Saturday, 10 September 2011


Dinner: Fish and vegetable kibble,
tinned beef and salmon, grated carrot,
a little cod liver oil and dried seaweed.

I’ve been thinking about writing something about greyhounds and diet for a while now, but keep postponing it until I have learned more. Well, I’ve realized I am probably never going to stop learning, so I may just as well write something now, subject to updates and changes, of course.

All the below recommendations are my own, I am not sponsored by any brand. And in the end, all dogs are different, and what works for one won’t for another. The best test for how good a diet is for your dog is how healthy and happy they are - especially how good their poop is! Don’t ignore it: like with babies, a bit of poop-spotting goes a long way to ascertaining your dog’s wellbeing.

Quite a few greyhounds have sensitive stomachs and suffer from both diet and stress related digestive issues. Mine have two very different stomachs, indeed, and I have learnt to deal with their respective problems by trial and error. In fact, I would like to hear other owner’s (greyhounds and other dogs) experiences with diet and digestion. Please leave a comment or email

When Eddie came to live with us we reckoned it would be best to buy a bag of the food he had been fed on in the kennels. He had very loose, bright yellow stool, and pretty bad wind, and initially we thought it may be the stress. However, his bowel movements didn’t improve, and were clearly not normal. We fed him bland cooked chicken and rice for a few days on the vet’s advice, but the improvement was only slight, and the soft, yellow poo returned as soon as we went back to the kibble.

Around the same time I was advised by a behaviourist that high quality, low protein foods are supposed to improve all sorts of behaviour in non-working dogs. In addition, of course, it is generally advised that retired greyhounds eat a fairly low protein diet. Burns and Wellbeloved are the brands I have used. As I have been able to let my dogs off the lead more, I have found that Burns actually has too little protein for some seasons – they lose weight on it in the summer when they are very active. However, another reason why I prefer to base my dogs’ diet around a low-protein biscuit. I can then adjust their protein intake day by day by adding extra meat, depending on their level of activity.

Note: these premium completes are very expensive. It is possible to lower the protein of your dog’s diet by substituting cooked rice, potato or pasta for part of a higher protein kibble. However, I would still pay some attention to the ingredients of any dog food. Less additives and more clear sources of protein are always better. Bakers Complete, for example, has 23% protein but only 4% beef and 4% fresh meat. Chappie has 20% protein but only declares 4% chicken. In fact, the latter has more “derivatives of vegetable origin” than “meat and animal derivatives” – which to me, anyway, is just not enough information. I would like to know what source the protein my dog is eating is from!

Indeed, I do think that the less additives and vaguely described "derivative" ingredients the better. Here are two of my favourites:

Eddie seems to do best on the Wellbeloved Ocean White Fish & Rice Kibble, but also on the Lamb flavour, as well as on the Fish and Vegetable variety. The Fish & Rice has 21% protein and 10% fat, and has a simple list of ingredients: fish (26%), rice (26%), barley (14%), linseed (3%), fish stock (3%), alfalfa (1%), seaweed (0.5%), yucca extract (0.02%), chicory extract (0.1%).

Burns is even lower in protein and fat, - 18.5% and 7.5% - respectively for the Lamb & Rice variety, and similarly simply composed: brown rice (54%), lamb (21%), oats, peas, sunflower oil, seaweed, vitamins and mineral. They also do fish and a range of other flavours.

I also discussed Eddie’s stomach problems with my parents, who have a great knowledge of dogs, and experience of feeding an ageing dachshund post-liver tumour. My father told me that Bilbo, my old childhood dachsie, was intolerant to chicken, and suggested trying Eddie on chicken-free food. As chicken is often seen as a very harmless source of protein, and is the main ingredient in the majority of commercial dog food products, I was a little dubious.

It turned out my old man was right, however. While even on the high quality, low protein kibble Eddie had loose stool if it contained chicken, but as soon as I gave him the non-chicken flavours his digestion improved. I also learned that it is only the high-quality kibbles that don’t use chicken, if they’re billed as another flavour. Many brands do – so I have learned to check the ingredients carefully. In addition, it seemed the less fat the kibble contained the better. Indeed, it is common that greyhounds’ bowels are loosened by fatty foods.

It is difficult to entirely exclude chicken products from Eddie’s diet, since a majority of processed dog foods contain them. The effect is marked, though. If I allow Eddie to have a treat such as a Jumbone, or Schmackos, even though they are nominally “beef” flavour, his poo is looser and he lets off some violently stinky farts. Indeed, the farts are like a barometer of the content of chicken in the food he’s had. We can live with the effects of a Jumbone, but feed him a tin of chicken flavoured dog food and we have to open windows and doors! Interestingly, tinned tuna, which Eddie loves, has a similar effect. I suppose there is some fat or protein in chicken and tuna meat that simply doesn’t agree with him.

