Raw Dog Food Basics for Beginners

Published March 9, 2020
Woman feeding two dogs

Getting started with the raw food diet for dogs can be intimidating for beginners. There are a lot of details that shouldn't be missed to make sure your food is safe for your dogs. This includes everything from what type of raw food to feed, proper transitioning and safe food handling techniques.

The Basics of Raw Dog Food Diets

The raw dog food diet was developed back in the 1990s with the publication of the book, Give Your Dog a Bone, by Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst. The diet advocates for feeding dogs a "biologically appropriate" diet for dogs that consists of raw meaty bones, organ and muscle meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and supplements. The bone to meat to organ ratio should be about 10% bones and organ meats each to 80% raw meat. The idea is to mimic the types of things a dog would eat in the wild before the introduction of commercially prepared dog food.

Reasons to Switch to a Raw Food Diet

Feeding a raw dog food diet is a controversial topic and you are sure to get push back from veterinarians and nutritionists. As yet there is not much scientific data to support many of the claims about the benefits of the diet. However, supporters of the diet enthusiastically report that their dogs experience many significant health changes. These include:

  • A glossier coat, reduced shedding and healthier skin
  • Cleaner teeth and gums and fresher breath
  • Firmer, smaller stools that have less odor
  • Improvements in mood and energy level
  • An obvious reduction in health conditions prior to the diet's introduction, such as skin allergies, diabetes, and arthritis.
  • Fewer veterinary bills due to less incidence of serious illnesses

Cost of a Raw Dog Food Diet

One thing you should know before making the switch is the expense of feeding a raw food diet. For example:

  • An average comparison finds that you can spend about $1 a day feeding a premium, high-end commercially made kibble for a 30 pound dog.
  • That same dog on a commercially made frozen raw diet could cost about $2.50 to $5 per day.

If you make the food yourself, your pricing will vary depending on where you can source your ingredients, but in general expect to pay double or more what you would feeding kibble. Raw dog food diet enthusiasts will note that while it does cost more, it's worth it because your dog will be happier, live longer and you will spend less on major veterinary bills over the course of the dog's lifetime. Another cost you will need to add in is time, especially if you will be preparing the meals and recipes on your own.

The Different Types of Raw Food Diets

There are a few options for the beginning raw dog food feeder. You can make your own food, or purchase commercially made options in a few different formats.

Homemade Raw Food for Dogs

When the raw food diet for dogs first started, homemade meals were the only way to go. Many owners still go this route as they prefer to know exactly what is going in their dog's food and enjoy the process. Making homemade food can be a lot of work, including the preparation, storage and clean-up parts of the process. There's also time that you'll need to spend finding and buying the ingredients locally, as well as reviewing your recipes to make sure they're balanced and appropriate for your dog. The cost for homemade raw food diets will vary quite a bit depending on where you source your food and what types of ingredients you use, as well as the cost of supplements that you buy, storage containers and in many instances, owners will buy a whole separate freezer to store the food.

Bulldog and sheepdog standing over food bowl indoors

Commercially Made Raw Dog Food Diets

It's become easier to feed a raw food diet with the arrival of commercially made products for this market. Raw food diet beginners may find it easier to ease their way into the diet by using pre-made products. Aside from the convenience, the benefit of using these diets is most have been created to be balanced nutritionally so you don't need to worry about whether you're getting your dog's recipes right. They're still expensive, but they'll definitely save you on time, and there's a wide range of pricing with some products more budget conscious than others. The types of pre-made raw food diets you can buy are:

  • Frozen raw dog food is food that has been freshly prepared and frozen. They are designed to be thawed and eaten.
  • Freeze dried raw dog food is food that has been put through a freezing process that air dries the food, removing all the moisture from the food. It's designed to be fed "as is" right out of the bag.
  • Dehydrated raw dog food is food that has moisture removed with a slow warming process. These can also be fed from the package as is without adding water, although some formulas require you to add water to prepare for your dog.

It's important when feeding any of these pre-made products to read the information on the packaging. Some products are designed to be fed as supplements with other foods, whereas others are made to be complete meals.

Switching to Raw Dog Food

If you're ready to make the transition, there are a few steps you should observe. There are a few different methods you can use to make the transition.

Transitioning by Food Weight

Use your dog's size to figure out how much to feed him.

  1. When switching to a raw dog food diet, it's common for owners to fast their dog for a day, although you should be sure to provide plenty of fresh water.
  2. You then need to determine how much you will be feeding your dog each day. You can figure this out by taking your dog's weight in pounds and using a figure of four to five percent as a starting point. For example, a 100 pound dog would eat about 4 to 5 pounds a day, split into two meals.
  3. Take the amount of their daily food and start by feeding 25% for day one.
  4. Increase to 50% for day two, 75% for day three and 100% from day five on.
  5. You'll need to monitor your dog's weight for the first few weeks to see if this is too much or too little.

Transitioning by Protein Type

Another method focuses instead on the types of protein rather than the amount of food.

Poodle eating from a metal bowl
  1. You'll feed your dog their regular portions at the start but feed only white meats like chicken, turkey, duck or other poultry. This will also include vegetables, fruit and supplements.
  2. During the second week, you can add in red meat proteins such as ground beef.
  3. During week three, you can add in organ meats such as liver, hearts and kidneys.
  4. By week four, you can begin feeding the full range of protein options.
  5. With this second method you want to be sure to be closely monitoring your dog for signs of stomach upset, diarrhea, or any other associated health problems.

Transitioning With Old and New Foods

In this method you will not fast your dog for a day and will continue feeding their kibble but slowly phase it out.

  1. On the first day, feed a mix of about three-quarters of the normal portion of dry kibble and one-quarter of the amount of raw food you will be feeding.
  2. On day two, use a ratio of about two-thirds dry kibble and one-third raw food.
  3. For day three, feed half of the regular portion of dry kibble and half of the new portion of raw food.
  4. Decrease the dry by 10% each day and increase the raw by 10% each day. Do this until you reach a portion that is 100% raw, which should take about six to seven days total.
  5. As with the other methods, monitor your dog closely for signs of illness and too much or too little weight gain.

Raw Dog Food for Beginners Transition Tips

Some dogs take to the raw diet right away, while others may seem confused and uncertain.

  1. Make sure the bones you feed are the right size for your dog. In general, avoid weight-bearing bones that are too thick for a dog to chew on safely. Necks, wings, thighs and backs are all good options.
  2. If your dog wolfs the bones down too quickly without chewing, you can attempt to hold a section to slow your dog down. Only do this if you're comfortable with your dog's behavior around food. If you have concerns about resource-guarding avoid this step.
  3. Don't be alarmed if you notice mucus on your dog's stool the first few days. This is normal with dogs switching to the raw food diet.

Safety Practices With the Raw Dog Food Diet

When handling raw meat and bones, cleanliness is extremely important. You should be sure to wash your hands prior to preparation and after you are done. You should also be careful not to "cross contaminate" tools such as cutting boards, knives, bowls and mixing tools. Wash everything with hot water and soap before going on to use it with another type of food. Food should be packaged in air-tight, freezer-appropriate containers and it's a good idea to mark the date of the preparation and freezing on the container with a marker.

Raw Dog Food for Beginners

Switching to raw can be overwhelming, sometimes for the dog as well as the owner. Always talk to your veterinarian before you make the switch and make sure you have all of your supplies and food choices ready to go. Always keep an eye on your dog the first few weeks and monitor their health, weight and feces for signs that the transition is going well, or if you need to consult with your veterinarian.

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Raw Dog Food Basics for Beginners