These are the chronicles of two Shetland Sheepdogs and their adventures in rally-o, obedience, flyball, agility, tracking and therapy dog work.
Also including information on raw feeding, canine epilepsy, positive training, and lots and lots of Sheltie hair!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Raw Food Diet for Dogs: Starting Raw FAQs

Disclaimer: The following information regarding a raw diet for dogs is information that I have compiled through personal experience, consultation with individuals who have been successfully feeding a raw diet for many years, and large amounts individual research. I do not take responsibility for the misinterpretation or poor application of the following advice. Successfully feeding a raw diet to your dog requires dedication, research, effort, and a basic grasp of common sense and logic. If you are not willing to put in the required effort or are, to put it bluntly, and idiot, then there is nothing here for you. Feeding a high quality kibble is better than feeding a poorly implimented and unbalanced raw diet. If you are not going to do formulate a raw diet correctly, please take the time to find a good kibble and stick with that.

What is a raw food diet?
Why feed a raw food diet to my dog?
Are there different types of raw diets for dogs?
What are the benefits of a raw diet?
Is a raw diet more expensive than commercial food?
Is a raw diet safe to feed?
Does a raw diet take longer to feed than commercial food?
Can a raw diet be fed to big/small/old/young dogs/breeds?
Can I feed a diet consisting of partial raw and partial commercial dog food?
How do I start feeding a raw diet?
How much does my dog need to eat?
Do I have to feed variety and how do I introduce new variety?
What are safe bones to feed my dog?
What items are not appropriate for a raw diet?
Useful raw diet resources

In the interest of brevity and presenting information in small, manageable bite-sized pieces, this article does not contain all the FAQs of raw feeding. In the future, I intend to add more FAQ articles to this collection. Please check back regularly for more Raw FAQ updates.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet is exactly as it sounds. It is a diet comprised of raw ingredients, primarily meat, organs, and edible bones.

Why feed a raw food diet to my dog?

Your dog is a carnivore. Even though some dogs enjoy a snack made up of veggies, fruits, or grains, or will munch on fresh grass from the park, they need meat in order to survive. Additionally, while some people may claim that dogs can survive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, those diets require substantial supplementation and are essentially manipulating a natural system into running on something that it was not designed to run on.

We have to ask ourselves not "What can my dog survive on?" but rather "What will my dog thrive on?" Not "What diet is able to support life?" but "What diet is able to support optimal life?"

All dogs have evolved from a species of wolf. While their size and physical characteristics have changed dramatically, their digestive physiology has remained very similar to their wolf counterparts. Dogs possess teeth designed for tearing flesh, not the flat grinding molars of herbivores or omnivores like ourselves. Their intestinal tract is short, the stomach is acidic, they do not produce amylase, and the rate of passage of food through the digestive tract is rapid. All characteristics of carnivores designed to digest meat.

Are there different types of raw diets for dogs?

There are two main forms of raw dog diets: Prey Model Raw (PMR) and Bones and Raw Food/Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF)

The primary difference between the two is that the PMR diet makes the assumption that wild canids do not eat the stomach contents of the prey that they kill, or if they do, then the amount eaten dog not play a significant role in the diet. The BARF diet assumes that wild canids eat a significant amount of vegetable/plant matter. I feed a PMR diet, so the following information will all be based on a PMR diet. There are many many people who successfully feed a BARF diet, but if you are looking for BARF information, then I am not the one to provide that assistance. Much of the information in this article will be the same regardless of whether you choose to feed a PMR diet or a BARF diet. I am just not able to provide advice on balancing a raw diet with the inclusion of the veggies and supplements necessary for a BARF diet.

What are the benefits of a raw diet?

The benefits of feeding a diet that the dog was naturally designed to eat go further than just nutrition. Physiologically, the dog has a digestive tract that is designed with meat digestion in mind. That includes everything from the teeth designed to tip and tear meat, to jaw muscles designed to crunch bones, to a stomach acid capable of disintegrating raw bone, to a short intestinal tract designed to move everything through the system quickly. The digestive physiology also extends to the digestive enzymes secreted along the way that are capable of digesting meat and bone, but not plant matter as well as an excretion system made to deal with the waste products resulting from meat digestion.

If we fill that system with ingredients that it is not designed to deal with, then each part of the system is required to work harder and in ways that are inefficient and often unhealthy. As a result of grain laden kibbles, diseases like kidney problems, allergies, digestive upsets, gum disease, dental decay, skin/hair problems, and obesity are rampant in our domestic dogs. Putting undue stress on the organs can also have negative implications on immunity, energy, and behavioral aspects as well.

The most obvious benefits of a raw diet include great dental health, improved skin and coat, healthy sustainable energy (as opposed to the bursts of energy resulting from glucose metabolism from grain digestion), fresh breath, improved digestion, allergy reduction, and much smaller and less frequent poops!

Less noticeable, though vitally more important, are the potential preventative benefits of a raw diet. Many degenerative disorders seen in adult or elderly dogs can be prevented or the severity lessened by providing a natural diet. Remember, less stress on the overall machine means that the machine will function cleaner and healthier for a longer time! And we all want more time with our wonderful dogs!

