A little over 2 years ago I started feeding raw diet, mostly as a bit of an experiment. I did my research (mostly online, of course. The internet is good for some things) and have 19 years as a Registered Veterinary Technician and all the experience (and other people's experiences) that brings. In researching I concluded several things:
- There is no One Way. Feeding raw is about as individual as the dog and the person feeding the dog.
- Feeding raw is not for everyone, or every dog for that matter. It's not the end all be all.
- Feeding raw can either be very very simple, or very very complicated. It depends on the person feeding and the pre-set level of neurosis, anxiety, creativity and self education that individual brings to the game.
- There has been a 'study' done on just about argument for or against raw food diets, and there are many incidents of old, outdated data being sited for or against feeding ANY diet, raw or processed. Data is data; look at the study design, how long ago the study was done (the most commonly sited studies are dated 2002, some earlier), the number of study subjects, the duration of the study, the methods used to gather and record the data. Know what qualifies as normal results and what qualifies as abnormal. Having worked in the Biotech industry for 5 years I know how results can be 'creatively interrupted' (skewed) to fit the researchers wants and needs. Be careful with what you buy into.
- Feeding raw is not 'simpler' than feeding processed kibble on a daily basis. It's not as difficult as most people imagine. But nothing could be simpler than tearing open a bag and scooping out daily feedings of "nutritionally balanced", dry and sanitary kibble, right?
- Feeding raw can be far cheaper than feeding a kibble-n-canned diet, or conversely, more expensive. Depends on how you buy your meat, where you buy it, what kind of meat you buy, in what quantity, etc. The exact same can be said for commercial brand kibble/canned food.
- Raw diet results in far less solid waste (poop!) and drastically reduced gaseous secretions (farting).
- Dental health is much improved feeding a raw diet
- Tailor the diet to fit the dog, no 'one rule' applies to all.
What to feed them?
Kibble and canned food is simple; give 'em a scoop of kibble and half a can of whatever-processed-mush twice a day and call it good. Wash the bowls every now and then. But raw food? Major confusion! It's actually pretty easy. Here's what we choose from:
Chicken backs/leg quarters/wings/feet
Ground beef (high fat)
(when available, on occasion)
Venison (fresh, all parts minus skin/head and spine parts/gi tract)
Mutton (fresh, all parts minus skin/head and spine parts/gi tract)
Fish (no raw salmon, no shellfish, no foreign farmed fish)
|Lamb Breast processing; cutting board and a sharp cleaver.|
Vegetables and Fruits(regularly)
Everything except onions, garlic, grapes and raisins (these can be toxic in even small amounts)
Everything raw is ground in a food processor to break down the cellulose in order to be digested
Sweet potatoes are cooked
Canned kidney beans/black beans/sweet red beans
Grains (semi regularly, on occasion)
Wheat germ, flax seed, quick cooking barley, farro, quick cooking dried sprouted beans and lentils, wild rice, quinoa (all in small amounts, grains are cooked)
raw and cooked
|We have 10 chickens pumping out eggs daily, obviously I feed the dogs eggs. We||'d be awash in eggs if I didn't.|
Whole fat yogurt
Fish oil capsules
Vitamin E capsules
Multivitamins (whatever I'm taking)
Glucosamine/Chondroitin (special circumstances)
|Veggie-sludge, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, wheat germ and ground beef. Yuck.|
This is a big list, but it's by no means everything that can be fed. It's what we choose from. To skinny it down even further? Here's what I actually feed:
|Frozen chicken backs in bulk, it's how we roll.|
- I feed once a day on average, around 4pm. Chicken backs or turkey necks. When I buy a huge beef brisket, they get beef without bones for a few days. Same goes for the lamb breast. Then we go back to chicken backs and turkey necks.
- About 4 times a week I feed an additional morning mini-meal consisting of ground beef or small chicken parts
- They get a few bites of organ meats about once a week. More if I find it in bulk quantities.
- Veggie mix is sporadic, mixed with dairy and raw eggs about twice to 3 times a week. Sometimes not at all until I make up a fresh batch.
- Grains are few and very far between. Usually a quinoa, or cooked farro....most often leftovers from our dinner.
- Supplements are sporadic as well, if I remember to take mine, the dogs get theirs. Multi-vitamins are Women's Formulation with the folic acid and other girl stuff, mostly because I'm a girl and Dee is an intact female as well. Figure it can't hurt.
- Everybody gets some of my breakfast: scrambled eggs, an omelette or oatmeal everyday. I get VERY LITTLE BREAKFAST based on this feeding system, each dog gets a mouthful or two. So why am I still so fat???
