Fetching Foods is in the business of making and selling amazing food for dogs and cats. One of our motivations is to do our part to make pets, dogs and cats, become more healthy. In most cases that means finding a way to feed them something other than kibble (dry food). Even if that means teaching you how to feed raw to your pet. Check out our basic DIY starter kits for turkey, venison, and rabbit.
We believe that the healthiest dog diet is the one that nature created for dogs. Their internal processes and organs have not evolved significantly from the times they were wolf, just their external appearances and behaviors have been modified.
If you took the profit motive out of manufactured dog foods, and the effort out of a raw diet, you would find a lot more people feeding their dogs meat and offal diets. Our attempt here is to make feeding raw a bit easier.
It’s largely undisputed in the veterinary medicine community that diet is integral to extending the life of dogs (Kelly et al. 2002). One can extrapolate that feeding the healthiest, bioavailable, nutritious food will also promote overall health, not just longevity.
For the purposes of this article we’ll assume you’ve already taken the first step to improve your pet’s health: deciding the benefits of a raw diet are the best for you and your pet(s). Therefore, going into the benefits of raw will be redundant to you, so we won’t bother here.
Deciding to feed raw is the easy part. You want to provide the best for your pet, reduce their cancer risk, boost their energy, cut diabetes risk, extend their life, give them fantastic health, et cetera. Taking the first step to feed raw can be confusing. Unless you are a health professional (for animal or human), have a background or education in nutrition, have been taught by someone to feed raw, or focused on one feeding philosophy, you’re likely to get overwhelmed by information and varied opinions. Even some of people who should be equipped to decipher the raw feeding process will get confused as well.
There are a few reasons for this. It’s a combination of insufficient credible sources/research, superficial summaries of complex topics, conflicting approaches, and strong options for methods that work equally well. It all boils down to your pet: what works best for them. That’s the only way to know for sure which method or philosophy is best, not what preconceived notion you or someone else has.
There are a good number of people with opinions that aren’t backed by facts and data. What’s great about Google is also bad. If someone has a question, they Google it for an answer. Most people look at the first few results then call it done. It makes an instant expert in a superficial sense. However, we’re talking about nutrition, physiology, biology, and chemistry. Very complex topics that are difficult to summarize into a simple answer, at least accurately.
The main reason why we wrote this blog: to cut through the noise to get you started feeding raw. Once you’ve begun, experiment with different raw feeding philosophies, foods and systems, move from simple feeding to a more robust solution, ultimately one that perfectly fits your pet’s precise needs.
There is much to say about feeding raw for dogs. There’s no easy way to make this a dog and cat blog. When we’re satisfied that most of the feeding questions for a starter DIY diet are answered for dogs, we’ll start one for cats. It’s as not controversial and chaotic in cat circles on how to feed raw, which makes feeding dogs a more urgent matter. It’s a little crazy in the dog world with the swirl of information and recommendations out there. Be patient cat owners. We’ll get to you once the pups are situated.
The last item in the preface is there are many ways to feed raw. There are numerous correct ways to feed your dog a raw diet, others that are questionable, and some that are just wrong or harmful. If someone tells you their ways is better, it might be, but maybe it’s not. Decide on a place to start and stick with it for a month or so. See what works and what doesn’t, like cost, convenience, effort, dog health, and lifestyle.
Fetching Foods, and what’s presented here, follows the nutrigenomics functional foods approach. It’s a recent nutrition break-through based on reliable genetic science. You can find more information here: http://www.fetchingfoods.com/nutrigenomics-creating-healthier-pets-through-proper-nutrition/
Fetching Foods produces excellent meals, customized for your dog, but the absolute best meal you can feed your pet is one you prepare yourself just for your dog. You know your dog better than anyone. You know her likes, dislikes. See his poop daily (one of the best indicators of health). His moods, energy level, and all of the little changes over time that only you can notice. You can make the diet change and adapt to those tiny changes just you notice. Feel confident in what you already know. You’re ahead of the game.
As always, you should check with your vet prior to changing your dog’s diet. Young puppies and older dogs need extra consideration in their diets — contact us for questions. Discuss your dog’s particular needs with your vet.
Know what your dog can and can’t eat. That way you know what to feed her.
If you want to be thorough and potentially avoid a headache for yourself and dodge some doggy discomfort, get your dog tested so you know what their body will accept. Your vet can administer a test which can detail food sensitivities or allergies. You can also order a NutriScan test for dogs (www.nutriscan.org) that you can administer at home. These can be expensive but will save days, weeks, or months of troubleshooting your dog’s diet. If you already know what your dog is allergic or sensitive to, you can consider skipping this step. Rolling the dice is okay too but know that you may end-up back at this step.
