How to Raw Feed
Feeding a raw diet is simple, safe, balanced and inexpensive when done properly. In this section we will explain how to compose a raw diet and how to switch your dog from a processed diet to a raw one. A raw diet is made up of 4 basic ingredients:
1. Raw meat
2. Raw bones
3. Raw offal
4. Raw vegetables and fruit
These should be fed in differing proportions. Different raw food suppliers often recommend different proportions which can be confusing to a new raw feeder. Some may recommend 80% meat and offal and 20% vegetable while others recommend 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% offal and 5% vegetable. Please do not worry too much about specific proportions, as we said earlier, dogs do not get all of their nutrition from one meal, they obtain it over time, therefore we can vary their meals to meet their nutritional needs. Similar to the human food guide pyramid we can look at a raw food pyramid to simplify raw feeding:
Raw meat and fat in the UK mainly comes from cattle, sheep, pigs, turkey, chicken and salmon. Other forms of meat may be sourced but can be seasonal and more difficult to obtain such as duck, rabbit or venison. Meat cuts from these animals can come in the form of heart, tongue, fillets, cheek, skirt, lung, diaphragm, trachea, gizzard, green tripe, brisket and penis. These usually come minced and should make up around 80% of your dog’s diet. It is good practice to alternate different meat varieties as they will contain different trace minerals and anti-oxidants, try and rotate between at least 4 types. Oily fish such as salmon, herring, pilchards, sardines, mackerel and trout can be added or given as meals 2-3 times per week as a source of omega 3 and 6.
Raw meaty bones are an excellent source of nutrients and great for cleaning the teeth. Suitable bones to give your dog are: chicken and duck wings; lamb or pork ribs; duck, chicken or turkey necks; or a full or half carcass of chicken, pheasant, duck or wood pigeon. Bones should make up around 10% of your dog’s diet. You can supply your dog with its bone content by feeding a complete raw food that contains minced/crushed bone or by giving them raw meaty bones 2-3 times a week or a mixture of both. This is discussed in more detail in the feeding bones section.
Offal is a term used to describe the internal organs of an animal. Offal suitable for dogs to eat are liver, kidney, brain, testicles, spleen and pancreas. Offal is an excellent source of nutrients and digestive enzymes; it should make up around 10% of your dog’s diet with half of that being liver. Offal can also be provided within a pre-mixed raw meal for you so you do not have to source it yourself.
There is some debate among raw feeders as to whether vegetables need to be added to a raw food diet. We do know that wolves did eat fruit and vegetables in times of scarce food, they also ate the partially digested gut matter of their prey which would have contained plant matter.
You can add fruit and vegetables so they make up 5% of your dog’s diet or just add them as and when without calculating, referring back to the ‘balance over time’ concept. Suitable vegetables for dogs are carrot, parsnip, turnip, swede, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, squash and celery. Suitable fruits are apples, watermelon, banana, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Vegetables should be fresh as they lose their nutritional value over time. They can be grated or put through the food processor. Some vegetables such as a carrot or fruit such as apple (core removed) can be given whole as they are great for cleaning the teeth when given this way. Mix the vegetable content in with the meat so it isn’t left behind!
If you are feeding a balanced raw diet your dog should be getting everything they need from their food. However, supplements can be used in certain circumstances, for example to help deal with a particular illness. This is covered in detail in the supplements section. It is important to get to grips with the basic raw diet first and then consider supplementation. A raw egg can be given in its shell once a week. The shell is a great source of calcium, the contents are a good source of vitamin A, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, iron, selenium and fatty acids. Other supplements include natural probiotic yoghurt, cottage cheese, kelp, brewers yeast, molasses and oil (cod liver, hemp, sunflower or coconut oil once or twice a week), see the supplements section for more information.
How much raw food should I give my dog per day?
Now that we have covered the composition of raw food we can have a look at how much raw food to feed your dog per day. A healthy sized adult dog (over 10kg) should eat 2-3% of their bodyweight per day, usually split into two meals, so a 20kg dog will eat around 400-600g per day.
This percentage can be modified depending on your dog’s weight and activity levels, for example an overweight dog can be fed 2% or a very skinny dog 3.5%. Working, racing and active dogs should be fed 3-6% of their body weight on the days they are working or active and the usual 2-3% on their rest days.
