What makes more sense than feeding a biologically appropriate diet to our pets? After years of searching for the perfect commercial dog food, changing from one to another and yet another, never fully satisfied with the results, I heard about the "BARF" (biologically appropriate raw food) diet. Although I was intrigued by the possibilities, I was also afraid to make the transition to a diet consisting of raw meaty bones and some fruits and vegetables. What about bacteria? What about those bones, aren't they dangerous? How can I consistently feed a balanced diet that I put together daily? Where can I find all the correct raw ingredients and how can I store them?
Through research, lists such as Natural Akita, and networking with breeders already using a raw diet, I learned that many of my fears were unfounded. The bacteria issue is a big one, since the news media, medical and government agencies are always hyping them. Isn't it interesting that they are FINALLY admitting that things can be TOO clean? But I digress....
Regarding bacteria - find a good source for your RMBs. This can be a local butcher, a grocery store, wholesale distributor, processing plant, or whatever you can find in your area. Shop around (prices are REALLY variable!) and ask questions. If available and you can afford it, use organic and/or free-range. These precautions can keep the worst of the problems at bay. If you are concerned still, you can soak your RMBs in water with some drops of grapefruit seed extract added, as the extract has anti-bacterial action. However, also know that the canine digestive system is meant to be very efficient. They have powerful digestive enzymes and their digestive tract works much more rapidly than ours does. Between the enzymes and the lack of incubating time, bacteria should not be a concern for a healthy dog eating raw.
When I finally began, in 1995, I fed both raw and processed food for quite a while, still not sure I could manage all raw. After a spell of that, in 1997 I was ready to switch all my younger dogs to full time raw, and the transition was easy from there. I thought my dogs were in excellent condition before I went to 100% raw, but I still saw changes, some subtle, some less so. My oldest girls were most positively affected! After going to 100% raw, they acted like they had a new lease on life! Well, if I hadn't been sold previously, that would have done the job!
Another benefit is dental health. If your dog has been eating commercial for some time, they may not completely clean up after switching to raw, but you'll be amazed at the difference - in their teeth AND in their breath! Recreational chewing bones like beef knuckles, etc., work on cleaning teeth up, but the best action can be had just crunching up things like chicken backs.
Another thing I'd like to stress is that although there are many benefits to feeding raw, it is NOT a panacea to all ailments. If your dog has immune system problems - thyroiditis, allergies, skin problems, etc. - they will not be cured by a raw diet. It will help you in your quest to bringing your dog back to better health, but the aid of a caring veterinarian will still be necessary to monitor these issues. Working with a homeopathic veterinarian can help avoid things like steroids which do nothing to cure the problem, but are only a bandaid.
So how do I begin raw feeding?
There are some good web sites you can visit, and I encourage you to do that. (I've included some links!) I also suggest getting some books written about raw feeding. Dr. Ian Billinghurst is probably the loudest proponent of BARF feeding, and he has 3 books on the market now; Give Your Dog A Bone, Grow Your Pup With Bones, and his newest book, The Barf Diet. The diet plan that I use for my dogs is based around his suggestions. A great primer for raw feeding is Switching To Raw, by Susan Johnson. Carina MacDonald's book "Raw Dog Food" (see link below) can help with the worry factor. One of the best resources for how to calculate what you need to feed, sample diets, etc., are Monica Segal's books: K-9 Kitchen, Truth Beyond the Hype and Optimal Nutrition, as well as multiple excellent booklets. Her website is www.MonicaSegal.com. Each of these people have a different slant on some parts of raw feeding, and researching each of their basic diets will help you develop a program that best fits your own pets. On average, I try to feed my dogs poultry no more often than 3 times a week. I include rabbit, beef, pork, lamb, sometimes quail or cornish hens, and other things such as venison, buffalo and fish when I can get it reasonably. They eat a mixture of ground and RMBs. It's also important that organ meats such as liver and kidneys be fed. When selecting organs, those from younger animals are preferred. My dogs eat Green Tripe at least once/week, and a variety of ground or whole RMBs and mixes from Bravo! and Blue Ridge Beef products to round out their diet.
Some don't think vegetables and fruits are necessary, but I believe they are an important part of the diet, for the vitamins and minerals they contribute, not to mention fiber. I also have found my dogs do much better when I include veggies regularly. However, their cells must be broken down somehow, either by a juicer or food processor or cooking, before dogs are able to utilize the nutrients in them. I like to use a mixture of different veggies, and actually love the Bravo! pulped veggies. What a huge time saver! Other veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc., are also ok as an occasional addition.
To make the veggie meals more palatable, I mix them with ground beef/beefheart, ground turkey meat, or canned fish, as well as ground organ meat and eggs. I supplement with wild salmon oil and Vitamin E, and occasionally Animal Essentials Green Alternative or Herbal Multi-Vitamins, usually to veggie mush meals. For arthritis, I highly recommend the use of Elk Velvet Antler. It can really be a lifesaver for older dogs with the beginnings of nerve degeneration too.
Most Akitas don't seem to need grains added to this diet in order to maintain good weight and condition. Indeed, many Akitas have problems with grains, especially (but not limited to) wheat. Some dogs, however, do need the addition of grains to their diet, and canine nutritionist Monica Segal feels pregnant/lactating bitches need the carbohydrates too.
This page was last updated on: February 2, 2013
What Do You Need To Start?
Well, you'll definitely need enough freezer and refrigerator space to feed whatever number of dogs you have. Most breeders who feed raw have separate freezers, and some even have a separate refrigerator to keep thawing meat, veggies, etc.
You'll need a good, reliable and reasonable source for your RMBs and meat.
You'll need a strong conviction to continue in the face of all the dire warnings you'll hear from friends, family, veterinarians, etc. (Unless you're very lucky!)
You also need to realize that while it will probably cost you more than commercial kibbles (but less at the vets!), it WILL require more work and preparation time. How much more depends on the tools and equipment you have at your disposal and what foods you choose to feed!
If you just don't have the time or the room to prepare fresh raw meals daily, or you don't want the mess, consider one of the pre-prepared diets that are now available. I am the mid-Michigan distributor for Bravo! Raw Diets, which offers a complete line of ground RMBs, meats and mixes containing ground RMBs, meat and veggies. Visit their websites for a distributor near you or contact me direct for more info!
Take the plunge - your dogs will thank you!
I am Mid-Michigan distributor for Bravo! and Healthy Pet Diets. I also offer cage/antibiotic free poultry and lots of special treats for your dogs. There's a reason we recommend Bravo and Healthy Pet Diet - quality, fresh ingredients and superior products!
Christie Keith, author, successful breeder and a raw feeder since 1986, shares her wisdom and great links
Information about everything having to do with dogs!
Mindy Fenton Samuels raw feeding page. Great info and links
This is a book by our friend Carina MacDonald, and it's a great how-to resource for those new to raw feeding!
But I don't have time to mess with "formulas"!
No problem, you can still offer more than a bag of processed kibble to your best friend! Monica Segal offers very helpful booklets with recipes for raw or cooked diets, or even enhancing kibble. You'll find these on her website (or on Dogwise) where she also offers consultations to help you formulate a diet. You can also purchase "complete and balanced" formulas of ground raw products. If this option works best for you, we recommend Healthy Pet Diet; we're impressed with the formula and the high quality ingredients. The dogs are impressed with the taste! And now, in 2013, there are many more options available for this.
Cenral Michigan distributor for BRB -->