Nutrition and health can stop any obedience plan, or behavioral rehab, dead in its tracks. If a dog is suffering from dry skin because of an allergic reaction, or a chronic yeast infection in it’s ear, how do you expect a dog to have the concentration and trust to listen to an obedience plan? The same goes for bad hips. You can’t expect a dog to do push-ups for you or keep going up and down from a place command fast if they have joint issues. I always look at health of a dog as a priority when starting any kind of program. And one of the biggest impacts you can have on your dog’s health is their food. With today’s modern approach to food, I feel, most dogs (and humans), are over eating, yet starving at the same time. This is because of highly processed foods we feed our dogs. They eat and eat and eat, but never get enough of the nutrients they need because it is not biologically available to them in the commercial foods out there. More often than not, through the very nature of how dog food is made, most of the nutrients are lost in the already inferior ingredients. So in order to even be able to sell it as food, manufacturers need to add back in a whole host of vitamins and minerals in order to meet the minimum, nutritional values.
I believe in a true Holistic approach to living with, caring for, and training dogs. I have seen firsthand how nutrition can change a dog right before your eyes. Years ago when we adopted a 5 month old puppy from the shelter, I did what most people did. I went out and bought a relatively cheap dog food that he was already being fed before we got him. At first, he seemed like a healthy, active puppy. Within a few weeks we noticed he limped a little. Over the next few months it kept getting worse and the recovery time was getting longer. Here was a 9 or 10 month old, healthy dog that after a 1 mile walk, couldn’t get up for two days. Not knowing what to do, I went to the veterinarian and paid for x-rays. They came back basically telling me there was nothing wrong with him… and oh by the way, he only has around 20% engagement in his right hip in the same breath. To me, that seemed like a bad thing, but they acted like it was just common place and I shouldn’t worry. They had no suggestions and did not seem concerned that a healthy puppy couldn’t walk after light exercise. They matter-of-factly told me it would eventually get really bad and they could do a surgery, but that was usually performed on working police dogs because it would cost around 10,000 dollars. I was of course upset, and for a short time I felt helpless. These professionals I trusted said there was nothing I could do. I even decided I would start saving my money and hopefully by the time he needed the surgery, I might have enough to pay for it.
Just sitting back and being told there was no solution to the problem is not the type of person I am. I began doing research. I first started diving into vaccinations (the limp seemed to have appeared after a round of shots) and had my eyes opened to another whole side to these “preventative” medicines. I will save this for another discussion, but please do your own research on the subject and don’t be afraid to stick to what you learn and believe in, even if it goes against “expert” opinion. From vaccinations, I got into nutrition. I started learning about the nutritional needs of dogs and how they seem many times to not be in line with the ingredients in commercial pet foods. After doing research into the different pet food formulas, I decided to spend the money on one of the good, premium dog foods. Just something to think about: just because it’s expensive, doesn’t mean it is species appropriate nor has your dog’s best interest in mind. I saw some improvement in my dog’s limping, but it was still there. I think I went through that one bag while still learning all I could about food and by the time I needed to buy more I found an even better food that had no grains and very little carbohydrates in relation to fats and actual meat proteins. I bought this new food and before the bag was done, I saw even better results. Now I thought I had it. But it still bugged me that my dog limped and struggled more than I thought he should.
One to keep learning all I could, I started looking into supplements. I found some good ones that I felt were lacking in the diet and began working them in. The results were even better! By now I had started hearing about and reading about raw. I didn’t know anybody I could ask in person so I kept doing my research. This went on for months and I started reading scientific papers and huge text books on the subject. Looking back, I was just scared to take that leap. I was confident in what I knew, but it is tough when everybody who you look to for advice either can’t help you, or tell you not to do it. Well one day I had to make a decision to either go buy another bag of dog food or go and buy meat. Well I choose the meat and haven’t looked back. He is still on raw and so are my other dogs. I have also helped clients switch their dogs to raw. The transformation was amazing! He improved even more and is one of the healthiest dogs I know. All my dogs have amazing immune systems and if they do get injured, the recovery time is very fast. Many people actually ask if he is on raw, people who don’t even feed raw just have a sense that he must be on it. That should tell you something! If you look at someone’s dog and just think to yourself, wow, that dog must be on raw, why wouldn’t you want to feed your own dog raw?
The answer to this question has started to become a little clearer to me now that more and more people ask me about feeding raw. I don’t believe that people are so much against it as they are scared of it. This seems to happen because they are listening to people who don’t know what they are talking about or are listening to “experts” telling them not to. The truth is, many of these “experts” get less training on dog nutrition than I did before I even read my first book on the subject. And to top it off, most of the information and research, is funded by the very people who will lose your business if you switch to raw. I have actually had conversations with some name brand spokespersons and they have actually admitted to me that the only reason they do not offer raw is it is not profitable yet, not that they don’t believe in it. They assured me that if the number of raw feeders goes up a few percentage points, you will see them hit the market hard. But until then, they make you feel like you are hurting your dog by not buying pre made and heavily processed foods for your dog. Why is it commercial dog food companies are pushing for you to feed highly processed foods for your pets, but we are told as a society that we should eat less to be healthy?
I even ran up against people telling me that dogs are too complicated. I would not be able to figure out how to feed my dog. Some of the brand name companies tell us that we should leave it to the paid scientists to do it for us. Not to worry because they have us covered. All that our dogs will ever need in life is in this convenient bag. All you need to do is just go and buy it from the store every month. How did dogs even survive before commercial kibble??!!!! Were people smarter before the twentieth century? How were they able to figure out how to feed the growing population of domestic dogs, but we are supposedly not smart enough?
