Raw Feeding 101

I was looking through the resources pages on Dogster and happened across an article in the Ask A Vet section where Dr. Barchas addresses raw feeding. I think Dr. Barchas really tried his best to answer the question, but I found the end result somewhat misleading and confusing to people who have no knowledge of a raw diet, and I want to address this in this entry.

Foreword

Before I get started, please let me put out a couple of things:

First, it’s important to understand that not every veterinarian will be a good source of information regarding feeding. In their training, vets receive instruction on the basic nutritional needs of dogs, but they are not experts in creating pet diets, nor are they able to tell you which brand or type of food would be best for your individual dog. Some vets with specialty training, called Veterinary Nutritionists, may be a better source for this information. Think of it like going to your family doctor: he or she can tell you to eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables, but if you need a meal plan or specific dietary advice, you’ll need to see a specialist, such as a dietician.

Second, I don’t advocate the raw diet for every dog or every dog owner. Raw feeding requires not only a lot of research but also a lot more work than feeding a commercial diet. There are many excellent commercial pet foods on the market for people who choose not to raw feed and there’s no shame in not feeding a home-made or raw diet.

Lastly, raw feeding is not new, it’s not a fad, and it’s not a response to pet food recalls. Many breeders and owners in the United States have been feeding healthy raw diets for decades. It is due to recent recalls, however, that there has been interest from a wider segment of the population into this type of diet. Unfortunately, greater interest means that many people who feed raw have not taken the proper time to understand and feed this type of diet correctly, and many recently-published articles are misleading or poorly researched.

That all said, let me get to Dr. Barchas’ article and raw feeding 101.

Bones in the Raw Diet

Dr. Barchas writes, “When whole bones are added to the diet, new risks develop. Although many animals can tolerate bones, many others will break their teeth on bones or chew the bones into fragments that can lodge in the intestines. The latter problem can be life-threatening.”

When you feed a raw diet, raw meaty bones (RMBs) such as chicken leg quarters or pork ribs, should make up about 60% of each meal. Bones provide important nutrients including calcium, collagen, iron, and fatty acids in the meat and bone. Many raw feeders use chicken leg quarters as their “staple” food.

It is completely safe to feed any of the bones I’ve named above, just as long as they are RAW. They become unsafe once they have been cooked because cooking alters their structure, making them brittle and easy to splinter. In their raw form, however, these are soft bones that can be crunched up, swallowed, and digested. These small, soft bones are supposed to be eaten in the raw diet.

The only time outside of cooking these bones are dangerous is if your dog tends to gulp them down instead of chewing – in this case, you will want to give larger pieces, puree the bones, or hold one end while your dog is eating to control how fast he can consume it.

Recreational Bones

Another type of bones found in the raw diet are recreational bones. These are the weight-bearing bones of large animals, such as cows or pigs. Unlike RMBs, recreational bones are not meant to be chewed up and swallowed. In fact, the dense bone can cause damaged to the teeth, esophagus and intestinal tract. They are meant to be offered only for supervised recreation – as “chew bones.”

Raw Feeding – Doing it Safely

Dr. Barchas points out in his article that, “raw meat, if not properly prepared, can harbor parasites and diseases such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. (…) Although animals naturally eat raw meat, they are still susceptible to these diseases. And they can spread them to people.”

If you’re feeding a homemade raw diet, buying and handling raw meet is par for the course. Most raw feeders purchase meats that are human-grade, sold in standard grocery stores or butcher shops. Standard safe food handling practices also apply: cut your meat on a surface you use only for this purpose (such as a red cutting board for red meats), bag and freeze what you’re not using, and defrost only what you’ll be using that day.

Additionally, many commercial raw diets are also available, including those that are dehydrated (just add water to feed) and prepared frozen meals (just defrost and feed) to make raw feeding safe and easy, particularly for beginners or people who are not ready to “do it alone.”

It’s still important that you practice good hygiene and safe food handling techniques when you raw feed. If you’re careful with handling meat and clean up diligently, there’s little chance you will contract food-born illnesses. The chances of getting sick are the same as handling meat to prepare your own dinner. Just be smart about it: clean your counters (bleach wipes are great!), and wash your hands. Obviously, keep your dogs from licking you, particularly in the face, after they have eaten and for about an hour after feeding.

Your dog will be fine, too, even if the meat contains Salmonella or e.Coli. Dogs very rarely get sick from these.

Raw Feeding Resources

You can learn more about raw feeding from some of the sites below. These are sites of breeders, owners, and veterinarians who have been feeding a raw diet to their dogs for many years and have lots of good advice on how it’s done.

The Raw Dog Ranch
Leerburg: Q&A on feeding a raw diet Raw Learning
Monica Segal Nutritional Solutions for Dogs – raw and homemade diets

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