When you realize your dog’s food is coming from a chemistry lab and not nature, it’s time to switch to a raw diet for dogs. Here are 6 steps to follow … and lots of information to get you started.
You wouldn’t be the first dog owner to be concerned about feeding your dog raw meat and bones … and you won’t be the last. So let’s eliminate your fears and learn to prepare the foods your dog was designed to eat.
This 6-step plan was put together by Dogs Naturally Magazine Founder and CEO, Dana Scott. And here are some reasons why you should follow her guidelines for a raw dog food diet for your dog:
- Dana is a raw feeding breeder who’s raised dozens of puppies and seniors on raw diets over the last 25 years
- She has a degree in physiology
- Dana is co-writer of the Dogs Naturally Magazine Raw Food Certification Course with pet food nutritionist and veterinarian, Dr Marion Smart DVM PhD
- She’s using experience and what she’s learned over the years to create 6 simple steps for a raw food diet for dogs … from scratch.
It’s a balanced raw food diet for dogs that’s easy to follow and understand.
Here are the 6 steps to follow for feeding a raw diet for dogs.
Step 1: Balance Fat And Protein
Your dog’s energy comes from protein, fat and carbohydrate … nothing else.
Protein is made from amino acids. They provide energy but they also build your dog’s tissues. And they make enzymes needed for metabolic processes.
Fat is a rich source of energy and contains double the calories of protein. It’s important to protect your dog’s cells … and it’s needed to make hormones and fat-soluble vitamins.
Protein and fat are essential nutrients so your dog can’t survive without them. But he can live without carbohydrates. But there are some valuable carbs that aid the immune system and provide other helpful functions, and we’ll talk about those later.
So proteins and fat make up most of your dog’s meal … but he needs balance. You’ll want to feed 10% to 20% fat, including omega-3 oils, and the rest is protein. Meat can be from the grocery store or butcher … just make sure the fat content is between 10% and 20%.
Here’s why you want to keep fat within that range.
Fat has a lot of calories but no vitamins or minerals. If you feed more than 20% fat, it will create a diet that’s nutritionally incomplete because fat cannibalizes other nutrients. And nutrients are especially important for puppies and older dogs who need more than adult dogs.
Lack Of Fat
Too little fat … below 10% … and you may see signs of itching or other skin problems in your dog.
Fat Content of Some Foods
- Ground beef (90% lean): 10%
- Ground beef (80% lean): 20%
- Regular ground beef: 30%
- Beef liver: 4%
- Ground chicken (skinless): 8%
- Chicken necks (with skin): 25%
- Chicken leg (with skin): 16%
- Ground lamb: 21%
- Ground turkey (skinless): 8%
- Turkey neck (with skin): 6%
- Duck (skinless): 6%
- Ground pork: 21%
- Rabbit: 2%
- Deer: 9%
- Salmon: 7%
- Egg: 10%
So now you know how much protein and fat should make up your dog’s diet. The next component to include in your raw diet for dogs is minerals … and that means bones.
Step 2: Include Calcium And Minerals
Minerals are important cofactors needed to fire all the metabolic processes in your dog. If he’s missing minerals, it can show up as crippling joint disease, heart issues, seizures and more.
So if you’re raw feeding dogs and you feed bones, they’ll get plenty of minerals.
Bone has phosphorus, magnesium and zinc … and most importantly, calcium … making it about 65% minerals. Calcium and phosphorus have a synergistic partnership in your dog, moving his muscles and controlling his body’s functions.
If you were to feed your dog an all-meat diet he’d get a lot of phosphorus and very little calcium. If that happens, his body pulls calcium from his bones. It’s a self-defense mechanism and calcium will be replenished from his diet. But if he’s short on calcium on a regular basis you’ll see bone and joint disease … especially in growing puppies. Raw feeders add bone to meals so there’s a steady supply of calcium and other important minerals.
In the wild, your dog eats whole animals like deer and rabbits. Wild prey averages about 12% bone with little variation. Even the shell from eggs is 12% (another source of calcium) of the total egg.
You need to make sure your dog is getting 10% to 15% bone in his diet, just as he’d get in nature. Growing puppies need at least 12% and up to 15% bone for skeletal growth and development of adult teeth.
How To Maintain Mineral Content
Meaty bones from your butcher are the best way to reach the 12 to 15% bone content in your raw diet. And they should match the size of your dog. Big bones for big dogs, small bones like a chicken wing or wingtip for a miniature 10-pound dog. And he should be able to eat the entire bone to ensure he gets the right amount of minerals.
Avoid bones that your dog can swallow whole. They might not digest and could form a blockage. Bones with joints like necks, tails and feet are safer and easier for your dog to chew. Heavier weight-bearing bones are harder and can break teeth.