You have to be careful with what you buy when you have a chicken-intolerant dog. Jumbone with beef, for example, lists the following ingredients: Cereals,Various Sugars, Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Beef), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin, Minerals, Seeds, Oils and Fats, Herbs. And usually the "meat and meat derivatives" means chicken. Anyway, I plan to write more about treats in another post.

Even high-end foods can be deceptive. For example you'd think the Arden Grange Tripe, Rice and Vegetables hypoallergenic tinned food would be just that: tripe, rice and vegetables. Having fed it to Eddie and smelled the results I had a closer look, and lo and behold: Tripe (40%), Chicken (30%), Rice (5%), Peas(0.5%), Carrots (0.5%), Pumpkin Meal, Beet Pulp, Fish Oil, Minerals, Vitamins, Seaweed Extract, Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Cranberry Extract, Yucca Extract and Nucleotides. (The last one is a bit of a mystery, considering nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA, they are in pretty much all biological material, what good they do outside of DNA I don't know).

In my quest to firm up Eddie’s stool, I also followed my mother’s advice. She is a firm believer in dogs’ need for raw meat and bones, at least occasionally. Although I don’t feed my dogs raw meat every day – mainly for practical reasons: I don’t have enough freezer space – I ensure they have it several times a week. Raw tripe or beef mince, and the occasional bone, or meat chunks seem to work very well for Eddie’s stomach.

In fact, in my experience, and from hearsay, it seems greyhounds do better on a less processed diet. I can see that they would do well on a raw or so called BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food – there is quite some discussion about the pros and cons of this, which I am not going to go into here), which I am always considering. However, with limited freezer space, and the greater inconvenience of preparing a BARF diet, I have stuck with the frequent feeds of raw meat, combined with high quality dry kibble and high quality tinned meats. More on which below.

We jokingly call Cassie “Guts Of Steel” as she almost always produces perfectly formed, firm poops. When she has an upset stomach it is clearly because something inappropriate has entered her system, and she quickly gets rid of it and returns to normal. However, little Cassie has a completely different issue with her stomach, and she is quite a fussy madam with her food. While Eddie pretty much always finishes his food with relish, Cassie often leaves some behind, and sometimes a whole meal goes untouched. Generally, this is not a problem. Most dogs can happily skip meals, even days of food. Not Cassie, however.

A few weeks after we adopted her, one morning she refused her food. I then noticed that her stomach was rumbling. Loudly. In fact, Cassie’s stomach was making so much noise it was disconcerting. She didn’t seem entirely comfortable either, unable to properly settle. She even whines a little as she was lying down. She refused food for a couple of hours and her stomach continued rumbling. In the end, however, she conceded to eating some specially made scrambled eggs, and lo and behold, her stomach was silenced, and she seemed altogether happier.

This happened occasionally, and she was always refusing food for quite some time, until she finally gave in and ate something (usually a very tasty morsel). Then her stomach seemed to settle and she’d eat a whole meal. I asked my veterinarian for advice and he called it “excessive borborygmus” (excessive stomach noises) and suggested it may be caused by bile entering her stomach when her stomach is empty for a long time, such as over night.

He suggested I give Cassie a small portion of wet food later in the evening. I have been doing this, and although it doesn’t always work, it does seem that she is more likely to have a morning bout if she hasn’t had anything to eat since early evening.

The problem is that she will refuse food, and since she is clearly uncomfortable and I know that if she eats it will immediately get better, I pander to her and offer her ever-tastier morsels. She has cottoned on to this and is obviously milking the situation, and also trying to refuse food when her stomach is perfectly all-right, to see if she can get me to get the ham or bacon out! Eddie has observed her and is now also sometime begging for treats at mealtime. It is a tricky situation.

In any case Cassie is not a big eater – she seems to have a small stomach that does better on several smaller meals than a couple of big ones. So we’ve had to change meal-time routines a bit in the house. Breakfast is a smaller meal, as they both seem less interested in food at this time of day. Usually they get some dog biscuit in goat’s milk or a little wet food. Then they have a bigger early lunch, consisting of half dog biscuit and half wet food. In the evening they have their second big meal, biscuit topped with meat, often raw mince, and some grated or cooked vegetables. If they don’t finish it they get a second chance later, but I don’t leave the bowls down, once they have walked away from them. If they finish, Cassie still gets a few spoonfuls of wet food later in the evening.

I also give them a spoonful of cod-liver oil and some dried sea-weed in their evening meal – for coat, joints and digestive system.

