Raw Dog Food for Beginners: Everything You Need to Feed Your Dog Raw

Food & Nutrition | Dog

Is a raw diet right for your dog? If your dog struggles with allergies, weight issues, digestive problems, or any other common conditions that affect dogs, feeding raw dog food might be just the answer you are looking for.

For years, many pet owners have turned to raw diets as a solution food, and the results have been amazing. Feeding your dog as nature intended means that they will get nutrients from sources that their bodies are designed to digest, leading to improved overall health.

If you are looking for honest answers to your burning raw food questions, then this guide is for you. You will be able to understand why everyone is so obsessed with raw feeding and be able to confidently decide if feeding raw dog food is right for your pet.

What is raw dog food?

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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 full of carnivore traits. From teeth to tail, they are built for digesting animal flesh and bone.

It’s a common misunderstanding that raw food is just meat. 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 feed your dog a raw steak and call it a day; you have to ensure that the diet is nutritionally balanced. Incomplete or unbalanced diets can cause lifelong problems from deficiencies or malnutrition.

 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about feeding your dog raw food. You can select any of the following to jump to a specific section:

 

6 Reasons Why You Should Feed Your Dog Raw

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Allergies, obesity, diabetes, and cancer are more common than ever, and your pet’s diet may have a lot to do with that. The rise in these life-threatening diseases has pushed us to dig deeper and find ways to prevent and treat our dogs naturally.

Feeding your dog a raw diet will positively affect many aspects of their health, but before you get started, it's important to understand how and why a raw food diet might be right for your dog.

Here are 6 reasons you should trust raw diets to reliably and effectively improve your dog's health:

1. Cut the Junk

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Junk food, sugars, heavily processed ingredients, and the pollutants and chemicals that come hand-in-hand with mass-produced food are getting harder to avoid, especially in pet food. A growing desire to get back to nature, cut out the junk, and improve our pets’ health has started to push us towards specialty pet foods.

We look for diets that use ingredients that are easy to digest and support our pets’ long-term health, but in many heavily-processed diets, like kibble, there is still a huge blind spot for pet owners when it comes to knowing what's really in your dog's food.

Feeding raw lets you take back control of your dog's nutrition by cutting out the mystery ingredients and synthetic additives and replacing them with highly digestible nutrients from fresh, real foods.

Better nutrition leads to better skin and coat, healthier joints, improved digestion, and better weight management.

2. Fad Doesn’t Mean False

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It's easy to get swept up in fad diets; keto, vegan, and the ongoing long battle with grains, are just a few of the diets circulating the crazy world of pet food. We fall for some of these fads ourselves, but the merit in each of these diets depends on the individual, their health, and the diet’s application.

When it comes to your dog’s health, you need to understand that your dog is biologically different. A diet that may fit your lifestyle, beliefs, and make you feel good might not be appropriate for your pet. They have different dietary needs than you; they can be met with a complete and balanced raw food diet.

The only way to completely nourish our dogs is to feed them food that their bodies are designed to thrive on. This concept is called a “biologically appropriate diet.”

We'll admit that "biologically appropriate" is a bit of a catchy term used to get your attention, but it refers to feeding your dog based on how their species should eat. In this case, like their wolf ancestors.

Feeding dogs this way is a common hot point in the pet industry, as it directly opposes the information that we have been taught for many years, but it's hard to argue with their ancestry or anatomy.

3. Dogs are Scavenging Carnivores

Even though dogs are technically classified as omnivores, meaning they can survive on both meat and/or plants, their history and bodies tell us a different story. We argue that dogs are scavenging carnivores.

Unlike an obligate carnivore that must eat meat to survive, like cats, scavenging carnivores can adapt to the nutrients around them. They roam for food and eat what is available. Dogs can survive on plant materials and minimal animal protein if they have to, but they will thrive on a meat-rich diet.

Sticking closer to their carnivorous roots can prevent common problems like diabetes, obesity and other life-threatening diseases linked to inappropriate diets and poor quality ingredients.

4. Your Dog Eats Like a Carnivore

To help you better understand the benefits of feeding a raw diet to your dog, you need to know how your dog digests food. Here are some physical features that support the idea that dogs are carnivores by nature:  

Their Mouth

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Digestion starts in your dog's mouth. The simple act of chewing sets dogs apart from animals that are suited to eating plant materials. This is based on two things: A lack of enzymes in their saliva and their teeth’ shape.

Dogs do not have the digestive enzyme Amylase in their saliva. Other omnivores like bears, and people, secrete this enzyme to help kick-start the breakdown of the carbs in our food. Without this enzyme, carb-heavy foods can be more challenging for their bodies to digest.

Like most omnivores, your dog has canines and incisors upfront, and premolars and molars at the back, but that doesn’t mean they are designed to eat the same food.

In an omnivore's jaw, the molars are broader and flatter, allowing them to grind grains, grass, and other plant material to begin the digestion process. Plants have an indigestible outer casing called cellulose. By grinding their food, omnivores remove the cellulose shell, making the nutrients easier to digest and absorb.

Unlike an omnivore, your dog's teeth fit together like scissors and are not meant for grinding like ours are. Their teeth are designed to tear and slice meat. Of course, your dog's food is already ground, so their carnivorous teeth don't hinder them, but it is evidence that it's not the diet that they are designed for.

You may also notice that most dogs do not chew their food very thoroughly. This is because they just don't have that instinct. Their teeth allow them to slice food into small enough pieces to swallow whole, like a carnivore.

Find out more about your dog's needs in Dog Nutritional Requirements: An In-Depth Dive.

