Friday, February 25, 2011

Eric, Enzo & Rossi - The Spinone Boys

Every few weeks we get an email from Eric, Enzo and Rossi aka The Spinone Boys and there are always photos and - well - they always make us laugh - so here are their St. Valentine day shots, which are amongst my favourites...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nick Thompson and the Healthy Beast 'Small Animal Raw Food Nutrition' Course on the 24th September

If you would like to know more about raw feeding then put Saturday 24th September in your diary and get in touch with the organisers Healthy Beast (great name, isn't it? Their number is 01869 349955). The course is being given by Nick Thompson. The letters after Nick's name run on forever - BSc (Hons) Path. Sci., BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS - but we know him as one of the best and most enlightened vets in the country. He is a keen proponent of raw feeding (well, he would be, come to think of it) and a brilliant homeopath, as well. He is one of a handful of vets who we really trust. Not only does he know his stuff, but he is a brilliant speaker, too. I have not come across the organisers before but looking at their website they seem to run an equine facility in Oxfordshire that specialises in looking after horses with health issues and they also make a range of herbal/oil based products for horses and dogs - some medical, some not. They offer quite a few courses and, all in all, it looks pretty impressive. Anyway, I am sure Nick wouldn't be working with them if he didn't think they were good at what they do. The main website for the organisers is Natural Healthcare Services for Animals.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hurrah for agile Orla

I just had to post this photo of Orla the Wonder Agility Dog from St. Albans whose sporting career is closely watched by all in the office because she seems - well - such a cheerful, enthusiastic, willing dog. Penny, who lives with her, has just set up an agility training school in St. Albans and if you are interested in attending let me know and I will fish out details. Meanwhile, good luck to Orla (whose full name is Orla Nothing!).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To everything there is a season

The view from my bedroom window at midnight. Note the fact that there are no leaves on the trees. To everything there is a season - and that includes our food. We are artisan producers and we use the ingredients available to us - trying to buy as locally as possible. So, at the moment very little lamb, not much rabbit, a definite shortage of young beef bones and frequent apologies to our customers because we won't buy anything that isn't British. Still, spring is definitely on the way and in a week or two we shouldn't be facing these shortages. Incidentally, we have just appointed a new head butcher and one of his first duties is to re-examine our supply chain. We are concerned that we haven't had time to visit our suppliers recently. We've made some changes and we plan some more so we need to do our homework.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cool for cats...but not for Darling's

Are you feeding your cats on Darling's vegetable free recipe? I'm afraid I have good news and bad news. For some time now we have been aware that we are losing money on these recipes but we haven't had the heart to push the price up. Another problem is that we sell very little of it and it is very time consuming to make. Also, although Darling's customers are all total darlings, some of our feline customer companions seem to hold us responsible if their cat won't eat a particular recipe - even if they have had it before. I don't think it is any secret that cats are notoriously fussy when it comes to their victuals. Anyway, we have decided that we are going to stop making it on a regular basis. That's the bad news. The good news is that existing customers may order the same amount of food that they have ordered from us in the past for four weeks from the day we announce that we are stopping. Also, if any customer decides to go the DIY route we will be happy to recommend books, recipes etc. We are really sorry to be letting down our few vegetable free customers but we will do everything to make sure we look after everyone properly. As soon as we get our dates sorted out we will ring and write to everyone likely to be affected.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Them bones, them bones, them raw bones...

This wonderful photo has been sent to us by one of our customers and shows some adorable wheaten puppies being introduced to raw bones by their mother. It seems a good excuse to pass on various bits of bone information from Tom, our Chief Veterinary Surgeon.

One of the things we sometimes hear from new customers is that they have tried their dogs on raw bones before and either the bones have been regurgitated or else the dog has had Diarrhoea. There are various reasons for this. It may be that the dog has been on a sterile diet for so long that their enzymes for digesting bones have, to quote Tom, 'switched off'. If this is the case it can take anything for a few days to a few weeks for them to be restarted. Another possibility is the type of bone. Lamb bones are more likely to cause vomiting and/or Diarrhoea due to the high fat content of the marrow. Dogs are no different to humans in that what suits one digestive system, doesn't suit another. There are dogs, for instance, that have trouble digesting pork or duck bones.

