Raw feeders make a conscious effort to “rotate” the proteins they feed. How would you feel eating chicken every meal, each day of your life? Different meats offer different combinations of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, and rotating your dog’s protein source is a good way to improve nutritional variety. While beneficial to your pup’s nutrient intake, this strategy has also become trendy -- taking off on social media platforms where raw feeders photograph decadent bowls filled with exotic meats like boar, duck, and lamb.
With exotic meat increasing in popularity and hunting seasons approaching, the raw community is abuzz with one word: venison. Whether the interest in venison derives from finding a new protein source or simply harvesting a low-cost, local source of meat, many hunters wonder whether this protein is safe to add to their dog’s diet. Some fresh food companies, like Real Dog Box, offer products with farmed venison, which are free of parasites or disease. But what about animals harvested in the wild? Should wild, raw venison make its way into your dog’s bowl?
In short, with proper research and preparation, yes! There are several ways in which venison can boost your dog’s meal. The first is that it is a very lean meat and a good source of protein for your pup. It also provides many B vitamins, which help extract energy from carbohydrates and fats and aid the formation of red blood cells. If the animal is hunted legally, its harvest funds conservation efforts (US citizens spent $156 billion in 2016 hunting, fishing, and watching wildlife) and feeds other animals when field dressed ("leftovers" are often left in the woods).
Which cuts, organs, and parts should I use?
Muscle meats include the heart, lungs, tripe (stomach lining), backstrap, hindquarter, shank, and shoulder. Boneless muscle meats make up most of the protein in a dog's diet, providing them with amino acids essential to the body's ability to repair tissues, grow new cells, produce hormones, and build muscle. Venison is considered a RED meat (versus WHITE meat), which means it has more myoglobin (the iron-rich protein that colors meat red). Red meats are considered more nutritious since they offer "more protein, fats, minerals, and water-soluble vitamins in comparison to white meat proteins"
You might consider feeding the following deer organs: liver, kidney, and testicles. Organs are packed with more nutrients (especially B vitamins) than muscle meat. The organs offer minerals (i.e. phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, and iodine) as well as fat-soluble vitamins (i.e. A, D, E, K). What sets wild venison apart from other animals in terms of feeding organs? Grass-fed (and wild) animals are a better source of the aforementioned nutrients. Feeding grain-fed meat to your dog often results in imbalanced omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, which can lead to excessive inflammation. Some might classify deer that graze corn or wheat fields as grain-fed, but their organs are still a plentiful source of nutrients. Regardless of the fact that some wild deer populations DO eat corn and wheat, wild animal meat sources still have more balanced omega 6:3 ratios.
Deer ribs, feet, and ears can be used as raw, meaty chews to keep your dog’s teeth free of plaque! As long as these parts are not cooked, smoked, or baked, any bones inside will not splinter. Make sure to account for the protein these chews will add to your pup’s daily diet. You can feed them as part of a meal or as a snack to help scrape tartar from the teeth and keep your dog entertained. If it’s your first time feeding raw or fresh foods, go slow with chews (offer them 3-4 times a week) and limit your pup’s time with the chew to about 30 minutes.
How should I prepare venison?
1.INSPECT FIRST!Know your meat’s origin and research the health of the deer AND its environment:
- Weight: Was the deer severely underweight (i.e. ribs, hips, and pelvis protruding)? If so, this could be a sign that the animal was sick, and you should NOT feed this deer. Keep in mind that a lactating doe with offspring will be very lean, and not necessarily sick. Michigan State offers an interactive quiz to help you pick out sick deer: https://prezi.com/view/4nOX8oIidLWUNhxbmiex/
Lungs: Did you notice tan or yellow lumps on the inside of the ribcage? The CDC recently reported a case of Bovine Tuberculosis in a deer, which was passed to a hunter field-dressing the animal. Do NOT use meat from a deer infected with Tuberculosis, and consider seeking testing or treatment if you believe you’ve come into contact with an infected animal.
