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Poor Longshanks. It's always hard to be a fat dog, but when you're a fat dachshund, it can get to the point where your long belly is dragging on the ground. Poor Rosencranz. He's a wire-haired terrier, but there are lots of places on him that are without hair of any kind. He scratches like crazy, and fleas don't seem to be the problem. Also, he stinks.

These two pooches belong to friends of mine. They put me on the case.

Annette Thomas is co-owner, with her business partner Joan Willson, of Tigertail Foods in Encinitas (760-634-1183; www.tigertailfoods.com ). The shop specializes in freshly prepared raw foods for pets. Thomas suspected that the troubles were diet-related. "The primary ingredient that you find in grocery-store dog foods is grain. Dogs don't need grain -- certainly not that much. Next is 'meat byproducts' or 'meat parts.' Something that makes you think you're getting meat. In fact, you're getting parts that you don't want your dog to eat. One dog-food maker considers the feathers off of a chicken's wings to be meat, as well as its beak. Frequently, major commercial dog-food makers use what the USDA refers to as four-D meat. The four Ds stand for dead, diseased, dying, or decayed. They use roadkill, as well as reprocessed animals out of shelters or veterinary hospitals that have died of cancer or been put to sleep with shots. They cook it at around 500 degrees for quite a while to kill as many germs as possible. Then they run it through an extruder to give it a new shape -- so that it looks inviting to the owner, who has the wallet. Then they spray it with flavorings and aroma."

Thomas noted that Longshanks's weight and Rosencranz's scratching were just two of the problems that could arise from such a diet. "Dogs might start licking their feet. They could have a lack of energy. They get sour doggie breath, and their teeth get plaque. Their coats get greasy. And their eyes and ears become full of gunk -- that's very common."

Tigertail foods, she said, avoided these problems by being "wholistic." "We spell it with a 'w' to emphasize the fact that we use whole, real food. It's human quality food. We make it on a 'prey model,' which means that we're trying to create a better rabbit or squirrel for the dog. We use a multi-protein source -- a full range of proteins." For the Original Formula Wholistic Dog Food ($2.45 per pound), "we start with ground beef, chicken, turkey, and fish. Depending on availability, we use either buffalo or emu meat. We also use eggs and ground-up eggshells -- they help to balance out the calcium requirement. Then we add anti-oxidant raw vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and pumpkin. Pumpkin is a wonderful source of fiber and vitamin A. We pulp the vegetables, because a dog's intestines are much shorter than ours. Pulping helps break down the cellulose so the dog can absorb the nutrients."

The blend, she estimates, "is 85 percent meat, 10 to 12 percent veggies, and a small quantity of brown rice, oatmeal, and Red Delicious apples and bananas. Apples give pectin for the stomach, and bananas, potassium. Last, we put in organic golden flax seed for a good coat."

Thomas also makes a diet formula Wholistic Dog Food ($2.65 per pound). "We bring in more veggies -- green beans that aren't pulped as finely. That helps give the dog a sense of being full, so that it doesn't become food-aggressive, but keeps it from absorbing as much. We use more white meats and less beef, so the dog gets fewer calories. It has taken weight off of dogs that vets had given up on." (And because some dogs have grain allergies, Thomas offers a grain-free formula for $2.75 per pound.)

Quantity depends on several factors, including metabolism, level of activity, and age, but Thomas says that a general rule of thumb is two percent of your dog's body weight. "If you had a 50-pound dog, you would feed it a pound a day. But we've found that, because our food is so bio-available, customers report that they can cut that back to one-and-a-half percent."

The food is made fresh and then frozen. "Just take the container out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight. It will last easily four or five days in the refrigerator." Tigertail foods may be purchased in-store, or by phone or Internet. "We ship it all over the place, frozen, in big containers -- much like Omaha Steaks."

Tori Rosay, owner of Dexter's Deli in Del Mar and Carlsbad (858-792-3707 and 760-720-7507, respectively; www.dextersdeli.com ), also emphasized the importance of a raw-food diet for dogs. "It provides extra hydration for better digestion, but the biggest thing it provides is live enzymes. Dogs have a very acidic digestive system, so they are able to handle eating raw meat. But they need enzymes for proper digestion -- to assimilate the proper nutrients. Lack of those enzymes results in premature aging and disease. The pet-food industry would say that a dog is a senior citizen at age 7, but it's more like 12 or 15."

Dexter's offers "about 10 different kinds of raw foods, ranging from $2 to $4 per pound. They all come frozen." The range in price allows people with multiple or large dogs to feed their beasties on a relative budget. "Even if you're paying more for food," counsels Rosay, "the benefits outweigh the costs when you put it in terms of money saved on vet bills."

The foods, says Rosay, "provide a complete diet -- muscle meat, organ meat, ground bone, and the correct ratio of vegetables. You're trying to mimic a prey animal, which would include all those things" -- the vegetables come from "the stomach contents" of the prey. "It's more than buying raw hamburger and adding veggies. That's fine to do, but not every day. Some people who want to make their own raw dog food will do that, but they'll also feed the dog chicken and turkey necks [ $1 per pound] to provide the bone." For those interested in making their own dog food, Rosay sells a book, Raw Dog Food by Carina Beth Macdonald ($12.95). Dexter's Deli also delivers -- $10 delivery fee with a minimum $60 order.

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