Semper Fidelis Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Striving for correct, healthy, performance-driven, versatility

Raw Feeding Tips and Tricks

If you've gotten this far, chances are you have done some research and are really interested in feeding a raw diet, reducing vaccines, and living with an overall healthier pet. Let me first say, GOOD FOR YOU! If you recognize that what is going into bagged and canned pet foods is not good for your pet, I encourage you to continue to research and get serious about your pets health. Please also follow THIS LINK for some serious updates on the raw feeding front.


Tips for Starting Out

Starting out:

Before you begin feeding raw, please invest in either a stand up or chest freezer. If you are feeding one dog, it doesn't have to be a huge freezer. It just needs to be big enough so that you aren't running to the store a couple days per week. I would say a 5 or 7 cu/ft freezer would be plenty big enough. Many times you can also find a good freezer on Craigslist or at local yard sales.


When first starting out with feeding a raw diet to a kibble fed dog, it is best to stop feeding kibble cold turkey. In fact I suggest you either throw it away completely or donate it to your local shelter. Mixing meat and bone with kibble is not good. It is important to know that kibble and raw food digest at a different rate causing things to get backed up in the system and creating gastric upset.


When you are going to start feeding raw, stop feeding kibble, and fast your dog for 24-36 hours. This gives a chance for the kibble to move out of the system. Beginning to feed raw is sort of like a cleanse for all the bad stuff your dog has eaten. Your dog will likely purge his system and he will experience runny or loose stool for several days after you begin. Depending on the type of kibble you were feeding, this could last a couple of days or over a week or two. Don't give up. If you want to start slower, cook your dogs meat (without bone), and each day cook it a little less until it is completely raw. The best meat to start with is chicken, because it is a bland meat. It is best to start a new raw eater on bone-in chicken breast because the bones are smaller and easier to chew. Feed the bland chicken, and slowly progress over the period of a week to a few days to larger cuts. After your dog has been eating the chicken successfully, you can begin adding other meats and organs.


For puppies: Most puppies come from their breeder eating kibble. Keep them on the kibble for a few days to prevent adding onto the stress of moving to a new home and leaving the litter. After a few days when you have the potty/feeding routine down, stop the kibble. I would fast only one meal (skip one meal). Puppies can start on pieces of boneless chicken breast for the first couple of meals, then graduate to chicken necks and bone in breast. As their experience increases you can increase the size of the meat as well as adding different types of meats. Don't forget to add organs after their system adjusts.


Tools:

Get a good quality heavy meat cleaver. Some of your dogs meat meals may need to be cut down and a heavy cleaver will make it easier. I use a large cutting board with a gutter to catch any juices and I always have a supply of freezer Ziploc bags on hand in both gallon and quart sizes.


If you are going to be getting ambitious such as cutting apart deer... I use a saws-all. The dogs will eat every part of the deer including the fur. I do not feed them the legs. I will cut it into chunks and then put into garbage bags to freeze.


Sources of Meat:

Typically I purchase most of my dogs meat at the grocery store and occasionally the butcher. I also use a company called Raw Feeding Miami to add variety to my dogs diet. I have found that the butcher's prices are similar to the grocery store and it's not worth the hassle to go to the butcher and buy such large quantities. If you have a friend who hunts, ask them to save deer organs for you, typically the deer is field dressed and the organs are left behind.


Storage:

I store my frozen meats in a deep freezer, in the garage. When I bring meat home, I divide everything up and package into 1 gallon freezer bags. Then I simply throw them into the freezer. I keep a large open container in the garage refrigerator, on a towel. Every few days, I remove meat from the freezer, and place it on the towel in the fridge to defrost. Then as it becomes defrosted I dump it out of the plastic bag into the open container. By not putting a lid on the container, it prevents the meat from going bad so quickly. I have found I can keep meat in the open container for a week or more before it starts to turn.


Variety:

The key for a raw based diet is to feed as much variety as possible. I feed organs once or twice a week, with a bonier meal, along with varying meats. Red meat is very important as it has essential nutrients that are necessary for their minerals and vitamins. Pork is a cheaper red meat, and is many times on sale. It also has softer bones than beef. Beef heart and tongue are muscle meat, and should be fed as such. They are also usually less expensive than other muscle meats. Your dog, no matter his size, can eat any and all types of meat from all sources. DO NOT feed the long leg bones from large ruminants (beef, pork, deer, moose, elk, etc). These bones will break your dog's teeth. Any wild animals that you plan to feed should be frozen for a period of two weeks before you feed them to your dog to kill any parasites the animal may have had. Try to only feed animals that are herbivores, and stay away from scavengers and carnivorous animals such as raccoon and fox. Your dog MUST eat organs. They are vital for proper nutrition.


