By Paolo Cesari | Guest Contributor
For many a dog is not just a pet, but a part of the family. For our family this sentiment holds true. Kwin is a 6-year-old Golden retriever that has been part of our family from day one. Anyone who has ever been around a Golden Retriever understands truly how special of a creature they are. From the youthful playfulness to the loyal companionship Kwin exemplifies what “man’s best friend” suggests. It might be because of these amazing traits or for other reason hard to explain, but when illness falls on your pet it is a rather helpless feeling. They cannot tell you what is wrong, explain their symptoms, or properly communicate what they need.
This journey for our family was a long one. After a hot day in May of 2020, Kwin was extremely lethargic. We knew she was in trouble when she did not even react to the steak dinner we were cooking. We had to rush her to the emergency vet because of her lethargic demeanor and fever of 106F and was told it was possibly heat stroke. While my wife and I greatly appreciate and respect the work of the emergency Veterinarian staff something felt off. However, after the vet stabilized her, she seemed to be better; temporarily at least. For the next year and a half Kwin’s symptoms began to resurface every few months with new ones popping up. She went from being lethargic, to limping, to swollen limbs and clearly in pain. Her symptoms rapidly worsened, seemingly by the hour, Labor Day Weekend of 2021. She had very minor swelling in all four paws on Friday morning and by that afternoon her limbs were swollen and she was very lethargic. Emergency vets were full and only taking actively dying animals. We called vets up to 6 hours away that weekend, with no one able to see her. She barely ate that weekend, except for ribeye steaks we prepared for her. She was so sick; she did not even want to swim.
Over the next few weeks with various trips to multiple vets and ample tests done with no conclusive diagnosis my wife and I felt lost and helpless. We were confronted with the very real but very hard decision every pet owner has to grapple with, at what point is it just too much for the pet? She was trialed on several antibiotics and able to tolerate her days with hefty pain medicines. Walks and playgroups were on pause, indefinitely. We remained hopeful as she started to have more good days than bad, and many days her symptoms were minimal.
After weeks of waiting, we were finally seen by the internal specialize vet that would go on to run even more tests- still no answer. Mid November she underwent a joint tap. When the lab results came back, we finally had a diagnosis. Immune Mediated Polyarthritis. With this diagnoses came some clarity and a brief feeling of hope. We were hopeful we would start treatment and we could get through it and bounce back, unfortunately this was not the case. After months on strong immune suppressing drugs and steroids Kwin was suffering. Her joint pain was clearly worsening, coat was shedding to the point you could see her skin her hair was so thin, and her actual skin was peeling as if she had the worse sunburn you could imagine. Our house was littered with large clumps of dried skin and a more than typical amount of shedding fur. It seems that these drugs while not seemingly helping Kwin were doing more damage than help. We desperately wanted to wean her off the steroids, but with each wean the symptoms would relapse. We trialed a new immune suppressing drug mid-January, with the goal of getting off the steroid completely.
My wife and I researched and looked into various options to help her in non-traditional ways but were at a loss, until we posted a picture online. It was seemingly a goofy picture of Kwin that we thought she just looked tired, but as it turns out she was having dazed side effect demeanor from one of the prescribed medications. When one of my longtime family friend, fellow dog and golden retriever lover, and Utica phoenix contributor Cassandra Harris-Lockwood saw the photo and reached out.
As an animal enthusiast she has had a great deal of experience taking care of a variety of animals including dogs of various variety. She spoke to me about the benefits of introducing raw food to Kwin, specifically turkey necks. She informed me just as we do, dogs can and should get their nutrition from whole unprocessed clean foods. Kwin is my first dog as an adult, and my wife always knew kibble as the only real option for dogs. I had a great deal of assumptions and beliefs about an animal’s diet that were just simply not true. This lead us down a rabbit whole of research and exploration to find out what was truly best for Kwin.
My wife took on this research: reading various articles online and speaking to various people who have made the shift to the all raw diet. What we found was very clear, the all-raw diet was the best option for pets but because of complexity and cost this option is usually less appetizing to pet owners. Given Kwin’s situation we were willing to try anything to help return her back to the playful healthy part of the family she once was. We used the website http://www.perfectlyrawsome.com and the method of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) to ensure Kwin got a proper balance of organ, meat, vegetables, and bone nutrients to keep her full and healthy. We were able to calculate the amount of each nutrient down to the gram per Kwin’s body weight.
Kwin has now been on this diet for almost 6 months and the results have been amazing. All of her symptoms are gone and her energy and health level are back to puppy levels. She is off the steroids, and is almost done with the immune suppressing drug. Her skin is totally healed and her golden coat is back in its full flurry glory. There have been some other things that have stood out to us through this all-raw diet as well. Since we began this all raw diet the constant begging for human food has stopped, she is full and satisfied with her meals. Where I once had a midnight snack buddy; she often just stays in bed instead of barreling down when she heard the sound of the cutting board. Another thing that is hard to measure but is clearly better is her strength. She is at a very healthy weight for her size and breed and when we play and wrestle around now, she feels more sturdy and much stronger. Additionally, the moderate teeth plaque we had been combating with teeth cleanings are utterly unnecessary now. My wife and I have been truly amazed at the turnaround from this choice and the benefits have been numerous.
While this diet may sound daunting to some due to expense, effort or, ability I would encourage anyone who is willing to give it a try to do so. With buying meat and veggies in bulk we have been able to get the cost per meal down to $1.75-$2.00 and dedicating an evening every few weeks to breaking down the meats and combining the vegetables has made it much more manageable. For the cost aspect of this it is undeniably more expensive than simply buying a bag of kibble and calling it a day, but how I choose to look at it is there is a real cost for health both in humans and animals and if you can pay for that cost upfront it can minimize the cost down the road.