Originally published January 2014, updated February 2018.
One of my biggest social media pet peeves is when I see a group of people commenting on something that they know nothing about. And, to be honest, I've been guilty of this myself and made a promise when we lost Blue that I would only share my experience instead of sharing what I assume to be the experience of others.
- I see this when people say all breeders are only in it for the money. Have you met all breeders?
- I see this when people say pit bulls are dangerous. Have you had any experiences with pit bulls?
- I see this when people say that the raw diet is dangerous? Do you know anything about the raw diet except that it involves raw meat?
There have been many articles listing the risks of raw feeding to dogs and their humans. I agree that if we feed raw and never wash our hands, we may have a problem. However, most of the information in these articles is a crock. Granted, I'm not a pet nutritionist or a veterinarian. My experience comes from years of research and several years feeding raw to my dogs (we started April 2013).
So, why is raw dog food a risk to dogs?
5 Raw Feeding Mistakes I've Made
1 – Believing Raw is Just Ground Beef
A diet of ground chicken or beef (or whole chicken) isn't the raw food diet. This doesn't contain all the nutrients our dogs need. When I started researching raw dog food, I was blown away by the number of paths you can go down when it comes to feeding your dogs. Someone told me that I just needed to give my dogs a whole raw chicken; turns out that this is wrong.
There is a common belief that we need to feed 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% liver/offal. I've come to believe that this is a starting point. We need to then adjust the diet to meet each dog's individual needs. Some dogs need more bone, some dogs need less organ meat, and so on.
Thankfully, I discovered Darwin's shortly after I began attempting to feed my dogs raw, so full meals of ground turkey or beef were rare.
2 – Mixing Raw and Kibble Together
There are people who advocate mixing raw and kibble in one meal; I'm not one of them. We experienced first hand that this can make a dog sick. Because of Rodrigo's digestive issues, mixing raw and kibble would give him severe digestive upset.
I've heard two stories of why raw and kibble don't belong in the same meal. Some believe that raw and kibble digest at different rates (raw is digested faster). When raw dog food is mixed with kibble, it's held in our dogs' digestive tract longer, causing it to decompose inside our pups, making them sick. Another theory is that raw and kibble require different pH in the tummy, which is what creates the digestive upset.
Whatever the reason, we learned that one of our dogs can't handle the combination. And since we switched eventually to 100% raw, this became a non-issue for our dogs.
3 – Believing All Raw Bones are Safe
After trying different bones with my dogs and reading stories of dogs breaking a tooth or being taken to the hospital because of raw bones, I decided to slow my roll. I would try bones with my dogs, watching how they chewed, and determine which were and weren't safe for my dogs. I learned that it's not enough to ask others what bones they're feeding because every dog is different.
My dogs primarily enjoy beef knuckle bones, buffalo knuckle bones, lamb necks, and duck necks.
4 – Adding too Many Supplements
When I began DIY raw feeding, the kitchen looked like the laboratory of a mad scientist. I was adding everything to their meals. Every time someone in a raw feeding group would make a recommendation, I ordered and added it to my dogs' meals. I didn't know what I was doing or why. Today, I can explain the method to my madness, I feed more whole supplements to my dogs, and I feed fewer supplements.
Getting advice from other raw feeders is a valuable part of our training; however, we need to take that advice and do our own homework because every dog is different.
5 – Feeding Too Many Proteins in One Meal
Raw meat is complicated. When I started researching raw, I read that some people give their dogs an entire fish. Then I learned about salmon poisoning in dogs and potentially high mercury levels. So it took me a while to get comfortable feeding my dogs raw fish; today they eat raw sardines. Mixing too many proteins can be too harsh on a dog's tummy, so I started with protein per meal, swapping in something different every few days. Today, I feed a couple of proteins per meal (three at the most) and the dogs do fine. For instance, they'll have a duck neck, ground quail, and a pork or beef organ blend.
The first time I made a raw meal for my dogs, I added so many proteins that I can't remember the recipe. The dogs had diarrhea the next day. Lesson learned.
Raw Feeding Can Be Complicated
When I began looking into transitioning my dogs to raw, I was quickly overwhelmed by the number of options about models to follow, brands to choose, and the amount of work that went into DIY raw feeding. Then I found a few books on raw feeding that spoke to me and connected with a few raw feeders and veterinarians who were kind enough to help me.
There is a lot more to feeding raw than feeding our dogs raw, ground meat and a few bones we picked up at the grocery store or butcher. I think the biggest mistake we can make as dog owners is not doing our homework with our dogs in mind. Although I love sharing my experience with our dogs, it's important to remember that my dogs may not have the same experience as your dogs.
Definitely, learn from my experience, but don't stop there.
If you're interested in learning more about raw feeding in a more organized way, check out the online course Raw Feeding 101. You can take it at your own speed and the course takes you from transitioning to sourcing to DIY.