For this reason Tom normally suggests that if your dog is new to raw bones you may like to start with chicken wings followed, after a few days, by chicken legs and then - providing everything is proceeding smoothly - a meaty beef bone. Why meaty? Tom points out that: "Bone with no meat is not good as dogs just dig into the bone to get the marrow and can either break teeth if the bone is very strong and they are pig headedly determined to get through it or they can end up with lots of splintered bone (more common with lamb bone) which they just chuck back up rather than have it going through their sensitive intestine (rather clever in my opinion)."

On an ongoing basis chicken, beef, lamb or pork bones should all be fine for your dogs but do remember that bones must be a) raw, b) from young animals or birds so that they are soft and c) an appropriate size. What size is appropriate? They must be large enough that the dog can't crack them and/or gulp them down too easily. The one exception to this rule is chicken bones because if from young chickens they are soft to begin with.

It is perhaps worth pointing out at this juncture that we grind raw, meaty bones into our food so that your dogs gets the right nutritional balance. However, they still need bones to keep their teeth and gums clean.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hurrah. The new Darling's raw food kitchens are open.

This week we published our first newsletter (it has only taken a year) and on the front page Vicky announces some really exciting news. Rather than re-write it I am just going to copy and paste what she said (lazy of me, I know, but efficient):

"Exciting news from Darling’s GHQ – our brand new kitchen is finally finished. Last week we held a brief opening ceremony and this week we have been working out, with the help of some very thick manuals (hopefully too many books won’t spoil the broth), how to use all our new toys. We wouldn’t need the kitchen, of course, if Darling’s wasn’t doing so well. This seems, therefore, an ideal opportunity to thank you for your support. I don’t want to come over all gushy on you, but we are incredibly grateful for your business.

The whole new kitchen thing has been a bit of a saga. To begin with none of us had ever bought commercial kitchen equipment before (think normal kitchen equipment on steroids… our new food processor is the size of a small skip) so we had rather a lot to learn on that front. The actual premises weren’t a problem as a local farmer offered us a suitable building, but fitting it out took much more time than we expected. Then, when the equipment arrived the driver had an accident unloading it. Two of the most expensive items literally fell off the back of the lorry and had to go back to be repaired. Just before Christmas some of our pipes burst and just after Christmas our freezers broke down. In mid-January the electrical circuit board exploded… but you get the picture.

I am not saying that we don’t still expect teething problems but hopefully we are over the worst. Early customers may remember that when we launched, just over a year ago, we made all the food in my own kitchen. When my family finally said ‘enough is enough’ we used a butcher’s shop some 20 miles away. Our new kitchen is a mile up the road from my home and I can walk to work.

I use the word ‘work’, but it isn’t really. We started Darling’s by accident after Jonathan (my co-founder) got fed up with making food for his own and his foster dogs and thought that if he went into the business himself he could get out of the chore. ‘That,’ as one of his five children pointed out the other day, ‘will learn him’. Three of his children, by the way, help in the business, as does my husband, my best friend, my best friend’s husband, my daughter’s best friend’s Mum… I could go on. The fact is it is a little dangerous to be related to either Jonathan or myself and even to be related to our friends!"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Need dog walking, day care, photography, fetching or training in Hertfordshire? Try 4 paws, 2 feet...

I've never met Lucy Proctor who runs 4 paws, 2 feet - a dog walking, day care, photography, fetching and training service based in Hertfordshire (it covers Redbourn, Harpenden and St. Albans) but you only have to look at her website (all Lucy's own work!) to get a feel for what she is like and what she believes in.

It isn't just that she is a strong proponent of raw feeding and a huge supporter of Darling's (not that these don't count for a great deal in my eyes) she is obviously passionate about what she does. There are photos (with witty captions) of all the dogs she walks and looks after. There is a lot about Pooh (real name Winnie...the rescue cocker spaniel in the photo above). And there's quite a bit about her interest in behaviour, training and canine welfare. (She knows her onions, by the way, before she set up on her own she was team leader at a well-established training centre).

What else can I tell you? Oh, yes. She is especially interested in re-training and helping adult dogs with what I suppose we might call 'issues'. And she is organising group walks, which seem to be a big success.

