Skip to Section:
- What is raw dog food?
- Why do they need raw dog food?
- Benefits of raw dog food
- Cost of raw dog food
- What exactly to feed a dog
- Is raw food complete?
- Is raw dangerous?
- How much raw do they need per day?
- Introducing & storing raw dog food
- What if I get it wrong?!
What is Fresh / Raw Dog Food / BARF…
It’s called lots of things – raw dog food, fresh dog food, even BARF! The acronym BARF dog food was coined in Australia by Billanhurst. It stands for Bones and Raw Food (but was later tweaked to Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). They all mean the same thing. They are based on the biological facts that dogs are carnivores and as such they should be fed a fresh meat and bone diet. When they are they become significantly healthier and happier.
Why Feed Raw Dog Food…
Left to their own devices, and free of human influence, dogs pursue a fresh meat diet. As they are scavenging carnivores, they eat small animals and carcases. A funny thing about dogs is that if you feed them fruit or vegetables as pups then they will seek it later on as part of their “normal” diet, but studies show that they do not do this in the wild when humans are not around. Also just because they eat it, doesn’t make it good for them!
Their teeth, acidic gut and short, rapid digestive system are that of a meat eater and studies show that dogs are healthier when they are fed fresh meat. Dry, cereal-based food is not in the best interests of a dog.
For more on “What Do Dogs Eat” you won’t do better than Dr Brady’d four-part video’s on the same matter. Check them out!
What Do Dogs Eat – Part 1 Introduction (4:39mins)
Raw Dog Food Will Result in Major Benefits…
Dogs are carnivores, all they need to eat is protein (meat) and fat, and they need to eat lots of it. Fresh meat-fed dogs are clinically proven to be significantly healthier than dry fed dogs (ANTECH 2003). When a dog is changed from a dry dog food diet to a raw dog food diet certain physical changes will take place. The first physical change will be in the coat, as lots of fresh meat protein feeds a thick, lush coat.
Next, their physique will change. Think about human weightlifters and bodybuilders eating protein (usually focusing on meat) to bulk up. Dogs too will shed the carbohydrate fuelled fat, replacing it with muscle mass.
Good fresh protein also builds organs, good skin, hair and joints.
And this is only the beginning, cutting out dry kibble and feeding a dog some meat on the bone improves dental hygiene and reduces bad breath. Dry food also, as it is full of salt, rots the kidneys of dogs and cats (they are 7 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease than we are) and raw fed dogs will drink less, meaning they will pee less, and there will be less faeces as fresh food is so digestible!!!
Then there is the issue of behaviour. Dry food fuels poor behaviour by three methods: it is high in easily digested carbohydrates, which fuel high blood sugar and insulin levels, long since linked to poor behaviour; it’s full of chemicals (just have a look at the back of the packet); it has a low vitamin B content (the mind soothing vitamins) which are very sensitive to long storage times.
Cost of Raw Dog Food…
When buying raw dog food you have three options:
1. Premade Raw Dog Food
Ready-mixed meals are at the higher end of the cost scale. Everything is done for you so it’s really convenient but that comes with a cost, somewhere between €3-€5 per kilogram. I always urge caution with any premade pet food. We must remember lessons learned from the horrible dry pet food industry. In my opinion, the best pre-made raw dog food out there is, in my opinion, Paleo Ridge. From quality to ethics, it’s got so many advantages over the rest it’s stand out winner, and all for no more than their competitors. If you’re in Ireland you can pick it up from storganics.ie. If you can’t find Paleo Ridge where you are, here’s an article explaining how to pick the best raw dog food (and why Paleo Ridge is the best). If you can find something else like that, you’re on to a winner.
2. Make your own raw dog food
Having been inside the sector for a number of years I always recommend making your own raw dog food, that way you know what they’re getting. For DIY dog food you can pick up the ingredients from anyone selling meat, such as your local supermarket, SuperValu and Tesco have brilliant reduced-price meat sections. Tesco even advertise these online! Ask them when they get their chicken etc in and pop in the night before. You might find a half-priced box of chicken things, half priced fish, whatever! Or pop into your local butchers. Buy some bits and then ask what’s in the bin?
Remember “best before not bad after for your dog”
Dogs don’t suffer nasties like we do. They bury bones and dig them up a week later, they don’t suffer meat baddies like we omnivores do. It costs him €40 to dump that bin, his tail will wag when he sees you coming in.
Great value minces can be found online too from any of the online butchers. Call them, ask what they might post out to you. Buy some vegetables, and whatever else is being put in it, mix it all up and bag it in daily feeding amounts (see How To Make Your Own Dog Food)! This way will cost around €1.50-€2 per kilogram.
