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I've been feeding my dogs a raw food diet for close to eight years. And despite how long I've been feeding raw, I still learn something new about raw feeding and my dogs. I thought it would be fun to go back to the basics and explore the WHO WHAT WHY WHERE and HOW of DIY raw feeding for dogs.
Who I Am and Why I Write About Raw Feeding
If you're new to my blog, then WELCOME!!! Thanks for stopping by. I'm not a veterinarian or a nutritionist; I'm a pet parent who believes that raw feeding is the best diet for my dogs. I began feeding raw as a solution to the growing number of health issues one of my dogs was facing eight years ago. Within two weeks of feeding a hybrid diet (raw in the morning, kibble in the evening) most of my dog's health issues were gone and I was sold!
I began Keep the Tail Wagging to share my experience raising littermates and it's expanded into a lifestyle blog about my life with dogs and a big part of my life is raw feeding.
If you're new to raw feeding then you may be able to relate to how overwhelming it is to learn how to feed our dogs a raw food diet. There is a tremendous amount of information available online, however, it's overwhelming and sometimes contradictory. So, I figured that it would be fun to jump into the fray and add my own two cents by sharing my experience and what I'm learning.
What is Raw Feeding for Dogs?
As I understand it, raw feeding is a diet of fresh food that mimics the ancestral diet of the grey wolf. In reality, I will never be able to feed my dogs a diet similar to a wolf nor do I want to because my dogs aren't wolves. Some people who feed raw do so because they don't believe that the commercial diets created for pets are healthy and beneficial. Prior to kibble, dogs ate fresh food, eating table scraps, and hunting for their meals, and dogs lived a lot longer on this diet. And then we had to go and screw it up by feeding them a processed diet.
Over the years, we've seen a rise in health issues (allergies, digestive issues, diabetes, cancer, etc.) and a decline in how long dogs live and many people attribute this to annual vaccinations, early spay/neuter, exposure to toxins, and processed diets with mediocre ingredients. Raw feeding is believed to offset the damage that we're doing to our pets because we're feeding fresh food that is easier to digest and our dogs are absorbing more nutrients from whole foods.
Raw Feeding Models
When I started feeding my dogs a raw food diet, there were two models: Prey Model and BARF Model. Today, there are several more models that have come about because pet parents are learning more and making adjustments to meet their dog's needs.
PREY MODEL – to me, prey model raw is typically made up of whole (sometimes ground) meat, organ meat, and bone. When I was first introduced to prey model raw, vegetables and fruit weren't added to this diet because some believed that dogs lacked the digestive enzymes to process these foods in their gut; this isn't the case. Supplements were also either avoided or added minimally because dogs in the wild didn't have access to powders, pills, and oils.
BARF MODEL – the BARF (biologically appropriate raw food OR bones and raw food) model includes meat, organ meat, bones, vegetables, and other foods combined to provide a nutritious diet. In my experience, BARF diets are typically ground, but this isn't a requirement. BARF Model raw feeders are open to adding supplements to fill nutritional gaps and address a dog's individual needs.
NRC MODEL – the NRC guide is a thick book filled with nutritional data for pets and helps nutritionists (or anyone interested in using the book) with the nutrients our pets require on a daily and weekly basis. I look at the NRC model as the “science” model because many people who follow this state that they are feeding their pets based on science, identifying the macro and micronutrients each pet requires in a healthy, nutritious diet. The NRC model helps us calculate a nutritious diet based on calories or metabolic weight.
Ultimately, I believe that everyone feeds a version of one or all of these diets. I learned that it's best to choose a model that makes sense to me and then adjust the model to meet my individual dogs' needs because every dog is different.
Why I Feed My Dogs a Raw Food Diet (the Benefits)?
As I stated above, I had a sick dog. So I was drawn to raw feeding as a way to help my dog. The kicker was when a veterinarian told me that Rodrigo wouldn't live long past this third birthday. I'm happy to say that Rodrigo will be 11 next month.
There are many benefits to feeding raw…
Boost Gut Health and the Immune System
Kibble is baked several times, killing all of the nutrients, which requires the addition of synthetic vitamin mixes and then the brands spray the kibble with fat to make it more appealing. Fresh food is chopped up (or ground) and put in the bowl. All of the nutrients are readily available, easy to digest and absorb, making this diet easier on the gut. Healthy Gut, Healthy Dog.