But dogs have another self-defense mechanism. If your dog swallows a piece of bone that’s too big to digest, he’ll just throw it up and work through it again.
Bone Content For Raw Feeding
Here’s the bone content of some meaty bones.
- Whole chicken (without head and feet): 25%
- Leg quarter: 30%
- Split breast: 20%
- Thigh 15%
- Drumstick: 30%
- Wing: 45%
- Neck: 36%
- Back: 45%
- Feet: 60%
- Whole turkey: 21%
- Thigh: 21%
- Drumstick: 20%
- Wing: 37%
- Neck: 42%
- Back: 41%
- Whole: 28%
- Neck: 50%
- Feet: 60%
- Feet: 30%
- Tails: 30%
- Ribs: 30%
- Ribs: 52%
- Oxtails: 45% to 65% (the thinner the tail, the higher the bone content)
- Whole rabbit (fur and all): 10%
- Whole rabbit (dressed): 28%
- Rib: 27%
- Shoulder blade: 24%
- Whole shoulder (arm and blade): 21%
Meaty bones are great for your dog’s raw diet … but your dog should have more than bone-in meals. So you need to mix in meat. You can estimate how much or do some math.
Let’s assume your dog gets a half pound of meat for breakfast and a half pound of chicken necks for dinner. You know that chicken necks are 36% bone … and they account for half of your dog’s food. That means his diet is half that amount … 18%. That’s higher than the 10 to 15% range. But if you feed 2/3 lb meat and 1/3 chicken necks, that brings it to 12% bone, which is just right!
Here’s another example …
You’re going to feed duck feet, which are 60% bone. If this is half your dog’s meal, the bone content would be 30% … too high! But if you divide it in half, he’d be getting 15% bone, which is perfect! So feed 3/4 meat and 1/4 duck feet to get to 15% bone.
It’s good enough to estimate the bone content and it doesn’t need to be exact. It will even out ovbut it’s important that you have at least 12% bone for puppies for growth.
If your dog just can’t handle bones, there are bone supplements. Some raw feeders use eggshells but these don’t have magnesium so they’re not balanced for puppies of for diets with more than 10% fat. Seaweed and coral calcium have more calcium, but the same problem applies.
The best replacement is bone meal. It’s easy to add 2 teaspoons of bone meal powder per pound of food for adult dogs. Puppies and nursing dogs need 4 tsp of bone meal if their meal is 90% lean, 5 tsp if it’s 85% lean and 6 tsp if it’s 80% lean.
FOUR LEAF ROVER RECOMMENDS: Better Bones, an air-dried bone powder from grass-fed cows. It’s a safe and convenient way to add calcium and minerals to cooked and raw dog food: Buy Better Bones now>>
Now it’s time to look at vitamins.
3. Add Organ Meats
All proteins don’t have the same amount of vitamins and minerals so your dog needs organ meats … nature’s multivitamin. They’re essential to reach the amounts of vitamins and minerals he needs.
Let’s see what they have to offer.
Let’s start with liver. It should make up 10% of your dog’s diet. It supplies most vitamins plus minerals like copper and folate. But you can’t feed liver alone.
Heart adds taurine, an amino acid, to the raw diet. It supports your dog’s heart and should make up 5% of the raw diet.
Kidney, Pancreas, Spleen
Feeding organs is also a way to practice glandular therapy … the principle that you feed healthy organs to support sick organs. Pancreas is rich in digestive enzymes so feeding the pancreas to dogs with a pancreatic disease provides the enzymes he can’t make.
And feeding brain provides your dog with DHA for healthy brains and nerves, especially in puppies.
About 5% of your dog’s diet can be kidney, pancreas and spleen (1). And they’re available in powdered form, too. Powdered organs should be freeze-dried so they aren’t damaged by heat.
Lung, Brain, Eyes, Sweetbread, Green Tripe
Look for these organ meats, too. They can be about 5% of your dog’s diet. When buying tripe, try to get it from grass-fed animals otherwise it will be heavy in unhealthy omega-6 fats.
Go Slow With Organ Meats
Organ meats are rich in nutrients and can cause digestive issues if you add them too fast. So start with about 5% of the diet as organs. Then gradually work up to 25% if your dog can tolerate it.
4. Balance Fats
You’ve learned that fats should be 10 to 20% of your raw diet for dogs. But all fats are not the same. So let’s look at the differences starting with saturated fat.
Meats have a combination of the 3 main types of dietary fats: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Wild grazing animals would eat grasses, while birds eat grasses, seeds and insects. But in farming operations, grazing animals (aka cows) are fed diets rich in grains … which isn’t good for your dog.
Grain-fed animals have more saturated fat than grass-fed animals. Too much saturated fat can unbalance your dog’s microbiome.
