How To Make Raw Dog Food: A Primer

 

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I’m a reformed kibble feeder.

I admit that many years ago I used to love going to the pet supply store where I would pore over food bags, sagely pontificating on the confounding and lengthy list of ingredients on the labels.

I would stroll through the aisles, taking in the beautifully packaged bags that smugly beckoned me with sexy promises such as ‘nutritionally complete’, ‘holistic’ and ‘performance’ and I would take in the pictures of winning show dogs and plates of meats and vegetables and then wisely pick my winner. I would take my prize to the check-out counter thinking ‘what lucky dogs I have’ as I laid my money down for the best kibble I could buy.

I can’t remember just why I moved away from kibble, but I did all the same.

It might have been the fact that I didn’t eat foods that came in bags and boxes and it just seemed logical that my dogs shouldn’t either.

I tend to not do things halfway, so I researched alternative diets for my dogs as much as I could before jumping in but decided that feeding chicken wings to dogs was a frightening leap of faith that I was not yet ready for.

So I decided that I would cook for my dogs.

I did so partly because I was not yet ready to trust that bones were suitable foodstuffs for dogs, and because it was most like the comfortable ‘nutritionally complete’ kibbles I had now sworn off of. But nobody had yet shown me how to make raw dog food.

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Where it began . . .

I began filling my cupboards with quinoa, brown rice, oats, brewers yeast and ground meats.

I would spend hours cooking these concoctions on my stove, feeling just as warm and fuzzy as the oat and hamburger blend I began feeding my dogs. It was a labour of love and I justified the time investment with the knowledge that fresh, whole foods were better than processed and extruded foods.

I had been home cooking for about a year when I first learned of Dr. Ian Billinghurst, shortly after his first book was published.

I had attended a Patty Ruzzo obedience seminar and Patty was very infectious and very much in love with her dogs. Patty advocated Dr. Billinghurst’s diet and her dogs seemed to glow with energy and good health.

At this point, I was desperately tired of cooking complicated dog concoctions and I’m really not sure whether it was the relative ease of feeding or the common sense approach that made me want to try raw feeding. It just seemed ‘right’ and I bought Dr. Billinghurst’s book and read it cover to cover three times.

Raw Feeding

BARF

Anyone who has been feeding raw for a number of years will be familiar with how it has evolved with time.

When Ian Billinghurst published his first book, he advocated a lot of bones: a lot. I had a new puppy at the time I made the switch to his BARF (the aptly named Bones and Raw Food) diet and fed him an alarmingly large amount of chicken wings and legs. He fought epiphysitis as a puppy but went on to pass his hip and elbow clearances although he became noticeably unsound at four years of age with terrible elbow dysplasia.

I don’t know if it was the high bone content that led to his ailment or just the bad luck of poor genetics: I suppose I will never know for certain but I suspect that feeding a growing dog 85% raw meaty bones was not the wisest thing I could have done.

As a breeder, I was launched into an accelerated learning program and over the years I watched my puppies and adult dogs grow and thrive, tweaking my raw feeding here and there to reflect recently garnered information or unwelcome changes in my dogs. Over the last nearly fifteen years, I have changed my dogs’ diets numerous times and may finally have settled on a feeding plan that I feel quite comfortable with.

I still remember the anxiety and terror I had when I first switched over from kibble as I did not have much support or guidance from other breeders: so I was forced to learn the hard way.

I understand that people new to raw feeding all have the same question:

“What exactly do I feed?”

All too often, they are not given the information or confidence they need to begin and this is an unfortunate barrier to getting their dog off kibble.

I hope that what follows is not a recipe plan but rather an outline of what I have learned in my years of study and observation.  This is the way I choose to feed my dogs. I don’t know if it is the right way, nor does anyone else. I certainly do not advocate this as the only way to raw feed, nor would I condemn people who choose to feed differently. As you will learn, there really are only a few hard and fast rules in nutrition and unfortunately, the more you learn, the more you discover that you really don’t know much at all. So you roll with the punches and do the best you can with the knowledge you have at the time.