The easiest way to monitor your dog’s weight is to use something called a ‘Body Condition Score’ or BCS. This is a scale vets use to score a dog from 1 to 5 based on their shape and fat deposits, if you score your dog as a 3/5 then you are feeding the ideal amount of food. This is a great tool for you to be able to monitor your dog’s size and adjust their volume of food accordingly. An easy guide to BCS is shown below:
To feed dogs under 10kg we need to adjust our percentages slightly:
Dogs weighing 1-2kg – feed 10% of body weight
3-4kg – feed 7% of body weight
5-8kg – feed 5% of body weight
9-10kg – feed 3% of body weight
11kg and over – feed 2% of body weight
We advise feeding your dog two meals a day, this is especially for larger breed dogs who are at risk of gastric torsion if their stomach is empty for long periods of time. Some small breed dogs may only want to eat once a day; this is fine as they are at much lower risk of this. Do not leave raw food down, if your dog doesn’t eat it, take it away, cover it and put in back in the fridge and try again at the next meal time, adopt an eat it or lose it approach.
Wild dogs ate all of their prey, including the bones. Bones are an excellent way of keeping your dog’s teeth clean, often referred to as nature’s toothbrushes they prevent plaque formation and periodontal disease. Allowing a dog to chew a bone keeps them calmer and happier as well as providing exercise and strengthening their jaws and upper body. Bones are a source of meat and marrow and also contain may other nutrients:
Essential fatty acids
Blood-forming nutrients including iron and copper
Vitamins A, D and E
Essential amino acids including lysine
Minerals including magnesium, calcium and phosphorus
If you are not used to feeding bones it can be daunting so we have compiled some tips to help you, if you stick to these you should be fine!
1.Bone should only make up 10% of the diet, feeding more than this can cause constipation. If you are feeding prepared raw food with bone content, then reduce the amount of raw meaty bones you give per week. Aim for firm stools that pass easily, if your dog is straining to pass faeces and it is very chalky then the bone content is too high. When introducing a dog to raw food it may be helpful to wait for one month before introducing additional bones to allow the gut to adapt to the new diet.
2. ALWAYS supervise your dog when feeding bones. Dogs that are new to bones can become over excited and may choke/regurgitate by trying to eat them too quickly. This should improve as they get used to eating bones. This leads onto the next point:
3. If you have a dog that tries to gulp bones, then you can give them frozen or partially frozen until they learn to chew properly.
4. Only give bones that are of an appropriate size to your dog’s mouth/throat. For example, chicken wings are perfect for a small dog but may get stuck in a medium/large dog’s teeth or throat, something like a turkey neck would be more appropriate.
5. Do not feed weight bearing bones such as leg bones – these bones do not have the same nutritional value and they are very hard which can break the teeth.
6. Suitable bones should have plenty of meat on them
7. Check that bones are from a young animal (they will most likely be from a butcher or raw food supplier), this will ensure that they are soft and unlikely to splinter.
8. Never feed cooked, smoked or dried out bones as these can splinter
9. If you have a multi-dog household, separate them when feeding bones to avoid fights over resource guarding.
How do I switch to raw food?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to switching to raw food. Many raw feeders advocate a straight switch from processed food to raw food with a fast day in between. Others advise a gradual change over 7 days. A gradual change involves feeding the original food in the morning and the raw food in the evening for 5-6 days then raw only the day after. You could try a straight switch to begin with and if it disagrees with your dog then you can try the gradual change instead.
A good idea is to start your dog on one protein source for the first one to two weeks, this allows the digestive system to adapt to the new diet. You can then introduce a new protein every one to two weeks, this will highlight any intolerance to a particular protein. Once your dog has tried all of the meat proteins you can mix them up on a daily or weekly basis. A good protein to start with is tripe because this is easily digestible and contains a lot of nutrients. Another option would be plain chicken or turkey as these are least likely to cause any digestive upsets. We generally introduce offal and raw meaty bones a month after commencing raw feeding.
If your dog does have soft stools or constipation in the first month, digestive enzymes and probiotics can be added to aid with digestion or you can increase or decrease the bone content accordingly. Some soft stools may be normal during the first week, as long as your dog is still bright and eating then this is okay. If your dog has very watery diarrhoea or has any blood in the stools then contact us, this is unlikely but may indicate an intolerance to a protein or to quick a change from processed food to raw food.
