By Koru K9 Dog Training and Rehabilitation
My own journey into raw feeding started with my cats. I fed them nothing but the highest quality kibble, yet Star passed away suddenly at the age of 9 from renal failure. And so my research and education about species appropriate diets began.
My cats were on a 100% raw food diet, yet when we rescued Luna, I was going to attempt to keep her on a kibble diet. My initial thinking was that this would be more convenient and much cheaper since we already had the cats on a raw diet. In hindsight it was a completely flawed way of thinking, but it actually turned out to be a good experiment in the end.
If you read Our Story, you know that Luna was a very sick little puppy when she was dumped at the rescue organization. She had Parvo and was extremely malnourished. When we brought her home, then sent us home with a bag of Science Diet. Science Diet has since updated their recipe to include “More Natural Ingredient.” But back in the day, one of the first ingredient was either wheat or corn gluten. Neither of which is “natural” in a dog’s diet. Luna’s digestive issues were horrible. We were outside with her every two hours throughout the night. Many times she could barely make it outside. And this is AFTER we made the switch to a “high quality” kibble.
The bottom line is this, “high quality” kibble is infinitely better than a typical commercial dog food (i.e. Science Diet), but they are still processed foods that are “dead.” You will never get complete amino-acids, enzymes and vitamins that your dog needs for his digestion, immune system and clean teeth from cooked, over-processed commercial dog food. Processed food is just that, processed.
First, let’s take a really high level look at how dogs eat and their digestion…
Take one look at a dog’s mouth and you know that s/he is an carnivore. They are perfectly designed to tear and shred meat…incredibly sharp and pointed teeth and extremely powerful jaws. Dogs cannot mash food like we can since they do not have molars, nor do they have the capability to move their jaw sideways. Dogs do not have any amylase enzymes in their saliva as humans do. Amylase helps to break down starchy foods into sugars before leaving the mouth. Does your dog have a large amount of cavities or plaque/tartar build up? Now you know why…all those starches are sticking to his teeth. Dogs use their teeth to cut their food into small enough chunks that they can swallow and then their stomach does the rest.
Your dog’s saliva contains an enzyme called lysozyme, which kills any bacterias that might be present (something we as humans do not have). After the food is torn into small enough pieces to swallow, it then passes into the esophagus and then into the stomach. Here is another huge difference between human and canine digestion. The dog’s stomach is MUCH more acidic than humans (4-5 times higher than humans!). This acidic environment allows for dogs to easily digest bone, as well as any other less than appetizing hunks of meat.
Okay, so now you know and understand that dog’s digestion is very different than ours…so what should you feed your pooch?
There are several school’s of thought on this. I personally recommend the raw, prey model. I do not recommend store bought raw diets, simply because they are manufactured. However, I’m also realistic and realize that many people don’t want to deal with the “gross” things that dogs eat, so a pre-made raw diet totally trumps kibble. These pre-made raw diets can be an easy way to start your dog on raw until you both get used to feeding this way as well.
If you want to jump right in and start feeding raw, which I obviously recommend, you want to start getting your dog used to eating meat. I typically recommend starting with one type of meat until your dog gets used to eating this way. Chicken is readily available and inexpensive. I often recommend people start with boneless chicken thighs as the meat is easily digested. I only recommend this for a couple of days, then start adding bone into your dog’s diet. Chicken backs are a perfect source for protein and fat and the bones are soft and pliable and easily digested. For the first week start by feeding chicken backs and alternating with chicken quarters. The next week, maybe add in turkey necks. The third week try introducing a new source of protein (beef, pork, lamb, etc.). After a few weeks, start introducing organ meat to one or two meals per week. Note: your dog may experience runny poop for the first day or two as he gets used to eating this way. This is normal, but also varies from dog to dog. Some dogs won’t experience any issues.
People always ask me about the proper balance of protein, fat, bones and organ meat. Here’s the deal…a dog’s digestive system is very robust. Focus on balancing the dog’s diet over a period of time, not on a day to day basis. Focus on feeding your dog raw meat and bones and organs from a variety of animals…it’s really just that simple. If you really need the number breakdown, it works out to approximately 10% to 15% bone, about 10% organs, and the rest muscle and fat and connective tissue. The best way to gauge if you are doing things right is to watch your dog’s poop, unfortunately. Too runny, you probably feed too much fat. White and powdery or chalky means too much bone.
The amount to feed your dog can differ greatly from dog to dog, so you will need to experiment with what works best for you. For example, Luna can handle a lot more bone in her diet, whereas Nero cannot. On the flipside, she is way more sensitive to fats than Nero is. Also, the quantity to feed will be very personalized on your dog, the age and activity level. The rough estimate is 2%-3% of the dog’s body weight. But watch your dog’s weight. I started Nero off on these ratios and had to drop WAY down. You need to watch your own dog’s physical condition and adjust the amounts accordingly.
Remember…provide variety whenever you can, and use what you have available in your area.
And if you still don’t believe that raw is the best way to go for your dog, the proof is in the bone marrow pudding. The day we made the switch from kibble to raw with Luna was the last day we had any crazy digestive upset with her.