I heard a great answer to this years ago. The answer came in the form of a question that put it in perspective for me. It was asked: If you just had a baby and you are there in the hospital waiting to go home and the doctor comes over and holds up a bottle of formula and tells you that human nutrition is too hard for you to figure out without a degree in science, but don’t worry, the hospital has you covered. All you need to do is keep feeding your child what is in this bottle for the rest of their life and all their nutritional needs will be met…forever…no matter what…even if you have another child…give them the same thing…how would you respond? I’m pretty sure you would tell them they were crazy! But since World War II, most people have let pet food companies tell them just that. Why do people allow commercial dog food companies to make us feel bad or stupid when we try thinking for ourselves and allow them to tell us we are not smart enough to feed our own dogs? In one form or another, it always seems to be fear that holds people back from feeding raw. I just want to let people know that it isn’t as scary as it seems. It really isn’t. Nothing in life is for that matter! Knowledge is a great thing! The more we know, the better decisions we can make. And this is what I hope to accomplish here. I want to give people more information to make their own decisions. At the end of the day you may not agree with me and choose not to feed raw and that’s OK, but I hope you gained some knowledge which helped to make that decision instead of one based solely on fear or lack of information.
If you still are curious and want to learn more about feeding raw, please continue. There are a couple of great books out there that explain how to feed raw. I have given my opinion on them in my book section of my website. I will go over the basics of feeding raw, but it really isn’t an outline on how to feed. I instead concentrate on the details that seem to catch people by surprise or that I feel aren’t addressed in the books on the market right now.
I want to stress that feeding raw is not as hard as most people think it is! The number one piece of advice I can give is, don’t get stuck on the numbers! You need to think over the long term when feeding a balanced and varied diet to your dog. I find most people have a better time with it when I tell them to think about it on a two week or monthly basis. This allows for situations and circumstances to arise and not feel pressured that your schedule was thrown off. Another reason is that I find it easier for people to buy food for two weeks or a month at a time. It all depends on how close your access is to good, quality food. I have good access to lots of great food sources so I only need to shop for a week’s’ worth of food at a time, but usually shop two weeks at a time. This is no big deal to me because I have the freezer space. Ultimately it comes down to what works best for you and what you are most comfortable with. That is the bottom line when feeding a noncommercial diet, period. It will never be a success unless you are comfortable with what you are doing.
This isn’t so much a how-to for raw feeding as it is my experiences with raw feeding and addressing some of the unknowns that I had to figure out when I started.
How much should I feed? Most dogs fall into the 2-4% range per day of their ideal body weight. This is the weight that they are supposed to be at to be a healthy dog, not their overweight number if this applies. I’ll do all the numbers for a healthy, 50 pound dog as the example. This means you are looking at 1-2 pounds of food a day depending on activity level and metabolism of your dog. That then translates to 7-14 pounds of food a week. That is quite a big difference in just a couple of percentage points. This goes to show how easy it is to overfeed your dog. Remember, these are numbers to start with. Do not get stuck on these numbers! Trust me, in no time you won’t even think about how much to give your dog. These numbers can fluctuate greatly depending on the dog just like with people. I have a 48 pound dog that eats more than an 85 pound dog every day. Both dogs are lean and in great shape. They just have different metabolisms.
Puppies generally eat more than the 4%. If the puppy was pretty much weaned onto raw, they usually don’t gorge themselves because they never had the need to. If you are switching a puppy to raw after it has been on kibble for a while, you may have to regulate its food until its body tells it not to gorge because it is now getting the proper amount of nutrients. In either case, you just have to watch and make sure the puppy isn’t hiding the food. Puppies can actually eat up to 10% a day until they are between 12-18 months old and then they start to fall into the 2-4% range. If the puppy is getting the right exercise and is a good lean weight, keep feeding the amount it wants to eat. Just make sure you are not overfeeding.
What should I feed? I believe in feeding whole carcass as much as possible. Animals such as chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, fish, etc. fall into this category. I give the dog the whole animal, with offal when available. You can even leave the fur and feathers on if this option is available to you. When feeding meat or parts of animals, try to feed chunks that are as large as possible to your dog. You do not need to cut them up into bite size pieces; they will just gulp them down without chewing. There are several reasons for keeping the food as large as possible:
One, it slows down the eating process for most dogs. I did add ‘most’ for a reason. I have a dog that can eat a two pound chicken in less than two minutes. He has eaten this way his whole life. I have seen dogs on the completely other end of the spectrum that look like they don’t want to get anything on them as they eat. Dogs are as unique as humans are.
Two, it makes the dog work a little harder for its food by having to figure out how to hold onto the food and then rip it apart into smaller pieces. This is good mental stimulation for the dog while its body is getting nourishment. Dogs teeth are made to rip large chunks of meat off and swallow them.
Three, the more the dog has to tear the meat and break the bones, the more it brushes its teeth and prevents periodontal disease (arguably the biggest epidemic and cause of health issues in cats and dogs in modern times).
Something else to bring up while talking about how dogs are built to rip chunks of meat from prey is how they actually eat. They rip chunks of bone and meat off and if it is the right size, they swallow it. They don’t sit there and chew their food like we do. They will work the length of whatever it is, crushing it until it is the right shape and size to swallow. It does take some time to get used to watching your dog chewing and then suddenly swallow something you think they should have chewed more. This is normal. Their stomach is very acidic and designed to deal with this kind of food. Something else that is normal is your dog regurgitating something they just swallowed. Their stomach might tell them no, so they will regurgitate it and go right back at it and chew it up a little more before swallowing it again.
Percentage wise you should shoot for around 60-70% meat, 30-35% Raw Meaty Bones (RMB), and 5-10% organ meats. These are just numbers for you to visualize. DON’T get stuck on the numbers! Think of how dogs would have to eat on their own and think about how regionally, different carnivores eat different prey items. Sometimes they eat more meat because of big game kills and sometimes they catch rodents, birds, rabbits and even fish. Most prey animals do fall in the range of 2:1 for meat to bone ratio. RMB only count in the diet when they can be ingested, and a rule of thumb to decide if your dog will be able to break and swallow it, is it should be the smaller, non-load bearing bones of the bigger animals and the whole carcass of smaller mammals.
