Raw dog food is gaining popularity and although it’s pretty widely available, it can still be intimidating for pet owners. Learn how to feed raw dog food, and why so many pet owners are making the switch.
If you’ve read about the 7 Benefits of Raw Dog Food, then you might already be excited to reap these rewards. These helpful tips and best practices can make sure that you are feeding appropriately and that your dog will thrive on their new raw diet.
Feeding raw requires a little more prep than feeding kibble diets, and knowing how much to feed requires a little bit of math. Your dog’s size, age, and activity level must be taken into account.
More than that, feeding guidelines may need to be adjusted to accommodate changes to routine and activity. To make it as simple as possible, we created a raw feeding chart to help you get started.
Here’s a simple calculator to give you a basic guideline of how much raw food to feed:
|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||Apply adult guidelines, based on activity level||2|
*To calculate daily feeding, multiply their body weight by the recommended percentage
Just like any other dog diet, the feeding guidelines are an estimate but aren’t always accurate for every dog. Monitor your pets weight, eating habits, and activity level to determine if changes need to be made.
Feeding guidelines can also change on a day to day basis depending on your pet’s routine. If your dog participates in a sporting event, like agility or hiking, you may need to increase their meals to provide them with extra energy for those events.
For a dog that is generally active, but is suffering from an injury that is limiting mobility, then feeding guidelines may need to be decreased to avoid unnecessary weight gain during the healing process.
Storing Raw Food
One of the biggest challenges for pet owners is the storage of their raw food. For large breeds, multi-pet households, or pet owners that like to buy in bulk, a deep freezer may be necessary to provide enough space to store 20-30+ lbs of raw food at a time.
Any food that isn’t being consumed within 3 days must be kept frozen. If you are buying a store-bought raw diet, we recommend storing it in the original packaging.
If you make your own or need to separate a store-bought food, then use disposable freezer bags for freezer storage. It will be easy enough to portion and eliminates the risk of using plastic Tupperware containers to store the meat. The containers can host bacteria, so using a disposable method will be safer in the long run.
Think of how your meat is stored when you buy from the grocery store or butcher. It’s not hermetically sealed or airtight, it is wrapped in disposable plastic or styrofoam to prevent leaking or contamination.
If storage is an issue, you may want to consider a different type of raw diet, like dehydrated or freeze-dried.
Preparing Raw Dog Food
You’ve determined your dog’s appropriate feeding guidelines, so what next? Preparing your dog’s meals can be done day by day, meal by meal, or you can portion out their meals before you freeze them to make mealtime quicker and easier.
Not every raw diet is designed the same. Portioning out your pet’s food may require you to divide and weigh large blocks of raw food, add supplements, or even mash the food up to make it easier for your pet to eat.
Look for raw food that is in a format most suitable to your pet’s feeding guidelines. For larger dogs, blocks and patties are convenient. They tend to be the most cost-effective and are ideal for larger portions.
For small breed dogs and cats, trying to divide an 8 oz patty into 1-3 oz meals can be a bit challenging. Some raw foods offer options for smaller pets that are pre-portioned into kibble sized pieces or smaller 1 oz cubes.
Chubs are another popular option for raw food. This option seems convenient because you can slice off sections, and their packaging typically has measurements to help you avoid overfeeding.
The challenge with larger, bulky formats like this is that the whole package needs to be defrosted at once, forcing you to use the whole chub within 2-3 days, and risk having to throw out the rest.
They are ideal for larger breeds and multi-pet households, but may be too large for cats and smaller breed dogs.
Types of Raw
Not all raw diets are complete and balanced. In Canada, there is little regulation on how raw pet foods are labelled, so it can be a bit challenging to navigate. Make sure you talk to your local pet store or vet to make sure that the diet you choose is not missing any essential nutrients.
While some diets will be labelled as a Full Meal, others may not specify. If you are not sure, ask. There is no harm in double checking and lots of harm in feeding a diet that could cause deficiencies down the road.
Diets labelled MBO (meat and bone only), Bone-In, or Ground, are likely incomplete diets that are meant to be supplemented and customized. If you are unfamiliar with what constitutes a complete diet, then it’s safest to stick to complete diets.
A full meal will have at least 50% fresh meat, 10% bone, 5-10% organ meats (predominantly but not exclusively liver), and the rest, fresh produce to provide natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Products that are not full meals will be missing one or more of these components and must be supplemented with things like omega fatty acids, organ meats, kelp and/or other nutritional aids.
