It’s one of the most common questions we get in The Raw Feeding Community’s Facebook group. And it’s understandable: after all, chicken is easily accessible and the cheapest kind of meat available to most people. Wouldn’t it be so much easier and more affordable if you could just feed chicken and not worry about anything else?
Unfortunately, an all chicken diet is not balanced. And an unbalanced diet could cause severe nutritional deficiencies and health concerns.
Yes, even if you followed the “80/10/10” rule, feeding the right amounts of muscle meat, bone, and organ, a chicken-only diet will be far from adequate for your dog.
But what is chicken lacking that other things like beef, lamb, or fish make up for? What exactly would a chicken-only diet be deficient in if fed exclusively long term to your dog? I did a nutritional analysis of a diet consisting of 80% chicken muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% chicken liver, and discovered that this diet would be problematic in the following areas:
Improper omega fatty acid ratio
Essential fatty acids are not manufactured in the body, so they must be obtained in the diet. Chicken is very high in linoleic acid, which is an essential omega 6 fatty acid, and very low in alpha-linoleic acid, an essential omega 3 fatty acid. Generally, the recommended ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 for a dog is 5:1 [source], but some studies have found benefits to a ratio closer to 2.5:1 [source].
Chicken’s ratio is around 20:1 or higher!
Excessive omega 6 fatty acids are associated with inflammation, and without the proper amount of omega 3 fatty acids (which have been shown to reduce inflammation) to balance them out, your dog may suffer an increased risk of heart disease, arthritis, or even cancer.
Even the addition of fish or an omega-3 fish oil supplement would not be enough in a chicken-only diet, because the amount of fish oil that the dog would have to consume to balance out this ratio would be extremely high – and of course, too much fish oil would also come with its fair share of adverse effects, such as interfering with platelets which causes clotting issues, or depleting the body’s source of vitamin E which causes muscle weakness and paralysis.
Vitamin D deficiency
Unlike humans, dogs cannot get adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sun, and must consume most of it in their diet. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating the amount of calcium in the blood, protects against muscle weakness, and promotes a healthy heart. Vitamin D deficiency may be related to congestive heart failure [source].
Raw fed dogs get a lot of their vitamin D from liver, but chicken liver doesn’t provide as much as the amount found in other sources of liver such as beef or lamb, so an all chicken diet still falls short.
Eggs are a good source of vitamin D too, but you would have to feed multiple eggs a day to make up for the amount of vitamin D that chicken lacks. Feeding too many eggs could result in diarrhea, high cholesterol, and biotin deficiency. In my analysis, I found that I would have to feed my Doberman 5 large eggs a day in order to have enough vitamin D in a chicken-only diet!
Vitamin E deficiency
Although not as severely deficient as some other vitamins and minerals, an all-chicken diet still falls short of vitamin E as well. Since vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells against oxidative stress, a deficiency could lead to a decrease in immune and cardiovascular health, neurological function, fertility, and muscle strength.
Chicken fat is a source of vitamin E, but obviously feeding too much fat would result in a number of issues. Based on my analysis, a chicken-only diet did not meet the minimum requirement for vitamin E unless I added so much chicken fat that it resulted in a 40% fat content in the diet! Needless to say, that would do far more harm than good.
Vitamin B deficiency
While many of the B vitamins were a little low, technically all but one met minimum requirements in my analysis: B1. (Vitamin B2 was close behind, just barely making the cut.) Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is typically supplied by red meat like beef or pork in a raw diet, but a chicken-only diet is deficient.
A thiamine deficiency is particularly frightening due to how quickly it can become fatal before anyone even realizes the dog has a nutritional deficiency. Symptoms are vague – such as poor appetite and vomiting – so diagnosing it is not straightforward. This means that most cases of thiamine deficiency aren’t diagnosed until the condition is quite advanced… and by this stage, a dog can die within a few days if the deficiency is not corrected immediately [source].
Copper is necessary for many functions in the body, including the formation of connective tissues, iron absorption, and red blood cell development. A copper deficiency typically results in anemia or abnormal bone development.
Beef liver is a good source of copper, but chicken liver falls short of the amounts of copper in beef. Kidneys are also a good source of copper, but the size of a chicken kidney is not nearly enough to provide a significant source of kidney; it may or may not even be included if you purchase a whole chicken, and they are not sold separately in stores (which is why the only chicken organ used in this analysis was liver).
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in a vast array of metabolic processes in the body. It is important in the function of the immune and endocrine systems, brain function, eyesight, skeletal development, and even DNA replication [source]. It is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body.
Zinc deficiency is most commonly associated with symptoms such as hair loss, dry or brittle nails, and thickened, crusty paw pads. Reproductive health is also seriously affected by zinc deficiency.
Although chicken does contain a decent amount of zinc, it still falls short of the minimum requirement for dogs. More is found in beef, turkey, lamb, or shellfish.
Manganese is a micromineral that is essential for reproduction as well as for the proper utilization of some vitamins and minerals by the body. Although very rare, the symptoms of manganese deficiency include poor growth, reproductive failure, and skeletal abnormalities.
Liver and eggs also contain manganese in small amounts. However, the most effective source of manganese in raw diets are in supplemental ingredients such as alfalfa powder.
Iodine is a trace mineral that supports your dog’s metabolism and helps with the production of thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine in the diet, your dog could be at risk of developing hypothyroidism (especially if their breed is predisposed). Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, lethargy, and hair loss.
In a balanced raw diet, iodine is typically sourced from fish, but supplemental sources including sea vegetation (such as kelp powder or seaweed meal) or sea salt are also effective sources of iodine.
Just feeding the correct percentages of meat, bone, and organ is not enough! This is why RFC stresses the importance of a variety of protein sources – a minimum of 3, but preferably more. Red meat, fish (or fish oil), and at least one other secreting organ (such as kidney or spleen) are important to provide a balanced “prey model” raw diet. Chicken alone is not adequate.
If for whatever reason you cannot feed enough variety, it is still possible to feed a raw diet, but you may need to put in a little more research and/or work with a knowledgeable canine nutritionist that will be able to tell you exactly which supplements and additives you will need to include in order to make sure the diet is balanced.
Don’t just assume the diet you’re feeding is fine because of anecdotal advice you read on the internet. In many cases, dogs don’t show symptoms of nutrient deficiencies until years of eating an unbalanced diet – and by the time an owner notices something is wrong, that deficiency could have already caused some serious damage to their dog’s health.
Nutritional deficiencies and the health problems they cause are not worth the risk! We feed a raw diet because we want to provide the healthiest diet possible for our dogs. But if you’re feeding an unbalanced diet, you’re doing more harm than good.
* For this analysis, I used AAFCO’s minimum nutrient requirements for dogs [source] and the USDA nutrient database [source]. Since the USDA database does not include bone content, I found that information elsewhere, in a study that determined the vitamin and mineral content of bones [source].
Many owners that have switched their pets to a raw diet have noticed the massive improvements that raw has made in their pet’s health. From their healthy skin and shiny coat, their dental health, and even improved allergies or yeast infection issues, you would think that veterinarians would be just as excited about this great diet. Yet, when many of these pet owners tell their vet about switching to a raw diet, they aren’t always met with support.