Liver: Look for small, parasitic flatworms known as “Liver Flukes.” Researchers haven’t recorded any negative effect on deer populations from this parasite, other than when it’s passed to farmed cows or sheep (whose livers can be severely affected by the fluke). According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, meat from a deer infected with liver flukes is safe to consume, but you might reconsider feeding the liver itself.
Abscess: Your deer might have abscesses if you notice greenish-yellow, pungent discharge from the organs. There are several environmental bacteria commonly associated with abscesses, such as Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis Trueperella pyogenes, Pseudomonas spp., Streptococcus spp. and Staphylococcus spp.. These bacteria can be passed from deer to humans or dogs, and meat affected by them should not be fed. While precautions should be taken when handling infected meat, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game deems such meat safe for human consumption if the affected portions are removed with precise and generous cutting.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD): Before feeding ANY deer meat, you should check with your local DNR to see if there are reports of deer infected with CWD in your area. This devastating neurological disease is comparable to “mad cow disease” and degrades brain matter in its victims. Many state wildlife organizations post data from previous hunting seasons on the prevalence and geographic location of the disease, like this map from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency:
Deer infected with CWD can be hard to pinpoint visually, and testing of individual deer can sometimes even produce false negatives. For these reasons, hunters can kill and report deer they believe to be acting strange and otherwise infected with CWD. Reports are collected to understand the prevalence of CWD in a particular deer population as a whole, which is currently our best means of anticipating an infection. If deer in your region are infected, it’s best to avoid feeding the meat.
2.Freeze for 3 Weeks Minimum
To ensure any parasites you may have missed during the visual inspection (or that may be invisible to the human eye) have died, you should freeze the meat BEFORE feeding for at least 3 weeks to help kill larvae and prevent infections from parasites, like trichinellosis.
If you want a fresh food source for your dog without the mess, you can air-dry different parts of the deer. Unlike cooking, baking, smoking, or even dehydrating, air-drying preserves as much nutrient and chemical composition of the raw meat as possible. Some conventional dehydrators may have temperature settings below 130 degrees Ferienheit. In this case, you can use a dehydrator to air-dry your treats -- retaining essential nutrients and keeping any bones from splintering. Trimming excess fat or meat may help minimize drying time, but expect to dry treats/chews for 2+ days to ensure they’re moisture free.
Just Feed Raw
Once you’ve inspected the deer and its environment and have frozen it for at least 3 weeks, you can thaw and feed raw to your dog! If this is your first time feeding raw, go slow if you plan to enhance your dog’s bowl with this meat. If you want to fully transition to raw, make a plan on how to do so -- you can use THIS guide to help!
Caveats and IMPORTANT NOTES:
Though a very popular chew or toy, antlers of any kind are regarded by veterinarians as being too hard for dogs to chew. There are several variables that contribute to a fractured canine’s tooth: texture of the chew, its hardness, material from which it is made, and the force with which your dog chews. Though not all dogs are the same, a good rule of thumb is to avoid bones that are harder than the dog’s teeth. It’s best to stick to raw, meaty bones that can help clean and floss your dog’s teeth, not potentially fracture them.
Are you versed in traditional Chinese medicine and pay particular attention to hot, cool, and neutral proteins? Deer is considered a hot protein, so you should avoid feeding venison if you have a “hot” dog. Consider feeding cooling proteins, like duck or rabbit.
Other Wild Game
If you incorporate deer meat into your dog’s diet and it’s a hit, you might be eager to try out other wild game. A word of caution: keep your dog’s place in the food chain in mind. Biomagnification describes the event in which toxins or chemicals become more concentrated in the tissues of organisms as they go up on the food chain. Feeding meats that are higher up in their respective food chains (usually from carnivorous animals), can result in a hearty concentration of toxins and higher risk of parasites.
Branching out to new proteins, especially those harvested in the wild, should be done with arduous research and sourcing. General rules of thumb are to make sure your meat is sourced well, free of disease or parasites, and from a healthy environment. Freeze for at least 3 weeks and introduce your pup to an array of protein-packed meat and chews sure to pack a nutrient-dense punch and decrease tartar buildup!