A Raw Meat Diet is Easy, Healthy & Your Dog Will Love It
Since I’ve been feeding Molly a raw meat and bones diet, her fur is shinier, her skin is no longer itchy, her teeth are sparkling and her breath is fresher — really. I want to share my knowledge and dispel misinformation about raw feeding.
More and more people are hearing about feeding their dog alternatives to the standard kibble diet, but they don’t always get complete information. Some are interested but just don’t know where to start. They are afraid they will do it wrong, or they are worried about germs. I hope this lens will help give you a better understanding of raw feeding so you can see if it is right for your dog. I know it is right for mine.
A Healthier Alternative to Grain-Based Kibble Diets
As the owner of an energetic, lovable Springer Spaniel named Molly, I am naturally concerned about what my dog eats. Although she had good energy, she constantly scratched, had nasty doggy breath and yellow, tarter-stained teeth that I spent a lot of money getting cleaned. She also disliked every brand of dog food I tried. As I did some research on dog allergies and dog food, I realized that Molly’s issues were caused by her premium kibble diet. Most commercial dog foods are heavily grain based, and many experts suspect that the grains are what cause most allergies in dogs, particularly skin allergies. The more I read about a raw meat diet for dogs — especially in light of the recent toxic dog food scare — the more I realized that this was the diet nature intended for dogs.
Raw Meat Diet vs Commercial Kibble
Why Should You Make the Change?
Why Feed Raw Meat & Bones
- A raw meat diet is the way nature intended. A species appropriate diet for dogs is one that mimics the way wolves and wild dogs eat in their natural habitat. They feed on the whole carcass, including the organs and the bones, which provides them with all the essential nutrients.
- A raw diet provides nutrients in their whole, unaltered unprocessed form: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, pre-biotics, probiotics, etc. They have not lost their potency or been destroyed by heat.
- A RMB diet increases healthy immune system function, reduces dry skin, allergies, and inflammation. Stools will be smaller and won’t smell as bad.
- A previously sluggish dog will likely have more energy and spark.
- Chewing on raw meaty bones helps scrape tarter off the teeth and gives the jaws a workout.
- Commercial dog food is unregulated. Most dog foods are grain-based with insufficient meat protein. They can and often do contain euthanized animals, meat from sick animals, indigestible ingredients, preservatives, and cancer-causing chemicals. Because of the way manufacturers are allowed to label dog food, you probably won’t even know the chemicals and preservatives are in there, even if it says “preservative-free.” This is because chemicals and preservatives are frequently added at the rendering plant, before they reach the manufacturer.
- Grains such as corn, wheat, and soy, commonly found in commercial foods, are major causes of allergies in dogs.
- Vets won’t tell you about the merits of raw feeding because the few hours of nutritional training they get at veterinary schools are often taught or subsidized by pet food manufacturers.
- Avoid dog food recalls. As I was looking up the price of some “high end” commercial dog foods on line, I noticed a bunch of recalls on what I thought was a decent, grain-free dog food. Why take the risk?
A New Dog
As I started feeding Molly a raw diet, she did a complete turnaround. Formerly I had to beg her to eat; now she jumps into a perky “sit” as soon as her meat appears and devours it instantly. The small amount of raw bone she eats (about 10% of her diet) and working at tougher cuts like beef tongue help scrape tarter off her teeth, which are now pearly white. Her coat is shinier, she’s stopped scratching, and even her doggy breath smells better.
The Truth About Raw Feeding
Let’s Dispel Some Myths
You may be skeptical about giving your dog raw meat, because we’ve all been conditioned by pet food companies. Here are some common concerns:
Is my dog going to get all the nutrients he needs?
Yes. Dogs are carnivores. They need meat. As mentioned above, a raw diet provides all your dog’s nutrients in their original state, undiminished by cooking or processing. The proof of whether your dog is getting proper nutrients will be in his improved coat, clean teeth and breath and relief from skin allergies.
Is he going to choke on the bones?
Very unlikely, if they are raw. Cooked bones are another issue; they can splinter and be dangerous.
What about parasites and bacteria like salmonella and e coli?
