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I feed five dogs a raw food diet and to keep costs down, I make their food at home instead of buying commercial raw. DIY raw feeding isn't as complicated as I thought it was when I started. There are a few guidelines that I follow when making dog food and this makes my life a lot easier.
Sourcing for Raw Dog Food Ingredients
I buy nearly 100% of my dogs' food through a local raw food co-op. I order in bulk and what can fit in freezer containers remains whole (duck necks, duck frames, and duck feet). Everything else is ground and placed back in the freezer.
Key Ingredients in Raw Dog Food
Tomorrow, I'll be mixing up a new batch of raw dog food for the next week and I'll be pulling the following out of the freezer:
- 30 pounds of emu (muscle meat only)
- 12 pounds of ground organ blend by GreenTripe.com
- 10 pounds of ground duck wings (or quail)
- 3 pounds of fermented vegetables
- 12 cups of Dr. Harvey's Paradigm
- 6 8-ounce cans of oysters (for zinc)
- 1 cup (16 tablespoons) of organic kelp (for iodine)
This is not a “balanced” recipe. Omega 3 fatty acids are added to the bowl (sardines) when I feed the dogs. I add additional Vitamin B via a supplement that I alternate with pork heart.
Tools for Mixing Up Raw Dog Food
- 6 8-quart stainless steel bowls
- 2 or 3 large mixing bowls
- freezer safe containers
- my big ole hands
Tips When Mixing Raw Dog Food
It used to take me hours to do meal prep. One day, I was grinding, mixing, and storing food for 10 hours. You know I love my dogs and believe that raw is best if I'm going to give up my Saturday to make dog food.
Today, I can mix up a few weeks of food in an hour because I've learned to better organize my time.
1 – I always grind the duck wings when they arrive because I don't have space for the 20-pound boxes and it saves me time when doing meal prep.
2 – Buy as many ground ingredients as you can (as long as it fits in your budget). You can still feed whole raw foods to satisfy your dog's chew drive and clean their teeth, but you'll make better use of freezer space if you fill it with grinds because a case of ground organ mixes takes of less room than individual cases of each organ.
3 – If you're using a base mix, start hydrating it, splitting the amount you're using evenly between your mixing bowls.
4 – Make sure that you have enough space in your freezer for the food that your making. My mixed raw goes into a specific space in the freezer. I can't always place it where I pulled the ingredients out because my freezer isn't organized that way.
5 – Keep the trash can next to the sink and wear old clothes because you're going to make a small mess and this will make life easier. After I finish mixing up raw, I put my clothes directly into the washing machine.
Don't Worry About Balancing
Balance is a hot topic in the raw feeding community as different people share their idea of what “balance” for our dogs looks like. Some balance to AAFCO, which was developed for kibble brands and only meets the bare minimum of what our dogs need to survive (not thrive). Some balance to NRC, because that's the next best thing in America. There are other standards as well, however, we do the best we can.
If you're new to raw feeding, don't worry about balancing – yet. Keep the diet simple, start with 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% liver/offal. Add other ingredients like raw eggs and green tripe (for additional nutrients), and don't forget the sardines for your Omega 3 fatty acids.
I recommend focusing on variety by alternating between three main proteins and, when you're ready, start educating yourself about the nutrients your dog needs in his/her diet.
I maintain a nutrient spreadsheet (available for free for Keep the Tail Wagging Facebook page Supporters) that allows me to better understand what nutrients my dogs need in their diet and see where there are holes. While many people will tell you that 80/10/10 is a balanced diet, it is simply the foundation to a balanced raw diet and lacks nutrients that I add when doing meal prep:
- sardines for Omega 3 fatty acids
- boiled oysters for zinc
- additional heart for Vitamin B
To name a few.
Need Help with Raw Feeding?
If you're new to raw feeding and I told you that you needed a science book to figure out how to feed your dog, would you take me seriously? Many people who find me are already overwhelmed with trying to learn how to feed a diet of fresh food – to compound that feeling with a reading list of complicated manuals would probably turn this off of raw feeding. So that's why I encourage people to take it at their own pace – it may not be the right path for everyone, but it worked for me and I eventually found my way to balance.
The resources out there to help you include:
- Animal Diet Formulator – I use this, but the current version isn't very user-friendly and I'm waiting for the upgrade.
- Pet Diet Designer – I recently purchased this program and I'm going to start using it to run my dogs' diet through to make sure I'm hitting all the marks.
- Raw Feeding 101 – this is an online course that teaches pet parents how to transition their dogs to a diet of fresh food.
- Perfectly Rawsome – Ronny LeJeune of Perfectly Rawsome is a certified canine nutritionist who will formulate a meal plan specific to your dog. There are a lot of people in raw feeding groups claiming certification online and Ronny is the real deal.
- Dr. Laurie Coger – Dr. Coger has 20+ years of experience in integrative veterinary medicine and raw feeding. She offers meal formulation and veterinarian consultation services for pet parents.
- ParsleyPet Nutritional Blueprint Testing – I order a nutritional analysis for my dogs annually (or as often as I can afford now that we have five dogs). So far, my dogs are getting all of the nutrients they require in their diet.