Viv came to me 5 weeks and a day ago. When she arrived she was under-weight and had very little appetite for dog food. I'd offer her a meal or treat and she'd sniff at it, possibly pick it up, and usually drop it again. Sometimes she'd start eating a meal with interest, slowing and walking away only a 1/3 of the bowl in. My challenge was to encourage her to eat healthy food which would support her growth, development, mood and training.
So I started to research the nutritional needs of Siberian Huskies and discovered some quirks of the breed. *Warning! I may have geeked-out in the following post*
Siberian Husky ancestry may consist of 1.4% to 27.3% Ancient Siberian Wolf, indicating either that modern dogs have existed in that part of the world for at least 27,000 years or that when modern dogs reached the higher latitudes, the local wolf population carried the ancient Siberian wolf's legacy (Skoglund et al., 2015). Either way, Viv's heritage is likely far more ancient than Moby's (my Border Collie) as modern dogs were unlikely to have arrived in Europe until 11,000 to 16,000 years ago (Wang et al., 2016). (There are many complex studies with conflicting results about the ancestry of modern dogs and I've only cherry-picked a few to include here. Please keep in mind that the evolutionary history of modern dogs is not simple or well-understood and feel free to search the recent literature for other discussions on the topic). Why is breed heritage relevant to a discussion on diet? Why wouldn't I just feed Viv the same wonderful foods I feed to Moby? Well, because breed nutritional adaptations have been affected by where and when dog types first appeared in the world; Border Collies are an agricultural dog, Siberian Huskies have nomadic history. It makes sense that for Viv to thrive she'll need a different diet than the one I've chosen for Moby. The research backs this up, showing that efficient starch digestion is associated with agrarian dogs, and sibes have significantly fewer gene copies for pancreatic amylase (enzyme for starch) (Arendt, et al., 2016).
Available food sources vary considerably from nomadic lifestyle in Siberia to agricultural lifestyle in the Scottish borders; in this way, the way two breeds of dog process their diet may vary. Fewer grains would be available in the development of Siberian Huskies so they're poorly adapted to digesting starch, but modern dog foods are rich in grains. General online snow-dog advice is that the primary food source for these breeds is fish with seasonal availability of red meat and poultry, and recommendations to avoid beef and lamb in their meals. Thinking about the lifestyle of indigenous peoples of the far north, I'd expect sibes to have a diet rich in reindeer offcuts but this meat type would be hard to source in the UK. I'm curious to know how bovid and ovid proteins differ from cervid but I will have to be patient and research that topic another time.
Siberian Huskies are prone to zinc deficiency for two reasons. Firstly, they may have an intestinal defect that prevents them from absorbing zinc even when fed a quality diet. Secondly, feeds rich in grains make zinc less available as a result of binding phytates. High levels of calcium and iron can also create difficulties for zinc absorption (Hardy, 2016). Cheap supplements such as zinc oxide may be added to low-quality feeds and supplements, but have poor biological availability. Other formulations such as zinc gluconate are more expensive but effective in the correct dosage (which you should check with your vet).
Zinc deficiency is common in northern breeds with symptoms including lack of appetite, skin lesions, cracked pads (keratosis). I saw the vet with Viv who agreed she had a zinc deficiency and needed supplementation. Viv now has crushed zinc gluconate mixed into moist food each day until her pads are healthy. I hope to share a before and after photo with you in the not-too-distant future! :)
So what do I feed Viv? Well, when we started I wasn't sure what to try as she was finicky, so I bought a variety. Now she eats everything with great enjoyment. I feed her twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Usually a portion of breakfast and dinner is used as training. Over the rest of the day she has treats as part of management and teaching but I'm always aware of the overall quantity she will be eating that day. Lean, strong dogs are the happiest so I won't overfeed her. I tend to feed one sort of food at each meal rather than mixing, but feed a different variety at each meal. I mix her zinc gluconate powder into small portions of the moist foods, which I usually feed from a spoon and use as a training opportunity at midday.
Fish4Dogs - Cornish Sardine Adult, regular bite
Barking Heads - Fuss Pot (Salmon and Potato)
Orijen - Six Fish
Nature Diet- Salmon and rice
Canagan - Salmon and Herring Supper & Venison and Wild Boar Stew
I've chosen these foods to be low in grain, high in quality proteins, with major preference for fish and minority for game and poultry. Thankfully Viv loves them all and has a great appetite, relishes meals and has improved physical condition. My next challenge will be to streamline my choices to source the most ethical foods from a welfare and ecological perspective.
I could've researched for longer and written for longer but I think this is plenty to digest for the time being. If you're interested take a look at these links to learn more.
I hope you've enjoyed this blog and please let me know how you feed your dog by commenting below ....click on the title or here
Arendt et al., 2016. Diet adaptation in dog reflects spread of prehistoric agriculture
Hardy, 2016. Zinc responsive dermatosis