Why We Feed Our Dogs a Species Appropriate Raw Food Diet
First of all, let me begin by saying that if you are a kibble-feeding pet owner, we’ve been right where you are! As you will read, our decision to raw feed was well-thought out and researched, and based on the immediate health needs of our new pup at the time. For the health and long life of your precious pets, we hope you too will give raw feeding serious consideration as the first step to a healthier pet. We know first-hand it can seem intimidating and overwhelming. If you commit to it, we promise to walk you through every step of the way!
When Eóin, our first English Shepherd was young he had a very sensitive digestive system- constipation, loose stool, poor appetite, itchy skin.* Talking to our Veterinarian, dog friends/breeders, and searching the internet for answers led to the ingredients in the puppy kibble as the culprits. At first, we switched to a holistic kibble without grains or egg, which helped somewhat. I had previously heard of raw feeding which included meat and vegetables along with supplements. It seemed time-consuming and complicated. A friend then told me about the more simple prey model-style Species Appropriate Raw Food (SARF) diet. More research ensued. We research things to the fullest before diving in!
It all made perfect sense, but we weren’t quite ready to take the leap. However, when the toxic commercial pet food scare swept the nation in 2007 we knew it was time. Eóin was 5 months old.
Immediately there was a huge change in Eóin. The itchy skin disappeared, he was eager to eat for the first time, smaller, less frequent stool with no odor or flies (a huge plus by itself!), beautiful gleaming white teeth, and glossy coat. Maintaining his weight was easy, even adjusting according to activity. His system was still sensitive to chicken, so we eliminated it completely. After about 3 months, we slowly reintroduced chicken, making sure it was organic and free-range. To our delight, his system was able to tolerate it with no further problems. We also stopped dosing him (and the cat) with toxic flea products! The fleas left in search of the ‘friendlier’ realms of an unbalanced host.
For Greer at 8-1/2 weeks of age it was a natural to switch to 100% raw. And did she ever love it, thriving and growing like a weed! Ditto that for Liam when he came to us. Puppies switched to raw are amazing to watch as they learn to eat meat with bone. Even our cat, Chanel, is raw fed. (Cats are an entirely different animal to raw feed and transition. Contact me if you are contemplating raw for your kitty.)
People say that raw fed dogs grow a bit more slowly. One thing’s for sure, they grow healthier! We’ve noticed that our pups are more balanced through each growth phase, looking much like miniature adults.
So, what exactly do we feed our carnivores? They get a wide variety of human grade raw meat with bones – fish, chicken, beef, rabbit, pork, lamb, wild game – much of it in its whole form or chunks large enough to really gnaw on and keep their teeth clean, organs, whole eggs, and raw milk. The dogs like bits of apple and windfall plums, as well as vegetables they occasionally pilfer from my kitchen garden. They also enjoy occasional beef and buffalo bones as a treat, never rawhide which can block up their systems and be a choking hazard. Some folks also give supplements, although this isn’t absolutely necessary. Our pets get a good variety of healthy organs, meat and bones for a naturally balanced diet.
* We now know Eoin’s increased symptoms directly correlated with the combo puppy vaccine given the week prior to onset; at the same time he also received a rabies vaccine and was micro-chipped. His system was stressed and overloaded with toxins! For more information on the dangers of vaccines, please visit our Canine Health and Research pages.
What Is a SARF Diet?
A Species or biologically Appropriate Raw Food (SARF) diet is one based on the physiological needs of any given animal. For our discussion here, we are talking canines. Dogs are facultative carnivores meaning they are largely carnivorous, but have the ability to digest small amounts of plant matter. In order to thrive and not simply survive, they need primarily meat, organs, and bones. According to the Smithsonian Institute, dogs were recently categorized as Canus lupus familiaris, this came on the heels of DNA testing that confirmed dogs are more closely related to the Grey Wolf, Canus lupus, than previously realized. The canine digestive system cannot truly digest grains such as corn, rice, and wheat since they do not produce the enzyme Amylase in their saliva which is specific to the digestion of carbohydrates. Along with putrefaction, an overabundance of yeast can establish itself in a dog’s digestive tract due to these ingredients, causing bloating and discomfort at the very least, but also contributes to disease and both internal and external parasites. Commercial dog food manufacturers use grain as fillers to help the dog feel full. These are less expensive than high quality protein sources so help keep their production costs down. Eating foods high in fillers means more to be eliminated as unused waste. This, in turn, means lots of stinky piles to clean up!
Take a close look at your dog’s teeth. Their teeth and jaws were designed for ripping and tearing, not chewing and grinding like the flat molars of humans, although their molars are suited to some grinding action. The teeth are all pointed or jagged to shear, cut through, and nibble-off meat; and their jaws are hinged to crunch through bone and swallow large pieces of meat. Although some do feed their dogs ground meat, we don’t feel it’s quite biologically appropriate. We feed whole pieces, with bone in. This is where it comes into play that they are benefited mentally. To see your dog truly enjoying his food, perhaps for the first time in his life like our Eóin, the look of contentment on his face, is a beautiful thing!
Feeding a raw diet does take a bit of extra time and forethought. By feeding your dog only natural foods that are biologically active and species appropriate, his internal and external body condition is increased. The likelihood of him developing disease is greatly reduced. Visits to the veterinarian due to problems are all but eliminated; in fact, ‘wellness visits’ will be the norm instead! After all, one should have an allopathic veterinarian on your dog’s health care team – who knows when he’ll need stitches or break a bone. When you choose to feed a raw diet, your dog will be healthier and happier!