So why aren’t vets recommending raw diets more often, if raw has helped improve the health of so many pets?
Lack of studies
The unfortunate fact of the matter is, there is a lack of peer-reviewed studies to actually prove that raw is safe and effective. Anecdotal evidence may be everywhere, but that just isn’t enough for many in the veterinary community. As raw diets gain popularity, there will surely be more studies done, and many are in the works. But in the meantime, most vets don’t feel like they can absolutely guarantee to their clients that raw diets are safe and effective. They want to be able to back up their recommendations with peer-reviewed clinical studies.
Unbalanced homemade diets
When some vets hear you say, “I just switched my dog to a raw diet,” their mind might jump to the last patient they saw whose owner switched to a raw diet… the patient who came in lethargic and half-dead, with serious nutritional deficiencies. Unfortunately, vets see more raw diets done WRONG than they see raw diets done RIGHT. Sometimes they just need to be reassured that you have done your research on how to prepare a balanced diet, and that you aren’t just feeding chicken wings and ground beef every day.
Your vet isn’t just assuming you aren’t competent enough to prepare a homemade diet. Studies such as this one have been done showing that not all owners are capable of following strict nutritional directions for an extended period of time, and this can cause health issues in the long run if the owner starts cutting corners that cause the diet to become unbalanced.
Cracked teeth, blockages, or choking from raw meaty bones
Raw meaty bones or “RMBs” can be safe to feed your dog (or cat, or ferret). But you still need to make sure you’re feeding the right kind of bones, and in the right amounts – or they can cause serious problems.
Weight-bearing bones, like beef femurs, are more dense than a dog’s teeth, and can cause serious fractures that may require extensive dental procedures to fix and prevent infection.
If your dog tries to gulp a bone too fast and swallow it whole, he might choke on it. To prevent this, you need to remember a common saying in the Raw Feeding Community: “know thy dog.” If you know your dog tries to eat fast, it might not be safe to give him whole raw meaty bones, or you might need to take precautions such as feeding RMBs that are bigger than your dog’s head or feeding the food partially or completely frozen, so that he is unable to swallow it whole.
A member of The Raw Feeding Community posted about a terrifying experience in 2015 when their dog choked on a pork neck bone, proving that accidents like this can happen even with seasoned raw feeders and experienced raw fed dogs.
He stopped breathing, tongue lolled out, eyes rolled back, frothing, went stiff, peed and pooped. He eats in the crate so we had to open the door, drag 80 limp pounds out, do the Heimlich maneuver which partially dislodged it, and then yank 2 fist-sized pieces of pork ribs out of his throat. The one that got stuck had a bone in a V shape, it must have lodged just right.
Watching your pet closely while they are consuming bones, regardless of if they are a “gulper” or not, is extremely important. Always supervise meals so that you can prevent freak accidents from occurring, and refrain from feeding bones that you feel like might not be a good fit for your pet (too small, too big, too easily swallowed, etc).
Blockages can also occur if pets gulp pieces of bone that are too large to digest, or if they eat too many bones to digest all at once. It is very important to do your research and know how much bone you need to be feeding your particular dog based on age and size.
Salmonella and e. coli risk Studies have shown that dogs that eat raw diets may shed more salmonella in their stool than kibble fed dogs. Furthermore, many of the studies also show that dogs that eat treats such as dehydrated pig ears also may shed an increased amount of salmonella in their feces, which means that this isn’t just limited to raw diets. However, this shouldn’t be a major concern unless you are properly cleaning up after your dog and using proper food handling techniques.
Do not allow your dog to eat raw meat on carpet; instead, make sure you provide them with an easy to clean area for them to eat their meals, such as a crate, a tiled floor, or outside. After your dog eats, you should clean the surface that your dog ate off of, or hose down the area if it is outside.
Take extra precaution to keep your environment clean if you have children, immunocompromised persons, or elderly persons living in your household and/or visiting your household frequently.
Your vet may avoid recommending raw due to potential liability. If they recommended for you to feed your dog a raw diet and something went wrong – such as anything listed above – they fear they may be held liable for that. Unfortunately, even if they believe raw is a safe and effective diet, vets don’t always feel comfortable recommending it to every client.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Don’t give up hope if your vet isn’t thrilled about raw feeding. Sometimes your vet just needs to be reassured that you have done your research and you are providing a safe and balanced diet. When talking to your vet about raw, let them voice their concerns and avoid getting defensive or hostile if they say something that you deem offensive. Try to understand where they are coming from. Develop a relationship with your vet and stay on top of your dog’s preventative care such as annual bloodwork, and you will prove to your vet that you care about your dog’s wellbeing and strive to do what is best for him. If you feel your vet is treating you unfairly, find a different one that better suits you and your dog’s needs.
However, most of these studies have been in vitro tests, rather than clinical studies, which do not prove a clinical benefit for patients. As for clinical research, not much has been done yet, however the in vitro research absolutely can suggest a number of potential medical uses for turmeric.
But these studies have been conducted mostly on humans, and if there is a lack of research in humans, there is even more of a lack of research when it comes to the benefits it may offer dogs. This study, the only clinical study involving dogs rather than humans, compared turmeric to a placebo in dogs with arthritis and concluded that “there was no statistically significant difference” between the placebo group and the group that was given the turmeric compound, though there was a small difference according to the subjective assessment of investigators.
Turmeric seems to have few side effects, but they are definitely worth mentioning.
Possible increase in the risk for some kinds of bladder and kidney stones
Taking turmeric supplements while pregnant might promote a menstrual period or stimulate the uterus, putting the pregnancy at risk of a miscarriage.
Turmeric is a blood thinner, so using it alongside other herbs or medications that also thin the blood (such as ginger or garlic) may become problematic for some dogs and increase the risk of bleeding.
Animals may develop a “cat pee”-like smell while being supplemented with turmeric.
These risks are small, however, according to the studies that have been done thus far in humans that suggest curcumin has quite a large safety threshold.
Curcumin has low bioavailability, so it is typically recommended to be enhanced with other agents such as black pepper extract in order to increase absorption and maximize benefits. Turmeric paste, or “golden paste”, is recommended by many for dogs and humans, rather than just turmeric powder, to increase bioavailability. Turmeric pastes typically contain turmeric powder, olive or coconut oil, and black pepper.
Speaking of bioavailability, considering that dogs are carnivores, it seems that turmeric paste wouldn’t be the most “species appropriate” supplement, and the conclusion could be drawn that if it isn’t very bioavailable for humans, it would be much less so for dogs.
In conclusion, there is not very much evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition, especially in dogs, simply because so few clinical trials have been conducted. But that doesn’t mean you should completely write it off. The results of the tests and studies that have been conducted so far imply that there are only a few potential risks or side effects, and there is sufficient research to imply that there may be clinical benefits. And when you consider the overwhelming number of positive reviews online from dog owners that have given turmeric a try, even if most of them might just be experiencing a placebo effect, the concept that turmeric could have therapeutic value is very plausible. If you are interested in adding turmeric to your dog’s diet, we recommend discussing this option with your vet.
