Raw Dog Food: A Guide For Beginner Feeders
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re considering a switch to raw dog food for your best friend. Threading the waters of raw feeding may seem intimidating and even risky to some, but change does not have to be scary as long as the right steps are put in place to help your dog transition smoothly and safely onto raw food.
What is Raw Dog Food?
We’ll start off with clarifying what isn’t raw dog food – it isn’t just pieces of raw meat. Raw dog food is a type of diet that is comprised of uncooked muscle and organ meat with natural sources of calcium derived from crushed bones or eggshells. A balanced raw diet for dogs should ideally include raw vegetables, eggs, healthy fats and a small amount of fruit.
There are various reported benefits of raw dog food including:
- Reduced allergy symptoms
- Improved digestion
- More robust immune system
- Fresher breath
- Eliminate dental plaque and tartar build up
- Better energy levels
- Less smelly stools
- Thicker, healthier coat
- Less inflamed skin
With this host of benefits, it is no wonder that more dog owners are choosing to switch to a raw diet for their buddies.
A Canine’s Natural Ability
Some of you may ask, ‘Won’t my dog get an upset tummy consuming raw bones?’ or ‘Won’t raw meat make my dog sick?’
To answer this, we first need to look at a dog’s physiology. Your dog’s saliva contains antimicrobial enzymes, proteins such as lysozyme and immunoglobulins, and antimicrobial peptides, which tear holes in bacterial cell membranes. This reduces the chances of bacteria to produce toxins that cause your dog to get sick. Even before raw food travels further down your dog’s digestive tract, her body already has a first line of defense to reduce the number of pathogens from entering her system.
Typically, a healthy dog’s stomach acid ranges from pH1.05 to 2.2. In some dogs, the acid level can be below pH1.0 which is the equivalent of a car battery acid. Such acidic gastric conditions help dissolve raw bones properly in your dog’s stomach and minerals to be absorbed without causing her to get an upset stomach. The acidic pH in a dog’s stomach helps to sterilize bacteria and this is one of the reasons why if your dog is healthy, properly prepared raw dog food that contains raw meat should not make her sick.
It is thought that another reason why dogs can consume fresh raw meat without experiencing the same side effects compared to humans eating raw meat is because a dog’s liver is more active and breaks down bacteria at a faster rate. There is also discussion that dogs may not have that many receptor sites (think of them as magnets) for toxins that are produced from bacteria to latch on. Less receptor sites = less chances for toxins to remain in the system.
Raw meat that has not been heat treated is extremely digestible and bioavailable for dogs. It means that nutrients from the food is more readily absorbed by the body. This also explains why one of the initial observations you will notice once your dog switches over to raw is that there will be lesser poop.
Helping your dog adjust well to a raw food diet won’t be too challenging, especially if you consider the following tips:
1. Include Gradual Transition Period
We cannot underscore how important it is to include a gradual transition period when switching your dog from a different diet (e.g., cooked/dehydrated/freeze-dried) to raw.
Especially if your dog is currently kibble-fed, a gradual transition period is crucial. Doing so allows your dog’s digestive system to slowly get used to the new diet and minimises issues like diarrhoea, vomiting or decreased appetite. Not only will your dog enjoy the whole process better, there will be less cleanup for you to do.
For dogs with more sensitive stomachs, you will want to start with a 70:30 ratio of existing food to raw food for at least the first 4-5 days. You can gradually work your way up to a 50:50 ratio by day 6 and fully transition to a 100% raw diet by the second week.
However, if your dog has been blessed with a strong stomach and accepts new food easily, you can start with a 60:40 ratio for the first 1-3 days and then fully transition her to a 100% raw diet by day 6-7.
Minor signs that your dog’s body is adjusting to the new diet can include softer-than-normal stools, mucous being present in stools, runny eyes and/or excretions through ears. This is more common for dogs who have been fed kibble prior to the switch, but can also happen to other dogs. Do not worry as this is normal. It is the body’s way of detoxifying itself as it cleanses the tissues and organs in the process.
This acclimatisation process may take between 4-7 days before the symptoms completely clear up.
2. Avoid Different Diets in Same Bowl
When introducing raw food to your dog, you will want to keep the raw meal separate from what you’re currently feeding your dog. This means that you should not mix raw food with a different type of food together in one bowl. Doing this is not advised because raw and processed food like kibble digests at different rates.
The pH level in your dog’s digestive system changes based on the food she has consumed. Because of the high amount of starch found in kibble, it raises the pH level in the gut, making it less acidic and more alkaline. This interferes with the natural digestion process. Pathogenic bacteria like E coli and salmonella are more likely to survive in digestive systems that are higher in alkaline, causing stomach upsets or sickness in your dog.
3. Include Natural Digestive Aids
There are several whole foods that are full of natural digestive enzymes to help during the initial transitional phase. For example, if your dog has been on a canned food diet and you are ready to start her on a raw food diet, though her body may not have the necessary amounts of digestive enzymes to help her to digest the raw meal, adding the following natural foods will give an extra jumpstart to her digestive system when she’s first introduced to raw dog food. You can also continue giving these foods for a few weeks after.
Natural Foods with Digestive Enzymes for Dogs:
- Green unbleached tripe
- Goat’s milk
- Apple cider vinegar
Your dog will also benefit from a diet that is supplemented with a dog specific probiotic.
Can All Dogs Eat Raw Food?
Raw food is suitable for dogs of all ages and even for puppies that are as young as six to eight weeks old. Pregnant or lactating mums can also consume raw food. It is important to closely monitor your dog especially during the first 1-2 weeks. If any adverse symptoms like drastic weight loss, lethargy or lesions develop, stop the diet immediately and consult your vet.
While raw food is good for most dogs, it would be unwise for us to say that raw food is for all dogs because there are groups of dogs who should avoid raw food. If your dog falls into any of the mentioned categories below, do consider other diets such as gently cooked dog food or a vet recommended meal.
Which Dogs Should Not Take Raw Food?
- Immunosuppressed (e.g., cancer)
- Digestive issues
- Late-stage kidney or severe liver failure
Proper Handling of Raw Food
Even though your dog is well suited to consume raw dog food, we have to pay close attention to the way we handle the food. Proper food handling practices when it comes to raw food will ensure that we don’t fall sick.
When handling raw dog food, please make sure that any surfaces that come into contact with raw food are properly cleaned and disinfected. This includes your dog’s food bowl, utensils that are used to handle the food, counter tops and containers used in your fridge to thaw the food. Water bowls should also be washed thoroughly on a daily basis.
Needless to say, it is important that hands are properly washed with soap after handling raw food.
If your dog does not finish her meal, please promptly discard the raw food and do not let it sit in the food bowl for an extended amount of time as pathogens such as bacteria will start to grow at room temperature. Raw food should be left out for no more than 1 hour. Take extra care to avoid letting the elderly, young children and individuals those who are immunosuppressed handle raw food.
 Itoh et al. 1980, Sagawa et al., 2009). Youngberg et al. (1985)