We pet parents are always looking to do the absolute best for our dogs, and feeding them a healthy diet is no exception. With so many different dog food brands out there, it’s hard to make heads or tails about what is right for your furry family members. What if the answer was as simple as bringing your dog’s diet back to it's roots? Dogs are carnivores, so, by switching your dog to a balanced raw diet, the health benefits that they will experience are both immediate and endless.
Ever thought of giving raw feeding a shot? Well, whether you've never considered it before, or you're actively searching for information on the topic, let's get down to the meat and bones of this diet (no pun intended) and help you determine if it will be a good fit for your pup.
When switching your dog to raw, one of the most immediate benefits you will notice is the condition of their skin and coat. Raw fed dogs have noticeably shinier coats that lack excess oils and odors. This is because high protein intake is the largest contributor to skin and fur health in dogs. Most kibble dog foods will not have enough protein to spare in order to significantly contribute much to your pup’s skin and fur. You will also find that their dental hygiene will vastly improve with the introduction of raw bone and meat intake. In most cases, you will notice better tooth and gum health and much better breath without the need for dental chews or trips to the vet for cleanings.
Not only will they have teeth and fur that will be the envy of even the prissiest of pooches, but it will be much easier for your dog to maintain a healthy weight as well. This is because starches in even grain-free kibbles can cause blood sugar spikes, which contribute to unhealthy weight and even diabetes. Eating a balanced raw diet will ensure that your pup is properly digesting their food and getting better use out of all of the nutrients in it, resulting in much less waste elimination and stools that are smaller/not as smelly. Now that is great news for all parties involved!
By getting the proper nutrients that they need and improving their digestive health, you will begin to see a spike in your dog’s energy levels and overall vitality (ten is the new three). This also means that their immune system will be stronger, resulting in the clearing up of many allergies and other reoccurring health issues. So, you can count on fewer trips to the vet and fewer medications! To better familiarize yourself with the many benefits of raw feeding, check out this detailed benefits overview.
So, what exactly is a balanced raw diet? Glad you asked! To put it simply, a balanced raw diet consists of roughly 80% muscle meats, 10% organs, and 10% bone content; at a quantity of anywhere from 2-3% of their ideal adult weight (closer to 3% if they are very active). Good muscle meats to use are ground beef, bison or turkey; chicken or turkey breast and boneless thigh meat; and stew meats like beef, bison, venison, or lamb. Good organ options are liver, kidney, and green tripe. As for bone, chicken drumsticks, necks, wings, and legs will suffice.
You can also supplement their diet by adding things like fruits and veggies, pureed pumpkin, and yogurt. Although they are not 100% necessary, adding these non-meat ingredients are a great additional source of fiber and probiotics.
It is crucial to stress the importance of having a good variety of all of these options and making sure it is balanced over time. For example, if one day you feed them 50% organ, 45% muscle meat, and 5% bone, its okay! Just be sure to balance it out in the following days so that by the end of the week, their meals consist of roughly 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% organ. If you switch it up every day like this, then your dog is always getting a different combination of foods. This will make mealtime much more enjoyable and fun for them!
Now that you have an understanding of what you should include, it’s time to dive into what you should avoid. One of the biggest “no-noes” of raw feeding is to never give your dog cooked bones. Cooked bones will splinter and could be a choking hazard, damaging the lining of your dog’s stomach. Raw bones are softer and easy to digest.
Also, avoid too much fat in the muscle meats that you choose (keep it at or above 85% lean). Like humans, a healthy amount of fat is necessary, but too much fat will rob your dog of vital nutrients. Eating leaner meats will ensure better utilization of their daily calorie intake.
Last but certainly not least is to keep starch out of the equation. Starch is the biggest issue with kibble, and the cause of most weight and food allergies in dogs. It creates higher blood sugar levels and has no nutritional value for your dog at all. The starch-free aspect of the raw diet is why most people see such positive results from switching their dogs from kibble to raw. See here for more facts about starch and the lack of nutrients in processed kibble.
If you believe that your dog could benefit from some or all of the advantages of raw feeding, but don’t know where to start, then keep reading! Introducing raw to your dog should be a slow process, just like if you were to switch kibble brands. Start by introducing one type of meat a week, in addition to their regular dog food. For example, choose white meat and bone for week one, red meat for week two, and organ for week three. Don't worry about balance until after your dog is fully acclimated to their new food.
While most dogs will take to raw very easily, some can be picky with the new flavors and textures. This is where including veggies, yogurt, and pureed pumpkin can come into play. In most cases, a mixture of ground meat, organ, yogurt, and pumpkin is enticing to the even the pickiest of pups (no matter how gross it sounds to us).
If sourcing meat for your dog at an economically sound price is a concern, then you have plenty of options. Grocery store meat departments, local butchers, and meat processors are practically giving away organs and scraps to raw feeders. Buying in bulk and looking for meat sales at your grocery store or butcher will also help keep costs down. If convenience is more what you are looking for, then there are a variety of raw feeding websites available. Some that will even build a custom diet plan for your pet, and have it delivered to your home. There is also a growing list of raw dog food suppliers that can be accessed here. The options are literally endless!
Out of everything we've covered, the most important thing to consider when beginning your raw feeding journey is that there is no cookie-cutter way to do it. Every dog is different, and the key to success is to relax and be patient! Sometimes it takes a little while to find the right combination that works for you and your furry family member. There will be some trial and error involved, but it will ultimately result in a healthier and happier pup.