As raw feeders, we’ve all heard the ominous warning to “never mix kibble and raw because kibble digests slower than raw.” Where did this sage piece of advice originate, and is there any truth to it? Why are dogs so commonly advised to suffer through a “detox phase” consisting of raging diarrhea and vomiting, if they could be slowly transitioned from kibble to raw in the same manner that is recommended to switch between kibble varieties? The Raw Feeding Community decided to put this myth to the test, and the results of our “experiment” may surprise you…
The Usual Advice Scanning the top holistic and raw feeding groups and forums, one will find the same advice and explanation listed time and time again. A search of “switching from kibble to raw” on the Dogs Naturally website brings up the follow information:
“I recommend you feed dry or canned food separately from dehydrated or raw meals because they digest at different rates.” (1)
The first time I came across this tip, I remember thinking to myself, “Why does this matter?”, so I read on. This statement is usually followed up with an explanation along the lines of, “raw food digests faster than kibble and mixing them together will cause raw food to sit in the stomach too long. This makes the body more likely to contract bacteria from the raw food.”
Does raw really digest faster than kibble? We posted a thread asking the members of The Raw Feeding Community how long it takes kibble to digest, and received some interesting, although extremely inconsistent, answers. Some claimed kibble took as little as 2 to 3 hours to digest, yet there were a surprising amount of answers that claimed kibble took as much as 16 to 18 hours!
However, even if the digestion rates of kibble and raw differ, this explanation still doesn’t make much sense from a scientific standpoint. That just isn’t how the digestive system works; especially the short, acidic digestive system of a carnivore. And isn’t part of the argument for raw feeding that our carnivore’s bodies are designed to handle the large amounts of bacteria associated with consuming raw animal products? What about raw food would make it more likely to digest faster than kibble? Why would gastrointestinal transit time affect bacterial susceptibility? We know that candy goes through the body faster than a strawberry; aren’t manufactured products supposed to digest more quickly than their raw, uncooked counterparts?
Many people have successfully fed raw and kibble together for years without issue. In fact, feeding raw and kibble together is very common for sled dog teams (here is a cool video of what an Iditarod sled team is fed during the race). It seems to be only relatively recent advise to avoid this kind of feeding. Why should owners be advised to avoid mixing the two? Wouldn’t some raw be better than no raw at all? The Raw Feeding Community decided to find out where this advice could’ve possibly originated from, and if there were any amount of truth to it.
Our Test Dog For our experiment, we used a 16 month old, intact male, raw fed borzoi who was weaned to partial raw and has been kept on a raw diet throughout his life (prey model raw with occasional supplements). A barium series was performed on December 18, 2014 feeding a kibble meal, and on December 27, 2014 feeding a raw meal. Barium is a radiopaque liquid which can be mixed with food and used to enhance visibility of the gastrointestinal tract on X-ray.
The Kibble Used For the kibble study, 2 cups of Science Diet Large Breed Adult kibble was mixed with ½ cup of Science Diet I/D canned and 20mls of barium liquid. Approximately 1 ½ cups of kibble and ½ can of food were consumed over a span of 5 minutes. Thirty minutes later, cranial (top half of the GI tract) and caudal (bottom half of the GI tract) abdominal and lateral (laying on the side) abdominal radiographs were performed. Radiographs were repeated at 1hr, 2hrs, 3hrs, and 4hrs until the stomach was empty (2).
The Raw Used For the raw meal, 1 cup of bison and green tripe grind (3), 1 cup of chicken gizzards, and 1 chicken drumstick mixed with 20mls of liquid barium were offered over 5 minutes. Approximately ½ of the meal was consumed (including only ½ of the drumstick.) Thirty minutes post-feeding, cranial and caudal abdominal and lateral abdominal radiographs were performed. Radiographs were repeated at 1hr, 2hrs, 3hrs, 4hrs, and 5hrs until the stomach was empty.
Results Going into this case study, I expected raw to digest more quickly than kibble, simply because I expected there to be some shred of truth to all of the information provided by knowledgeable raw feeders. I personally hypothesized that there would not be a significant (greater than 3 hour) difference between the time it took the food to move from the stomach into the large intestines.
Digestive Anatomy and Physiology Review Before going into detailed results, it helps to have a basic orientation of what you are looking at and what exactly is happening as food moves through the body. Below are cranial and caudal lateral abdominal x-rays with the major body parts labeled.
Carnivores have the shortest gastrointestinal tracts of any mammal. Food breakdown in all mammalian species begins in the mouth where salivary enzymes are released and mechanical digestion is initiated by the tearing and grinding of food. With carnivores, the majority of food breakdown is accomplished by the stomach and intestines as opposed to omnivores and herbivores who rely on more “intense” mastication to “break down” their food. Food travels from the mouth, into the esophagus, and reaches the stomach in a matter of seconds.
Once in the stomach, the real work begins. Chemical digestion of proteins is initiated by enzymes like hydrochloric acid, pepsin, and lipase and food is liquidized. Hydrochloric acid is the enzyme responsible for denaturing proteins, eliminating bacteria, and converting other enzymes. Pepsin is solely responsible for protein digestion and lipase, which is only found in the stomach of carnivores, begins digesting fats (carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth with the addition of the enzyme amylase) (4).
After being turned into liquid, food begins to leave the stomach via a sphincter in a region called the pylorus. The first segment of the small intestines, the duodenum, contains the openings of the pancreatic duct and the common bile duct (gallbladder). Bile and pancreatic enzymes are critical for the absorption of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The duodenum is the shortest segment of the intestines, but due to the addition of these critical enzymes, it is where the majority of chemical digestion takes place.
The next segment of the small intestines, the jejunum, is also the longest, and is where the majority of nutrient absorption and continued chemical digestion takes place. The surface of the jejunum is covered in small, finger-like projections called villi, which serve to increase the surface area for food absorption (5). The final section of the small intestines, the ileum, serves as a final place for digestion – in herbivores, the ileum contains a high-functioning cecum and plays a much more critical role.
Finally, food moves into the large intestines (colon). In carnivores, this is where water is absorbed, bacterial fermentation takes place, and feces are formed. Now that we have visually seen the anatomy and followed food on its path through the gastrointestinal system, we will move on to the actual results of our “experiment.”
Thirty Minutes Post Feeding
After 30 minutes, we see both stomachs moderately distended with food and barium. With the kibble meal, the food and barium has settled into the pylorus (bottom of the stomach) and is moving into the small intestines. There is negligible amounts of barium moving into the small intestines with the raw meal because there is likely a large portion of meat preventing the barium from filling the entire stomach and moving out.
One Hour Post Feeding
One hour post feeding, when can see the diameter of the stomach starting to decrease and the small intestines are filling with barium. Movement from the stomach into the small intestines is much more dramatic with the kibble meal than the raw. In both cases, we can begin to see feces (not highlighted with barium) being formed in the large intestines – remains from his previous meal.
