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This post was originally published in 2016. It has been updated with new information and republished in 2021. Enjoy!
This is a question that many dog owners ask at one point. To me, the answer is obvious, but I've been feeding raw for eight years. For someone new to the diet, trying to envision how much food to order and how much it'll cost drives this question. When I think back to when I started feeding raw, I remember how confusing it all was; we're coming from from the “cups” world of feeding kibble into a world of grams, ounces, and pounds.
In this post, I'm going to share…
- how I figure out how much to feed my dogs
- what I do when they won't eat
- what I do when they seem hungry after they eat
- what I do when they're gaining weight
- what I do when they're losing weight
- the tools I use that make feeding my dogs easier
- how much it costs to feed my dogs
Biggest Mistake I Made Feeding Raw
When I started feeding raw, the best way to feed our dogs were based on the guidelines on commercial raw packaging or based on body weight. Makes sense, right? Yeah, so I made a HUGE mistake when I was a new raw feeder…I calculated each dog's food amounts and fed them that way twice daily – yeah, I was feeding my dogs twice the amount of food they should have been eating. As you can imagine. I had fat, raw fed dogs until I figured that out.
When calculating the amount of food to feed for your dog, confirm that you're calculating their daily amount vs. their per meal amount.
Due to my mistake, I base how much I feed my dogs on their body weight, their individual needs, and their waistline.
Raw Food Calculators
If you've come across this post because you're trying to figure out how much food to feed your dog, then I want to suggest starting with a raw food calculator. There are several online and the one that I think is the best is hosted by Ronny LeJeune of Perfectly Rawsome. Ronny understands that there are many ways to feed our dogs a nutritious raw diet, so she created several calculators that cover different methods of feeding our dogs.
If you're new to raw feeding, I suggest starting with a raw food calculator until you get used to calculating the amounts yourself. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you know how many ounces you plan to feed your dog per meal and you'll adjust based on weight loss/gain.
How Much I Feed My Dogs
As I said earlier, every dog is different. So I used a raw food calculator in the beginning and now I fed my dogs a specific amount daily. While calculating how much to feed is a great first start, it's just one step. There are other things that go into adding the right amount to the bowl. For example, Rodrigo has exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and can lose weight rapidly if I don't add a digestive enzyme to his diet. He eats as much as his two larger siblings without gaining weight. Zoey, on the other hand, gains quit easily so I adjust her meals regularly based on her waistline and how much exercise she's getting. Scout was diagnosed with lymphoma this month and he's on a drug called prednisone. One of the side effects is increased hunger and thirst – so I'm feeding him a little more than usual and closely monitoring his weight.
- Rodrigo (63 lbs, 10 years) – 13.5-14 ounces per meal
- Scout (72 lbs, 7 years) – 13.5-14 ounces per meal with a midday and evening snack.
- Zoey (61 lbs, 7 years) – 9.5-10 ounces per meal
- Apollo (72 lbs, 2 years) – 13.5-14 ounces per meal
What I Include in the Weight of the Food
When I'm weighing my dogs' food, I include the raw food and any whole foods I add, like sardines, duck feet, etc. I also add whole food supplements that I don't include in the weight, like fermented fish stock, raw goat's milk, kefir, or vegetables. The reason I don't include these in the weight is because I only add a few spoonfuls of these foods.
I don't include supplements (pills, powders) in the weight of the dogs' meals.
What I Do When My Dog Won't Eat
Thankfully I don't have picky eaters in the house, but there are times when a dog won't eat and when this happens, I have a few steps I take.
STEP ONE – Is it the bowl or the dog?
I need to figure out if it's something in the bowl or something in my dog that is turning them off their meal. For example, Scout won't eat chicken unless it comes from Answers Pet Food. If I don't mix in the digestive enzymes well enough, Rodrigo won't eat his food.
If one of the dogs keep sticking their nose in the bowl, then step back licking their lips – then I think that they might have an upset stomach. In this case, I will offer them bone broth or raw goat's milk. If they'll eat this, then this will be their meal for the day while their tummy settles. If they won't eat anything, then let them rest for the day while documenting what's going on should we need to go to the vet.