Sometimes when dogs initially switch to raw they may vomit a small amount of white foam or yellow bile usually in the morning, this is the digestive tract adapting to the higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet and is usually nothing to worry about. If vomiting or diarrhoea is persistent then please contact us for advice.
Storage, serving and hygiene
Pre-prepared raw food is frozen immediately after mixing and is then transported in freezer vans set at a temperature of -18oC. Freezing has no impact on the nutritional value of the food and bones and carcasses can be frozen also. After collection or when your delivery arrives, place it straight in the freezer. Pre-prepared raw food usually comes in packets of 454g, 500g or 1kg, simply take out what you need for the next day and thaw it overnight. It is best to avoid defrosting the food using a microwave as that concentrates heat on the food which is detrimental to its nutritional value. If you need to defrost some food quickly then put it in a plastic bag and place it in a basin of cold water, it will take 2 hours to defrost.
Food can be frozen, party thawed and refrozen, this will happen during the car journey home from collecting your food. There is absolutely no health risk associated with this as your freezer will be cold enough (-18oC) to kill off any bacteria. The only side effect of repeatedly thawing and freezing food is that it becomes progressively mushier and bloody. Raw food will maintain optimum freshness for 2 days in the fridge and will keep for up to 9 months in the freezer. Some tips for handling raw food are:
1. Keep raw food frozen until ready to use
2. Thaw in a refrigerator (this takes 10-12 hrs for a 500g pack)
3. After serving the food, replace any remaining thawed food back into the refrigerator immediately. Store in a sealable Tupperware container.
4. Feed raw food in a stainless steel bowl
5. Wash all work surfaces, utensils, hands (or wear gloves) and food bowls with hot soapy water after handling raw food
6. Keep raw food away from children
7. Keep raw food separate from other foods, store at the bottom of the fridge.
What will my dog’s faeces look like?
It is a good idea to take a look at your dog’s faeces regularly as it is a good indicator of their health status. After switching to raw food you will notice that your dog produces less faeces and happily for us, it doesn’t smell! It also biodegrades quickly. The volume of faeces is reduced as the meat, offal and bone in raw food are almost completely digested producing under 10% waste, compare this to vegetables which produce 30-60% waste and kibble which produces a whopping 60-80% waste material!
Normal faeces for a raw fed dog should be soft but firm (easy to kick or pick up) and passed easily; it may vary quite a bit in colour from light brown to black depending on type of meat you feed. Faeces that are softer can be an indication that there isn’t enough bone in the diet, remember it needs to be at least 10%, adding bone will firm up soft faeces. It can be normal to occasionally find a grey bag of slime around faeces, this is normal and is just the mucous membrane which sheds from the intestine every few months. It can also be normal to see undigested vegetable matter in the stools.
Firm faeces are important because it helps your dog to empty their anal glands by pushing the anal glands against the body wall as it passes through. The liquid material in the anal glands acts as a lubricant and also scent marks the faeces so dogs can identify each other. If the stools are too soft to empty the anal glands they can become impacted with material which is uncomfortable and can lead to abscess formation. Scooting their bottom along the floor and nibbling around the tail area are signs of full anal glands, if you see any of these signs then contact us.
It would be unusual for your dog to have diarrhoea on raw food, this would be more likely to be caused by intestinal worms, a gastroenteritis bug or even a foreign body! It is important to consult us or your vet if your dog has diarrhoea for more than 3 days, or straight away if there are other clinical signs such as blood in the diarrhoea, lethargy, vomiting or collapse.
Feeding mums and pups
Feeding a raw diet can lead to increased fertility in females by providing them with essential fatty acids, vitamin A and C and antioxidants, as well as maintaining them in an ideal body condition for mating leading to an easier pregnancy and healthier puppies.
There are some specific nutrients that are important for male fertility and sperm health, these are zinc found in beef, chicken, lamb, liver, eggs and carrots; methionine and selenium from eggs; and magnesium and manganese in green vegetables. A feeding guide for each stage of pregnancy is detailed below:
Before her season
Lightly increase amount the amount of food, reduce vegetables and give more chicken wings and egg, this will lead to an increase in weight before mating which will increase hormone production and fertility. You are aiming for a body score of 3/5, with a light covering of fat and well developed muscles, shiny coat and high energy. Revert back to her normal amount of food one week after mating.
