I ventured into the raw feeding world when Chester was 8. I’d given Chester and Gretel a little raw food here and there and not noticed the differences that a lot of raw feeding devotees claimed they saw. However, once I switched his diet to 100% raw, I did see a change.
It gave him the zoomies. He not only started acting like a puppy again, but he started acting more spunky than he ever did as a puppy on kibble. Chester started running around the house and fetching toys…repeatedly….which he hadn’t done since he was a pup…or much ever.
While I’m not a stickler for a raw diet – I’ve been known to give Chester and Gretel kibble on occasion and some of their treats tend to lean towards the junk food spectrum – it’s very important to me and I know it’s made a difference in Chester and Gretel’s health.
I’ve learned a little over the years about raw dog food but I am in no way an expert. The advantage of that is that I can give you a “big picture” look at the diet and boil the explanation down to a few basics. The down-side is that what I say may not be technically accurate (it’s more basic, layman’s terms). However, it will certainly give you a good starting place if you are thinking about switching your dog to raw food. So here we go…..
Why Does Feeding Your Dog Raw Food Matter?
Although it’s more complicated than to say your furry friend is a direct descendant from the wolf, they definitely share some similarities. One of them is that dogs are primarily carnivores. Since wolves primarily eat raw meat, meaty bones, organs, and, and vegetable scraps, it can be extrapolated that this may be the best diet for dogs.
Raw food diets are very controversial. There are many “pro” and “con” arguments to put it lightly. Anytime the topic of raw food comes up in online – even in a forum FOR talking about such matters – controversy is sure to erupt.
In a nutshell, people FOR feeding a dog a raw food diet believe that processed food is bad and that a dog should eat a food based on what canines ate before they became domesticated. Some also claim that the average veterinarian only recommends processed kibble dog food because many veterinary schools are sponsored by these brands (they’ve “drank the Kool-Aid”). They say that making your own dog food is safer and point to the commercial pet food recalls made over the years. They also claim that it is easier to design a diet specifically for your own dog’s nutritional needs.
People AGAINST feeding a dog a raw food diet primarily argue that dogs have evolved enough that feeding a dog raw food is not biologically necessary, that commercial dog food formulas offer a superior nutritional balance, and that feeding raw food is dangerous because the risk of the meat spoiling or being tainted by bad bacteria. They also counter any claims of benefits as being purely anecdotal since no large, or even numerous small, studies have been done regarding raw food diets.
I am of the mind that less processing of our food is better. I mean, a diet high in processed food is shown to be bad for humans. Why not for dogs too? If a dog is eating kibble, their diet consists of 100% processed food. Now, is it as bad as a person eating every meal from McDonalds? Definitely not. Dog kibble is designed to be balanced so it doesn’t contain an excess of salt, sugar, and grease like fast food does. However, processed dog food contains added preservatives that enhance product shelf life and the finished food looks nothing like the ingredients it’s made of.
Many people who have switched their dog to a raw food report significant health changes, including:
- More energy
- Relief from common skin problems, especially those caused by food allergies
- A shiny coat
- Cleaner teeth
- Improved digestion
- Fresher breath
- Smaller and almost odorless poops
- Easier weight management
- Extended life and improved quality of life
What Does Feeding Your Dog Raw Food Mean?
Feeding your dog a raw food diet has become a popular trend in the last few years. Companies that make the dog kibble people have been feeding their dogs for decades have noticed. They’ve started making foods with “raw” on the outside of the bag, which has muddied the waters for a lot of pet owners.
The other day, my cousin messaged me saying she wanted to feed her new puppy raw dog food. I assumed she meant raw dog food like I feed Chester in Gretel.
Instead, she sent me one of the foods she was thinking of trying. It was a dog food kibble coated in powdered freeze-dried meat. I had to explain to her that, while her example food did contain a form of raw meat, it was not a raw dog food. Let me explain.
Raw dog food is a mix of raw meat, bone, organs, and ground up veggies (and sometimes supplements like raw egg, fish oil, etc.). The ingredients are fresh and in their natural state. Sometimes a large batch is made all at once and then portions are frozen until you’re ready to use them but that is the only processing that is done to the food. There are several different “models” or types of raw dog food diets but the basics stay the same – feed fresh food and don’t cook it.
There are two main ways to do this – make it yourself or buy it. That’s it. If you are going to feed your dog raw food, those are your two options. (see the next section for more explanation on this)
However, there are some “shades of grey” between that and feeding your dog traditional kibble.
The next best thing to fresh, raw food is freeze-dried raw food. It contains the simple ingredients of meat, bone, organs, and veggies. It’s still considered raw even though it’s dried because it’s usually dried using a method that preserves the nutrients and enzymes in the meat. With this method, you just reconstitute the dried food with some water and then feed it to your dog. This is great raw food for travelling because it doesn’t require the food stay refrigerated. It’s also lighter than any dog food out there so it’s a great option if you are taking your dog on a backpacking trip.
Further down the grey spectrum in my book are dog food powders that you reconstitute with water. These foods usually contain a larger proportion of veggies and many contain grains like oats. More processing goes into this food – it’s usually ground and dehydrated. But it’s still quality, whole-food ingredients and quite healthy.
