Feeding a raw diet can bring many benefits to your dog, such as a healthier skin & coat, stronger immunity, and improved oral health. However, a homemade meal can easily be incomplete and imbalanced, which will be devastating to your dog’s health. Before you start your dog on a raw diet, here are 10 things you, as a beginner, need to know.
Happy Sunday! Today, let’s talk about raw. Mama told me that when she first got me, she never imagined herself feeding me fresh raw food. But here she is now, getting her hands “dirty” chopping up beef liver and washing chicken feet.
According to her, it’s a huge sacrifice! As for me, I welcomed my first raw meal with a wide opened mouth and exactly five big gulps. There was no need for what the experts call, “a slow transition”.
As easy as it was for me to dive into the world of raw, it was not such a breeze for mama. She had to do quite a bit of research beforehand – consulting online communities, friends, and books. It may seem simple preparing a raw meal, but it can be disastrous for your pup’s health if you do not understand the basics of canine nutrition, and the science behind it.
Do note that what you will read below is all based on mama’s personal research, experience, and opinion. You may have a different view on a raw diet or what’s makes a good one and that’s okay. What’s important is that we have made a conscious effort to give what we think is best to our dogs.
I didn’t have to be on a raw diet for long before I reaped some of its benefits. Mama switched me from kibble to homecooked food to a raw diet solely because of my skin problems.
She hopes that a raw diet, which is much more digestible for dogs and not thermally damaged, will help boost my immune system to fight off allergies.
While that is still work in progress, my teeth and coat have improved tremendously! My teeth are sparkly white and all the tartar buildup on my back teeth has disappeared! Mama says it’s truly miraculous. Also, the bumps all over my back are gone, and I’m sporting a shiny and smooth coat (which already started when I was fed a homecooked diet). Kibble just won’t cut it!
10 Things You Need To Know
Don’t take your dog’s nutrition lightly. A good diet helps ensure your dog a long and healthy life, while a nutritionally deficient diet spells serious trouble! If you are thinking of switching your furkid to a raw diet, here are 10 things you will first need to know:
1. There are two types of raw diet
They are prey model and Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF). A prey model diet recreates what a dog would eat in the wild; which means feeding whole carcasses of bones, organs, muscle meat, skin, hair/feathers, fat and connective tissue. However, mama says this is impractical for most dog owners. Which is why there’s BARF – a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, supplements, and dairy products, on top of chopped or grounded raw meat, organs, and bones.
2. Do not start on a raw diet without proper research
A homemade diet can easily end up being terribly imbalanced or incomplete. Hence, it’s important to read up extensively on feeding a raw diet beforehand. For a start, mama recommends picking up a book called Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olson. She also joined the Homemade Meals for Your Furkids Facebook group to get advice and ideas from Singaporean dog owners!
Also, read these online references:
3. The meat, bone and organ ratio
The amount of food to feed in a raw diet is 2-3% of your dog’s ideal weight. It will take some trial and error to get the right amount. Mama started me on 2% of my ideal weight (6.5kg) but soon realised that she would like me to be a little fatter (woe is me!). Now she’s feeding me 2.5% of my ideal weight, which she is happy with (I personally think 5% would way work better).
Now take that amount and divide it into the following portions (similar ratio to a whole prey):
- 80 – 85% muscle meat with connective tissue and fat
- 5 – 10% organs (half of that should be liver)
- 10% raw meaty bones (soft or non-weight-bearing bones)
Again, you will need to adjust the percentages accordingly by monitoring your dog’s poop. For example, too much skin and fat will result in loose stools and too much bone will result in constipation.
4. Take it slow
Start with a single protein and slowly work towards a variety. Mama started me on raw beef cubes and minced beef before adding lamb chops into my diet. She is hoping to get me some game meat, such as venison soon (yay!). Organs may be too rich so you can start without them, and only add them in weeks later.
Your pup needs time to adjust to a change in diet, so don’t be surprised by soft stools. Mama started by giving me blanched minced beef before feeding me a completely raw diet. I didn’t experience any form of loose stools.
5. Dogs can’t digest the cellulose in vegetables
If you are going to feed vegetables, steam and chop or pulp them first. With a shorter digestive tract compared to humans, it is harder for dogs to break down the cell walls of vegetables. Mama feeds me broccoli about 2-3 times a week.
6. Not all bones are safe for dogs
Bones can be dangerous for dogs, and this is especially so for smaller pups like me. I never fail to gobble down food so it’s impossible for mama to feed me anything other than soft bones.
7. Some vitamins and minerals work together and need to balance each other
In the book mama recommended, there is a list of nutrients that are essential for your dog’s health. There are also certain minerals, vitamins and fatty acids that need to be balanced with each other – calcium & phosphorous, zinc & copper, vitamin E & omega 3, potassium & sodium, and omega 3 & omega 6.
The biggest concern is usually with calcium & phosphorous. Phosphorous is abundant in meat and bone, and too much of it can deplete your dog’s calcium reserves; causing serious problems. The ideal ratio is 1:1. If you are not feeding bone in your dog’s diet, you will need to feed a calcium supplement.
8. You may still need to add supplements
A raw diet still requires supplementing. However, be careful not to overdo it as supplements usually come in blends, and overlaps may occur. Read the ingredient list properly. Mama currently feeds me calcium, multi-strain probiotics, and an omega 3 fish oil supplement.
9. Trust your common sense
When it comes to feeding a raw diet, it’s important to trust your common sense. For example, it’s written everywhere that raw meaty bones are an essential part of a raw diet. However, as much as I love raw bones, I tend to swallow them, which can cause choking and obstruction. I vomited pieces of oxtail bones because I swallowed them without chewing properly.
It disturbed mama that I was missing out on bones, but she ultimately decided to supplement my calcium intake instead. Don’t force it if it doesn’t work for your dog.
10. Not all vets are knowledgeable about feeding a raw diet
If you think a raw diet is right for your dog, find a holistic vet who is trained in canine nutrition. As much as online information and communities are helpful, you will need a trusted expert to guide you along the way.
Why all the trouble?
It’s true that kibble is convenient and promises a complete and balanced nutrition (digestibility and quality aside). However, as a pup with a sensitive stomach, I didn’t digest kibble well, resulting in frequent vomiting and soft stools.
Switching to homecooked food helped with my coat and digestion, but mama still thought that the process of cooking kills a lot of nutrients. With all that she has experienced, mama believes that a raw diet is the best for me, and she is willing to spend time getting educated on it.
Mama will be bringing me for a blood test soon (and annually) to ensure that I’m on the right track. She’s still learning! Hopefully, with the right diet and supplements, I will be on the road to spending many more healthy and active years with my family.