An Introduction to Feeding Your Dog Raw
I started feeding raw back in 2017 when Blitz came home as a puppy. I made the switch for the health benefits, primarily for my adult pit bull, Pinky. She had always skin problems, yeast infections, soft stool, trouble with excessive weight, a torn CCL (similar to the human ACL), and had multiple lumps removed. I was very concerned for her well-being, so when a friend encouraged me to try raw feeding for her health, I figured it was the least I could do.
Having a degree in Animal Sciences, I was warned in college that raw diets are not balanced and can cause horrible health problems. I was familiar with the National Research Council’s (NRC) guidelines for nutrient requirements for horses, so I understand that there is a delicate balance to supplying appropriate nutrition for any species. Dogs have their own set of nutrient requirements provided by the NRC, too (which can be found here). This made me hesitant to feed raw, but the more I researched, the more confidence I gained.
In general, there are two primary ways to feed raw. Those are:
-PMR (Prey Model Raw) is designed to provide dogs with a homemade diet that replicates the diet of a wild canine without requiring the pet to hunt and kill wild prey while eliminating all processed foods and grains. A complete PMR diet for dogs consists of 80% muscle meat, 10% raw edible bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ. (Source: Perfectly Rawsome PMR)
-BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet) is an alternative raw diet designed to provide dogs with a modified homemade diet that consists of raw meat and bones, as well as vegetables and fruit while eliminating all processed foods and grains. A complete BARF diet for dogs consists of 70% muscle meat, 10% raw edible bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ and 7% vegetables, 2% seeds and nuts and 1% fruit.
(Source: Perfectly Rawsome BARF)
These general guidelines provide a roadmap to raw feeding. You cannot just feed chicken quarters and ground beef; that is how health problems occur because essential nutrients would be missing. By feeding a variety of foods following the PMR or BARF models, you cover most of the bases for balanced feeding. Variety is key, but there are also nutrients that need to be supplied by whole foods that will not show up in PMR or BARF. For instance, manganese! “A diet including whole prey provides manganese from the fur and feathers. When whole prey is not an option, whole foods such as hemp hearts, wheatgrass, ground ginger spice, ground turmeric spice, blue lipped mussels, and pumpkin seeds are rich in manganese.” (Source: RFU) By just feeding PMR or BARF without including fur or feathers, additional supplementation of manganese-rich foods will be required.
So how do you know if you are feeding balanced raw? The two easiest ways to be confident that you are feeding a balanced diet are to a) feed a pre-made raw that is balanced to AAFCO standards or b) purchase a meal plan that is balanced to the NRC guidelines. I love feeding a variety of foods, so I have a meal plan made by Perfectly Rawsome that is balanced. This gives me the confidence that I am hitting all of required nutrients and takes the guesswork out of my meal prep. Without feeding a pre-made raw or using a formulated meal plan, you might be in the ballpark of balanced raw, but there is no way to know for sure unless you are analyzing the nutrients. Many people add supplements (which can be everything from a multivitamin to a hemp seed oil) to fill nutritional gaps. It is important to realize that with nutrition, more isn’t always better. Certain minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus or copper and zinc must be in a specific ratio. So feeding a multivitamin might not be beneficial if your ratios are too far off, which is why having a formulated, balanced diet is important.
If you are interested in feeding raw, there are a few easy ways to get started. The Perfectly Rawsome website has a plethora of great information, from what bones are safe to feed (here) to tips on transitioning (here). Some of my other favorite resources are Primal Pooch, Raw Feeding 101, and Raw Feeding University. There is a variety of information on the internet about raw, so just be sure it’s coming from a reliable source. Other great sources can be found here: resources.
Raw Feeding FAQ:
-Why is raw feeding better than kibble?
You’ll often hear that feeding raw is biologically appropriate; what does that mean? It means to feed dogs what they were designed to eat naturally. A biologically appropriate diet for humans is not fast food or pizza, it’s whole foods like mostly fruits and vegetables, with some meat, dairy and fish. Our doctors would never recommend for us to eat highly processed food daily, yet that’s what the majority of us are recommended to feed our dogs. So feeding raw is about feeding fresh, appropriate foods.
A big different in feeding kibble vs. raw is the difference in carbohydrates. Most kibbles contain anywhere from 40-70% carbs, which is drastically different than the 0-14% carb ancestral diet of dogs. Dogs metabolize their energy from animal fats not carbohydrates, so this abundance of carbs leads to issues including excess weight, skin problems (yeast infections), and cancer (sugar feeds cancer!). Just some of the benefits of feeding raw include: improved overall health, improved energy, cleaner teeth and fresher breath, less allergies, less infections, healthier weight, improved muscle tone, shinier coat, and smaller poop!
