Why Feed Raw?
The most commonly cited benefits of feeding Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods (or Bones And Raw Foods aka BARF) are:
- clean teeth (no more vet dental bills);
- clean ears (say goodbye to nasty yeasty ears);
- no fleas (apparently this only applies to some dogs);
- no anal gland problems (I have never had a dog with this problem and for that I am truly thankful. However, I’ve heard of a few dogs of other breeds who still need an occasional expression);
- it’s muscle, not fat under there;
- soft, shiny coat and no doggy odor (I’ve had to admit that I hadn’t bathed the
- dogs in at least a year when someone commented that they must have been bathed that day, nor do we go to the beach);
- less water consumption (they are getting water in their food now);
- increased energy levels (OK, so this sounds like a downside for Weims, but those who raw feed puppies say the pups are calmer than those fed kibble, and much less poop! and much less stink! Incredibly small poos that don’t stick to your shoe but dry out and turn white after a few days in the sun, when you can just walk along and crunch them into the soil. Your dog is now utilizing more of his food and thus outputting less. Dogs can’t digest grains, which is what most kibble is.)
Another benefit is that you control what your dog eats. This is especially helpful if your dog has some diet-related disease. I’ve read that dogs with a heart problem would benefit from being fed heart every day. If – dog forbid! – your dog is diagnosed with cancer, it’s easier to starve the cancer cells with a raw diet. (In fact, Science Diet now offers a cancer diet, which is carb-free.) All of my dogs are healthy, so I can’t cite specifics on this. For more info on nutrition (not just raw!) and diseases see dogaware.com. Let me warn you now that I find her site extremely helpful, so I’ll be citing it a lot.
Also, many skin allergies are diet-related. Get rid of the grains and you get rid of the allergies. Another update: Iams brand at least is now offering “sensitive” lines which eliminate the most common food allergens. (I’ll get off the soapbox now.)
Why do I keep saying raw diet rather than BARF? There’s a group of people who have been feeding raw a long time who feel that Dr. Ian Billinghurst, the man primarily responsible for publicizing this diet, hijacked and then trademarked the term BARF. They are pretty darn vocal about that and I am on some of their lists, so I say I feed raw.
Once you start researching the raw diet, you’re going to come across Katie Merwick’s article on secondchanceranch.org or my bluedog.com website, whose owner blasts the diet as a dangerous fad at this link.
As a journalist, I’m used to slanted stories and half-truths presented as gospel. (I’m trying hard not to editorialize too much here. 🙂 ) Later, I found Billinghurst’s rebuttal, which is here. Read hers and then read his. By the way, she used to sell a premium brand of kibble, Flint River Ranch, not sure if she still does. (While updating links for this revised version of my Intro to Raw, I noticed the same “article” blasting raw feeding as a dangerous fad diet had been spread far and wide across the web.)
The absolute best book to start out with is Switching to Raw by Sue Johnson. She tells you how to go about feeding raw. The others (Lonsdale, Billinghurst, Pitcairn, Schultze) are good reading and tell you why you should be doing this, but don’t really give details on how to go about it. Her book also has sample menus for a 25-lb dog, a 50-lb dog and (hallelujah!) an 80-lb dog – you can see why I love that book. Research, research, research! I can’t stress that enough. (Another update: There are a few more good books about raw feeding now. Carina MacDonald has now published what I believe is a well-respected book about rawfeeding as has Lew Olson, Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs.)
If you’re worried about the bones, grind. But you lose much of the dental cleaning power – and the satisfaction your dog gets from his meal. 🙂 And, no, since I have big dogs, I don’t grind. So this means that a meal for my guys is usually a couple of chicken backs, a meaty leg quarter or a tom turkey neck.
I know what you’re thinking, but RAW meaty bones (RMBs) aren’t what you’ve been warned about all these years; it’s COOKED bones that splinter. You don’t believe me, do you? 🙂 Take two chicken wings. Cook one. Now smash both with a hammer or mallet. The raw bone is soft and rubbery, but the cooked one is hard and splinters. However, you must monitor your dogs when they are eating. Sure a dog can choke on a bone, but a dog can choke on a piece of kibble, too. Use common sense. I don’t feed chicken necks – a very common staple for many raw diets – because I think they are too easy for my big guys to swallow whole. Yet I know mastiff and Great Dane owners/breeders who do. It’s all about your comfort level.
Some people feed veggies, some (like me) don’t. When I started, I fed frozen veggies and they gobbled them up, but I question the need for them. Dogs can’t process nutrients through the veggie cellulose walls unless those walls are broken down – and when was the last time you saw a wolf carrying his own blender around out in the woods? – through pulping/blenderizing or freezing. It’s your choice. If your dog doesn’t want them, don’t force him to eat them. On the other hand, if they like them, go for it. Huge topic of discussion on the Yahoo rawfeeding list. I do, however, feed green tripe, the stomach of a ruminant animal.
Some people supplement every day, some supplement occasionally (me again) and some give no supplements whatsoever to their healthy dogs. Let me add that some of the no-supplement types began supplementing and ran out of whatever – and saw no difference in their dogs, so stopped. What do I add? Vitamin C, E and fish oil – all human-grade – and pet vitamin B tabs, maybe a couple or three times a week. They also get live-culture yogurt when I remember. When I started, they got it daily to help build their gut flora. My dogs aren’t lactose-intolerant, so dairy is OK. Otherwise, you should provide probiotics in powder or capsule form. For an unhealthy dog, i.e. a dog with a health condition such as arthritis, supplements are often the norm. We all do what we can to ease the condition and improve quality of life.
