Raw Feeding A Dog, Demystified

Raw feeding a dog doesn’t have to be complicated. 

There is so much conflicting advice — and plain wrong information — out there that I remember being very nervous about making the transition. 

It’s hard to trust you’re doing the right thing when authority figures like breeders and vets so frequently recommend processed dog food, be it kibble or canned. They sometimes even suggest to owners that raw food is unsafe for dogs. My advice? Run a mile from any vet who wants you to believe this.

The origins of kibble for dogs: How did we get here?

Kibble was first invented 160 years ago in 1860 by an electrician from Cincinnati called James Spratt. The ingredients? Wheat, beet root and vegetables bound together and baked with beef blood. What was the motivation behind his product? Convenience for dog owners — and profit for himself, no doubt.

By the 1930s in the United States (and the 1960s in places like Australia), the feeding of processed dog foods had become widespread. 

In 1964 the Pet Food Institute, a lobby group for the American pet food industry began a $50 million a year advertising campaign to get people to stop feeding their dogs anything but packaged dog food.

Arguably one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history resulted in most dog owners coming to believe that packaged dog food was superior to fresh, raw food.

Somehow pet food manufacturers got us to buy their products by causing us to question or to forget the obvious: that raw meat and bone is a dog’s natural diet.

Raw meaty bone-based diets are the evolutionary food that dogs ate for a million years. It’s what the canine physiology and digestive system is designed to eat

Untangling all the misinformation takes some doing. 

Raw diet recipes for dogs

A typical meal for my raw fed boxer dog is: 

  • chicken frame (super affordable) 
  • diced lean beef or diced chicken breast

That’s it, with a few additions: 

  • once or twice a week I toss in some offal (usually lamb or beef liver)
  • about once a week he gets a lamb neck as a recreational bone
  • once or twice a week he gets a couple of raw, organic eggs
  • a handful of fresh, raw sardines from the fishmonger 1-2 times per week

You can feed other organ meat too but the important thing is to include a secreting organ. This usually means liver, kidneys or pancreas. Raw green tripe (the stomach lining of ungulates like beef or usually sheep) is also good, though can be hard to find. 

How much should I feed my dog? 

How much raw food to feed a dog is simple. A good guide is to start with 3 to 5% of the dog’s ideal body weight in food. So for my ideally 31kg male boxer, the math looks like this:

0.03 x 31 000g = 930g

0.05 x 31 000g = 1550g 

This is the only raw food dog calculator you’ll ever need. I have a set of kitchen scales to check, but you quickly get a feel for how much food that amounts to. 

Can raw feeding for dogs be balanced?

Owners contemplating raw feeding often worry about their dog “missing out” on nutrients. 

This fear is implanted by the pet food industry and, unfortunately, reinforced by conventional vets.

Why?

The answer is as baffling as the question itself.

First of all, the average vet doesn’t know much about dog nutrition. (Read more about that here.) Dog disease is a vet’s focus.

Secondly, it’s not without expecting something in return that dog and cat food manufacturers cultivate close relationships with veterinary schools.

Take a look and you’ll see, for instance, that pet food brands frequently fund veterinary conferences. A coincidence that vet clinics then sell those same products in their waiting rooms? “Prescription” diets take on almost medicinal power in the minds of owners, told their ailing pets can eat only these highly processed products.

A vet’s perspective

The Australian raw feeding pioneer Dr Ian Billinghurst says the idea that whole, raw foods are not balanced nutrition is a myth “devised for no other reason than to enable the sale of pet foods”. He says it has “no scientific basis” and “on the contrary, it violates many natural feeding laws, and in the process lays the foundation for sick dogs”. 

“Ask yourself the question: is that the way you design your own meals? Each of them totally balanced with every conceivable nutrition present which you require? Of course you don’t. No creature since life began has eaten that way.” 

He goes on: 

“The attempt to put all the nutrients a dog requires in one product results in much ill health.” 

You achieve balance over time. Hence the occasional feeding of offal, for instance. Read Dr Billinghurst’s book! It was written 30 years ago, in the ’90s. Today it is more relevant than ever. 

The notion that domestic dogs are not wolves, so shouldn’t eat like them

Billinghurst addresses this too, but if you think about it you can see where the truth lies. 

For a million years of evolutionary history dogs and wolves were the same animal. Only about 15 000 years ago were the first wolves domesticated into dogs. Kibble came along just 160 years ago. 

Dr Billinghurst explains that dogs and wolves have essentially identical physiology. 

“Although the mind and outward appearance of our modern dog has changed dramatically, the internal workings, including the entire digestive system and the way food is utilised for growth, maintenance, repair and reproduction is fundamentally the same as its wild ancestors.” 

Dr Ian Billinghurst
Vet, breeder and author of Give Your Dog A Bone

Of course, dogs didn’t stop evolving once they were domesticated. 

Research has found dogs have more genes than wolves for the digestive enzyme amylase, giving them a better ability to digest starch. 

This makes sense as an adaptation to eating the carbohydrate-rich scraps discarded by humans since the advent of agrarian societies. Natural selection would favor dogs that could cope with this diet. 

Which doesn’t, of course, mean carbohydrate-rich diets are optimal nutrition for dogs. Or that there aren’t health consequences associated with this departure from the diet dogs were originally designed to eat, and ate until relatively recently in the span of evolutionary time. 

According to Vicky Marshall in her book The Lucky Dog Weight Loss Plan, it is possible for a species to “partially adapt” to a new diet, but “palaeontologists believe that this change takes at least 100 000 years.”

It’s worth reading the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society position statement which is a summary of the current research supporting the safe feeding of raw meaty bone based diets to cats and dogs. In it they address the major objections often raised by those opposed to raw feeding. 

But my dog has a sensitive stomach. He can only eat prescription food

A raw diet promotes a healthier gut biome. 

Check out the study

What is the best dog food for skin allergies? 

As Dr Billinghurst explains, processed pet foods and poorly constructed homemade diets make all sorts of nutritional mistakes. One of them is a lack of sufficient omega 3 fatty acids. 

Dr Billinghurst says this deficiency is responsible for the high prevalence of “allergic” and inflammatory skin problems in pet dogs, as well as so much arthritis. 

Raw meaty bone based diets provide abundant omega 3s. 

How much does it cost to raw feed a dog? 

Mogens Eliasen, in his book Raw Food for Dogs, quotes a major Australian study on natural feeding. He points out that “dogs fed on a natural diet develop a strong immune system that will cause your vet bills to go down, maybe even dramatically”.

Kennels that switched from feeding kibble to raw food “experienced a significant reduction in their vet bills”. The average saving? 85 per cent. 

Which is to say nothing of the heartache you’ll save when your dog is spared the health problems associated with processed diets. 

Give me raw any day. 

In conclusion: Is raw meat good for dogs? Which is the best dog food?

Dr Billinghurst says “What should I feed my dog?” is the most common question vets hear, but it’s usually phrased as “What is the best dog food?”

Hopefully you can now see that the answer is the best dog food is not dog food at all. It’s just food: raw and fresh and biologically appropriate. 

Feed a raw meaty bone based diet and see your dog thrive. 

More reading

Raw meaty bones: Nature’s toothbrush

Mucus in dog’s poop: Why it’s not always a bad sign