Their Stomach

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The next carnivorous stage of digestion is their stomach. Your dog's stomach is more acidic than yours, allowing them to handle the bacteria found in raw meat. Dog's have a larger stomach cavity that is designed to hold food for longer than ours does. This acid bath breaks down food and edible bone into chyme and reduces the bacteria to manageable levels.

Chyme is a gooey mixture of food, stomach acids, and digestive juices (yuck!) that is ready to move to the intestines for further breakdown, absorption, and excretion.

Without an acidic environment, your dog would struggle to process meat, bone, and even plant matter properly, not to mention the bacteria found on raw, cooked and processed foods.

Want to know more about your dog's digestion? The Dog Digestive System: A Beginners Guide to your Dog's Anatomy walks you through the entire digestive process.

5. Going Meat-Free Is Possible, But Not Always Recommended

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It may seem contradictory to the message of this article, but the fact is - Yes! Dogs can survive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The trick is that vegetarian diets are hard to balance and can lead to your dog lacking important nutrients over time if you don't know what you're doing.

We are so used to trusting the labels on our pet food that say complete and balanced. We often overlook the fact that every dog is different, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ pet food. You need to look beyond the attention-grabbing buzzwords and pretty packaging to make sure that your dog is getting the complete and balanced nutrition that they need.

A plant-based diet should be as natural as possible and contain the correct amounts of all the nutrients needed to stay healthy. This can be difficult because meat is the best source of many essential nutrients, like amino acids and omega fatty acids.

Animals meat is a complete protein, meaning it supplies the full spectrum of amino acids required to keep your dog healthy. Very few plant proteins contain all of the nutrients your dog needs, so finding a truly complete plant-based diet is hard. Most require supplementation to balance appropriately.

Plant-based diets are typically lower in protein too. While this isn't a deal-breaker for all dogs, it does mean that there is less protein to aid in muscle upkeep or growth. This can lead to dogs being overweight and muscle loss that can affect joints and connective tissues.

If you do choose a vegetarian diet, consider supplementing your dog's food with fresh ingredients. Make the food as easy to digest as possible by offering natural sources of their required nutrients.

We highly recommend adding some form of complete plant protein, too, like quinoa or buckwheat. They are less commonly found in pet food but can help you balance your pet’s diet better. If you can't find a commercial diet with a complete plant protein, then feed it supplementally.

6. It's Alive!

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No, we are not suggesting feeding your dog live prey, much to their disappointment. When we say that raw food is alive, we are talking about the meat’s natural bacteria and enzymes. Cooked and heavily-processed foods, like kibble, don’t have helpful, live bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion and absorbing nutrients.

We call these dead foods. Dead foods provide less nutrition and are less easily recognized by your pet's body because the nutrients are not in their natural state.

High temperatures are used in extrusion and canning processes. Heat not only kills beneficial bacteria and enzymes but also changes some of the ingredients on a molecular level.

Not all raw foods contain these supportive enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Some commercial raw foods made using pasteurization methods to eliminate the bacteria that can be harmful to us, not our dogs. The most common method is called High Pressure Processing (HPP).

HPP uses extremely high pressure to destroy bacteria in the food without the use of heat. This leaves the nutrients intact but kills the bacteria. While this sounds great on paper, we can't dismiss the fact that not all bacteria are harmful, and HPP and other sanitization methods are ridding the food of some of its beneficial components.

10 Big Benefits of Raw

Now that you see the biological argument for raw, it's time to address some of the benefits that you will notice after switching your dog to a raw diet. These benefits can help to solve some common health issues that you are dealing with in your dog and some that you may not have known they had.

1. The Not-So-Smelly Advantage to Raw Feeding

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If you own a dog, then you are familiar with the worst parts of dog ownership: the clean-up. Whether you are bagging a fresh poop on a walk, scooping the landmines from your yard, or dealing with a sudden digestive surprise on the carpet, no one likes hovering over a fresh one.

There's no need to sugarcoat that poop is gross; I think we are all nauseatingly aware. A raw diet can reduce the volume and odour of their stool to a more manageable and tolerable level. Raw poops, as they are playfully called, resemble large rabbit poop.

It will also improve the consistency and frequency of their bowel movements so you can plan your dog's routine around their bathroom needs.

The nutrients’ minimal ingredients and high bioavailability allow your dog to digest and use almost all the food’s nutrients efficiently. Without the indigestible fibre content and the excessive carbs of a kibble diet, raw poop will be firmer, which benefits the health of their anal glands.

2. Bring Back Your Dog's Natural Luster

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Everything in your dog's body is connected in some way or another. Your dog's skin and coat are affected by how all the rest of their systems function. Poor digestion or absorption of nutrients can affect cell cycles, how the body uses nutrients, and, eventually, their skin and coat health.

Dry skin, excessive shedding, itchiness, and inflammation can all be caused by a lack of or improper balance of nutrients in your dog's diet. A raw diet provides the most natural sources of these essential nutrients in a form that is easy for your dog's body to recognize and use.

Another important factor in skin and coat health is hydration. Dogs that do not eat a moisture-rich diet will end up losing that moisture through bowel movements. Dehydration negatively affects your dog's skin by limiting natural oil production that supports the life cycle and quality of your dog's skin cells and fur.

Feeding a high moisture diet will not deter your dog from their natural drinking habits. However, it will help improve digestion, keep them better hydrated, and flush toxins and bacteria out of their system.

For many pet owners, shedding is a constant issue. A reduction in shedding is one of the first benefits you will see when switching to raw feeding. In combination with a regular brushing routine, you can significantly cut down on shedding and dander in your home.

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3. Managing Weight and Muscle Mass Through Raw Feeding

Obesity is a huge problem worsened by inactive lifestyles, eating far too many treats or calories, and diets that aren’t species-appropriate. The factors that contribute to obesity in humans are pretty much the same for our dogs.