Is a raw diet more expensive than commercial food?

It depends on a couple of factors:
- What kibble you were feeding to begin with.

If you were feeding something like Old Roy or Kibbles and Bits, then no, raw will likely not be cheaper. But if you were feeding a high end or grain free kibble, then the price of raw can easily be lower.

- How much effort you are willing to put into finding "deals".

There are great deals out there, but you need to find them. If you are only wanting to shop at your local grocery store, then things will be a bit pricier. But if you are able to hunt out butchers, game butchers, farmers, hunters, ethnic grocers, etc. then you can get a lot of great food for low prices.

- If you are able to take advantage of bulk deals.

Many of the best deals come from game butchers, farmers and hunters. But often they are only willing to sell large quantities of meat. Selling only a couple of pounds of meat isn't worth it for them, but if you are able to take large quantities then you can get some fantastic deals. Many raw feeders have a designated chest freezer (or two) solely for dog food. Stock up on sales when you can, and freeze for later use. Or spread the word, make some raw-feeder friends, and split large orders between yourselves.

- What area of the world you live in.

Different geographical regions vary in prices. I'm in Canada and can average less than $2/lb for the meat that I buy. I know people in the US that average less than $1/lb for the meat they use. Fortunately, it is all relative. Usually, if meat prices are higher in one area, so are commercial food prices, so it all works out in the end.

Here is an example of what it costs me for either commercial kibble or raw. Based on 2 dogs, total weight of 55lb.

Feeding a "middle-of-the-road" kibble like Nutro Ultra would cost me $63/month.

Feeding raw, averaging between $1-$2/lb, would cost me $37.50 on the low end to $75.00 on the high end each month. If I look around for good deals, then I can cut my costs to nearly half of what kibble would cost me. If I can't find deals and only shop at the grocery store, then I'm spending an extra $12 each month compared to kibble costs. Compare that to a high quality kibble and your numbers would be much different.

Is a raw diet safe to feed?

A raw diet is safe to feed IF you use some common sense! Raw is not fool-proof, and it is not idiot-proof. If you are not a fool and you are not an idiot, then you should be just fine.

Feed safe, appropriate bones. Practice safe meat handling skills, treat the dog's meat like you would handle meat for your human family. Clean up after yourself. Supervise all meals. And do your homework to make sure that what you are feeding balances out over time.

Does a raw diet take longer to feed than a commercial diet?

Pretty much everything takes longer than dumping a scoop of kibble into a bowl. So yes, raw does take longer than kibble. But, the amount of time it takes is not ridiculous. Once you get your own system down, then you can breeze through a meal in no time.

My guys are somewhat fast eaters, so a boneless "simple" meal will take about 5 minutes, including prep time, feeding time, and clean up time. A more complicated meal like a big raw meaty bone (RMB) will take longer, up to 20 minutes for feeding time, with literally no prep or clean up time afterwards.

I use some planning skills to fit raw into my life. In the morning, when the boys get their breakfast before I head off to work, they get a quick and easy meal. Something boneless or a simple RMB. If I know I have time in the evenings with no plans, then they get a larger RMB. You don't need to feed complicated and involved RMBs every day, so plan ahead and fit them in when you can.

Can a raw diet e fed to big/small/old/young dogs?


When feeding extra large or extra small dogs, you may need to be creative to find meals that work. But it is definitely do-able. Great RMB items for small dogs include quail, cornish game hens, chicken necks, rabbit, and fish. Then any boneless meat that you can get your hands on. Large dogs may require larger cuts of meat or RMBs, so consider pork shoulders, whole chickens or turkeys, lamb neck, pork neck, or pork ribs.

For young dogs, you want to feed for their ideal adult body weight. Puppies need more food for their weight than adult dogs do. So if you anticipate that your pup will weight 50lb when it is an adult, feed it as if it were 50lb right now.

Older dogs can transition onto raw without any issue. If there is a history of sensitive stomach, just take your time in adding new variety.

Can I feed a diet consisting of partial raw and partial commercial food?

Yes. The thing you want to keep in mind is that you should not feed kibble and raw together in the same meal. Kibble can take upwards of 12 hours to digest completely, where raw takes somewhere around 5 hours to digest completely. Raw needs to move through the digestive tract quickly so that it does not cause problems with bacterial growth. If it is fed with kibble, then its transit time is slowed down and bacteria is given a greater opportunity to colonize the gut.

If you choose to feed half kibble and half raw, then feed one meal of kibble in the morning and one meal of raw in the evening. Or feed one day of kibble and the next day raw, etc.

Remember, kibble is NOT a supplement! Feeding half of the diet in kibble will not make up for an unbalanced raw diet. So if you do choose to feed half raw and half kibble, the portion of the diet that is raw must be balanced to include appropriate amounts of meat, organ, and bone.

How do I start feeding a raw diet?

The overall PMR diet should be roughly made up of 80% meat, 10% edible bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ. These percentages reflect roughly what a prey animal is composed of.

