There are those who say that neither wet nor dry dog food is best since these still undergo extensive processing in the hands of man. What dogs really need is a diet that resembles what they have been eating in the wild. What dogs really need is a raw food diet that will help them get in touch with their true nature. And if you believe in such diets but don’t know how and where to start, here’s a definitive guide for you to help you provide the best raw food diet to your dog.
Start with Calcium and Phosphorus in the Diet
Two of the most important minerals that all dogs need are calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is needed to fill the matrix of the bone, making it exceptionally denser and stronger. This is important to help your dog carry its weight as well as absorb impact forces from the ground. Phosphorus is what helps the dog’s body absorb more calcium so that these can be sent right to the bones.
And if you are feeding your dog raw food it is important to include 12 to 15 percent bone. Keeping it simple, make sure that 1/3 of your dog’s diet is composed of meaty bones. Yes, you need to feed your beloved pooch bones such as chicken wings, things, necks, and legs as well as lamb or goat ribs or necks, beef tail bone, turkey necks, and many others.
We know it sounds really frightening especially with chicken bones because these can really splinter into very sharp pieces that they can puncture the lining of our pet’s stomach and intestines. But the thing is that ancestral dogs ate whole carcasses, flesh and all, and they have persisted through the ages. Of course there will be some of you who will say that dogs today have already evolved so much that feeding them raw is like facilitating their regression.
You can give flesh or meat, too. However, do take note that this has lower levels of calcium, although it is rich in phosphorus. Giving your pooch, especially your puppies an all-meat diet can lead to the development of bone and nervous system problems.
If you are still wary about giving your pooch large bones, you can give them whole fish, whole poultry, and even whole rabbit to feast on since these will give your dog the right amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Alternatively you can give them raw eggs complete with the shell since this is where most of the calcium is found. Just make sure where the eggs are farmed, though.
Always Include Organ Meats
A lot of dog owners who feed their pets raw food completely miss the point of providing pooches with organ meats. You can also read from many pet owners’ forum that kidneys, pancreas, lungs, brains, livers, and spleens are bad for your dog. What they don’t understand is that these organ meats are an important source of nutrition not only for dogs but also for humans everywhere else. Many are grossed-out when they think of offal and it would seem this natural aversion for ‘bizarre’ foods that are not really ‘bizarre’ if you try to look at it with a new perspective is also extended into dog food that contains such organ meats.
Here’s what you are actually giving your pooch when you give it organ meats.
- Heart – selenium, zinc, thiamine, co-enzyme Q10, phosphorus, folate, and B vitamins
- Liver – vitamin A, iron, copper, co-enzyme Q10, B vitamins, and folic acid
- Brain – DHA, vitamin B12, vitamin A, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and calcium
- Kidneys – Vitamin B12, B6, iron, riboflavin, niacin, and folate
- Pancreas – Vitamin C, thiamine, folate, niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium
- Thymus – vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium
- Tripe – folate, choline, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium
- Tongue – B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, calcium, and iron
- Lungs – vitamins A, C and B, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, iron, and calcium
- Testicles – potassium and iron
Technically, the organ meats are like your multi-vitamins and mineral supplement. Not including organ meats in your pet’s raw diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
So how do you feed organ meats to your pooch? These ingredients should comprise anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of your pet’s diet. Do take note that if you are only giving a single organ meat ingredient like liver only or heart only, it is best to limit it to 10 percent of your pet’s meal. However, if you are looking at a smorgasbord of organ meats, then you can feed as much as 30% of these organ meats to your pet.
Keep in mind one thing though. If you intend to give either liver or lungs, make sure to limit it to just 10% of your dog’s diet, although we really recommend going for 5% as these organ meats are naturally high in Vitamin A. It’s not that vitamin A is bad. However, since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it has a greater tendency to cause toxicity than other vitamins.
By the way, in case you’re wondering how you can get hold of the pancreas and thymus, you can ask your butcher to give you ‘sweetbreads’.
Here’s another tip. If this is your dog’s first time to try organ meats, go easy on it. Doing it in one go can lead to diarrhea. Also, if your pooch doesn’t like its taste, you may want to sauté it first just to add some flavor.
Invest in High Quality Muscle Meat
All of the organ meats we discussed in the preceding section all contain proteins. However, these should not be the principal source of protein for your pooch. The best source of high quality protein is from very nice, very lean meats. If bones constitute 15% of your dog’s diet and organ meats comprise up to 30%, then lean meats will have to take as much as 50% of your dog’s raw diet, with the lower limit at 35%.
Protein is important for building tissues especially the muscles. It is also crucial in the synthesis of enzymes and hormones to allow for more efficient physiologic processes.
So what lean meats can you give to your pooch?
