You can do it, and there is a world of resources out there to help you!
Raw feeding is a commitment- a commitment to your dog’s best health. There is more work involved in feeding fresh food than there is in measuring kibble out of a bag. This is no different if you choose to prepare a fresh and healthy meal for yourself, instead of buying cheap, processed fast-food as a matter of convenience.
Here are some factors to consider when making the switch:
1. Pre-made or DIY
While there are many commercial pre-made raw foods available at your local specialty pet store, pre-made or frozen raw foods can be expensive. There are some pre-made raw companies that you can have delivered to your door, like Darwin’s Natural Pet Food or We Feed Raw, but the food from these services often cost more because of the additional labor and shipping costs.
If you are concerned about cost, don’t worry! There are many raw feeders making their own meals at home. Costwise, you can probably expect to spend roughly $2 per lb of body weight per month when making your dog’s meals yourself. That means about $100/month for a 50lbs dog. When you are able to order in bulk, you'll save a lot more than you would buying from your local grocer or buying pre-made raw. You might benefit from getting your pup their own freezer -- it might sound crazy, but if you ask me, I think it's a cost people should consider when bringing dogs into their home and something that will become the new norm!
The grocery store, local butcher, farmer’s markets and Asian food markets are great places to find affordable meat options.
Talk to others out there who are already familiar with raw feeding! There are co-ops and raw feeding groups that you can join and make connections. This can also help make raw food more affordable if you can source as a group.
But if you live in an area where you lack access to some of these resources, you can also shop online! There are many companies that will ship directly to your door, including: Top Quality Dog Food, Hare Today Gone Tomorrow, or Primitive Choice. You have to pay for product and shipping, but you might have a better selection of proteins if you’re not able to find what you need locally.
Meal Prep and Balanced Meals
Most DIY-ers choose to follow the Prey Model Raw or the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet. These are both to be used as guidelines or starting places, but remember that every dog is different and it’s OK to make adjustments for your dog.. Some raw feeders prefer to create each unique and balanced meal daily, while others choose to balance over time. Puppies should always have balanced meals with slightly different ratios than adult dogs, that include bone, organ and muscle meat daily.
Whether prepping your meals yourself or buying premade, it’s important to feed a variety of proteins. This ensures that your dog is getting the different amino acids and nutrients they need to thrive. You don’t have to feed different proteins daily, you can do it from week to week. For example, one week you can use beef liver as your organ meat, and the following week you can feed lamb liver, or pork loin as your muscle meat and the next week turkey breast. However you choose, the best thing is to ensure your dog is eating a balanced diet with lots of variety. This not only helps meet their nutritional requirements, but primes their digestive system to adjust easily to different foods.
In order for a pre-made raw food to carry the “complete and balanced” label, it must meet the minimum requirements of AAFCO’s nutrient profiles. AAFCO is the organization that sets the standards for pet foods in the United States, which theoretically is enforced by each state’s regulatory agencies. It’s important to know that these are the minimum requirements and some foods might just meet these numbers, while others exceed them.
Side note, because essential vitamins and nutrients are lost in the kibble making process, most dry pet food companies have to add synthetic vitamins and minerals; fortunately, these nutrients are preserved and bioavailable in a raw, fresh food diet, which means they are easier for your dog to digest and absorb.
Photo: Instagram @bellatrix.curtis
3. Making the Transition to Raw
You can switch cold turkey, or you can make a gradual change. Some dogs may transition with ease, while others may have an adjustment period that lasts a few weeks. Switching cold turkey is most popular for puppies and healthy adult dogs. Senior dogs, or dogs that have been on the same food or protein for their entire life may benefit from a gradual switch. Don’t get discouraged if you experience a few setbacks in transition. You are making the best choice for your dog’s health, and you will soon begin to notice all of the amazing side effects of a raw diet, like a shinier coat and healthier teeth and gums!
If you’re not completely ready to make the switch you can feed raw and kibble in the meantime. You can also boost your dog’s meals with fresh food! Some great and easy to source additions include fresh organ meat, oily fish and bone broth. A little goes a long way and it’s never too late to change your dog’s diet.
Photo: Instagram @alongwithpiper
4. Skepticism and Criticism
Currently, only 5% of dog owners are feeding a fresh food diet. But this shouldn’t stop you from choosing the best fresh food for your dog! There are many people out there, especially in the pet industry (including Veterinarians) that will discourage you from feeding a fresh food diet, not because it’s bad, but because they simply don’t know any better. Pet professionals and pet owners have been tricked into believing that kibble is the safest option for your dog. Some may worry about harmful bacteria, or the danger of bones. These myths have been debunked, and there are some veterinarians out there that do support species-appropriate raw diets!
Did you know that the major pet food brands are owned by companies like General Mills and Nestle? Hills Science Diet, a popular brand recommended by veterinarians, is owned by Colgate! They can spend billions of dollars in marketing to make you believe you are feeding the best food for your dog.
5. You CAN do it!
There is a network of raw feeders out there that are willing to support you! You can also search for a veterinarian that would be supportive of your decision. If you do not feel like you can make the commitment to DIY your dog’s meals, raw diets are becoming increasingly popular and you can research pre-made food that fits your budget. After I transitioned to raw, my dog was eager to eat his meals. He had a newfound interest in food that he never had when he was on a kibble. It brings me so much joy to see how happy he is, and how much he enjoys his food. I’m also thrilled with how great his teeth look. Because he was no longer eating starches in kibble, there was less bacteria causing plaque buildup. Introducing raw meaty bones helped to remove the tartar and plaque buildup and it was like he had a new set of teeth.
Before you make the switch, do your research and keep in mind that it’s not rocket science -- it’s just food! There are plenty of options that we visited in this article, and I am sure that you can find something that works best for you. However you choose to start your raw feeding journey, just know that you're making the best choice for your pet’s long term health and there are tons of resources and people in our community that are here to support you.