Here are items NOT to feed your dog. Just skip them all together — some aren’t truly bad, but this is a beginner’s guide, and we’re trying to make it really simple. You can get fancy later.
Alcohol – Alcohol can cause not only intoxication, lack of coordination, poor breathing, and abnormal acidity, but potentially even coma and/or death.
Apple Seeds – The casing of apple seeds are toxic to a dog as they contain a natural chemical (amygdlin) that releases cyanide when digested.
Avocado – Avocados contain Persin, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and heart congestion.
Baby Food – Baby food by itself isn’t terrible, just make sure it doesn’t contain any onion powder.
Cooked Bones – When it comes to bones, the danger is that cooked bones can easily splinter when chewed by your dog. Raw (uncooked) bones, however, are appropriate and good for both your dog’s nutritional and dental health.
Candy and Chewing Gum – Not only does candy contain sugar, but it often contains Xylitol, which can lead to the over-release of insulin, kidney failure, and worse.
Cat Food – Contains proteins and fats that are targeted at the diet of a cat, not a dog. A little here and there won’t hurt the dog, but the cat might get angry.
Chocolate – Chocolate is a definite no no for your pup. And it’s not just about caffeine, which is enough to harm your dog by itself, but theobromine and theophylline, which can be toxic, cause panting, vomiting, and diarrhea, and damage your dog’s heart and nervous systems.
Citrus Oil Extracts – Can cause vomiting.
Coffee – The same applies here as to chocolate. This is essentially poison for your dog if ingested.
Corn on the Cob– This is a sure way to get your dog’s intestine blocked. The corn is digested, but the cob gets lodged in the small intestine, and if it’s not removed surgically, can prove fatal to your dog.
Fat Trimmings – Can cause pancreatitis, if this is a regular meal for them. Step 2 covers too much fat in the diet.
Garlic – While garlic can be okay for dogs in very small amounts (and even beneficial for flea treatment), larger amounts can be risky. Garlic is related to onions which is toxic for dogs so it may be best to just avoid it.
Grapes and Raisins – Grapes contain a toxin that can cause severe liver damage and kidney failure. We’ve heard stories of dogs dying from only a handful of grapes so do not feed your pup this toxic food.
Hops – An ingredient in beer that can be toxic to your dog. The consumption of hops by your dog can cause panting, an increased heart rate, fever, seizures, and even death.
Human Vitamins – Some human vitamins are okay to use, but the key is comparing the ingredients (all of them – active and inactive) to the vitamins your vet subscribes for your dog (often you can get the human equivalent for much less money). Make sure there’s no iron – iron can damage the digestive system lining, and prove poisonous for the liver and kidneys.
Liver – In small amounts, liver is great but avoid feeding too much liver to your dog. Liver contains quite a bit of Vitamin A, which can adversely affect your pup’s muscles and bones.
Macadamia Nuts – These contain a toxin that can inhibit locomotory activities, resulting in weakness, panting, swollen limbs, and tremors as well as possible damage to your dog’s digestive, nervous, and muscle systems.
Marijuana – Not that you would pass the bong to your dog, but if you do, you should know that marijuana can adversely affect your pup’s nervous system and heart rate, and induce vomiting.
Milk and Dairy Products – While small doses aren’t going to kill your dog, you could get some smelly farts and some nasty cases of diarrhea. Why? Dogs are lactose intolerant (as are an increasing number of humans today), and don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme to properly digest dairy foods.
Mushrooms – Just as the wrong mushroom can be fatal to humans, the same applies to dogs. Don’t mess with them.
Onions and Chives – No matter what form they’re in (dry, raw, cooked, powder, within other foods), onions are some of the absolute worst foods you could possibly give your pup (it’s poisonous for dogs, and its even worse for cats). They contain disulfides and sulfoxides (thiosulphate), both of which can cause anemia and damage red blood cells.
Persimmons, Peaches and Plums – Peach pits are not only a choke hazard they contain amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when metabolized. Pear seeds also contain trace amount of arsenic and are dangerous.
Rhubarb and Tomato Leaves – These contain oxalates, which can adversely affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems.
Raw Fish – Another vitamin B (Thiamine) deficiency can result from the regular consumption of raw fish. Loss of appetite will be common, followed by seizures, and in rare instances, death. Raw salmon can be fatal to dogs if the fish is infected with a certain parasite, Nanophyetus salmincola. The parasite itself isn’t dangerous to dogs, but is often infected with a bacteria called Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which in many cases is fatal to dogs if not treated properly.