I have not had good luck with pork and beef necks. Other people have. I find they are too big, hard and jagged even for an 85 pound, lean dog. I do not like how they splinter and break when eaten, so I am not comfortable feeding them. Ox tail I also stay away from, especially when it isn’t whole. I have found the knuckle joints of the tail to be an odd ball size and shape and the dog seems to choose to try and swallow them instead of chewing them. You may find they are good for your dog and you feel comfortable feeding them, I don’t. I do give large, raw marrow bones as treats so the dogs can eat out the marrow and chew on the bone, but this does not count as food for the day. You can also save these bones afterwards and fill them with peanut butter or anything that you would fill a Kong with.
Once your dog is on raw for a little while you can start to experiment with how much to feed. The numbers given are just a starting point that may have to be altered. One option that is available to some people, is putting out a little more food than your dog is eating. You just have to watch and make sure the dog does not try and hide the food or is leaving it. If this is happening, your dog is getting too much food, regardless of what the numbers are saying. This goes for treats as well. If you are somebody who treats their dog on a regular basis and think it’s cute that they take them from you and go and hide them, they are definitely getting too much food throughout the day. If the dog has a good appetite and is at a good weight, you can try this technique. The reason for trying this is that MOST, not all dogs, after being on raw will self-regulate their food. By nature they do not want to be fat, and if they are getting quality nutrients their body can use efficiently, they will only eat what is required. This is not true of all dogs. I have one as proof. If you put out 10 pounds of food he will try and eat himself to death. I have worked with other dogs that if you consistently give them 4 chicken backs, they will only eat three. I have used this technique with healthy, growing dogs with good results. As they hit growth spurts or their activity changes, they eat more or less, depending on what their body needs. It takes a little bit of the guess work out of knowing if you are feeding them their ideal amount. There is also an upside to this in convenience. A good example of this is you may not have to cut whole chickens in half when you can’t find ones the size you need. Just give them the whole thing and when they are done, pick it up, put it in the refrigerator, and feed the rest the next day. You can just not worry if they eat more than half and feed the smaller amount the next day because it equals out over both days, or you can supplement with a little more food. The drawback to this is that you may be over your target amount by the end of the week. This may not even be a problem. It might show that you can up the food a little. Just watch the body composition to make sure your dog is not eating too much.
I feel this theory can be backed up by observing puppies on commercial diets. They are always gorging themselves and have distended bloated stomachs and attack food as if starving every time. As I talk about a little later, this behavior, I feel, is because they need to consume that much more food to try and get enough of the nutrients they need out of it. They are being fed low quality proteins and vitamins that are not readily available to absorb into their bodies and this leads to a whole host of health issues that have become the ”norm” and we are just supposed to deal with it as part of life. I don’t agree with this and feel there is a reason these things are happening. If you observe puppies that have mother’s on raw and they are weaned onto raw, many of these “normal” health issues either never occur, or are very mild.
But you need to be watching their body composition and cut back even if they eat it all if needed. I like to keep my dogs at “working” weight which is a little lighter than “pet” weight. I like to be able to see the ribs when the dog is moving and taking deep breaths. If you see ribs all the time, even at rest, they might be a little too lean, but this is all about knowing your dog. Some dogs are naturally leaner than others just like people. On long hair dogs, you will want to be able to just barely rub their ribs and be able to feel them individually. A health reason for keeping dogs lean, especially active or large dogs are their joints. Just like with humans, if your dog carries around the least amount of weight they have to over the course of their entire life, their joints will have taken that much less of a pounding. I believe every little bit helps because an active dog abuses their body everyday by jumping, running and darting. They do not restrict their own movement or strength very often, so I feel it is up to us to help these athletes stay in the best shape they can, for as long as they can.
When it comes to any part of the animal, I believe in getting the freshest I can. Yes, dogs can eat spoiled meat. They are indeed scavengers. I started seeing a difference when I couldn’t make it to the local butcher and bought a box store, big name brand chicken sealed in shrink wrap. Every time I fed this, my dogs would act lethargic, almost sick and have horrible indigestion and diarrhea so I stopped buying it. When I feed more locally sourced meats, I rarely see this reaction in dogs. I feel hormone and antibiotic free are important also. The next level above this would be free range, organically grown animals if you can afford it. The ultimate is wild game if you have a hunter in the family. I have read studies that show even organically, free range fowl still did not have the same levels of certain nutrients as their wild counterparts living in the same area.
I really believe in the importance of the quality of the meat. I’ve read a case study that really illustrates this point. There was a case in Australia that involved the Dingo. I’m not sure if they still can, but farmers used to be able to shoot Dingos if they felt they were going to bother their livestock. This one farmer had a pack of 5 that lived on his farm for years and never bothered his sheep. But the farmer got nervous and against suggestions he decided to kill them. He managed to kill two of them which I guess satisfied the farmer. Keep in mind these Dingos never showed any interest in his sheep. Within one week, the remaining 3 Dingos began killing his sheep. Up until this point, the pack of 5 was happy to live alongside the sheep and farmer hunting the harder to catch wallaby. The Dingos preferred the higher quality, lean, wild meat of the wallaby over the domesticated sheep. After the farmer shot two of the pack, the remaining three could not catch the more desirable wallaby and out of survival, had to start killing the slower sheep. This shows that even with an easy source of meat, carnivores will choose the one that best satisfies their need for proper nutrition.
Another thing to think about is if you have access to real meat markets. I am talking about the ones where the animals are hanging with fur and feathers still on them. Or even better than this where you pick out the chicken or rabbit and they kill it for you right there. That way you can keep the offal and fur/feathers with the animal. It may take a little work, but you can teach your dog to pluck or skin the animal themselves. They just have to learn that there is food underneath and all they have to do is rip open the animal to get to the meat. Along the way they may even eat some fur or feathers as they do in the wild. A little side note, I am trying to do research on blood. I am trying to find out if there are any studies on how much blood is actually consumed during feedings in the wild and what kind of nutrients are present that might be lacking in our pet’s diets.