- I feed outside on the back lawn about 80% of the time. If it's super cold or super rainy they eat inside out of pails or in a crate (I lay down dog blankets on the carpets). If I'm working in the garden at feeding time and they're all confined to the dog run, they'll eat in the run.
- I watch them eat, their meals are handed to them individually. It's actually a very soothing break in the day to spend 10 or 15 minutes observing my dogs while they eat. It also gives me an opportunity to give each dog a quick health/attitude assessment. Lack of appetite never goes unobserved around here.
- Food pails are washed daily, or as they are used.
How Much to Feed Them?
- Darby Crash (92lb intact male greyhound, 2years old); 1 1/2 - 2 lb meat per day
- Andretti Ducatti (80lb neutered male greyhound, 6 1/2 years old); 3/4 - 1 1/4lb meat per day
- D-Squared (69lb intact female greyhound, 6 1/2 years old); 1-1 1/2lb meat per day
- Q (17lb neutered male Italian Greyhound, 4 years old); 1/3-1/2 lb of meat per day
|Andretti Ducati, Dee Dee (D-Square), Darby Crash and.....Q (photos from January 2011)|
- Veggie mix is usually about 2 tablespoons of ground veggies/yogurt and cottage cheese each.
- Wheat germ and flax seed are sprinkled on the veggie mix.
- Fish oils and other oils are about 1 capsule each, when I remember to give them.
- Multivitamins are snapped in half, quartered for the little guy, when I remember to give them.
This is how I feed, it is by no means the only way to do it though. I get a lot of questions and comments about feeding raw food. Here are some of the most common;
What about the bones? I've been told never to feed bones. Won't a dog choke on bones? Aren't they sharp, couldn't that cause a punctured stomach?
|We draw the line when dinner is the size of her head.|
Dogs are well equipped to process bones, from the moment it hits their mouths to the moment it hits the lawn (end of the line, poop-style). If you take a look inside a dog's mouth you'll see those pre-molars and molars are big and sharp; extremely efficient at crushing and grinding. Their front teeth and the big canine teeth grip and position the food, the back teeth break it into 'gulp-able' pieces. Contrary to what it sounds like while they're 'chewing', dogs do not really chew their food like we do. They crunch up the big pieces and swallow it whole. All the big work is done elsewhere, starting in the stomach.
The industrial strength acid in a dog's stomach softens and almost completely dissolves bone matter. How do I know this for sure (beyond a veterinary specific education and skill-set)? Well, sometimes they vomit. It's not uncommon for dogs to vomit occasionally on a raw diet (or any diet, for that matter; puke happens). Being a vet tech, I get a little obsessed over vomit. :) So on the rare occasion that it happens, of course I inspect it. When there has been bone in the vomit, it's usually quite pliable (fingernail soft). I'm sure that somewhere out there is someone whose dog has had a piece of raw bone cause some internal damage, but in almost 20 years in veterinary medicine the only bone issues I've seen have been from cooked bones. COOKED BONES ARE VERY DANGEROUS FOR DOGS, NEVER EVER GIVE A DOG COOKED BONES. Cooked bones will puncture an esophagus, a stomach, intestines. They can lacerate gums and can puncture the roof of a dog's mouth. DO NOT FEED COOKED BONES, EVEN AS A SUPERVISED TREAT.
Some types of raw bones can be hazardous to a dogs mouth;
- Round marrow bones can get stuck on the bottom of a dogs jaw. If the hole in the center is large enough to loop around the bottom canines you get to take a trip to the ER to have it sawed off! Been there, done that several times (not my dogs, clients dogs at the Emergency Hospital). Always good fun!
- Marrow bones and other very hard beef bones (soup bones, rib bones) can fracture teeth if the dog chews too vigorously on them, sometimes even just bites down on them wrong. Very hard long-bones, rib bones and large vertebrae (spine bones) should just be avoided as a general rule.
Doesn't raw meat have bad bacteria? What about Salmonella and E.Coli? Couldn't that make my dog sick? I have kids, I don't want them to get sick, and besides, my dog gives me kisses and I don't want to get sick because of bad bacteria.
Yes, raw meat comes with bacteria on it. Yes, Salmonella and E.Coli are on that list. Yes, studies have shown that dogs pass Salmonella out the back end (in their feces). Will it make your dog sick? Probably not, unless your dog has an underlying immune system weakness or some other disease process that makes his GI tract susceptible to bacterial overload.
