid concern to have. I’m not a vet so it’s not my place to tell you what approach to take in this situation but, as with everything, I think it’s important to evaluate the situation and work out the best approach for you personally. I engaged the services of a qualified and highly knowledgeable behaviour expert, and weighed up the pros and cons with their advice and that of my vet. It’s true that puppies have an immature immune system and are vulnerable to certain contagious illnesses, some of them life threatening. And it’s also true that 90% of untreated Parvo cases will likely result in death. But 90% of treated Parvo virus cases do not1. And puppies receive a natural immunity to any diseases their mother is fully protected from, via the colostrum they nurse on initially. This is why puppies require multiple vaccines in a short period of time—because the antibodies from their mother can neutralise the vaccine, just as it would the actual virus.

puppy running outdoors towards camera

Important developmental stages

The reason there is any debate over whether we should socialise our puppies before they are fully protected via a vaccine schedule, and not just wrap them up in cotton wool in the safety of our home until they’re 16 weeks old, is a little thing called a critical socialisation window. It is thought that this period lasts until your puppy is 14 or maybe 16 weeks old at most, and it is arguably the most important period in their mental and emotional development. Puppies that are well socialised during this period have it imprinted upon their little spongey brains that the world is a safe, happy place to be. After this period, they are more likely to become suspicious and fearful of new and unknown stimuli, which can result in fearful behaviours that may present as anxious, not-confident pets, and sometimes even fear aggression. We don’t want that! We want safely, well socialised puppies that grow into confident and happy dogs. Exposing them to different places, textures and sounds is essential, and it’s perfectly safe to do this in a controlled way and with other dogs you know have been vaccinated.

Puppy looking around corner in house

The fear factor and your human kids

Another thing to be mindful of during this key developmental period is the so-called “fear window.” The fear window is a period that is said to be most evident between 8 to around 11 weeks, when your puppy may seem to be afraid of everything (it is actually thought to start around 5 weeks, but your puppy will most likely still be with their mother at this time). It’s important during this period that they ideally don’t experience any traumatic events, as these could leave a life long imprint on your dog. But we want to build confidence, so it’s recommended we don’t reward fearfulness by overly consoling so, again, as with everything, it’s all about finding a balance.

child holding puppy with outstretched paws

Given that this period usually coincides with bringing your puppy into your home, it’s a good idea to have a plan for introducing your puppy to your human kids. Kids are loud, quick and unpredictable. Puppies are small, quiet and often timid. Some common tips for doing this include:

  • Have your children sit quietly and calmly, allowing your puppy approach your kids when they are ready (not the other way around).
  • Encourage children to speak softly and only pat the puppy gently, when he or she is comfortable with it.
  • Never allow children to poke or chase a puppy, and always let them rest and sleep when they need it.
  • No doubt it goes without saying that puppies should never be left alone with young children.

Young male child with black puppy licking his face on the couch

Teething time

After the initial “bringing your puppy home” glow, you may quickly start to encounter some teething issues, pun intended. Puppy biting and mouthing is possibly one of the most challenging behaviours you’ll encounter and, when you Google it shortly after welcoming puppy (as I did), you’ll be horrified to discover that it lasts until they are around 6 months old (as I was). But trying to prevent this behaviour is pointless. Puppies literally discover the world with their mouths. Biting and mouthing is their way of experiencing new things—and everything is new to a puppy.

Puppy chewing on slipper

Rather than stamping the behaviour out, we just have to find ways to redirect it to more desirable targets, like toys, teething rings and treats. Giving them little meaty bones will strengthen their jaws and, while this may see counter-intuitive when you’re being bitten day and night, it will also mentally stimulate them, making for calm and content puppies. They can’t bite you when they’re asleep.

Puppy chewing on raw bone

Leaving puppy home alone

As they get older and start to become more independent, it may be time to consider leaving your puppy home alone for periods of time. When we got our puppy, we took week-long shifts of taking her to work, working from home or taking holidays to allow her to settle in and ensure she was never alone for more than an hour or so. This meant we were able to feed her 4 meals a day when she needed them, and she didn’t get distressed by being left alone for long periods. When she was around 12 weeks, we transitioned her to 3 meals a day and started leaving her at home a couple of days a week. I hired a pet sitter to visit each day we were out, feed her her lunch, check on her wellbeing and give her some attention. We also have an older dog, so she was never truly alone. I also made sure she had plenty to do when we weren’t home, and every day she got a kong with interesting foods frozen inside or a wobbler that distributes treats, and access to plenty of toys. This is just what worked for us, and every puppy will be different. I don’t believe it’s appropriate to leave a young puppy alone all day, every day from a young age. If your schedule requires this, a doggy day care may be a good option to keep your puppy safe and engaged while you are out. Again, I think it’s important to find a balance between creating independence and resilience in your dog, and not allowing them to become bored, anxious or lonely. And make sure your puppy always has access to a warm, dry area with a bed and fresh water, that there are no hazards in your garden and they can’t escape.