The boost to the immune system leads to a decrease in environmental allergies. And many foods that my dog couldn't eat when fed kibble, aren't a problem when fed raw, which shows that protein intolerances decreased.
Fresh Breath and Clean Teeth
I feed my dogs raw bones, which serve to satisfy my dogs' chew drive, clean their teeth (as they gnaw on the bones), and exercise their shoulder, neck, and jaw muscles. My dogs don't have bad breath because they have a healthy gut and minimal tarter on their teeth.
When it comes to feeding bones, I'm very careful about what I give my dogs and I monitor their chewing sessions to make sure everyone is doing well and no one is trying to steal another's bone. I always have a high valued treat on hand in case I need to take a bone away.
Figuring out which bones work for my dogs took patience, but now I have a list of bones that I'm comfortable feeding to my dogs, including lamb necks, duck necks, beef knuckle bones, lamb shanks, duck frames (cartilage, not bone), and pork ribs.
Lean Muscle Mass and Improved Metabolism
A raw food diet is also a low carb diet and I'm happy to share that all of our dogs are at a healthy weight (we have a home scale to keep tabs). Our senior dog is still doing a great job keeping up with our youngest (2 years) dog, ready to walk, run, and play every day.
Smaller, Less Smelly Poop
Because the nutrients in fresh food are more bioavailable, our dogs are producing less waste. So their poop is a little larger than my cat's poop. It still smells, but not as strongly as kibble poop. Our dogs also poop less (a couple of times a day) than when they were on a kibble diet and their poop is primarily solid – no more daily loose stool and diarrhea.
Improved Mobility and Decreased Inflammation
I used to think inflammation was connected to joints alone. Turns out that inflammation can be tied to many of our health issues and this is true for our dogs too. Our senior dog has arthritis along his spine and in his front legs; but you'd never know it because a raw diet doesn't encourage inflammation.
Fewer Visits to the Veterinarian
Prior to feeding raw, one of our dogs was in the vet's office a few times a year as we tried to figure out his allergies and digestive issues. Today, he, and our other doges, go to the vet annually for wellness check-ups, which includes a physical exam, bloodwork, and an ultrasound (for my senior dog).
Where I Buy Ingredients for DIY Raw Feeding?
I purchase 99% of the food that I feed to my dogs from a local raw food co-op. I also score grass-fed organ meat from local farms. I buy meat at local and discount grocery stores for treats. Freezer dumps from friends are a great source of meat that I turn into jerky treats. And I shop local, independent pet stores in between co-op orders from time to time.
Another great place to shop is an Asian grocery store where you'll find a lot of variety. It's fun to visit my local Asian market.
When I Mix Up Raw Food for My Dogs?
Once a week, I do meal prep; mixing up large batches of food. I start with a base of 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% organ meat (primarily liver, kidneys, and heart). Before you race off to the comments to ask if the heart is categorized as organ or muscle meat, I need to warn you that I'm not your typical raw feeder and don't follow those rules. The heart goes into my organ blends.
- whole raw sardines or canned sardines
- whole raw eggs
- fermented fish stock
- kefir or raw goat's milk
- vegetable blend
- raw duck feet
I also add supplements to the bowl to meet each dog's individual needs, like a joint supplement, medicinal mushrooms, a digestive supplement, and a Vitamin B supplement.
If you're struggling to figure out how to tackle a DIY raw food diet, I suggest working with a meal formulator who can help you develop a few recipes to follow that will meet your dogs' nutritional needs. Or you can check out Planet Paws for affordable, nutritious recipes.
How Much Does DIY Raw Feeding Cost?
After all of this chatter about raw feeding, it's time to talk about the cost. And I wish I could give you a dollar amount, but the answer to the question of ‘how much does raw feeding cost' depends on the following:
- where you live
- how many dogs you have
- if your dogs have protein sensitivities
- what proteins and other ingredients you have access too
- if you have a raw food co-op nearby
All that being said, I spend about $200/month on average to feed four dogs a raw food diet. I'm able to save money by buying in bulk (our dogs have dedicated freezers and a fridge in the garage) and shopping sales. I place three large orders a year and small orders every month.
When it comes to raw, there is a lot of great information out there and everyone feeds their dogs a little bit differently and that's okay. The goal should always be to feed our dogs a nutritious, healthy diet. There are many paths that will help us achieve this goal. Continue educating yourself, asking questions, and focus on feeding the dog in front of you.