So you’ve made the decision to switch your dog to raw...congratulations!! We’re all at about species-appropriate food, and applaud you on your decision! Now what? The world of raw pet food is still rather new, and incredibly daunting, especially if you’re tackling it by yourself. Where to start?
Your local pet store or the butcher?
If you have done a Google search for raw dog food, tons of results turn up, some that show whole pieces of animals (heads, whole fish, tails, wings, organs) and some that lead to a website with a specific brand of raw pet food that come in brick-like “nuggets” or round “patties.” It can be tempting to just purchase a premade brand of raw pet food, especially because that eliminates the preparation step and if you’re squeamish, having to deal with animal body parts.
*What’s the difference? *
Other than the staggering price tag on commercial raw, there are a few key differences in feeding commercialized raw and homemade raw.
Commercial raw does go through some sense of processing. It’s weird to think that right? It’s called “raw,” how could it be processed? Some brands are freeze-dried, others go through HPP (High Pressure Processing), and some are simply frozen for a long time to kill off any bacteria. These types of processing kill off any bacteria, but it does not differentiate between “good” bacteria (probiotics) or “bad” bacteria. HPP and freeze-drying also dramatically changes the texture of the meat, making it less palatable. The method of simply freezing the meat a long time until the bacteria dies has the potential of that meat going bad, as well as changing the texture.
Most commercial raw only contains liver. They usually do not contain another secreting organ (spleen, kidney). The other vitamins and minerals are supplemented in, so they do not come from a bioavailable source, meaning your dog’s body cannot utilize these nutrients as well. In homemade raw, more of those nutrients come from whole foods sources, so there is less waste and your dog’s body can utilize much easier.
Some commercial raw diets contain a lot of vegetables. Some contain as much as 50% vegetables! Dogs are carnivores, and a species-appropriate diet should be high in meat. They can have vegetables, but no more than 20%. Vegetables are not necessarily bad for dogs, in fact, they get a fair amount of nutrients from veggies, however, their main source of food should be meat.
Commercial raw diets are sold as “complete and balanced,” however, one diet is not a blanket solution (just like with people!), so although some dogs can do well on commercial raw, there are many other dogs who will need a custom diet. Homemade raw diets are easier to customize to your individual dog’s needs, such as adding more bone in for a dog with soft stool, whereas you cannot do that with commercial raw.
I don’t know about you, but usually when selecting a food for my dog, I want to see something that healthy and looks like something I would eat too! Most commercial raw diets meat patties are gray-ish, and do not really look like the more robust, vibrant, delicious meat we eat. This is due to the high amount of veggies and also depends on the type of processing the meat goes through.
Because most commercial raw is ground up, dogs do not get the enjoyable experience and benefits of chewing on a raw meaty bone to clean their teeth and release those endorphins. So if you are feeding commercial raw, be sure to grab some chews for your pup to help with the teeth cleaning!
If you’ve chosen to make your own raw, awesome! :) There are often local co-ops that you can find, that not only offer a community of other raw feeders, but will also have exotic cuts of meats, or offer a price break. You can also find a local butcher shop and meat in bulk. The most important thing is that you know your dog best, and can tweak their raw meals to fit their needs! If you need help with customization, take a look at our top 4 supplements list!
If making your dog’s meals just can’t fit your lifestyle, that is totally okay! Just be sure to do your research on the commercial raw brands and find one that is minimally processed (such as air-drying), has an acceptable amount of vegetables, and one where all or the majority of the nutrients come from whole foods and not non-bioavailable sources (ie, says vitamin D supplementation).
Either way, ENJOY your journey to feeding raw and learning about your dog’s nutrition!