Pregnancy (‘in whelp’)
For the first two thirds of pregnancy, feed 2 - 3% of her bodyweight per day divided into one or two meals. For the last third of pregnancy increase this to 3 - 4% of bodyweight per day divided into two or three meals. Give less bone and more vegetables so the diet has a mild laxative effect. Mum may go off her food completely on the day before giving birth.
With regard to supplements, do not supplement with too much vitamin A (e.g. cod liver oil) in first 6 weeks of pregnancy as can be dangerous for foetal health, it is okay give before pregnancy and during lactation. Do not supplement with extra calcium during pregnancy and switch to a lower calcium diet (less bone) one week before labour to stop tissue calcification and other potential birth defects.
Depending on the litter size and the age of the puppies, feed from between 3% and 6% of bodyweight per day divided into two or three meals. With large litters you can give mum free choice of the amount she eats so she can keep up with her energy demands. After the pups are born mum should return close to her ideal weight and maintain this until the puppies are weaned with the peak demands for milk between week 3 and 5. When weaning the pups off mum’s milk reduce the amount of food back to normal to reduce milk production.
Pups live on their mother’s milk alone for the first 3-4 weeks, after this time
in the wild, they will start to pick up food scraps discarded by wolves and
chew on them and learn to eat. Milk remains a part of their diet until they
are 6-7 weeks old. At this point the mother will start to regurgitate her own
food and give it to her puppies, they may eat this until they are 20 weeks old.
The gradual switch to adult food starts around 12-16 weeks when they start
to get their permanent teeth.
For domestic puppies you should start weaning at 3-4 weeks and aim to finish
at around 8 weeks old. At 3-4 weeks, under supervision, offer cut up bits of
chicken wing for them to lick and play with to get used to the smell and taste;
then slowly introduce soft food such as egg yolk, lightly cooked chicken and
vegetables. At 6 weeks offer chicken wings and adult food with a bone
content of no more than 10%. It is important to ensure that these puppies
grow slowly to stop bone problems, it is not necessary to supplement calcium
and it may be harmful. To ensure this happens, it can be useful to add extra
vegetables, grated veg or veg pulp from a juicer is ideal, other easily digestible food to add is egg yolk, natural yoghurt or goats milk. At 12 weeks switch to a full adult diet. Feeding guidelines are listed below:
0-4 months – feed 8-10% of pup’s bodyweight in 3-4 meals
4-6 months – feed 6-8% in 3-4 meals
6-8 months – feed 4-6% in 2 meals
8-12 months – feed 3-4% in 2 meals
12 months over – feed 2-3% in 2 meals
This is a guideline, you may need to adjust the amounts according to your pup’s individual needs, taking into account breed, metabolism and exercise levels. Measuring the body condition score is the easiest way of judging whether you are feeding the correct amount.
Feeding sick/poorly dogs
There is a close connection between diet and health, as with humans we can use food to help alleviate and prevent medical conditions. There are only a few exceptions to feeding raw food for example if you have a dog who is immunocompromised, a home cooked diet would be more suitable. Other than that raw food is suitable for most dogs, even with medical conditions. If you have a dog suffering from a particular medical condition but still want to feed raw then please get in touch with Adele and she will be happy to advise you on an appropriate diet.
Some minor illnesses you may be able to deal with yourself by making a small change to your dog’s diet. If your dog is showing signs of constipation, this may be due to dehydration or too much bone in diet. You can treat this by increasing soluble fibre (apples, pears, oily fish such as sardines and pilchards) reducing the bone content and adding in more offal which has a laxative effect.
If your dog is showing signs of vomiting and diarrhoea, then keep offering food as their gut cells need energy to repair. Stick to chicken, tripe or turkey and add in pre and probiotics (see supplement section). If signs continue for more than 24-48hrs then consult Adele or your vet.
