How To Try a Raw Food Diet for Dogs

Guide to Switching from Commercial to Raw

Hungry dog staring at raw meat

The raw food diet craze is sweeping the dog nation -- and for good reason. Raw, natural diets are better for dogs, providing them with more nutrition and keeping them healthier. Raw foods don't need all the junk in them to preserve them, and are prepared from natural ingredients. Simply freeze, thaw, and serve! 

Some people are skeptical that if their dogs eat raw food that one of three things will happen:

  • Their dogs will 'crave' blood and turn into man-eaters.
  • Their dogs will get salmonella or other food bacteria.
  • Their dogs will get spoiled.

First, let me assure you that your dog will NOT turn into a vampire by eating raw meats and bones. If eating raw foods made them aggressive and have the urge to kill one another and us too, how then can you explain packs of wolves living in harmony? If the taste of blood turned dogs and their cousins into cold killers, no dogs would be left, and neither would there be any humans because dogs would have devoured us all!

Canines have been eating raw meats way before man, and will continue to do so for years to come. If your dog has food aggression issues, chances are he's had that problem to begin with and you should seek the advice of a trainer on how to stop the food aggression before changing to a raw diet. The only reason is to establish boundaries before attempting a diet change. Let me also add that many aggressive dogs' 'bad behavior' is related to a poor diet.

Secondly, dogs' digestive systems work much differently than ours. They work faster and are more acidic, making it nearly impossible for dogs to get ill from food-bourne bacteria in the way that humans do. Ever notice how, after your dog eats, he need to go 'outside'? They have a smaller digestive system, and it works faster. If you give your dog certain fruits and veggies, you may have noticed that they pass through whole. This is because it does not stay into the system long enough for the stomach acid to break it down. In other words, your dog isn't benefiting from it anyway. Now you know why your dog doesn't get ill from helping himself to a little roadkill every now and then. He may get worms from roadkill, but the likelihood of him getting worms from a raw diet, when purchased from a manufacturer or from USDA approved meats, it is slim to none. Don't buy raw meats from an unknown source, and freeze whatever you aren't using within a weeks time right away to reduce the chance of bacteria (as you would with human food). Always consult with your vet if you think your dog has worms or has diarrhea for more than 24 hours.

Thirdly, your dog WILL get spoiled, but so what? You will feel better knowing he's getting a better diet, he'll be happier because he's getting variety in his food AND liking it, and you'll enjoy getting more years together in the long run. So go ahead, splurge! Isn't he worth it? 

The following steps are a basic guide for an average healthy dog. Please consult your vet before switching his diet, if your dog is elderly, ill, or has any medical conditions.

  1. Don't rush it. Try one kind of protein source first (chicken is usually recommended because it is not as rich, and it is easily digested by most dogs). The ideal switch over is about 1/4 of 'new' to 3/4 'old'. If your dog has any diarrhea, back off a bit and feed less of the new. I prefer a one month plan that goes along these lines:
    • Week 1: 1/4 new, 3/4 old
    • Week 2: 1/2 new, 1/2 old
    • Week 3: 3/4 new, 1/4 old

    By week 4, he should be switched over completely.

  2. Stay with one protein source. As stated above, don't try too many things in the beginning. Stay with chicken for the first month (if your dog has a sensitivity to chicken, try beef or lamb). During this time, you can start to add different supplements that he needs in addition to the raw meats. Several raw diets also have a veggie diet as well. He should be getting a diet with both. Dogs are omnivores like us, meaning they eat meats and greens.
  3. Add supplements. Within the first month, you also need to start adding vitamins and minerals to his diet, since once on the raw diet these will no longer be in his food. Recommended supplements are Fish Oils for Omega 3&6 fatty acids, Probiotics (acidophilus), Vitamin E (200 IU per 50 lbs of body weight), Garlic, Digestive enzymes, and a multivitamin. The supplements provided are there to fill in any 'gaps' in the diet. A dog's diet need not be balanced every day, so long as it is balanced over time.
  4. Add new proteins. Now you can start to change things up for your dog. Many raw diets offer rabbit, beef, chicken, lamb, tripe, and turkey as protein sources. I recommend trying turkey next, then the beef and so on. You can mix the foods daily (i.e. rabbit and chicken one day) or throughout the week (give beef one day, chicken the next, then beef again). Variety is the spice of life. Do you eat the same thing everyday?
  5. Start adding bones. You should also be supplementing the diet now with raw bones. These can come in the form of marrow bones from the grocer or local butcher (NOT pet store brands -- these splinter and are dangerous because they have been cooked/boiled), or by giving raw turkey necks or chicken backs.

    Bones ar a requirement not just for teeth cleaning, but also for the calcium content. Don't worry, you won't kill your dog. Raw bones are good, cooked/sterilized bones are bad. I DO recommend, though, giving raw turkey necks first instead of chicken backs, because the bones are different. It seems dogs can learn about chewing bones and swallowing them better on a turkey neck than a chicken back.

  6. Variety in, variety out. Don't be concerned if your dog's stools become less consistent. Some dogs, especially after starting the bones, pass stools with a rather chalky appearance. Some dogs seem to strain a bit as well. This is all normal, as you are now feeding a varied diet. DO be concerned if your dog has liquid diarrhea (soft stools aren't diarrhea) or can't go to the bathroom. Straining but still passing stools is OK from time to time, as this is how the body naturally expresses the anal glands. Above all, if you're concerned, consult your vet. I would actually suggest contacting the food manufacturer for input too, as they have experience in raw-based diets that can complement your vet's.

Now you have the basics, but refer to your vet and the food company you are purchasing from. They can better guide you based on your dog's needs. The average 1 Cup of ground meat/bone is approximately 1/2 lb. With that in mind, here are some general guidelines of how much to feed your dog PER DAY on a raw diet:

  • Toys (7-15 lbs): 1/4 - 1/2 lb daily
  • Small (16-25 lbs): 1/2 - 3/4 lb daily
  • Medium (25-50 lbs): 3/4 - 1 lb daily
  • Large (51-75 lbs): 1 - 1.5 lb daily
  • Very Large (76-100 lbs): 1.75 - 2 lbs daily

In general, feed young, active, underweight or growing dogs more food. Give older, senior, overweight and larger dogs less food.

 

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