When it comes to raw meat dogs can eat, you are spoilt for choice.
Dogs are literally designed to eat raw meat. Raw meat for dogs is a natural diet. They ate it for a million years before domestication about 15 000 years ago. Kibble came along relatively recently in the grand scheme of things — only 160 years ago.
What raw meat can dogs eat?
Dogs can eat virtually any raw meat you can get your hands on.
An example of a raw meat diet dogs love
A typical meal for my 3-year-old boxer is a chicken frame with lean diced beef or chicken breast. Once or twice a week I throw in a little offal, usually liver.
Once a week he also gets a lamb neck as a recreational bone, which he consumes almost totally.
You don’t need raw dog food recipes. You just need a butcher or supermarket. If you can feed yourself, you can feed your dog. No pet store necessary.
How do I feed raw meat to dogs?
It’s simple. Buy the highest quality cuts you can afford so that you’re feeding the leanest possible meat.
Chicken legs, for instance are fatty but skinless breasts are some of the leanest meat you can get.
Remove the skin and trim all visible fat. Feed. That’s it.
If you want to fine tune it, you can feed the muscle and organ meat first and the edible bone or chicken carcass second. Why? This mirrors the way wolves have been observed to eat in the wild.
A word about fat
It’s not that fat is bad for dogs. That rationale for removing fat is to return the fat:bone:muscle ratio to something closer to natural.
Why does this matter? Dogs evolved eating lean game meats. These days we feed them the products of human agriculture, livestock that are deliberately fattened for slaughter. So domestic dogs are getting a whole lot more fat in their diets than their wild ancestors, while being a whole lot more sedentary.
Fat provides more calories than protein. And it’s cheaper.
But it’s also much harder to digest. It takes longer and saps more energy in the digestive process. Fats have to be emulsified before they can be absorbed as nutrition. That’s hard work!
Add to that the fact that animals store toxins in their fatty tissue, as the body’s mechanism of hiving off the substances to protect the rest of the organism. What toxins? Toxins from chemical wormers. From pastures treated with herbicides. Toxins ingested in other food. When our dogs eat that fatty tissue, the toxins are passed along the food chain and begin accumulating in our pets.
Buying organic meats goes some way towards addressing this. But organic meats are not always available or affordable. So removing all visible fat is a good practice all round. It’s impossible to remove all the fat, so your dog will still be getting plenty.
Avoid feeding grinds or mince. It’s too fatty and it robs the dog of the chance to use his teeth to break up the whole body parts. Crunching on bones has both dental and psychological benefits.
How much raw meat to feed dogs
Feeding 3 to 5% of your dog’s ideal body weight is a good starting point.
Depending on your dog’s body condition and activity levels, observe how he responds and tweak accordingly.
What is a balanced raw diet?
Muscle meat will make up the bulk of your dog’s raw diet. Some say 60 per cent, some say 80.
A good guide is to feed mostly lean muscle meat with enough edible bone to give solid poops. Poops that are too liquid mean not enough bone.
For my dog it works out like this:
His ideal weight is 31kg. So I feed around 1.6kg of food a day, in two meals of 800g.
In each 800g meal it breaks down roughly like this:
600g lean muscle meat
200g edible bone i.e. chicken frame
On days when I add offal, I feed it at 10% of the total food, so around 150g i.e. 75g in each of the day’s meals. On those days I feed a little less muscle meat, so the edible bone portion stays the same.
Once a week or so give a recreational bone, and you’re done! Be sure to supervise bones and remove before the last portion gets small enough to gulp.
Beyond that, you don’t need to worry about counting calories or adding supplements. Dogs don’t consume isolated chemistry, or free oils like fish oil, in nature. You’re feeding whole foods. Bone, for instance contains the perfect ratio of calcium to phosphorus. Nature has done the work for you.
Do I need to freeze raw meat first?
There is a belief amongst some raw feeders that they need to freeze raw meat before feeding it. They think this kills bacteria. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, refrigeration and freezing only slows bacterial growth. It doesn’t kill bacteria. Only cooking does that.