STEP TWO – If it's the bowl…
If my dog is well, but still backing away from the bowl, I'll transfer the food to a pasta dish and spread it out. The traditional dog dish is fine for many dogs, but for some dogs the smells in the dish can be overwhelming. Spreading the food out so that the dog isn't overwhelmed has worked for me in the past. It allows them to choose what they eat and in which order.
STEP THREE – If it's the dog…
If my dog is well, but still backing away from the bowl, I'll pour warmed bone broth or add green tripe to the dish and this usually sparks the appetite.
If the lack of appetite is more than two days, then I call the veterinarian. I'll make this call sooner if the lack of appetite is combined with other symptoms like pain, lethargy, diarrhea.
What I Do When My Dog is Still Hungry
Trying to determine if a dog is hungry or just wants to eat everything is challenging. My dogs won't often walk away from food and they will beg for feed right after a big meal. So how do we figure out if they're hungry or just being dogs?
If My Dog is Losing Weight
I base my decision to add more food to the bowl on my dogs weight. If my dog is losing weight, then I'll schedule a veterinarian appointment while adding food to the bowl. The vet appointment is just to make sure nothing more serious is the cause of the weight loss.
Right now, Scout is going through cancer treatments for lymphoma and one of the medications, prednisone, is making him hungrier and more thirsty than normal. So I am adding more food to this dish and weighing him every few days to make sure he's not gaining or losing weight.
My other dogs would love to partake in the additional meals too – but they're just being dogs as no one is losing weight.
If My Dog is Gaining Weight
If my dog is gaining weight, then I won't add food, but I won't take food away either. Instead, I'll increase the daily exercise to spur on weight loss, slowing down when they reach the appropriate weight.
If the weight isn't coming off, then it's always a good idea to speak to the veterinarian about causes.
When Sydney was alive, she would put on weight easily and I was convinced that she had a thyroid condition, but her thyroid was healthy. It was truly an exercise issue. Because of her joint issues, walking and running were painful for her. But slow walks at her pace for as long as she wanted worked. We started with 15 minute walks daily, going a very short distance and worked our way up to walking around our property 2-3 times daily. She lost 10 lbs.
Tools I Use that Make Feeding My Dogs Easier
I use a lot of things when mixing up raw meals, but for this post, I will stick with the tools that make feeding the correct amount to each dog easier.
Kitchen Scale – there are a lot of scales out there and I've been disappointed by many. When looking for a kitchen scale, I want something that can handle heavy bowls, can easily switch between measurements, and can clear to zero quickly.
The two scales that I like are by Taylor Precision Products and are available on Amazon or any store that has a kitchen section (Target, Walmart, Fred Meyers):
- Taylor Glass Top Food Scale w/ Touch Control Buttons, 11lb Capacity
- Taylor 30lb Capacity, Ultra Precise Digital Kitchen Scale
Pet Scale – and to track how my dogs are doing, I weigh them monthly (sometimes more often) using a pet scale. I found the W.C Redmon Precision Digital Pet Scale on Amazon a few years ago and it saves me a ton of time.
The only thing I don't like about this scale (and it's small) is that it won't settle on a final weight. If the dogs move, then the weight will shift. So I trained the dogs to sit on the scale and grab the number that flashes the most. I've tested this by weighing a dog before going to the vet and this scale is still accurate.
How Much it Costs to Feed My Dogs Raw
So, now let's get to the reality of the situation. As I stated earlier, when I see people asking this question, it's to determine their monthly budget. I'm raising four dogs that weigh between 60-73 pounds and I pay, on average, between $200-$250 per month on food, treats, and supplements.
I order everything in bulk, which allows me to get better prices. My dogs do have two dedicated freezers and a dedicated fridge in our garage. If it weren't for the local raw food co-op, I probably wouldn't be feeding raw because I would have stopped educating myself about the diet. Today, I have many sources including our co-op, discount grocery stories, ethnic grocery stores, local farms, and Walmart.
As long as I stick within a budget, it's easy to feed my dogs a raw food diet within my budget, while leaving room for additional expenses as my dogs age, e.g. Rodrigo's digestive enzymes (which aren't cheap).
Learn more about saving money on raw.