If your dog is showing signs of a skin or food allergy which can be manifested as scratching, licking, raised skin lesions or diarrhoea then you can perform your own exclusion diet. Try your dog on a novel protein (one they haven’t eaten before) for four weeks, this is the minimum time needed to see an improvement in the skin, if after this time there is no improvement then try another protein. If there is an improvement then you can continue to feed this protein, you can also introduce other proteins to see which ones cause a reaction. Over time you will be able to work out which combination of proteins is perfect for your dog.
Sometimes your dog may seem to be unsure or uninterested in their food, there can be several causes for this, too narrow these down ask yourself the following questions:
Have you made a sudden change to the diet, for example introduced a new protein?
Is your dog showing any signs of mouth pain or dental disease?
Is your dog showing any signs of illness e.g. drinking more, lethargic?
What did the last faeces look like?
Has the routine in the house changed?
Have you dropped the food bowl or made a loud noise that may spook your dog?
If you have a female is she due or on her season?
Is the food still fresh? It lasts 2 days in the fridge.
Is this just with one particular food? This could indicate an allergy, if your dog keeps refusing one particular meat they might be self-selecting.
Have you changed supplier?
What to do?
Do not panic, remember it’s okay for a dog to go without food for a day or two, it is not going to harm them, a lot of fussy behaviour is actually just learned behaviour.
Revert to the food that is most enjoyed for a few days and slowly start mixing new things in over a period of time.
If they don’t eat it their food within 10 minutes pick up the food until the next dinner time, if they are healthy they won’t starve themselves; you want to avoid teaching them that if food is refused you will present them with another option. Do not give treats either, until they choose to eat their meals. Some raw feeders fast their dogs intermittently not eating for 24-48 hours isn’t anything to worry about.
If your dog is ill, do not force feed, dogs do self-fast. To keep your dog hydrated serve some lukewarm bone broth and contact us or your vet!
Newbie mistakes to avoid
1. Feeding too much bone
Our food line contains packs with pre-prepared minced meat, with minced bone included in the right quantities, if you were feeding this alone then your dog would be getting the correct amount of bone but wouldn’t get the benefits from chewing on a meaty bone, it is a good idea to switch between a complete pack and a minced meat pack and meaty bones. Problems can arise if you are feeding too many bones which can lead to constipation or even impaction where the faeces are stuck in the rectum.
Different dogs can also have different bone tolerances for example some older dogs can only cope with less than 10% bone and ill or recuperating dogs, and those taking certain medicines such as tramadol may find it difficult to deal with bone. It is best to start with smaller amounts of bone and monitor the faeces, if your dog is straining to pass faeces and it is very hard, crumbly or white then lower the overall bone content, the next day feed a boneless meat or meat mince and some offal.
2. Too much variety too soon
Even though your dog may be loving eating raw food it is important to stick to one meat protein for a while, we would recommend 4 weeks to start with, then gradually introduce new proteins. This gives your dog’s digestive system a chance to get used to the new protein, highlights intolerances and prevents diarrhoea and an upset tummy!
3. Feeding the wrong amounts
This is bound to happen when you begin to raw feed as it is impossible to know the exact quantity of food an individual dog will need. Use the guidelines as a guide but keep an eye on your dog’s body condition and don’t be afraid to adjust the overall diet up or down. If your dog is becoming fat, then feed less within an overall balanced diet, fat is essential to dogs for their brains, cell growth, and nervous systems.
6. Adding in too many supplements
Supplements can be very confusing. If you are feeding a well-balanced raw diet, then your dog should be getting all they need from their food. It is best to ignore supplements until you are happy with the basic raw diet, then you can start to explore, and see what is of use for your dog. If your dog has a particular illness or condition, then we can advise on appropriate supplementation.
7. Too little variety in the longer-term
Variety is an important longer-term aim, ideally you want to rotate around at least four staple proteins. Appropriate raw diets are trying to replicate the balance of nutrition which can be obtained from a variety of whole prey. Different meats, cuts and proteins provide different nutrients.
8. Offal issues
Offal, for example liver and kidney, are great bowel-movers, it is an important part of a balanced raw diet. You can feed a bit more of offal if your dog is constipated, conversely if you feed a lot of offal, your dog will get extremely soft faeces. Offal makes up 10% of the diet, start with small amounts. Our line of food contains packs with 10% offal so you do not have to source it yourself.