Two Hours Post Feeding
At 2 hours post feeding, the difference in the rate at which food has left the stomach and entered the small intestines (jejunum) between the kibble and raw fed meals is undeniable. The kibble meal is moving into the intestines faster than the raw meal. Formed feces in the colon are becoming more obvious.
Three Hours Post Feeding
Three hours post feeding our kibble meal has mostly left the stomach, filled the small intestines, and is moving into the large intestines. It is safe to say that kibble has completely left the stomach by 3 hours – a far cry from what is usually claimed. Movement with the raw meal is definitely slower, but we can see decreased opacity in the stomach and definite movement of feces through the colon. Unfortunately, the caudal kibble radiograph was somehow lost so it is not available for comparison.
Four Hours Post Feeding
At four hours post feeding, you begin to notice a drastic difference in the amount of ingesta left in the kibble verses raw photos. Although the same amount “went in” with both meals, there is significant less food in the intestines with the raw meal. I’ll talk about why that difference is important in the discussion.
Five Hours Post Feeding
For the raw meal, I had time to take a final radiograph 5 ½ hours post feeding. The stomach, surprisingly, still had the bone fragment floating around, but the majority of ingesta was in the colon, as expected.
Discussion In conclusion, the raw meal appears to have digested slightly slower than the kibble diet. When you really think about it, it makes total sense – and it is great news for our dogs, and for us raw feeders! Here is why:
The first reason is obvious – this means that little credence can be given to the claim that mixing raw and kibble is harmful to your pet because raw sits in the stomach longer. Rarely, a dog does not tolerate a mixed kibble and raw meal, but it has nothing to do with digestion rates. Any kind of sudden diet change typically results in digestive upset; it is not exclusive to feeding raw and kibble together.
Also worth mentioning is the bone fragment that stayed behind more than 5 hours after feeding, implying that whole bone takes much longer still to digest. This implies that raw meaty bones will take even longer to digest than the ground raw with bone that was used in this experiment. This makes sense, as a whole bone will obviously take more time to break down than ground bone, which was already broken down before the dog ate it. The ground raw that this dog ate also only contained 10% bone, while the chicken drumstick would have a much higher bone content.
By mixing raw and kibble during the transition period, your dog is less likely to experience the diarrhea and vomiting associated with “detox.” It is commonly recommended to slowly transition (over a period of 10-14 days) between kibble brands. I personally recommend doing the same with raw to avoid causing diarrhea. What many call “detox” is a normal reaction to a sudden change in diet (dietary intolerance). The pH and flora of the stomach change when a dog is fed a raw diet, so slowly transitioning gives the body time to adjust. The way I recommend transitioning is to slowly start with small pieces of raw (chicken is often best) while decreasing the amount of kibble over a period of two weeks. After your pet is fully transitioned onto raw, you may then begin adding more components (organs and other proteins) to the diet. You can see our beginner files on The Raw Feeding Community facebook group for more information.
If food remains in the intestines longer, more water is absorbed, thus leading to the beloved small raw feces. The reason for big voluminous kibble feces is because there is so much left undigested and unused.
Most importantly, remaining in the GI tract for longer periods of time means that the body is able to absorb and utilize more nutrients from the food. Why do raw fed dogs often have shinier coats, less skin issues, and seem to experience a decreased incidence of disease? Because their bodies are better able to utilize the good stuff in raw! Not only do they get the benefit of taking up the maximum amount of nutrients, studies have shown that eating whole foods burn more calories which in turn leads to a fitter animal (6).
Although one animal is by no means enough to declare conclusively that raw digests slower than kibble in every instance, the results strongly suggest that the broad blanket statement that “raw digests faster than kibble” is false. And even if one does digest quicker than the other, it would still have no effect on whether or not they would be safe to feed together.
By conducting this experiment and publishing these results, all we mean to do is encourage people to question everything they are told online, and look for proof rather than anecdotal evidence. There is an unfortunate lack of peer reviewed studies when it comes to raw diets. A lot of what is claimed online tends to be simply hear-say or anecdotal evidence. As raw feeders, we should strive to always continue learning more about what we are feeding our pets, even if what we are learning happens to go against the grain of what most raw feeding Facebook groups preach.
So you want to feed a homemade raw diet to your dog, cat, or ferret, but you don’t know where to begin. You’ve probably realized by now that there are many ways to feed raw. It all comes down to determining your pet’s individual needs, as well as your own. Figuring all of this out may include some trial and error, which does require some time and patience while you learn and adapt to this new adventure of feeding a homemade raw diet.
How do I start?
This is typically the first question everyone asks. You will have to consider what all goes into a raw diet first, and decide if you are ready to make the switch yet.
First, I would recommend looking into what resources you have available in your area. Find raw feeding co-ops, butchers, ethnic markets, meat processors, local farms, or even restaurant supply stores that may have good prices and/or “odd” products, like hearts and livers. Homemade raw is typically only affordable if you look for the best prices.
Usually, the best prices are found by buying in bulk. In order to buy in bulk, you will probably need to invest in an extra freezer. Chest freezers seem to be the most cost effective, while upright freezers allow you to be more organized. You will also need containers to store meat in, such as plastic bags or Tupperware. (Reditainers can be found on Amazon and tend to get good reviews from raw feeders.) Another thing to consider is whether or not you have enough fridge space to put meat that you are thawing or storing until the next meal. Of course, the amount of freezer/fridge space you will need depends on how much you will be feeding per day, and that will depend on how many animals you are feeding and how big they are.
You will also need a basic kitchen scale in order to make sure you are feeding the correct amounts of everything by weighing the meat. You will learn to appreciate a good set of knives when breaking down things like whole chickens, you will most likely need a cutting board, and as an extra precaution, you might even consider getting gloves due to frequent handling of raw meat.
Although not at all required, many raw feeders eventually invest in equipment such as a dehydrator to make treats, or even a high quality meat grinder, especially for dogs that may not be able to handle whole raw meaty bones, or to make sure a finicky cat, that may try to pick around things they don’t want to eat, has a balanced diet. (Most grinders cannot handle bone, so make sure you do your research before buying and expect to spend some money in the beginning!)
How much should my dog/cat eat?
The general guideline is to feed 2 to 3% of your pet’s ideal adult body weight. That means if your pet is overweight, you should calculate the food based on their ideal weight, rather than current weight. Same goes for growing puppies or kittens; they should be fed based on their adult weight, split into 3 to 4 meals throughout the day. Remember that every animal is different, and some will need more or less than others depending on things such as energy level, amount of exercise, metabolism, and even genetics or breed.
How do I know the diet is balanced?
I cannot stress this enough: just feeding raw meat does not mean you are feeding a correct or balanced raw diet. A raw diet requires as much variety as possible (i.e. you can’t feed just chicken), with a minimum of 3 different protein sources, and the correct percentages of meat, bone, and organ. An unbalanced diet can be extremely detrimental, and even fatal, in the long run.
To make sure you are feeding a balanced diet, you should follow the 80-10-5-5 guideline. This is:
80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ.