A raw food diet will not fix all of your dog's weight issues, but it can help. Raw diets are calorie-dense and easy to digest, allowing you to feed smaller portions and provide better nutrition and energy to your dog. Being calorie-dense, it's important to not over or underfeed your dog. There is more information below about the proper feeding guidelines based on your dog’s age, size, and more.

Lazy or low activity dogs don't use carbohydrates as efficiently as the energy they get from protein and fat. A carb-heavy diet, like kibble, will lead to unused energy and calories, contributing to weight gain and poor muscle development.

Feeding a meat-rich, raw diet will give your dog the ability to build and maintain muscle, burn fat, and provide more balanced energy to support an increase in physical activity.

4. Bioavailability of Raw Ingredients

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An ingredients bioavailability is how digestible and usable the nutrients in a food are for your dog’s body. When ingredients are exposed to high temperatures, like those involved in dog food manufacturing, nutrients are denatured, making them less biologically available. This means that they may yield less nutrition than before it was processed.

The heat from processing can also change the composition of fatty acids, amino acids, and enzymes used to support your dog's body.

Your dog’s digestive system is intended to break down raw or minimally processed material, regardless of the commercial foods that they have adapted to eating over the last century. As scavenging carnivores, dogs can survive off dead food, but a biologically available raw diet will ensure that they thrive.

When all ingredients are appropriately utilized, and your dog receives optimal nutrition, an increase in muscle mass and fat reduction can be seen, supporting a leaner and healthier physique. And this is just to start. Raw fed dogs are often healthier overall, seeing fewer instances of common health issues and fewer vet bills - like digestive problems, skin and coat issues, and poor dental health.

5. Moisture and Renal Function

We all know that water is essential, but you may not realize that kibble and other dry diets can leave your dog dehydrated. Dehydration can decrease digestive function, slow the process of waste removal, and lead to recurring urinary tract problems like infection and crystals.

The high moisture content in raw animal protein helps the kidneys flush these toxins through the urinary tract. This support can also reduce unnecessary strain on the kidneys and prevent possible kidney diseases in their senior years.

A moisture-rich diet will encourage more frequent and healthy urination, which will dilute urine and flush out bacteria. Canned diets provide additional moisture and aid in digestion but lack the nutritional equivalency of raw, unprocessed ingredients.

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Helpful Resource:
How Long Can Dogs Hold Their Pee

Dehydrated Raw

Dehydrated, freeze-dried, and air-dried raw diets offer a much more convenient format to feed raw. They are an excellent alternative to raw for travel or last-minute meals and can be used as a treat or a meal topper.

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The only thing that these diets are missing is moisture. Many freeze-dried and some dehydrated diets are designed to be rehydrated, allowing you to make only what you need, while others marketed as scoop-and-serve styles, will offer little moisture, similar to a kibble diet.

If you prefer the convenience of this raw food format, we encourage you to find other ways to supplement moisture in your pet's diet. Feeding broths, goat’s milk, and raw bones are a great way to ensure that your pet is receiving the moisture he needs but don't forget to supply accessible, fresh, and clean water at all times.

Helpful Resource:

6. Natural vs. Synthetic

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Synthetic vitamins are not always nutritionally equivalent or as biologically available as naturally sourced vitamins from raw ingredients. While some synthetic and natural vitamins’ digest and are absorbed the same, others are more potent in their natural form.

For example, natural Vitamin E is roughly twice as bioavailable as synthetic Vitamin E.

Vitamin C is also thought to be more efficiently utilized by your dog's body when the natural flavonoids in their fruit hosts are present. according to one study:

"A significant proportion of animal studies show enhanced circulating and organ levels of vitamin C in the presence of food-derived or purified flavonoids,” 

Deficiencies caused by malabsorption of synthetic vitamins can lead to a damaging effect on cells and normal organ function, so most of the nutrients should be sourced from real foods.

Some commercial raw diets are still fortified with chelated minerals, which are minerals that are paired with an amino acid to improve their digestibility. While we don’t often see synthetic additives in Canadian raw foods, many US manufacturers must add them to meet standards set out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

This doesn’t mean that the foods were deficient in any nutrients, but fortifying the foods not only appeases government standards, it can also act as a buffer for pets that may require higher than average amounts of certain nutrients.

7. More Natural Excretion

For pet owners who have never fed a raw diet before, the difference in stool quality can be quite remarkable. Cooked commercial diets, being less bioavailable and often more carbohydrate-heavy, create more waste. The result is a larger, more odorous stool.

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Another benefit to stool quality is the quick decomposition of the waste. You may notice that your dog's poop will linger in your backyard for several days, even weeks, if you let it. Not with a raw diet.

Cooked foods require a preservative to make the food shelf-stable, but those preservatives do their job too well. They keep working right to the end, preserving the poop and slowing decomposition.

Without preservatives, raw poop quickly decomposes, usually within a few days. This means less backyard clean up and healthier lawns.

Some of you are thinking - sign me up! Easier bathroom clean-up is enough to get any dog owner excited, but the benefits of raw feeding don't stop there.

8. Dental Health Benefits

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Enzymes in raw meat provide superior dental benefits compared to the abrasion from chewing kibble. These enzymes work by combating bacteria in the oral cavity that can cause dog breath, plaque and tartar build-up, inflammation of the gums, and other serious dental health issues.

This does not omit the need for regular teeth brushing and dental care, but it will prevent rapid bacteria build up in the mouth.

Feeding raw bones and natural chews can also provide superior dental health benefits. The abrasion from chewing them removes bacteria from hard to reach molars and strengthens their jaw.