Bacteria? Well, your dog will probably eat roadkill (or gnaw a bone he’s buried in the backyard) if given the chance, so he’s not too worried about bacteria, is he? Dogs have very strong stomach acid and a short gut. Those nasty little things don’t spend enough time in the dog to do harm. A healthy dog isn’t likely to develop either salmonella or e. coli (This factoid comes from the FDA). We, on the other hand, must be just as vigilant about washing up after handling the dog’s meal as we would be after handling raw meat for our family dinner.
I feed only human-grade meat, purchased right out of the supermarket meat case – or by the case because it’s cheaper. The butcher convinced me to also feed them pork because, as he said, there hasn’t been a case of trichinosis in the United States since the ’50s. Besides, most of it is frozen, anyway, and that kills trichinosis. Plus, it’s cheaper than beef. (OK, this was before at least 30 countries canceled their US beef orders – maybe beef prices will go down and the boys can have oxtails again!)
Specifics? I follow Lonsdale’s whole-prey model, meaning that I visualize feeding my dogs a whole animal during the course of a month, which is why whole anything (fish, rabbit, chicken, duck) is good. Mostly they get chicken backs and leg quarters (both have some offal attached and that’s a very good thing), turkey necks and pork rib tips. Chicken wings when they’re cheap (not often!). Green tripe. Fish heads, whole raw fish and canned mackeral or salmon. Whole eggs (given as snacks) 3-4 times a week. Chicken gizzards; beef intestines; chicken, pork or beef heart; oxtails (if the price ever goes back down again!); beef feet; lamb or veal breast/riblets; brains, liver, kidney; pork hocks and trotters (feet); chicken feet; pig tails and ears (raw, not processed!); pork or goat tongues, etc.
Balance over time is the motto. Many people start out feeding a cut of chicken (because it’s the cheapest for them) for three weeks. I just fed turkey necks for a few days and then moved on. The point is that it won’t hurt your dog to eat just one thing for a week or three. It all depends on how well they take to it. Mine loved it; others need to be enticed to even recognize this stuff as food. Or if you need to work up to feeding bones, it’s OK for your dog to eat ground meats for a couple of weeks to help ease the adjustment, either his or yours. However, just as man does not live by bread alone, dog does not live on hamburger. Research, research, research. There’s more to this raw feeding than giving ground meat at every meal.
Variety is the key. Beef, chicken, turkey and pork. I’ve fed goat and they liked it. Whatever you have available. One word of caution: Weight-bearing bones of larger animals can be a danger. Give them as recreational bones only and monitor their chewing. Weight-bearing bones of chicken and turkeys aren’t a problem if it falls within your comfort level. It was four months, I think, before I worked up to being comfortable with turkey wings after my initial attempt in the first two months. The first time I tried them I found a rubbery bone shard on the floor. Many people feed pork neck bones. I tried them once or twice and wasn’t comfortable. Maybe later. Then again, those people often feed whole necks, not the ones we find cut up in the stores. But I will feed veal and lamb neck/shoulder bones when I can find them and veal and lamb breast/ribs.
The boys have had, so far, ground duck, rabbit, kangaroo and ostrich. I have yet to try emu, buffalo, venison or goose. For what it’s worth, Mr. Picky Eater would have nothing to do with the first attempt with ostrich, which was served thawed. The second attempt a month later went better and it was served partially thawed. The third attempt was thawed again and he scarfed it right up. Sometimes, it’s merely a matter of repetition. That has not been the case, though, with Mr. Picky Eater and fish, but that’s another story. (Although, there has now been a breakthrough with Mr. Picky Eater on the fish front. He’ll eat ground or canned salmon! and all three LOVED the venison!) They also ate emu and buffalo, can’t remember about goose, specifically, but they most likely ate it. Then again, part of the variety factor is to make the human feel better, to ensure they are covering all the nutritional bases. If you think about the average wolf in the wild, his diet isn’t as varied as the average raw fed dog, but the wolf is eating the entire animal while you’re probably not tossing feathered or furred food out your backdoor in the subdivision.
Cost? It’s generally cheaper than feeding a premium kibble. Much of it depends on how clever and tenacious you are at finding deals or freebies. Yes, those people lucky enough to live near a slaughterhouse can feed their dogs practically for free! 🙁 Most people use under a $1 a pound as a guide. Since most chicken and pork falls under that and those are the staples – they are free to spend a little more for other things.
Links, I promised you links! The one site that is listed on almost every other raw feeding site is the njboxers faqs pages. Another site chock-full of info is rawlearning.com. This site includes the “big picture” explanation of the whole-prey model (link given above) and a long list of the various email lists and other stuff.
Again, research, research, research! It’s not rocket science, but you do need to feed a variety. Primarily raw meaty bones, some muscle meat and a little offal – with or without veggies and/or supplements.
As for the dangers, there are dangers in everything we do today. Feeding a raw diet is no different. A dog can choke on a piece of kibble, but people still feed it and are, unfortunately, unaware that danger exists. Some dogs choke on turkey necks – it depends on whether you have a chewer or a gulper. Pieces of bone can get stuck between her teeth. Know your dog (and his eating style) and ALWAYS monitor your dog eating! I can’t stress that enough.
Here’s a slew of links (some are repeated from above) …
….as I checked validity of some of these links I noticed there are plenty more links of solid information not listed here. Research, research, research!