I feed my dogs once a day in the evening. Some people feed twice a day. It is up to you how often and when you feed your dog. The reason some feed twice a day is because they have true working dogs and want them to have less in their system when exercising. I believe in the “why”, but not in the execution. As I mention later on, a dog’s digestive systems work pretty fast. So even if I work my dogs hard during the day, if I feed them at night and have them poop in the morning, their meal will be out of their system. Another consideration for feeding them at night is that by nature, carnivores use a tremendous amount of energy to digest their food. That’s why they sleep after eating which is advantageous to me when I want them to chill in the house. This also brings up another point, which is fasting. A carnivore uses a huge amount of energy to digest their food. There is a school of thought out there that believes in fasting their dogs anywhere from once a month to once a week. The theory behind it is that the body uses that extra energy to work on other parts such as healing wounds or building the immune system. I see nothing wrong with this, but would only do it with a very healthy dog. Also I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis until the dog was done maturing. In nature, carnivores do go through regular stretches without food and suffer no ill effects. I’ve read one study that says a dog can lose up to 26% of its body weight before having damaging effects on the organs. Not something I would want to test, but I do believe it is ok for your dog to miss a few meals. I would rather skip a meal than feed my dog commercial food because I couldn’t get to the store.
The idea that dogs aren’t going to die if they miss a few meals is important for some people to really understand because their dog has them trained, not the other way around. Dogs are very good readers of our moods and body language. They will beg for food from people even if they have just eaten, and you would think the dog was starving by the way it was acting. They can be very opportunistic in the right situations. Your dog may act like they hate raw food at the beginning and refuse to eat. There are two approaches you can take to this. The first is to try other meats and find out what they may like and not like. I’m sure dogs may not like certain things just like us. But then the question is, how do you know if they really don’t like that food or just trying to manipulate you into giving them something they are used to like commercial food? I hear about many people who said they tried raw, but the dog didn’t like it. Come to find out they tried for five minutes or one meal and went right back to commercial food.
The bottom line is that you need to be comfortable with what you are doing. Some people advocate switching straight to raw and never look back while others say to feed 50/50 and wean off of commercial until you are on full raw. Most of the time I believe in switching completely to raw. I think that having a bag of commercial food in the house acts like a crutch and is too easy to fall back on. From the dog’s perspective I feel if you keep using commercial food, your dog is fighting multiple fronts. On one hand your dog’s digestive system is trying to process and deal with all the inefficiency in commercial food and at the same time, they now have to try and build good bacteria to try and process this new kind of food. I feel it just makes it harder on the dog and confuses the dog’s system. I have no studies or proof to back this up. It is just the conclusion I have come up with. Think about if you have ever eaten healthy for a period of time and then went to Burger King and ate a double whopper. All of a sudden your insides are doing flips and you are on the toilet for a day or two.
You have to understand that, especially with older dogs, your dog may not even recognize meat as a food source. Its whole life, it has been given a bunch of dry, hard nuggets in a bowl. That is all it knows. And on top of this, the dog has probably been scolded for getting into “real” food left out, in the trash, or found while walking around like road kill or a sandwich someone dropped. People have taught their dogs that the dry hard stuff in the bowel is all they can eat. So you may have to teach your dog that what is in front of them is “real” food. This is why I recommend chicken breast at first. It is rather bland and mild. Once your dog gets used to it, you can begin to introduce RMB such as chicken necks and backs. From here you can introduce stronger meats and different bones. If you are starting with something like whole chickens, you may have to split it open for the dog at first and sit there gently coaxing them to eat. There is a fine line in doing this though. You do not want to be impatient or lose your cool. You also don’t want to be so pushy, that you make a big deal out of it and cause the unintentional result of the dog associating this new food with something bad.
The second approach is to stick with the one meat and if the dog does not eat it after 15-20 minutes of patient coaxing, you put it away and they don’t eat that day. You continue to do this until the dog eats, or that you are confident it is a food they won’t eat. The amount of days you go is up to you. You might want to take into account your dog’s current body composition also. A more over weight dog can probably go longer without food then an already lean dog. This will have to be a judgment call on your part. At some point, the dog’s survival instincts will kick in and it will eat anything to survive. Am I willing to go to that extreme, probably not? The most I have gone is five days with a very healthy dog and they still wouldn’t eat something. I stopped at five, because of how well I knew the dog. He was on raw for well over a year and he was VERY food driven, so to refuse food was out of character. By five days of not eating anything and still refusing to eat, I knew he just did not want to eat that particular animal. This was reinforced when I brought out something else after the five days and he did not hesitate to eat it. This was all done confidently in knowing I was not harming my dog because I knew the dog well enough to rule out most of the variables that would make someone second guess themselves. There is no substitute for knowing the animals you care for inside and out! Also do not rule out that item fully. Later on down the road you can try it again and see if you have the same results. The dog could have had a bad day, that particular piece of meat might not of smelled right…the list goes on. It is the same with training. If you tried playing ball or Frisbee with your dog and they aren’t interested, try it again a few months later with a different ball or environment. This has happened to me several times where the dog took to the exercise like it had been doing it for years when just a month prior, it wanted nothing to do with it.
Never rule anything out!
Also be patient. This is all new to your dog! PATIENCE is the key!
Meats: It is pretty much limited by your imagination and wallet. The only meat I know of that should not be fed raw is salmon and bear meat. If you want to feed salmon look into which can and can’t be eaten and then really trust your source. I just play it safe and don’t deal with salmon at all.
There have been a few studies that have shown that a dog can have excellent blood panels their entire lives only being fed chicken backs and necks their whole lives. I support this to some degree, but I do not have the resources to confidently monitor this so I do feed a variety of things over the course of months to better give the dog a range of nutrients. Remember that you should think in the long term on feeding variety. By this I mean over weeks or months. Your dog doesn’t need 3 or 4 kinds of meat every day in a different combination every week. Think how any wild carnivore eats throughout the seasons. Their food changes depending on what is available at that time a year.
Hearts and gizzards are considered meat in terms of raw feeding.
FISH: Fish is very good for dogs. Many dogs lived good lives on fish heads and guts before the commercialization of dog food. As stated earlier I would stay away from salmon. You can feed fish whole carcass also. If the fish is fresh caught you can feed with innards intact. Some people don’t take the fins off and others say that you should cut the fins off. I feel that is a personal choice that you need to be comfortable with. In the past I have cut them off because I felt they were too hard and sharp on the kind of fish I was feeding.