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9. Improved Metabolic Efficiency

Higher bioavailability of food improves the efficiency of your dog's metabolism. When all ingredients are utilized properly, and the dog receives optimal nutrition, their metabolism aids in burning fatty deposits and increasing and maintaining muscle mass.

Increased energy levels and stamina can be seen even in overweight and senior dogs, and dogs with mobility issues, allowing for healthy exercise routines to be implemented.

The high fat and meat content also provides a long-lasting feeling of fullness. Reduced cravings can get rid of that hangry attitude that dogs can get. It also promotes better digestion and weight management.

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10. Mouth-Wateringly Delicious

Even the pickiest pets love raw food. When faced with a choice between kibble and raw meat, there’s no contest.

The texture, scent, and taste will have your dog excited about mealtime. Puppies, senior, fussy eaters, and even dogs missing a few teeth can enjoy this tasty food format.

Healthy and consistent feeding practices can support all of the benefits above.

The Cons

Raw diets look like the perfect diet choice on paper, but there are some inconveniences attached to feeding a raw dog food diet. Here are some common factors that can scare pet owners away from feeding raw.

Cost

Probably the most apparent barrier for pet owners that are hesitant about raw pet food is the price tag. When you are used to seeing the price of kibble diets from the grocery store, the raw food section at your local pet store might seem shocking.

Of course, to truly understand, we need to break down the feeding guidelines and weigh the benefits before we let the raw feeding cost scare us too much.

Yes, raw food is more expensive than most cooked commercial diets, but the long term benefits and savings may help soften the price.

Improved overall health, as a result of raw feeding, will significantly reduce vet visits - other than routine check-ups - and can reduce the risk of serious health conditions later in life.

I know it’s hard to justify a jump in the cost for pet care, but paying a little extra for food every month may also help you cut costs on other items that you use to care for your pet.

Some supplements, waste management supplies, and grooming supplies may not be needed as often or at all after switching to a raw diet.

This sticker shock is a turn off for potential raw food feeders, but for many, the long term benefits of feeding raw do outweigh the short term cost.

Safety

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There is a lot of fear and confusion around the safety of feeding your pet raw meat. Safe food handling practices are required for raw feeding. We’ve outlined some Raw Feeding Safety Tips below.

Preparation

Another drawback to choosing to raw feed is the preparation. Unlike kibble that can be simply scooped, served, and forgotten, raw feeding takes a little more work.

You need to be prepared to plan your dog’s meals by portioning them and defrosting the correct amount of food from a single meal to up to 2-3 days worth of meals. You can read more below about How to Feed Your Dog Raw Food.

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How to Choose the Best Raw Diet for Your Dog

With an almost overwhelming number of raw feeding choices, it can seem daunting to find the diet that is right for your dog. There are many styles, formats, and flavours of raw food, each with their own pros and cons.

Start by narrowing down your options. What are your pet's specific needs? What are you looking for in a dog food? After you determine how to support your dog's health, consider things like price, quantity, and ease of preparation.

How to Find a Complete Raw Dog Food

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Not all raw diets are complete and balanced. There is little regulation for raw food labelling in Canada, so it can be challenging to navigate. Make sure you talk to your local pet store or vet to ensure that the diet you choose is not missing any essential nutrients. Many brands, like Big Country Raw, have both options, so make sure you are grabbing the right raw dog food from the freezer at your local pet store. 

While some diets are labelled as a Full Meal, Dinner, or Whole Prey, others may not specify. If you are not sure, ask. There is no harm in double-checking and lots of harm in unknowingly feeding your dog an incomplete diet. 

Diets labelled MBO (meat and bone only), Bone-In, or Ground, are likely incomplete diets meant to be supplemented and customized. If you are unfamiliar with what’s needed to customize a balanced raw diet for dogs, it’s safer to stick to complete diets.

A full meal will have fresh meat, bone, organ meats, and fresh produce to provide natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Products that are not full meals may 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.

Raw Food Foundations

Every raw dog food brand offers something different, but they are all based loosely on the same two raw feeding styles: the BARF diet or the Prey Model diet.

Both diets have been around for decades (or longer), and are suitable for most dogs. This is why they are the foundation of commercial raw dog foods. Let’s take a closer look:

BARF Diet

The BARF diet stands for Bones and Raw Feeding. This is the most popular style of raw diet and has been adapted into many different variations. Here’s a basic breakdown of the BARF diet:

  • 70% muscle meat
  • 10% edible bone
  • 8% vegetables
  • 5% liver
  • 5% other secreting organs
  • 2% fruit

This basic format ensures a proper variety of essential nutrients are available to meet the needs of most dogs. Most manufacturers use ingredients that are locally sourced, cost-effective, and nutrient-dense to craft their formulas. Each brand adjusts the BARF ratios depending on the nutrients in their ingredients to ensure a complete and balanced diet for dogs. 

Prey Model

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The prey model raw diet is becoming very popular and is often seen as the more natural diet for a carnivore. Prey model diets are typically suitable for cats too, so they are preferred by multi-pet households. This formula is much simpler and it usually does not change much between brands.

  • 80% muscle meat
  • 10% edible bone
  • 5% liver
  • 5% other secreting organs

You may have noticed that there are no fruits, vegetables, or carbs of any sort in this diet. While this is commonly seen as the carnivore way, it’s important to take this information with a grain of salt.

Do carnivores need fruit and veg? While it’s hotly debated, our opinion is that they kind of do. Plant ingredients offer natural sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre. Even true carnivores nibble on leaves, grass, sticks, and the occasional berry.

Typically a store-bought prey model diet will be a mix of different animal parts to make up the prey model ratio. This is called a franken-prey diet. While technically complete, franken-prey diets might not be properly balanced for every dog.

