An Introduction To Raw Feeding

DIY feeding – plenty of colour and variety with added fruit and vegetables

Raw Feeding…what’s that all about?!

There is no doubt that we all try to do the very best for our dogs…we walk them, we cuddle them, we let them snuggle in our beds, we talk to them, we care for their every need. But what about their food? My previous dogs had always been fed a dry kibble so when I got Sam, that’s what I fed him. Then out of the blue at one year old he had a grand mal seizure, I believe brought on by his booster vaccination the day before. And that was the start of my raw food journey.

As in humans, the food you feed can have a direct affect on your dogs health and to try to stop Sam’s epilepsy worsening I researched what the best food was for him, and natural, additive free raw got top marks.

So what is raw feeding?  As it sounds, pretty much everything you feed is raw. But there’s far more to it than just putting down a bowl of raw meat. The basic rule of thumb is 80:10:10. That is 80% raw muscle meat, 10% offal or excretory organ, and 10% bone.

Complete raw foods. ‘Able. on the left comes in wrapped portioned packs and contains chunky meat pieces and vegetables. On the right is a cheaper brand that is in 500g packs – a much finer mince with no vegetables.

As with our diet, variety is important. So for the 80% you should vary the protein source and the type. You can use heart, lung, tongue, gizzards and it’s good to include oily fish once a week, whole fish are good. If you can get hold of green tripe (that is untreated tripe) then that’s great to include too, but it is smelly! Meat can be minced, or diced. Prey can be whole…for example if I feed pheasant, pigeon, partridge etc, I would just feed the whole bird (or half of it) straight to my dogs…usually outside, feathers and all.

Vary the offal element too…liver, kidney, spleen, brain, testicles, pancreas are all suitable. Liver should make up no more than 5% of the food as it can cause very loose poo!  Bones are, for me, the trickiest bit (and the scariest bit)…but the basic rule is not to feed weight bearing bones from larger animals as they are too hard. So a big meaty marrow bone is okay for your dog to gnaw the meat and marrow from, but not okay to crunch up. Rib bones, chicken drumsticks, Turkey necks are suitable examples. But I never leave my dogs alone with a bone just in case, and always remove a bone if it gets too small and risks being a choke hazard if swallowed.

Vegetables are one of the big debates…some feed them, some don’t. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Same with fruit. But I regularly use both for treats. Frozen carrots or frozen bananas are great for dogs on a hot day. If i choose to include veg and fruit then I would reduce the muscle meat to 70% and include 10% of fruit and vegetables Sounds complicated? Well the good news is, that in the UK, you can buy complete food where the measuring and mincing is all done for you. So you can just defrost and feed straight from the tub.

Beautiful Sam suffers from epilepsy

Dispelling Some Myths

Raw feeding is expensive

Yes it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. So much can be found at your local butchers Putting the meals together yourself is known as DIY and is the cheapest way to feed raw, especially if you have a friendly butcher or local abattoir. But it can be time consuming. The complete food you can buy is much simpler but in general will cost more…some of it substantially more! For me, the DIY is far more satisfying but the reality is that convenience often wins.

Raw fed dogs make more poo!

No no no! Raw feeders are completely obsessed with poo as it tells you so much about your dogs well being. But raw fed dogs create far less poo and it disintegrates far quicker. Over 90% of meat and offal is digested compared with only 20-40% of kibble. Ideal poo is “kickable”. Too hard or white poo means too much bone. Soft poo means too much liver or too little bone.

Dogs shouldn’t eat bones

No and yes. Any bones fed should be raw uncooked bones and should not be weight bearing i.e. not legs. It’s good to match the size of the bone to the size of the dog, and you should teach your dog to crunch up the bone, not swallow whole. Cooked bones are a definite no for all dogs. Once cooked, bones can splinter potentially causing perforations to digestive tract.

Puppies can’t be raw fed

Oh yes they can! Puppies can start being introduced to raw diet as soon as they start being weaned. Start with easy soft foods such as egg yolk or very lightly cooked chicken. Small young chicken wings can be introduced after 6 weeks, even if just as a play thing initially, but keep the bone content of food below 15% for the next 6 weeks.

Dogs and humans will be at risk of salmonella

Obviously hygiene is important but there is minimal risk to either. Dogs have incredibly strong stomach acid and a rapid, short digestion … bacteria has little chance. Use common sense when storing dog food…keep it separate from human food and in a sealed container, and clean all surfaces and utensils after feeding. Kibble poses a salmonella risk too and there are frequently product recalls because of it.

So….Why feed raw?

A colourful mix of raw food

For me it was a way of trying to control Sams epilepsy and it has done that. I know exactly what is in his food and, more importantly, what isn’t in it. I can easily avoid hidden epilepsy triggers and weird ingredients…what is chicken meal??. If you want to know how good or bad your kibble is there are a couple of good websites (allaboutdogfood.co.uk and The Dry Dog Food Index on petforums.co.uk).

I imagine many people change to raw for similar reasons… the desire to feed a more appropriate diet and to avoid chemicals and additives. The added benefit of raw feeding has been that Sam looks fantastic…his coat shines and his muscle tone is outstanding.

Making “The Switch”

Changing to raw is very straightforward. Most guides recommend that you starve your dog for one day then start raw feeding with a single protein for the first week, introducing a second protein in week 2. I held onto the bones for the first couple of weeks (either chicken wings or drumsticks) to get Sam used to crunching not gulping.

It’s normal for your dog to have soft poo to start with as his diet changes…but if this becomes diarrhoea then you should stop feeding. Also the 10% bone content is just a guide…some dogs need/tolerate more, some need less. Sam will become constipated with more than 10%.

Feeding quantities are also just a guide…around 2-3% of body weight is the average, but active dogs may need more (Sam is a very active working Cocker Spaniel and eats 4-5%). During the first few weeks you should monitor your dogs weight and adjust portions accordingly.

So that’s a very brief intro to raw feeding…but once you start there is so much to learn and so many natural supplements and remedies to discover. You will consider whether anything “unnatural” is right for your dog. Sam hasn’t had a booster vaccination for 8 years…but blood tests show that he still has full immunity…so the vaccinations would have been of benefit only to my vets pocket.

Leia enjoys a raw diet

One of my fave products is slippery elm. It’s a powdered tree bark that is great for resolving diarrhoea but is also good for constipation…an essential product in my doggy cupboard. There are natural remedies for most ailments along with products that support specific things…joint problems, elderly dogs, incontinence etc, along with natural flea repellents and wormers.

You can learn about the properties of different proteins…some have a cooling effect on the dog (salmon, duck, eggs for example), some have warming properties (chicken, lamb, venison) and some are neutral balancing foods (eg beef, pork, tripe) . So you wouldn’t feed a warming protein to a dog with itchy skin, allergies or heavy panting…but they would be good for a dog who is fatigued or has loss of weight.

Warning…it’s addictive and there is always more to learn!!

Article written by Sally Slade on her personal experience of switching to raw feeding.