These percentages are based off of the “prey model” raw diet. However, just feeding these percentages alone doesn’t automatically mean the diet is balanced. A variety of different protein sources is extremely important in order to provide adequate nutrients. If you cannot provide enough variety, ideally 4 or more on a regular basis, you may need to consider including supplements, which will be covered later in this article. Omega-3s should be supplemented in almost every raw diet, due to the lack of adequate omega-3s and higher amounts of omega-6s in conventionally farmed meat [source]. Wild Alaskan salmon oil is the best choice to supplement these omega-3s back into your pet’s raw diet.
Click here for a calculator that will help you determine how much muscle meat, bone, and organ to feed based on your pet’s ideal adult weight. Keep in mind that this calculator includes all organs in 10%, rather than 5% liver and 5% other organs, so you will have to determine those more specific amounts yourself.
What is fed as an organ?
Transitioning to raw
When you’re ready to switch, you’ll need to look into some digestive enzymes to help your dog (or cat) with the transition. You can find human-grade digestive enzymes at most health food stores or on Amazon. There are also many different kinds of digestive enzymes made specifically for dogs, such as All Zyme or Sunday Sundae. Things like kefir, raw goat’s milk, or (to a lesser degree) greek yogurt, can also provide some probiotics.
You will also need to start the switch with something bland – usually chicken, but turkey can be substituted. These proteins are recommended before red meat because they are bland and easy to digest in comparison to rich red meat, therefore less likely to cause diarrhea and digestive upset during the switch. All meat being fed should contain under 100mg sodium per serving, and it should not be enhanced, seasoned, smoked, or cooked in any way. Higher bone content is recommended during the first meal, or even first couple meals, because higher bone content creates firmer stool. Chicken leg quarters are typically recommended for larger dogs, while wings or necks would be better suited for smaller dogs. Larger dogs have a greater chance of trying to gulp smaller things like wings or necks, which can be a choking hazard.
Go at your pet’s own pace. Every animal is different, and some may take longer to adjust than others. Do not offer too much variety at once. Once your pet’s poops look normal, he or she may be ready to be weaned off of the higher bone content, and introduced to the next protein (preferably red meat), and eventually, be introduced to organs. For some animals, it takes weeks to get them introduced to enough variety to be a balanced diet (and in the meantime, supplementing the diet with a multivitamin may be helpful, since you do not want to feed an unbalanced diet for too long). On the other hand, some will be able to handle new things easily, which will make their transition time much quicker. Remember, you are striving to eventually provide 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other organs.
Although it is typically recommended to switch to a raw diet “cold turkey” (kibble one day, raw the next), and that seems to work for most animals, you do not have to completely rule out transitioning slowly by introducing raw meat in small amounts and gradually increasing the raw until they are completely weaned off of their previous diet. If your dog/cat/ferret has a sensitive stomach, or if your cat/ferret is picky at first, a slower transition is absolutely an option available to you. (Please note, cats and ferrets should not be “starved out” in order to get them to eat something they refuse; this can cause serious health problems. Here is a more in depth explanation on ways to get cats to switch.) Again – every animal is different, and you will have to figure out what method will work for you and your pet.
Balance over time
You may see this phrase a lot while reading about raw. All this means is that every meal does not have to be balanced – instead, you can balance the diet to the correct percentages over a week or so. You may not be feeding bone or organ every day. Of course, if you want to include the exact amount of meat, bone, and organ in each meal, that is perfectly fine as well.
“Know thy dog” (or cat)
This is another phrase that is commonly found in the world of raw feeding. “Know thy dog/cat” applies to situations where not every pet is the same. Every animal is an individual, and one may have different requirements than the next. Pay close attention to your pet’s poop, and take note if it is too loose or if your pet seems constipated. Keep in mind, though, that raw fed animal poop can be quite different than kibble fed. It will be significantly smaller, and your pet will probably poop less often. Their poop might turn white white and crumble away if it is left in the yard for a couple of hours. However, the poop should not come out white, but rather turn white over time. If it comes out white, that is typically an indication of too much bone content.
What exactly is a raw meaty bone?
When you think “bone”, you might automatically think about those smoked beef femurs and marrow bones that you can buy at pet supply stores. When it comes to a raw diet, those are not the kind of bones that should be included. In fact, those bones have the potential to crack teeth, which may lead to infection and expensive vet bills.
A “raw meaty bone”, or RMB, is actually just a raw bone with meat on it. Examples include chicken leg quarters, necks, wings, backs, etc. Feeding bones that are less dense than your pet’s teeth will prevent cracked teeth. Raw bones also do not splinter like cooked or smoked bones do.
Raw meaty bones provide the bone content in a raw diet. Bone content provides most of the calcium, therefore, bones are not an optional part of the diet. They also provide benefits such as improved dental health and mental stimulation during meal time. However, if for any reason you are unable to feed raw meaty bones, you can feed ground meat that contains bone (which you can find at most raw feeding co-ops or grind yourself), or you will need to supplement the diet. According to Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olson, your dog requires 900 milligrams of calcium per 1 pound of meat.
What are some example first meals?
Bone-in chicken is most commonly recommended, due to being bland and easy to digest. Bone content is important during the first couple days because it helps prevent loose stool.
For a medium to large dog, chicken leg quarters are typically a good starting point. For smaller dogs, cats, or ferrets, things like chicken necks or wings might be easier for them to handle. Chicken backs are another option that can be found cheap, but keep in mind that they are very high in bone content, so you will want to introduce some boneless muscle meat as well, in order to prevent constipation.
Digestive enzymes will help your pet during the transition period as well. Canned pumpkin can also be used to help prevent diarrhea or constipation. Slippery elm bark powder is another option. Probiotics can be added, in supplement form or by using things such as kefir, raw goat’s milk, or greek yogurt.
You will have to weigh the food with a kitchen scale in order to feed the correct amount based on your pet’s ideal adult weight.
If your pet is allergic to chicken, turkey is another good option. Turkey necks or wings are some bone-in options.
An example first meal for an 80 pound dog could be: ~2 pounds chicken leg quarters, digestive enzyme, canned pumpkin
An example first meal for a 20 pound dog could be: 1 chicken wing + chicken breast totaling around .5 pounds, digestive enzymes, kefir
An example first meal for a cat or ferret could be: chicken necks + chicken hearts (total amount depending on pet’s ideal weight)
I’m worried about my dog choking on bones.
Some dogs that are fast eaters tend to try to gulp their food, which can be a potential choking hazard. If you have a fast eater or you are worried about your dog gulping pieces that are too big, feeding frozen pieces that are bigger than your dog’s head may help your dog chew more carefully. Feeding ground meat might also be a better idea for serious gulpers.
If your dog swallows a bone that you are worried was too big, do not induce vomiting! Bones can damage the stomach and throat on the way back up. Just let your dog’s digestive system handle it, and watch closely for bowel movements. If your dog doesn’t poop, you should consider a vet visit in order to make sure he is not obstructed.
Do I need to add a multi-vitamin supplement?
Supplementing a raw diet is a common topic in the world of raw feeding, and not everyone agrees on whether or not it is necessary.
The Raw Feeding Community strives to be welcoming to all raw feeders, including those that choose to add supplements.