The principles of handling your own frozen meat apply to your pet’s food as well. Depending on the size of the meals and how they are stored, defrost time can vary. If you store your pet’s food in a deep freezer, they may require even more time than food stored in a standard fridge freezer that doesn’t get quite as cold.
The best way to defrost your dog’s raw meals is in the fridge in a covered container. This allows the food to defrost gradually and prevents the spread of bacteria, and protects any consumables in the fridge from bacteria.
Standard 8 oz patties can be defrosted overnight in the fridge, but if you stack patties on top of each other, the centers may not fully defrost in time. Smaller frozen formats, like medallions or bite-sized pieces, will defrost much quicker and can sometimes be defrosted in a matter of hours if they are stored in a single layer.
Forgot to take out food last night? That’s OK. This quick defrost method can save the day.
- Fill the sink, or a bowl with room temperature water
- Put the frozen food, sealed in a Ziploc bag, into the water
- Wait about 15 minutes
This should defrost them enough that you can break the food into smaller pieces. Another hour in the fridge and they should be ready to serve.
- Try to avoid storing your dog’s raw food at the very back of the freezer as this is the coldest place and will hinder defrost times.
- Never microwave a raw diet that contains bone. Bone can become brittle and splinter, potentially causing a puncture or digestive risk.
- If you are in a bind, you are better off feeding a raw bone, a dehydrated or freeze-dried raw replacement, or skipping the meal altogether, instead of trying to feed cooked food.
Raw food digests quickly and efficiently, so work on a consistent feeding schedule. This type of routine will help you manage bowel movements, which will be fewer and smaller, and help you manage your pet’s weight, muscle development and activity.
Feeding two meals per day is standard, but that may need to be increased depending on your dog’s calorie requirements and life stage.
Whatever routine works best for yours and your dog’s schedule, try to be consistent. Their bodies will use calories more efficiently if meals are properly scheduled.
There are bacteria present on raw meat. Scary bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and listeria can be found in different types of raw meat. It’s important to keep this in mind when handling any raw meat.
All raw meat prepared for our pets should be handled with the same caution that we use with our own raw meat preparation. Safe food handling practices are a necessity. Wash your hands, utensils, and any surfaces that the meat is prepared with or on. This will prevent the spread of any harmful pathogens to you or anyone else in your home.
A common misconception is that this bacteria will harm our pets when it is ingested. The fact is that your dog’s digestive system is designed to handle this level of bacteria. They have an extremely acidic stomach environment that can kill a lot of the bacteria, and prevent the rest from colonizing their digestive system.
Their efficient digestive systems can also process food, raw meat in particular, much faster than ours do. This means that bacteria can pass through their system quickly enough to prevent the bacteria from populating any part of their digestive system.
The fact that they can handle bacteria that we can't doesn’t mean that they are invincible. Improperly stored or prepared raw diets can still pose a risk to our pets. Like the raw meat you prepare for your own meals, it shouldn’t be left out for long periods of time. Exposure to room temperature will allow the bacteria to multiply quickly.
Even though they are capable of killing and passing these pathogens, if they are present in abundant enough amounts, they can still cause digestive issues.
Uneaten or future portions of raw dog diets can be stored in the fridge for up to three days. If you are defrosting multiple meals at once, make sure you only take out what can be consumed within that three day period.
Some dogs guzzle their food like it’s going out of style, but for daintier eaters, raw meals can be a bit trickier. Kibbles can be left out for hours, even days without a second thought, but raw meat should never be left out for more than 15 minutes at a time.
The best method for correcting this behaviour is to take the food away after the 15-minute mark and store it in the fridge until the next meal time. Eventually, your dog should get used to eating larger portions at each sitting to provide the calories and nutrition that they require for their daily activities.
Bowls for Raw Food
Avoid plastic bowls. Plastic can scratch easily and create a place for bacteria to hide. Over time, those grooves will be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Instead choose metal, glass or ceramic dog dishes. They are easy to clean and sanitize, and will not host bacteria as plastic does.
Wash bowls after every meal and sanitize dog bowls routinely, at least once per week, with a 10% vinegar and water solution. This will kill off any bacteria that has been caked onto the dish.
You Are Raw Ready
There is an adjustment period when switching to raw dog food diets, both for you and the dog, but in time you will see how simple raw feeding really is. Check out How to Transition Your Dog to a Raw Dog Food Diet, to learn more about what to expect from this adjustment period.
The mild inconvenience of preparing raw diets will pale in comparison to the health benefits that you will see in your pet.
There is no one correct way of feeding raw dog food, so experiment with portions, formulas, formats, meal times, and find a routine that works best for you and your dog.
How do you feed raw? We’d love to hear your tips and best practices 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.