Oodle pup relaxing on bed

Training time

Teaching your puppy basic and useful commands and habits right from the start is a great way to encourage harmony in your home during what can be quite an intense period, and it is also a fantastic way to mentally engage your pup. It’s a good idea to enrol your puppy in a reputable puppy class for both socialisation and basic obedience training, in addition to training at home. If you find they are a little too cheeky and are exhibiting some unwanted behaviours, look into finding a highly regarded behaviourist or trainer who can give you expert advice to manage them sooner rather than later. A puppy that understands boundaries and what is expected of them is likely to be happier and easier to manage, so don’t be too proud to seek guidance from a professional if you’re finding this is more challenging than you expected. I did and it was a game changer (for both of us!).

Husky pup in sit position looking at owner

Choosing your vet

You’ll also need a vet. Choosing a vet is an important decision and it can be overwhelming. I think it’s important that you fully trust your vet, but also that they respect your wishes where appropriate. This can be a delicate balance, especially if you choose to go down a more “non-traditional” path with things like a fresh food diet and a more flexible vaccination schedule.

vet doing physical examination of puppy lying on it's back

I believe you should always listen to your vet, but that they should also listen to you. Like human GPs, some vets are very traditional, whereas others are more open to “alternative” approaches. Some vets advocate for a processed dry-food diet, do not support a fresh food diet, they advocate for annual vaccine boosters and reach for pharmaceutical intervention as a first point of call for treatment of all ailments. This is well suited to many pet owners and I’m not here to pass any judgement on them, but I do certainly think this approach has its downsides.

If you are a new dog owner and have chosen to feed a fresh diet, it may be quite surprising if your vet advises against it. There are a number of reasons for this that I won’t get into here, but rest assured there are vets who will respect and support your choice to feed a carefully formulated homemade or fresh food diet. These vets are also more likely to support a more flexible vaccine schedule, or even offer titre testing. Titre testing is a method that checks your dog’s protection against the diseases they have been vaccinated against, so you only need to top them up when their immunity has fully waned. Some vaccines are thought to offer protection for up to seven yers, meaning your dog may only need to be vaccinated twice in their life, rather than every single year! Don’t skimp on the worming treatments though, puppies need to be wormed diligently when they’re young.

vet holding two puppies

I personally looked into integrative and holistic vets in my area, and selected someone who is focused on treating the underlying cause of any ailments, rather than medicating the symptoms. I know my vet listens to me and respects my wishes when it comes to my dogs’ healthcare, and as a result I trust her fully when she makes recommendations regarding it. Vets have an incredibly hard job, so you whichever path you choose, always be respectful and kind to your pet’s healthcare provider.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to guide you through the many responsibilities and decisions involved in bringing a new puppy into your home. Try not to get overwhelmed and take plenty of time to breathe in that puppy smell before it’s gone forever.

The importance of gut health

The importance of gut health

By now, those of us with even a passing interest in nutrition have no doubt heard the expression “gut health.” If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ve probably read about it here or heard me talk about pre and probiotics. It has become so entrenched in the vernacular of nutrition – both animal and our own – that we tend to gloss over it as simply a necessity, without paying too much attention to the details.

When we talk about “the gut” in gut health, it’s not just the tummy or stomach that we’re referring to. The gut incorporates the entire gastrointestinal tract, which begins at the mouth and goes all the way through the body to the bum. It incorporates a good portion of the body’s organs and it is responsible for some very critical bodily functions, which is why it’s SO important that we ensure its health. The primary job of the gut is to digest food, breaking it down into a form that can deliver nutrients to the bloodstream. Pretty straightforward, right?

But within the gut is the gut microbiome. This is an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria – both good and bad – fungi, viruses, and other microscopic critters that reside mainly in the large intestine. They also live in other parts of the body, such as in the mouth, on the skin, and even in the vagina. These good bacteria are what we mean when we say probiotics. And the good ones don’t just help to digest food and absorb or produce nutrients – they play an important role in fighting infections such as dental disease, food poisoning, or urinary tract infections, they assist with regulating weight, they play an essential role in the health of the immune system, and they can even affect mental health, the heart and the likelihood of developing diabetes.

Gut bacteria assists with regulating weight and can influence the onset of diabetes.

When the bacteria in the gut is in balance, the presence of good bacteria outnumbers bad and is sufficient to defend against illness and disease. If the gut is out of balance – or experiencing dysbiosis – it can mean there has been a loss of “good” bacteria, an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or a reduction in the diversity of the microbes in the gut (or a combination of all three).

The more diversity present in the gut microbiome, the greater the positive influence on health, and especially intestinal health. Numerous studies (in humans) have linked gut dysbiosis to inflammatory intestinal conditions such as IBS, and a 2017 study on dogs also linked gut microbiome diversity with intestinal health. Immune cells also live in the gut, with as much as 70-80% of the immune system thought to reside here, so its role in health really can’t be understated.

