Diet plays an important part in a dog’s life and, while it’s important to try and get it right, it can often be a minefield picking a diet for your dog. While good quality food is on the rise, picking between them is often baffling, advice is contradictory, and prices vary massively too. The good news is that good diets are much more readily available than they used to be and there’s a lot more information out there to help you pick!
More and more people are starting to raw feed and whilst as a charity, we do advocate a natural diet, whether it be raw or otherwise, it’s really important to get raw feeding right if that’s the diet you pick. It is not a diet to feed on an adhoc basis or to do on a whim and it’s important that anybody wishing to raw feed educates themselves first to ensure their dog gets a healthy, balanced diet without any issues.
Owners who raw feed report a lot of benefits from better skin and coat condition, building muscle, improved dental health and even improvements in behaviour issues. Whilst it might not be the simplest diet to feed, it’s popularity growth says a lot; people want to do the best for their dogs even if that can’t just be poured directly from a bag anymore. Whilst raw feeding isn’t for everyone or every dog, most people find their dogs adore a raw diet and fussy eaters can no longer wait for dinner time!
The history of raw feeding
Although raw feeding has soared in popularity in recent years, many people will tell you it’s how they used to feed their dogs generations ago, without weighing or balancing, and their dog’s lived long healthy lives. In fact, most dogs lived off kitchen scraps and leftovers before the second world war when food rations became enforced and we had to look at a way of getting food in a convenient form with a longer shelf life and using food more readily available, leading to kibble and tinned food. Due to the convenience and ease of this diet, the trend continued until it was a staple for most family pets.
Raw feeding is also known as BARF- Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding. Although many people don’t question the processed diets we feed dogs, our pets are some of the few animals in the world who we feed such a diet to. For example, zoos spend a lot of time, energy and resources ensuring that animals are fed a diet similar to what they would eat in the wild to ensure they thrive in captivity. Whilst our pets are far removed from their wild ancestors, does that mean we should feed them on a purely processed diet? Would we rather feed our family a fresh diet with natural ingredients or a processed diet out of a bag or tin?
How to raw feed
Whilst raw feeding originally compromised of mostly scraps, just life with processed diets, knowledge and understanding has improved and we can now provide a more balanced diet through raw feeding. Modern raw feeders commonly use the 80:10:10 method. This means that the diet comprises of 80% muscle meat, 10% bone and 10% offal which works well for most dogs.
Raw feeding can be split into two categories; completes and DIY. Completes are the most convenient way to raw feed. Think of it like ready meals but for dogs! These are already balanced to the 80:10:10 ratios meaning that all that needs done is to weigh the correct amount of food out for each dog before feeding. Completes can be more expensive due to the convenience, although prices vary between brands and there are brands to fit most budgets! Completes can be ideal for beginners to raw feeding or people who want the benefits in a more convenient way. DIY feeding means making up the ratios yourself which can take a little longer to get your head round, although soon becomes second nature. Ensuring the right amount of bone is the most difficult part as a chicken wing has both meat and bone so it requires a little bit of maths! DIY is great for dogs who require slightly different ratios, feeding on a budget and for dogs with allergies where it’s important to know exactly what they are getting. It also provides whole bones which are great for healthy teeth and provides natural enrichment and stimulation for dogs
Calculating how much your dog needs to eat is really simple:
Weight gain= 3% of ideal body weight
Weight maintenance= 2.5% of ideal body weight
Weight loss= 2% of ideal body weight
These percentages are only guidelines, and you may need to change them to suit your dog. Very active dogs or dogs with naturally high metabolisms may need more, whilst some dogs are more prone to weight gain and may need their food reduced. It’s important to remember that a dog’s need can change through life or even between months. Dogs may need less food as they get older and less active and equally, they may not get as much exercise in winter months and need their food intake reduced to reflect that too. When rescuing a dog, you may find their requirements are much higher while they build muscle and put weight on, stress also adds to this in the first few months or even as long as 18 months or so until a dog settles and reaches their ideal weight and body condition.
Instead of relying on just weight, it’s useful to assess your dog’s body condition on a regular basis to ensure they are healthy. As a nation of dog lovers, we can often overfeed our dogs which is not healthy and can reduce life expectancy and increase health risks and it’s particularly easy to fall into this trap if you’ve been feeding a rescue dog who arrived underweight. The following diagram shows what body condition to aim for to make sure your dog has the best chance of a long and healthy life
DIY Feeding Example:
Dog weight= 20kg, daily food amount = 500g, 250g per meal
250g per meal = 200g meat, 25g bone, 25g offal
Chicken thigh approx. 150g, 15% bone so 22.5g bone, 127.5g meat
Meal contains 1 chicken thigh, extra 127.5g meat, 25g offal (5% of which should be liver)
There’s more information on DIY raw feeding here.
This is the easy part! 80% of your dog’s diet should include muscle meat. It is thought that the more proteins you can feed, the better for your dog to obtain all the vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. Whilst most people feed the usual proteins like chicken, beef, lamb and pork, there’s lots more on offer such as rabbit, duck & vension to name a few. This is also a great way to manage your dog’s weight, adjusting for more of less fatty proteins appropriately. Dogs with allergies can also be catered for here too since the diet can be more controlled and novel proteins can be used where needed. Some proteins can be rich and upset tummies so it’s worth making a mental note of which you are feeding in case of any reactions and balancing out with less rich proteins where possible to avoid any issues.