Grinding:

By putting meat through a grinder, you are removing the chewing, and tearing action that dogs need for healthy teeth, jaw, and gums. Grinding also exposes all sides of the meat to air which in turn makes it age faster. I do not recommend grinding your meat for your dogs. Even puppies (and kittens) can learn to chew smaller less dense bones. If you are concerned about the bones, you can use a kitchen mallet (or the back side of a cleaver) to smash the bones up inside the meat.


Regurgitation:

For dogs that are relatively new to raw feeding, they will many times chew their food, and then bring it back up to continue chewing before attempting to swallow again (even some of my seasoned raw feeders do this). This is completely normal, and with more experience, they will learn to thoroughly chew their food before attempting to swallow it. New raw eaters (and sometimes seasoned ones) will sometimes regurgitate up an undigested bone, sometimes hours after they eat. This is also normal. You may also see yellow bile that gets brought back up with a bone fragment. This means your dog's tummy is empty and may need to be fed more at the next meal.


Supplements:

Some raw feeders believe that supplements are unnecessary. I believe that since my dogs are not fed wild animals of their choice, it is possible to miss a nutrient that they need to function. I choose to feed a daily canine multi-vitamin. It is also important you add a good quality fish oil capsule for a raw fed dog as the O3s are important. Look for wild-caught salmon oil. I get Salmon oil capsules HERE. You can also get a good quality wild-caught salmon oil at most health food or high end grocery stores (Wegman's, Whole Foods).


IMPORTANT***Stay away from any fish oils that have soy in the capsules,

as soy is not digestible by carnivores and can be an allergen.


Expired Meat:

Many times you will find meat in the grocery store that has been reduced for quick sale. I buy this stuff right up, and stick it in the freezer. Even if the meat has started to go a little rancid, the dogs don't care. They will eat it anyway, and it will not bother them. If you have meat that you have been defrosting and it happens to go a little rancid, it is still safe to feed your dog. The nutrients and minerals are still there, and your dog will probably like it better. Only to the human nose, is the meat bad. For your dog, it is just fine to feed.


Freezing and Thawing:

For humans we have been told that we should not consume meat that has been frozen more than once. This is not true with dogs. The meat can be frozen multiple times and still be fed to your dog. It will not lose any of the nutritional value.


Organs are Important:

Organs are an essential part of a raw diet. Liver, kidney, spleen, testicles, lung and brain are some that I have fed. Organs, (sometimes referred to as offal) should make up between 5-10% of the total diet with liver being half of that. Organs are an extremely important part of the diet as they contain required vitamins and minerals. They do tend to be very rich, so I often feed them with more bone so they do not cause a runny stool. I usually feed organs 1 to 2 days per week. Do not cook organs (or any other meat) as this removes the valuable vitamins and minerals from the meat. Some dogs do not like the texture of organs, so I have found if you cut them into small pieces and mix with some ground meat they will usually eat them.


Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are useless to dogs. How often do you see dogs attack a field of wheat or corn? Never. Humans get their energy from carbohydrates, not Dogs. Rice, wheat, corn, etc... are not needed in the canine diet.


The only caveat I have to this is feeding growing puppies. Carbohydrates do help put weight on a lanky growing puppy... the only form of carbohydrates I use is from The Honest Kitchen which is produced in an FDA approved facility or cooked oats, quinoa or barley. For puppies, during growth spurts, I add between 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked oats, quinoa or barley to one meal per day.


Fats:

Since dogs don't use carbohydrates. where does their energy come from? Fats. Make sure you are not cutting off the fatty tissue or skin from the raw food you are feeding. Dogs should be getting it whole; bone, meat, connective tissue, skin, and fat.


Vegetables:

 Vegetables do contain vitamins, however dogs can receive the same vitamins from raw uncooked meat. Some folks report that the incidence of contact or environmental allergies is higher when they feed vegetables. I suggest vegetables be added if a large variety of meat cannot be offered, this way you are hitting all the bases when it comes to micro-nutrients and vitamins. Vegetables must be put through a food processor or steamed, as a dog's digestive system cannot break down the plant cell walls to make use of the available nutrients.


Frozen Meat:

Many times you may forget to completely defrost meals in the refrigerator before meal time. Don't worry. Your dog will be just as happy eating his meal frozen as he will thawed.


Fasting:

Many raw feeders fast their dogs once a week or so. Some say it isn't necessary, and some say it is. The reasoning behind it is to make sure the digestive system gets a chance to rest. I have done both 12 hour fasts (skipping one meal) and 24 hour fasts (withholding food for 1 day) after having large meals the day before. Remember that wolves in the wild don't always have a meal every day and can survive several days (maybe even weeks) without food. Fasting your dog for 12-24 hours will not affect him.