Benefits of SARF
• Improved quality and length of life due to greater health.
• Improves mental and physical well-being, love those bones!
• Stronger immune system, less money spent treating disease.
• Sparkling white teeth, healthy gums, fresher breath.
• Organ health reduces incidence of chronic disease.
• Fewer, small stools with little or no odor.
• Shiny coats with less shedding and body odor.
• Eliminates/reduces skin allergies.
• Full control over preservatives and chemicals.
• Ideal for weight management.
• Balances energy.
• Live enzymes in real food enhance digestion.
• Fewer parasites, parasites do not thrive on or in healthy animals.
There are no absolutes to feeding your dog raw. It’s highly adjustable according to your dog’s needs- more bone, more meat than bone, more/less based on activity, etc. After you’ve been feeding raw for a couple weeks, you’ll get to know your dog’s needs. Here is a basic formula to follow as a starting point:
• 45-50% Raw Meaty Bones – meat with edible bones like fish, poultry necks, backs, wings, legs, thighs, etc.
• 45% Muscle Meat – meat without bones- heart, roasts, etc.
• 5% Organ Meat – liver, lung, green tripe (not the bleached white stuff!), etc.
• 0-5% Miscellaneous – whole raw eggs, raw milk
Our dogs get 2-4% of their body weight in ounces per day, monitoring weight to adjust amounts is important. More or less depending on how he feels in the ‘hug test’. We also adjust amounts according to activity level. Sometimes a little more is needed to keep warm in winter; conversely in the heat of summer the appetite can diminish.
Remember to supply a nice variety of raw food each week. Every meal does not have to be completely balanced… balance is achieved over time. So go ahead and give your dog chicken three days in a row, red meat for a couple days, and then lamb to round out the week. Each type of meat contains different nutrients and amino acids, so this variety will give him superior nutrition for life.
You Can Do It!
Depending on your dog, you can either switch over 100% immediately or transition gradually. Paying attention to how your dog’s body responds will be the main determining factor. Some dogs may experience loose stools the first couple days. For this, simply give him a couple tablespoons of organic, plain pumpkin puree per day until it firms up again. Yep, the kind you find in a can at the market!
Do try to keep the diet simple to begin with, starting with one type of meat for a couple days, adding another type, and so on. Feeding meat with smaller bones and in 2-3 small meals will help your dog adjust to the exercise his jaw is receiving. Trim off excess fat and hold off on giving him any of the “Miscellaneous” items until it seems his system has fully adjusted, perhaps 2 weeks or so.
There may be a day here and there that your dog doesn’t want to eat. That’s okay! Wild canines go for almost a week without food. Some folks practice a Fast Day for their dogs each week, only making water available. Our dogs have a semi-fast day once every week, consisting of raw milk and whole eggs. They seem to enjoy this special meal and we have seen how the toxin cleansing benefits have helped them.
One thing to definitely be aware of dogs not accustomed to eating raw meat and bones can choke. Their jaw, facial, and esophageal muscles aren’t used to it. They seem to eat faster in general on raw, most times Eóin and Liam finish in less than 2 minutes. I do wonder whether a dog thinks his incredibly delicious new food may be one he’s not ‘supposed’ to have, so he scarfs it down even faster before it’s taken away! Just watch him for the first week especially, while he eats. Trust me, it’s not like you’ll have to stand and watch for a very long time! You can also teach your dog to slow down by hand feeding – have your dog “sit and stay”, then hold the chunk of meat while he eats. He will eat slowly and carefully with you holding it. Once you see him slow down, go ahead and let go of the meat. It only took a couple times for Eóin and Greer to learn with this method.
In your dog’s enthusiasm to eat the tempting morsel you offer, he may accidentally nip your hand. We find it extremely helpful to train our dogs to “sit” or “down” and “stay” while we place their dish on the ground, then give the release command “okay, go eat”. This technique will also eliminate any tendency toward food aggression. Their routine comes in handy for the pet sitter, too!
Some older dogs especially, may not take to raw at first. Go even slower, do what you can. Be patient. Above all, keep at it! Every little bit is one step closer to a healthier, happier dog!
Also, keep in mind that a raw fed puppy develops very strong jaws and teeth. Translation, they can tear up furniture and toys in a flash. We liked the rubber puppy Kong for Eóin, so got one for Greer, too. Needless to say, we were quite surprised to see chunks taken out of it! Caution and supervision are in order.
Where to feed your dog? Well, eating raw meat is a somewhat messy affair, believe you, me! Unless you don’t mind thoroughly sanitizing your floor after each and every feeding, go ahead and feed your dog in the house. I’m all about simplicity, so it’s outside on the porch for our dogs. Next, we do try to be considerate of our neighbors. Observing a dog through the fence gnawing on animal parts could draw the unwanted concern of a neighbor. So, we opted to train our dogs to take their pieces of meat from a dish, in one location, instead of strewn all around the yard, as they instinctively will do. It’s a helpful practice while traveling, too. This does not mean, however, that we don’t find the odd bone buried here and there, or see the neighbor dog gaze longingly as ours relish a big bone, but we can all live with that!
Whether you go cold turkey or gradually transition, by all means do give it a try. We haven’t regretted it for an instant and will never go back!