Switching Your Dog to a Raw Diet: The Official RFC Guide

So you want to feed a homemade raw diet to your dog, 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.

Getting started

First, I would recommend looking into what resources you have available in your area. Search for raw feeding co-ops, butchers, ethnic markets, meat processors, local farms, or restaurant supply stores that may have good prices. Homemade raw is typically only affordable if you look for the best prices.

You will 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. Definitely make sure you have antibacterial cleaning supplies on hand before meal prep.

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. 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.

Photo credit: Amanda Couillard
Photo credit: Amanda Couillard

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 pet eats all their liver! Most grinders cannot handle bone, so make sure you do your research before buying.

A good food processor can be useful for mixing veggies, meats, and/or supplements together. Many raw feeders utilize ice cube trays to put these mixes in, which allows for easy dosing and feeding.


Equipment checklist

  • Kitchen scale
  • Knives
  • Cutting board
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Freezer space
  • Food storage containers/bags

How much do I feed?

The general guideline is to feed 2 to 3% of your pet’s ideal adult body weight daily. That means if your pet is overweight, you should calculate the food based on their ideal weight, rather than current weight. 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.

While medium to large dogs can eat once a day, smaller dogs and puppies should eat multiple meals a day. Two meals a day is sufficient, but for growing puppies, three to four meals a day would be optimal.

To calculate a percentage, simply take the percent number, move the decimal two places to the left, then multiply by your pet’s weight. Whatever unit of weight you use will be the unit of weight your answer is in.

For example, let’s pretend you have a 50 pound dog. If you take 2.5% of 50 pounds, you will multiply 50 pounds by 0.025, which equals 1.25 pounds. That is how much food will be fed daily in total. So if you feed two meals a day, each meal will be 0.625 pounds. To convert pounds to ounces, multiply by 16. That means each meal should be 10 ounces for our example 50 pound dog.

Feeding a balanced diet

Just feeding raw meat does not mean you are feeding a correct or balanced raw diet. A raw diet requires variety (i.e. you shouldn’t feed just chicken; read more about why here), and the correct percentages of meat, bone, and organ, plus “extras” like veggies or supplements as needed. An unbalanced diet can be extremely detrimental in the long run, especially for growing puppies.

One of the most popular and easiest ways to aim for a balanced diet is to follow the “prey model” or “80/10/10” guideline: 80% meat/fish/eggs/veggies/etc, 10% bone, 10% organ. Click here for a calculator that will help you determine how much meat, bone, and organ to feed based on your pet’s ideal adult weight.

A variety of different protein sources can help provide a balanced diet. This is because different types of meat, poultry, or fish will contribute different nutrients. The goal is to meet as many nutrient requirements as possible with whole food sources, then supplement only as needed to fill in any gaps.

Raw meaty bones (RMBs)

When you think “bone” in the context of dog food, 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 an edible raw bone with meat on it. Examples include chicken leg quarters, turkey necks, duck wings, chicken backs, whole rabbit, lamb ribs, etc. Feeding bones that are less dense than your pet’s teeth will prevent cracked teeth. Raw edible bones that are appropriately sized for your dog do not splinter like cooked or smoked bones do.

Click here to learn more about the bone content of different raw meaty bones, and how to calculate bone content in your pet’s diet.

Alternatives to bone

Raw meaty bones provide the bone content in a raw diet. Bone content is the main source of the calcium. Therefore, if your dog can’t eat whole bones, you do need to provide an alternate source of calcium. 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 with bone meal, eggshell, or a calcium supplement. Keep in mind that bone also contains phosphorus and magnesium, so you may need to supplement more than just calcium if you opt out of feeding bones. For this reason, bones in some capacity (whole, ground, or bone meal) are recommended since they are the easiest way to aim for balanced minerals in the diet. Your adult dog requires about 1000-1200 mg of calcium per 1 pound of food.

Organs

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At least half of the organ content should be liver, and ideally the rest should be other secreting organ(s) such as kidney or spleen. Click here to read more about organs in a raw diet.

“If it doesn’t secrete, feed it as meat!” Heart, gizzards, and tongue are muscular organs, so they are fed as muscle meat in a raw diet.

Secreting organs like liver, kidney, and spleen are extremely nutrient dense; they basically act as a “multivitamin” of the diet. Without them, the diet will be deficient in vitamin A and many minerals.

 

Fish

Omega-3s are low in almost every raw diet without fish or fish oil, due to the lack of adequate omega-3s and higher amounts of omega-6s in meat (especially conventionally farmed) [source]. This can be alleviated by including oily fish in the diet. A good rule of thumb is to figure out how much your dog should eat per day, and feed that amount in fish per week. In other words, that means fish will make up about 15% of the diet. Fish can be fed every day, or a couple times a week – whatever works best for you. Choose fish with high omega 3s and low mercury content, like sardines, herring, anchovies, smelt, or capelin.