RMB (raw meaty bones): This is the bones of any animal that your dog can crush and then digest. This comes in two forms. The first is smaller animals that you can feed whole including, but not limited to: birds, fowl, rabbits, mice, squirrels, chipmunks… You can use any combination of these animals cut up as well. I use a lot of chicken necks and backs because of the price, which helps offset the cost of more expensive cuts of meat. I do feed chickens whole on a regular basis. I have access to chickens in a wide range of sizes so most of the time I am able to get the proper size for a meal. I do nothing to them except place them out on the deck for the dogs to eat. Bones of bigger animals also fall into this category such as veal breast, rib cages and things like that. Don’t be afraid to get creative. As a treat I feed my dogs whole sheep skulls (cut in half the long ways) as a meal. All that is left is a couple of teeth and part of the lower jaw bone. This means they got to eat a different density bone along with, eyes, tongue, cartilage, and brain.
Do not feed cooked bones! Cooked bones can be very harmful to your dog and can splinter. That part is not an old wives tale. The part that is a myth is about not being able to eat any bones. You will get people questioning you and even arguing with you. I ask people if they think wild carnivores invented fire. What do you think they eat in the wild? They aren’t all standing around a campfire cooking up rabbit, quail and bison and then de-boning it. They eat it raw.
Organ Meats: This is pretty much the liver and the kidney of the animal. Liver has the most nutrients, but is also the richest so feeding too much can give too much of some minerals and will cause diarrhea. I would feed sparingly in the beginning because it will cause diarrhea! I found you can give a little over a few days instead of all at once to help their system coupe. When fed liver, poop will be dark! Don’t confuse this with bloody stool. But that is something to look at, and will discuss in a moment. Green tripe is also very good, but I can’t source it locally and just have never ordered it to try. It has to be green tripe though. That means unbleached, which basically isn’t for human consumption. I do believe dogs need liver and kidney to have a balanced diet, but I personally don’t feel it is quite as urgent as some people make it out to be. I do feed both but not really on a schedule. The reason for this, and again I have no scientific proof, is that look at a pack of wolves or even feral dogs. You have a hierarchy which is in place every day from breeding rights to feeding. The breeding male and female have the right to eat first. This means they get their choice and fill of the animal. Some of the organs such as the liver are high in fats and nutrients so I would assume most of the time they eat this. I’m pretty sure they are not sitting around the carcass dividing a liver into equal parts so all pack members can have some. This is an example of where the strong keeps getting stronger, but not essential for healthy survival.
Fat: Fat is to a dog as carbohydrates are to humans! Feeding fat to your dog will not make them fat! They need this fat to convert it into energy. I have read where some true, working class dogs eat as much as 75% fat daily in their diets. I feel that is the equivalent to the diet of an Olympic athlete. Yes, some need that at that level, but most dogs do not fall into that category. I am rethinking my view on fat lately though. I do agree dogs need their fat to maintain a healthy life, but the animals we generally have access to are domesticated. Why is this important for me to think about? Because wild animals do not have this kind of fat throughout their muscles and bodies all year long. I do know heart disease and obesity are huge in the dog world. This could be for a few reasons such as all the trans fats, carbohydrates, grains, and even lack of exercise. I can’t say if that translates into the feeding of excessively fat, domesticated animals we grow, but it is something I am considering. I do know some dogs can get too much fat for their digestive system to handle which results in diarrhea.
Grass and other fruits and vegetables: Except for the wolf, though they will on occasion, many carnivores of the Canis species have been studied and observed eating grasses as a consistent part of their diet. Why then do dogs eat so much grass that they throw it back up? Most of these dogs are on commercial diets and not getting enough trace minerals and vitamins they need, so when they find grass they want/need, they gorge themselves trying to get enough which causes them to throw up. Your dog probably will eat grass. It is normal to seek out certain grasses and want to eat them. If you notice your dog is eating large quantities of grass it may be a sign of not enough of something or maybe something irritating their bowel. Once again this is a judgment call on your part and only you can know if it is normal or not. The same goes for fruits and vegetables. I do not feed a lot of them on a regular basis. Some people do and some don’t. If you want to, I’ve read percentages ranging from 10-15% of the total daily intake. In order to make this useable to your dog you need to either puree the vegetables, or freeze them first. Dogs do not have the proper enzymes to be able to break down the cell walls of plants and use their nutrients in any kind of efficient manner.
Where to feed: This is something I am trying to come up with a better answer for people. I am fortunate enough to feed my dogs on my back porch. I take the food and put it in a pile on the deck. I only use bowels when I am feeding something like chicken hearts and mixing in supplements. Anything of size or has bone in it, the dog will drag out of the bowl before they eat it. Trust me, a dog on raw will not hover over their bowl eating like with dry dog food. It is even ok to feed on the lawn or in the dirt. All these little things that get stuck to the food like grass and dirt all add up to the dog getting trace minerals and vitamins. In the wild wolves do not have stainless steel bowls they eat out of. On the occasion it is raining too hard or too cold, I feed inside out of bowls. Usually I have enough different kinds of food on hand I can change up the meal for that day to something smaller like chicken heart or cut up beef heart into bite size chunks and they don’t scatter it too bad across the kitchen floor. I just don’t feed bone that day. It’s no big deal. When they are done, I wipe up the floor where they ate with a non-toxic vinegar solution. If you have a crate with a plastic bottom or tray you can feed in there and then clean it out when they are done. Most people don’t have multiple crates so this is a pain if you have to take their bedding out. As I said, I am still trying to come up with a good solution for somebody who has to feed consistently in the house that is easy to do and clean. Maybe a puppy play pen is a good option for somebody? All you would have to do is choose an area that is easy to clean and then accordion out the pen and then fold it back flat when you were done. To do with temperature, it is going to depend on the breed of dog and you knowing how comfortable your dog is in the cold. I have short haired dogs with no undercoats and I feed outside most of the year.
