Switch Your Senior Dog To A Raw Diet With These 4 Simple Steps

switch older dog to raw diet

Many pet owners say to me, “Doc, I’m bringing my new puppy to you, and I’d love to raise him this new, holistic, way, but it’s too late for my other dog.  I’ll stick with my regular vet until she passes; she’s too old for change”.

This couldn’t be further from the truth!  In fact, all the more reason to change!

If you don’t want to hasten your pet’s demise, there’s no time like the present to integrate holistic thinking and practices!  Begin by discontinuing the unnecessary vaccinating, avoid the use of steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and yes, change to a fresh, balanced, raw diet!  There’s no time like the present, regardless of your pet’s age or malady.

A Raw Diet For Your Senior Dog Can Help Prevent These 9 Common Disorders (and more):

  1. Dental disease
  2. Gastrointestinal disease
  3. Liver disease
  4. Kidney disease
  5. Hormonal disease
  6. Skin disease
  7. Obesity
  8. Arthritis
  9. Cancer

The basic components of a preventative diet for these disorders are all included in a balanced, raw diet plan, and we can easily tweak these to assist our seniors.

These components include quality, meat based protein sources, adequate and balanced calcium (ideally from whole bone), organs, a variety of bioavailable greens, probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, and superfoods, functional foods, and nutritional herbs as needed to manage dis-ease.  This type of nutrition also includes whole food vitamins and enzymes.

The saying goes, “you are what you eat”, and sadly, many old dogs are a culmination of years of eating poorly.  Their bodies are a fat ball of inflammation from a lifetime of free choice, dry, processed kibble, devoid of anything fresh!  Their eyes are dull, ears are gooey and puffy, joints crunch with arthritis, fur is dry, belly is pendulous, nails are brittle, anus is red, glands are impacted, stool fluctuates from loose to hard, they’re constantly panting and the water bowl is always empty!

In Chinese philosophy, many of these signs are consistent with yin yang deficiencies and qi stagnations.  When yin and yang are out of balance, qi doesn’t flow properly.  When yin and yang are both extremely deficient, the qi or life force leaves the body and life ends; all living things contain qi.  We can nourish body qi with “gu” qi, or the food qi.  Processed food simply is not nourishing.  In fact, this is why even the “natural” kibble diets contain added vitamins and minerals, albeit synthetic.

Even Western medicine has made the connection between gut health, liver health and skin disease.  When you consider the ears are simply an extension of the skin, and the anus is simply an extension of the gut, it’s easy to see the relationship between all the disorders in the above list of old dog maladies!  American commercials teach viewers that “80% of the immune system is in the gut, so eat some probiotic yogurt!”  Surely our pet carnivores can benefit from a little infusion of good bacteria periodically as well, no matter what their age!

Ready To Switch Your Senior Dog To A Raw Diet?

Follow These 4 Simple Steps:

Step One:  Start With The Gut

When you decide to switch your senior dog to a species appropriate raw diet, the first step is to add a pinch of quality probiotic to his current food.  This can aid the transition to raw.  Many pet parents are turned off of feeding raw, because when they’ve tried in the past, their pet developed diarrhea. The establishment of healthy gut flora can prevent diarrhea.  The addition of probiotic to the diet can prevent, manage or even cause diarrhea, depending on the amount.  Too much probiotic can cause a cleansing effect.

Overall, food is meant to put in what’s good and take out what’s bad.  What if it’s been a while since you’ve taken out what’s bad?  After ages of eating processed food, there can be quite an accumulation of bad fats and bad starches in your dog; now it’s time to send in the fresh army!

You’ve likely experienced this yourself.  You eat a delicious salad or bowl of cruciferous vegetables – and uh, oh!  Things are moving out quicker than they should be!  This is a cleansing effect and no one wants it on their carpet.  Your dog may need a cleansing effect, but, ideally, in a controlled fashion.

In the long term, raw diets don’t produce loose stool.  In fact, it’s common for dogs on balanced raw diets to have very firm stool.  However, initially, the transition to healthy food (raw food) can produce a cleansing effect.