Dogs have an enzyme in their saliva that has some antibacterial properties, this is a good start. They have wicked strong stomach acids that will dissolve almost anything and is not conducive to bacterial growth. Dogs can hold food in their stomachs for up to 8 hours while passing small amounts of digested food through a fairly short intestinal tract. Even if the 'bad bacteria' survive the stomach's acid environment, they're unlikely to have enough time in the intestines to reproduce to the point of dangerous overload (again, if your dog has an underlying disease process that slows the GI tract we're in a completely different ballpark). This is opposite what we as humans do; we pass food out of the stomach quickly, but hold it in a much longer intestinal tract for up to 60 hours. Sixty. No wonder we get sick so easily. So yes, studies will show that Salmonella spp. is cultured from the poo of dogs fed raw diet. It's also cultured from the poo of dogs fed commercial brand kibble. Sure, it's cultured from the raw food you propose to feed your dog, it's also been cultured from random commercial kibble and it could also be cultured from the 3-day-dead ground squirrel your dog just gulped down. And indeed, just like everywhere else in life you find dangerous bacteria, you and your children and grandma could get very ill.
The solution is simple: good sanitation.
- Clean food prep areas, feeding areas (unless it's the backyard like me), feeding bowls as if you were going to be inspected by the FDA and your mother....and your pediatrician for good measure.
- Invest in a case of food prep gloves. This is my best suggestion for the 'grossness factor' when feeding messy sticky bacteria laden raw meat: WEAR GLOVES. They're cheap, you can wash them and re-use them if you're worried about landfills and the future of the planet, but seriously, food prep gloves are where it's at!
- If you have kids who play in the yard where the dog deposits his bacteria-tainted (studies have proven!) waste....clean it up religiously! No poo = one less thing for your kid to put in his or her mouth and get sick from. Better yet, teach your kids about good hygiene and how to spell Salmonella. Even better? Give them a pair of gloves and a poop scooper and teach them how to help keep themselves safe. More on poo later.
- If you're worried about your dog kissing you on the face and giving you a wolluping dose of deadly bacteria maybe you should institute a "dog-kiss-timeout" immediately after feeding time. Give that super-antibacterial dog spit time to work. However, consider this; This is an animal who routinely roto-roots it's own butthole with it's tongue (hygiene!), eats cat turds from the litterbox, licks other animals junk and taste-tests every good pee-spot in the neighborhood. This is the same tongue he turns around and uses unabashedly on your face or heaven forbid, in your mouth. If you cannot bring yourself to restrict "kissie time" or find that indeed, your dogs tongue has seen the inside of your mouth on more than an accidental occasion, perhaps this is a good time to re-evaluate your relationship with the dog. You can love your dog, but please, don't LOVE your dog.
- On a serious note, if you or someone in the household is immune compromised, an infant/ very young toddler or extremely aged perhaps raw diet is not a great idea. If your dog has a weak immune system or GI disease, it is possible that a raw diet would cause more trouble than good.
Yup, worms are definitely on the Gross List, and some percentage of some types of raw meat may actually be host to an encysted form of worm (not the actual long wiggly worm, the short non-wiggly larval form).
But let's be realistic; your dog is more likely to get tapeworms (from fleas), heartworms (from mosquitoes), roundworms (from soil or eating infected rodents), hookworms (from wild animal poo, soil or eating infected rodents). Regular visits to your vet with twice yearly fecal exams and a yearly heartworm test in addition to heartworm preventative and flea control will pretty much cover any parasitic concerns, meat born parasites included. That being said, one of my biggest concerns with the parasite issue was/is Trichinosis, or 'Pork Roundworm'. Not to be confused with Trichimoniasis, which is a nasty little STD and has absolutely nothing to do with raw food diet. No, this is Trichinella spiralis, a roundworm rarely found in pork from the US, and sometimes found in wild boar and some other wild game (boar and cougar). There's a lot of information online about this parasite and being very careful about undercooked or uncooked pork products, however, there have very very few reported cases of human infection in the US in the past 12 years and of those cases, most were determined to be from wild game or meat sourced outside of the US. US regulations on how and what pigs are fed have all but eradicated this problem in US raised pork. As for my dogs? I don't feed any form of raw pork. No need to, with all the other choices. If you do decide to feed uncooked pork though, do your research and know this (thank you Wikipedia):
- Freezing pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5 °F (−15 °C) or three days at −4 °F (−20 °C) kills larval worms.
- Freezing wild game meats, unlike freezing pork products, even for long periods of time, may not effectively kill all worms. This is because the species that typically infects wild game is more resistant to freezing than the species that infects pigs.