POOP: I have been talking about digestion a lot. How do you know if the digestion is working properly? You have to become the master of the poop. That’s right! You are going to become an expert on your dog’s poop. Between looking at how lean your dog’s body is and what their poop looks like you will be able to adjust the diet accordingly without worrying about the numbers and percentages you learned earlier. Many health issues can be caught early if you are aware of how and what your dog is pooping. A dog’s digestive system is very short compared to ours and very acidic. This translates to not staying in their system for very long. It can take in the area of 6 hours for food to completely pass through their system. This does not mean your dog is going to poop more and frequenter. I know you’re relieved! On raw your dog will actually poop less. The reason for this is that the food going into your dog is much more biologically available to them. This makes your dog more efficient with what it eats. More of what it is consuming is being processed and used for energy. So less, more nutrient available food goes in, and even less poop comes out. A good example is corn. Even though a lot of manufacturers are going away from it, it still is heavily used and the fillers replacing it are not any better. In a perfect world, with 1 being the most useable with all the right amino acids, corn is .54. This means when you feed your dog corn, only half of it can be used. That is provided all the right amino acids are in place and your dog is at 100% efficiency. To put it another way, if your dog was perfect, they would still poop out half of what they ate. Muscle meat for instance is around a .92 so you are looking at only 8% inefficiency. Also did I mention the poop won’t smell and if you really have your dog dialed in it will turn to white powder in a couple of days and literally disappear?
Chances are your dog, depending on age, will have to get used to eating raw and may go through a time period of diarrhea. If this is going to happen, it usually lasts for about a week. A lot of people won’t work through this and give up. It will get better and normalize. If it doesn’t you may want to add some probiotics to aid in digestion. Older dogs that have been on commercial food their whole lives may not have enough live bacteria in their system and may need help to get it kick started. You can also look at if you are feeding too much fat or liver in the beginning. Both of these will cause diarrhea. To help limit this, a lot of times people will start off with chicken breast or you can remove the skin from the meat and cut the fat off. Then you can introduce it more and more as you go along. By introducing one meat at a time you can see how your dog reacts to it. I don’t feed my dogs pork in any form except for heart. The reason is one of my dogs gets very bad gas and diarrhea whenever he eats it. He eats it and likes it, but suffers afterwards. I found this out pretty easily because I knew exactly what I was feeding and could eliminate one thing at a time until I figured out what was causing the problem. Try doing that with a commercial food with 30 different ingredients.
Poop should be firm. If it seems too hard or it comes out in a bunch of small nuggets then probably there was too much bone. Not a big deal. Don’t completely change the diet. Just tweak it a little. Remember the long term focus I’ve been talking about. A day here and a day there is no big deal. You just don’t want it to continue on a steady basis for weeks or months on end. Now if you have loose stool where it’s not really formed, but not diarrhea, you can add a little more bone. This back and forth is one reason I first started feeding my bone and muscle together as in a whole carcass approach. I say this because many schools feed twice a day with one meal consisting of meat and organ and the other meal RMBs. I kept going back and forth between poops that were too hard or two soft until it dawned on me to just feed the two together.
Blood in the poop is something else to look for. This is not necessarily something to be alarmed about, but can be an indicator to something going on in your dog that many owners never catch because they are not poop experts. A little blood in the poop can be a normal thing from time to time. Your dog is eating bones and they can be abrasive so the intestine or anal walls can be cut. You will see bone fragments in the poop. You don’t want to see a lot of blood in the poop and have it be there consistently over a period of time. This could be a sign of something more serious.
Other things to look for in the poop are worms. If you see moving worms in your dog’s poop then I suggest taking her to the vet and have the poop tested. BEFORE YOU GIVE YOUR DOG WORM MEDICATION PLEASE THINK ABOUT AND WEIGH THE OTHER EFFECTS IT HAS ON YOUR DOG!!!!!! That and vaccinations are for another day, but your dog is eating raw meat so one can assume it has some worms. Worms are normal and pose no threat if they are managed by a healthy immune system. There is supplementation (fresh garlic, has to be fresh for enzymes to be active, and food grade diatomaceous earth) you can do that will add an extra layer of protection.
Eating poop is a big one for people. Why do dogs want to eat poop? They are eating other dog’s poop because both dogs are probably not in optimal health and not getting proper nutrition. The big smelly poop your dog will no longer have was from all the indigestible ingredients in it. So when a dog finds another dog’s poop and finds things in it they need, they eat it. It breaks my heart when I hear about people punishing their dogs for either eating their own, or another dog’s poop. The dog is doing it out of survival instinct. I have yet to see a dog eat the poop of a dog on raw. This is because what is left has no more nutritional value. I rarely hear about a dog on raw eating other dogs poop. I will say from experience that my dogs still want to eat deer poop. This may seem gross to some people, but I let them for the most part. I look at it as it came from an herbivore, so all they are eating are partially digested plant matter full of trace minerals and vitamins. If you really watch your dog doing this, they don’t just start devouring any deer poop they find. They ignore some and eat others. They are picking and choosing what poop to eat. This tells me that they are doing this for a very specific reason. If they are consciously deciding to eat some and not others, I feel they know that something is in it they need. I have not read any studies on the subject, but I would venture a guess that wild Canis probably eat this kind of poop. This behavior of picking and choosing is also true for dogs eating grass. If you observe dogs eating grass, they hunt out specific kinds, and patches to eat. They don’t just run out and start mowing your lawn. You can even observe older dogs taking puppies around and teaching them which grasses to eat.
I haven’t touched on the actual act of pooping. Depending on how old your dog is, it may take a little while for them to actually learn how to poop. Yes, your dog may need to learn how to poop!!! You are going to have to be patient with your dog. Up until this point in its life it probably hasn’t really had to know how to poop. The reason for this is because of the commercial dog food it has been on its whole life. Most likely up to this point, when your dog has squatted to poop, almost instantly this big, loose, smelly poop has slide onto the ground. There really was no effort on your dog’s part to make this happen. Now your dog is going to have to learn how to use their anal muscles and push the poop out. Think about never doing a sit up in your life and then having to do them every day. It will look like your dog is struggling and you may think they have constipation. This is normal until they get the hang of it. The real test as to whether or not its constipation is to look at the poop. Is it firm and nicely formed? If yes then they’re OK. With anything to do with your dog, you are the best gauge to know if something is normal or not. That comes with knowing your dog’s individual quirks and oddities just like with us.
