If there’s one thing most pet food manufacturers are good at, it’s marketing. They’ve done a remarkable job of making pet owners believe they hold the secret to what our dogs should be eating and in what amounts. They lead us to believe that their food contains 100% complete and balanced nutrition; a misleading notion because there’s no way to determine what a complete and balanced diet is.
Back in the 1980’s cat foods were thought to be complete and balanced, even though they were missing an essential nutrient for cats: taurine. Nobody knew at the time that cats couldn’t manufacture their own taurine and cats began dying from a heart condition called cardiomyopathy until 1987, when researchers discovered the omission and started putting taurine in cat food.
Despite this small setback, the pet food manufacturers, and indeed the vets who sold this food in their clinics, soldiered on and continued to carpet bomb pet owners with more clever marketing, telling us that pet foods held all the answers and that feeding our dog ourselves was a dangerous and irresponsible path to take. And many of us believed them.
Twenty years after those cats died from incomplete pet foods, pets were harmed by food again but this time it was due to an addition to the food and it was on a much larger scale. Dozens of foods were recalled in 2007, after killing as many as 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs. It was determined that the cause of those deaths was melamine, an industrial chemical that a Chinese manufacturer was placing in their exported wheat gluten and premixes destined for North American pet foods. As many as one in six pets died after consuming those tainted pet foods.
But the pet food manufacturers bounced back and continued to churn millions of dollars into their marketing campaigns that continued to portray their foods as nutritionally balanced and complete and they won back the trust of many pet owners and vets. In fact, in 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) officially discouraged the feeding of raw meats to cats and dogs due to the perceived risk of illness from pathogens. Yet at the same time the AVMA was busy protecting our dogs from the perils of raw foods, dogs began dying once again from fully cooked commercial foods. This time, chicken jerky imported from China killed nearly 400 dogs and over 2,200 more suffered debilitating illness.
If you walk into a conventional veterinary office today and state you want to feed your dog a raw diet, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll hear all about the dangers of raw foods, unlike the veterinary formula food that will be sitting on the shelves in that clinic – veterinary food that, incidentally, has been recalled because of harmful ingredients either from melamine poisoning or, ironically, salmonella poisoning.
Hopefully as you consider their rant about the dangers of raw food, you’ll start doing some mental math. In the last six years, at least 4,500 cats and dogs have reportedly been killed by tainted commercial pet food. Now let’s compare that to the number of cats and dogs killed by raw foods. Anybody care to guess the number? Because it seems nobody knows. The vets and their scientists can warn about the dangerous pathogens in raw food, warn about the high protein content, the danger of ingesting bones, but what is the body count? Given the anti-raw climate in the veterinary community, surely somebody would be keeping track of all the dogs and cats killed by raw diets? It could be that maybe, just maybe, raw diets aren’t that dangerous after all.
Now some people would smugly say that commercial pet foods have a lot of science and research behind them and raw foods don’t – and they would be right. But raw feeders don’t pay much attention to the science and the hoopla because they see with their own eyes how much healthier and disease resistant their dogs are. Sometimes seeing is believing.
For those of you who want the science behind raw feeding, ask yourself this: would you rather jump out of an airplane with a parachute or without? I’m sure you would choose the parachute option yet there isn’t one single scientific study proving that parachutes work. But we can clearly see that they do indeed work.
Raw feeders apply the same logic, especially those who also use holistic practices on their dogs. They see their friends’ conventionally raised dogs suffer diabetes, bloat, gastrointestinal problems, parasites and rotten teeth and they don’t see the same problems in their own dogs. Common sense would tell them that their food is working and not that dangerous compared to the alternative.
In the last six years, at least 4,500 cats and dogs have reportedly been killed by tainted commercial pet food. Now let’s compare that to the number of cats and dogs killed by raw foods. Anybody care to guess the number? Because it seems nobody knows.