Fruits and vegetables help to support the balance of healthy bacteria in your dog’s gut. They add fibre and nutrients that support digestion. Without the addition of dietary fibre or any plant materials, your dog may not digest his food as well as he could.

Plant fibre isn’t the only way to support digestion. Animal fibres can be included in the diet instead. They don’t have as much nutritional value, but they do offer enough fibre for most dogs. One way to include animal fibre is to feed whole prey. Yep, a whole animal carcass. Yuck, right?

It may sound gross to us, but for dogs, eating whole prey is natural. Included in a whole prey diet are the fur, feather, and connective tissues that can supply your dog with the fibre they need.

Of course, not everyone wants to feed a whole chicken or rabbit, so franken-prey diets are an easy alternative. Just make sure that you are supplementing the diet properly with fibre from either plant or animal sources to make it truly complete.

Types of Raw Dog Food

Feeding raw does require a bit more work than a typical dog diet, so look for options that fit your lifestyle. Let's break down the different formats of raw dog food so that you can choose the type that will be best for you and your dog.

1. Frozen

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Frozen raw foods are typically sold in large blocks, chubs, or pre-portioned patties. Each meal will need to be portioned out to meet your dog's feeding requirements. Choose the size and style that works best for you and your pet.

If you are looking for a complete meal that doesn't require extra supplements of vitamins and minerals, then choose a diet labelled as such or those that follow the BARF diet model. Some of the terms you may see are full meals, dinners, complete meals. These mean that the food contains all the essential nutrients needed in a standard complete diet.

Feeding a full raw diet doesn't mean that you shouldn’t add more nutrients to their meals as needed. Try including edible or recreational bones, fresh produce, omega fatty acids, or any other supplements that can make the food better suited to your dog’s needs.Raw Bones for Dogs

Don’t go overboard on the add-ins though. Additional calories from "extras" might mean you need to increase activity or reduce regular feedings for your dog. You also want to avoid offering too many extra vitamins and minerals, as some can be toxic if fed in excess.

If you choose to feed an incomplete diet, be prepared to use supplements and other foods to balance the meals. Incomplete diets are customizable and allow you to have more control over your pet's food so that you can accommodate specific dietary needs, such as allergies, but it is much more difficult to ensure an appropriate balance of nutrients.

Incomplete diets are not recommended for beginners. If you need to go this route for health reasons, then I strongly recommend doing a lot of research to ensure you are offering the right nutrients to your dog.

Only choose this type of raw diet if you understand your dog's dietary needs. Many brands will offer recommendations of supplements and foods that can be used to balance their diet, like organ meats, fish oils, or kelp.

2. Freeze-dried, Dehydrated, and Air Dried

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Those looking for an easier to store option, freeze-dried, dehydrated, and air-dried raw foods are good choices. You can find them in similar varieties to frozen raw diets but in more condensed and easier to prepare formats.

These are great for travelling, portioning smaller meals, and as a "whoops, I forgot to defrost some raw last night" emergency option. They are also popular among pet owners who don't like handling the raw meat or just don't have the freezer space to dedicate to their dog's food.

Ready-to-Eat

If you are looking for raw nutrition in a kibble-like format, then try a dehydrated or air-dried food that is designed to be fed as is. These are a simple scoop and serve choice that offers similar nutrients and benefits of a frozen or fresh raw diet.

This may be appealing for some, but they do have some downsides. For one, scoop and serve diets do not have the benefit of the high moisture content that frozen or fresh raw diets do. This does not negate the nutritional benefits but may not suit all of your pet's needs.

Secondly, this is not the best option for anyone looking to stay within a budget. Just like most consumer goods, you pay for convenience. Feeding a large breed or multiple dogs can add up quickly. Alternatively, you can use this style as a treat or topper for your pet's current diet.

This is also a great way to introduce raw to your dog slowly. Try out brands like Stella & Chewy’s Meal Mixers to test our raw on your dog.

Ready-to-eat formulas can be rehydrated, mixed with bone broth, or goat’s milk to provide the necessary moisture content, but they will have to soak for a while to absorb the liquid.

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Rehydrate

Freeze-dried and many dehydrated diets require rehydration. These can be easily made to order, prepared in advance, frozen, or taken on the go. Once rehydrated, the food will have a texture similar to a canned diet.

Like the ready-to-eat formats, these diets are not the cheapest feeding style, although some formulas are more budget-friendly than others depending on the complexity of the formula. They are a favourite for anyone with limited storage space or just grossed out by raw meat diets.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are also popular among pets that aren't a fan of the cold temperature of a frozen raw format. For some pets, the temperature can be a factor in their food preferences. Freeze-dried and dehydrated food can be made with room temp or lukewarm water.*

*Never use boiling or hot water, as this will cook the food and alter the nutrients in the diet.

This type of raw diet can be used as a meal topper, either rehydrated or not, but it should be less than 10% of the meal if you are feeding it dry. Feeding large portions of dry freeze-dried or dehydrated foods can dehydrate your dog and will expand in their stomach as it absorbs liquid.

Premixes

The last style of dehydrated or freeze-dried raw diet you’ll find at your local pet store is a premix diet. These diets are designed to take the guesswork out of a customized diet.

The diets contain everything but meat. You can rehydrate the premix and add meat of your own choosing. Then just supplement the diet with omega fatty acids, or kelp to provide a balanced diet for your dog.

Additional supplements may be required to meet specific dietary needs, but this base is a great starting point for beginners looking for more customization and variety.

3. Homemade

As we become more comfortable with feeding raw and more aware of the pet food industry’s flaws, you may be considering homemade raw diets to take more control of your pet's health.

