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From South Beach to Atkins, from Ketogenic to Vegan, there are all kinds of popular diets out there to help people lose weight, gain muscle, feel more energetic, or live more eco-friendly or animal-friendly lives. One diet both you and Fido can try is the raw food diet.
Before beginning any diet, it’s important to consider your goals, as well as your lifestyle and health. Be sure to take the same considerations into account when you’re looking for the right diet for Fido. Consider his individual needs–his lifestyle, activity level, medical history, and nutritional needs. These vary for every dog. A raw food diet may not be best for all dogs, but can certainly be good for some.
Advocates for a raw diet believe it can result in a shinier, healthier coat; healthier skin; more effective immune system; higher energy levels; more muscle; and better overall health for your dog. Many cite the fact that in the wild, dogs ate a completely raw diet, consuming what they could catch or find, and so, in fact, a raw diet most closely approximates a dog’s natural diet. Opponents of a raw diet worry that it puts your dog’s health at risk, potentially exposing him to parasites and other dangers, as well as failing to provide a balanced diet.
What is a Raw Diet?
For people, a raw food diet is an eating plan that mandates that at least 75% of one’s diet consist of raw foods, defined as foods that are uncooked, unprocessed, whole, clean, and, if possible, organic. The overall goal of a raw food diet is not weight loss, though it may occur, but rather consuming a nutritious diet that can contribute to an overall healthier life. Four types of human raw dieters exist:
- raw vegans
- raw vegetarians
- raw omnivores
- raw carnivores.
Raw vegans consume no animal products, whereas raw vegetarians consume plant-based products, as well as dairy products and eggs. Raw carnivores forego all cooked meat, but consume raw meat. Raw omnivores enjoy both plant-based foods and animal-based foods.
In the dog world, there are two raw diet models, Prey and BARF.
The Prey Model Raw Diet
Largely based on the diet of a wolf in the wild, the Prey Model requires strict adherence to a meat-only diet, and is the school of thought that the only food fit for Fido’s consumption is animal-based food, which proponents believe can provide all the nutrients necessary to sustain Fido’s health. Under this model, Fido will never eat a supplement or vegetable–or any plant-based or commercially produced food. The only exception to this rule is if you have no access to wild fish, in which case the Prey Model allows for a supplement that includes Omega-3 oil.
While feeding Fido nothing but meat sounds simple, you do have to make sure he’s getting a variety of animal products from a variety of sources. The Prey Model recommends 5-10% of the meats Fido consumes be organ meat, such as from the liver, lungs, kidneys, etc.. Ten to 15% of the animal products Fido consumes should be raw, edible bones, and 80-85% of Fido’s Prey Model raw diet should consist of muscle meat.
In addition to establishing a proper ratio of organ meat to bones to muscle meat, under the Prey Model, providing Rufus with a variety of meat sources is also important. Do not limit him solely to chicken and beef, for example, but also provide bison, elk, deer, fish, duck, and rabbit, to name a few. These are all animals dogs would likely consume in the wild, and providing a variety can help you ensure Rufus is getting a balanced diet.
The BARF Model Raw Diet
BARF is an acronym for Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. The BARF model allows for the inclusion of raw meats (including ground bones, muscle meats, and organ meats), vegetables, fruits, and supplements in your dog’s diet. Advocates of BARF believe it provides a more balanced diet, and, like proponents of the Prey Model, also cite the feeding habits of a wolf in the wild. The idea behind BARF is that a wolf would consume the stomach and intestines of its prey, and that these organs would likely contain plant matter the prey had consumed prior to becoming food for the wolf. Thus, the wolf would also be consuming plant matter, leading to the idea that dogs require plant matter as well as meat in their diet.
Some contention exists regarding the ratio of animal-based products to plant-based products and supplements under the BARF model, with some experts recommending no more than 15% of your dog’s diet be composed of plant-based products and others advocating for up to a third of your dog’s diet consisting of plant matter.
Which Raw Diet is Right for Rover?
As mentioned above, whether or not Bingo would benefit from a raw diet depends entirely on his individual needs. The same can be said for which raw diet would best benefit him. For example, some senior dogs struggle to consume the foods mandated under the Prey Diet, as they are often difficult to chew, and older dogs may have weaker teeth and jaws. Some dogs also struggle to maintain a healthy body weigh under one diet or the other. Ultimately, you will need to determine which diet–raw or otherwise–seems to best meet the needs of your particular canine companion, realizing that these needs may change throughout his life, mandating changes to his diet at different life stages.