I have mentioned what biscuit I prefer above, here are some wet food products I have found very good. It is actually hard to get raw or natural, additive free and non-chicken-based products in the UK, but I have discovered that the company Zooplus, based in Germany, sell a wide range of excellent products, at reasonable prices and deliver for free in the UK (over a certain minimum order amount). They have affiliated websites in a range of European countries.

Rocco Classic is an inexpensive, additive free range of beef-based tinned meats. Apart from pure beef it comes in a range of flavours, all with 70% beef + 30% other pure meats, innards or fish. A godsend for chicken-intolerant dogs. I have recently discovered Animonda GranCarno a range of tins with interesting flavour combinations (Rabbit and herbs! Eel and potato! Salmon and spinach!) that my dogs are very keen on. Again good quality meat, no additives and not all bulked out with cheap chicken meat!

Naturediet is a British complete natural dog food and is available in UK pet shops, but is fairly expensive. Additive free and easy on the digestive system, the lamb and fish flavours do not contain chicken.

Prize Choice are the most widely available frozen raw meat products on the UK market. They do minces in various sizes and meat chunks, all at a good price. Tripe and beef free-flow minces are the standard around here, with the occasional beef chunks thrown in. Just good, natural and pure meat!

The same people are behind Natures:menu, which I haven’t tried extensively but want to experiment with. Keep tuned for results! Also keep an eye out for a post on treats: bones, healthy chews and making your own…

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Saturday, 3 September 2011

Companions in Killing – Diana and Actaeon

In my academic work I have been thinking about violence and what it means – I am interested in trying to figure out why violence happens by looking at it as a form of expression. “There is no such thing as meaningless violence”, is my tag-line for this project. People that commit violent acts do it to communicate, often when other forms of communication have broken down; they express their superiority, strength and perceived right, but also their fear, desperation and hopelessness.

At the same time I have been thinking about animals and humans, and how our relationship to our companion species illuminates our differences and similarities. In particular, of course, I have been thinking about dogs, and how humans and dogs appear to have co-evolved as species, neither of which would be the same without its long history of living with the other.

The ancient myth of Diana (or Artemis in the Greek version) and Actaeon is situated smack bang in the middle of these two trains of thought: violence and expression, human and animal.

Diana (Greek: Artemis)

Around the birth of Christ, Roman poet Ovid set down in his collection of myths, Metamorphoses, the by then already old story. It begins on a beautiful evening, when both Actaeon, a nobleman from Thebes, and Diana, goddess of the hunt, the moon and wild animals, have been out hunting with their separate parties. It is late and hot and both decide to call it a day.
In a fair chace a shady mountain stood,
Well stor'd with game, and mark'd with trails of blood;
Here did the huntsmen, 'till the heat of day,
Pursue the stag, and load themselves with rey:
When thus Actaeon calling to the rest:
"My friends," said he, "our sport is at the best,
The sun is high advanc'd, and downward sheds
His burning beams directly on our heads;
Then by consent abstain from further spoils,
Call off the dogs, and gather up the toils,
And ere to-morrow's sun begins his race,
Take the cool morning to renew the chace."
They all consent, and in a chearful train
The jolly huntsmen, loaden with the slain,
Return in triumph from the sultry plain.
Down in a vale with pine and cypress clad,
Refresh'd with gentle winds, and brown with shade,
The chaste Diana's private haunt, there stood
Full in the centre of the darksome wood
A spacious grotto, all around o'er-grown
With hoary moss, and arch'd with pumice-stone.
From out its rocky clefts the waters flow,
And trickling swell into a lake below.
Nature had ev'ry where so plaid her part,
That ev'ry where she seem'd to vie with art.
Here the bright Goddess, toil'd and chaf'd with heat,
Was wont to bathe her in the cool retreat.
(from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book the Third, trans. by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al, 1717)
As it happens, Actaeon stumbles on Diana as she is bathing naked. Having left her trusted bow on the bank, the incensed goddess throws a handful of water on Actaeon, proclaiming: "Now tell you saw me here naked without my clothes, if you can tell at all!".  

This said, the man begun to disappear
By slow degrees, and ended in a deer. 