Another reason pet owners are turning to raw is to help balance out the rising costs of pet food ingredients, especially in raw dog food diets. It's becoming less and less affordable to feed raw, and if you have a pet with dietary restrictions, like allergies to specific animal proteins, those costs can soar even higher.

Feeding homemade raw allows you to source your own ingredients, and only feed what you know your dog can have.

Before choosing to make your dog's food, I encourage you to do lots of research and talk to a holistic vet with experience in crafting raw dog food recipes and meal plans. This will prevent unbalanced diets or a diet lacking essential nutrients.

To learn more about what your dog requires from a homemade meal, I recommend reading Homemade Raw Dog Food: A Complete and Balanced Raw Diet for Your Dog. It breaks down the basics of what makes up a raw diet and provides helpful tips for getting started.

Homemade diets can be tricky, and I only recommend this style of food for experienced raw feeders. It’s just too easy to feed a poorly balanced diet that could have long term consequences on your pet’s health.

 

How to Feed Raw Dog Food

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Now you know the advantages of feeding raw and how to choose the right type of diet, but just what are you getting yourself into? Choosing the food and feeding the food are two different things.

I'm not going to lie; feeding your dog a raw diet isn't as simple as throwing kibble into a bowl and walking away. Raw diets require you to be more involved in your dog's meal prep and eating habits. It's an investment of both money and time, but if you want the best for your dog, some sacrifices need to be made.

There are a few extra steps involved in feeding raw. Build a consistent routine to help simplify the daily and weekly process of feeding raw food. You'll see that raw food preparation isn't as complicated as it sounds.

These helpful tips and best practices can ensure that you are feeding appropriately and that your dog will thrive on their new raw diet.

Feeding Guidelines

Raw food is not one-size-fits-all. Unlike kibble diets that offer formulas for puppies, seniors, or large and small breeds, a raw dog food diet may need to be customized to best suit your dog's specific nutritional needs.

Raw dog food is an all life stage food, meaning that it is generally suitable for all breeds and life stages, but that doesn’t mean that every formula is perfectly balanced for your dog.

More than that, feeding guidelines may need to be adjusted to accommodate changes to routine and activity. Here’s a simple calculator tool to give you a basic guideline of how much frozen raw dog food to feed:

Raw Dog Food Portions

Are you ready to switch your dog to a raw diet? Enter your dog's weight and pick the most appropriate lifestage to find out how much raw dog food your pooch is going to need.

 lbs
4 lbs Per day

Split daily feeding recommendation into your preferred number of meals per day for your dog.

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Raw Diets for Puppies and Seniors

During developmental stages, both puppies and senior dogs have an increased requirement for certain nutrients. Their bodies are growing and changing rapidly, so their diets need to supply the right types and quantities of the nutrients required to support this growth. These three factors need to be considered when feeding a raw diet to dogs of different life stages:

1. Omega Fatty Acids

Puppies and senior dogs have some similarities. Both need nutrients to support cognitive function, skeletal structure, and muscle mass. Therefore, their diets may need to be supplemented to ensure they are getting the nutrients needed to stay healthy as their bodies adapt to changes.

Omega fatty acids are essential for dogs of all life stages, but certain fatty acids are more important to support cognitive function while the brain is developing and to prevent cognitive decline. DHA is the fatty acid required to provide this support.

DHA is best sourced from animal fats and oils, as very few plant sources have an abundant concentration of this fatty acid. Supplementing your young and old dogs with fish oil supplements, or offering fresh raw fish as part of their diet is the best way to supply appropriate levels of DHA.

While salmon oil is the most popular fish oil supplement, it’s certainly not the only option. Herring, sardine, cod liver, Alaskan pollock, calamari, and seal oils all offer generous amounts of essential omega fatty acids.

Here are a few of our top picks:

·  Brilliant Salmon Oil

·  Baie Run Omega 3

·  Thrive Herring Oil

If you prefer to feed fresh whole fish, then stick to small fish with soft bones that your dog can easily chew and digest. Sardines, anchovies, or mackerel are all great choices.

Start small and slowly increase portions to allow your dog to adapt to the increased fat levels in his diet. Fish or fish oil supplementation can be done daily or a few times per week if you prefer to offer it as a treat instead of a meal topper.

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2. Calcium and Phosphorous

Puppies go through several growth spurts in their first 12-18 months, so it's important to make sure that you're supplying the nutrients they need to help support their growing bones. Bones rely on calcium and phosphorus, which are sourced from bones and muscle meat, respectively.

Puppies do need a little extra calcium during their developmental stages. Offering raw edible bones or whole eggs as treats or meal toppers is a great way to offer a natural calcium boost.

Just remember that this should be done in moderation. Too much calcium can be harmful. During their first six months, puppies absorb up to 70% of their dietary calcium, which is stored in the body. Overfeeding calcium can cause growth abnormalities during developmental stages.

If your puppies poop looks chalky or white, that’s a clear sign that you are feeding too much calcium.

3. Calories

Puppies, even lazy ones, need more calories to support their constant growth. During times of high energy, they will need calories to support endurance, but even during downtime, your puppies' body is still hard at work.

Puppies require a high protein and high-fat diet to provide long-lasting and efficient energy for the body and the brain. Your puppy will be growing quickly, so you will need to adjust feeding guidelines as he gains weight and builds muscle.

Seniors, on the other hand, are slowing down. They don’t process calories as quickly and tend to be lower activity. You will need to adjust their calorie intake as they slow down. Old doggos also don’t need as much fat. Healthy fat is still good, so don’t skimp on the omegas, but limiting dietary fat and feeding leaner proteins can help your old doggo stay fit. Proteins like goat, kangaroo, lamb, and rabbit are all lean protein choices.