Even though we sometimes think of them that way, dogs are not human. Their systems are different than ours. They have a shorter digestive tract which helps lessen the chance of parasites or bacteria causing issues. Dogs, especially those on a raw diet, have an extremely acidic gut with a pH of around 1 or 2 that breaks down the meat and helps prevent bacteria from colonizing. There are also enzymes in their saliva that have antibacterial properties. They have a higher bacteria tolerance than we do. It is highly unlikely that a dog will get sick from raw food, unless the dog is already immuno-compromised. Just be sure to use common sense and practice good hygiene when you are feeding raw, just as you would when handling raw meat while preparing your own meals.
I Just Don’t Have the Time and It’s Too Complicated
You have a variety of options, and it is actually pretty simple. I feed my dog what is sometimes known as “home prepared raw” — hunks of meat. I do take care to clean my counter carefully and sterilize the knife and cutting board and keep her feeding mat clean. But don’t you practice good hygiene anyway when preparing meat for your family? I spend some time scouring the weekly ads to source the best prices. If you are concerned about the time and effort you may need to put in, read my comparison of raw feeding options.
Will It Make My Dog Bloodthirsty?
This is a common concern and one I don’t quite understand. My dog is eager to eat her chicken, beef, venison, etc., but she is hardly going to tear my hand off to get it. While she may chase a rabbit or two, the fun is in the chase!
May Help Maintain Optimum Weight
As my dog started getting older, I noticed that her weight has remained the same. It is so common for dogs to gain weight as they age, which can lead to diabetes, make it harder on them if they have arthritis, etc, just like us humans. As I started thinking about this, I realized it was probably due to her raw meat diet. Molly doesn’t get the typical carb-laden diet found in most commercial kibbles, instead she gets the meat and protein she needs to maintain optimum health. I think that plays a part in her maintaining her ideal weight without any effort or thought on my part; I have never had to cut back her food or change it because she was gaining unwanted weight. What a great side benefit of feeding a raw diet!
Feeding Raw is Easy
A raw meat diet is simple. Feed your dog chicken (bone-in), beef roasts and ribs, pork ribs, pork shoulder roasts, turkey quarters, fish, leg of lamb, venison, rabbit and other game. Nothing else. No vegetables, no fruit, no grains. Raw feeders advocate about 10% of the diet should consist of bone and the rest meat, including a small portion of organ meat such as liver and kidney. It’s a common misconception that heart counts as organ meat. Actually it is a muscle and can be fed like meat.
Variety is important. Try to get as much variety into your dog’s diet as you can find and afford. Look beyond the usual chicken, beef and pork that often becomes a staple. Try to work in additional meats like venison, rabbit, lamb, goat, plus fish to ensure your dog is getting important nutrients. Simply feeding chicken day in and day out is not a balanced diet.
A good rule of thumb is to feed your dog about 2% of his body weight daily. For puppies, you can feed approx. 2% of their expected adult weight. It is usually recommended that you feed puppies 3 times a day until 6 months then go to twice a day until they are a year old. My dog still likes two meals a day and she is now 12. I just divide her daily allotment into two meals.
Getting Teeth Cleaner
While there is no guarantee that you dog’s teeth won’t need professional cleaning on occasion, a raw diet can help keep teeth cleaner. But you need to give them something they have to work at, like beef tongue or
What NOT to Feed
Cut bones: Avoid feeding your dog cut bones like pork country style ribs, bone-in chuck roast or bone-in steaks, pork chops, or other meats with sharp, thinly sliced blades of bone. Also avoid beef bones of all kinds. They are guaranteed tooth-breakers. Chicken, pork and lamb bones are softer and okay to give.
Avoid chicken wings for all but toy dogs. They can easily get lodged in the throat. Ground meat is not a great choice because there are no chewing or teeth cleaning benefits.
It is usually best to start with chicken because it is relatively bland and easy to digest. As your dog gets used to the chicken, you can gradually introduce new foods, one at a time, such as pork, beef, or lamb. At first your dog may have loose stools as he gets accustomed to his new diet. This goes away in a few days.
Does Your Dog Gulp it Down All At Once?
Some dogs new to eating “real” food simply will be so eager when they smell that fresh meat that they will try to snarf it down in one big gulp. If you have a “gulper,” be sure to feed large portions of meat, something bigger than their head like say half a chicken or even a whole chicken. They can’t inhale that in one gulp. Once you feel they’ve had enough for one meal, remove the food and refrigerate it; bring it out at the next meal time. You can also serve the meat partially frozen to make them have to work at it a little. NEVER leave a gulper unattended while they are eating, or any dog for that matter.
