Origins of the Raw Food Diet for Dogs
Raw, or ancestral, diets may appear revolutionary. However, in reality they are the original food of the wild for dogs since ancient times. But with domestication, dogs started to share human food. Then, in the late 1800’s an American, James Spratt started manufacturing the first commercial dog food.
Commercial dog food caught on. It was convenient and economical, and dogs liked it. Furthermore it was an easy way for food companies to market by-products and other low-cost ingredients such as corn and other grains.
But this convenience can come at the cost of good nutrition. For example, corn is a source of protein often used as a primary ingredient in inexpensive dog foods. But in nutritional terms it is quite inferior to good quality meat proteins. According to vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, author of the book “Give Your Dog a Bone”, commercial dog food can quite frequently be linked to diabetes, cancer, renal disease, arthritis and other degenerative conditions in dogs. But Billinghurst claims a dramatic drop in such conditions with dogs on a raw diet.
Components of a Raw Diet for Dogs
Raw food is what is eaten in the wild when an animal is killed for prey. Wolves and other dogs in the wild will eat flesh, bones, organs, stomach and intestines, along with the predigested vegetable matter found inside. Included are high quality protein and fat and plenty of good calcium. The pre-digested vegetable found in the stomach and intestines is in a form easily assimilated by the dog.
Benefits of a Raw Diet for Your Dog
Simply put, raw food diets contain the best ingredients for dogs, and none of the inferior ones found in lower-grade commercial foods. (for more on this topic, see articles: Food for Your GSD and Dog Food: Understanding the Ingredient Label). All this has significant implications for the health and overall wellbeing of your dog.
Raw diets have higher protein and fat contents than the minimums laid out by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which sets the guidelines for commercial dog food. Here are proportions as a percentage of the meal comparing a typical raw diet to the AAFCO guidelines:
- PROTEIN: Raw diet, 56%; AAFCO guidelines, 18-32%
- FAT: Raw diet, 25-30%; AAFCO guidelines, 8-22%
- CARBOHYDRATES, Raw diet, 14%; AAFCO guidelines, 46-74%
From the simple comparisons above, it is easy to see that the AAFCO guidelines fall far short when compared to the quality of nutrition inherent in a natural (raw) diet. AAFCO minimizes the protein and fat requirements, while allowing the hard-to-digest cheap grains to comprise up to 74% of the meal!
A shiny coat, sparkling eyes, clean white teeth, and a healthy well-nourished skin are often observed in raw-fed dogs!
The Nose Knows
Your dog will smell better, both his breath and his coat. Stools look entirely different (dry and crumbly), and their bad odor is diminished. Raw food is more completely digested by a dog, whereas a lot of junk in commercial dog food is eliminated in a partially-digested state.
A healthy dog lives longer, and such is often the case with dogs on a raw diet.
Are There Dangers to Raw Food for Dogs?
Any time you are dealing with food, but especially raw food, knowledge and vigilance is required. Because of either real or perceived dangers, some reject raw food out-of-hand. But we are going to review the pros and cons and let the information speak for itself. There are two potential dangers in raw food:
Fresh meat producers try to minimize the bacteria in their products, although the meat you buy in the grocery store is permitted relatively higher maximum bacteria levels than meat produced for raw feeding of pets. This is because grocery store meat is meant to be cooked. Many commercial raw pet food producers use High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) to kill pathogenic bacteria. This process is USDA approved, including for organic and natural products.
Nature has also equipped our dogs with bacteria-fighting capabilities of their own, including large quantities of bile and of patriotic enzymes, both of which are bacteria-fighters. Dogs and cats have a pH1 acid level in their stomachs which is more acidic than human levels. But on a cautionary note, while this level is sufficient to kill a number of bacteria types, the class of bacteria named acidophiles actually thrive in high-acid environments where pH levels are in the 1 to 5 range. One such bacteria is E. coli. This serves to remind us that commonsense precautions should always be taken in handling food, whether for raw or cooked consumption.