-What do you feed?
Muscle meats, bones, organs, and some vegetables/nuts/fruit! For muscle meat I typically feed a variety of pork (loin, shoulder, heart, lung, etc.), beef (roast, cheek, tongue, heart, lung, tripe, etc.), venison (any fresh scraps or freezer-burnt meat) and turkey (ground turkey, turkey thighs). I also feed other animals on occasion when I have access to them, such as goat, lamb, muskrat and so on. For bones, I feed primarily chicken bones (wings, drums, quarters, feet), turkey (necks and wings), pork (ribs, tails, feet) and duck (heads and feet). Organs are kidney, spleen, brain, pancreas, testes and ovaries. I feed all of these from a variety of species! I also feed fish and some vegetables, nuts and fruit to provide other essential nutrients!
-Is it safe to feed bones?
Yes, but only if they are RAW. You never want to feed any bone that has been cooked. You also want to make sure the bones are size-appropriate for your pup. There’s some great information on what bones to feed here.
-Where do you get the meat from?
A variety of places! Everywhere from freshly killed wild game (deer, turkey, geese, etc) to the supermarket! Butchers can be an invaluable resource for finding muscle meats, bones and organs. Lots of ethnic markets have a variety of raw items, as well! There are plenty of websites that sell raw food, too. Such as: Raw Feeding Miami, My Pet Carnivore and Primitive Choice. All wild game (venison, fish, wild turkey, etc.) needs to be frozen for a minimum of 3 weeks before feeding to kill parasites. Carnivores (wild boar, bears, coyotes, etc.) should never be fed!
-How much does it cost?
That’s a loaded question! That’s like asking how much does it cost to feed a Chihuahua on a diet vs. a Great Dane that needs to gain weight. There’s going to be a huge difference in cost! The amount you feed, what you feed and your sourcing will play a huge roll in the cost of raw. There are some raw feeders who get a ton of meat for free from hunters and pay next-to-nothing, and others who buy specialty items and spend a lot more than most. On average, I try to not spend more than $2-3/lb. Blitz eats 2 lbs. per day and Pinky eats 1 lb. per day. So I am approximately (this is a ROUGH guess) spending $120-180 a month feeding Blitz and about $60-90 per month feeding Pinky. I do get a lot for free, but also spend more than my limit on some items (like fresh fish), so I think it balances out well and is definitely worth it. Joining co-ops in your area and making friends with farmers/hunters are great ways to make feeding raw more affordable!
-How do you calculate how much to feed?
This will depend on the individual dog, but most dogs eat 2-3% of their body weight. So Pinky is 50 lbs.:
-50 x .02 = 1 x 16 oz = 16 ounces
-50 x .025 = 1.25 x 16 oz = 20 ounces
-50 x .03 = 1.5 x 16 oz = 24 ounces
So typically if you want your dog to maintain weight, you would feed 2.5% of their ideal weight, then 2% if you want them to lose weight and 3% if you want them to gain weight. Pinky is at her ideal weight at 50 lbs., but she isn’t very active so she is fed ~17 ounces per day. On the other hand, Blitz is about 50 lbs. and very active, so she eats over 32 ounces a day. A huge difference for dogs that are the same weight, but very different age and activity levels!
-Why do many vets not support raw?
This answer may vary depending on the vet, but it boils down to a few key points: a) vets need to make recommendations based on actual research and there is very little research on raw, so they cannot confidently recommend it and b) if people don’t do their own research and feed unbalanced raw, it can lead to a variety of problems. It is much safer for a vet to recommend a kibble that has been backed by science than to recommend a raw diet where the owner may not be dedicated enough to formulate it correctly. Raw feeding is not something that is taught by most vet schools, so vets also need to default to what they know, which is primarily feeding kibble.
-What’s the hardest part of feeding raw?
The time and storage space! If you want to feed DIY raw, you need to make time to prep everything and have plenty of freezer space. I like to buy in bulk (it’s cheaper!) so I have a lot of freezer space. My husband is a big help and participates in our monthly raw prep, but it takes us about 1 hour per week to prep food for two dogs. It’s not nearly as convenient as buying a bag of kibble, so you have to be committed.
Since switching to raw nearly two years ago, both of my dogs have done fantastic! Pinky lost 13 pounds within a few short months, has no more growths, has more energy than ever, and is doing better than I could have ever imagined! Blitz was switch to raw at 8 weeks old and is almost 2 now; she grew up healthy and slow. She has tons of energy, a soft, sleek coat, lots of muscle, beautiful teeth! When fed correctly, raw can be one of the best decisions you will ever make for your dog!