Graw Dog Food was the Best Raw Dog Food Ever…
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, speaking and writing on canine nutrition for years and eventually making the stuff for two years, I think it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about raw dog food.
It was while I was on the road with my seminar (What Do Dogs Eat) speaking to groups of canine professionals, that the seeds of an idea started to grow. I thought “I can make a really good raw dog food”. A months later, Graw (stemming from the word grá, the Irish for love) dog food was born. Within a year we had won Dragons Den 2013 and sales grew exponentially. However, I rapidly fell out of love with my new role and new business. It was very hard work. Just two years later I moved it on and went back to what I was good at, speaking and teaching canine nutrition. My seminars have since taken me around the world, Australia, Switzerland, Taiwan and, one of my favourites as she’s a hero, Turrid Rugaas’s prestigious Dog Symposium in Norway in 2015.
I have studied the industry intensely from the outside and, perhaps uniquely, have operated also on the inside. After all this, I can say one thing with certainty – the pet food world is a dark and at times scary place. And all food products should be treated with mistrust until more is known.
My advice for pet owners is, of course, to stay away from cereal-based pet food but also not to let your guard down with raw dog food companies either. Just because the company is making raw food does not make their products worth a great deal of money. 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 problems.
What are the best Raw Dog Foods?
The best pre-made raw dog foods now, in my opinion, are those based on something like the 5:1:1 ratio up to the 8:1:1 ratio. The 5:1:1 ratio relates to 5 parts good quality, meaty mince with some bone in it, 1 part organ meat and 1 part cooked veg. 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). Anything in between or close to these ratios is fine. It’s not an exact science though. None of us can be fully sure exactly what is needed nor what we are actually getting in there day to day but we all agree it’s lots of meat, a bit of bone, a bit of organ and maybe a smattering of ground up / cooked up veg ingredients.
Choose One Using Real Meat You Can See
You want a company that uses butcher-grade meat, the same quality that we eat. If possible buy the meat whole so you can see what you’re buying. If buying minces, make sure they’re chunky, not ground mush, which can be a deceptive mix of carcass (skin and bone) and blood. In my expDogs can eat some of this but as it is the foundation of a dog’s diet you need your mince to be meaty as meat muscle builds muscle and organs and skin and hair and bone.
I do not trust the paté-mush-like raw pet foods. who can use carcass as their meat portion by finely grinding it with some blood. It looks meaty to you but it’s largely red fat and bone. Look how meaty sausages look, there is nearly zero meat in them. 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.
In my experience, a great number of raw dog food producers are making products using, for example, chicken carcass and lots of veg. The veg fibre helps the boney, fatty and not very muscley meal pass through the guts. It’s actually still better than dry food as a whole but would be more like an “occassional feed” and carcass and veg should not cost the consumer €4/kg. So it’s a bit disingenuous charging what you would pay for whole chicken in the first place, which would be infinitely better.
It Must Have Organ content
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 it’t not in there the product cannot make any real claims of balanced, if such a thing were possible. The organs can come from any animal but are usually beef, pork or lamb, being the easiest to source.
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. But if the first few ingredients are in order 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. Maybe a dash of pure coconut oil or the likes. Often bits like rosemary and vitamin C are included, usually as a natural way to control the micro contents of the products but they also have great benefits to the dog.
Made in Ireland:
I trust meat from Ireland as we have the highest, domestic animal welfare laws in Europe. Our birds have the most amount of space. Our farmers are much slower to use antibiotics. Our department of agriculture runs a very tight ship. As a result we have the lowest Salmonella levels in our poultry in the world. If you guy in a product from outside of Ireland you have to trust that product, while maybe manufactured in the UK actually uses meat sourced in the UK etc. Sadly we have no raw dog food producers in Ireland. Please check that your producer does not handle Halal / Kosher meats which are animals that have been barbarically slaughtered without prior stun.
You don’t judge a book by its’ thickness and you shouldn’t buy meat based on price. 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 Premades…
All these things considered, I struggle to stand over any product that has been ground to a fine mush. There are simply too many tricks employed to make you believe your €3-€4/kg is actually buying meat muscle. Hence I no longer really promote any raw dog food brand that grinds fine. This eliminates a lot of the raw dog foods available to us in Ireland and the U.K. Furthermore, many are still, unbelievably, not including a good organ range in their products. Some of them smell nasty and others, when defrosted looks like unappetising mush. With meat you must trust what you can see, smell and touch.
If in U.K. I think the best of what are left, in the U.K. anyway, is probably Paleo Ridge, largely as they handle a lot of organic, ethical meats, and they do not grind their minces too fine, so I can see what I am ordering. Good range and prices too. If you go to them tell them you came from here so they will like me more.
If in Ireland…unfortunately for us, shipping UK products in is pricey. Also while raw dog food in the UK can be 0% VAT (they call it “working dog” food), there is no such exemption here. Thus, after 23% VAT is added on, plus the shipping (€200 per pallet) and cold storage over here etc, you can expect UK products to be twice the price over here. You can find Paleo Ride at the Pet Parlour, who are in Terenure, Dublin. They have a great stock of wild Irish meats including wild Irish duck mince, large pheasant carcasses and a whole heap of other bits. Vitally for Duds, they also stock Atlantic sardines and a good range of high-quality dry meat treats. Clearly a big fan of these guys.
The Best is What you Make Yourself…
I think the gold star option though is making dog food yourself on stuff you source from your local butcher and supermarket. They have bins full of stuff! Supermarkets. Wholesale meat suppliers. Local butchers, what’s he got in the bin? The reduced aisle of supermarkets are great (ask when their meat comes in, go to the reduced aisle the day before). Or try any of the numerous online butchers. Here in Ireland I use Carnivore Kellys.ie, their stock mixes are ideal as a baseline for dogs, in my opinion. Almost all butchers do “value packs” (make sure the meat is Irish, in so far as possible). You usually have to pick these up though. This way you’ll know what you’re buying as you can see it.