I get questions all the time about how to begin feeding their dog a raw diet. I can only give what worked for me in the past with my dogs.
What is raw feeding and how do I know what to feed my dog?
My mantra about raw feeding is to look to nature. What would my dog eat if he was living in the wild? The answer to that is he would eat any animal he could catch and kill. So the answer to what to feed is raw meat, bones, and organs from a variety of animals. Feed mostly meat, some bone, and some organs. The exact ratio isn't critical.
What about fruits & veggies?
A lot of people feed their dogs veggies but if you look to nature, you will see that your dog wouldn't eat veggies in any measurable amounts. He might eat a few berries or maybe some grass but certainly not zucchini, carrots, potatoes or any of the veggies that many people feed. Also you must know that all the cells in all vegetable matter is covered by a think layer of cellulose.
This cellulose must be crushed during the eating process in order for the nutrients in the vegetables to be available for digestion. This is called bioavailablity. The nutrients in vegetable matter is not bioavailable to our dogs because they don't have the flat molar teeth that plant eating animals do.
Humans, for example, have flat molars for crushing cellulose during chewing. Dogs molars are called carnassal teeth and are not flat but work like scissors to rip and tear meat and crush bones. So, by looking at your dog's teeth, you can tell that veggies just are not appropriate food for them. The vegetable material doesn't harm your dog, but it does them no good either. Giving carrot treats occasionally doesn't hurt. Just make sure that you don't feed enough veggies to interfere with the amount of meat, bones, and organs your dog eats.
How do I begin?
First off, you want to begin with one meat source until your dog gets used to digesting meat. I suggest chicken, specifically chicken backs only for the first week. Chicken meat is easily digested and the bones are soft and pliable.
The second week, I suggest chicken backs in the morning and chicken quarters in the evening. The third week I think it would be good to alternate chicken quarters with turkey necks in the evening, sticking with chicken backs in the morning. So one evening you would feed chicken quarters, the next evening it would be turkey necks, then quarters again then necks, etc. After a week of that, add another meat. I suggest pork. One pork meal that week.
The next week add one meal of fish. I use canned salmon or mackerel but raw fish will work just fine. Feed with bones and organs still attached if you can get that. I feed one fish meal every week for the omega 3 fatty acids for good bright shiny coats.
Then next week, try something in place of the pork, maybe lamb or beef. So, after a few weeks you will be feeding most any meat available. After a month or so of feeding raw, you can add organ meat. You don't feed a meal of organs, just add some organ meat to one or 2 meals a week. Not a lot of organ meat as they are rich and can cause runny stools. Now let's put it all together and look at the diet I feed my dogs after the introduction period. Every morning they get chicken backs.
The evening meals are alternated between chicken quarters and turkey necks. One of those evening meals will be fish + organs + a raw egg (shell and all) + anything else I may have left over in the fridge. One other night during the week is for "something else". I may feed a pork roast or pork ribs or pork shoulder. It may be beef, or lamb. Just something other than chicken, turkey, or fish.
That's it. I keep it as simple as possible. The more you complicate it, the more complicated it becomes. Expect your dog to have runny stools for a few days to a couple of weeks in the beginning. Its part of the process of learning how to digest meat and is normal. Some dogs don't get runny stools at all, others last for a couple of weeks.
What organs do I feed?
Liver is the most important and should be at least half of the organs fed. Any kind of liver will do. Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, any of them. A variety is best over time. Kidney is the next most nutritious organ to feed. Also lung and pancreas. Heart is not an organ but a muscle and is good to feed too. Gizzard is also a muscle.
How much do I feed my adult dog?
Each dog is different and that's impossible to say. However, begin with 2% to 3% of his IDEAL adult weight each day. Watch him over time and adjust as necessary. If he gets fat, feed less and vice versa. Many new raw feeders have this great need to measure everything. That need will quickly disappear and you will just know how much to feed. You will also stay in touch with your dogs "build" and adjust his food accordingly.
How much do I feed my puppy?
This one is a little more complicated so pay attention here. Begin feeding him 10% of his weight a day. Once 10% of his weight exceeds 2% to 3% of his IDEAL ADULT weight (not present weight), feed the 2% to 3%. All the time you are doing this you are conscious of his build and adjust the amount of food accordingly. The puppy will tell you how much to feed him by his build.
How young can I begin feeding raw?
I personally have fed a 12 week old puppy raw. I know breeders who will wean their puppies directly to raw. My suggestion is to begin feeding raw the day you bring him home.
Tell me how to balance the diet.
People worry an awful lot about balancing their dog's diet. It seems to me that they worry more about their dog's diet than their own or their family's diet. They are dogs.
Their digestive systems and their bodies are not that fragile. Feed meat, bones, and organs from a variety of animals and the diet will balance itself over time. Remember that term "over time". It's not necessary to balance each meal. Balance over time. People getting into raw feeding tend to worry a lot about ratios and percentages and weights. Forget all that. Feed raw meat and bones and organs from a variety of animals and things magically work themselves out.
What is ideal? The average prey animal has about 10% to 15% bone, about 10% organs, and the rest muscle and fat and connective tissue. If you feed 5% bone or 25% bone, it won't matter. 5% organs or 20% organs doesn't make any difference. Just stay somewhat in the ballpark and you will be ok. One thing I look at is the dog's poop. You will become an expert poop watcher.
Ideally, the poop should be solid and turn white and powdery in a day or 2. If the poop is runny, it generally means you need to feed more bone. If it is white and powdery when it comes out, feed less bone. The poop and my dog's build is all I watch and I don't look at poop very often anymore.
Do I feed supplements?
As long as you feed raw meaty bones and organs from a variety of animals then you shouldn't need to supplement a healthy dog. Of course if your dog has a health problem, you might want to add supplements for that. One more possibility. Some add salmon oil capsules for omega 3's. I don't because I feed fish at least once a week.
Where and how do I buy my raw meats?
A good place to buy in bulk is to go to small independent grocery stores and have them order things like chicken backs and turkey necks by the case. Backs come in 40# cases and turkey necks come in 30# cases. Small independent stores are usually willing to help you get cases of meats. The big chain stores just aren't set up for such purchases. Ethnic markets are another source of meats, particularly organs. Check with restaurants and see where they get meats and try those places. Finding cheap meat is fun and will become a game once you get into raw feeding.
Can you give other tips on raw feeding and how to make it easy?
There are many and you will learn most as you go and you will have to work out your own routine. It will be complicated and cumbersome in the beginning but you will work out your routines and it becomes very little more difficult than feeding kibble. One suggestion is when you buy by the case, break up the case into meal size portions and put them in freezer bags. As you feed one meal, get the next out of the freezer to be thawing.
What about Germs from the raw meat?
The digestive juices of our canines are more than 50% hydrochloric acid. It is very deadly to the bacteria that your dogs ingest. Dog/wolves in the wild are exposed to all kinds of e-coli, salmonella, etc all the time and suffer no ill effects from it. (Afterall they lick their butts all the time!) A canine in the wild can stumble upon a carcass of a prey animal that has been dead for a week or more and will gladly eat it. I had a Golden Retriever whose favorite treat was a road kill squirrel that had been dead and laying in the hot sunshine for about a week. Whenever she ate one, there was never any side effects from it. Its safe to feed your dogs meat that has gone bad in the refrigerator. Don't worry about germs when feeding your dog. It's a non-issue. I have never heard of a dog nor a family member getting sick from feeding your dog raw.