So you want to feed your dog a raw diet, but maybe you aren’t sold on all the different raw brands that seem to be crawling out of the woodwork. Or maybe you just can’t find a ready-made raw dog food that is right for your dog’s individual needs. Homemade raw dog food might be exactly what you are looking for, and can be just as complete and balanced as a store-bought food.
We all want what's best for our pets, but when it comes to dog food, there is no one-size-fits-all option. Even worse, it’s hard to know exactly what your dog's needs are and whether or not your current food is supplying what they need to thrive.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of homemade raw dog food, help you understand what your dog’s needs are, and how to make sure their diet is complete and balanced.
The Power of Fresh
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the benefits of feeding raw food to your dog. Feeding whole and unprocessed food ingredients will provide your dog with the most natural and highly digestible sources of their essential nutrients.
Raw diets have become increasingly popular over the past decade. There are tons of commercially made raw food diets available, but even with the variety of choices out there, you may need or want more control over what you feed your pet.
The practice of making your own pet food has grown with the rise in allergies, digestive issues, diabetes, food recalls, and the recent FDA statements regarding heart disease. Pet parents are more concerned than ever about what is in their pet’s food, so they are looking to homemade foods for a better diet solution.
Homemade raw dog food offers you the peace of mind that you are feeding exactly the ingredients that your dog will thrive on, and gives you total control of the sourcing and preparation of them.
Your Dog’s Needs
Before you can dive into a recipe, you need to make sure that you understand what your dog needs from their diet. Beyond your dog's basic nutritional requirements, their age, weight, activity level, and any extenuating circumstances all need to be considered while crafting the formula.
How much you feed, and the ingredients that you choose can be affected by your dog’s specific needs.
Your dog’s age will affect the quantity that you feed, but may also indicate a need for different levels of fat, fatty acids, and many other essential nutrients. A puppy, for example, will require more calories during growth stages, and an increase in omega fatty acids DHA and EPA to support cognitive development.
Their skeletal structure is another important factor when making homemade dog food. All dogs need both calcium and phosphorus to support their bones, among other systems in their body. The typical ratio of calcium to phosphorus for adult dogs is 1:1.
During growth periods, puppies have a higher requirement for both calcium and phosphorus- up to three times that of an adult. Large breed puppies specifically need an adjusted ratio, 1.2:1, to support bone development.
Meat is higher in phosphorus than calcium, so bone or another natural form of calcium may need to be included in the diet to achieve the correct ratio.
With a homemade diet, you can balance these important nutrients over time. Feeding additional bone, meat, or organ can supplement some of these essential nutrients without making your day to day recipes overly complicated.
Dogs with certain illnesses, such as diabetes, leaky gut syndrome, or other conditions that affect digestion may need different formats of raw food. Removing carbs or sugary ingredients can aid in blood sugar regulation and reduce harmful bacteria in their digestive tract.
A homemade raw diet will give you complete control over what goes into your dog's body. You can avoid problematic ingredients, and monitor and adjust their diet on the fly.
Basic Raw Diet Format
The BARF diet is the foundation of raw dog food diets as we know them.
Yep, that’s right, I said BARF. Don’t worry it’s not a nasty as it sounds.
It’s an acronym. BARF originally stood for Bones And Raw Food but has been modified to Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Its core principle is to feed as nature intended, just like their wild canine ancestors.
BARF Diet Principles
The BARF model is the diet that started the raw feeding movement. Technically the concept of the BARF diet was around long before commercial kibble diets, but it wasn’t truly established and coined until the late ’90s by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian and leader in the raw pet food industry.
In 2001, he published his third book entitled, “The BARF Diet”, which launched the concept of raw feeding to the general public. Since then, raw feeding has become much more widely accepted as a natural and safe feeding practice for dogs and cats.
The BARF diet isn’t a recipe per se. Instead, it’s a guideline that can be modified to accommodate your pet’s needs, your preferences, and the availability of ingredients. It heavily promotes rotational feeding to provide the best variety and sources of each of their essential nutrients.
BARF Diet Breakdown
The ratio is simple, and the ingredients are generally interchangeable. If you are switching from a kibble, cooked, or heavily processed diet, the BARF diet will be the best way to test out your canine culinary skills and see how your dog adjusts.
Here are the basics of a BARF meal plan:
- 70% lean muscle meat
- 10% raw bone
- 5% liver
- 5% other secreting organs (kidney, heart, pancreas)
- 7% vegetables
- 2% seeds or nuts
- 1% fruit
Rotating proteins is the most important part of feeding raw diets, as each animal protein has a different make-up of amino acids, minerals, and fatty acids. When creating a meal plan, we recommend feeding a different protein each week or two.
You can also rotate in supplements, tripe, eggs, bone broth and many more nutritional aids throughout your week.
Raw diets can be relatively forgiving, in that you don’t necessarily need to perfectly balance every meal, as long as you are balancing nutrition throughout the week.
In fact, one of the best ways to prepare raw is in large batches. You can prepare batches of raw diets that will last the whole week, which will allow you to measure each ingredient in larger, more manageable portions.
1% fruits each day for a small dog could be as few as 2 blueberries in each meal, but balanced over the week, you can add in 2-3 ounces of blueberries, or split that amount between 2-3 different fruits to provide more variety.