Diana’s revenge lies not so much in turning Actaeon into a stag, however, as in making him mute. The bold hunter becomes the voiceless prey. Stunned, Actaeon doesn’t know where to turn, his castle or the woods, and as he hesitates his hounds catch sight of him:
First ‘Black-foot’, Melampus, and keen-scented Ichnobates, ‘Tracker’, signal him with baying, Ichnobates out of Crete, Melampus, Sparta. Then others rush at him swift as the wind, ‘Greedy’, Pamphagus, Dorceus, ‘Gazelle’, Oribasos, ‘Mountaineer’, all out of Arcady: powerful ‘Deerslayer’, Nebrophonos, savage Theron, ‘Whirlwind’, and Laelape, ‘Hunter’. Then swift-footed Pterelas, ‘Wings’, and trail-scenting Agre, ‘Chaser’, fierce Hylaeus, ‘Woody’, lately gored by a boar, the wolf-born Nape, ‘Valley’, Poemenis, the trusty ‘Shepherd’, and Harpyia, ‘Snatcher’, with her two pups. There is thin-flanked Sicyonian Ladon, ‘Catcher’, Dromas, ‘Runner’, ‘Grinder’, Canache, Sticte ‘Spot’, Tigris ‘Tigress’, Alce, ‘Strong’, and white-haired Leucon, ‘Whitey’, and black-haired Asbolus, ‘Soot’.  
Lacon, ‘Spartan’, follows them, a dog well known for his strength, and strong-running AĆ«llo, ‘Storm’. Then Thoos, ‘Swift’, and speedy Lycisce, ‘Wolf’, with her brother Cyprius ‘Cyprian’. Next ‘Grasper’, Harpalos, with a distinguishing mark of white, in the centre of his black forehead, ‘Black’, Melaneus, and Lachne, ‘Shaggy’, with hairy pelt, Labros, ‘Fury’, and Argiodus, ‘White-tooth’, born of a Cretan sire and Spartan dam, keen-voiced Hylactor, ‘Barker’…  
(from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk III:206-231, trans. by A.D. Kline, 2000)
The fact that Ovid spends quite some time naming and describing Actaeon’s dogs, reminds us of the close bond between us and our companion species. It also reminds us that this bond is forged in language, in the names we choose to give the animals we share our lives with. Terrified Actaeon flees over the mountain, pursued by his own pack. He tries to shout: "Actaeon ego sum: dominum cognoscite vestrum!" - ‘I am Actaeon! Know your own master!’, but nothing but noises are heard. Actaeon has lost his voice and his name. The dogs soon catch up and pounce on him.

"Actaeon ego sum!"
First ‘Black-hair’, Melanchaetes, wounds his back, then ‘Killer’, Theridamas, and Oresitrophos, the ‘Climber’, clings to his shoulder. They had set out late but outflanked the route by a shortcut over the mountains. While they hold their master the whole pack gathers and they sink their teeth in his body till there is no place left to wound him. He groans and makes a noise, not human, but still not one a deer could make, and fills familiar heights with mournful cries. And on his knees, like a suppliant begging, he turns his wordless head from side to side, as if he were stretching arms out towards them… 
They surround him on every side, sinking their jaws into his flesh, tearing their master to pieces in the deceptive shape of the deer. They say Diana the Quiver-bearer’s anger was not appeased, until his life had ended in innumerable wounds.  
(from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk III: 232-252, trans. by A.D. Kline, 2000)
As Actaeon dies wordless, the violence inflicted upon him speaks volumes of Diana’s rage, and about our relationship with dogs. In the presence of cuddly puppies and cute toy dogs, it is easy to forget that at the centre of our cross-species evolutionary connection with dogs lies violence. Dogs and humans have thrown their lot in with each other for two mutually beneficial reasons: hunting and protection. Both activities imply violent acts, as is illustrated by the myth of Diana and Actaeon. It is by killing, that the hounds aid Actaeon in is hunt, and Diana in the protection of her honour. We are companions in killing.

Actaeon torn asunder by his own dogs

From a behavioural perspective we need to keep this in mind. All dogs are instinctive hunters and protectors, to some degree, whether they are of a “dangerous” breed or not. A number of problem behaviours stem from a domestic dog’s lack of an outlet for these instincts.

However, what also unites us as species, apart from violence, is the ability to communicate, by verbal and non-verbal means. Yet, violence and language also separate us: if dogs bring us prey and protection, we bring them our capacity for naming. Linked with our capacity for verbal language, which dogs lack, is the ability to categorise and organize the world around us. As I have mentioned before, research indicates that over the time that dogs and humans have spent together, the brains of both have shrunk. Humans have ended up with less acute senses, in particular smell, and dogs with less capacity to organize and plan – instead we are sharing these tasks between our species.

It falls to us then, to figure out when hunting and protecting is necessary and when it is not, and exactly what is to be hunted and who is to be protected from whom. In naming our dogs, we take on the responsibility to name the world for them, too. Games, training and activities can satisfy our dogs’ instincts to hunt and protect, but it is up to us to tell them how. The key, of course, is communication. As always I come back to this, even in reading an ancient myth: its good, nay necessary, to talk (albeit not always using words) to your dogs. If we don’t have a voice, our dogs, like those of Actaeon, will not recognize us.