Supplementing a raw diet can be beneficial when done correctly and in moderation. It is an unfortunate fact that raw diets are lacking in scientific research. There is little proof that just a prey model diet alone does, in fact, absolutely provide all necessary nutrients. There are many factors that come into play as well, based on variety of proteins offered in the diet, how and where the meat animal was raised, etc. Therefore, if it makes you more comfortable and eases your mind that you are providing adequate vitamins and nutrients, a multi-vitamin supplement can be used as part of a raw diet. Some commonly recommended brands include Canine Complete, Nupro, or B-Naturals Daily Blend (for dogs). For cats or ferrets, there is KittyBloom or Feline Complete.
Let’s go over the basics again.
You should strive to feed 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organstarting at 2-3% of your pet’s ideal adult body weight and adjusting as needed. Variety is very important in a raw diet, and you should strive to include as many different proteins as possible. Supplementing the diet with fish oil is recommended, and choosing to use other supplements such as multi-vitamins may be appropriate on a case-by-case basis as well. Remember to “know thy dog” (or cat, or ferret) and feed accordingly to your pet’s individual needs. A raw diet can be affordable by investing in an extra freezer, finding out what resources you have in your area, and buying in bulk. Continue to do as much research as you can, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have or check out our files section for more detailed information in our Raw Feeding Community Facebook group.
As raw diets become more popular, more information becomes available about it – but unfortunately, not all of this information is correct. Misconceptions about raw diets are spread by online raw feeding forums/groups, pet food companies, and sometimes even veterinarians. And it isn’t just the anti-raw crowd that contributes to these myths; in fact, a lot on this list are indeed spread by the pro-raw crowd in an effort to make raw seem more safe and less intimidating to beginner raw feeders. However, spreading misinformation does nobody any good, and only serves to contribute to the bad reputation raw diets have in the long run. Here at The Raw Feeding Community, we aim to give you an accurate, realistic view of what a raw diet really is, and all that it entails.
Raw is a cure-all “miracle diet”
This first misconception is a good example of a myth spread by the pro-raw crowd, usually in online forums and Facebook groups, and even by some pet professionals. Lots of people like to claim that raw diets will cure and/or prevent almost anything. Raw diets can certainly help many issues, such as food allergies, recurring yeast infections, dry skin, or yellowing teeth and bad breath. Raw diets typically help these things by containing fewer ingredients that dogs tend to have reactions to. It is also much easier for owners to isolate and avoid such ingredients.
Some of the wildest claims I’ve witnessed firsthand include that raw fed dogs are immune to fleas or ticks, raw diet dogs cannot get heartworms, raw fed dogs are immune to infection, and I’ve even seen someone claim that raw fed dogs have less chance of sustaining physical injuries. These claims are outlandish, misleading, and completely inaccurate. A dog’s diet can certainly contribute to better all-around health, but even the best possible diet will not prevent injuries or create immunity to parasites or infection.
While a raw diet certainly might improve your dog’s health, it should not be the only thing you rely on to cure a health problem, and it should not be a replacement for proper vet care. A raw diet does not make your dog invincible, nor is it guaranteed to cure any pre-existing health issues. A raw fed dog still needs to go in for annual check-ups too, just like a kibble fed dog should.
Raw diets are cheaper and easier than kibble
Raw diets seem to be advertised by the pro-raw fanatics as so much cheaper and just as easy to feed as kibble. However, this may not be true for everyone across the board. The price of feeding a raw diet can vary from one extreme to the next. Commercial raw diets are notoriously expensive, which is the trade you’ll have to make for their convenience. Homemade raw can be cheaper than high-quality kibble, but it is not that black and white.
Some people are able to feed homemade raw for incredibly cheap. But it is worth mentioning that these people have invested money in large freezers so that they can buy meat in bulk to save money. The price of raw will also depend on your location and the availability of certain meat products where you live. Some areas have an abundance of ethnic meat markets, which usually have some of the things most regular grocery stores don’t have, but their prices vary depending on location. Many of the people that feed raw for so cheap also have access to free scraps from local hunters, butchers, or processors, which is another thing that varies by location. They have the free time and gas money to drive long distances to pick up cheap or free meat.
As for raw diets being easier than kibble, that is most certainly a lie, or at the very least, a stretch of the truth, when it comes to homemade diets. The only effort that goes into feeding kibble is buy, scoop, and feed. A commercial/pre-made diet pretty much only adds one more step to that: thaw. This is why commercial/pre-made raw might be a better option for those owners that do not have the free time or extra freezer space to feed a homemade raw diet.
There is much more involved in feeding a homemade raw diet than any commercial diet, though. Buying and portioning bulk orders can be very time consuming. Buying large freezers to store raw food will not only take away some of your free time while you find one to buy, find out how to get it home, and find a place to put it, but it will also add a little bit onto your electric bill. Balancing a raw diet can require a lot of time, effort, and research, research, research!! Feeding raw is not nearly as easy as feeding kibble, and owners should be aware of exactly how much else goes into a homemade raw diet before they make the decision to switch. People that go into raw expecting it to be so much cheaper and easier than what they already feed are more than likely just going to back out and switch back to kibble after they realize that they weren’t told the whole truth.
Many people point out that the decrease in vet bills should be taken into account when considering the cost of feeding a raw diet as well. However, switching to a raw diet should not be an excuse not to take your dog to the vet annually for a check-up. In fact, it is arguably more important to take a raw fed dog in for annual bloodwork, especially if you are feeding a homemade diet, in order to make sure you are not causing any nutritional deficiencies.
It is too difficult to feed raw
That last section may have made it seem like feeding a raw diet will be like having another full-time job. That is not entirely the case. There are ways to make raw feeding easier and more convenient.
First of all, commercial raw diets are very convenient and much easier than homemade. There is no math involved, no research into making sure you’re balancing the diet correctly – just buy, thaw, and serve. The downside to commercial diets is cost, but there are some brands such as Vital Essentials that offer the option of cheaper 2 to 5 pound “chubs”, which basically just need to be thawed and portioned out into more manageable servings before feeding and/or re-freezing.
When it comes to homemade diets, they do require a bit of extra work than kibble or commercial raw. However, if you stay organized, it won’t be as overwhelming as it might seem at first. Although your days off might turn into your bulk order portioning days, if you spend the time portioning meals into easy-to-serve containers, you’ll be able to just thaw and serve. That is, until you run out and have to portion more again, of course. You just have to decide if the extra time and effort is worth the benefits of homemade raw, such as cost, or knowing exactly what ingredients you’re feeding your dog and where they came from.
Some people find the middle ground between commercial and raw foods by feeding both – raw when they can, and commercial when they have to. For instance, maybe they’ll feed commercial during the week, and homemade during the weekends. This is a great solution as well, and it works with many people’s busy schedules, but still allows them to add as much homemade raw to their dog’s diet as possible. This would also be easier on people with limited freezer space.
Bones are dangerous
One of the most common reactions you might get from veterinary professionals when you tell them you feed raw meaty bones is that feeding bones to your dog is dangerous. As long as you feed the correct amount of bones, and you feed the appropriate sized raw meaty bones based on your dog’s size and eating habits (gulper vs. careful eater), you should not have a problem.
