Raw Dog Food for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know 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, then 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.

In this guide we will cover:

  1. 6 Reasons Why You Should Feed Your Dog Raw
  2. 3 Big Benefits of Raw
  3. How To Choose The Best Raw Diet For Your Dog
  4. Raw Feeding Safety Tips
  5. Transitioning to Raw Dog Food

6 Reasons Why You Should Feed Your Dog Raw

Allergies, obesity, diabetes, and cancer are more common than ever, and your pets 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 naturally prevent and treat our dogs.

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

1. Cut the Junk

Raw-Food-@thecolliebrothers-(10)

Junk food, sugars, heavily processed ingredients, and the pollutants and chemicals that come hand-in-hand with any 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 the health of our pets has started to push us towards specialty pet foods.

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

Feeding raw let's 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.

2. Fad Doesn’t Mean False

gray-wolf

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 that are 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 application of the diet.

When it comes to your dog’s health, you need to understand that biologically your dog is different. A diet that may fit your lifestyle, your beliefs, and makes you feel good might not be appropriate for your pet. They have different dietary needs than you; needs that 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 their anatomy.

3. Dogs are Scavenging Carnivores

dog-sniffing-scavenging

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.

Different than 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 that can be linked to inappropriate diets and poor quality ingredients.

4. Your Dog Eats Like a Carnivore

dog-eating-raw-meat-bone

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

Their Mouth

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 the shape of their teeth.

Dogs do not have the digestive enzyme Amylase in their saliva. Other omnivores like bears, and well… us, secrete this enzyme to help kick-start the process of breaking down 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 omnivores 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, leaving the nutrients of the plant easier to attain. 

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 pieces that are small enough to swallow whole, like a carnivore. 

Their Stomach

The next carnivorous stage of digestion is their stomach. Your dog's stomach is more acidic than yours, allowing them to handle the bacteria that are found in raw meat. Dog's have a larger stomach cavity that is designed to hold food for longer than our 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 that are 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

bowl-fresh-vegetables

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 your 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 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 that they need 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 required nutrients that your dog needs, so finding a truly complete plant-based diet is hard. Most require supplementation to properly balance. 

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, or even shrinking muscle mass that can affect the health of joints and connective tissues over time.

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 to 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! 

bowl-dog-kibble

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 natural bacteria and enzymes on the meat. 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, us. 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 leave the nutrients intact, but kills the bacteria. While this sounds great on paper, we can't dismiss the fact that not all bacteria is harmful, and HPP and other sanitization methods are ridding the food of some of it's beneficial components. 

3 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

cleaning-up-dog-poop

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 the fact 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. 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 minimal ingredients and high bioavailability of the nutrients allow your dog to use almost all of the food that they consume. Without the indigestible fibre content and the excessive carbs of a kibble diet, raw poop will be smaller and firmer, which benefits the health of their anal glands.

A final 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 preserving 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! Better bathroom clean-up is enough to get any dog owner excited, but the benefits of raw feeding  don't stop there.

2. Bring Back Your Dog's Natural Luster

border-collie-shiny-coat

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 the systems in their body are functioning. Poor digestion or absorption of nutrients can affect cell cycles, how nutrients are used by the body, and eventually, the health of their skin and coat.

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. It will, however, help to improve digestion, keep them better hydrated, and flush toxins and bacteria out of their system.

For many pet owners, shedding is a constant issues. A reduction in shedding is one of the first benefits you will see when you switch to raw feeding. 

3. Managing Weight and Muscle Mass Through Raw Feeding

overweight-dog-pit-bull-terrier

Obesity is a huge problem that is 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 is not going to fix all of your dog's weight issues, but it is an effective part of a diet routine. 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. Check out How Much Raw Food Should I Feed My Dog? and More Raw FAQs to find out how to support your dog's weight management plan. 

Lazy or low activity dogs don't use energy from carbohydrates as efficiently as energy from protein and fat. A carb-heavy diet, like kibble, will lead to unused energy and calories, which contribute 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.

That's Not All!

These are just a few of the many benefits of feeding your dog a raw diet. Dental health, kidney function, and metabolism will all see a positive effect from raw food. Check out 7 Benefits of Raw Dog Food to learn more ways you can improve your dog's health through raw feeding.

How to Choose the Best Raw Diet for Your Dog

With an almost overwhelming number of choices for raw feeding, 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 determined how to support your dog's health, consider things like price, quantity, and ease of preparation .

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 breakdown 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

forzen-raw

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. 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 can't add more nutrients to their meals as needed. Try including edible or recreational bones, or fresh produce. Just make sure you add in proper portions. Additional calories from "extras" might mean you need to increase activity or reduce regular feedings for your dog. 

Need help choosing the right raw bones for your dog? Check out our Guide to Feeding Raw Bones for Dogs to learn the safest and most nutritious raw bones. 

For a more customizable option, you can look for incomplete diets that only provide the foundation of a raw diet, without the additional ingredients, like bones or organs. This allows you more control over your pet's food so that you can accommodate specific dietary needs, such as allergies. 

Look for labels like: Bone-in, MBO, and Meat and Bone only. These diets can vary. Some may contain produce, while other may literally just be meat and bone. Check the ingredients to see what you need to add. 

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

freezedried-dehydrated-airdried

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

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 the similar nutrients and benefits of a 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 most of 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 that would add to your pet's current diet.

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. They are a favourite for anyone with limited storage space or those who are 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.

3. Homemade

homemade-dog-food

As we become more comfortable with feeding raw, and more aware of the flaws in the pet food industry, 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 creating raw diets. This will prevent unbalanced diets, or a diet lacking important 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 some helpful tips for getting started.

Raw Feeding Safety Tips

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. Choosing to feed raw means that you will need to be more involved in your dog's meal prep and habits. It's an investment of both money and time, but if you want the best for your dog, then 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 at it sounds.

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.

Here are some 

1. Wash Your Hands

soap

A little known fact about pet food is that regardless of format, all pet food has the potential to 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 the spread of harmful bacteria.

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.

2. Store it Properly

glass-container-tupperware

The materials that you use to store and feed raw should be considered. Plastic cracks and scratches easily. These tiny, sometimes not even visible, marks on a bowl or container can host harmful bacteria that has 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.

3. Disinfect the Natural Way

white-vinegar

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

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.

To learn more about the safe handling and best practices of raw food, check out How to Feed Raw Dog Food

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 negative 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 that you want to feed, you'll need to decide how to introduce the new food to your dog. 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 are going to be able to monitor your pet during the change.

1. The Quick Way

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 completely to a raw diet. 

2. The Slow Way

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

If your dog seems to be handling the raw addition well, then fast then for 12 hours and and replace one meal with raw. Monitor for 3-5 days. Once you're sure your dog is digesting the food well, then it's time for a complete switch. 

3. The Slowest Way 

Dogs with a history of poor digestion may need to be more cautious when switching diets. This method is similar to the "slow way", but you'll extend each of the steps before switching to a fully raw diet. 

Start "raw treating" with just plain meat, instead of the complete meal. Remember, baby steps, so start with small pieces and slowly increase the size before swapping your meat treats to a complete diet treat. This process can take longer, so don't rush it. 

If your dog is tolerating the raw treats, then you can move onto the one meal switch.

To get a full break down of the most popular methods and raw feeding tips, check out Transitioning your Dog to a Raw Dog Food Diet. 

Make the Raw Choice

raw-decision

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.

Have more questions about raw? Drop me a line at krystn@homesalive.ca, and we'll do our best to answer your raw food questions.

What are your best tips for feeding raw dog food? Share your stories, struggles and favourite products in the comments below!


Posted by Krystn Janisse


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