INSPIRED BY DOGS, FOR DOGS
Congo Raw is one of many businesses inspired by animal companions.
When asked what made him get into the ‘raw’ business, Matthew Robbins shares a very emotional overview of how Congo Raw came to be:
The first of his four German-Shepherds, Heiko, became sick at around five years of age. Within three to four months, x-rays revealed cancer throughout the dog’s body. Matthew was not married and did not have children. Heiko was everything to him. Understandably upset, Matthew searched for answers, wanting to learn as much as possible. He feels he wasn’t educated enough at that time and didn’t know what questions he should have asked. Matthew felt helpless. He didn’t have a clue where, or what to start researching regarding the cause or treatment of this disease. There wasn’t much information or alternative options provided from the vets that treated Heiko. Upon discovering cancer, they automatically advised euthanasia.
Congo was Matthew’s second dog. Within a few weeks of having him, nine-month-old Congo developed a skin disease called Demodex. Matthew notes ‘we all have the little bugs on our bodies, however, this condition seriously compromises the immune system when these bugs, cover the entire body of a dog. It is similar to mange, in younger dogs.’
He didn’t have a good job back then and wasn’t earning enough money for excessive tests and treatments. Also, Matthew had just moved out on his own. His parents had kicked him out because he kept bringing dogs home.
Things looked like they were moving in the right direction for Congo and the companions started back on their exercise routine. Matthew used to compete in Schutzhund/IPO, a ‘protection’ sport commonly performed by German Shepherds. A healthy exercise regime was essential to his athletic dogs.
Congo was on antibiotics for the skin infection that occurred as a result and seemed to have recovered almost completely and appeared healthy. Matthew says,
I didn’t know this was going to kill him
Despite treatment, Congo’s health started to digress. His immune system shut down completely, and Matthew was left with no choice but to have his beloved Congo put down. Matthew was beside himself. Finally, he realized he needed to figure out a way, which would allow him to have more control over the health of his dogs. He had to be able to do something.
Nutrition is one thing I can control
Congo raw is available in Canada; in Ontario and more recently Winnipeg.
Matthew spends approximately seventy-five percent of his time on the road, delivering and speaking with his distributors. His team looks after production and fulfillment of orders at their warehouse in Newmarket, Ontario. Cosma is Matthew’s current dog who often greets customers at the warehouse.
Switching from kibble to a raw diet does not require a transition phase. Matthew suggests “Cold Turkey.” (ba da bing!)
‘If concerned, you can have an adult dog fast for twenty-four hours, providing plenty of water, before starting them on a raw diet; not full-size meals but small portions provided throughout the day initially.’
Henry and Reese did not fast – we switched them directly, and there were no issues.
Matthew does not encourage mixing kibble with raw as it does not digest the same.
My initial observation was that, although we seemed to serve a smaller portion of raw compared to kibble, Henry and Reese seemed satisfied with their meals, and I like the fact that there is more nutrition in a raw serving.
Matthew says, people can make their own food, but there is a fair bit to know; it is time-consuming to source quality proteins and organ meat, and you must be vigilant about cleaning the working area to avoid the spread of bacteria. And yes, it does cost more. It’s on par with high-quality kibble price wise but not nutritionally.
No one can convince me otherwise
Raw is far superior nutritionally as even the highest quality kibble loses nutritional value during the cooking process. It is the same with a human diet; raw vegetables are higher in vitamins and nutrients than steamed or cooked vegetables.
Matthew compares a raw diet to ‘clean eating’ for humans. We all know how we feel after a weekend of binge eating and a few too many drinks. Healthy eating affects our moods, our behavior and our ability to focus. This difference occurs in dogs as well. More obviously, in our dogs, we notice a healthy digestive system (the evidence gathered in little blue baggies), clean teeth, bright eyes, non-irritated skin, and shiny coats.
Raw food is frozen and not processed with preservatives to last longer.
Portion sizes may require refinement based on the amount of exercise, health issues such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, etc.
Typically an adult dog would consume two to three percent of their body weight daily in raw food
Twice a day? I asked
‘It’s up to you,’ is Matthew’s response. Although bloat and contortion are much less common in raw fed dogs, sporting dogs, active dogs and deep-chested dogs such as poodles, Danes, Shepherds are prone to the condition and twice daily meals are ideal for these dogs.
Lactating dogs, puppies, seniors, and dogs that are resting during recovery periods all require different amounts of food.
Types of protein:
We struggled with chicken and noticed a huge difference with Henry once we removed that from his diet.
There are also problems with beef, suggests Matthew. More so if you consider there is more chicken available on the market. Because chicken is readily available, and it has a lower price-point, it becomes over-used. It represents eighty-five percent of the proteins on the market, so the negative press is more apparent and not proportional. Dogs with issues may have developed a sensitivity to this protein because of overuse. Some dogs are unaffected.