They do still need high protein to help support long term energy and maintain muscle mass. It’s a common misconception that senior pets don’t process protein as well. As long as the protein is fresh and good quality, most older pets so very well on high protein foods like raw.

Talk to your vet if you have any concerns. They can do blood tests to determine your dog’s liver function.

Raw Food for Large and Small Breed Puppies

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Depending on your dog’s size, you may need to consider modifying their diet to support their breed characteristics. While their basic diets are the same, large and small breeds have subtle dietary differences; most importantly, their skeletal structure and metabolism.

1. Skeletal Support

We talked about the calcium and phosphorus requirements for puppies, but the size and breed of your dog can play a role, as well. Large breed puppies are at a higher risk of osteoarthritis and other orthopedic issues.

You may think these are old dog ailments, but offering too much calcium can trigger these problems at a young age. Avoid feeding too much additional calcium with their raw diet. Edible bones as treats should be limited to once or twice a week.

The one extra puzzle piece that needs to be considered is the amount of vitamin D they get from their diet. Vitamins are a good thing, in moderation, but one of the reasons that vitamin D can contribute to skeletal issues during puppyhood is because it increases the absorption of calcium.

Feeding too much calcium is bad, but when combined with a diet that is naturally high in vitamin D and you could be compounding the issue. It’s best to limit additional calcium supplementation to large breeds by offering edible bones less frequently.

One or two times per week is fine, but more than that and you may be feeding too much. If you are looking to give your puppy something healthy to chew, then consider feeding bully sticks, beef tendons, or other non-bone natural chews.

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2. Metabolism and Weight Gain

Small breeds have a higher metabolic rate. This means that even when sitting still, their bodies burn more calories than a large breed dog. They use calories more efficiently and gain weight more gradually during their puppy stages. This puts less pressure and strain on the hips and joints.

Large breeds have a lot more growing to do, and that extra weight can damage the connective tissues that support their joints. This is why large breed dogs should monitor their calories to prevent gaining too much weight too fast. When calculating feeding guidelines for small and medium breed puppies vs a large breed puppy, the smaller breeds will require a higher percentage of food based on their body weight.

Stick to more conservative feeding guidelines for your large breed to slow growth and prevent early onset joint issues. Don’t underfeed but try not to offer more than is needed. This will reduce wear and tear on your dog’s connective tissues and bones.

Keep in mind that both large and small breeds can quickly gain too much weight if they are eating too much and not spending enough energy. Make sure that your feeding guidelines suit their activity levels.

Preparing Raw Dog Food

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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 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, dividing an 8 oz. patty into 1.5 oz. meals can be challenging. Some raw foods offer options for smaller pets that are pre-portioned into kibble sized pieces or 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 entire 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.

Defrosting

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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 keep 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, prevents the spread of bacteria, and protects any refrigerated consumables 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 in a matter of hours if stored in a single layer.

Forgot to take out food last night? That’s OK. This quick defrost method can save the day.

  1. Fill the sink or a bowl with room temperature water.
  2. Put the frozen food, sealed in a Ziploc bag, into the water.
  3. Let it sit for 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.

Other Tips

  • 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. The heat, no matter how low, can destroy nutrients.
  • If you are in a bind, you are better off feeding a raw bone or a dehydrated or freeze-dried raw replacement instead of feeding cooked food. The drastic change could lead to tummy troubles. 

Rehydrating

If freeze-dried or dehydrated diets are your choice, then you’ll need to add water before serving. Each brand will offer instructions for how much liquid you’ll need to rehydrate the food, but this is flexible. You can change the texture to your dog’s preference by adding more or less water.

You can also use other liquids than water. Bone broth and goat’s milk are a great way to rehydrate these diets and add a little extra nutrition or support to the meal.

Most freeze-dried diets will rehydrate in a few minutes, but some styles of dehydrated foods take longer. To save your self some time, you can do some meal prep and rehydrate several meals overnight and freeze what you won’t use in the next 3 days. Then just defrost and serve.

Routine

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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 for most adult dogs, 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.

Making Adjustments

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There are a few more factors that may influence your dog’s feeding requirements, like breed and metabolism.

The calorie-dense nature of raw diets is ideal for the average dog’s metabolism, but many breeds are also prone to weight problems. Small breeds are often at a higher risk of obesity because of their lifestyle. They are often indoor dogs and don’t always participate in the same physical activities as larger dogs.

Calories should be balanced with their activity levels. A strictly indoor dog that only leaves the house in a purse will not need the same calories as a dog park regular. Be prepared to adjust feeding guidelines depending on your dog’s energy output.

For days with increased activity, like a play date, a hike, or even a stressful experience, your dog’s regular feeding guidelines might leave him with less energy than his body’s needs for his strenuous activities. You can adjust meals by adding an extra ounce, or by supplementing with some high calorie treats, a raw egg, edible bones, or bone broth.

Adjusting feeding guidelines depending on activity is common in the winter and summer months too. Summer is full of camping, hiking, and swimming. A few extra calories each day will be appropriately used. Whereas our frigid Canadian winters often limit physical activity, so slightly lower feeding guidelines can prevent packing on those extra winter pounds.

Remember to stick to small changes at a time. One day of high energy does not justify double portions. Adjustments should be less than 10% at a time. 

Raw Feeding Safety Tips

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There is much debate over the safety of feeding your dog raw meat. We've long been taught that the bacteria in raw meat can be harmful to us, so it's easy to assume the same for your dogs. Knowing the right way to feed raw will ensure that you and your dog will stay safe.

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 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 many 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. This means that bacteria can pass through their system quickly enough to prevent the bacteria from populating any part of their digestive system.

1. Store it Properly for Risk Prevention

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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. Exposure to room temperature will allow the bacteria to multiply quickly.