When you choose a probiotic product, try to select one with large numbers of a variety of species of good bacteria and yeast.  Large numbers may be necessary in order for enough to survive and successfully colonize in the gut.  However, I commonly counsel pet parents to begin with far less than what’s recommended on the packaging, to avoid an excessive cleansing effect.  You should start slowly, and gradually increase the probiotic, just as when you are transitioning to a new diet.  If loose stool develops, back off and go slower; but don’t give up!  This is common in the transition to better gut health.  This is what individuals commonly strive for as part of a cleanse or a detox.

Remember, don’t equate good poop to good food.  It’s easy to load up bad foods with ingredients that are there to simply stick the poop together.  An example of this is beet pulp.  Watch out for this on your kibble ingredient label.

RELATED: When probiotics help and when they harm …

Step Two: The Transition

Step Two is the gradual transition to the diet itself. After you’ve spent one to several days of adding the probiotic to the current diet, you can begin adding the raw food. Again, let the stool be your guide. Make sure the new diet is balanced and add a tiny amount to the old diet. Gradually decrease the old and gradually increase the new. If loose stool develops, transition more slowly.

To be clear, I’m referring to a raw diet that’s commercially produced and analyzed to be balanced, or a recipe that’s been proven over generations of animals to be balanced.  If you don’t know what a balanced raw diet is, start with a commercial product and decide later if you feel you have enough knowledge to feed a home prepared diet.

Before you consider a raw diet, you must consider your budget and time availability.  You should also consider your pet’s Chinese philosophical constitution and Western diagnosis.  There’s a fresh diet for every constitution and diagnosis.  However, some diets may require significant enhancement in order to manage some of the more serious disorders that may have manifested in your pet.

Some seniors may need patience and persistence to convert.  They may be carb or salt addicts.  They may need the “21-day program” to gradually adjust their taste buds to the taste of fresh food without all the salt of canned food or the starchy sugar in dry kibble. Use canned food, baby food, tuna, yogurt, or broth as mix-ins and top dressings to aid in the conversion.

Step Three: Vegetation

Step Three in the raw diet movement, especially for seniors is the incorporation of blended vegetation.  Many pet parents feed baby carrots or pieces of banana to their dogs.  This is nice, but is it okay or the best thing to do?  It depends; nutritional choices are all relative.  

In my practice, we teach nutritional choices as steps up and down the ladder.  I’m always trying to get clients to step up the ladder in their food and treat choices for their pets.  For example, a baby carrot is a much better treat choice than a wheat biscuit, but a green bean is a better choice than a carrot.  Let’s compare and contrast this for a moment.

If your dog has diabetes you need to select the treat with the lowest glycemic index.  The green bean is the best choice.  If your beloved companion has cancer, you need to select the treat that contains the least sugar and the most antioxidants, again the green bean – but kale or broccoli would be better.  These must also be blended or mulched to release the nutrients for absorption.

If your pet suffers from obesity, a low calorie, high fiber treat would be great – again the green bean.

If your pet is prone to constipation, carrots can have a laxative effect, but blending is best to be nutritive.  This will allow for the release of the whole food source of vitamin A, which will help those aging eyes as well!  It’s common for a guardian to observe chunks of carrot in excrement, which have passed though intact.  They may have served their purpose as a reward, but they’ve provided little to no nutritional benefit.

If your dog has liver disease, cruciferous vegetables may provide the methylation that’s necessary to aid in the malfunctioning of at least one important metabolic pathway.  In my practice, I’ve measured the improvement in liver enzymes and even bile acid levels due to the simple addition of broccoli and Brussels sprouts, or the Standard Process Cruciferous Complete supplement.

If your dog has kidney disease and is hypokalemic (low potassium), a piece of banana on a regular basis would be just what the doctor ordered.  Increasing greens in the gastrointestinal tract impacts protein by aiding in the removal of nitrogenous waste, thus decreasing the toxin removal burden placed on the kidneys and liver.  What does this mean?  You can use a raw diet high in green vegetation as a kidney or liver diet!  Can this be monitored?  A veterinarian can measure BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine, liver enzymes and bile acid panels.  Despite what the prescription diets say, senior dogs need quality protein to maintain healthy muscle mass.

Remember, when this all seems overwhelming, ask yourself what happens in nature.  There are some forms of vegetation that dogs and other carnivores forage.  The Indians learned a lot by watching bears safely select particular berries.  But, in general, our dogs must derive their vitamin A from the rabbit who ingested the carrot and predigested the carrot to release the vitamin A.

