What is a Raw Diet?
A Raw Diet has also been called a Prey Model Diet. The idea is that we take what dogs would eat in the wild (if they were still living out there) and try to mimic it using raw food available to us. In the wild a dog might kill a rabbit or bird and eat the entire thing. This means that they would eat the bones and organs in addition to the skin, meat, and fat.
There are no grains, these aren’t really necessary in a dog's diet. However, all kibble has to have some form of binding agent--something that allows the meat and ingredients required by dogs to stick together in an effort to make the convenience of kibble. Much of the cost differences in kibble is the binding agent used. In general, grains and corn are cheaper than the non-grain alternatives, like sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, and lentils. The reason grain-free is more preferred--and more expensive--is because the non-grain binding agents are more bioavailable (and more expensive for manufacturers) for the dog than grains, meaning they do something for the dog's nutrition or GI tract, not just bind kibble. Either way, in respect to your dog's nutrition, they are mostly fillers.
Why Feed A raw Diet?
Boosted Immune System and Little to No Allergies
Raw diets are great for the dog, there are no preservatives in a raw diet, as it is given fresh, so many dogs who have sensitive stomachs will thrive on raw. Additionally, many dogs have been found to have allergies from their environments and this can result from a compromised immune system due to poor nutrition or food additives, by boosting the immune system with a healthier diet, many dogs no longer have allergies. The greatest benefit being a long and healthy life, and less visits to the vet are always good.
Interesting for the Dog
Raw is also great because it keeps the dog interested. He will need to “figure out” how is going to tackle eating a leg quarter or how to slurp up a piece of liver. This mental stimulation is soothing for many dogs and keeps them calmer while eating because they are thinking, not just scarfing down food.
Easy to Maintain a Healthy Weight
A dog with a high metabolism, like a German Shorthaired Pointer, can constantly be fluctuating in weight. When placed on a raw diet all the components of the food are put together by you, the owner--and chef. If one dog is a little light on weight, you can add more food or even add more fat. Additionally, feeding raw is great for the dog’s digestion and the amount of nutrition assimilated is increased.
The dog’s coat will be shiney without a dog odor with less shedding. Teeth are cleaner from the bones, no worry that the vet will tell you they have terrible gingivitis or that you have to train Fido to let you brush his teeth, with chicken-flavored toothpaste, no less. And no more dog breath (this may be the only reason needed by some).
Smaller and Fewer Stools
A raw diet has no fillers and allows the dog maximum nutrition intake. This means there are smaller and fewer stools to clean up. In Arizona they quickly turn to dust...
The dog will have greater stamina, without the nervous energy. Dogs fed raw get what they need, it tastes good, so there is no need for flavor enhancers, also known as sugar and excess carbohydrates. The dog will have a steady glucose index and therefore will perform better, longer, and have less “swings” in energy and mood. This is better for training, attention span, and hanging out in general.
If you want to keep your dog healthy and out of the vet, chances are you are buying 30 lb. bags of feed near $50/bag. At our kennel we are great fans of Taste of the Wild, which we buy a 30 lb. bag for $45. Our dogs will consume this bag in 48 hours. However, I can spend $50 at the local grocery buying bulk bags of chicken quarters, slices of beef liver, etc. and feed my dogs for 5 days. This is an incredible savings for us, not to mention my dogs just love the raw diet, I have never seen them excited about kibble like they are with raw.
How Do You Start?
The raw diet is generally guided by percentages. I have been playing with the GSPs for a while and this is what I’ve been using so far:
**A note on hearts, heart is more like a muscle than an organ in these recipes, but since it is so dense and shouldn't be the only meat fed, but is great for variety or adding a few ounces to a larger piece of meat).
Converting the Percentage to Actual Amounts
Most recipes suggest starting with 2% body weight for a daily basis for food, I found the GSPs have higher metabolisms, so I start them at 3% and adjust from there. Take June for example, when June is not nursing puppies she would normally be a 50 lb. dog. So at 3% she needs 1.5 lbs. of food a day.
In our recipe that's:
1 lb .8 oz Bone-In Meat
2.4 oz Fat
1.2 oz. of Bone
1.2 oz. Liver
1.2 oz Other Organ Meat
1.2 oz. Veggies
Now this formula doesn't need to be perfect every day, you might find it convenient to do an "Organ Meal" one day a week for convenience and put the entire weeks worth of organs in that one meal. Either way it is a good place to start. Initially they recommend one type of meat, say chicken, then you can mix it up once they are fully on the diet and stools are normal and coat is healthy.
For your pups you would probably start them on 2 meals per day (cut the formula in half for each feeding) and then gradually move them to once per day at around 6 months. Puppies can consume up to 10% of their body weight a day, so although the percentages will stay the same, the quantity of food will increase frequently with a pup. A general rule is to feed 3-4% of the estimated adult weight to the puppies until they are 6 months of age. As always, adjust as necessary.
Switching Adult Dogs
If you wanted to transfer your other adult dog to raw, try the 2% formula and do two feedings per day until she is fully adjusted to raw, then get her down to once/per day. If you find the dog is either gaining or losing weight undesirably, then adjust the formula as you need, either change percentage, reduce or add fat, etc.
Preparation & Storage
I first made the mistake of buying all the food my dogs needed for 3 weeks and then only preparing one meal before freezing 40 lb. bags of chicken quarters. This was a terrible idea. It is no fun to thaw out a 40 lb. bag of frozen-solid chicken. Thankfully I learned my lesson.
Buying the Food
First, I buy enough food for at least 5 days, usually a whole month. Simple math will help figure out how much food to buy. In my recipe listed above, for example, June needs 1 lb. 0.8 oz. of Bone-In Meat per day. Therefore, for 30 days she will need 31.5 lbs. of Bone-In Meat. I do that for each ingredient (and in my case each dog) add it up, and then I plan what I will buy.
I buy my food at a restaurant supply store that sells most ingredients by 40 lb. boxes. With only one dog this might be simpler to buy at your local grocer, adding to your normal food bill.
Preparing the Food
I recommend preparing it all before freezing. You can use ziploc bags if you like, that’s where I started, but I found it is very easy to prepare and clean if you use the Gladware or Ziploc containers. These clean easy, store and freeze nice in the freezer, and stack well when not in use. It is a little bit of capital expenditure in the beginning, but it’s convenience is where it makes up for it. The way I see it, if you hate the process, you’ll quit doing it.
Storing the Food
Obviously storing 30 meal-size containers in your freezer is easier for some than others. I had to get my own “dog freezer” to fit all my animals, but let’s hope you aren’t feeding 20 dogs, like us, that might make you clinically crazy...If the freezer space is an issue, consider doing one or two weeks at a time.
I feed my dogs separate while feeding raw. It is really the only way to guarantee each dog is getting what they need. I use crates to separate the dogs and they eat in the kennel. This is also nice because it restricts the raw chicken, or other meat, to a manageable space for cleaning. After feeding I pull the containers for tomorrow out of the freezer and place them in the fridge to thaw for tomorrow’s meals.
Some Final Things I’ve Learned
Who is the Raw Diet Not For?