Yesterday, I received a message from Amari Washington about transitioning his two American Bullies, 55 pounds each, to raw dog food. Although I've shared about transitioning my dogs several times, I haven't put my thoughts in one post. Today, I'm going to share five tips on transitioning a dog to raw dog food.
Keep in mind that this is one person's method and it may not work for everyone (or every dog).
1 – Start Educating Yourself About Raw Feeding
The most important step is to start educating yourself about raw feeding. Join raw feeding groups, watch YouTube videos, connect with a pro-raw veterinarian and local raw feeders, and pick up a few books. Don't allow your education to come from one place because many of us are self-taught and what works for my dogs may not work for your dogs. Instead, soak up as much knowledge from as many sources as possible so that you're prepared to meet your dogs' needs.
2 – Start with a Quality Premade Raw Brand
I'm a fan girl of Darwin's Natural Pet Food; this is the brand that helped me transition my dogs to raw in 2013. A customer service representative from Darwin's Pet will walk you through setting up your first order and best practices for introducing raw to your pet. This is the easiest way to transition because the balancing, sourcing, and delivery are taken care of for you. Of course, you'll pay for that amazing service too. I actually started with a hybrid diet of raw in the morning and kibble in the evening, then went to full raw, then worked towards DIY raw feeding.
3 – Look for Sourcing in Your Area
If your budget is tight, then you'll have to become a DIY raw feeder, and that's where you want to be anyway. I still feed my dogs some premade raw brands. However, most of the food I buy is from a local meat supplier and I mix their meals twice a month while watching a movie or listening to a book.
To get started, you'll need to find sourcing in your area which may include:
- Look for a meat supplier, butcher, farmer, or hunter in your area; make sure your local laws allow you to buy from hunters (this isn't legal in every state).
- Look to see if there is a raw food co-op in your area; this is a group of people who buy in bulk together at discounted prices.
- Check prices and connect with the meat manager at your local grocery store and Asian market.
Once you secure sourcing that meets your budget, you can move on transitioning your dog to raw feeding.
4 – Introduce Raw Slowly to Your Dog
One mistake I made was to introduce my dogs to too many proteins and other ingredients too soon. It resulted in diarrhea for two days and be running back to kibble with my tail between my legs.
I also made a call to Darwin's Pet.
What I suggest is introducing a dog slowly. Don't worry about creating a balanced; balance doesn't mean the same thing it did when we fed kibble. Raw feeders balance over time; for now, you want to focus on introducing your dog to raw. Don't feel pressured to rush your dog into eating a balanced diet.
WEEK ONE: Start with chicken or another white meat. Chicken is a great place to start because it's easy to digest, it's inexpensive and easy to source (locate). Alternatives to chicken include duck, turkey, guinea hen, pheasant, and quail.
- Feeding Ground? You can choose any cut of chicken that will go through your meat grinder.
- Feeding Whole? Feed a raw meaty bone that is appropriate for your dog's size. If you have a small dog, start with a chicken wing or chicken thigh. If you have a large dog, start with a chicken quarter.
The purpose of feeding your dog this way is to allow their system to adjust to his/her new diet. Yes, feeding one cut of meat isn't a balanced diet, but we're not focusing on balance now, we're focusing on an introduction. Your initial week (or so) of feeding raw meaty bones is 100x better than feeding kibble.
If your dog is inhaling the raw meaty bones, try holding them while s/he eats; this will teach your dog to slow down.
WEEK TWO: Introduce another protein; red meat is a good option. Once your dog seems to have a good handle on eating raw meaty bones, introduce another protein. Allow your dog to adjust to this meal change. Remember, don't feel the need to rush your dog. Allow him/her to gradually get used to the new diet; just because I say “week two” here doesn't mean that you have to switch if your dog isn't ready.