The poop schedule will most likely change dramatically. I still take my dogs out for normal bathroom breaks, but it is more to pee than anything. I have stopped worrying about whether or not my dog has to poop every time they pee. My dogs, and others I know, usually poop once a day if that. Their bodies are very efficient at using what they eat if they are eating the proper food. So don’t worry if your dog doesn’t take a massive poop every time they have to pee! Something to think about as you really get to know your dog’s poop is the amount. As I’ve said earlier, it should be substantially smaller than before. This is influenced as I said by how efficient your dog’s system is. Some dogs are more efficient than others and I believe that is part of the contributing factor to how much certain dogs have to be fed than others. So with that said, once you learn how much your dog does poop out, you can use that as a gauge to know what foods work better for your dog and maybe an early warning sign to an underlying health problem. If your dog suddenly starts pooping more volume just take note and try and figure out why their digestive system isn’t as efficient as it used to be. It could be nothing. Just pay attention that’s all.
Water: Your dog will consume so much less water that you will get nervous! Don’t worry it’s normal. Muscle is made up of roughly 60-75% water. Dry dog food is between 6-10% moisture. So the same as if we eat fresh, unprocessed foods, it’s the same for your dog. They are getting that much more moisture in their food. Just imagine if you had to eat crackers your whole life and how much water you would have to drink. The biggest problem you will have with this is to remember to change the water every day because your dog won’t be polishing off bowls anymore. Something else to think about is salt content in commercial food. I have seen studies that have tested foods and showed salt percentages in the 3-6% range, and sometimes even higher. There is no law that governs the maximum salt that can be put into pet food, only the minimum. Just to give you a comparison, the ocean is around 3%. Salt isn’t entirely an evil thing. Living mammals need salt for survival. That is why I sometimes tell clients to put down a second water bowel with a salt solution in it. This acts as a salt lick for your dog. This gives them the choice to either drink the regular water or the salt mixture based on their body’s needs.
SUPPLEMENTS: Some people believe that by supplementing on a raw, whole carcass diet you are negating the cost of feeding raw. I don’t go crazy with supplements and I am still learning what I feel is important. Supplementation may also change with your dog’s needs and time of year. Once again, the more you are informed, the better choices you can make. Here are a few that I use and/or recommend, depending on needs.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) I feel, is a very important one to consider. There is a whole book written on the subject called: How To Have A Healthier Dog. Ascorbic acid is the building block for collagen. Collagen is the building block for all the cells in the body. Good collagen means good cells and good cells that can reproduce and heal, means a healthy strong body. There are so many things ascorbic acid can do when supplemented: keeping the immune system healthy, cuts down on antibiotic usage, slows the aging process, detoxifies the body, and acts as a painkiller to name a few. Veterinarian Wendell Belfield would intravenously use vitamin C on dogs and cats and do amazing things. He even proved that hip dysplasia could be slowed and prevented in dogs. It is not just a hereditary trait that has to be carefully controlled through breeding. Many diseases that generally need harsh antibiotics or vaccinations can be treated or prevented with Vitamin C.
Dr. Belfield realized that when you looked at the hips of a dog with hip dysplasia, it looked exactly like a human with scurvy. The cause of scurvy in humans is vitamin C deficiency. So he started using the vitamin in his practice in large doses to help many ailments dogs were having. Hip dysplasia was the most important. He showed that if you bred two dogs with the problem, but started the mother on vitamin C and then the puppies throughout their lives, litter after litter was dysplasia free! This stigma of not being able to do anything about it is still rampant throughout the dog community. You have “experts” telling the world that dogs make their own vitamin C so they do not need to supplement it. The problem with this statement is that dogs are very poor at making vitamin C. Compared to other animals, they make very little per kg of body weight per day. I feel that it may be enough for them to live relatively healthy in the wild, but not in our busy, urban environments. Studies have shown that under high stress situations, dogs can deplete all their vitamin C stores in an hour. Once this happens, they are forever trying to restore their levels back to normal while dealing with stress. I would have to argue that most dogs, no matter how carefree their lives may seem, are not living in their natural habitat, thus living under constant stress. How can we compare our homes or apartments to the quiet woods?
It is also thought to be helpful in stopping and preventing growth problems such as knuckling-over in dogs. Many people think it is too much protein that causes this and recommend that you pretty much starve your dog by cutting back on already poor, quality protein foods. If this was true, why is it very rare to see any dog that its parents are on raw and they are on raw to have this growing issue? I believe it’s a combination of the proper, bio-available protein, and a properly prepared immune system, which means there is seldom a shortage of collagen. Even if there are signs of knuckling-over, I wouldn’t want to cut back on food, instead I would want to increase the vitamin C to be able to keep up with the demand in collagen to grow healthy bones, joints and ligaments. I have had first-hand experience in helping puppies with knuckling issues. By putting them on a raw diet with vitamin C, combined with the proper rest, got them free of the issue in less than two weeks. And I never cut back on their food.
If you are going to use this I would start in 500 mg doses. You stay steady for three days or more and if the poop, yes, poop again, is good you move up another 500 mg. You keep doing this until your dog has consistent diarrhea and back off to last good dose. This number can be anywhere from 1,000mg all the way up to 10,000mg. It seems to be on the lower end for dogs on raw in my experience. What you are looking for is bowel tolerance. This may fluctuate depending on time of year and your dog’s health. Just like with us, we sometimes need more or less of something. If your dog starts to get diarrhea and you know nothing else has changed, try lowering the dose. You can do the same thing to see if the dog needs more by raising the dose. Pay attention to your dog’s stress levels also. It might be a good idea to see if they can handle a higher dose when you know more is going on. The vitamin C level can be depleted very quickly in high stress situations. Animals, even humans, can only take in so much through digestion. That is why intravenously is so great because it bypasses the weak link and goes directly to where it is needed. It works orally; it just takes a longer period of time to work. Keep in mind don’t introduce this while introducing raw. You want to let the body get used to one thing before you introduce another.
