When Ben was diagnosed with Epilepsy I tried as best I could to eliminate as many unknown additives and chemicals from his life. One of the choices I made was to start feeding Ben a raw food diet, I felt that at least then I would be in total control of the ingredients that were fuelling his system. Switching to raw food made no difference to Ben’s seizures, however, because of what I saw first hand I will forever be an advocate of raw feeding for dogs. So what is raw feeding? And what are the benefits?
A raw food diet consists mainly of raw meaty bones with a mixture of other ingredients such as minced meat, fruit, vegetables and fish and a little offal. None of these ingredients should be cooked. The main concept of raw feeding is that over the course of a month you will provide enough variety to balance your dog’s diet. Just as we do not consume a completely balanced diet daily our dogs do not need this either. When you prepare your dog’s raw meal you will be able to see the variety within it and you will be providing your dog with food that looks, smells and feels real and fresh.
There are so many behavioural benefits to giving your dog a bone, mainly, providing your dog with an appropriate avenue for chewing. Meaty bones can include brisket bones, ribs, chops, necks, whole chicken carcasses or parts of the chicken such as wings, legs and necks. All bones must be raw, cooked bones can splinter and cause big problems for your dog. Avoid large fatty bones, such as marrow bones, as many dogs cannot tolerate too much fat in their diet and will become sick. Dogs are also prone to chipped teeth when trying to consume these extra hard bones.
Minced meat such as beef and kangaroo are the most commonly used for dogs. Fresh meat should not smell foul, your dog’s meat should be as fresh as what you consume. Use the minced meat to mix with other ingredients to create variety and balance. Over the course of a month, I used to mix Ben’s meat with liver, sardines (in spring water), fruit and vegetables, ricotta cheese and some plain yoghurt. The amount of minced meat mix you give your dog will vary, monitor your dog’s weight if they are losing shape around their waist lighten up on the food. It is always better to have your dog on the thin side than overweight.
Dogs love fruits and vegetables. Strawberry tops, apples, pears, peaches, carrot bottoms, broccoli, celery, pumpkin, spinach almost anything you have in your fridge crisper will be great for your dog. Even herbs such as parsley and basil will be fine for your dog. A variety of these foods can be added to minced meat, simply use what you already have in the fruit bowl or in the fridge. Fruits and vegetables should be coarsely pulverised with a little water to make a nutrient-filled additive to mince. Dogs cannot absorb as many nutrients from food unless it is already broken down for them. Avoid starchy foods such as potatoes and citrus fruits and onion family food.
Feeding a raw food diet does take organisation, it is cost-effective to buy meat and bones in bulk but you will need ample freezer space to store these items. I found that I would make a trip to the pet food man once per month for all of my meaty supplies, come home and separate everything into freezer bags for single-serve thawing. This all takes time but was cheaper, and in my opinion healthier than the commercial pet food I was buying.
For me, the best part of feeding a raw food diet was Ben’s attitude to feeding time was far more enthusiastic. Ben loved his raw diet and hearing him crunch through bone and use his jaws for what they were intended was hugely reinforcing to me. The other big advantage was the change in Ben’s bowel movements. Dogs who are fed a raw diet have far less smelly stools and their stool also becomes dry and dusty within days and simply crumbles into the ground and disappears. Dogs who have a habit of eating stool will also be far less likely to continue this habit if fed on a raw diet.
If all of this seems like it is just too hard there are products on the market, like the BARF diet that are a prepackaged raw food diet. This is more expensive than the DIY method above. Making the switch to a raw diet must be gradual and well researched.
If you are interested in switching to a raw food diet you must learn more about raw food feeding than I have provided here. Speak to a vet (who supports raw diets) for your particular dog, and take a look at Dr Billinghurst’s raw food site, in particular his book, Give Your Dog A Bone which will provide you with all of the information you will need.