Raw bones also do not splinter like cooked bones do. Raw meaty bones that are meant to be fed as part of a raw diet should also not be dense enough to crack a dog’s teeth. Weight-bearing “recreational” bones, such as femurs, definitely carry that risk – there’s a reason why they’ve gained the nickname “wreck” bones, because they can wreck teeth! – but appropriate raw meaty bones such as turkey necks or chicken leg quarters (or chicken necks/wings for smaller dogs) should not crack teeth.
Although raw meaty bones are great for your dog’s teeth and gum health and provide most of the source of calcium in a homemade raw diet, if you are still worried about feeding bones, you actually aren’t required to; a homemade raw diet can still be balanced without raw meaty bones as long as you include supplements to make up for it. You can substitute the bone requirements in a homemade diet with the correct amount of bone meal powder, dried ground eggshell powder, calcium carbonate, or calcium citrate. When feeding a homemade diet that doesn’t include raw meaty bones, you should be substituting the bones with about 900 milligrams of calcium per pound of food. (Half a teaspoon of dried ground eggshell contains about 900 milligrams.) Also, the ground commercial and pre-made options mentioned earlier are available that are already complete and balanced, so you don’t need to add raw meaty bones if you don’t want to.
Raw diets can give your dogs parasites and salmonella
Yes, obviously raw meat can in fact contain parasites. However, part of feeding a raw diet involves taking steps to avoid feeding potentially infected meat. Your dog should also get regular fecal tests to check for parasites, regardless of if your dog is being fed raw or kibble, as part of his or her annual check-up.
Meat sold for human consumption should not contain parasites. Wild game (such as venison or wild caught fish) should be frozen for 2 weeks in order to make sure any parasites the animal had are killed by freezing. When feeding wild game, it is also important to be aware of any diseases that might be going around in the wild population in the area the animal was killed. It is also helpful to check the organs of the animal for abnormalities before feeding.
A healthy dog’s digestive system will be able to handle the normal amount of salmonella that raw meat contains. Even kibble-fed dogs shed salmonella bacteria in their feces. However, if your dog is immunocompromised, talk to your vet before switching to a raw diet to be on the safe side.
It is also commonly said that raw diets can cause humans to be infected with salmonella. Yes, this is true. However, as long as you practice safe meat handling and sanitation, and you don’t go around licking your cutting boards or eating your dog’s feces, you will be fine. But again, if you or someone in your household is immunocompromised, you do need to be extra cautious, and talking to your doctor to weigh the risks wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Raw diets make dogs aggressive/bloodthirsty
Changing a dog’s diet will not make it aggressive or bloodthirsty. However, this myth may have stemmed from the fact that since raw meat is so much more of a high-value food item to most dogs than kibble might be, these dogs may display resource guarding over their raw food, even though they did not react in such a way with kibble. This doesn’t mean that it is the diet’s fault, it just means the dog is thinking, “wow, this is better than what I usually get, I don’t want anyone to take it away!” These dogs will typically behave the same way when given other high-value treats; resource guarding is certainly not exclusive to raw.
Raw diets also do not increase prey drive or make it more likely that your dog will attempt to chase or kill small animals. Prey drive exists in kibble fed dogs, and the amount of prey drive a dog has does not have anything to do with their diet, but much more to do with their breed or how they’ve been trained. Many kibble fed dogs excel in sports such as lure coursing, which involves channeling a dog’s natural prey drive. Raw fed dogs are not any more likely to try to chase, or even kill, prey items than a kibble fed dog would be.
There is only one “right” way to feed raw
There are many options when it comes to balanced raw diets, and there is not one specific “right” or “wrong” way. Many would argue that their way is best for all dogs, but the fact is, not all dogs are the same – each dog has different requirements based on its activity level, metabolism, age, weight, health issues, etc. And not only that, but not all owners are the same either. We all have different lifestyles, budgets, living situations, etc.
Some people might be able to spend more time preparing a homemade raw diet for their dogs, and that is fantastic. However, other people’s busy schedules or limited freezer space might make commercial or pre-made raw, or even feeding just a partial raw diet, a better choice. There are also the people that do not put in the correct amount of research in order to feed a correct and balanced raw diet. For those people, feeding a diet that is already complete and balanced, without any effort involved on their part, would be best for the sake of their dog’s health.
Basically, if you are feeding a balanced diet that is working for you and your dog, you are doing it right.
The only way to feed a raw diet the wrong way is to feed an incorrect and unbalanced raw diet. Diets that are not balanced can cause serious health issues, and even have the potential to be fatal. It is incredibly important to do your best to provide a balanced diet to your dog. If you can’t, switching back to commercial foods would be a better option, even if that means switching back to kibble, for the sake of your dog’s long term health.
A balanced diet is just meat, bone, and organ
While it is true that meat, bone, and organ can be a balanced diet, this can be misleading, and even potentially dangerous, if it is not elaborated on. For instance, a diet of meat, bone, and organ that is comprised solely of chicken will not be a balanced diet. Meat, bone, and organ is the backbone of prey model feeding, but it is not the only requirement.
A balanced prey model diet requires as much variety as possible in order to provide adequate nutrients. Red meat is also very important, and should ideally be the majority of the diet. A diet that contains at least 3-4 different protein sources should be the absolute minimum. Fish oil is also important in order to make up for the low levels of omega-3s in conventionally farmed meat (vs. wild game).
If you are worried that you aren’t providing enough variety or balance, supplements might be in order. Multivitamin supplements, such as Canine Complete, Nupro, or B-Naturals Daily Blend can be added to a diet in order to insure the diet is not lacking. However, don’t use supplements as an excuse to start slacking with the diet as a whole. The diet should still contain correct percentages of meat, bone, and organ, and as much variety as you can possibly provide. Adding a multivitamin to a diet still doesn’t mean that the diet will be automatically balanced regardless of what else the diet consists of.
You cannot feed kibble and raw together
The kibble/raw myth seems to spread like wildfire, yet it is still unknown from where or why this misinformation became such a strict “rule” of raw feeding.
Although I have witnessed many people in Facebook groups and online forums warn against feeding raw and kibble together – claiming that the differing digestion rates will “trap” the raw behind the slowly-digesting kibble, causing bacteria in the raw meat to sit in the stomach for too long which will potentially harm your dog – I have never seen this claim backed up, but rather, have just seen it spread around by someone-that-heard-it-from-someone-else. Scientifically, this theory doesn’t make sense; the digestive system just doesn’t work that way. In fact, the canine digestive system is built to handle large amounts of bacteria. Not only that, but the longer something stays in the stomach, the more time it has to break down; adversely, something that passes too quickly through the digestive system may not get enough time for the nutrients to be utilized completely.
There is nothing inherent to all kibble or all raw foods that would influence a generalization one way or the other, and no logical reason to support what seems like more of an “old wive’s tale” than a scientific fact. When we eat a meal (sushi for example) composed of raw fish, grains, and veggies, we never “worry” about the fish sitting in our stomach too long. The same principle should be applied to our pets. Mixing raw and kibble is no different than mixing liquids and solids or high fat and low fat dietary components. Likely, this misinformation was started by strict raw feeders as a way to discourage newcomers from continuing to feed kibble.