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Fish oil is another great choice to add these omega-3s back into your pet’s raw diet. Due to the oxidizing nature of fish oil, you want to store it in the fridge and feed it alongside an antioxidant like vitamin E (read more here). Bonnie and Clyde fish oil contains enough vitamin E for your dog to utilize, making it a great choice.

Supplements & veggies

Research and raw feeding professionals agree: supplementing a raw diet is 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 provides 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.

Microminerals & fiber

Iodine and manganese and are some microminerals that oftentimes fall short in prey model diets. Kelp is the most common way to include iodine in a raw diet, while manganese can be added by including green tripe, mussels, or a manganese supplement. When choosing a mineral supplement, be sure to choose a chelated form of the mineral, and avoid inorganic forms; inorganic minerals are not bioavailable and your dog is unable to properly absorb most of the mineral from those forms.

Feeding fruits and veggies in moderation is beneficial, too. They can provide some of the nutrients that prey model lacks, plus fiber and prebiotics for healthy digestive function. Leafy greens like kale, chard, bok choy, broccoli, parsley, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and spinach should be the main focus, while pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, green beans, zucchini, bananas, or berries are also great choices. In order to be digested and utilized efficiently by your dog, you should cook and/or puree/grind veggies up in a food processor before feeding to make them more bioavailable. You can read more about veggies here.

Vitamin E

Every unsupplemented raw diet is deficient in vitamin E, because vitamin E is not found in significant levels in meat. That means adding a vitamin E supplement is a good idea.

Dogs need 1 to 2 IU of vitamin E per pound of body weight per day. That means our example 50 pound dog would get 50 to 100 IU per day.

Wheat germ oil or sunflower oil are great sources of vitamin E, or you could use a supplement like Solgar vitamin E. It is much easier to get the correct dose if you use an liquid/oil rather than a capsule supplement, since capsules are usually higher doses than dogs need on a daily basis.

Multivitamins aren’t ideal

Although there are many multivitamin supplements on the market, many of these supplements contain things like vitamin A and calcium, which is already adequately supplied by the organ and bone percentage of a raw diet, and adding extra can even be potentially dangerous.

Multivitamins also don’t usually contain a significant amount of most nutrients, so they hardly scratch the surface of any deficiencies in a lacking diet. For this reason, it is better to choose individual supplements rather than a multivitamin.

“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 perfectly balanced – instead, you can balance the diet to the correct percentages over a couple days or so. Of course, if you want to include the exact amount of meat, bone, and organ in each meal, that is perfectly fine as well.


Balanced Diet Recap

  • Use “prey model” percentages, 80% meat/fish/eggs/veggies/etc, 10% bone, and 10% organ, as a guideline to formulate the base of the diet.
  • Fish can make up 10-15% of the diet.
  • Supplementing vitamin E and microminerals is recommended.
  • Fruits and veggies are beneficial in moderation.

The transition

When you’re ready to switch, you may want to consider some items such as probiotics and prebiotics that can help support a healthy digestive system during the transition. Canine specific probiotics are best; brands like Thorne Research or VetriScience offer good probiotic products for dogs. Although green tripe is commonly claimed to be high in probiotics, this isn’t necessarily true, so you should not rely on tripe as a source of probiotics (read more about green tripe here). Prebiotics and fiber are helpful too; you can provide these by adding food sources such as veggies, or by adding a supplement such as Honest Kitchen Perfect Form.

You will want to start the switch with a more bland protein choice – usually chicken, but turkey, rabbit, or quail can be substituted. These proteins are recommended in the beginning rather than red meat because they are bland and easy to digest in comparison to rich red meat, therefore less likely to cause digestive upset during the switch. Remove the skin and excess fat during the transition.

All meat being fed should contain under 100mg sodium per serving, and it should not be enhanced, seasoned, smoked, or cooked in any way.

Gradual vs “cold turkey” transition

Although some recommend owners to switch to a raw diet “cold turkey” (kibble one day, raw the next), and that seems to work for many pets, you should also consider transitioning slowly by introducing raw meat in small amounts and gradually increasing the raw until they are completely weaned off of their previous diet (in the same way that you would switch to a new kibble).

There is a myth that kibble and raw cannot be fed together, but it is just that – a myth (read more about this here and here). If your pet has a sensitive stomach, or if they are picky, a slower transition is probably your best bet. Every animal is different, and you will have to figure out what method will work for you and your pet.

During a gradual transition, it is generally easiest to find a ground/premade raw product that can easily be mixed into the current diet without worrying about feeding too much or too little bone or organ. Once your pet is fully transitioned, then you can begin to introduce more variety.

“Know thy dog” & pay attention

This is another common phrase in the world of raw feeding. All “know thy dog” means is that 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 poop can be quite different than kibble fed. It will be significantly smaller, and your pet will 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. On the other hand, tarry, dark poop is a sign you might have introduced too much organ meat or red meat too quickly.

