5 min read
Raw Feeding and Your Dog: A Primer on the Do's and Don'ts of Abandoning Kibble
By Emily Gantt
Published: 09/13/2017, edited: 11/14/2023
Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
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Any pet parent who's done their research will notice similar trends in pet food, like prey model, RMB feeding, and BARF diets. While commercial kibble is the most popular choice due to its convenience, more and more pet parents are researching the ins and outs of raw diets.
So, what is a raw diet, exactly? Raw diets primarily consist of raw meat, bones, and organs mixed in varying ratios. While raw diets
can benefit your pooch in some ways, pet parents must be very careful
when preparing meals since this diet does come with risks for both people and pets. Let's take a closer look.
Are raw diets actually good for dogs?
Most experts agree that the risks of raw feeding outweigh the health benefits. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association is a staunch opponent of raw feeding because of these inherent risks.
Eating a diet of quality raw meat most closely mimics the diet of your pet’s undomesticated ancestors. Commercial dog foods often include fillers such as corn, wheat, and rice, none of which your dog would eat regularly in the wild.
Eliminating these ingredients and getting straight to the meaty source is potentially correlated with lower cancer rates, healthier body weights, reduction in allergies, healthier coats, and more. Another bonus is dogs who eat a raw diet can have smaller and less frequent bowel movements since this diet eliminates indigestible fillers found in most commercial pet food.
However, many vets have concerns about pet parents abandoning kibble for homemade raw diets. The main issue vets have is with this diet is the potential for nutritional deficiencies and food-borne illnesses. Raw meat can harbor dangerous bacteria and parasites that can infect the humans preparing it and the dogs that eat it. What’s more, dogs fed an unbalanced raw diet are susceptible to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies which can become serious and sometimes life-threatening.
While feeding your dog a raw diet can be beneficial; pet owners should do thorough research before making the switch. Pet parents who choose to make the switch on a whim or without educating themselves first can do more harm than good.
Pet parents should have a solid understanding of raw diet basics like proper handling techniques, how to choose quality meats, and how to create a balanced nutrition plan. It’s also important to talk to your vet before starting a raw diet plan to ensure this diet is safe for your pet.
Best practices for raw feeding
Raw feeding a dog is a huge undertaking. Pet parents must be willing to study canine nutrition, buy high-quality meats (which are often costly), and spend hours a week prepping their pet's meals.
Unlike commercial pet food, raw feeding is not as simple as opening a bag and pouring the contents into a bowl. Switching pets from commercial kibble to a raw diet is a steep learning curve for most parents. After all, it's on you to figure out what nutrients your dog needs and how to get them into their meals.
When raw feeding, here are some ways to ensure your dog is getting optimal nutrition from their diet and how to avoid the potential dangers that come along with raw food.
Weigh your dog’s food
One of the most common mistakes people make when raw feeding is not weighing out their 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 for the first few months of switching to raw food. Depending on their weight fluctuations, you may have to increase or reduce their food intake.
Find the right raw feeding ratio
Dogs need more than just muscle meat to thrive on a raw diet, which is why it’s important that pet parents pay attention to the nutrient content and ingredient ratio when raw feeding.
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. If your dog is a small breed or has trouble chewing, you may need to grind their bones and meat to make them easier to eat.
Organ meat should also be included as part of your dog’s regular raw feeding schedule as it contains high levels of essential nutrients. Some raw feeding models also include raw vegetables to bulk up the meals when first starting out. Some dogs may act hungry after meals when transitioning from kibble to a raw diet since the portions are typically smaller.
Supplement as necessary
In order for your dog to have a nutritionally balanced diet, all requirements must be met—that means finding the right ratio of ingredients and supplementing with vitamins and minerals when necessary.
Commercially prepared raw diets already have the essential vitamins and minerals included, but with a raw diet you’re responsible for making sure your dog gets these vital micronutrients.
In addition to meat, organs, and bones, you’ll need to give your dog dietary supplements like calcium (like ground eggshells ) and omega-3 fatty acids (like fish oil) to meet these needs. You can also make raw diets more nutritionally balanced by adding cheese, kelp, vegetables, and fruits.
Handle your pet’s food carefully
When feeding your dog a raw diet, make sure you sanitize your hands and any surfaces or utensils the meat touches. It’s also essential that you keep raw meats away from ready-to-eat products like bread, fruits, or veggies since cross-contamination can happen very easily. Never serve your pet expired meat or meat that has been left out at room temperature for more than 3 hours, either, since these practices can put dogs at higher risk for the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Keep it interesting
Finally, variety is key for creating an appetizing meal and ensuring your dog gets adequate nutrition. Most meats are suitable for dogs as long as they are sourced appropriately and meet the proper ratios for bone, muscle, and organ meat. That being said, you should never give your dog roadkill or game meat since there is no telling what type of bacteria or parasites these animals could be carrying. Only give your dog meat sold for human consumption.
Rabbit, quail, duck, pork, beef, chicken, fish and are all suitable for dogs as is most meats available in the grocery store. There are various websites available to discuss the exact ratios of each of these meat sources to help you craft the perfect meal for your pooch.
Is it a good idea to raw feed your dog?
Pet parents should consider the unique pros and cons of raw diets before switching to this lifestyle. Raw diets eliminate the empty-calorie and hard-to-digest fillers in commercial dog food and more closely mimic the diets of wild dogs. Plus, when you prepare your dog’s food at home, you can control the ingredients to ensure they get the most balanced nutrition possible.
While raw diets can be advantageous, proper research and meal prep are needed to avoid common mistakes that could negatively affect your dog’s health. Simply throwing a raw chicken into a bowl is never a good way to approach raw feeding, they need a balanced diet. Find a mentor in a local raw feeding co-op, veterinarian, or another experienced dog owner before transitioning from commercial kibble.
A high-quality diet is essential for keeping your dog happy and healthy. Digestive problems and food allergies can be expensive to treat. Compare pet health insurance plans to save more than $270 a year on vet care.