Then you have kibble coated with freeze-dried raw dog food (usually meat only – no veggies) that says “raw” on the package. Many will argue that it’s purely a marketing gimmick and that there is no additional value of this freeze-dried coating. I can’t say I disagree in regard to a “healthy diet”. It’s still processed kibble, plain and simple. The amount of powdered meat on the outside of the kibble (or extra chunks in the food in some case) has very little added nutritional value. However, I think some “real meat” is better than none and it probably makes that kibble taste way better to your pup. As long as you understand that these foods are not actually “raw dog food”, they are a great way start venturing into the raw food world.
Home Made Raw or Pre-Prepared?
As I said above, if you want to feed your dog a true raw food diet, there are only two ways to do it. You can buy all of the ingredients and make it yourself or you can buy it pre-made in frozen patties or nuggets.
The pros of making it yourself are a “feel good factor” because you are making something healthy for your dog, getting to choose and control every single ingredient yourself, and it can be cheaper if you buy meat in bulk. Cons include the danger of not getting the nutrient mix right (it can be dangerous to your dog’s health if you don’t) and needing a lot of freezer space to store the meals you make and/or the ingredients. You should also be very careful when preparing the food that it doesn’t “go bad” by being left out too long or coming in contact with surfaces containing bacteria.
One big pro of buying it is taking the guesswork out of it for you. According to Dr. Karen Becker, “All of the raw food diets sold in big box stores, upscale pet boutiques, and vet clinics require the same nutrient analysis testing that any other pet food undergoes in order to be AAFCO compliant”. It’s also very convenient because all you have to do is open a package and scoop the right amount into your pet’s bowl. Cons include a potentially higher cost and still needing freezer space to store the food until you need it (but it takes less space than making the food yourself).
Since both methods are usually more costly than feeding dog kibble, the decision factor comes down to convenience for me. I choose to buy frozen, prepared raw food for Chester and Gretel.
How to Make Feeding Raw More Convenient
I said that buying pre-made raw dog food is the more convenient way to go, right? It is. However, feeding a raw diet is still not as convenient as scooping some kibble out of a bin and tossing it in a bowl. You have to plan ahead a little.
However, there are ways to make it as convenient as possible.
Unless you have a lot of freezer space, you’ll be keeping less meals on hand than if you had a huge bag of kibble tossed in the pantry. This means that you may have to visit the pet store more often to resupply.
I actually like shopping at the pet store. I like to wander around and look at all of the treats, toys, beds, etc. available. However, this takes up valuable time in my schedule I could be doing something else with. During the busy times of year for me – namely holidays and spring and summer travel season – taking the time to go shopping can be inconvenient.
The way to make buying raw dog food painless is to have it delivered to your doorstep. If you have it set up on a regular schedule, it will arrive whether you forget to order it or not (Ahem. I may have done that once or twice).
Once the food is at your house, you can make the feeding process more seamless by:
- Thawing out enough food for a few days at a time and keeping it in the fridge
- Putting a new batch in the fridge to thaw out the day before you’ll need it
- If the food comes in nifty individual packets, open several and combine them into sealable container (opening those packets can be a pain at 5 am)
- Get a small freezer for your basement so you can keep more food in your house at a time
Darwin’s: Highest Quality Raw Dog Food Delivered to Your Door
One of my very favorite raw dog foods comes from Darwin’s Natural Pet Products. Not only is it made of high quality human-grade meats and veggies, but I can subscribe so it arrives on my doorstep at regular intervals. The company is based here in Western Washington so I can feel good about supporting a small, local company.
I feed Chester and Gretel the Natural Selections™ premium line of raw dog food. It’s made with free-range meats and organic vegetables. All the turkey, chicken, duck, beef, or lamb used in the food was raised cage free (free-roaming), or pasture raised, or were grass fed, and are free of steroids, antibiotics, or artificial growth hormones.
Darwin’s also makes a more economical formula called ZooLogics™ raw dog food. It’s made with conventionally-grown beef, lamb, turkey, chicken and vegetables from the same farms that supply your supermarket.
Darwin’s formula for both lines of raw dog meals is:
- 75% meat
- 25% vegetables
- Gluten-free & grain-free
- Free of steroids, hormones, and antibiotics
- A nutritionally balanced complete meal
- High in protein, moderate in fats, and low in carbohydrates
For dogs with special needs, they also have an Intelligent Design™ line (available by prescription only).
Darwin’s offers a free menu consultation (for both new and existing customers) if you are not sure what or how much to feed your dog, ships to customers throughout the United States, and offers free home delivery to customers living in the greater Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon metropolitan areas (shipping prices for other ares of the country are calculated only on the weight of the food in your order with a small $6.50 charge per order for materials and handling).
I tried Darwin’s a few years back. I signed up with their introductory offer for new customers but went back to getting Chester and Gretel’s frozen raw dog food after almost a year. However, after trying several brands, I came back to Darwin’s. If you’ve been following us you know I like to rotate dog foods occasionally. I still might sometimes but I don’t feel the need to it often with Darwin’s because it’s one of the highest quality prepared raw foods out there.
Disclosure: I love Darwin’s Raw Dog Food and buy it myself. However, they did send me a bonus order in exchange for writing this article. Everything I said is truly how I feel about them though. Darwin’s did not influence my opinion.