Don’t let this deter you from feeding a diet of kibble and raw if that is what works best for you and your dog. Mixing raw and kibble is a common and effective way to feed, and has been successfully practiced for years by countless pet owners. It would be unrealistic to assume that every owner could switch to a completely raw diet. The more raw you can provide, the better, even if that means you have to feed raw alongside kibble.
Raw is best because it’s what wolves eat
This myth is busted and explained extensively in one of my previous articles, which you can find by clicking here.
Basically, we should not try feed our dogs like wolves, because dogs are not wolves. They have indeed changed since they were domesticated, including their ability to digest starch. It has not yet even been proven what wild ancestor dogs originated from, and more and more research seems to point out that dogs are more closely related to each other than they are to wolves. Therefore, feeding raw because “it’s what wolves eat” is not the way to look at it. Dogs are dogs, and each dog has different dietary needs. Ruling out certain things because “they wouldn’t get them in the wild” is unnecessary, and only serves to restrict your dog’s diet. Keep an open mind and find what works best for your dog – even if that means adding supplements, dairy, or fruits/veggies.
I’ve noticed a huge trend with a lot of strict prey model raw feeders, and that is that they seem to be feeding raw simply because “it’s what a wolf would eat in the wild.” If you don’t already know, strictly prey model means no supplements, no fruits or veggies, no dairy, and if you mention grain, you might as well be the anti-christ. But are there options beyond the realm of what is considered “acceptable” in typical prey model raw that could benefit some dogs? Is it really ideal to be this strict, or by ruling out everything except for meat, bone, and organ, are they limiting the potential of their dog’s diets?
Modern domesticated dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors thanks to the human intervention of selective breeding. But how closely related is your dog to a wolf, and what does that mean about your pet dog’s optimal diet requirements?
Many raw feeding advocates commonly reason that dogs share 99.8% of their DNA with wolves, therefore their ideal diet should be exactly the same as what a wolf would be eating in the wild. This information commonly stems from this Robert K. Wayne Ph.D’s quote, found in his study, Molecular evolution of the dog family, Theoretical & Applied Genetics, June 1993, Vol. 9, No. 6.
“The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mtDNA sequence…”
This quote continues to be shared far and wide in the raw feeding world, and it certainly does have its merits. Dogs are very similar to wolves, and most dog breeds in fact can be traced back to wolves. Both wolves and dogs are, in fact, carnivores. This surely has a lot to do with their dietary requirements. But does it mean that dogs and wolves have the exact same dietary requirements? And even if so, is mimicking the diet of a wild wolf truly what is best for our domesticated dogs, or rather should we be improving on this diet in order to achieve the best possible results in our dogs’ health?
It is important to note that the similarities in DNA sequence between two living organisms does not always mean they are even remotely similar. For example, human DNA sequences are over 95% identical to chimpanzee sequences and around 50% identical to banana sequences [source].
Since Wayne’s work was published in 1993, there have been many more studies on the similarities of dogs and wolves, as well as what changes our domesticated dogs may have experienced as they evolved from their wild ancestors through selective breeding. Of course, the obvious changes would be appearance and temperament. But diving deeper, we have discovered differences beyond that as well. As it turns out, that .02% difference between the gray wolf and the domesticated dog is more significant than it seems.
Researchers have found differences across dog breeds and wolves in the number of amylase genes. This study identified that wolves had 2 copies of the gene responsible for the production of amylase, yet found a range of 4 to 30 copies of this gene in domesticated dogs. Dogs that were domesticated in agrarian societies showed that they developed more of these genes than breeds that originated in areas that did not rely heavily on agricultural production. And not only did this research find amylase genes in domesticated dogs that differed by breed, it also found that dogs produce a type of maltase that differs from that produced by wolves, instead sharing similarities with omnivores and herbivores.
“Our results show that adaptations that allowed the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in early dog domestication.” [source]
This means that despite what many raw feeding resources like to claim, both domesticated dogs and wolves do in fact possess amylase (although in the pancreas and small intestine rather than in the saliva) – dogs far moreso than wolves. Therefore, a dog’s nutritional requirements very well may differ from that of wolves.
Clearly, dogs are carnivores. They may not be obligate carnivores like cats or ferrets, but after considering a dog’s jaw structure, teeth, short, acidic digestive system, and even predatory behavior, it is hard to deny that a domesticated dog is still a carnivore rather than an omnivore. The fact that they have the ability to digest starch certainly doesn’t mean that they require it as part of their diet; it simply means that it can be digested, it can be utilized, and that starches and grains very well may have their place in a domesticated dog’s diet depending on the individual dog’s dietary requirements based on energy level, metabolism, and even genetics.
It should also be said that the diet of a wild canine is surely not optimal. After all, that’s why wolves are called “opportunistic” or “scavenging” carnivores – they eat what they can find, and what they find might not always be the best option for their health. They have been known to starve for several days or even weeks on end, eat rancid, parasite-infected, rotting carcasses, and sustain injuries from their meals such as cracked teeth, which can become seriously infected. Wolves die young, with an average lifespan of only 6 to 8 years old [source], for these reasons. What would a wolf eat if it was able to be provided with the best possible nutrition? Certainly not what it eats in the wild.
This “appeal to nature” logical fallacy can apply to all areas of dog ownership. Is it natural for our dogs to live inside, to get vaccinations, to be dewormed, to be on heartworm prevention, to get groomed, or to walk on leashes? It can be argued that domesticated dog breeds themselves are “unnatural”. We have bred them to be wire-coated, single coated, dwarf, and brachycephalic. We’ve bred down their temperament and predatory instincts into something that was once a wild animal, and is now a domesticated pet. That, in and of itself, is unnatural; but just because it’s unnatural, doesn’t mean it is inherently bad.
In the search to provide the best possible diet for your dog, realize that simply basing your decisions off of what a wolf would eat in the wild, or what is more “natural”, is not the best choice. Also keep in mind that there is not one specific diet that every single dog would be able to thrive on. Dogs should be looked at as individuals that have differing nutritional requirements which depend on many factors, including but not limited to energy level, metabolism, health problems, and genetics. Limiting your options to strict limitations based on what wolves eat is unnecessary and even potentially dangerous. Supplements, fruits/veggies, dairy, and even grain can be a helpful addition to many raw diets. Choosing to feed a raw diet should be a step in providing optimal nutrition to your dog, rather than just a step in providing the most “natural” diet.
To be clear, I do believe that a properly balanced and correct prey model raw diet can indeed provide adequate nutrition to dogs – and I think I could even safely go so far as to say most dogs. However, I think the strict mindset that is commonly found in many prey model communities is not only unnecessary, but also potentially damaging. An owner should not feel like they are breaking a rule if they choose to start supplementing, or if they want to give some kefir now and then, or even if they choose to start feeding grains to a dog that can’t keep on weight. Every dog is different, and despite what some may tell you, a strict prey model diet does not work for every single dog.