by Cody Pierce (Jun 01 2013)
Feeding Raw Food, and the Logistics of Actually Doing It
My experiences as a dog owner and feeding a raw diet.
I’ve been feeding our dogs Zeus and Sterling on a raw diet for about 3 years now and I believe it has been successful. To be clear, I’m nothing more than an owner trying to do the best I can for my dog friends, I’m not a vet, nor an expert. Our dogs are both healthy, their coats are nice,their teeth clean and they don’t stink. They are fit as a fiddle and will just about out athlete any other dog they come across. They haven’t been to the vet for anything other than shots and so far, we’ve had no negative effects. When we first adopted Sterling he was a fat, stinky dog. After about a month he had trimmed out, put on a ton of muscle and dumped a bunch of fat. He didn’t smell and his coat cleaned up entirely. They both took to the raw diet very naturally, you know, almost as if it was instinctual.
I’ll assume you’ve read the various articles available online about the pros and cons so I’ll skip to the logistics. If not, start here http://rawlearning.com/. It’ll seem a bit unconventional at first but remember wild animals don’t eat kibble, and niether did Ol’ Yeller.
When I first started I read a lot online, but it was hard at first to know what was safe, what was normal and how to make it all happen.
My main goal is to provide my two pit bulls with a good diet, but at the same point, I understand they aren’t terribly picky, don’t seem to bother with tasting much of anything and are generally easy to please. Considering that, in addition to healthy, I focus on making this as cost effective as possible, which is easy when they aren’t judging my plating presentation.
To that end, their primary diet is chicken. Whole chicken that I either cut into quarters or sixths. My goal is to not spend over $1/lb but I can typically pay less than $.80/lb if I plan ahead and buy in bulk. I generally watch the sales fliers and the majority of what I buy is whole Fosters Farm chickens. One of the grocery stores has it on sale about each week, with the exception of turkey oriented holidays (just the opposite around the 4th, Memorial days etc). For me,
Ralphs is the most convenient but I also will stop into Von’s as well as the Top Value, Superior Market and Buy Low. If possible I prefer whole chickens as those come with the gizzards but if some other cut is on sale, so be it. I try to keep at least a week or two supply on hand because sometimes the sales will skip a week or two. We plan on adding a deep freezer in the garage, then we can go to a few months at a time.
With the whole chickens I put a plastic cutting board in the kitchen sink, a zip lock bag or two on the counter then I basically cut the whole body with a meat cleaver into either 4 or 6 pieces. Usually straight down the back, then the leg and thigh comes off in one piece, then I’ll split the remaining breast/backbone into 2 pieces. It sounds tricky, but it really isn’t. Just get a heavy cleaver. I don’t swing it, more so just apply pressure with two hands and keep all ten of my fingers clear. After a bit of practice you’ll be able to cut a whole chicken in about 3 minutes. Doing it in the sink makes cleanup easy peasy. Also remember, this is people grade food, so if we are cooking something with chicken I’ll just cut out the breast for us, and give the rest to the dogs (sorry dogs!) If you’re buying just breasts for yourself you’re paying about $6/lb typically (ouch!). They eat every single bit of meat that comes in the package. Nothing gets wasted.
Also, leave the pieces as big as possible so they chew it for a while. By no means attempt to cut it up into bites. Just to clarify, they get the whole chicken; bones, meat, giblets, necks etc.
In addition to the regular grocery stores, I visit City Foods Wholesale http://cityfoodswholesale.com/ in Long Beach. If that isn’t convenient I’m sure there is a similar wholesale meat market in your area that sells wholesale to the public. If you can, try to find out where the restaurants buy their meat. I’ve gotten to know the owner at City Foods and he knows what I’m after. I can generally pick up 10lb boxes of some sort of white fish, be it flounder, halibut, sole etc. They are usually the miscut pieces. Basically, everything that doesn’t look pretty enough to sell as a filet. Fish is really nice because it is super easy to feed if you run out of something that is thawed. It’ll thaw in lukewarm water in about as much time as I can take a shower. Great for morning meals! My target on this is again under $1/lb and I can normally do it. I also have scored whole chickens that came in a case that was crushed, freezer burned beef patties etc. He knows I’ll take anything that is healthy, but not acceptable to sell to a restaurant. This seconds of the commercial food industry. Funny thing is, after talking with the owner about the raw diet he has since started his chihuahuas on raw chicken wings and says they love them. They do sell some stuff that he advertises as ‘pet food’ but I skip over that. It’s just the same stuff, with an inflated price tag.
I do feed turkey or beef when I can find a deal on it, but not too much of that. I don’t get crazy sourcing ducks, geese or any of the other things you hear of people feeding. Check the discount bin at the meat counter. You can typically find meat that is coming up on its date at half off. I also know a couple hunters and I’ve given them dibs on all the unwanted game meat if they come by it.
Non Meat Food
Some will argue that dogs are purely carnivores. Just judging on Sterling’s work in my garden, he is most definitely a forager. I think if he was left to his devices he’d eat lizards and cucumbers, and Zeus would eat rats, avocados and berries.
Whole eggs, shell included. It’s really funny to give it to them un cracked. The first time Zeus got one he just carried it around in his mouth for a while and looked confused. Finally I thumped his jaw and it broke. I wish you could have seen his eyes! Eggs can be found at places like Superior Market for less than a dollar a dozen, or we just share whatever we have on hand which is the organic eggs. They will typically eat the shell too.