When you are starting, start with a bland meat and easy bones. Chicken is very common as a first meat as it is cheap, plentiful, and easy to handle. Feed ONLY chicken and bone-in chicken for a week or two to allow the dog to adjust. Don't worry about balance right off the bat. Allow your dog to adjust to each new addition before worrying too much about the 80:10:10(5/5) ratio. This is your ultimate goal, but if it takes you a month or two to get there that is fine. Nutritional deficiencies will not manifest themselves in only a couple of months.

How much does my dog need to eat?

The general rule of thumb is to feed a dog 2-3% of their IDEAL ADULT body weight. That will vary depending on the individual dog and their metabolism. But a good starting point is 2.5% of their adult weight. If the dog needs to lose a couple of pounds, estimate what their ideal weight would be and feed 2.5% of that each day. Monitor the weight for a couple of weeks, and adjust the percentage up or down as needed.

Do I have to feed variety and how do I introduce new variety?

Variety is a very important aspect of a raw diet. After the adjustment phase, you should attempt to feed as much variety as is feasible for you. I try to have about 50% white meat (chicken, turkey, duck, fish, etc.) and 50% red meat (beef, pork, rabbit, bison, elk, deer, etc.). And within each species, try to vary the cuts of meat that you feed as well. For organs, liver must make up 5% of the overall diet. The remaining 5% organ allotment can be made up of any other secreting organ (kidney, thymus, spleen, pancreas, brain, testicle). If you do not have access to all of those organs, that is fine. But try to offer as much variety as you can.

When introducing variety, go slowly. Wait until your dog is well adjusted to one meat source first, then gradually add ONE new meat source to the diet. Feed a meal of half of the old meat source and half of the new meat source. Then the next day go back to the old meat source completely and observe to make sure that the new source was accepted well. Some dogs will take to new variety without any problems, but some others may have slight digestive upsets after a new ingredient is added. If so, don't worry. Just cut back on the new source a bit, and continue to add it gradually as the dog can handle it.

What are safe bones to feed my dog?

The safety of bones depends both on the density of the bone and the size of the bone compared to the dog. A bone that is safe for one dog may not be safe for a different dog.

In general, do NOT feed the weight baring bones of large animals ... like leg bones of cows, pigs, elk, deer, etc. These bones are much too hard and dense, and in a battle of dog tooth versus leg bone, the leg bone will win. Often resulting in chipped or broken teeth and a trip to the vet for a dental extraction. These bones are often called "wreck bones" as they will easily wreck your dog's teeth. Better to stay away from them.

Bones that are essentially safe for any dog include chicken bones, rabbit bones, and fish bones.

If you are worried about your dog gulping the bones down without chewing them properly, then feed LARGE. Giving something that is larger than the dog's head will ensure that they cannot swallow it all in one gulp and are forced to use their teeth to chew it up into appropriately sized pieces. If the large piece is more than the normal meal's worth, then just take it away when you think the dog has eaten a meal's amount of food.

What items are not appropriate for a raw diet?

Items that are not appropriate in a raw diet include any COOKED bones. That includes bones that are smoked, cured, bleached, or treated in any way. Just because they are sold at a pet store, doesn't mean they are safe for pets. It just means that there are enough suckers out there that will pay money for a dangerous item.

Bare bones are also not appropriate. The meat on RMBs acts as a sort of cushion to buffer the bones as they are swallowed and digested. Without the meat, it is possible for bare bones to puncture or cut the digestive tract.

Treated or enhanced meats are not appropriate. Many stores will sell "enhanced" chicken, meaning that it has been injected with broth, preservatives and flavorings. These substances can cause irritation and digestive upset to our dogs. So avoid any meats that are enhanced.

Cooked fats are dangerous as cooking alters the chemical structure of the fat, leading to an increased risk of the dog developing pancreatitis.

Processed meats should not appear in any dog's diet. That includes hot dogs, bologna, and deli meats. They contain salts, preservatives, and flavors that can be irritating to dogs.

Useful raw feeding resources
Myths of Raw Feeding
Pack Lunch
Fudge's Raw Feeding Website
Dr. Lonsdale's Raw Meaty Bones
US Raw Meaty Bones
Dogster Raw Forum

There are also numerous raw feeding Yahoo groups. These can be a great resource, but be warned, many of the frequenters of these Yahoo groups can be quite abrasive. So don't allow yourself to be offended too easily.

No matter where you get your information from, be sure to check your resources and don't take anything at face value. I encourage you to do your own research, find people in your area that are raw feeders, and seek out a raw mentor. A great place to start would be your local breed club or kennel and obedience club. There are many breeders and performance dog handlers that feed raw, and I'm sure they would be willing to help you out and answer some questions. Learn from those that have experience and a long track record of success.

I hope this article was able to answer some of the questions that many prospective raw feeders have. This was not intended to be an all-inclusive FAQ list, rather just a source of answers to questions that people often ask when they are trying to decide if a raw diet is for them and their dog. Stay tuned, I will be adding new installations of Raw FAQ sheets in the near future.

1 comment:

BenTheRotti said...

Thank you for all the info. Mum has been toying with the idea of the barf diet for me for some time, but she needs to do some serious research first. We will have a good read of all that later.

Ben xxxxx

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