You can start with lean beef such as ground beef, meats that are used for stews, and meats that are found on the cheek of cattle. You can also give beef heart as this is naturally composed of lean muscle meat. However, since it also contains other nutrients as we have outlined in the preceding section, beef heart should only comprise 5% of your dog’s diet and no higher.
You can also give ground bison or even the meat of a bison that is often used for stewing. The boneless thighs of a turkey also make for an excellent protein source. If not, turkey beast, ground turkey meat, or even turkey tenderloin should be excellent choices. The same is true with lamb. You can get lamb breast, lamb shoulder, or even ground lamb, although stewing lamb works perfect.
Chicken breast and boneless thighs should also be excellent choices. If you love pork, that will be fine, too. Go for the pork shoulder, loin, or even the butt. You can also try the meat from the ribs or any meat that has some cushioning effect on the swine.
Be Careful with the Fat
Fat should not comprise more than 20% of your pet’s raw diet. This is one of the biggest mistakes of raw dog diet feeders. It is not necessarily because of purposeful feeding of too much fat but rather in choosing poor quality meats to include in the raw diets of their dogs. You see, poor quality meats are cheaper. Unfortunately, while they may be cheap, they also have more fat content.
Don’t get us wrong. Fat is important for optimum health. It is needed in the production of certain hormones. It also helps in keeping the integrity of the cells. Many fats are useful in keeping the optimal functioning of the nervous system, the immune system, and even the integumentary system. The fact is that fat is needed by organisms to survive, even man and dogs.
Sadly, there is a downside to fat. A single molecule of fat actually packs 2.25 times more calories than a single molecule of carb and protein can provide. In fact, if you combine the calories from carbohydrates and proteins, the amount of calories in a single molecule of fat will still come out on top. This is why fat is considered as an energy-dense molecule, capable of packing 9 calories for every gram of fat.
A dog diet that is too high in fat simply increases the risk of obesity and the development of associated metabolic and cardiovascular problems. More importantly, however, is that your pooch will not be getting the right amounts of vitamins and minerals necessary for optimum functioning. Since fat is concentrated energy, if your pooch is unable to use up this energy, then there is a likelihood that the unused energy will be stored as fat, leading to health problems in the future.
As such, as a rule, fat should not comprise more than 10 percent of your dog’s diet with the maximum limit at 20%. Here are some good ways to provide your dog with just the right levels of fat while also providing its need for protein and calcium.
If you have to give chicken like chicken neck or even any chicken meat, make sure to remove the skin as most of the fat in chicken is stored in a layer of tissue just under the skin. The same is true with turkey. Remove the skin and just give the meat, bones, and all. Pork loin, lean ground beef (one that contains no more than 15% fat), and most fish are also excellent choices. You can also go for rabbit as well as most wild game with the exception of duck as this is a really fatty fowl.
That being said, you can skip the pork belly, poultry meats with their skins on, and even duck, no matter how tempting it could be.
Don’t Skimp on Healthy and Wholesome Veggies and Fruits
One of the most often asked questions by newbies to the world of raw diet dog feeding is whether they can give their dogs raw vegetables and fruits, too. The thing is that if you have been consistent with the first 4 tips we have presented here – bones, organ meats, lean meat, low fat – then your dog is essentially getting a well-balanced meal already.
However, do take note that there are some unique benefits that plant foods can give to your dogs that you simply cannot find anywhere else. Besides, even ancestral dogs have been known to munch on grass, fruits, root crops, and veggies from time to time. No one can be certain as to why the dogs of the ancient world munched on plant foods, but they did. Perhaps they know something that man still doesn’t comprehend. Or simply, they know that they need these food sources, too.
So let us try to find out what substances are found in veggies and fruits that is negligible if not totally absent in animal products.
Carotenoids – Red-, yellow-, and orange- colored vegetables and fruits contain carotenoids that are known for their amazing antioxidant properties. These can help protect your pooch from premature aging and allow it to effectively manage inflammatory conditions. So you can give your pooch cantaloupes, papayas, squash, and even carrots.
Chlorophyll – You may know this in your elementary biology class as the green pigment produced by plants. What you may not know is that chlorophyll is also an excellent detox agent which can aid your dog’s liver in the effective processing of all metabolites that enter its body.
Flavonoids – Go for plant foods that have rich colors if you want to give your pet the most amounts of bioflavonoids in town. The thing is that flavonoids are known to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They are excellent antioxidants, too. Flavonoids are important in the regulation of cell signaling mechanisms allowing the immune system to become more efficient at managing threats to the body.
Lutein – This antioxidant is commonly found in oranges, broccoli, papaya, and kale as well as other yellow plants and dark and green leafy vegetables. Its principal benefit is in the protection of your dog’s eyes, heart, and skin.
Lycopene – Found in tomatoes, watermelon, red cabbage, and carrots, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant like carotenoids that can help improve overall health of your dog.