Avocados are on sale in the winter. Under $1 each is good, but they ate like spoiled brats a couple weeks ago when they were $.39 each. Avocado does amazing things for their coats and they LOVE them. I’ve read that the pit and skin is bad, but I also have a friend who has a tree and their dogs never got sick (just fat) after eating tons of them off the ground. I also planted 2 avocado trees last year. When those take off I’ll have two of the happiest, shiniest pits in the planet. I think avocados are the key to any skin problems for my dogs. If I notice dry skin or flakes a couple avocados will do the trick.
Sweet potatoes are popular too. I will just wrap those in foil and bake at 400f until soft (typically about 45-60 minutes then put them in the fridge and give them about ½ of a potato a day. Squash can be fed the same way too.
Sterling will eat just about anything else. Just about any veggie, including hot peppers. He went hog wild in my garden and decimated my bell peppers and cucumbers last summer. Zeus eats like a 13 year old. He snubs his nose at green things, but then acts sad when he isn’t in on the action so he eats whatever Sterling does just to not be left out. At one point I put some veggies into a food processor with meat but that just turned out to be a pain and not worth it.
Plus, Zeus was hip to that trick.
They love fruit and anything sweet. Sterling even likes citrus. They will take a half a melon and chew it until the rind is about ¼” thick. It’s a riot to watch. Melons are way cheap in the summer, typically under $.50/lb. Also peaches, bananas, berries, mango, apples, nectarines, cherries etc. Basically, if you like it, buy your dog some too! Remember also, they aren’t picky. If that banana is a day or two past where you like it, your dog won’t judge. If they are given something with seeds like a whole bell pepper they will magically eat every bit except for a pile of seeds and the stem. I’m not sure how they pull that off. Long story short, I wouldn’t get worked up about de seeding things for them. They will work it out. I try to give them the fruity stuff early in the day. Occasionally after a bunch of fruit they will drop some pretty nasty gas bombs and we don’t need that at bedtime.
The other snacks they love is cheese. That is more of a treat for them so when I’ve got some cheese out they get a piece. I’ve also fed them plain yogurt when I have it around.
For just a bit Sterling was on some medicine (for his cavity/pulled tooth that was most likely sponsored by a grain based diet). I could just cut a slit into a piece of meat and slip the pill in and he’d gobble it down, none the wiser.
If you read enough online you’d only be feeding your dogs white rice or something stupid. It seems that if you look hard enough everything is poisonous, but it doesn’t seem that wild dogs are dropping dead all the time from poisoning themselves. If they don’t like it, then it probably isn’t good for them. If you are concerned, just start with a small bit at first. The only thing I won’t feed is grapes, but I’m even skeptical of that. On a few occasions I’ve put a piece of meat down for them and they both smelled it and give me the ‘look’. I don’t know what was wrong with it, but it went to the trash. It seemed fine to me, but they knew it wasn’t right.
If your pup is healthy then fast him for a meal or two then just go for it. You DO NOT want to mix raw food with kibble. That just gets nasty on the other end. Also, once they are on the raw diet avoid any grain based food and treats. A couple milk bones will stink up the world.
I call total shenanigans on all the germ worries. As long as the meat is good to eat they will be fine. Dogs are just that; dogs. I put their food on a plate and they promptly pick it up and drop it wherever they please and just eat off the ground. When we are camping, they eat dirt in the process. Whatever guys. It’s your food, drop it in the dirt if you want. On that note, you DO want to do this outside, or plan to do it somewhere very confined and clean up afterwards. If you did feed in a kennel they would lick up the mess, then a quick wipe with cleaner and you’d be set.
People often worry about their dog having fish breath or getting chicken licks but it really isn’t a problem. Somehow they never get their faces dirty and there really isn’t any evidence of their meal on their breath after about 30 seconds. Zeus thinks licking me is pretty awesome and he still hasn’t managed to kill me with komodo dragon saliva either.
Whuuut? Did he just eat that?
If I give them just chicken legs they can swallow them whole. So, I avoid those in favor of something larger they have to chew, but they can do it without any ill effects. It’s just alarming to see the first time. They will also occasionally regurgitate a piece and go back to work on it. Considering that, I always watch them until they are finished eating. I also feed them right next to each other. Conventional wisdom is to separate dogs during feeding but that just seemed like a time consuming pain, so they learned to respect each other during meal time instead.
Anecdotally it doesn’t seem like my guys drink much water. I think it is because their diet isn’t dehydrated, that, or I’m totally dreaming.
DO NOT cook the meat!
Never, ever feed them a cooked bone. This is where the whole myth of bones started. Cooked bones splinter and will cut their throats or stomachs if not just flat out kill them. All of our people food scraps with bones goes straight outside to the trash that they absolutely can’t get at just to be safe.
How much to feed?
I’ve read that 4% of their body weight/day for an adult is a good baseline and so far that has held true. Considering that, sometimes they get big meals, other times, small. They usually skip one meal a week, which is a lot more indicative to reality for a wild animal than 2 squares a day. I’ve not raised a puppy on raw yet but I think 6% is the place to start.
Hopefully you’ll give it a shot. Not only will you have a healthier dog, more than likely you won’t spend as much money doing it too! Good quality (allegedly) kibble is about $3/lb. I’m able to feed for a bit under $1/lb overall. I’m also able to skip vet trips and I don’t supplement with anything. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or post up questions on the LARPBO page!