Salt – Too much of it can lead to an imbalance in electrolyte levels, dehydration and potentially diarrhea.
Spices containing Capsaicin – Capsaicin, found in chili powder, paprika, and just about any other pepper (bell, chili, etc.), is an irritant for mammals of all shape and size.
String – While not a food itself, foods can often contain or be similar to string (ie. meat you’ve wrapped for the oven). If your dog were to eat a string, it could get stuck in their digestive tract and cause complications.
Sugar – This applies to any food containing sugar. Too much sugar for your pup can lead to dental issues, obesity, and even diabetes.
Tobacco – A major toxic hazard for dogs (and humans). The effects nicotine has on dogs are far worse than on humans. Nicotine can damage your pup’s digestive and nervous systems, increase their heart rate, make them pass out, and ultimately result in death.
Xylitol – A sugar alcohol found in gum, candies, baked goods, and other sugar-substituted items, Xylitol, while causing no apparent harm to humans, is extremely toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, even death for your pup.
Yeast (on its own or in dough) – Just like yeast rises in bread, it will also expand and rise within your pup’s tummy.
Decide what protein to feed your dog.
Unless you have access to more novel or exotic proteins, like elk, rabbit, venison, you’re going to be limited to what you can find in the local grocery store or butcher shop. That generally means beef, pork, turkey, chicken, and lamb. Pork and chicken are healthy, usually the least expensive, and are totally safe to feed raw.
Fetching Foods doesn’t use chicken. Chicken is usually the one protein that is the source of most food sensitivities, especially when manufacturers use cast-offs from the egg industry, or downed or sick animals to save on ingredient costs. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with human-grade chicken. Chicken, or any of your proteins, try to get the best meat that you can afford. When you use quality meats, like grass fed, organically fed, humanely raised, non-GMO, and the like, the chance of an allergy or sensitivity being triggered goes down, absorption goes up, and you avoid the chance of unwanted trace contaminates being introduced to your dog.
Watch out for meats packed in flavored water or added natural flavors. It’s listed, but not always in an obvious way. Often this is salt-based, and salt is no good for your dog. Meat should only have one ingredient: meat.
Once you decide on the protein you need to figure out the cut of meat. 80%-85% of your dog’s meal needs to be meat by weight. Heart is considered ‘meat’, not an organ. It does have a different nutrient profile than typical muscle meat. The more bone, the less actual meat by weight. 5%-10% of that should be organ meat.
Meat cuts with bone are fine to eat as long as they’re not cooked. Cooked bones splinter into sharp pieces that can cause intestinal damage. The age of your dog needs to be considered. If you have a puppy, feeding raw starting around 5wks is okay, but they’ll need help with bones or you’ll need to avoid bones until their teeth come in. You can help puppies and older dogs with dental health issues by grinding the bones using a meat grinder or avoiding bones all together. You can substitute bones with whole poultry eggs and raw beef, pork, lamb, etc bones that they can chew on after their meal.
Fat is okay. Don’t get too particular with the fat content, as long as you’re not feeding exclusively cuts extremely high in fat, like pork belly. 40% fat is fine for a dog’s diet, even more for dogs that have significant energy requirements, like a sled dog. Dogs process fat in a way very different than humans. However, there is such a thing as eating too much fat, which can cause issues like pancreatitis. Even though it’s not usually fatal, it will require vet intervention, and can lead to other issues if not corrected by immediately reducing dietary fat. Dogs NEED fat. Around 30% is a good target: not too much or too little.
Turkey and chicken breasts , skin on it okay, cut into pieces can be a good starter cut of meat, since the bones are fairly small with some cartilage. Thighs and legs/wings are too. If you’re concerned, run them through a grinder*. Even the most basic grinders can handle turkey and chicken breasts and wings, some may strain with thighs or legs. Getting boneless cuts are okay too.
If you have a very small dog, even a chicken thigh bone can be too much. Don’t get hung up on feeding bones or no bones. It’s easy to substitute nutrients that come from bone with other ingredients (as mentioned, whole uncooked eggs, shell and all) and the act of chewing chunks of raw meat is good enough for the dental benefits. More on dental health here: http://www.fetchingfoods.com/a-raw-food-diet-benefits-pets-oral-health/
When feeding raw, remember that the main element is meat. Dogs are carnivores. So focus on getting the meat right, then perfect the bone, organs (offal), fruits and veggies.