Parasites inhabit an animal’s gastro intestinal (GI) tract, which includes stomach and intestines. However, since we don’t feed these organs to our dogs, the concern over parasites is minimal. But on occasion parasites will migrate from the GI tract into muscle tissue. A simple precaution will provide the necessary safeguard: Freeze meat for three days before serving it to your dog, and any parasites will be killed.
Preparing Raw Food for Your Dog
There are many variations on the raw food diet, but we’ll give you the basic concept – the whole animal carcass model, which closely replicates what your dog’s wolf cousins eat in the wild. As noted above, when they eat their prey, wolves consume all parts including the nutrient-rich pre-digested plant material in the stomach and intestines.
The Whole Carcass Model
With this in mind, the whole carcass raw diet includes muscle, organs, and meaty bones. Chomping up meaty bones is excellent exercise for your dog, and it also keeps the teeth white. The crackling and crunching noises as your dog chomps on the bones can be disconcerting at first, but you’ll soon get used to it. Here’s a short demo of assembling a raw-food meal. Note at the end of the clip the sleek, agile appearance of the dog.
- Other Protein
Periodically feeding some salmon to your dog is a great idea. It is full of healthy omega3 fatty acids. Also raw eggs are good additions to any canine meal.
- Fruit & Vegetables
For a balanced diet, fruit and vegetables need to be added. However your dog will not digest these in their whole form; they will pass through his system – providing good fiber, but not the needed nutrients. So you must grate or puree the fruits and veggies. You can make batches and freeze the mix into cubes for use as you need them.
The right proportions in your dog’s diet will be around 75% combined meat, bones and organs, and 25% combined fruit and vegetable.
Variety is the key. All the following are good for your dog: Carrots, parsley, spinach, garlic, lettuce, celery, watercress, asparagus, spring greens, beet greens, dandelions, apples (cored to remove seeds), oranges, grapefruit and pears.
Avoid onions, grapes and apple seeds.
Feeding Details for Your Dog’s Raw Diet
Because raw foods are more digestible than regular commercial dog food, less quantity is required. A good rule is to feed your dog 2½%-3% of his weight in food per day. So an 80lb dog x 2½% = 2 lbs of food. Adjust the food percentage for the life-cycle of your dog. Pregnant or lactating females will need more – sometimes twice as much. Young pups will also need more. Older dogs will need less food. Keep an eye on the weight and appearance of your dog, and adjust meal sizes accordingly.
Feeding once a day works well with a raw diet, giving time for meat and bones to get digested between meals. In the wild, dogs often have a day or two between catching prey. Some people have their dog fast one day a week; and this may be a good idea.
The raw diet we’ve discussed has great nutritional value. But it is advisable to do some supplementing. 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.
Digestive enzymes: While adjusting your dog to a raw diet, a digestive enzyme supplement is recommended until his system adapts, producing sufficient digestive enzymes itself.
Quick Tip: Dogs love to remove meaty bones from their food bowls and take them to a choice location, preferably with carpeting! Serve the food outside, or on a tiled floor, and the problem’s solved.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach, or is more advanced in years, it is a good idea to transition into a raw diet over a period of one or two weeks. To do this, start by adding raw food to the established diet in a 30/60 ratio, progressively increasing the raw portion until it is 100% of the meal.
You may choose to get your vet’s input on the merits of a raw diet for your dog. And the best vets will put the wellbeing of their animal patients first, even if it means entertaining some new ideas and at times shedding a few pre-conceived ones.
But your local vet is human, with his or her own opinions and preferences on matters relating to best practices in animal care. If you ask your vet about raw food diets, you may or may not get an objective fact-based response, depending on his or her level of understanding on the subject.
If you decide the raw food is worth the try, you’ll need the courage of your convictions, and the willingness to blaze your own trail.
Recommended Further Reading:
- A blog post, Raw Feeding Your Dog, De-Mystified, we wrote after this article provides some useful updates. To read it, CLICK HERE
- While clearly there is much to recommend feeding a dog on raw food, convenience is not one of them. But this need not be an obstacle, in light of the latest development in this vibrant niche of the market. A number of smaller companies are now producing freeze dried versions of the raw diet. For our in-depth intro, Freeze Dried Raw Dog Food…, CLICK HERE
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