Prebiotics – These are plant fibers that don’t get digested inside the dog’s gut. What it does is that it serves as food for the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics living inside the dog’s gut, making them more efficient at maintaining healthier immune system and more efficient digestive function.
Related Post: Best Probiotics for Dogs
To maximize these nutrients for your dog, you’d really have to go raw. However, there will be instances when your pooch may not actually like it so you can also lightly steam these first. Alternatively you can turn them into mulch or a juicy treat for them to enjoy. Do pick organic veggies and fruits. They tend to be more expensive, but at least you’re not introducing unnecessary chemicals into your pet’s food. Also, you’re maximizing all that nutrient goodness found in these plant foods.
Avoid Starches as Much as Possible
If you look at most commercially available dog food you’ll notice that a great majority of these contain grains such as rice, potatoes, and peas. Some even come with corn, soy, and wheat as well as other forms of starchy foods. The main issue that we have here is not really whether dogs can digest these starches or not (we now know that they can easily digest these types of food) but rather in the risk of developing insulin resistance and obesity.
The point is that starchy foods pack so much glucose into each gram of food. Don’t believe us? Let us compare potatoes and kale. Potatoes are starchy while kale is green, leafy, and fibrous. If we take 100 grams of potato, this will typically contain 77 calories, 71 of which come from carbohydrates. On the other hand, a similar 100 grams of kale will only give you 50 calories but only 36 calories will be supplied by carbohydrates.
In this example alone you can instantly see that for the exact same amount of potatoes and kale – both at 100 grams – the amount of carbohydrates in potatoes is about twice that of kale. Increased carbohydrates in the dog’s body favor the continual release of insulin which mobilizes the glucose in food to the cells for use as energy. However, if there are more carbohydrates (or glucose) than what the cells actually need, then the excess carbs are stored in the form of glycogen and fat. Remember that part of your dog’s raw diet is real meats and organ meats which already contain fat. Your dog doesn’t need additional fat that is sourced from unused carbohydrates.
There’s another issue about putting too much carbohydrates into your pooch’s intestines. It disrupts the normal and healthy balance of colonies of beneficial bacteria. You should keep in mind that 7 of 10 cells of the immune system are found in the gut and these healthy bacteria help ensure that these immune system cells are working optimally. Disrupting this delicate microbial flora can lead to dog allergies, inflammatory disorders, and even yeast infections.
In hindsight, this is the single most important reason why dogs fed with raw diets fare way much better than pooches fed with commercial foods because the latter are simply filled with too much starchy ingredients. The benefits of raw food may not actually be in the very nature of the diet itself, but rather in the absence – or at least very minimal amounts – of starchy foods.
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Provide Fish at least Once a Week
Most dog owners give their pets high quality fish oil supplements. Unfortunately, these preparations can turn rancid rather easily, leading to gastric upsets and even inflammatory problems in pooches. These preparations are also processed so there really is no guarantee that we’re giving pure, unadulterated, raw fish oil to our pooches.
A healthier option is to give your pooch whole fish like mackerel, sardines, herring, or even smelts at least once a week. Alternatively, you can include smaller proportions of fresh fish – flesh, skin, bones, and all – into your dog’s daily raw diet for more health-giving benefits. The point is that when you combine your dog’s total weekly diet, whole fish will have to comprise about 5 percent of its total weekly diet.
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Observe Variety and Fine-tune Your Dog’s Diet
It is always a given that you will not really be able to hit the sweet spot the first time. Also, like you, your dog will grow bored of the same old stuff that you are serving it. That is why it is imperative that you provide variety in their raw food diet. Offering a variety of food also allows you to provide your pooch with a much-wider range of nutrients and other health-giving substances and ingredients. This is where careful dietary planning comes in. You will have to create a diet plan for your pooch so you will have an idea of the kinds of nutrients that it is getting and correlate these nutrients to the physiologic and even behavioral changes that you might see from your pooch.
Over time you will be able to fine-tune the right proportion of nutrients that your dog needs. Do keep in mind that there’s no point calculating for the very precise nutrient content of food ingredients. It is best to have an understanding of nutrient estimates as a more sensible way of telling if your pooch is getting the right amounts of nutrients or not.
Feeding your dog exclusive raw diets can bring a whole lot of benefits for your pet. It may be worrisome at first, especially when giving bones and organ meats, but you have to realize this is a natural reaction to change. We have been living in a world where giving our pooches commercially-available dog food is the norm. Of course changing to raw diet will be met with skepticism and even downright rejection. But, if you truly love your pooch, then you know this is the best diet for your furry pal.
- Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman, How a Raw Food Diet May Affect Patient Care and Outcomes, The MSPCA–Angell
- People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets, ASPCA