My guess is that your dog would probably figure it out. The first time I gave mine raw meaty bones, all but one of them gulped them down almost whole, and then promptly threw the whole mess up looking pretty much like it did before it went down. Much re-chewing ensued. My temptation was to take a cleaver to the whole chicken leg quarter to 'help', but having done my research I resisted that temptation. By letting the dogs chew them into digestible form they are less likely to gulp their food, less likely to choke on anything (I've never had a dog choke on a raw bone, that's not to say it couldn't happen though). I want my dogs to chew, that's how they get the dental benefits of raw bone diet (see the photos below, they are not photo-shopped or otherwise altered). Chopping it up, or buying it ground with the bones defeats that purpose. For some people purchasing frozen prepared/packaged ground raw meat and bones with brand names like Bravo and Primal (it is sold online and at some high-end pet stores, or you may be able to get your butcher to do it for you) settles their 'bone apprehensions', and for them I say do whatever makes you comfortable. I'd rather spend that extra money on something else, my dogs can do the job themselves. Even the little guy. In fact, especially the little guy. Go figure.
So how do I switch my dog over to raw diet?
There are a couple of ways to switch a dog over, I recommend researching online (I provide links at the end of this blog) and choosing the best method for your dogs. As for my dogs? One day they were eating kibble, the next day they were eating raw food. We did not mix the two because kibble and raw food digest at different rates and I wanted no issues with food sitting in their gut too long and causing problems. This worked beautifully. When I got Darby Crash he was only 6 months old, so I did feed a high quality kibble and raw diet because frankly I didn't want to take any chances with his bone and muscle development. I am NOT an expert on this subject, and haven't been doing it long enough to have complete confidence that I wouldn't be jeopardizing his growth. Maybe in a few years I'll laugh at myself (I know people who raise Deerhounds and other large breeds on raw food from the day they're weaned with no problems, so I know it can be done), but it wasn't a chance I was willing to take with a growing pup.
|Yes, this is Andretti as a little puppy scarfing out of his feed bucket, he got kibble as a puppy too.|
Can I still give my dog treats? Do they have to be raw too???
Yes, you must carry raw chicken parts in your pocket at all times! I'm joking. Of course you can still give treats, but be forewarned. Raw diet has made such a drastic difference in the amount of gas my dogs have that when I've given processed treats (anything with processed grains like typical dog bisquits) the gas comes in large gagging waves about an hour or two later. So, I've gone to giving dehydrated meat treats like liver jerky, cheese bits and things like that.
Not quite as inexpensive as a box of Milkbones, but I can and do put a price on those killer fart clouds. This brand averages about $10 a bag. I think there's a complex formula you can use to calculate the dollar amount per fart based on how many kibble treats each dog ingests to produce a noticeable amount of gas. But I'm not very good at math, so I just fork over the cash for the good treats.
I travel a lot with my dog, kibble is easier.
It sure is, but then, a lot of things in life are easier. I hack everything up into bitesize bits (hotels hate it when your dog drags raw food across the carpet) and prepackage serving sizes with the food sealer. On a 14 day trip across the country in the van, I had about 10 days worth of food in a cooler that we just restocked with ice.(as previously stated, I'm really bad at math). For the remaining 4 days, I hit the grocery store. In the future, I may just purchase some of the Bravo or Primal raw ground diets for back-up and to compensate for my poor math skills on long trips. ;)Tools of the Trade; Let's Make This as Easy as Possible
- A large, cheap meat cleaver and a heavy chopping block. Asian markets usually sell them for about $10. Pick up a knife sharpener and you're in good meat-cleavin' form for a good long time. (I got a cheap sharpener at our local camping/outdoor supply store) You can find chopping boards at the grocery, sometimes thrift stores. Make sure it's thick. You won't be wimping your way through meat chopping.
- Lots of gallon size zip-locks, or better yet a quality food sealer. A good one will run you about $160 at Costco, but if you do a lot of processing for a lot of dogs a commercial sealer would probably be a good investment. A commercial sealer from Cabela's will cost you about $500, but will out perform and definitely outlast a string of the cheaper FoodSaver models.
- A food scale, with a bowl-style weighing basket. You can pick one up at Target or Walmart for around $20-$30. I prefer my 'dial' scale vs. a digital one, and it should weigh up to 10 lbs of food
- A large chest or upright freezer that holds about 15 - 20 cubic feet. This keeps us AND our 4 dogs in food for months at a time.
|Thank you Sears|
- A couple of 4 quart metal feed buckets or other deep containers to hold food in the refrigerator in between thawing and feedings.