It would appear that raw fed animals are enjoying the benefits of a scientifically unproven diet while in just the last few years, 4,500 animals fed scientifically researched, nutritionally complete commercial diets have crashed to the ground. Clearly, it’s time for pet owners to call on plain old common sense and simple observation when it comes to choosing a diet for our dogs.
If you still want science showing the benefits of raw food, there really isn’t much. But there is plentiful and growing evidence that even untainted cooked and processed foods contain dangerous substances including aflatoxins and synthetic vitamins and minerals that might lead to liver damage and dietary insufficiencies. If you’re still unsure of what to feed your dog, do your research and promise yourself you’ll dig into the health risks, not just the benefits, of processed foods. If you’re ready to move away from processed foods now, then read on.
Make Yourself At Home
So you’ve decided that you, not some corporate bigwig, want to be the one in charge of choosing what your dog will eat. Well, welcome to our world! It’s nice here on the common sense side of the fence and while we don’t have cookies, we’re a friendly bunch and we’re here to help you. So wipe off your shoes and leave all that science and marketing at the door. It’s time to talk turkey necks.
To begin, raw feeding isn’t as complicated as the vets and pet food manufacturers would have you believe. That’s a marketing ploy and the sooner you rid yourself of the notion that feeding your dog requires a PhD in nutrition (but curiously, feeding children doesn’t), the more clearly you will be able to think. Here are the basic and simple rules you need to follow if you want to feed a raw diet.
The Calcium And Phosphorus Ratio Should Be About 1:1
Yes, we can use the word “about” here in the raw feeding world and it won’t do your dog any harm. And calcium and phosphorus aren’t fancy words to be feared. Meats are high in phosphorus and bones are high in calcium. In order to balance out these essential minerals, then about half to two thirds of your dog’s diet should be meat and organs and about half to a third should be meaty bones such as lamb necks, chicken backs, beef ribs, pork tails and turkey necks. You can also feed whole fish, raw eggs with the shell on and green tripe, and these super foods all have the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
Don’t be fooled into thinking a meat and bone based diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals either. Your dog doesn’t need the carbohydrates and grains that kibbles contain – they’re just there to hold those kibbles together and provide a cheaper source of protein. Meats contain all of the essential amino acids (the basic structural building blocks of proteins) your dog needs, and they do so in a ratio that’s ideal for their complete use.
Meats also contain 12 of the 13 essential vitamins in large quantities. Meat is a very concentrated source of vitamins A, E, and the entire B complex. Vitamins D and B12 are found only in animal products (although adequate amounts of vitamin D can be attained with sufficient sunlight). The thirteenth vitamin, vitamin C, is found only in very small quantities in meat. However, unlike us, dogs can manufacture their own vitamin C because Mother Nature kindly provided them with the right tools to eat a meat based diet.
Organ Meat Should Be About 15 Percent Of The Diet
It’s important to feed your dog all the parts of an animal, not just meat and bones. The organs, also known as offal, are the most nutrient dense parts of the animal. Compared to regular cuts of muscle meat, organ meats are more densely packed with just about every nutrient including heavy doses of B vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, folic acid and vitamin B12.
Organ meats are also loaded with minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium and iodine, and provide the important fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It’s important to note that animals raised outside on grass contain even higher levels of these essential nutrients than their grain fed counterparts.
Liver is known to be one of the most concentrated sources of naturally occurring vitamin A of any food. Vitamin A aids digestion, keeps the reproductive organs healthy, and is a powerful antioxidant. Liver also contains one of the best, most usable sources of iron. Iron is necessary for many functions in the body, including the formation of hemoglobin, brain development and function, regulation of body temperature, muscle activity and catecholamine metabolism, to name just a few. A lack of iron will have a direct effect on the immune system; it diminishes the number of T-cells and the production of antibodies.
Feed liver once a week (or several small servings per week) and try to find an organic source whenever possible because the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body. Other organs to consider include kidneys, lung, pancreas and ickier choices like eyeballs and brains. Tongue and heart are considered muscle meat, not organ meat, so throw them into your daily rotation.