Matthew suggests ‘if a protein is working well, keep that as a base and add another protein as a way to change things up.’ The primary protein should not constitute more than eighty percent of the meal. A second and even a third protein can be added to make up the remainder.
No one likes the stress of having to deal with illnesses in their dogs, and we are reluctant to change things when we find something that works. The best way to avoid development of sensitivities is to mix and change proteins. We should continue to search for ways to improve the nutritional health of our dogs.
Change is good. A new combination might not work the best for your dog. The dog will live but we want the dog to THRIVE and as pet owners, we should strive for better
If you become complacent, the next dog might fall into that same category. What works for one dog might not work for the next. Henry and Reese are fed different blends of protein.
By continuing to research and educate ourselves on what is available and the additives and ingredients in products, we are in control of our dog’s nutrition and the impact it has on them. By continuing to adjust their diet, we are better able to avoid the development of food sensitivities.
Matthew advises people to read the list of ingredients on the products they’re purchasing; organ meat is not in most kibble so it would appear they’re using a synthetic option as an alternative. There should not be an abundance of anything in products. Keep things simple – it shouldn’t be complicated.
Dogs are carnivores. It’s as simple as meat, bone, and organ.
Turkey, three different grades of chicken, and natural, antibiotic, and hormone free duck, beef tripe, and salmon are the proteins available from Congo Raw.
The CFIA claims that our food is hormone and antibiotic free. The corn fed cattle look like identical twins and show up at the slaughter houses riddled with hormones. They undergo a program a few months before slaughter, to deplete their systems of the antibiotics and hormones. I still believe there are trace amounts in their systems
I’m not comfortable with that says, Matthew. I want in writing from my suppliers; their livestock has not been treated with antibiotics and hormones so that when we make claims that we’re antibiotic and hormone free, we are guaranteeing that to our customers. For some manufacturers it’s about numbers; for us, it’s about quality.
The product at Congo Raw is frozen to minus eighteen degrees to keep bacteria at bay. The equipment is sanitized, and scalding hot water is used to clean and disinfect, between the production of each type of protein and for every machine. Matthew had the facility designed by a professional and equipped according to Ontario requirements for provincially inspected, human-grade production centres. Proteins are processed separately, one type and then another, to avoid contamination and chance of bacterial contamination.
Regarding storage of product at home, Matthew cautions:
‘Older freezers are not able to maintain a temperature of eighteen degrees or colder which, as noted above is necessary to keep bacteria at bay.’
Although the product can easily store up to a year, degradation and frostbite will occur after six months; a test carried out by Matthew, who states “This will not affect dogs – they don’t care.” Most people would purchase one or two boxes of product at a time which would be consumed well within a six month period.
Boxes contain fifty patties and bags contain eight patties. We purchase a box of Henry and Reese’s primary protein and bags of secondary (and tertiary, for Miss Reese).
It is not always necessary to thaw the product. In fact, we have found that using a ‘pupsicle’ slows Henry down – he doesn’t eat his meals as quickly. Frozen patties are also great for ‘teeth cleaning’ and cuts down the risk of spreading bacteria. Reese does not care for ‘frozen meals’ so for her we ensure that we take her meat out of the freezer and place it in a storage container in the fridge after serving one meal. Twelve hours later we find it to be the perfect consistency for her. If you want it completely thawed you can set it on a plate on your counter for an hour or so first or, in the fridge for twenty-four hours.
Matthew does not take issue with DIYer’s. He simply advises ‘do your research and use common sense.’ For example, keep the area clean from bacteria, so there is no chance of developing salmonella.
If people have the time and wish to prepare a raw diet for their dogs, that’s great!
Congo Raw manufactures products on a large scale and can offer their customers the convenience as well as nutritional advice and guidance. Especially for those unfamiliar and just starting out with raw food, and for those who do not have the time to prepare the meat on a smaller scale.
When meeting first-time customers, Matthew asks: What made you choose raw? Is your dog healthy and you just want to keep them healthy or is there concern about health issues? What are the dog’s age, breed, and activity level?
Portion sizes may need to be adjusted, and we can create protein combinations, but otherwise, we can determine a diet during this initial consultation.
Matthew claims, “I don’t know everything – I just want to help however I can. I can assist them with finding specialists if needed.”
It’s no longer a niche market. People aren’t choosing raw because their dogs are sick, they’re choosing it to keep them healthy. I no longer just see dogs that are older and on their death beds.
My clients want to provide high-quality, nutrition to their dogs. They are starting to realize this is something they can start from a young age to prevent illness
Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your story and educating us about a raw diet for dogs.