Anyway, if you live in her area and you need someone I do hope you will give her a try. Her number, by the way, is 07976 067 298 and the website is

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Daisy, demodectic mange, Ivermectin, keeping an open mind and the problem of vets who don't support raw feeding

Last Saturday afternoon I received a call from one of colleagues worried about one of the dogs we feed - Daisy. On Friday night she has been indescribably ill (throwing up, diarrhea, drooling, sort of half collapsing, lack of appetite) and, as you can imagine, her owners rushed her into the vet who gave her a shot of something unknown and also put her on a course of antibiotics. The vet was horrified that Daisy was being fed raw and said that undoubtedly this was the cause of the problem. The owners had got straight onto us Saturday morning and we had got onto Tom, Darling's Chief Veterinary Surgeon, on holiday as it happens, but naughtily checking his email anyway because that is the sort of chap he is. Tom had made some suggestions, I will come on to those in a moment, but my colleague didn't feel experienced enough to talk them through with the customer, would I do it? One of the principles we hold dear at Darling's GHQ is that if we don't know something, we admit it. So I looked up Daisy's medical history, had another chat with Tom, and rang our customer. (Stick with me on this, I will get to the point eventually.)

The first thing I said was that we are, naturally, terrified by the thought that there might be something wrong with our food. If they could put some of Daisy's - look, I won't beat about the bush, I used the word poo - into the vet for analysis we would pay for the tests. Daisy was, in fact, better and they had been feeding her Pedigree Chum every four hours on the vet's advice, so that was out. I explained that it was, in fact, unlikely to be the food because she had been eating the same batch for two weeks, we had had no calls from other customers and the symptoms seemed to differ from ordinary gastroenteritis. The customer wondered if Daisy might have built up an intolerance to our food over time. I called Tom again to discuss this possibility. We both agreed that it seemed unlikely but not impossible.

What of Tom's suggestions? Well, Daisy has been suffering from something called Demodectic Mange for months and none of the topical treatments had worked so her vet had put her on something called Ivermectin. Demodectic Mange is often a symptom of a compromised immune system so Tom felt that it would be better if her food was cooked, at least for a while. As you may imagine he was rather against the Pedigree Chum diet the other vet had prescribed. Tom also recommend probiotics and FOS (fructo-oligo-saccharides...but you knew that) to counter the effect of the antibiotics and thought a short course of multi-vitamins might help, too. Most importantly, he was concerned that the Ivermectin could have affected Daisy's liver. This might account for the falling around, dazed symptoms. Interestingly, the FDA in the US do not approve of Ivermectin being used for mange because the dose is so high. This is what it says on about it:

Ivermectin is used in higher dosages to treat both demodectic and sarcoptic mange in dogs. Ivermectin used in these dosages is considered to be an off-label use of ivermectin as the drug is not approved by the FDA when used at these dosages. Off-label usage is common and Ivermectin is frequently used by veterinarians to treat mange in dogs but dog owners should be aware that the dosages are much different than those dosages used for monthly heartworm prevention.

The same site lists the symptoms that dogs can experience as:
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lack of appetite
  • incoordination
  • seizures
  • excessive salivation
  • It doesn't follow that this was definitely Daisy's problem - but it had to be worth investigating.

    The customer was now facing a dilemma. On one hand she believed in raw feeding even though she had only been trying it for two weeks, and she could also see the sense in what we were saying. On the other hand her vet was telling her that we were wrong and that raw feeding is dangerous. Also, she really wanted to end Daisy's suffering with the mange and the vet was promising that the Ivermectin would achieve this. I was also facing a dilemma. I didn't want the customer to feel under pressure. Although we provide dietary advice and always consult with Tom if a dog has any health issues we rarely get to meet the dog so there is a limit to what we can offer. If I was responsible for Daisy I would have chucked the Ivermectin and consulted a homeopathic vet to discuss other options. But I couldn't say that to my customer. She had to make the decision.

    In the end she decided that she wouldn't feed any processed food to Daisy but would use fresh ingredients and cook them for her. And that she would stick with the Ivermectin. This may well be the right decision because Daisy does seem a lot better and that would suggest she isn't suffering from side effects but that it was due to something she ate. (I should have mentioned Daisy ate some non-Darling's raw food last week, too). We are sending the customer a cheque to cover the cost of the Darling's food in her freezer and we have asked her to donate it to a good cause. I didn't feel we really had to do this but my concern is always to make sure - if at all possible - that customers retain a good impression of us. There isn't really a moral to this tale except that it does highlight what we raw feeders are up against with vets who don't really understand what we are talking about and don't keep an open mind. Also, I hope it give you an idea of how involved we are with the health of all the dogs we feed.