Feel free to feed other weird and wonderful things such as chicken feet, tracheas, tails, testicles and pizzles (if you have to ask what those are, you don’t want to know). Beef trachea, pig ears, chicken and turkey feet are loaded in natural chondroitin and glucosamine, which help to build healthy joints.
Never Feed Cooked Bones
Raw bones are soft enough to bend and digest easily but cooking bones makes them sharp and dangerous. For optimal safety, meal times should also be supervised.
Balance Over Time
There’s no need to be a slave to raw feeding. You don’t have to mix all of the above in the exact proportions and mince them into little complete and balanced patties so your dog has every nutrient, every day. In essence, what you want to do is a little technique called frankenprey. Over the course of a week or a few days, you want to assemble a complete animal, to make sure your dog gets the right proportions. Think of what a chicken or goat is made of, inside and out, and try to assemble that into your dog’s meals over several days, keeping the approximately same proportions of meat to bone and meat to organ meat. Now that is real balanced and complete nutrition for our carnivorous friends!
Throw Away The Scoop
Are you nervous because there are no label instructions showing you how many cups to feed your dog? Start by feeding him about 2% of his body weight (if he’s a puppy, feed 2.5% of his expected adult weight). Now you’re going to put your common sense and good observation skills to work. If he starts looking plump, feed less. If he starts looking thin, feed more. It’s not really scientific but it works.
Know Where Your Meat Comes From
Here is one last important note and this is what makes raw feeding really attractive for many people: we know where our dog food comes from.
Whenever possible, try to get your dog’s meat from local producers instead of the grocery store. Try farmers’ markets, local butcher shops, farmers and co-ops. The closer you get to the meat producers, the more you’ll know about how those animals were treated. This applies to both the treatment of the meat as well as the ethics and sustainability behind the treatment of the animals themselves.
If you can afford it, try to find organic, grass fed and pasture raised animals. Their meat will contain fewer toxins and will be more nutritious. If you can’t afford organic, try to find grass fed animals. If you can’t afford that, then you will still be better off than feeding most commercial kibbles so just find the best quality meat source you can afford and watch for sales on the grass fed and organic meats.
Wash Your Hands
All that hubbub about raw foods being dangerous is mostly aimed at you and me, not necessarily our dogs. Here is a common sense solution that will reduce the risk of meat borne pathogens wreaking havoc in your home: wash your hands and surfaces after feeding your dog. People have successfully managed raw meats in their homes for hundreds of years and we’re not going to suddenly stop practicing basic hygiene because our dogs eat raw food. Enough said.
That’s really all there is to raw feeding. If you want to know more, there are lots of good holistic vets and books to help you fine tune your dog’s meals.
We’ve invited you into our home, away from the hustle and bustle of the kibble marketing and science, and we raw feeders hope for the sake of your dog that you stay awhile. As you can see, it really isn’t that difficult and there are only a few basic guidelines you need to know to get started. If you’re still not ready to leave the comfort of commercial foods, you don’t have to. There are plenty of ethical and caring companies who prepare raw food on a large or small scale for your pet. Many of them were started not by large corporations, but by pet owners like us who just wanted better for their four legged family members.
In the end, you can choose to feed your dog yourself or allow others to do it for you. If you let others choose what’s best for your dog, you don’t get to vote on what is more important: nutrition or profits. If you feed your dog yourself, his meals might not be what the scientists would have him eat. But your dog isn’t a lab rat, he’s a dog and he counts for more than sterile numbers and calculations. Stick with us and I guarantee there will be a moment in your near future when you know innately, deep down inside, that we raw feeders are right. That moment will be on a glorious sunny afternoon as you watch your dog in his shining coat and well tuned muscles tear into a delightful meaty bone; and you will both rejoice in the simplicity of a dog enjoying what nature intended him to do.