To save money from this point you can thin it out with a bit of boiled or soaked porridge, after all dry food is more than 50% poor quality filler, you putting in 10-20% porridge is OK. It is slow to digest and probably the most suitable carb source for an animal such as a dog (definitely don’t use rapid to digest stuff like cereal, corn or rice). Sighthounds certainly need some in their normal fare and I often use a little in pups or seniors who need an energy boost. We recently discovered that dogs have a small handful of the genes necessary to break down carbs, a recent adaption that suggests plant bits made up a tiny portion in the past. But whatever works for you, they don’t need them, that’s for sure.
3. Cheapest: Shop in bulk and feed whole
Need it EVEN cheaper? No problem, pop out to your local meat factory depot and buy at the door. Invariably these big meat places have big 10kg boxes of meat like chicken legs, turkey necks, whatever, often costing little more than €1/kg when bought by the box!!! This is more for the rough and ready sort, multiple dog owners perhaps.
Exactly What Should We Feed Them?
Feeding a dog is as easy as feeding oneself, just more meat! Dogs need a diet based on 5:1:1, which is, 5 parts meat on the bone (or mince with 10% bone in it): 1 part fresh organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, with liver being the most important): 1 part cooked vegetables. The ratio can vary, up to 8:1:1, but we find a little more organ meat makes it even better.
Is Raw Dog Food Complete?
If they are complete then nothing needs to be added, unfortunately, though there are many “complete” raw dog food meals that are from it. For example, most of them do not include organ meat in their mixes as it is too expensive. Even so, a dog will do better on the worst of the fresh meat mixes out there, than on the best of the dry food.
The thing is, the whole concept of a “complete” meal is nutritionally flawed. There is no such thing in human nutrition as it cannot be achieved, it is marketers talk that has many purposes – it adds a layer of complexity to a simple product, it convinces people that what’s inside the wrapper is all they need and finally it suggests that if one does not buy their product then they may be missing out on a vital component of nutrition.
Virtually all pet foods contain unsubstantiated claims for safety, completeness and balance that no human food in the world would ever be able to
Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins (2007), once Director of Technical Affairs at Hills Pet Nutrition
Is Raw Meat Not Dangerous for Them/Us?
The human food chain is tightly controlled, reducing the possibility of pathogens and parasites, but not eliminating them, that is why we need to cook it. Dogs as scavenging carnivores are not susceptible to meat pathogens, such as Salmonella and E.coli, in the same way that we are. Think of a dog that gets a nice meaty bone, eats half of it, then buries it and digs it up a week later for a chew. There are more things on that bone that could endanger their health than a piece of human grade meat from Tescos, yet they’re fine.
Their saliva is laced with lysozyme, making their mouth an extremely hostile environment for invading bacteria and they have stomach acids of pH 1 (more than ten times lower than ours). Like a wolf or cat, a dog is a raw-meat-eating machine. They need their meat fresh, as cooking destroys the good stuff. Having said that, raw-fed dogs can and do pass some of the pathogens in their faeces, but this has always been the case. Dogs actually house Salmonella in their intestines, this Salmonella is then shed in the faeces. Indeed both fresh and dry fed dogs are found to shed them in their faeces and, thankfully, to date not one single incidence of Salmonella poisoning has ever been recorded in a raw-fed dog owner (unlike dry food where countless instances have been recorded, for more on this please see our “Safety” articles).
The bottom line is to observe the basics of hygiene around the dogs feeding and toilet area, wash surfaces down after meal preparation and pick up stools. Job done. For more on raw dog food safety click the link!
How Much Raw Dog Food Do They Need?
An adult dog on the average fresh meat diet will eat 2.5% of their body weight per day. So, a 7kg adult Westie will require 175g of fresh dog food per day (1% of 7kg is 70g multiplied by 2.5). If the dog is a little heavy or a bit lazy? Then feed them a little less. Well exercised? Then feed them a little more! For a fairly accurate assessment of a dog’s needs, particularly pups (who need a lot more food), please check out our great dog food calculator.
Introducing and Storing Fresh / Raw Dog Food
When introducing raw dog food to a dog slowly – half a teaspoon one day, a full teaspoon the next etc. This serves two purposes. Firstly, as mentioned above, a dog on dry food will be unaccustomed to fresh meat. While the vast majority of dogs will not be phased, if you put a load of it in their bowl they may not approach it. Also, the slow introduction tunes the gut to the new diet.
Now there is handling and feeding of fresh meat. Most of the fresh meat will reside in the freezer, and a small bit will be in a tub on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so the daily meals can be fed from it. Make sure to wipe down all surfaces and utensils with anti-bacterial after use.
What if I get it Wrong?
Don’t worry! Do you know how much protein you had last week? What about the different vitamins and minerals you should be eating? No? As long you have balance over time you are fine, so vary the ingredients now and again! If NASA have not invented a complete meal then one can be pretty sure a complete meal for a dog has not been either. Relax. Take a breath and jump. The finer points can be worked out later.