Dogs don’t have the cellulose enzyme that the rabbit possesses to break down the cell walls of plant materials.  The dog doesn’t chew and mix plant materials in his mouth with salivary enzymes to break them down as we primates do.  So, we do our best to mimic this natural predigestion by lightly steaming and/or blending vegetation prior to presenting it to our carnivores.

RELATED: How fruits can reduce your dog’s cancer risk …

Step Four: Raw Diet Round Up

Stainless steel or ceramic bowls are best.  Plastic bowls can harbor germs and excrete dangerous toxins.

Cooking a balanced diet that includes calcium may sometimes be necessary in seniors who are immune suppressed due to a particular disease or medication.  Some vets also advocate feeding a high pressure pasteurized commercial product but most seniors handle raw diets very well.

Temperature, moisture and texture matter.  Repetitive cold food damages stomach yin.  This is why many Chinese say, “do not put ice into beverages”.  It’s easy to remove a thawed product from the refrigerator, spritz it with hot tap water and then serve.  Take the cold edge off the food to mimic the warmth present in freshly killed prey.

The stomach environment is very warm.  It’s not meant to receive cold food. Seniors who have become yang deficient generally need warming foods as well.  Foods have their own energetics, but it becomes warmer with heating or processing.

The addition of water needs to be just right.  Extra water can aid digestion but the over dilution of stomach acids can inhibit digestion and even cause vomiting!  Just the right amount of increased moisture can be of significant benefit to aging pets with compromised urinary tract health.

Many dogs, especially small breeds, are concerned about texture.  You may need to experiment with different raw brands, different grinds or even the way you blend the breakfast or the dinner!

If a pet, young or old, eats too much too fast, putrefaction, gas and bloating, vomiting and even diarrhea can ensue.  Therefore, quantity matters.  Follow package guidelines.  Feed roughly four to six ounces per eight to twelve pounds of your dog’s weight per day, divided into two to three feedings.  A large dog may eat a half pound or more twice per day.  Of course this varies greatly depending on metabolism and lifestyle.

Spreading food out on a plate or using a “slow bowl” may be helpful.  Senior dogs who are fed a meaty bone diet will need to eat slowly to chew and be safe.  A senior who is missing teeth can be fed a balanced ground diet or a commercial raw very safely.  Added vegetable roughage may be necessary to help any pet on raw to avoid constipation.

Bonus Step: Don’t Forget The Toppings

There are many functional foods and supplements that senior dogs can benefit from. Here are some good options for common conditions in seniors: 


Increase meat protein, eliminate starch, increase green fiber for satiety.


Same as for obesity, and utilize healthy fats to balance sugar and slow insulin release; low glycemic veggies, pancreatic glandulars, gymnema, ocotea oil, Standard Process (SP) Diaplex.


Same as for obesity, with high antioxidant veggies, medicinal mushrooms, colostrum, Artemisinin, appropriate Chinese herbal formula.


Lean meats, no starch, no dairy, pancreatic glandulars, antioxidants such as dark leafy greens, cranberries, blueberries, Standard Process Vitanox; no rancid fats.

Liver Disease

Same as for cancer; organic is best, avoid all toxins, cruciferous veggies, SP Livaplex (milk thistle, schissandra) or SP Canine Hepatic Support- adenosyl methionine, wheat germ oil (natural source of Vitamin E).

Kidney Disease

Quality balanced, wet meat based diet with up to one third added blended vegetation, probiotics, glandular kidney support (SP Renafood, Renal Support). Monitor BUN, creatinine, phosphorus, potassium, blood pressure.


Species appropriate diet, kelp, possibly appropriate iodine, glandulars.


Species appropriate diet, pumpkin, green beans, carrots, slippery elm.


Species appropriate diet, remove stress and toxins, adrenal support, pituitary support, liver support, Chinese herbal formula.


Quality meat based protein, no inflammatory carbohydrates, fish body oil for Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine sulfate, egg shell membrane, perna/green lipped mussel, hyaluronic acid, MSM, boswellia, corydalis, SP Ligaplex II, SP Ostarplex.

It’s important to be your pet’s advocate.  And it’s never too late to serve quality, delicious meals!

Related: Senior Dog Care: 9 Ways To Keep Your Aging Dog Healthy & Happy

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