Adding More Omega 3s to Diet
It is a good idea to add some extra Omega 3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet. I prefer a product that is free of soy because many dogs are allergic (watch out for “preserved with vitamin E” because it is often soy-lecithin based). I couldn’t figure out why Molly started itching more AFTER I started giving her omega 3 capsules. Then I looked at the label and realized it contained a soy-based preservative. I switched products to a soy-free liquid salmon oil and the itching went away.
You can either give your dog a capsule if he/she will take it, or use a liquid version like I do. My girl laps it up! I use wild salmon oil that comes with a pump dispenser, so it is not too messy. I just spritz it in her bowl and she licks it up. The one I use for Molly is called Grizzly Salmon Oil All-Natural Dog Food Supplement. It is not that expensive and for my 38lb dog it lasts for several months. This provides some extra insurance for a shiny coat and no itching.
Different Ways to Feed Raw
You Can Get Raw Food in a Variety of Forms
Home Prepared Raw Meat
This consists of whole pieces of raw meat such as chicken, beef, pork, lamb etc. This is the form of food my dog gets and it is consider the most pure form of raw feeding.
- Less expensive than prepared raw foods
- You can control exactly what is in your dog’s food
- Contains whole bones (such as bone-in chicken,lamb etc), which help keep teeth clean and provides calcium and minerals
- The ripping, gnawing and tearing action helps clean the teeth and satisfies your dog’s need to chew
- You need freezer space so you can stock up and save money
- Can take some time to find low-cost sources and you may need to buy in bulk to save
- Need to practice good hygiene — thoroughly washing your hands and food prep surfaces
- Can take some time to cut up meat into portions for freezing
Prepared frozen raw food is a very easy method for people who don’t want to be bothered with cutting up meat and packaging pieces for the freezer. A popular brand is
- Food is in its natural state
- Food is available in many forms such as nuggets, burgers, bars, chubs
- Lots of meat choices, including beef, turkey, chicken, lamb, buffalo, rabbit, venison
- More expensive than home-prepared
- Need enough freezer space for storage
- Must remember to remove a piece to thaw
- Need to practice good hygiene — careful handling and cleanup
Freeze dried raw foods are an easy way to feed raw.
- Easy to store and carry if you are traveling with your dog
- Good choice if you live in an apartment or have limited freezer space
- Helpful if you have a dog sitter or need to kennel your dog, or with anyone who might not be comfortable handling frozen raw food
- More expensive
- Since it is freeze-dried and not frozen raw, there many be some small nutritional differences
- Must be re-hydrated and need to allow a little time
- No dental or chewing benefits
What About Grain-Free Kibble?
Kibble is Still Kibble
Don’t be taken in by the new “grain free” dog foods. There is even a new “raw kibble” dog food out that blends grain-free kibble and pieces of freeze-dried raw meat. The problem is, “grain-free” kibble still contains carbs and starches. In the case of the “raw” kibble tapioca is the second ingredient. In other grain-free dog foods potatoes, rice or sweet potatoes, as well as tapioca, are commonly used. Whatever it contains, kibble lacks moisture content and carnivores like dogs and cats were designed to eat moisture-rich foods. Ever notice how much water your dog needs to drink after eating dry food?
Supplements for Your Dog
While not mandatory, some holistic vets recommend adding some supplements to your dog’s raw diet. A lot of people look to a raw food diet for their dog because of allergies, particularly skin problems. Here are some common supplements to consider and which I have used for Molly with good results:
Omega 3’s Fish Oil -This is a supplement that I highly recommend personally because I have seen what a difference it has made in Molly. My vet and other holistic vets (and non-holistic for that matter) also recommend adding Omega 3’s. You can get fish oil supplements in capsules or liquids and both are fine, it is individual preference. I use Grizzly Salmon Oil All-Natural Dog Food Supplement liquid with pump dispenser because it works, it’s easy and Molly loves it. If you would rather give capsules, I like Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Soft Gels. Be sure to look for one that does not have soy as a preservative. The label might even say “vitamin E” and I found out the hard way that it can mean soy. Molly was itching non-stop and I finally figured out it was the soy/vitamin E preservative in the capsules I was buying.