4 Ways To Lower Saturated Fat
- Feed meat from grass-fed animals whenever possible
- A more affordable option is to mix beef and poultry. Poultry is higher in polyunsaturated fat and lower in saturated fat, so beef helps provide balance.
- Feed low-fat meats and add polyunsaturated oils.
- Don’t feed coconut oil, which is saturated fat and can lead to other problems.
Omega Fatty Acids
Two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Both affect the immune system and inflammatory response. Omega-6 fats are known for increasing inflammation, while omega-3 fats reduce it.
When grains change the amount of fatty acid in meats, they also change the omega fats. Wild grass-eating animals have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. But animals fed grains are high in omega-6 fats. And this can cause chronic inflammation in your dog … a major cause of chronic disease.
4 Ways To Balance Omega Fats In The Raw Diet For Dogs
- Don’t feed poultry skin as it has 30 times more omega-6 fat than omega-3.
- Don’t feed pork unless it’s free-range and pastured. Pork is high in fat that can contain large amounts of omega-6 fat.
- Feed a variety of poultry and ruminants (beef, lamb and goat). Rotating proteins will balance fats and nutrients as well as helping to prevent protein sensitiviies and allergies from eating the same food.
- Add omega-3 fats as a supplement. The best sources are ahiflower or hemp (a good source of a healthy fat called GLA) and green lipped mussels (a sustainable alternative to fish and marine oils).
5. Include Vegetables And Fruits
Your dog needs polyphenols and they’re found in vegetables and fruits (2). Polyphenols travel to your dog’s intestinal tract where they provide important immune benefits. They also have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that prevent and address chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Your dog can only get polyphenols from plants, not animals.
Feed berries with a low sugar content and non-starchy vegetables. Avoid feeding plants like grains and legumes because they can lead to chronic inflammation.
Step 6: Maintain Balance
Even though you’re following the previous steps, there are a couple of micronutrients you want to include.
Your dog relies on his food for vitamin D. But food animals raised indoors (as most are) might be deficient so you’ll need to add a source to your dog’s diet. It’s best to avoid vitamin D supplements because too much vitamin D can damage your dog’s kidneys. Here are some food sources of vitamin D.
- Mushrooms: When exposed to sunshine, they produce vitamin D, just like animals.
- Egg yolks: Feed eggs from pastured hens raised in sunshine. You can feed eggs several times a week.
- Mussels: They’re rich in vitamin D so green lipped mussels are a good diet addition (3).
- Fatty fish: Salmon, sardines and mackerel are rich in vitamin D. But fish isn’t sustainable and can be contaminated with heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs, so source your fish carefully.
This is an essential trace mineral that activates important metabolic processes in the body. It can detoxify your dog’s body from harmful free radicals.
Manganese deficiency can be common in raw-fed dogs. It can show as weakened ligaments and connective tissue, leading to joint issues such as cruciate tears.
Mussels are rich in manganese, but you can also feed oysters, shellfish and spinach.
How Much Raw Food To Feed Your Dog
This depends on your dog’s an adult or a puppy.
Raw Food For Adult Dogs
You want to aim at 2 to 3% of your dog’s ideal body weight. If he’s active, feed more. If he’s not, feed less. If you can feel your dog’s ribs, but not see them, he’s at a good weight.
Here’s a basic guide:
- 25-pound dog: 1/2 pound daily
- 50-pound dog: 1 pound daily
- 100-pound dog: 2 pounds daily
How Much Raw Food Should Puppies Get?
Puppies need more calories and nutrition than mature dogs. Puppies should eat 2% to 3% of their expected adult weight … or about 5% to 10% of their current weight.
And puppies need to eat more calcium and less fat than they would at maturity. Aim to feed puppies 15% bone and less than 20% fat to make sure they get enough nutrients and minerals.
Here’s a general guide:
- Puppies 2 to 3 months: 8% to 10% of body weight daily
- Puppies 4 to 5 months: 6% to 8% of body weight daily
- Puppies 6 to 8 months: 4% to 6% of body weight daily
- Puppies 9 to 12 months: 3% to 4% of body weight daily
So these are the basics when you want to switch your dog to a raw diet. You’ll be rewarded with bright white teeth, fresh breath, smaller poops … and a healthier, happier dog.
- Li, Yaokun, et al. Transcriptomic Profiling of Spleen in Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Angus Cattle. Journals Plos. September 14, 2015.
- Zhou Y, Zheng J, Li Y, et al. Natural polyphenols for prevention and treatment of cancer. Nutrients. 2016;8(8):515. 2016
- DeRoos, Bailke. Mussel Intake and Vitamin D Status in Humans (Mussel). US National Library of Medicine. October 2016.