Even though they can kill and pass 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 three days. If you are defrosting multiple meals at once, make sure you only take out what can be consumed within three days.

The materials that you use to store and feed raw should also be considered. Plastic cracks and scratches easily. Sometimes, these tiny, invisible marks on a bowl or container can host harmful bacteria transferred from the meat. Opt for glass, ceramic, or metal dishes and containers for feeding and storing.

Raw food should be kept frozen until you are ready to use it. Only defrost what you will be able to store in the fridge and feed in the next two days.

2. Wash Your Hands

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A little known fact about pet food is that regardless of format, all pet food can host bacteria that can make us sick. Whether you are touching kibble, treats, or raw, washing your hands and surfaces that the food touches is a best practice to prevent harmful bacteria from affecting you.

The biggest concern with raw is scary bacteria like salmonella and E.coli, both of which should be taken very seriously. How you handle your dog's food is important. Use common sense, and treat their raw food just as you would treat your own raw meat.

3. Disinfect the Natural Way

Bowls should be cleaned after every meal, counters and utensils should be sanitized, and any surface or container that touches the food should be disinfected. Disinfecting makes us think of chemicals, but there are natural, pet-safe solutions to eliminate bacteria.

Vinegar is nature's secret disinfectant. Use vinegar to clean surfaces, floors, bowls, and anything else used in raw feeding. Don't use full-strength vinegar, as that would be overpowering. Instead, use a vinegar and water dilution. 10-15% vinegar to water is suitable for cleaning, and the smell will dissipate quickly.

4. Safe Feeding

Some dogs guzzle their food like it’s going out of style, but raw meals can be a bit trickier for daintier eaters. Kibbles can be left out for hours, even days, without a second thought, but raw meat should never be left out for more than 30 minutes at a time.

The best method for correcting this behaviour is taking the food away when your dog walks away from the bowl. Store it in the fridge until the next mealtime. Eventually, your dog will get used to eating larger portions at each sitting to provide the calories and nutrition that they require for their daily activities.

5. Avoid plastic bowls.

As we mentioned above, 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 your dog bowls after every meal, and sanitize them 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.New call-to-action

Transitioning to Raw Dog Food

Making the switch to raw dog food is different for every dog. Some easily swap from one diet to the next with no adverse effects, while others need a slower and softer transition.

You understand your dog better than anyone. How you transition should reflect what you know of your dog's eating habits and sensitivities. Their feeding routine should also suit your daily schedule.

Start by determining how much to feed your dog. This will make it easier to be consistent during the transition and track changes and issues in their digestion, appearance, and energy.

Once you've found the food or recipe you want to feed, you'll need to decide how to introduce your dog’s new food. There are many different ways to transition your dog to raw food, but here are the three most common methods:

3 Common Methods to Transition Your Dog to a Raw Diet

This decision should be based on past dietary changes, current health, and your daily routine. Slower transitions take more time. If your dog is known to have a sensitive stomach, then make sure you will be able to monitor your pet during the change.

1. Cold Turkey

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This method is preferred by many pet owners who are comfortable with their dog's digestive health. If you think your dog has an iron stomach, then you will likely find success with this method. Simply fast your dog for 12 hours and switch entirely to a raw diet.

2. Cautious Approach

For those of you that aren't as trusting of your dog's ability to handle food changes, try to slow-roll the transition. Cut up some of the raw diet into medium to large treat-sized pieces, and feed as treats over 2-3 days.

If your dog seems to be handling the raw pieces well, fast him for 12 hours and replace one meal with raw, keeping the other meal as their original diet. Try to keep the meals 8-10 hours apart.

Once you're sure your dog is digesting the food well, then it's time for a complete switch. Most pets can handle this transition with no issues, but give each step a few days before moving on to monitor stool quality and eating habits.

3. Baby Steps

If your dog has a history of poor digestion or issues when changing diets, you may be considering an even slower transition to reduce the chances of a digestive reaction. You can extend the steps to make smaller changes while you gradually introduce the new diet.

Start treating your dog with just plain raw meat - ground beef, chicken breast, or whatever protein you intend to introduce into his diet. Remember, baby steps, so start with small pieces and slowly increase the size.

If your dog tolerates the raw meat well, you can start feeding treat-sized pieces of a full raw diet instead. Do this for a couple of days, or until you are comfortable moving on.

When you are ready, fast your dog for 12 hours, and switch one meal over to raw, for a week, then fully into a complete raw diet. Using digestive aids, like probiotics, pumpkin, tripe, or goat’s milk, is a good idea during the transition and for a few weeks after.

Though this method seems like it would help reduce digestive reactions, that’s not the case for all dogs. Depending on what type and quality of diet they are switching from, raw may be a difficult change no matter how fast or slow you try to transition them.

Sometimes it’s best to rip off the band-aid and deal with the consequences for a day or two. This is why digestive aids can be a lifesaver. They can improve nutrient absorption and reduce the severity of digestive reactions.

Choosing the Best Method for Your Dog

There is no one correct method for transitioning all dogs to raw. The style you choose should be based on your dog’s health and your own personal preference.

Nine times out of ten, I recommend the cold turkey method, but special circumstances may warrant a more cautious approach. Connect with your vet to determine the most suitable options for supporting your dog’s digestive system during dietary changes.  

You Are Raw Ready

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With the right knowledge, choosing a raw diet should feel much less daunting. The results will help you provide the best life for your dog so that they can continue to bring joy to your home.

Give raw a chance. Your dog will thank you, and with the money, you’ll save on vet bills, so will your wallet. Best of all, your dog will live their absolute best and healthiest life.

Don't take it from us! Try it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.


Posted by Krystn Janisse

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.


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