May 5, 2011

There are many factors to consider in choosing whether to move to a raw food diet for your dog. Different vets have different opinions, and online forums and other resources contain a mind-boggling amount of information and opinions on the merits and pitfalls of food choices. Here’s our recommendations on deciding whether a raw diet is appropriate for your pet, and how to embark on a new feeding regimen.

The Pros and Cons of Raw

From a physiological standpoint, Fido has a shorter gastrointestinal tract than his human counterparts. This means that a raw diet can pass through much more quickly, thus reducing the time in which any harmful bacteria could multiply. This allows Fido to gain the benefit of raw enzymes present in raw meat, and excrete the bacteria before it reaches harmful levels. Choosing meat from reputable sources along with safe, proper handling and storage are also essential to risk reduction.

Some raw diets contain whole bones. Avid raw feeders often include whole animals such as chickens or rabbits in their feeding protocols. There is a chance that bone shards can cause medical complications with this type of feeding. As raw food diets have gained popularity, the incidence of veterinary procedures to remove bones from the GI tract has also increased. When swallowed, whole, raw bones or bone shards can obstruct the intestines, cause constipation, lodge in the roof of the mouth and break the teeth in extreme cases. For this reason, a commercially prepared raw diet or an investment in a high-powered food grinder are wiser choices. NEVER feed your dog a cooked bone.

Should your dog be on a raw diet?

We do not recommend feeding raw to sick dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems. At the end of the day, you—as Fido’s guardian—need to be comfortable and confident in feeding him fresh raw food (whether commercial or home prepared). But with a little research and a gradual transition, raw food can be a wonderful alternative for many dogs.

Ensuring it’s complete

Their are many great brands of complete raw diets: Small Batch and Primal are our office favorites. If you have your own supply of raw meat, or would like to use a unique protein such as venison, duck or rabbit, our raw food foundation diet, Preference, is designed to be fed with raw (or cooked) meat. It’s formulated with a vitamin and mineral pre-mix, and has a calcium: phosphorus ratio of 2.43:1, which balances out to about 1.5:1 when the meat is added. Preference contains fruits and vegetables that have been gently dehydrated below 104 degrees and are still technically considered ‘raw’.

Download a printable Preference feeding guide

Here are just a few ideas as far as what types of meats to consider adding to your dog’s diet. The following also contains information on food energetic, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Cooling meats can be helpful for dogs who show signs of ‘heat’ – such as skin allergies, hot spots or hyperactivity. Warming meats may help dog who show signs of ‘cold deficiencies’ – such as sluggishness or timidness.

  • Fresh or raw meat (this can be ground beef, turkey, chicken, venison, buffalo or other exotic meats) we suggest using a meat that is hormone and antibiotic free.
  • Chicken – is considered a warming food, nourishing the blood, spleen/pancreas, stomach and kidney.
  • Beef – is a neutral food that is good for nourishing the spleen/pancreas and the stomach. It is good for building blood, bones and yang muscle strength. This is recommended for animals who are thin, spare and who lack confidence.
  • Turkey – is warming. It has a calming effect on animals due to the tryptophan in the dark meat. Dark meat helps to create more moisture than the white meat, too. Good for intestinal problems caused by yin deficiency or dryness. (ie, irritable bowel syndromes with blood in the stool or frequent vomiting of dry hair balls. Also good for constipation with blood.)
  • Venison – is a warming food. This meat is good for an animal that is sluggish and who gets cold easily.
  • Pork – is one of the most cooling of the animal meats. It is good for restoring fluids to the body in diseases such as diabetes. Pork loin or butt can be used for inflammatory bowel problems with dryness and blood. Pork needs to be boiled and all of the fat removed before feeding.
  • Lamb – is warming. Lamb should be fed with caution to animals that show signs of ‘Heat’.
  • Rabbit – is considered neutral.
  • Tuna/Mackerel (canned or raw) – are neutral. May be beneficial for sluggish animals with heavy, hanging abdomens, moist lung problems or arthritis that is worse in damp weather. Choose whitefish for more sensitive animals. Sardines are a favorite with many dogs and cats.

Want to feed raw…. without the raw?

The Honest Kitchen makes six complete diets dogs using dehydrated whole foods. Our recipes are human-grade (meaning that they’re fit for human consumption right out of the box). Our meats undergo a gentle steam treatment before dehydration which kills pathogenic bacteria (e.Coli, Salmonella). Simply add water for a close to raw, minimally processed meal!

Force: Free-range chicken, gluten-free, grain-free dog food.

Embark: Cage-free turkey, gluten-free, grain-free dog food.

Zeal: Wild caught fish, gluten-free, grain-free dog food.

Thrive: Free-range chicken, gluten-free dog food.

Keen: Cage-free turkey and organic oats, low gluten dog food.

Verve: USDA beef and organic grains dog food.

Have more questions?

We’re here to help! Email or post a question directly on our facebook page!

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats; Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
Four Paws Five Directions; A guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs; Cheryl Schwartz, DVM