Why Feed Raw?
There are many reasons not to feed your dog a raw diet, including but not limited to:
- concerns about the ability to provide complete and balanced nutrition
- risks of parasites and diseases, particularly from raw meats
- dangers of punctures from bones (though raw bones are generally malleable and safe)
- concerns about having the time to properly prepare Rover’s raw food
- worries over the financial cost.
Despite these concerns, many pet parents opt for raw diets for a variety of reasons, some of which were already discussed above, including:
- a shinier, healthier coat
- healthier skin
- stronger immune system
- more energy
- more muscle
- better overall health.
Further benefits can include:
- healthier digestive tract and firmer stools
- fewer allergy symptoms
- healthier body weight.
Advocates for a raw diet also believe it results in healthier teeth and gums, better breath, and fewer medical complications. Some people choose to feed their dog a raw diet due to their belief that commercial dog foods are actually harmful to their furry friend’s health and longevity. Still others simply feel good about feeding their dog the closest possible food to what his ancestors consumed: raw, unprocessed foods. They feel this is the most natural and thus the most appropriate diet for their best friend.
Recommended Raw Foods
If you’ve determined a raw food diet would be beneficial to your dog, but aren’t sure you have the time or expertise to prepare the food yourself, you can purchase frozen or freeze-dried raw dog food from a variety of sources. Some of these include:
When deciding which brand or product would be best for your dog, there are five things to keep in mind. First, make sure the food contains high-quality meat. Ideally, the food will consist mostly of lean muscle meat, with a fat content between two and 13%. Second, in addition to lean muscle meat, make sure the food contains organ meat, keeping in mind that heart meat qualifies as muscle meat; organ meat comes from organs such as the liver and kidney. Third, make sure the food contains bone. Ideally, the calcium content will fall between 0.75 and 1.5%. Fourth, fat content should not exceed 15%, and ideally should stay below 13%. Finally, in diets that include vegetables, carbohydrates will be present, but levels should be low. In addition, the finer ground the vegetables are, the more easily your dog can absorb the nutrients they contain.
DIY Raw Foods
If you would prefer to concoct your own raw food for Fido, make sure your combinations are balanced over time. Here are some general guidelines for preparing your own raw food at home:
- The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be 1:1. To help guarantee you achieve this ratio, remember that meats contain a significant amount of phosphorus, while bones offer calcium. Some foods also offer a balanced ratio on their own. These include tripe, eggs, fish, and whole prey.
- Fifteen percent or less of the diet should consist of organ meat, with liver included once a week.
- Don’t shy away from feeding your dog parts of the animal you might usually throw away, such as the tail, trachea, or feet. Some of these parts are loaded with nutritional benefits for Bingo.
- Some meats, such as salmon and pork, can be prone to parasites. To reduce the risk of their transfer from the meat to your dog, freeze such foods for two weeks prior to serving.
- While raw bones are safe for Fido, never offer him cooked bones, which can be brittle and prone to breaks, which can then result in sharp edges that can puncture your dog’s intestines. Always supervise your dog when giving him even raw bones.
- If possible, provide meat from younger animals or animals that have been grass-fed and hormone-free.
There are several foods you want to make sure you include in Rover’s raw food diet. These include:
- Raw, meaty bones (RMBs), such as pork necks or beef ribs
- Organ meat in one or two meals each week
- Tripe from grass-fed animals in two or more meals each week
- Muscle meat in several meals each week
- Eggs (with the shell if farm-fresh; without if commercially sourced) two or more times per week
- Supplemental fruits or vegetables that have been steamed or juiced.
You can find a beginner’s raw dog food recipe here. Remember, you want to avoid feeding Fido the same recipe over and over again, so don’t limit yourself to one favorite food. Instead, be sure to provide various meals that include various nutrients. Find three additional recipes here.
Is Raw Right for Rufus?
As we’ve emphasize throughout, every dog is different and every dog has different needs. What works for Rover might not work for Sadie. The best thing you can do for your dog is honestly assess his lifestyle, his medical conditions, his activity level, and his nutritional needs; conduct research; and make an informed decision. After you’ve decided on a diet, be it raw or commercial, don’t be too committed. After all, as Emerson tells us, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” If you notice after several weeks that your dog has lost his energy, lost his appetite, is losing or gaining too much weight, or is experiencing any other adverse effects, be prepared to adjust his diet accordingly until you find the optimal option for him.