Raw Food Basics

This guide is meant to be your crash course into the world of feeding commercially prepared raw food (aka raw food that you buy at a pet food store). If you have any follow-up questions please reach out, I do provide one-on-one phone consultations. This is not a guideline for balancing or creating DIY raw meals.

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Why Feed Raw? 

Feeding raw food is done to mimic the ancestral diet of a dog or cat as closely as possible. Dogs & cats have been eating raw meats & prey for as long as they have existed. I believe that ‘because of its continuous & lifelong impact, nutrition might be the most important environmental factor for health” (1). 

Commercially prepared, processed pet foods  are a relatively new creation that have only been around for the past one hundred years (2). That’s not to say we’re against high-quality kibble or canned food. Is a balanced raw food diet our top-pick? Absolutely. But we also understand that every pet parent has their own lifestyle & budget considerations to factor into their decision. Our goal is always to support you in whatever choice you make & help make the dogs & cats in our community healthier & happier. 

There are constantly new studies being released about the benefits of including even some raw food in your pet’s diet (yes you can mix kibble & raw, more on that later). 

Some of the benefits of feeding a balanced raw food diet include: 

  • Lower rates of obesity (3) 
  • Reduced level of inflammation & disease markers (1) 
    • FYI “chronic, low-grade inflammation is the beginning of most diseases” (1) 
  • Reduced risk of allergies (4) 
  • Reduced risk of inflammatory bowel disease (especially when started in puppyhood) (5) 
  • Better gut health & diversity that can help with a stronger immune system, detoxification, stress hormone regulation, & protection from chronic diseases (1) 

What is Raw Food? 

Commercially prepared raw food will usually contain a mix of muscle meat, bone, and organs, and possibly fruits & vegetables, and supplements. There are two types of commercially prepared raw foods: ratio-based & fully balanced. We carry both options. 

Ratio-based raw foods are so-called because they will contain a ratio of meat, bones & organs. Usually, the ratio is around 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, & 10% organ. Ratio-based formulas will typically be more cost-effective but will require you to add in a few things to truly make your food “complete & balanced”.  

This is one of the main reasons rotating through a variety of protein sources is so important (ie. chicken, beef, turkey, pork, goat, bison, kangaroo, etc). We can help you come up with a diet plan that best suits your budget & lifestyle 

Balanced raw foods are formulated to meet your pet’s nutritional requirements in each meal without any additional supplementation. These formulas will typically be more expensive than ratio-based foods but are extremely convenient for those who want to simplify mealtime. 

Commonly Asked Questions.

What about Bacteria?

It is important to source your food from a reputable company that has health & safety practices in place to minimize bacteria & pathogen risks. However, your dog’s digestive system is made to handle bacteria much more effectively than ours. Always use food-safe handling practices with all of your pet’s food (including kibble & canned foods). 

As Dr. Steve Marsden, founder of the Edmonton Holistic Veterinary Clinic, puts it, “the bottom line is that no food is immune from bacterial contamination, so this issue really needs to be taken off the table as a reason to feed one food over another” (6). 

What About Parasites? 

Trichinosis is a parasitic disease caused by eating infected raw or undercooked wild carnivores, omnivores, and less commonly, in domesticated pigs. Freezing pork for 20 days at -15°C will kill any worms (7). Reputable brands selling pork products will have a freeze & hold process to ensure this timeline is met. 

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic based disease that can infect most mammals. Oocysts are killed by High-Pressure Pasteurization or by freezing meat for 48 hours at -12°C (8). Reputable brands of commercially prepared raw foods will meet these criteria. 

GI (gastrointestinal) parasites are found in the GI tract of animals, including the prey you may be feeding to your pet. Reputable brands of commercially prepared raw foods will not include entrails in their blends to avoid contamination. 

Can I Cook/Microwave Raw?

No. As most raw foods contain ground bone cooking/microwaving can cause the bone to dry out & become a splintering hazard. It is recommended that you thaw your pet’s food in the fridge (this will take anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on the portion size) or keep some quick thawing food (kibble-style raw) or dehydrated food on hand if you forget to thaw it. 

Is it Safe to Feed My Dog Raw Bones? 

Yes. Raw, properly-sized bones (including raw chicken bones) can be a safe option for healthy responsible chewing dogs. Never feed your dog cooked bones. The best practice is to supervise your pet when they chew anything (bones, bully sticks, enrichment toys etc). 

Can You Feed Raw to Puppies/Kittens? 

Yes. Weaned animals in a growth & development stage (ie puppies & kittens) should have their nutrient requirements met at every meal. This means you can either feed a balanced raw food or supplement your ratio-based raw to make it balanced. 

Can You Feed Raw to Senior Dogs? 

Yes. Older dogs may take a little longer to transition to a raw diet if fresh foods are new to them. 

Currently, neither the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the National Research Council (NRC) provides a guideline for senior pet food formulas (9). However, we know that as with all species, nutritional requirements do change as animals age according to their upbringing, unique medical history, and activity level. Consider Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) when choosing proteins for your pet. Often older dogs require more warming proteins or neutral proteins, but this will vary for each individual (10).  