Bone is an important part of a raw diet. Complete food has 10% bone which works for most dogs but can be too much for some. A dog who is fed too much bone can become constipated or suffer from impacted bone in their intestines, causing a blockage. If your dog is struggling to toilet or their poo is white and powdery, this is an indication of too much bone. These ratios can be adjusted if DIY feeding or if feeding completes, by adding different boneless meat (mince or chunks) to reduce the overall % of bone (note: you may also need to adjust for offal content if diluting with boneless ingredients).
Feeding whole bones is really good for dental health and stimulation. Dogs should be supervised with any bones and should only be given non-weight baring bones. Any bones that are weight baring from an animal larger than a bird (such as leg bones) can be too hard and damage teeth. Whole bones will undoubtedly change the balance of your dog’s diet when it comes to the bone element and adjustments should be made to counteract this. Although a diet does not need to be 80:10:10 each day, it should balance on roughly a weekly basis. If DIY feeding, bones can be easily accounted for and sometimes it can be useful to feed a boneless meal after any large bones to balance the diet and ensure the bone content can easily pass. If feeding completes, you should not feed whole bones unless you are happy to dilute completes with boneless content or feed a boneless meal afterwards. Feeding completes on top of whole bones can be risky without making any of the necessary changes.
On a side note, dogs who are raw feed have a naturally lower stomach pH, making it more acidic and allowing them to break down bones more easily, ensuring they pass through better and causing less risks. Dogs who are not fed a raw diet should not be fed whole raw bones
Offal is another important part of a raw diet and should account for 10%. Dogs are often driven by texture and some dogs may be put off by the texture of offal. It’s worth playing around with this to see if your dog prefers it in a different form. If you try raw feeding but your dog isn’t keen, it can often be the offal putting them off. Chucks, mince or even flash fried in a frying pan can all help in this department although most dogs will hoover up any raw food with no complaints! Offal intake should include 5% liver.
Added extras such as eggs and fish provide stacks of nutrients as well as some extra texture. There’s some debate in the raw feeding world as to whether it’s necessary to feed veg or not but it’s certainly not harmful if your dog enjoys it and it can be a good way of filling them up while they’re on a diet too. Probiotics such as kefir can also be added, as well as bone broth, beneficial herbs etc if owners really want to tailor their dog’s diet to see them thrive as much as possible. Some of these can also be frozen and added to meals later which is both convenient and refreshing in summer months!
Although there’s a lot of scaremongering when it comes to safety with raw feeding, care should absolutely be taken. Simple hygiene should be followed just like preparing meat for humans and it is worth thinking of the logistics of this if you have young children in the house although many people find it easily managed with a family too.
Vets are often not fans of raw food, especially since they see all the times it goes wrong! It’s important to understand what you’re doing if you decide to raw feed so you don’t end up with a dog with impacted bone in their intestine needing an operation or a dog with a cracked tooth from gnawing on a weight baring bone. While a lot of the evidence for raw feeding is anecdotal, there are also vets that advocate or support raw feeding and understand that there isn’t the money behind it like the commercial kibble brands have to produce clinical evidence and literature.
There are many raw feeding brands with more popping up all the time! There’s a brand to suit most budgets and if feeding a DIY diet, lots can be picked up at supermarkets too and even in the reduced section!
It is worth looking into the ethics of brands if this is something that’s important to you, as well as the quality of ingredients. Like with most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to the quality and ethics of meat, there are also brands that are more commercial and overpriced compared to others so although the packaging might look attractive, quality doesn’t always reflect the price.
Here are just some of the brands to consider, mostly tried and tested by the SeBPRA team, but this is a far from exhaustive list
People transition their dogs onto raw diets in various different ways and there is no right or wrong way to do it, although there are definitely more careful ways to do it. BARF UK have a comprehensive guide to transitioning here which aims at introducing raw in a very careful and deliberate way to avoid any issues. Many people find that this transition guide is not needed and a straight swap to completes or DIY is successful, however it’s advisable to start with simple, bland proteins such as chicken or turkey (adjusting for any known allergies) and feeding boneless meals before introducing any bones, particularly whole bones. Whichever way you introduce raw, a straight swap should be done without mixing diets first (i.e mixing existing diet with increasing amount of raw until each meal is solely raw).
Feeding alongside Kibble
Feeding raw and kibble alongside each other can be a controversial subject, with some people believing they should not be fed side by side due to different digestion rates of food. However, there’s not much evidence surrounding the area and many people do feed kibble in some way whilst raw feeding. In general, it’s accepted that raw food and kibble should not be fed in the same meal but using kibble for enrichment activities is acceptable and won’t cause any ill effects. Of course, feeding larger amount of kibble will take away from the assumed benefits of raw and will also affect the pH levels in the stomach which can impact how effectively the dog is able to digest raw and kill off any germs, making raw feeding alongside kibble riskier than fully embracing raw feeding.
If raw feeding isn’t suitable for you or your dog, the great news is that there’s lots of high quality commercial foods available now too, including dried versions of raw that have the benefits of raw with the convenience of a kibble. You can compare commercial brands via this website which can be really helpful when selecting a diet and will often help battle the minefield of picking a brand!
Some SeBPRA recommended good quality alternatives are listed below:
- Butternut Box
Dogs with health issues
Another great thing about raw feeding is that the diet can be tailored to individual dogs. Many people choose to raw feed if their dog has any health issues so they can cater to their needs. This does require some extra research but can really help manage any conditions such as Leish on a low purine diet or changing diet to help arthritic joints. Dogs with allergies are also able to thrive on raw when processed diets that suit them can be difficult to find and it’s worth noting that allergies can differ when proteins are in their raw format too.