 


 

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. You can also ask an admin a question directly by messaging the Raw Feeding Community Facebook page. And don’t forget to check out the rest of our articles!

Further Reading
Monica Segal’s books
Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet by Steve Brown
Linda Case’s books
Steve Brown’s Darwin Pet blog
The Possible Canine (Cat Lane)

25 comments

  1. Grass fed or pasture raised meat is best, but unfortunately it isn’t affordable for most people, especially those with large dogs or multiple dog households. By feeding raw, owners are providing a fresh, highly digestible diet for their dogs – regardless of whether or not the meat is organic, this is a huge improvement from the highly processed kibble diet. It definitely does not defeat the purpose of feeding raw.

  2. Question: Did I miss something in the article — I see no comments about choosing Organic meats over meat purchased say, in the grocery store (like, when I go get meat for my dinner at SaveOn, I’d just load up on the meats for my dog as well). My thoughts on this go back to warnings about antibiotics and hormones in ‘store-bought’ meats being really bad for dogs in the long run (as bad as kibble etc), so really, feeding these meats seems to defeat the purpose of going raw. Do some/most of the companies producing raw diets for pets sell organic meat? Is this something I should ask when I research what company to buy from? Or do folks just go to the grocery store? I would LOVE getting a hunter friend to donate me some elk, moose, or deer, ….but something tells me it can’t be that easy. Any input would be appreciated! Thx!

  3. Where do you get oily fish such as the ones listed? I live in central Florida – fish everywhere -but have not found a source for any of the recommended ones. Are there others that meet the qualifications that may be easier to come by? I have two small dogs so cost is not as important. Thanks.

  4. Hi – quick question. You stated we should feed: “80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other secreting organ.” Is that percentages by weight or volume or ? Thanks.

  5. Hi,

    Question, so when you say, ‘strive to feed basis’, the percentage fed should be fed daily? So meaning, for example, 70-75% muscle meat, 5-10% veggies, 10% bone etc. should be fed daily?

    Thank you in advance!
    Melanie

  6. Allergies are tricky. Some dogs seem to do fine on raw chicken even though they reacted to chicken ingredients in kibble. Some dogs are allergic to just chicken while others are allergic to all poultry. Some dogs are allergic to chicken but can eat eggs, and some dogs react to both. There isn’t a one size fits all answer I can give you, unfortunately.

  7. Thank you for this great intro article! I am considering switching my two Standard Poodles and one cat.
    My first question: Chicken is mentioned frequently. Isn’t that a common allergen for dogs, or is it better for them in raw form, ie not as allergenic? Thank you

  8. Thanks for the response! My cat refuses food she can’t chew (when she was getting her teeth extracted everybody said cats don’t usually chew their food, but she certainly does), so ground meat is broadly out as an option. I’ll try bone meal on her meat pieces – if she doesn’t eat that I imagine she’ll continue relying on the freeze-dried raw food she likes for those nutrients.

  9. Ground bone can be achieved by purchasing ground meat with bone or by purchasing a meat grinder that is at least 1 HP and is rated to handle grinding bone (some even advertise themselves as good for raw pet food). Your other options are bone meal or a calcium supplement. I recommend bone meal if you are feeding a prey model raw diet.

  10. Any advice for getting bones into a form my cat can eat? She’s been on a raw meat diet for a long time, but recently lost a lot of teeth and can no longer chew the chicken necks we used to give her. Otherwise she’s getting very close to what you recommend.

  11. You can feed multiple proteins in one meal, it doesn’t have to be a full meal of beef, then a full meal of chicken, etc.

    For example, today for dinner my dogs are having duck wings, beef organs (liver, kidney), and smelt fish.

  12. Hello, thanks for the informative article ! One thing that isn’t very clear to me is you say ‘variety is important’ I fully get that, so how should this be done, can different meats be mixed in the same day? Or should it be done over a period of time like one day chicken one day beef one day rabbit or how else? And I presume all organs and bones from the same animal in one day not like a chicken leg and beef liver? I feel like if I swap so much my dog will get diarrhea, I was feeding her beef in the beginning (as I was told by someone raw chicken isn’t good I not long after know that’s bullcrap) anyway I gave her a chicken leg yesterday and she had diarrhea.. she was fine on the beef but then I have a problem with bones from beef not sure how I’m supposed to get boney bits from a cow? Pretty big bones lol anyway any help on how this should be done? Thank you!

  13. Thank you for the article. I want to switch my dog to the BARF diet. Do I have to worry about my dog getting sick from salmonella or any other bacteria ?

  14. Thank you very much for this very informative article.
    I tried using the raw feeding calculator, is it possible to remove the edit constrictions for the spreadsheets? ( the metric system is off by a power of 2)

  15. The meat commonly eaten on an animal. The breast, thighs, rump, chuck, etc. plus the Fed as Meat section above.