Dogs’ guts are equipped to handle the bacteria naturally occurring in raw meat. Their highly acidic gastric juices kill any nasties.
On top of that, buying human grade meat from a butcher means you’re getting meat that has been through rigorous inspections which eliminates the risk of parasites. Human grade meat also reduces the chances of poor food handling procedures introducing bacteria that don’t belong in the meat.
If we take our cue again from nature, wolves consume their meat freshly killed. As close to that scenario as possible is what you want. So, fresh is best. Allow the chill to come off meat before feeding.
I actually soak the meat inside a double plastic bag in a warm water bath to bring it to warm. This just makes for more efficient digestion, because the body has to heat cold food up before digestion can begin.
What is the best food for dogs with allergies?
There is an industry of testing and medicating built around the notion of allergies or food sensitivities. But food allergies are actual rare in dogs.
Many owners find symptoms previously labelled as “allergies” completely resolve once the dog is properly fed.
Dogs previously told to avoid chicken or to only eat “prescription” dog food can happily eat chicken once that chicken is raw and fed as part of a proper raw meaty bone-based diet.
Similarly, rotating proteins, eliminating proteins or feeding novel proteins is not necessary when a dog is properly fed.
Variety works because it hedges your bets
Even changing from one bad dog food to another bad dog food sometimes shows immediate improvement in symptoms, but not for the reason dog owners usually think. It’s not that the new food is good. It’s that the new food is bad but in a different way to the old one.
What’s happened is the particular mistake or excess associated with the first food has been relieved by removing that food. Owners typically see some temporary improvement until the different mistake made by the new food starts to make itself felt. Hence the merry-go-round of dog foods until finally owners come to raw feeding and see, over time, permanent resolution of symptoms.
In this way too, changing from one protein to another can seem to work because perhaps the first protein was much fattier and this one is more lean. Rotating the proteins can offset the fat content of the fattier proteins, like lamb. In the same way novel proteins — like crocodile, for instance — can work because those novel proteins are often very lean. It’s the removal of excess fat that’s lifted a burden from the body.
Feed lean meats in the first place and you don’t necessarily need to keep changing from one meat to another.
Organ meat for dogs
Offal, or organ meat, is an essential part of a balanced raw diet.
Dogs in the wild consume the internal organs of prey along with the muscle meat.
When we talk about organ meat we mean secreting organs. Liver tends to be the most available but kidneys are worth including from time to time. Pancreas would count, although not available where I live.
Green tripe, the gut lining of ungulates like sheep and cattle, contains lots of enzymes and is good to have in the mix if you can get it.
Organs like tongue and heart are considered muscle meat for the purposes of raw feeding. In fact heart is a very lean, and relatively cheap, muscle meat.
Some also feed brains and eyes or whole prey like rabbits when they can get them. Chicken feet are fun, but they’re also high in fat, so feed sparingly.
Fish for dogs
Dogs can eat fish.
Wolves in the wild have been observed catching fish.
Sardines are a fantastic chance to feed a truly whole food with a perfect ratio of edible bone to flesh. Some people feed them canned, but those ones are cooked. Get fresh, raw ones from the fishmonger.
Keep it simple. Take your cues from nature. Avoid combining raw meat with plant matter — dogs in the wild eat “mono meals” of either plant or meat, not both.
Wolves and dogs are ‘facultative’ carnivores, which means they can sustain themselves on fruit as a secondary food when their primary food source is not available. They will graze on fruits like blueberries when prey is scarce, but never will they eat meat and plant together.
Chicken frames provide highly digestible, readily available and cheap edible bone for dogs. Make this your staple. See how your dog fares with different body parts but in theory you can feed every part of a chook.
For recreational bones avoid weight bearing bones like femurs and shanks as they’re much more dense and more likely to crack teeth. Marrow bones are also not ideal, though popular. Marrow is pure fat.
Beef neck bones meet the non-weight bearing criteria, but they tend to have some small pieces that can be broken off and swallowed rather than ground down first. I find my dog does best with lamb necks.
What is the best food for a dog? Raw meat, without a doubt.