It is encouraging to witness all the buzz surrounding raw feeding these days, because it demonstrates that many dog owners are questioning the long-accepted norms about how we look after our dogs, and in particular, how we feed them.
Thanks to this raw food revolution, there is a ton of info out there about raw feeding your dog. But it can be a little overwhelming, particularly if you are new to the game. So in this article I plan to bring clarity to the subject as I explain the basics.
First we’ll define the raw diet, within the commonsense framework of the “whole carcass model”. Next, we’ll look at the three major components – muscle meat; raw meaty bones and organ meat. And, finally we’ll talk about how to make up for things that may be missing from the raw foods available to us, in order to provide total balanced nutrition to our dogs.
The Whole Carcass Model
It’s probably accurate to say that, to one degree or another, every approach to raw feeding a dog derives from the whole carcass model. Advocates of this diet accept the premise that in the wild a dog consumes the entire prey; and thus, in raw feeding our dogs, we should seek to provide the same nutritional components that are found in the whole prey. To accomplish this requires going beyond simply feeding the dog whatever raw meat happens to be available at the local store.
Consider this: A whole animal carcass has bones, muscle meat and organs. Included in the latter are the stomach, the brain and yes, even the eyes – all of which are full of nutritional properties. Any of these crucial components not provided in the course of raw feeding a dog, must be compensated for in other ways. For example, you are unlikely to find brains or eyes at your local butcher, while possibly green tripe (unprocessed stomachs) would be available.
Muscle Meat, Raw Meaty Bones & Organ Meat – Ratios
Your dog will thrive, as did his wild ancestors, on a balanced mix of the 3 categories of meaty nutrition found in an animal:
Muscle Meat (often abbreviated to MM)
Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs)
Organ Meat (OM)
For maintenance, feed your dog about 2% of his body weight per day, but up to 3% in the case of puppies, high activity dogs and lactating females. For maintenance therefore, a 75 lb dog will get 1.5 lb, or 24 oz of food a day. Plan to provide 75% of that, or 18 oz, in meats of the above 3 groups and 25%, or 6 oz, in combined vegetable and fruit, grated or pureed. Provide meat in approximately the following ratios – again, we’ll use our example of 1.5 lbs per day, appropriate for a 75 lb dog:
MM – Muscle meat: 30%, or 5.4 oz
RMBs – Raw meaty bones: 60%, or 10.8 oz
OM – Organ meat: 10%, or 1.8 oz
You can feed your dog either one or two meals a day. Either way, food totals for the day should add up to between 2% and 3% of body weight, as explained above.
Making Up for What’s Missing
Eyes & Brains
Here, I’ll reprint a section from our article, Raw Food Diets for Dogs:
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), needed for healthy coat and skin, and for proper brain, joint and cellular function, are found in high concentrations in eyes and brains. Since we don’t typically have access to these organs for raw diets, it is necessary to add Omega-3 as a supplement. Good sources for this are flaxseed oil and fish body oil, such as salmon oil (but not cod liver oil). You can use capsules or liquid. If you use flaxseed oil and your dog gets an itchy skin, switch to fish oil. It’s a good idea to add Vitamin E which helps the Omega-3 to metabolize.
The dose of Omega-3 you give your dog should be as follows: Fish body oil capsules, 500-1000mg for every 10 lbs of body weight. Liquid fish oil; for dogs below 25 lbs, ½ a teaspoon; dogs 25-50 lbs, 1 teaspoon; above 50lbs, 2 teaspoons. For flaxseed oil, the dose would be 1 teaspoon per 25 lbs of dog weight.
Fruits & Vegetables
The first part of the prey that a wild canine eats is typically the stomach and its contents; the latter usually being a combination of vegetables and fruits – partially digested. Canines in the wild derive valuable nutrition from these partially-digested plant and veggie remains. How are we then to give them the same benefit? The key is to feed them fruits and veggies in a manner that is nutritious and digestible. Since dogs lack the enzymes to process the cellulose (fiber) and starch found in whole fruits and veggies, we must grate or puree this food in order for it to provide the nutritional benefit. Failure to render down the food in this way would result in its passing undigested through a dog’s G.I. tract, providing good fiber but nothing else.
When a wild carnivore consumes their prey’s stomach with its contents, it gets a healthy dose of digestive enzymes as part of the package. The stomachs of ruminants – grazing animals – have four chambers which use a combination of digestive enzymes, gastric juices and amino acids with which to break down vegetable matter.
Usually, we don’t get to feed our dogs with green tripe – the name for unprocessed stomachs (human grade tripe is typically bleached white, with all juices and other contents removed).
Therefore, we sometimes must supplement a dog’s raw diet with digestive enzymes. This is a recommended practice for the first week or two of feeding a raw diet, giving time for the dog to develop more of his own enzymes.
What About Freeze Dried Raw Food?
Perhaps you have read this article and everything has made sense to you and you are ready to dive in – and you understand the time commitment involved in producing the raw diet for your dog, and are OK with that! If that’s you, congrats and I’m sure your efforts will be well rewarded!
However, you may be among the many who’d love to do a raw diet, but just feel you cannot add one more labor-intensive activity into an already busy life! If that’s your case, freeze dried raw food may be just the solution for you. We’ll write more about this in a future article. But in the meantime, suffice it to say that, unlike foods that are processed with heat – such as kibble – freeze drying preserves all the nutrients contained in the raw ingredients. It is very convenient and can be served as is, or by re-hydrating with water (cool, never warm or hot).
Freeze dried raw food is expensive however, and it’s worth shopping around to find the best price/oz that you can. Many pet supply stores now carry freeze dried raw dog food. In the event it is not in your budget to switch from kibble to raw (fresh or freeze dried), consider using freeze dried as a topping to a better quality kibble. Even using 85% kibble, plus 15% freeze dried raw food will provide a worthwhile health benefit to your dog.