Warning: this post will talk a lot about dog poop and also some pretty icky meat parts like chicken liver.
It will also make me sound like a crazy dog person, because only crazy dog people make their dog’s food at home. But for those of you long-time readers, you’ll remember that my pup, Ru, has always had some pretty terrible skin allergies. For anyone that has struggled with pet health issues, it is the pits. It’s emotionally exhausting and expensive. It makes you feel awful that you can’t give your furball relief, even as you spend half your paycheck on vet visits and a rotating cast of foods, vitamins, and other solutions.
My girl friend Angie works for Primal Pet Foods, a raw pet food company based out of SF. For years she’s been trying to convince me to switch my pets to a raw diet, swearing up and down that it’s so much better for them, despite being costly. Being that I was at my wit’s end with Ru and always looking for solutions, she generously gave me a coupon to try a bag out. We stuck with that for a month, then I started looking for more affordable raw options and switched to freeze-dried, which even still was a whopping $100+ a month for a medium-sized dog. And despite the fact that Ru lost some weight and looked a bit healthier, I was having a hard time justifying the 3x cost of raw.
When I heard how great Kirkland grain-free dog food was, I finally gave in and bought a bag, thrilled at the idea of spending just $30 every six weeks on dog food. After just a couple of weeks, though, I quickly realized that the raw food was way more effective than I realized. Suddenly Ru was pooping GIANT poops three times a day. She instantly gained five pounds that I couldn’t take back off again, and she began shedding way, way more. I knew that these were clean signs that even a great, well-regarded kibble was just nowhere near as good as true raw dog food.
After some deliberation, I decided to try making Ru’s raw food myself. At first, the idea seriously stressed me out. I began reading furiously, both books and blogs. I made lists of the best ingredients, calculated how much she needed to eat and what nutrients were required. I wasn’t totally convinced until I took a trip to our local grocery store and realized how reasonably many of the meat ingredients were – chicken wings, oxtail, liver… these types of cuts are very, very affordable and exactly what pups need.
Right now, I’ve compromised. We do her regular kibble in the morning and a raw meal for dinner. It’s possible I’ll switch to all raw once we get going and I have a clearer idea of how expensive this is going to be, but so far I’m delighted to find that a half-raw diet is only going to cost about $40 a month.
I’m also delighted by the quick improvements I saw in Ru. She immediately stopped shedding and her poops lessened and became more firm. There’s no doubt that this stuff makes a difference.
Now, if you’re thinking of switching your dog to raw, I recommend doing a ton of your own research because I’m far from an expert. That said, here’s what I’ve discovered that works for us:
1. Dogs need about 2% of their body weight in food every day and 75% of that should be meat
For Ru, 2% of her body weight comes into a little bit more than a pound a day, which I weigh out on my $15 cooking scale. It’s important to give your dogs a variety of meat as well, just like they would eat if they were in the wild living on rabbits one day and duck the next. My solution was to create a puree of food using my food processor, which included ground beef, chicken liver (which provides essential nutrients), sardines, apple, carrots, kale, butternut squash, yogurt, and eggs (including their shell). I froze it in multiple containers, so I can make giant batches at once and only need to pull out as much as I need every few days.
2. Raw meaty bones are an essential part of their diet
Raw meaty bones are typically non-weight baring bones that are soft and can be consumed whole by your dog, such as wings, throats, ribs, and tail. Unlike cooked bones, which can shatter and actually puncture your pup’s insides (eek!!), these soft bones are very digestible and actually provide essential calcium as well as a teeth cleaning. Now, every day I rotate her between the meaty puree and a raw meaty bone with a side of whatever veggies or fruit I have in my fridge.
3. The other 25% should be fruits and vegetables, as well as yogurt with active cultures
I recommend doing some research on the exact fruits and veggies dogs should and should not be eating (onions, for example, are toxic), but for the most part dogs can help us eat the stuff that’s going bad in the bottom of our produce drawer. In Ru’s pureed food I included kale, apple, butternut squash, and carrot, and to supplement her raw-meaty-bone meals, I’ve been giving her apple slices, pureed sweet potato from a can, or some steamed broccoli or cauliflower, which isn’t technically raw, but much easier for her to digest. I’ve also realized I need to give her the veggies before I give her a bone, because otherwise she turns up her nose at the stuff – typical kid, right?
While not all dogs handle dairy well, a little bit of quality yogurt with active cultures helps keeps their tummy bacteria healthy, just like humans. Make sure to get the non-fat, sugar free kid, and keep it to very small doses.
4. Vitamin supplements are an important addition, such as fish oil
While it’s possible for dogs to get all the nutrients out of their raw food, I’ve decided to make sure Ru’s getting a balanced diet by adding some supplements. Fish oil is one that I’ve been adding to Ru’s food for years, raw or not, and it makes her coat and skin much healthier. I’ve also been adding Halo Vita Glo Vita-Mineral Mix, which includes wheat brand, primary dried yeast, calcium lactate, and other vitamin-rich, natural products. It’s easy to make into a “gravy” to pour on Ru’s veggies or mix into the puree, and she gobbles it right up.
Is raw pet food an option that you’ve ever considered or tried? What does your dog or eat? Does your pup or kitty ever get a raw bone or leftover fruits and veggies from the fridge?