- A case of medical grade latex gloves or food service gloves. This makes safe food handling a lot easier, and kind of cuts down on the yuck-raw-meat factor (if raw meat grosses you out)
|I'm finicky about my gloves, non-medical food service gloves would work just fine too. Heck, even a pair of dish gloves would get the job done.|
- Industrial size Lysol wipes and antibacterial counter spray.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF FEEDING A RAW DIET IS DOING YOUR RESEARCH.
The internet is an excellent resource;
So is the library, or Amazon, or any other book dealer;
Dr. Ian Billinghurst's BARF diet
Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals by Lew Olson
Dr. Ian Billinghurst's book on Bones and Raw Food
Raw Dog Food - Make it Easy for You and Your Dog by Carina MacDonald
There's a lot of information in the above listed links. I agree with some of it, disagree with some of it, and giggle over bits of it. But all of it has served it's purpose; their combined education, information, statistics, experiences and scientific facts enabled me to make decisions about feeding raw food to my own dogs.
My parting suggestions:
- Do your research.
- Talk to your vet and their technicians about your plan; do not expect an enthusiastic reception. Many vets know very little about raw feeding having been led through veterinary school by the sponsoring hands of major pet food producers. A good vet will help guide you though and should be able to answer any questions you have.
- If your dog has medical issues (kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, etc) do EXTRA RESEARCH and consult with veterinary specialists before starting a raw diet. Being in control of exactly what goes into your dog could turn the tables on the disease process and give you some advantages (such as in a reduced salt heart disease diet, if you don't add the salt, it's not there in any effectual amount). On the flip side, you could make it worse by not balancing nutrition levels (kidney disease is the big one that comes to mind). Cancer? Be careful if your dog is getting chemotherapy, a suppressed immune system is not something you want to mess around with (but in some cases, what do you have to lose with trying?)
- Consult with people who are feeding the diet to their pets.
- Read read read; books, websites, studies from universities and independent research facilities.
- Talk to Veterinary University nutritional consultants.
- Take everything all of these people say with a grain of salt; don't buy into any one fanatical idea; sample from them all and decide what makes sense to you and your dog.
- Build the diet to what works for your dog. This is especially true when deciding how much to feed. If he's too chubby, decrease the quantity of food and/or the fat content in the meat. If she's too thin, increase the quantity and feed high fat calorie meats. .
- Gauge feeding amounts and frequency based on your dog's body condition and energy levels on the new diet. Just because you start out feeding a certain amount doesn't mean you have to continue with that amount.
- Variety variety variety...don't get stuck in a rut. That can be nutritionally dangerous.
- Remember how much effort you put into you and your own family's diet; try not to freak out over organically raised hormone free meat and precise vitamin/ mineral and protein/carb ratios for your dog while you feed your spouse and children fast food and processed/prepared/packaged foods thick with artificial colors flavors and preservatives. Keep it as simple as possible.
- Supervise feedings to avoid your worse fears: bone choking and food aggression. Besides, it gives you a little quality observation time with your dogs. It's kind of relaxing.
- Keep children away from feeding dogs (this holds true for kibble or raw food). Don't invite trouble.
THE BEST PART IS......
- Being able to stop using Safeway shopping bags to pick up after your dog at the park; a sandwich baggie will be more than enough! And, if it's in your yard? Give it about a day or two and it turns white and breaks down into little crumbles. Not gross, NEAT.
- The farting has decreased massively. So much, in fact, I can tell when they've gotten into the cat food in the barn or if they've gotten processed grain treats because the gas kicks in and I remember what greyhounds are noxiously known for. I LOVE being able to take the dogs in the car and not crank the windows down as a necessity!
- Clean tartar free stink free mouths! My 6 1/2 year old greyhounds and a 4 year old Italian Greyhound:
|Andretti (greyhound), no dentals in 6 1/2 years.|
|Q (Italian Greyhound) 4 years old, no dental cleanings ever, just naturally clean teeth and healthy gums.|
As a disclaimer, I'm not a nutritional expert. I'm not a PhD. I didn't do my Masters in Microbiology or Digestive Science. I'm not a Veterinarian. What I am is a Registered Veterinary Technician with about 19 years experience in Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, Regular day practice, Avian and exotics, Internal Medicine and a 5 year stint as a Research Specialist in a local biotech lab's vivarium working on diabetes, obesity and cancer research. This is my diet of choice for my 4 dogs, 3 active greyhounds and one Italian Couch Potato. So far, so good!
|Darby Crash eye up a gopher in the back yard. He did not manage to catch this one.|