If you are considering raw feeding, good for you! It is truly the best thing you can feed your dog. Dogs are carnivores, they thrive on fresh meat, bones, and organs. It is what they are meant to eat. It is species appropriate.
There are a couple trains of thought on raw feeding. Some people feed BARF, which stands for bones and raw foods. It is based on a combination of a slurry of vegetables and supplements, with raw meaty bones added in such as chicken necks, wings, and backs. This method has fallen out of favor as more research is done into species appropriate raw diets. Dogs don’t need or process fruits and vegetables well unless they are broken down into a paste. The veggies just pass on through without digesting, unless you break down the cellulose. So if you choose to do a BARF model, make sure you do lots of reading on what supplements are needed and make sure that the vegetables you use are pulverized.
Prey model diet is a very balanced and, in my opinion, an easier way to do a raw diet than BARF. The veggies aren’t needed at all. The diet consists of 80% meat, 10% bone (always raw, never ever cooked), and 10% organs. Of those organs, 5% must be liver and the other 5% is a secreting organ such as kidney, pancreas, reproductive organs, thymus, etc. Heart and gizzards count as muscle meats. You start off feeding 2-3% of your dogs weight. Here’s a calculator that shows you how much to feed per day…
You may be surprised to see that a 5 pound dog only needs 1-2 ounces of food a day! That is because the raw diet is completely bio-available. NO fillers, no dyes, no grains, no extras. Just meat and a little bone and your dog processes it completely. One of the first things you will notice on a raw diet is that your dog drinks less water, (raw meat has a very high water content) and has very small bowel movements. There is a huge difference between the stools of a kibble fed dog and a raw fed one.
It’s very important to start off SLOW when you ease into raw. You must stay with chicken only for the first few weeks. Dump the kibble first. Get it out of the house. Kibble is like doggy drugs… it has a spray coating of flavor/fat and has a lot of odor that entices dogs to eat it. If your dog knows there is kibble in the house, they may not want to transition to raw as readily. Raw has little to no odor, so some dogs don’t recognize it as food until they really taste it and see how good it is.
Chicken is a great place to start. You want to feed mostly meat with a little bone when beginning a dog on raw so start with Cornish hens or bone-in chicken breasts. Some people start off with bone-in chicken thighs, especially if you have a dog that tends to have loose stools. The extra bone content in the thigh helps to keep the stools firm during this transition time. Chicken is a protein that is easily digested, readily available, and not expensive. A great starter meat. Be sure and get UNENHANCED chicken. Lots of chicken has "broth" or a salt solution pumped into it to make the chicken more tender. If it says enhanced with a 10% solution, skip it. You want just plain old chicken. Read the label. You want the sodium level to be about 80mg for a 4 ounce portion.
Your dog may experience a “detox” period as they come off of the kibble. You may notice more shedding, loose stools, itching, or even vomiting in rare cases. These issues will pass as the dogs body adjusts to a raw diet. Then you will see the benefits of raw start to show up! Little to no body odor, small compact stools, bright shiny coat that hardly sheds, more muscle tone and increased energy. The benefits of teeth cleaning are widely documented. Most raw dogs never need to have a dental. Immune system health will improve as well and dogs that had allergies or sensitive stomachs will experience huge benefits. There have even been studies that show that raw fed dogs are more resistant to parasites, as well as some cancers.
Once your dog is well established on chicken (usually 1-2 weeks) and you are seeing normal compact stools, you can start adding in other proteins. Your dog can eat beef, pork, chicken, cornish hens, quail, duck, turkey, goat, lamb, sheep, deer, elk, rabbit, eggs, fish, etc. Start slow by adding in a very small amount of the new protein to the chicken until the dog is adjusted. Then you can move on to new proteins. Over several months, your dog should be exposed to as many proteins as you can find. Variety is key and helps to provide all the nutrients your dog needs. Once your raw feeding regimen is established, your dog should be eating at least 50% red meat.
At this point, organs can be added in. You will feed 5% of the diet in liver (chicken, pork, beef, or calf) and 5% other organ. Beef kidney is readily available in most markets. Organs are a very small – but very IMPORTANT – part of the diet. They provide nutrients that aren’t found in muscle meats and must be part of the diet. Not a large part, only 10% overall, but they must be included.
For small dogs, I have found that cornish hens are a great base food. The bones are small and easy to chew, and they are the right size for little mouths. Lamb breast also has good edible bone, as does rabbit, quail, and pork ribs. A whole cornish hen is about 35% bone. So you will want to alternate Cornish hen parts that have bone, with boneless meals in order to keep the total bone at 10% of the diet.
Where does pre-made frozen raw fit in? These are products that are already “balanced” for you with the meat/bones/organs in a ground form. Some popular brands you may run across are Nature’s Variety, Stella and Chewy’s, Bravo, or Primal. These products are very easy to use. Pop out a patty or a medallion from your bag in the freezer, thaw it out and feed it to your dog. Many people like these pre-mades for convenience. However, they don’t give your dog the mental and physical work of whole prey. Your dog NEEDS the stimulation of chewing and crunching up a piece of meat. In my opinion, pre-mades are fine for occasional use or to add variety, but I wouldn’t use them full time. They are convenient to have on hand for emergencies, boarding situation, or pet sitters. They also come in handy for puppies who are having trouble chewing or seniors.
Part of raw feeding is really getting to know your dog. Some dogs do better on a little more than 10% of their diet as bone. Some do fine with less. Try to keep the ratios at 80% meat, 10% bone, and 10% organ with 5% being liver. You can weigh it out at first if you want to, but let the dog’s body condition be your guide. If the dog looks a little ribby and thin, increase the raw from 2% of his body weight to 3% or even 4%, depending on the dogs activity level, age, and metabolism. Puppies should eat up to 10% of their body weight, so adjust accordingly if you are feeding a baby. If your dogs stools get loose, add more bone. If your dog is straining to defecate or his stools are white and crumbly, back off on the bone.
I have found that keeping the mindset of mostly meat, a little bone, and a smidge of organ works well. You don’t have to balance the meals every day. That’s a lot of work! Try to aim for balance over time. Keep a journal of what you are feeding at first so that you can look over the menu and see where you might be lacking. Balance over several weeks is good. I do organs as a single meal on the weekend. It’s easy for me to remember and Brody doesn’t have a problem with loose stools. Some people prefer to add a tiny smidge of organs every day or a couple times a week. Be creative and find what works for you.
I will add a caution here to new raw feeders. You MUST feed bones and organs along with the meat in order for this diet to be safe and nutritionally balanced. If you aren’t committed to doing this, then stay with a high quality, grain free canned food and add in some raw meaty bones for dental health. I’ve covered the bases, but there are many good resources to learn more on the raw diet. Here’s a few links to get you started.
This one is a great place to start and you can spend a lot of time going through the many pages here. The "myths of raw feeding" pages are invaluable and answers most, if not all, the questions a newbie to raw will have. Invaluable site!
The raw feeders yahoo group is a great place to learn also. There are over 16,000 raw feeders on the list from all over the world.
Another site I like that has a lot of good history, anatomy of the dog and why it's made to eat raw, and lots of good links on the link page ....
A raw feeders blog with lots of interesting info …
More info and lots of links!
Anatomy and physiology of the dog versus the wolf and the debate on whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. There are lots of raw feeders here and we are more than willing to help! Do a little research and off you go. You won’t regret it and your dog will thank you! Once you see the difference that a raw diet makes, your only regret will be not doing it sooner.