5 tips on How to Pick the Best Raw Dog Food…
- Are they using the right formulation?
- Are they using actual meat?
- Use your eyes and nose
- What is the range of organs used?
- Be wary of window dressing
After a doctorate studying the effects of diet on the behaviour and gut morphology of mammals, five years in Guide dogs as a trainer and pup supervisor, making the stuff for two years and the last 10 years on the inside of the industry, writing and speaking internationally on all things canine nutrition, I think it’s fair to say I have a few good tips on how to pick a good raw dog food.
The main thing I have learned you can have from the offset – the pet food world is a dark and at times scary place. All food products for pets should be treated with mistrust until more is known and that, very sadly, includes raw dog food.
Just because the company is making raw food does not make their products worth a great deal of money. Like the dry food sector, very sadly, nobody is keeping an eye on raw dog food companies. Nobody is checking what they are putting in there in any real way, nobody is checking label claims. As with dry food, you will have business people that see a profitable market for what is generally considered waste meat products (such as carcass, necks, organ meats) and wish to exploit it. Hence we see meat producers and farmers getting involved, folk that are not necessarily up on what’s best for dogs (but certainly know what is the best for their bottom line!). In this way, raw foods too have their share of cowboys and crap products.
So here are 5 tips for picking some of the best:
1. Do they have the right formula?
The best pre-made raw dog foods now, in my opinion, are those based on something like the 5:1:1:1 ratio. In short, this means 5 parts meat muscle, 1 part bone, 1 part organ meat and 1 part plant bits (I use veg in dogs for all these reasons). The 8:1:1 ratio, known as the Prey Model, cuts out the veg, saying it should be 8 parts meat, 1 part bone and 1 organ (that being the makeup of your average small mammal). This is fine too. Even if you don’t believe in the ethos, you can add your own bits to it at home. Anything close to these ratios is fine, it’s not an exact science though.
2. Are they using actual meat?!
Sounds ridiculous but here’s the crux of it – when you buy raw “chicken” for dogs, what are you buying? Ground up breast meat? Unlikely. Ground up legs? Also unlikely. Thighs maybe? Wrong again. These pieces are pricey and no raw dog food manufacturer gets rewarded for using these pieces over say necks. Necks aren’t bad, I quite like them, like little meaty fingers. But then there’s carcass. The definition of carcass is the frame without the meat. It looks like chicken mince to you, feels and even smells like it, but it’s just chicken fat and bone.
One way to test the true fat content of your minces (not just what is written on the packet) is to boil 100g of it for 15mins then allow to cool. The fat will float to the top and solidify. Now you can and measure how much fat is actually in there.
This is still good stuff for a dog, but in moderation. It would normally be considered meaty bone, but now you’re paying £3.50/kg for it, the same price as good chicken off the shelf of the supermarket.
It’s not easy to defend against this, recommend you call them and ask. Even the best manufaturers use carcass as (good quality) filler but they “beef” up their mixes with actual meat parts like tripe or heart etc, so they should probably be a second ingredient. Heart may not always be labelled as heart, it may simply be called “beef”, but good enough.
Some suppliers are grinding up trachea and lung and selling it to people as beef. Can you believe that? A small bit of this stuff is fine but as a long term strategy it’s a firm no. Sadly, as it’s very cheap it’s very popular.
3. Trust Your Eyes and Nose
You want a company that uses butcher-grade meat, the same quality that we eat. If possible buy the meat whole, on the bone, so you can see what you’re buying. If buying minces, make sure they’re chunky, not ground mush. Mush can be a deceptive mix of carcass (skin and bone) and blood. Again, fine in small doses, but you need your mince to be meaty. Your dog needs it to build his own muscle and organs and skin and hair and bone and cells and hormones.
Look how meaty sausages look, there is nearly zero meat in them. The best companies WANT YOU TO SEE the meat and lumps of organ etc so they tend to chop chunky.
And trust what you can smell. Bad meat smells bad. Fresh meat shouldn’t smell offensive AND should last for at least 4 days in your fridge before starting to smell bad. If you only get a day, give them one more shot. If it happens again, change supplier.
4. It Must Have a good range of Organ Meat
Organ meats are like green veg to dogs. You want products that include as big a variety of organ meats as possible. Liver, kidney, spleen, heart, are all popular and very nutritious additions. Organ meat should be 10-15% of the diet. If they’re not in there (perhaps not in each product, but across the range) and ideally from different animals, I’m less inclined to think they know what balance means.
When manufacturers say they are using fish (at least anything bigger than sardines or sprat) they are probably using heads, which is actually good news for dogs (in strict moderation). They’re meaty-ish but crucially here provide your dogs with a source of brains and eyes. Vital. You can get them free from your fish monger. Freeze first.
5. Beware of Window Dressing
Many competitors will dress up what are poor quality meat mixes with fancy additions to catch your eye. Don’t fall for this window dressing. Nobody is checking if they are putting it in and I have heard all the stories I need to know many are not using a tenth of what they say they are.
Another trick is using the worst quality coconut oil, seaweed, fish oil, herb, Often times you’d be better off without it.
Crap, ineffective green tea costs $20/kg. The stuff with the phenolic compounds costs $440/kg. Guess which ones goes in your food and make up and tablets?! Not sure but both enable you to say green tea on the label
That said, if the first few ingredients look good and you trust the company then some additions are to be welcomed. We like a little Irish seaweeds which are packed with vitamins, minerals, trace elements and unique bio-active compounds.
Cheap is usually a bad sign. Something has to pay, usually the animal going into it or the animal eating it. Price is no reflection on quality and there’s no such thing as cheap meat.
So What Is Recommended?!
Best of Pre-mades…
Nothing compares to making dog food yourself from stuff you source from your local butcher and supermarket.
That said if, I really like the pre-mades by Paleo Ridge and Honey’s Pet Food. I know these guys. They use the very best meats they can find and don’t skimp on it. Always fresh. They make food like it was for humans. And they’re ethical in their sourcing. And largely organic. They are very much worth their price. You can buy these excellent pre-mades and supplement them with cheaper bits if you like.
[I participate in the new Online & Local scheme which allows folk like me to promote companies they know and trust and retain a percentage of each and every sale. It helps me keep the lights on. It’s only for British customers mind. Irish readers, please go to www.storganics.ie, the cheapest for all your Paleo Ridge needs.]