My method of feeding is not easily categorized into one of the currently popular groups (such as prey model, Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, etc.). If I had to label my diet, I would call it ‘My Best Guess Based On Experience And Research’. In time, you will come up with your own “Best Guess Based on Experience Diet’ but in the meantime, here are some tips to help you along the way.

RAW FEEDING GUIDELINES

The key points to remember with a raw diet are:

Balance over time

  • The calcium and phosphorus ratio should be 1:1. Meats are high in phosphorus, bones are high in calcium and whole prey, fish, eggs and tripe have a balanced ratio.
  • Organ meat should not exceed 15% of the diet. Feed liver once a week (or several small servings per week) and try to find an organic source if possible because the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body.
  • Feel free to feed ‘weird and icky things’ such as chicken feet, beef trachea, tails, lung, kidney, testicles and pizzles.  Beef trachea, trim, chicken and turkey feet are loaded in natural chondroitin and glucosamine which help to build healthy joints.
  • If feeding pork or salmon, be certain to freeze the meat for two weeks before feeding to reduce the small risk of parasites.
  • NEVER feed cooked bones of any type. Raw bones are soft enough to bend and digest easily. For optimal safety, meal times should always be supervised.
  • Try to find grass fed animals that are not given hormones or medications if possible. Younger animals in general will have accumulated fewer toxins to pass on to your dog.

WHAT TO FEED

One common concern with raw feeding is that it is not ‘complete and balanced’.

This is untrue for two reasons.

First, nobody knows what complete and balanced is, so it is difficult to make this claim.

Second, balance can occur over time: every meal does not need to be completely balanced as long as the nutritional needs of the dog are met over the long run.

You don’t calculate the exact percentages of protein and carbohydrates, and the exact amount of vitamins and minerals in each of your meals, and you don’t have to do it with your dog’s meals. If you are prudent, then it will balance out over time.

The majority of my dogs’ diet (about 40%) is raw, meaty bones (RMB). This can include chicken backs, wings and necks (or even whole carcasses), lamb necks, pork necks, turkey necks, ox tails, beef ribs, turkey tails; any meaty bone that can be completely consumed by your dog. If you are feeding meatier meals (turkey or lamb necks), feed about 50% RMB, if your choices are bonier (chicken backs, pork necks, wings or ribs), feed about 30% RMB.

Bones

Large, weight bearing bones such as marrow and knuckle bones are not considered RMB’s if the dog is not able to consume the bone. These can be given as a recreational bone although I do not use them because they can break teeth and the softer joints can cause impactions or blockages. I do find beef neck bones to be a wonderful recreational bone for my dogs.

Organ Meat

Raw offal (organ meat including heart and liver) from a variety of meat sources should be fed for one or two meals per week or 10-15 % to of the diet. Some dogs do not tolerate offal well, so it may be best to divide it up and feed a little each day to avoid loose stools.

Grains

Grains (in my opinion) are not a natural part of the dog’s diet and I choose to not feed them to our dogs. Dogs do have the ability to digest some grain content and it might not be too harmful to include a small amount of grains in training treats but try as much as possible to use more species appropriate choices.

Green Tripe

Raw green tripe should be fed two or more meals per week (try to find green tripe, not the bleached human stuff: it is very stinky, but very nutritious). Tripe is a perfect balance of calcium to phosphorus (1:1), is rich in digestive enzymes and Lactobacillus Acidophilus, vitamin B, and contains the essential fatty acids, Linoleic and Linolenic in the proper ratio.  Tripe from grass-fed animals is preferred.

Raw muscle meat

A variety of meat sources should be fed several times per week. You can feed heart as a muscle meat but not exclusively.

Eggs

Raw eggs with shells (a perfect ratio of phosphorous to calcium) should be fed about two or more times per week. Whole eggs have a balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorus. You might have heard that raw egg whites contain a protein that binds with biotin and that is true.

To avoid deficiencies, feed the entire egg yolk and all. The yolks are where most of the nutrition is found anyway. Egg yolks are an excellent source of magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, vitamins A, E and B6.  It is best to feed Omega-3 or free-range eggs.