Measuring:

Your dog should be getting 2-3% of his adult body weight in food per day. Keep in mind that's not his actual weight, but his ideal weight. If your dog is under or overweight, you will need to adjust accordingly. Puppies need to eat what they will weigh as an adult, split into 3-4 meals throughout the day. Pregnant, or lactating bitches will need to eat closer to 4-5%, and will need an increase in calcium (bone). For adult dogs, you can split the meal between two times or you can feed just one meal per day. It's up to you and depends on the dogs energy level. Puppies should start out eating approximately 3-4 meals per day when very young, and as they age the meal will be reduced. Some folks first start out measuring/weighing every meal. After feeding raw for awhile, you will find that your eye is a pretty good measuring tool, and by looking at your dog you can easily decide whether he needs more or less at the next meal.


Feeding Location:

Many people that first start out are paranoid about feeding meat. They should be... salmonella does affect humans. Especially young ones, the elderly or anyone who has a compromised immune system. Choose a location that can be easily cleaned. For this reason alone, I no longer feed raw meat in my kitchen as I once did. The dogs do tend to make quite a mess while chewing their food, and blood would splatter on the floor and walls. I have fed my dogs outside on the deck, or in the yard, one at a time for several years. It is easily cleaned, and is less of a mess to clean up. If you do choose to feed indoors, remember not to use any chemicals on the floor where your dog will be eating so they don't ingest them after licking up the floor. Some people feed inside crates, some feed in their garage, and some feed outside on the ground. Some folks feed on a towel, old shower curtain, or on a mat of some type. There is really no right or wrong way to feed.


Bloating:

Many people are afraid of bloat, myself included. Bloat has been directly linked to kibble fed dogs and the use of raised dishes. It is also known to be hereditary. Dogs who are raw fed have much less chance of developing bloat than dogs who are kibble fed. Bloat is caused by the gases that build up from the ingestion of kibble. Raw food does not contain the the fillers that cause gas as in kibble, so there is less to worry about.


Appetite:

After feeding raw for awhile you will likely notice a change in your dog's appetite. If your dog used to have a ho-hum attitude towards mealtime, you may find that he becomes much more excited about his meals, and may seem to have a ravenous appetite.


Poop:

After your dog's digestive system settles down and gets used to eating raw food, you will notice a change in his poop. He will poop 1/2 to 1/3 less than when he was eating kibble. The poops will be smaller, and yellowish/white. Depending on what the dog eats, sometimes the poops can be a little runny, usually from richer meats and organs. This is completely normal. When the poop dries it turns white, and crumbles back into the earth. This is completely normal, and is a benefit of raw feeding. I rarely have to scoop poop in the yard.


Coat, & Skin:

Some other changes that you are sure to notice over time may be a softening of the coat, and clearing up of hot spots, and lessening of dandruff or other skin problems.


Muscle Mass:

Raw feeding eliminates fillers used in kibble, and creates a dog who looks leaner and has more defined muscle mass when compared to kibble fed dogs. Kibble fed dogs often look squishy, out of shape, or soft, even though they are at their ideal weight.


Teeth:

After several months on raw, you will soon find that much of the tartar that was on your dogs teeth will go away or lessen. The chewing of raw bones and the enzymes in the meat are what make this happen. You will also find that your dog needs less dental cleanings or none at all. I routinely use a dental scraper to get rid of any plaque that may be starting along the gum line. I have never had a vet tell me my dogs teeth need to be cleaned.


Feeding Puppies:

Many folks start their young puppies out on raw right away. Some start them out after they bring their new puppy home at eight weeks. Others are not comfortable doing this, and prefer to feed kibble. I start previously kibble fed puppies out on raw chicken bone in breast and necks and as they get bigger I increase the bone size, meat type and add organs.


Puppies need to eat multiple times per day. Some puppies do okay with eating three times per day and others who may be going to daycare or are busy during the day will need to eat four times per day. A Ridgeback puppy needs to eat the same amount or more as an adult would eat. This is roughly two to three pounds +/- per day split into smaller meals so as not to cause gastric upset. 


Watch your puppies weight and adjust accordingly. Your puppy should be lean, but not bony. Fat puppies put too much stress on young growing bones and joints.


Summary:

Important things to remember.... Variety is key, organ meats (especially liver) is required. Supplementation with a high quality fish oil is essential.


Kibble contains synthetic ingredients such as calcium that is added to the food. Raw food does not contain any synthetic ingredients. If there is any question as to what is contained in raw food, all of the answers can be found on the USDA website for raw meats. Remember that raw food is low in protein, and kibble companies add protein in the form of beans or legumes to jack up the content of their food as well as adding vital vitamins and nutrients after they have over-processed their foods.


Here is a great resource for vitamin and mineral content of a raw diet.


I wrote up a page with a sample raw diet for an adult Rhodesian Ridgeback.