To keep things simple here’s a short list, certainly not complete, of easily found proteins and cuts to help get you started:
Chicken: thighs, breasts, wings, gizzards, liver
Turkey: breast, thigh, wing, neck, gizzard, liver
Pork: loin, butt, belly, shoulder, heart, liver, kidney
Beef: top round, brisket, london broil, stew-meat, heart, liver, kidney
Lamb: boneless leg, heart, kidney, liver, brain
You can chop the meat into pieces that the dog can to cut with their teeth then swallow with one or two chews. The size of the pieces will vary depending on the size of your dog. A chihuahua will have smaller chunks than a great dane. Cutting into a bit larger than bite-sized hunks will help prevent a mess around your bowl area and still maintain dental health.
What about fish and wild animals? Fresh fish can have parasites, but the risk is fairly low. Two of the 3 most common parasites are in freshwater fish. That’s why wild-caught salmon is preferred, since they’re caught in the ocean. Fish processed for human consumption are sorted for processing differently and more strictly than fish that will become meal for a pet food or other non-food products (pet food is considered a non-food product). Canned is better since it’s cooked which eliminates any parasites and bacteria but keeps most of the protein and fat-related nutrients intact.
Fish lower on the food chain usually have fewer trace toxins like mercury. Fish higher up the food chain, like tuna, have greater toxin accumulation, since they eat smaller fish that sometimes eat even smaller fish, etc. Wild Caught salmon is usually Sockeye, which are plankton eaters; anchovies and sardines are also good fish choices for low mercury. Fish is a great protein and Omega 3 and 6 source.
Wild game, not raised animals, like boar, deer, elk, rabbit, and the like can also be a source of parasites because of what they eat, which isn’t controlled, like with cattle. They’re wild animals, and don’t get medical checkups or vaccinations. Just know what you’re getting. Typically bacteria acquired from less than ideal processing/dressing the meat in the field won’t bother a dog (it’s not a big deal to humans since they cook the meat killing the bacteria and parasites). But your dog can pick up a parasite in the raw meat. That isn’t usually the end of the world and can be treated by the vet. Until it’s treated, there’ll be gastrointestinal issues — think diarrhea. You can get those proteins from domesticated sources that have almost no risk of parasites — check your high-end butcher shop for those exotic meats. But if you take your own prey, it can be a cheaper option for feeding your dog.
Use the grocery store or butcher shop to purchase your ingredients initially, then try to source from other places, like distributors or food markets, as you figure out what you and your pup need.
*Grinder: They’re not necessary. You can cut the meat up by hand, but a grinder will make life easier. Sure, you can feed your dog huge hunks of meat, but if the chunks aren’t small enough for them to swallow they’ll bite/cut with one or two chews, they’ll drop pieces on the floor around the bowl, getting raw meat all over the area, creating a place for bacteria to flourish. After all, they don’t have hands, so what are they going to do with something that’s bigger than a bite: drop it. If your dog eats outside, and/or you don’t mind cleaning the mess around the bowl, which will become a fertile bacteria breeding ground, go ahead and feed large pieces of meat for your dog. There’s really no benefit other than the spectacle of seeing them eat.
Simple and cheap grinders aren’t too expensive but won’t do bones or thick cuts of meat without a great deal of straining. Sometimes your butcher or grocery’s meat department will grind for you. If you have a KitchenAid brand of stand mixer, you can purchase a grinder attachment. I’ve seen inexpensive grinders on e-Bay from Chinese vendors for well under $100. They won’t tear through thick bone or dense meat, but as long as you’re gentle with them, they should last a while.
Sometimes the grate on the grinder is too small, producing a fine ‘hamburger’ like grind. You can open up the holes with a Drimmel or drill, so the grinder essentially becomes a chopper. This will make the meals much easier and quicker to produce.
Adding Fruits and Vegetables
There are two main schools of thought on dogs eating plant matter. Some think they should and some think they shouldn’t eat it. This debate has roots in what type of mammal a dog is: carnivore or omnivore. It’s gone back and forth, with credible people on both sides of the debate making great points. What we know is that dogs can process plant matter, carnivore or not. What’s likely is dogs are carnivores on the end of the spectrum closer to an omnivore than on the end closer to my brother who won’t eat a vegetable if his life depended on it. But seriously, we know they’re not on the extreme end of the spectrum with obligate carnivores like a cat. Dogs have a short digestive tract which means you need to do some processing (chopping/dicing) of the plant matter so they can better absorb the plant nutrients.
