Raw diet for dogs - pros and cons?
January 3, 2009 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What has been your experience with feeding your dog a raw (prey model) diet?

My sister-in-law, who is a certified dog trainer, has been looking into the best diet for her dogs and ours. On her recommendation we switched to Canidae, but recently she discovered that Canidae changed their formula without making it widely known and a lot of people have been reporting problems with the new food. So now she's looking into the raw diet. She sent me a bunch of links, and I've been trying to do my own research, but a lot of the raw diet proponents out there have a very "conspiracy theory" tone to them. One author even went so far as to spell the word "kibble" as "ki**le", like it was a dirty word that needed to be censored.

Do you feed your dog a raw diet? How does that work for you? Our dog is a mixed breed, about 2 to 3 years old (not sure, he was a rescue), and he weighs 35 to 40 pounds.
posted by starvingartist to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A friend would buy a side of beef every few months and thaw parts out for feeding. Dog is doing just fine.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2009

Friends of mine breed Golden Retrievers and rave about how good it is for their dogs' teeth, fur, and overall health. They say raw bones are much safer, because they don't splinter like cooked bones. Their dogs look and smell beautiful. They smell beautifully, too, but not as beautifully as, say, a bloodhound.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2009

My dog (15 pounds but eats like a big dog, also a rescue, no background history) has crazy allergies and was getting sick all the time so I tried putting her on various raw food diets, thinking that they would be the best solution. She *hated* most of them, though. Absolutely refused to eat. I seem to recall there was one brand she actually ate, but she was still getting sick. So I gave up and now she's on Evo, which she seems to like *much* better than the raw diets and also keeps down... so that's what I've been sticking with. It's a lot less effort and less expensive than the raw diet was, so I'm kind of relieved really. I was surprised though, because I thought I was treating my dog to this fabulous food dogs would prefer... and she really, really didn't agree.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2009

(Just to clarify, Evo is basically a raw food alternative... of what I found, it's the dry food that was closest to raw.)
posted by miss lynnster at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2009

Ripley the wonder pug was on the Pitcairn diet for a few years. There was no trouble getting her to eat (I don't know a pug that won't eat everything they possibly can).

She did great on it...but ultimately it was too hard to keep up when three other (larger) dogs came along. She still gets a little pumpkin and some veggies every once in awhile...and I still make the healthy powder recipe for all the four-leggeds.
posted by answergrape at 1:09 PM on January 3, 2009

Meh. I've done it with prepared frozen raw diets, because if you're going to do it, you need to do your homework, and you need to be very careful about your sources for that homework, some of the raw feeding fundies are no different from any other type of fundie in that they eschew critical thinking completely when it comes to raw feeding. Raw diets are not suitable for all dogs (young, old and immuno-compromised at very least should not eat it), nor are they idiot proof or completely safe (dogs can and do get sick and die from salmonella and E coli, and dogs can and do suffer and die from problems ingesting raw bones, no matter what the raw crazies claim), nor does the "prey model" idea hold any real water: wild canids tend to be short-lived and malnourished (nature only cares if you live long enough to reproduce, the "wild state" is rarely the optimal state), dogs in the wild don't eat cooked food because they don't have stoves, not for any other reason, and domestic dogs haven't ever been "wild" anyway.

Given the HUGE variety of excellent quality kibbles and canned diets available (Canidae is no longer on that list), which are balanced, researched, contain very high-quality ingredients and are guaranteed, there are many options other than 100% raw for feeding our dogs very well. I add raw to my dogs' (grain-free) kibble occasionally, but it's not some magic panacea that is the "best" thing to feed, aside from the expense, it's just not the be-all and end-all of dog nutrition.
posted by biscotti at 1:10 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Remember that dogs are truly omnivorous, unlike their largely-carnivorous wolf cousins. Raw diets can work, but there are other requirements apart from the meat, which is why most dog foods have potatoes, carrots, green beans, rice, etc. There are also vitamin needs that have to be accounted for, and unless you're adding a canine multivitamin supplement (available at your local vet office or pet supply) you have to really keep track of what you're adding in. You can't just slap some fresh meat in front of a dog and expect good long-term results.

Oh, and there are all the other risks associated with raw meats. Dogs can get food poisoning too.

Yeah, a lot of the raw diet people are full of it. Feeding dogs "as nature intended" and all. Dogs are a domesticated species who have evolved right alongside humans and have different dietary needs from wolves, and to idealize them as thriving on "prey" diets is a sort of conceited projection in my mind. There's also a lot of "not good enough for poochy" BS to wade through about how cooking ruins nutrients and how grains kill dogs and dog food is full of fillers that cause diabetes and only raw diets are "good enough" for your dog. (Oh and those pesky veterinarians just have no clue what they are talking about, don't you know.) So take it all with a grain of salt.

Really, a high quality dog food (not what you find in the grocery store) is enough for most dogs to thrive on. Most people who do things with making their dog's meals from the ground up are usually trying to deal with extreme food allergies (though there are again commercial alternatives).

What we do with our dog, a lab with some weight control problems, is feed her a special diet of a small amount of high-quality dog food mixed with rice, pumpkin, and green beans (mostly as fillers to help her essentially diet while not eating less). She lost 20 pounds on the diet, and has been maintaining an ideal weight now on it. We also add in fish oil, glucosamine, and the occasional egg for joint and coat health. So modifying diets can be useful, but switching to something like a raw diet just because you've heard some people had problems with the brand of dog food you have is a little unreasonable in my mind.
posted by internet!Hannah at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Truth of the matter, were I to truly make my dog 100% happy I'd just let her eat a jar of peanut butter every day. She'd be the happiest morbidly obese dachshund you'd ever see, and I doubt she'd miss meat a bit.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:20 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

We are unable to buy premium dog foods in Ireland, end of story. The best brand we can buy is James Wellbeloved, and it's pretty meh and doesn't rate highly. I could import Timberwolf Organics from Germany but the import cost is prohibitive.