Hemp Seed Oil: Molly had some kind of skin condition and it was very itchy and she was losing her hair. My vet recommended adding hemp seed oil along with her salmon oil to provide a more complete ratio of omega fatty acids. It has really helped. I buy the Nutiva Organic Hemp Oil and squirt it into her dish with the salmon oil.
Glucosamine – Because my sweet girl is getting older and sometimes gets a little stiff when getting up from her bed, I started giving her Ark Naturals Joint Rescue Super Strength (500 mg) for Dogs & Cats. I really like this product. I have tried several, including liquids, and this seems to work the best. She loves the liver taste and it’s high potency, so for her size I only need to give 1 tablet/day. They are easy to break in half for smaller dogs. I truly think this is making a difference, she seems less stiff and prances down the street on her walks (if you haven’t seen a Springer prance, you are missing something!).
Probiotics – Health professionals have been recommending probiotics for us humans and likewise holistic vets often recommend adding probiotics to our dogs’ diets as well. They support gastrointestinal health by providing beneficial bacteria. The one I like is Complete Probiotics for Pets because it contains 14 strains of “good” bacteria with a minimum of 58 billion and it doesn’t need refrigeration. Probiotics help maintain our dog’s “good” vs “not so good” bacteria ratio, helps with digestive issues and bowel problems like diarrhea or inflammatory bowel, and generally helps support their immune system. If you have to give your dog antibiotics, a probiotic is really important to help restore the proper balance of flora in their digestive system. The few times Molly needed an antibiotic I gave her probiotics to maintain a healthy balance in her gut and I think it helped.
Multi-Vitamin– A good multi-vitamin may also help. One recommended by my holistic vet is Vetri-Science Canine Plus Dog Supplement – Beef Liver, which tastes good and Molly thinks it’s a treat. There is chicken flavor too. It’s a complete multi-vitamin/mineral complex with enteric-coated digestive enzymes to aid absorption.
What to Give Your Dog for Treats
We know that the typical dog biscuits and other wheat-based treats are not the best treats for our pets. I am with you, I am not going to give my dog raw meat treats, it’s just not convenient. Personally I don’t give Molly raw hide either because I have heard too many stories about it splintering and causing intestinal issues, choking and digestive problems. My preference is dried meat, i.e. jerky. But most of the jerky style dog treats, such as chicken jerky, comes from China. I am continually reading about recalls and problems with it being tainted and making dogs sick. The FDA is even recommending avoiding them. I don’t give Molly any treat with ingredients that come from China. It’s not worth the risk of her getting sick.
So what is the alternative for a raw fed dog? There are safe and nutritious options. My criteria is that ingredients come from the U.S. and the product is produced in America. They should be solely meat (or bone), no grains or extra ingredients like molasses or chemicals and artificial ingredients. I have found several products that fit my criteria and that pass the “Molly test”:
Super Power Bar Dog Chews – They are from 100% natural, grass fed Angus beef, a combination of cheeks, tendons, tripe, bully sticks, and gullet. They are low in fat, high in nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and beta carotene. They are hormone, steroid and antibiotic-free.
Only Natural Pet Health Treats Chicken Jerky Strips – 100% USA-sourced chicken and that’s the only ingredient, no chemicals or additives.
Where to Feed Your Dog
OK, so you want to give raw feeding a try. You might be wondering just where to feed your dog. If you are lucky enough to have a backyard with grass, you basically just need to toss the hunk of meat onto the grass or place it in a bowl on top the grass. Done. But if you only have a patio like I do, or if you live in an apartment, that’s not an option. What I do is buy one of those plastic table cloths from the dollar store and voila, you have a giant placemat so grease and “goobers” don’t get all over the place. First I squirt a few pumps of her salmon oil into a steel bowl and let her lick it out, then I add her meat. It’s less messy this way, so when she inevitably moves the meat from bowl to mat and drags it around it’s not covered in fishy smelling oil. I feed my dog on her big plastic mat on either the patio or else in the garage, where we keep “her” meat-filled fridge. When she is done I spray the mat with vinegar and water and give it a quick wipe, fold it up and put it away and wash her bowl.
It’s really personal preference. Other people feed their dogs in their kennel or crate and some even on the kitchen floor, which personally I think is gross, but whatever works for you.
Keeping Long Ears Clean While Eating
Where do you get them? If you are handy with a sewing machine you can make one yourself, or find one on line for around 15 dollars.