If you buy your eggs commercially, they are likely sprayed with wax and other chemicals to improve their appearance.  These chemicals are harmful for your dog so if you can not find fresh farm eggs, feed commercial eggs without the shell and count them as a meat meal.

Fruit And Veggies

Fruits and vegetables can be beneficial as supplemental feeding.

Vegetables must first be run through a juicer or food processor or lightly steamed. Dogs will not get the entire nutritional value from the vegetables if they are not first physically broken down. Dark green leafy vegetables are high in vitamin B. Ripened fruits are more easily digested by dogs and are also packed with vitamins.

Many people choose to forego fruits and vegetables as the dog is most closely related to the grey wolf which does not typically eat vegetables. The wolf does have a significant amount of berries in his scat in the summer months (often around 25%),  and for this reason, I feed my dogs fruit on a fairly regular basis (and they forage for it themselves).

I don’t feed vegetables all that often except when I have leftover vegetables which might need disposing of. In their place, I feed nutritional herbs such as dandelion leaf, nettle, spirulina and alfalfa which are high in vitamins and minerals.

WHEN TO FEED

Most people feed their dogs twice per day. I feed once a day and twice a day and some days not at all.

Dogs are not omnivores and are built for periods of gorging and fasting. I like to fast my dogs once a week because the majority of immune function is in the gut. If the dog’s digestive system is continually digesting meals, there is no time for house cleaning and the dog’s immune system will suffer. Once a week, I turn my dogs out with a nice beef neck bone to chew on or give them some fruit and that is their fast day. The exception is puppies under six months of age who eat three times per day in my house.

As you can see, raw feeding is quite simple.

If it still seems complicated, try to visualize a rabbit or cow whole, before it gets cut up and put into plastic containers. Try to feed your dog the rough percentage of bone, meat and organ meat that would occur naturally in this animal. This is what we strive to recreate for our dogs with raw feeding.

Remember to feed a variety of meats, not just different parts of a chicken or turkey.

Try deer, pork, rabbit, goat, duck, turkey, beef, moose, a variety of fish and any other meat that you can get your hands on.

HOW MUCH TO FEED

As a starting point give your dog about two to three percent of his ideal adult weight.

If your dog is very active, you may need to feed a little more and if your dog is more of a couch-potato, you may need to feed a little less.

The best way to tell if you are feeding the right amount is to run your hands over your dog’s ribs. If you can feel the ribs, but not see them, your dog is at a good weight.

Puppies should also receive about two to three percent of his ideal ADULT weight.

My Labrador puppies gain an average of two pounds per week. When puppies are four to six months old, they will require a great deal of food and a good amount of calcium as they are building their adult teeth.

If there is not enough calcium in the diet, they will take it out of their growing bones, so make certain that they are getting a good 60% RMB at this age. A good way to tell if your puppy is getting enough calcium is to watch his pasterns (his wrists).

If the angle at the wrists starts to increase, he may need more calcium in his diet and it might be a good time to consult with your breeder or a professional to make certain your puppy is getting the energy he requires. Do not let puppies get too thin at this important age as their energy demands are tremendous when cutting new teeth.

Overall, raw feeding is quite easy and there are only a few guidelines to follow.

(BONUS: Click here to view our Free Raw Feeding Videos <http://get.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/free-raw-feeding-videos/> and we’ll show you why your dog was never designed to eat dry kibble and how a fresh, whole food diet will improve health and vitality)

With time, you will become more comfortable with your dog’s new diet and you will start to see the results in the form of better coats, cleaner teeth, fresher breath and fewer health issues.

Good luck with your dog’s diet and feel confident when you feed your last bag of kibble, you will be joining the ranks of thousands of people who have safely and effectively made the jump to raw and have never looked back.

 

About the Author Dana Scott

Dana Scott is Editor In Chief for Dogs Naturally Magazine. She also breeds Labrador Retrievers under the Fallriver prefix and has been a raw feeding, natural rearing breeder since the 90's. She is an advocate for natural health care for dogs and people and works tirelessly to educate pet owners so they can influence veterinary medicine and change current vaccine, food and preventive health practices. Visit Dana's Labradors at Fallriver Labs