When it comes to human nutrition and diet trends, it seems as if every few years the next “big thing” pops up. Paleo diets with ancient grains, zero carbs, and abstaining from sugar and other trendy food choices all seem to come and go. When it comes to your pet’s nutrition, however, there are certain fundamental choices that owners must consistently make.
Commercially available kibble is the overwhelming choice when it comes to convenient, pre-packaged feeding. Many owners, however, choose to prepare their dog’s food at home through cooked diets, similar to those their human owners eat. The healthiest version of these diets is called raw feeding. While terms such as prey model, raw, RMB feeding or other offshoots are occasionally bandied about, each of the phrases refers to a type of feeding in which a dog’s primary diet consists of raw meat, bones, and organs, mixed in varying ratios. Raw diets have a wealth of health benefits for your pooch. Unlike pre-made diets, however, owners must take extra care to ensure their dog is getting the proper, balanced nutrition.
What are the benefits of a raw food diet?
Raw feeding has been shown to have a number of health benefits for pets willing to chow down on hunks of beef, chicken, pork, and other meats. Eating a diet of quality sourced raw meat most similarly mimics a dog’s diet in the wild. Commercial dog foods often include fillers such as corn, wheat and rice, none of which your dog would eat regularly when left to their own.
Eliminating these ingredients and getting straight to the meaty source has shown correlation with lower cancer rates, healthier body weights, reduction in allergies, healthier coats and more. As a bonus for dog owners, Fido’s poops will also drastically decrease in size and frequency when switched to a raw diet due to the elimination of unnecessary and indigestible filler ingredients from their diet.
However, in order for your dog to have a nutritionally balanced diet, all requirements must be met. Commercially prepared raw diets will have the necessary natural additives included. Are you making your own raw diet meals? Don't forget supplements like calcium (found in ground egg shell, for example) and omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish oil). Other additions to the meal, making it beneficial nutritionally are cheese, kelp, vegetables, and fruits.
It's more science than art
While feeding a raw diet to your dog certainly has a number of health benefits, pet owners should do thorough research before making the switch. Many owners who choose to make the switch on a whim or without educating themselves on proper feeding schedules, meat sources, and crafting a balanced nutritional plan can do more harm than good feeding raw. Speak to a veterinarian with the know-how or canine nutritionist with experience in raw feeding to start the plan off right.
One of the most common mistakes people make when feeding raw is in not properly weighing your dog’s daily food. Raw feeding will involve weekly or monthly meal prep sessions. Those thinking of switching to raw should invest in a small freezer, or clear out space sufficient for storing several days to weeks worth of meals for their pooch.
Many dogs will find raw food diets more appetizing and will, therefore, eat more if offered up in their bowl. Depending on your dog’s activity level, dogs should receive .5-2% of their body weight per day in food. Monitor your pet’s weight closely over the months after beginning raw and increase or lower the amount they eat and then stick with that for creating future meals.
Another common mistake is in ignoring important nutrient ratios your dog needs to maintain optimal health. Calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and essential vitamins are all added in exacting quantities in commercially prepared dog foods. Depending on the type of raw food diet (prey model, BARF, etc.) you should aim to have 10-25% of your dog’s diet consist of bone material. For larger dogs, whole, non-weight bearing bones such as turkey, duck, or chicken carcasses or necks, are ideal. Smaller dogs, or dogs with chewing issues can have their bone ground up with meat in order to aid in chewing.
Organ meat should also be included as part of your dog’s regular raw feeding schedule as it contains high levels of essential nutrients. Raw vegetables are also added in some raw feeding models to add bulk, especially at the beginning stages of switching when some dogs may act hungry from having smaller portions than with their normal kibble-based diet.
Finally, variety is key for creating both an appetizing meal and for ensuring your dog gets adequate nutrition. Properly sourced meats of many varieties can be given to your dog, as long as proper bone and meat ratios are maintained. Rabbit, quail, pork, beef, chicken, fish and more are all suitable for your dog and various websites are available to discuss the exact ratios of each of these meat sources so that you can properly craft the perfect meal for your pooch.
The low down on raw feeding mistakes
Raw based diets have a number of benefits for your canine companion. Feeding raw meat and bones more closely mimics your dog’s typical diet in the wild. Most commercial foods contain a large amount of filler ingredients that your dog doesn’t need and can’t properly digest. In preparing your dog’s food at home, you can control ingredients and ratios to ensure your pooch is getting the most balanced nutrition possible.
While all of these benefits are amazing for your dog’s health, proper research and meal prep are needed to avoid common mistakes that could seriously affect your dog’s health. Simply throwing a raw chicken into a bowl is never a good way to approach raw feeding. Find a mentor in a local raw feeding co-op, veterinarian, or other experienced dog owner and reap the benefits for yourself and your dog in switching from commercially prepared kibble-based diets.