Despite its rise in popularity, many pet owners are still unsure and misinformed about raw dog food diets. How much raw food should you feed your dog? Is raw dog food safe? What’s the big deal with raw pet food?
There is little regulation in Canada and varying philosophies that make it difficult for pet owners to find the answers to their burning dog food queries. This Q&A round-up will help bring some clarity to the world of raw pet food and give you the tools and confidence to make an informed decision about your pet’s food.
Frequently Asked Raw Dog Food Questions
1. What is raw dog food?
I think we all understand the core concept here: uncooked or raw food. However, it’s more than just raw ingredients. It’s the idea of feeding your pet the way their ancestors ate. The way that they are anatomically designed to eat.
Domesticated or not, dogs and cats are riddled with carnivore traits. From teeth to tail, they are built for digesting animal flesh.
It’s a common misunderstanding that raw food is only meat. Of course, that’s a large part of it, but a raw dog food diet must contain all of their essential nutrients, so muscle meat, organs, bones, and even a little vegetation may be required to help them thrive.
You can’t simply feed your dog a raw steak and call it a day. You have to ensure that the diet is nutritionally balanced or you can cause lifelong problems from deficiencies or malnutrition.
2. How much raw food should I feed my dog?
This is the most common question asked about raw dog food. The answer has many variables, so I’ll keep the answer as simple and concise as possible.
The basic formula for feeding raw dog food is to feed a percentage of their body weight. That percentage depends on factors like age, health, and activity level.
Here’s a quick reference chart so you can get an idea of how much you’ll be feeding your dog:
|Life Stage||Daily Feeding % of Body Weight*||Suggested Meals Per Day|
|Puppy 2-4 months||5-6%*||4-5|
|Puppy 4-8 months||4-5%*||3|
|Puppy 8+ months||3-4%*||2|
|Adult Low Activity||2%||2|
|Adult Moderate Activity||2.5%||2|
|Adult High Activity||3%||2|
|Adult Working Dogs||4% (less on off days)||2|
|Adult Weight Loss||2% of target weight||2|
|Adult Weight Gain||2.5% of target weight||2|
|Senior||Same as the adult guidelines, based on activity level|
Multiply their weight by the appropriate percentage to get the daily feeding guideline in pounds.
2.5% modifier x 40 lbs
.025 x 40 = 1 lb (16 oz)
If you are feeding two meals per day, then you would split that daily total in half for each serving, which is ½ lb or 8 oz per serving.
Seems pretty simple right? Well, that’s not quite the whole story. There are a few more factors that may influence your dog’s feeding requirements. Things like breed and metabolism can be a factor as well.
Small breed dogs typically burn calories quicker than large breeds. The calorie-dense nature of raw diets is ideal for their metabolism, but small breeds are also prone to weight problems. This is because they are often indoor dogs, and don’t always participate in the same physical activities as larger dogs.
They may walk the line between lazy couch potato and running around like a mad man. Splitting the difference, you can put them in the average activity category, but that may not suit their changing daily routines.
Days with increased activity like a play date, a hike, or even a stressful experience, that 2.5% modifier might leave them with less energy than their bodies need for their increased activity.
On the flip side, a rainy day of lounging around the house may warrant fewer calories to prevent weight gain. You may need to adjust serving sizes on the fly, small adjustments of course, to accommodate their day-to-day activities.
3. What is the Best Raw Dog Food?
This question is asked of all food formats, and the answer is pretty much the same for all. It depends on your dog’s needs. There isn’t one food that is the best for every pet.
There are many different styles, formats, and brands of raw food, like freeze-dried, frozen, or even homemade. Each one needs to be nutritionally complete for a typical dog, but ‘typical’ isn’t what it used to be.
Changes to lifestyle, cross-breeding, and a rise in allergies and digestive issues can affect the type of food and nutrients required to suit each unique pet. You know your dog best, and you also know what you are looking for in a dog food, so find the food that works best for both of you.
If you prefer something easy to store and feed, then look into a freeze-dried food. If your pet has dietary restrictions, then a whole prey diet or a homemade formula may better suit their needs.
Also, there is no rule that says you have to find a brand or style and feed only that. Rotational feeding is the best way to feed. Change up the flavour, the brand, and even the format. You’ll find that there are probably lots of raw diets that are “the best” for your dog.
4. Does raw meat contain salmonella, e Coli, or other harmful bacteria?
Probably. It sounds scary, but all raw meat could potentially contain a harmful pathogen. To make it safe for us, we cook our food to kill off the bacteria. That’s because our stomachs are not acidic enough and the bacteria would run rampant.
Dogs, on the other hand, have a very acidic stomach environment, which is another one of your dog’s carnivorous traits, that keeps pathogens like salmonella at bay. It doesn’t necessarily kill all of the bacteria, but it does prevent it from populating and affecting your dog.
Feeding a raw diet will actually lower your dog’s digestive pH further, making their stomachs even more capable of digesting raw meat and preventing pathogens from harming them.
If the end result of this question is whether or not raw meat is safe to feed your dog, then the answer is yes. You will need to use safe handling practices to reduce the risk of bacteria being harmful to you, but your dog is safe as long as their food is safely handled.
Use common sense when handling raw meat. Treat it as you would treat the meat that you would prepare for your own consumption, minus the cooking part.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for safe food handling practices:
- Wash your hands and surfaces after touching raw meat
- Never leave raw meat sitting out; When your dog walks away, cover the food and put it in the fridge for up to 2 days
- Only defrost what you can use in 2-3 days, keep the rest frozen
- Don’t let your dog lick your face after eating, wipe their face and paws if they are messy eaters
- Try to keep your dog contained to one area. Some dogs like to drop food on the floor and then eat it. This will require you to clean the floor area around their eating space
5. Is raw dog food really as good as everyone makes it sound?
In short, yes! There are tons of benefits of feeding raw food. One of the most desirable and versatile traits of raw feeding is the digestibility of the ingredients. Raw foods are minimally processed, leaving all of the nutrients intact, which are much easier for your dog to digest and utilize.
This optimal digestion and absorption will affect all aspects of your dog’s health. From skin and coat to organ function, better digestion equals a healthier pet. Even their stool will be smaller because there is so little waste after digestion.
6. Is it safe to feed raw bones?
Raw bones can be a great way to add essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorus to your pet’s diet. They should be fed in moderation though, as bone shouldn’t take up more than 10-15% of their diet.
If you are making a raw diet at home, or if you are feeding a raw commercial diet that does not add ground bone or another calcium source, then feeding raw bone is essential.
The type of bone that you choose will depend on the reason you are feeding it. For nutritional purposes, stick to bones that are classified as edible. This includes poultry wings, necks, backs, and feet. You can also feed rib and neck bones from some red meat sources, but you will want to avoid anything that is too dense.
For a longer-lasting chew you can also offer larger bones, like knuckles, hock, and marrow, but be cautious of how hard they are. Thick, hard bones like beef bones can damage teeth. These bones are better to chew but not eat, so monitor your pet with any type of raw bone or chew.
Like any chew, swallowing large chunks can be a choking or obstruction hazard, so if your dog is a gulper, then you may want to look into adding ground bone, or egg shells into your pet's meals instead.
For more information on how to safely feed raw bones, check out our Guide to Feeding Raw Bones for Dogs.
Got more questions about raw diets? Leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you navigate raw diets!
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.