Vitamin E is another very important supplement. Synthetic can be used, but I feel natural is better. If using real vitamin E, try to give it with food because it is oil based and needs fatty acids to absorb efficiently. It improves the immune system, helps with muscle stamina, protects from air pollution, helps skin, helps with tiredness and makes other vitamins and minerals absorb and work more efficient. Dosages range from 100-400 IU a day, but I know of no known side effects of higher dosages. I’ve read where some breeders were giving as much as 1,200 IU a day for long periods of time with amazing results.
Fish oil is a great supplement. It helps with inflammation of the joints. I have given my dogs 10,000mg-12,000mg a day with no issues and it made a huge difference with lameness and hip issues. If you are feeding fish on a regular basis this may not be needed. If you are going to use this, look for Omega-3. You don’t need a complex or Omega-6. Your dog gets all the Omega-6 they need from eating raw meat.
There is debate on this subject and I do not have a fully formed opinion on it. Dogs are supposed to be able to convert Omega-6 into Omega-3 in order to keep the proper ratio. This ratio is the platform many of these supplement makers are using to draw you in. They say your dog needs the Omega-3 to put them in the right ratio. Why do our dogs have the wrong ratio to begin with? Could it be that processed food like commercial kibble is preventing a proper conversion? I really don’t know. I think on a raw diet this is not such a pressing issue. I think the dog is getting a more bio-available Omega-6 which then in turn allows them to convert to Omega-3.
Another thing I feel I need to point out is that I have read debates that dogs in fact, can’t even do this conversion. I have no first hand, scientific proof one way or the other on the subject. But common sense leads me to believe they can. I have thought long and hard about it, and if we “have” to supplement Omega-3 in our dog’s diet, why haven’t all the Canis species in the world died off from lack of Omega-3 supplementation? You have huge populations of Canis in the world that rarely, if ever, get to eat fish and they are living healthy lives.
Food grade Diatomaceous Earth helps to pull toxins and heavy metals out of the body. It also scrubs the walls of the intestines and loosens up worms to keep them under control. I know this works as a preventative measure in healthy dogs. I am not sure if it can fight off an infestation of them, but as a general rule, a healthy raw eating dog should have a healthy immune system and therefore not get overrun with worms to begin with. This also works great if dusted externally on your dog to kill fleas. Just be very cautious and don’t leave it on for more than twenty minutes because it is very drying. That is how it actually kills the fleas. It draws the moisture from them much along the lines of how hornet spray works. You then can bath them in a homemade, non-toxic herbal shampoo.
Apple Cider Vinegar in its raw form can be used for many different things. This is up for debate so do your research and make your own decision. I do use it for myself and my dogs. It can be used topically to repel fleas and insects. It can be used to help pet dander (I actually have a post on my website I found on the subject). It can be used to rub into sore muscles. Taken internally it can change the PH of your dog and help with the immune system. It is alkaline, not acidic so you need to be careful how much you give your dog. It is suggested by some to check your dog’s PH level before using it internally.
Alfalfa powder is inexpensive and has great trace minerals and nutrients. It is a grass and your dog probably will want to eat grass anyways so…at the very least helps in winter when there is no grass.
Spirulina or blue-green algae have many minerals and nutrients in it.
Echinacea and Goldenseal if you feel your dog’s immune system is low or is about to be tested.
NOTE: Even if dogs show no sign of food aggression, I still try to never take food from a dog. This is because I want the dogs I work with to only associate me and food with providing it for them. I don’t want them to associate me with taking food away. By taking food from a dog you are sending mixed signals to your dog. Many people think they are the “alpha” and should be able to take the food from the dog. If the dog tries to defend it, then it is challenging their authority. This is a very old school way of thinking and as I said earlier, the term alpha gets missed used too often and I feel it should not have a place in our relationship with our dogs.
You want to be a leader to your dog. A leader is someone the dog respects and follows. A leader should be fair and believe it or not, in the wild this is true of wolves. They are not a violent dictatorship. If that was the case, wolves would kill themselves over stupid stuff every day. Yes, there is punishment, but it is swift, fair, and only as harsh as it needs to be to get the results needed. It is never overdone. In the wild, a wolf has the right to defend its food, even from the leader if it had it first. Also, a fair leader will never take back food after giving it. So if you give your dog food and then start messing with it just to show you can, that is not being fair to your dog. And by instinctual rights, nobody should blame the dog if it decided one day that it had enough and went after you. Genetically a dog should want to defend its food. That is survival. Unfortunately, food guarding is still used as green light to euthanize dogs in many shelter settings. If you understand that every dog has the potential to resource guard food and that it is a “normal” trait, why would you want to bully a dog around? That is not showing respect to the dog and is not showing the dog you are a fair leader they should respect in return. It is a simple thing of nurture over nature. If you understand it is natural for a dog to want to guard its food, then it is pretty easy to nurture the response we want which is show no sign of guarding. You can do this by simply never giving the dog the association that you will take their food. I just don’t pick up the dog’s food, or bowl in their presence unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your dog doesn’t finish their food, just let them into the house and pick it up later. It’s that easy!
The idea of fair leadership is the same for multiple dog households. If you are the fair leader, then you are looking out for every member of your pack. It is your responsibility to make sure there are no bullies in the pack. If one dog tries to take the food from the other, even if the other dog lets them, you need to stop it. A dog within a pack has the right to the food given to them, no matter the hierarchy. It is your job to provide that structure to your dogs. If the dog is done with the food and leaves the area, it is perfectly ok for the other dog to then go and eat the food, if it is ok with you.
I hope this answered some questions for people or at least made you feel a little more confident about feeding raw if you were on the fence. Only you can make the final decision if you are going to feed your dog raw or not. I do not claim to know everything, but I have a thirst for knowledge so I am constantly learning, and feel I can explain my reasons for what I do even to the “experts” out there. This is because I feel I made myself informed of all the good, and the potential downside to my actions. I have weighed them out and I am willing to stand by my decisions.
If there are questions you have that I may not have answered, please feel free to ask.