Read my previous post on feeding raw to senior dogs here.

Do I have to Rotate Proteins?  

Regardless of which type of commercially prepared raw you feed (ratio-based or balanced), or even if you feed a mix of kibble & raw, it is recommended that you rotate between several protein choices for your pet (eg. chicken, beef, goat, lamb, duck, buffalo, etc.).  For dogs with allergies, we recommend finding at least a few proteins they can tolerate & rotating amongst those. 

What Supplements Should I Add? 

In addition to any supplements that may be needed to complete a ratio-based raw food, there are a few other key supplements we recommend working into your pet’s rotation (whether you feed kibble or raw)  including: 

  • Probiotics
    • Over 70% of your pet’s immune system is housed in his gut. Having good bacteria colonized is essential to their overall health & behaviour.  
  • Liver Detoxifier
    • The active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, has “antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, that it has detoxifying actions, and that it promotes cellular repair and regeneration” (11).
    • Milk thistle – blocks histamine release & production. Great for allergic dogs. Stops mast cell degranulation. & also great for mast cell cancer protocols. & detoxifies the liver at the same time 
  • Mushrooms 
    • Mushrooms are an amazing adaptogenic superfood to include in your pet’s supplement rotation. 
    • A study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine found that dogs with cancer that were treated with a mushroom compound had the longest survival times ever reported for dogs with the disease (12)
  • Joint Supplements 
    • Using a high-quality joint supplement can help prevent issues before they occur, promote good joint health, prevent inflammation, support cartilage protection, aid in sports recovery, & assist with senior pet support 

Can I Balance My Food Over Time? 

Healthy adult dogs can have their nutrient requirements met over time rather than in every meal. This can help take the pressure off pet owner’s to perfectly balance each meal they are serving & instead focus on building a well-rounded diet meeting their pet’s nutritional requirements over time (much like many humans eat).  

Puppies & kittens need to be fed complete & balanced meals on a daily basis. 

Can You Mix Raw & Kibble? 

Yes. Perpetuating the idea that raw needs to be an all-or-nothing endeavour scares away well-intentioned pet parents who either can’t afford to or don’t have time to feed raw all of the time. Getting some fresh food into an animal’s diet is better than nothing.

 A 2021 study from the University of Helsinki found that puppies “fed raw tripe, raw organ meats, and human meal leftovers during puppyhood showed significantly less allergy and atopy related skin symptoms in adult life. This study goes on to conclude that the findings indicate that “even as little as 20% of the diet being raw foods… gives health benefits (13)”.

Now that all your questions about raw have been answered, here’s a quick guide on how to feed it! 

How to Feed Raw Food?

Pre-made raw foods will already be ground into a patty for you. All you need to do is thaw the correct amount of food for your pets (more on that later)  in the fridge and then serve it to them at mealtime. Raw food can be served in a bowl, on a platter, or in an enrichment toy depending on your pet’s preference. 

How to Switch Your Dog to Raw? 

Some dogs will transition to raw extremely easily, at their next meal you may be able to present them with their new food, have them love it, and go from there. 

If you have a more sensitive dog, however, or if your pet has been eating the same food for a long time, digestive upset can occur. To avoid this, you can start including a little bit along with their current food or feed a few pieces as treats throughout the day. Slowly decrease the amount of their old food & increase the amount of raw food to fully transition them over.  

How Much Food Do I Feed? 

How much you need to feed your pet will depend on several factors, including their age, size, activity level, and metabolism. 

As a guideline, you can calculate how much they need to eat by taking a percentage (based on their age as shown in the chart below) multiplied by their current body weight to get an idea of how much to feed.

Please note:  This chart is a guideline. The best practice is to feed your pet to maintain an ideal body condition score. Ideally, their ribs should be palpable to easily palpable with minimal fat covering them. A waist should be visible from above & an abdominal tuck should be visible from the side (14). 

Younger animals will need much more food than older ones, and you should weigh your pet frequently to calculate the most accurate feeding amounts required. 

Disease, age, and activity levels can greatly affect feeding requirements.

References: 

  1. The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib & Dr Karen Becker pg. 104, 120, 128-129, 131, 254 
  2. https://www.thebonesandco.com/blog/the-history-of-dog-food-and-kibble 
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338443644_Risk_factors_associated_with_canine_overweightness_and_obesity_in_an_owner-reported_survey 
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jvim.16211 
  5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.552350/full
  1. https://petconnection.ca/raw-pet-foods/ 
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/trichinellosis/prevent.html 
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0020751920303325 
  4. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/05/05/surprising-findings-from-tufts-study-of-37-senior-dog-foods.aspx  
  5. https://www.herbsmithinc.com/food-charts/
  6. https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/milk-thistle-or-silymarin 
  7. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/…/compound-derived-mushroom… 
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211118203742.htm 
  9. https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Body-Condition-Score-Dog.pdf

Disclaimer

This content is for  informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here. 

If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately. Reliance on any information appearing here is entirely at your own risk. If you have medical concerns or need advice, please seek out your closest holistic or integrative veterinarian. Not sure where to find one? Check here: http://www.ahvma.org

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