It also allows you to feed certain parts of the diet separately from the meals. Bone, for example, can be fed as a treat instead of grinding it or feeding bone at each sitting. Make sure that you are feeding edible raw bones if you choose to feed them whole.
The Whole Prey Model
The second iteration of the raw diet is called the Whole Prey Model. The idea is to mimic the ratios that your pet would eat if it were hunting its own food. It’s an off-shoot of the original BARF diet, with some minor adjustments.
The ratio for this is pretty simple:
- 80% muscle meat
- 10% raw bones
- 5% liver
- 5% other secreting organs (kidney, heart, pancreas)
You may have noticed that this model doesn't include fruits, veggies, nuts or seeds. While these ingredients are beneficial, they are not strictly required so long as you are rotating animal proteins frequently and supplementing with omega fatty acids and kelp.
This diet format is often preferred for pets with allergies, digestive issues, or illnesses that require carbohydrate or sugar restrictions.
It’s also great for pet owners who want total control over their pet’s diet. Supplements, produce, and other ingredients can be added or adjusted to best suit your pet’s needs, or they can be fed intermittently.
Fruits and vegetables can be fed less frequently, in smaller portions, or even as occasional treats instead of adding it to their meals. Eggs, tripe or other supplementary ingredients can be rotated throughout the week or fed as treats as well.
Dogs with more sensitive digestion may benefit from a small amount of healthy fibre, like pureed pumpkin, or even sweet potatoes. This will help to regulate the speed of digestion and improve bowel movements in dogs that are inconsistent.
Wild dogs do eat vegetation, but not consistently and only as needed. This is why we call dogs scavenging carnivores. They eat what is available, meaning frequent dietary changes with a variety and quantity of nutrients.
Complete and Balanced
Each pet has different nutritional requirements, and although a basic raw diet will provide everything they need under normal circumstances, it’s still a good idea to add certain nutritional aids to prevent deficiencies.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids support a number of vital systems in the body. Both Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids will support skin and coat health, regulate inflammation, and support cognitive function. Animal fat does contain a healthy source of these fatty acids, but adding a little extra can help to reduce common skin and digestion problems.
Adding fish and fish oils into your dog’s raw diet a couple of times per week can greatly impact their overall health. Sardines packed in water, or wild-caught salmon oil can be added to their food to provide a natural source of these essential fatty acids.
Rotate different types of omega fatty acids regularly. Plant-based fatty acids like flaxseed or sunflower oils can support skin and coat, but don’t contain the same types of fatty acids as animal-based oils, so switch between a few types to get a good variety.
Kelp is nature’s multi-vitamin, which is why it’s one of the best ways to supplement a raw diet. It contains small amounts of all essential vitamins and minerals. It also contains some types of omega fatty acids and amino acids.
Kelp will not replace ingredients, nor will it balance an unbalanced or poorly formulated diet, but it will act as a buffer. When fed a nutritionally balanced diet like the BARF or Whole Prey model, kelp is the perfect way to round out the food and ensure that it’s meeting your dog’s unique needs.
Depending on the type of dog, their age, and their health, providing additional calcium to their diet may be beneficial. Try offering a raw egg, shell included, with their food once or twice a week. This provides both calcium and a highly digestible protein.
For dogs that love to chew, you can feed raw bones. It will not only be a treat that will keep them occupied and healthy, but will increase their calcium intake, and care for their dental health.
Avoid bones that are too hard, like weight-bearing bones. These are considered recreational bones, designed for chewing but not consuming.
Instead go for softer, edible bones that don’t splinter, like poultry necks, backs, feet, and wingtips. Poultry bones are higher in calcium than red meat bones, so you won’t need to feed as much. They can be part of the meal or fed as treats.
Is your dog a red meat fanatic? That’s ok too. Some red meat bones are edible and will serve the same purpose as their feathered friends. Look for ribs or necks as a safe edible alternative to dense marrow and femur bones.
Thicker, harder bones have a higher chance of damaging your pet’s teeth, so avoid anything that’s too dense. Many larger bones like beef femurs and soup bones are fine to chew casually, but they aren’t recommended for aggressive chewers that will break pieces off and swallow them.
Always monitor your dog with any type of raw bone. Even the edible ones can be a choking hazard if your dog tries to swallow larger pieces.
How to Get Started
Connect with a holistic or integrative vet to help you formulate a meal plan if you are concerned that your dog has unique needs. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Getting some expert advice will ensure that you are providing your pup with everything they need to thrive.
Homemade diets can be a bit of trial and error. Don't be afraid to try new ingredients (dog safe, of course) and keep track of what works and what doesn't. Keeping a journal of your homemade recipes, your dog's bowel movement, and even their taste preferences will help you narrow down your recipes to the ones that you know work well.
Just like switching to any other diet format, a gradual transition is always recommended. Going from a processed diet like kibble to a raw diet can be difficult on your dog's system, so take the appropriate steps to introduce the new food. To learn a few different methods, check out Transitioning your Dog to a Raw Dog Food Diet.
Do you make your own raw food? What worked best for your dog? Share your recipes, tips, and successes in the comments below!
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.