Plants supply a rich spectrum of vitamins and minerals. This is how you can get a balanced diet through a whole, natural means without using manufactured nutrients (supplements). It’s usually harder on the body to digest and absorb manufactured nutrients when compared to naturally extracting them from healthy food we eat.
We have a balanced approach when it comes to all meat or meat with plant matter added. As mentioned above, at least 80%-85% of the food should come from animal proteins. The remaining ingredients come from plant matter. This creates a nutritionally complete meal without adding vitamins and minerals to supplement the the food. Using whole, raw, minimally processed ingredients is the most healthy way to feed your dog. At Fetching Foods, adding fresh fruits and veggies is preferable to tossing in a handful of vitamins and minerals — some vitamins are synthetic/manufactured, or heavily processed to extract the nutrient from natural sources. Adding supplements, which are usually more potent than their natural version, makes it easy to over supplement, throwing a balanced diet out of balance. In most cases the body pees or poops out excess nutrients with no ill effect. It’s more difficult to over consume natural, plant-based nutrients, not to mention it’s easier on the body to manage and purge them, than a concentrated unnatural manufactured nutrient mix.
Super foods are great for your dog. Superfoods are foods that are naturally nutrient-rich and therefore are especially beneficial for your dog’s health. Try to pick the best looking ingredients from local sources, and organic if possible. But like with the meats, use what you can afford and have available. Here are some great fruits and vegetables to get started with. Pick 5 or 6 and include the highlighted ones in every fruit/veggie blend.
Apples (without the seeds)
As mentioned, you need to pre-process these items to help your pup digest the plant matter. A food processor will work well for this step. You’ll want to finely chop these items. Don’t juice, but something short of that where the moisture is retained within the plant matter. The plant fiber desired and so is the moisture in the dog’s meal.
Any left-overs, eat yourself. This should all be human grade, that you picked up at your grocery store.
Putting it all together
By weight, you should have 80%-85% meat. Of the meat, 6%-10% needs to be offal (organs).
8%-14% should be plant matter. Select your fruits and veggies, process it into a finely cut up slaw-like state. Fold in some local raw honey and organic coconut oil, about 1% of the weight each.
Once thoroughly mixed together, add a whole egg (break the egg open), shell and all, for every three-four pounds of plant-meat mix to take it to the next level. Mix the egg and shell into the plant and meat mixture.
For 20lbs of food, it should break down something like this:
16lbs of muscle meat (can include heart)
1.25lbs of kidney and/or liver
0.25lbs of local raw honey
0.15lbs of coconut oil
4 whole eggs
2-3lbs of plant matter mix
As you’ve probably noticed, it’s easy to take this formula and scale it to 60lbs or 10lbs.
An expert tip is to get latex gloves, like what are used in a dental or doctor office. A box. Get a box of them. You can find them on Amazon, some grocery stores, and restaurant supply stores. Remember, you’re dealing with raw meat. You don’t want to contaminate your kitchen by spreading raw meat, creating a prime breeding ground for bacteria. Using the gloves makes it really easy to answer the phone, clean-up, etc while making the mix. Strip off the gloves, drop them in the trash, grab the phone. Believe me, it’ll make clean-up much easier.
Package and Store
Decide how much your pup needs at each meal. Look at the Fetching Foods FAQ (www.fetchingfoods.com/faq) to get a rough estimate for the per day requirement. This recipe will yield around 700-750cals per pound. Get a simple (or invest in a digital) portion scale. Depending on what kind you select you can pay $10-$50 or so. Make sure it can weigh accurately to the ounce, but even better to the tenth of an ounce. Measure out one to two meals per container.
For your convenience, get a bunch of freezer-safe air-tight containers. Look for BHP free if you like. Put each meal into the containers. If you feed twice per day, put three containers in the fridge. The rest go in the freezer. When you serve a meal, take one container from the freezer and place it in the fridge to slowly defrost over the next 36hrs.
The finished product should look something like this:
Drum-roll please: Feeding
You’ve done all of this work and now it’s time to feed your pup a delicious, healthy meal that’s a perfect proportion. That can’t be all, can it? It might be.
If you have fed your dog kibble or canned food for a long time then it needs to slowly be transitioned into a meat based diet. Dog food manufacturers convince you to feed your dog kibble from birth and nothing else. Doing creates an extremely narrow palate (for most dogs) and makes it difficult for them to try novel tastes, like raw meat later in life.
You should glance at the Fetching Foods FAQ on transitioning your dog (www.fetchingfoods.com/faq). There are some feeding pointers as well. That should be all you need to feed! Good luck and healthy days.