The gut microbiome develops very early in life, possibly even in the womb, and the health of the gut may be impacted by many factors, including some we have no control of, like genetics, whether the birth is vaginal or by cesarean, or whether we (or our dog) are breastfed. The health of a mother’s gut microbiome likely informs the benefits obtained through birth and breastfeeding, as well as in utero development of the microbiome.

There are also lifestyle factors that we have limited control over and which impact the health of the microbiome, such as environmental toxins, and essential medications like antibiotics in times of illness. But then there are lifestyle things we can do to improve or preserve the health of the gut, and (unsurprisingly) my favorite one is diet.

The single best way to support the health of the gut is to feed a diet of fresh, living nutrients, that suits the digestive capability of your pet.

This food will be naturally brimming with probiotic goodness and digestive enzymes that will aid the digestive process, but they also offer bigger-picture benefits. A diverse and varied diet, as opposed to a monotonous processed diet, offers a wide variety of different strains of probiotics (like the Lactobacillus acidophilus made famous by yogurt commercials in the 90s), which builds diversity in the microbiome. Fresh foods that suit the carnivorous mouth of our pets (like meaty bones) provide a defense that helps to prevent pathogenic bacteria from building up in the mouth, unlike starchy foods that offer no dental or bacteria-fighting benefits.

As we discussed in this post, preventing dental disease is integral to preventing disease all through the body.

Heavily processed foods that are repeatedly heat treated and sit on shelves for months simply cannot offer the same living enzymes and good bacteria as fresh foods.

While some are targeted to intestinal health, they are still brimming with heavily processed, unsuitable ingredients and synthetic nutrients, they offer no comparable dietary diversity and they are cooked within an inch of their life (or arguably beyond it, RIP). It simply does not pass the test of common sense that such food could be offering a positive impact on the health of our pet’s oh so important gut, and the ever-increasing amount of kibble fed dogs with IBS, skin conditions, ear infections, yeast infections, gas, and cancer frankly make it a hard sell for me. And in fact, a study conducted in 2017 that compared kibble-fed and raw-fed dogs found that bacteria associated with diarrhea and irritable bowel disorder was higher in kibble-fed dogs, while raw the fed dogs experienced “improved apparent protein and energy digestibility, reduced fecal weight and better fecal consistency.”

With the ever-increasing amount of kibble-fed dogs with IBS, skin conditions, ear infections, yeast infections, gas, and cancer, frankly kibble is a hard sell for me.

The gut microbiota can change very quickly—as fast as a matter of just days from dietary changes—but this doesn’t necessarily mean that poor gut health is an easy fix. It’s not uncommon for people to try fresh foods and find they don’t help, or sometimes even seem to make things worse, so they quickly revert back to processed food and things stabilize. Anyone who has ever eaten a whole foods diet and then a meal from McDonald’s (or a beige diet and then a plate of broccoli) will be able to attest that sudden, major dietary changes are not pleasant. Regardless of their health status, if your dog has a gut microbiome that is optimized (and I use that word loosely) to digest a carbohydrate-based kibble, it will look very different to a dog whose microbiome is optimized to digest raw meat. If you add to this gut dysbiosis or even leaky gut syndrome (a condition where the lining of the gut is degraded and allows particles of food into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response), you are probably facing a little bit of a battle to restore equilibrium, and this will take time. Please don’t give up.

There are things we can do to make this process go more smoothly, and a big one is to go slowly. Another is to offer things in the diet that are specially targeted to gut health, such as fermented foods. Fermented foods are ancient remedies that we can either make at home, or buy in the form of doggy-safe choices like sauerkraut and other facto-fermented veggies, kefir, or raw dairy like goat’s milk (this isn’t actually fermented, but loaded with the good stuff nonetheless). These can be paired with prebiotics for rest results, which are indigestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut, helping them to stay alive, grow and multiply.

Prebiotics generally come from plants, and some good choices are listed in this post here.

Alternatively, The Butcher’s Dog stocks a range of biologically appropriate probiotic supplements for dogs.

If you suspect your dog’s gut health does need an overhaul, they may require a course of probiotic supplements to restore the equilibrium.

Some areas that can be affected by poor gut health or indicators that your dog’s gut health may not be as good as it could be, include skin conditions, dull fur, really “doggy” smell, excess shedding, greasy coat, itchiness, tummy issues, bad breath, diarrhea, joint pain, poor immune system, food intolerances, yeast infections, recurring UTIs, IBS, and even behavioral issues.

Probiotics also don’t just come from food. They are present in the soil, in the grass, in puddles, even in the poo of other animals, which explains why some dogs insist on eating it. While I definitely don’t recommend coprophagia as a strategy for good gut health, it does sort of explain why some dogs participate in this pretty gross habit. What I do recommend is that we trust our pet’s instincts and let them be dogs, by allowing them to obtain the enormous health benefits of a species-appropriate, fresh diet that supports the health of their microbiome.

And dig, roll in the grass, drink out of puddles. Be good, healthy dogs.