WEEK THREE: Introduce organ meat (offal and liver). If your dog doesn't like the texture of the organ meat, try mixing it into a vegetable blend or ground meat. Remember, the heart isn't an organ in raw feeding. You want to look for liver, pancreas, spleen, or kidneys (or all of these).
And one more time, don't worry about feeding a balanced diet at this time. Personally, I believe that the idea of a “balanced diet” was created by the kibble brands who needed to create balance to meet AAFCO standards; we don't have to meet those standards!
When your dog is ready, you can attempt to transition to a more balanced diet with the understanding that you balance over time, not always in every meal or every day.
There are many raw food calculators online that take your dog's weight and activity level and tell you how much you should feed your dog per day. I weigh my dogs' meals to avoid overfeeding them (a past bad habit of mine). A general guideline is:
- Feed 2% of a dog's body weight to help them lose weight or for low activity dogs.
- Feed 2.5% of a dog's body weight to help them maintain weight.
- Feed 3% or more of a dog's body weight for active dogs.
5 – Monitor Your Dog's Stool
Four years later and I'm still monitoring my dogs' poop because it tells me how my dogs are doing and what I need to change about their diet. Monitoring your dog's stool during the transition to raw feeding will do the same. I love the idea of feeding my dogs a balanced raw diet, and I work hard to attain some balance. I follow the 80/10/5/5 while keeping in mind that my dogs have individual needs and what's “balanced” for one dog may not be for another. So I don't tear my hair out trying to make their diet perfect. Instead, I treat the 80/10/5/5 as a starting point.
Learning from My Dog's Stool
What I want to see is small, solid poops, however, this isn't always the case. The following are what I see with my dogs and how I correct their diet.
- White, Hard Poop: too much calcium; increase muscle meat and/or organ meat.
- Soft Poop: too much organ meat; add more raw meaty bones.
- Soft Poop: reaction to a new protein; add Olewo carrots or, if it's a protein intolerance, stop feeding the meat.
These are just a few examples. As you become familiar with your dog's poop, you'll be able to identify what's happening and make quick adjustments.
Some Dogs Go Through a Detox
Some dogs experience a detox period once switched to raw food. Dog owners share that their dogs start shedding a lot, have mucus covered stool, and other mild symptoms that make them nervous about raw. Before freaking out and racing to the vet, ask yourself if your dog's behavior has changed (is s/he acting sick?) and double check the symptoms of detox others have reported. They tend to last a few days to a couple of weeks.
- mucus coating your dog's poop
- dry skin
- excess shedding
- runny eyes
- skin conditions may worsen before improving
While this may be unnerving, a detox period is the system's way of ridding excess toxins and other unhealthy things after being on a kibble diet.
Adding Supplements to a Raw Diet for Dogs
When you initially transition a dog to a raw food diet, I don't think it's a great idea to add supplements. You may be tempted to add things that other raw feeders tell you about; I made this mistake, and it made raw feeding too complicated and some supplements offset (canceled out) others.
Raw fed dogs have different requirements than kibble fed dogs. For instance, Rodrigo used to be on a joint supplement; today, he has no need for a joint supplement. Only giving my dogs what they need has saved me a ton of money, so gradually add supplements as you see a need. Ultimately, your dog should be able to get everything from their raw diet, however, if you're unable to source everything through whole foods, then you may need to add a supplement, for example, if you can't get sardines and salmon, then add fish oil to your dog's diet.
My last bit of advice on the supplements is to go with quality, proven brands. Not every human supplement is good for dogs.
Raw Feeding 101 is a guide created by my friend Scott that helps people new to raw feeding learn about the diet in an easy, uncomplicated, no pressure way. I encourage you to sign up for the course (you can take it on your schedule) to gain more insight into transitioning your dog to raw.
Scott and I differ on a couple of areas; I feed based on the BARF model, he feeds based on the Prey model which means that I add vegetables and fruit to my dogs' diet. Other than that, we're two peas in a pod.
- CLICK HERE to sign up for Scott's Raw Feeding 101 course.