So we top feed raw. She gets chicken legs, all different kinds of red meat (all our local butchers sell offcuts with bones specifically for dogs), eggs, fish (she gets all the fish skin from our dinners), and whatever else takes our fancy or hers.

The main benefits are compact stools, a glossy coat, no allergies, and nice breath.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

One note about the Evo; our vet says it was making our dog's poop softer than it should be. She said that it's a very rich food, and a lot of dogs do have diarrhea issues with it. Pup loves the food, though, so I have been cutting it 50/50 with cooked rice (which I make with chicken broth) and that helps make her poop less runny and also makes the Evo last longer.

Also: paging vito90! He knows tons about doggie diet.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2009

were I to truly make my dog 100% happy I'd just let her eat a jar of peanut butter every day.

What, you think she wants just one jar?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ha! Most of what needs to be said has already been said. I know several people in the area who feed raw and supplement with some kibble, I know others who feed raw and supplement with vitamins and other sources of dietary fiber (which domesticated dogs really DO need), and I along with a lot of other lazy people just feed my dogs high end diets and make sure we brush their teeth and occasionally give them a raw bone to scrub their teeth.

I feed one dog Innova Adult Large Breed kibble, which works great for her (solid stool, regular bowel movements, glossy coat with minimal shedding) and I feed the other dog Wellness Simple kibble, because the Innova is too rich for his system and he has other health issues that complicate his digestion.

Innova also recently changed their formula. The main change was to add pumpkin. (Unlike Canidae, which I think was recently bought by Mars Co., they were very open about the change and changed the branding of their bags at the same time to make it easy to tell which was which.) I can't say enough good things about the change; in my opinion Innova was too rich and was lacking in dietary fiber. The dog I have on Innova would crop grass to make up the difference, and this stopped when the formula changed.

Dogs aren't wolves. Dogs that are strays often look underfed and have poor coats for a reason. Even if dogs lived on a prey diet, they would get a lot of "junk fiber" to scrub out their digestion, including fur, cartilage, and the contents of the prey's digestive system. Wild dogs are also known to partake somewhat heavily in coprophagia (eating the poop of other dogs, other animals, etc.) to supplement their fiber intake, which is not common in wolves.

In short, don't trust fundies of any stripe, do your homework, and do what's best for your dog in your area.
posted by SpecialK at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tochter- we had the same issue with the Evo beef so switched to the poultry based ones and no more problems. I mix it up with Evo and Innova. We also feed a lot of table scraps and leftovers from cooking- not bread but vegetables, fish skin, meat scraps, egg yolks etc. I think this is fine and the dogs are happy, healthy and don't smell bad.
posted by fshgrl at 3:03 PM on January 3, 2009

Prey diets do not equal processed meat diets. There tends to be some degree of cross-contamination, spoilage, etc, in the meat packing plant or from the plant to the store, so it differs from being a fresh kill. Also predators do carry a LOT of internal parasites, which is probably not the best thing for Rover. He'll probably be ok with beef scraps, but I'd avoid raw pork and especially fish, esp. cod, haddock, and salmon.
posted by crapmatic at 3:13 PM on January 3, 2009

My pup didn't have that problem with Evo. Guess I got lucky.

What, you think she wants just one jar?

Very, very good point. It's funny, all I have to do is pick up her kong and start walking to the kitchen for her tongue to automatically start licking the air in anticipation. She loses all control... she just lurves the pb.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:30 PM on January 3, 2009

My favorite raw food crazy statement on the web was one about how switching to raw will cause your dog to have loose, mucus-y stools for a short time because the dog is getting rid of all the kibble "toxins."

As if loose stool isn't always a consequence of radically changing a dog's diet. And any time you see the word "toxins" in the context of food, it's a good idea to run away.
posted by nev at 4:06 PM on January 3, 2009

As usual, biscotti pretty much nails the important points. There is no perfect solution that works for all animals - what is great for one dog, or looks real good on paper might not be right for all dogs. And right now on the market there are tons of super good, super nutritious dry foods (Canidae was once one of the best, now it has been left in the dust by brands like the aforementioned EVO, and Orijen, Petcurean, First Mate, and Nature's Variety Instinct.)

We sell a fair amount of raw food at our stores (Maybe 15% of our food sales are raw). We predominantly sell Nature's Variety (they have 6 protein options - rabbit, venison, lamb, beef, chicken, and organic chicken). Our second best selling brand is Primal, they feature a few more novel proteins such as duck and pheasant.

I would encourage you to try raw foods under the following circumstances - your dog is not too young or too old and is in good shape (as in doesn't suffer from any recurring infections that might be overtaxing the immune system), and has a good robust digestive system (doesn't puke or have diarrhea at the drop of a hat). You just don't know how well or poorly your dog will do on it until you try it. Many, many customers have told me first hand that switching to raw foods "saved their dog's lives", fixed everything from lethargy to allergies to inability to put on weight...it definitely works for some dogs. Make sure to thoroughly wash the bowl after every use (as well as your hands and knives and anything that touches the food). Manage the transition slowly by just doing a single raw medallion and mostly kibble for a day or two and then gradually upping the ratio. You can prep your dog by including probiotics (Solid Gold D-Zymes for example) for a week or so before you start raw (or you can give them a couple tablespoons of a good quality unsweetened yogurt instead).

Watch closely the first few days for changes in poop and energy (the first two signs you can pick up on). Improvements in their coat and skin and general health will take a bit longer to manifest - but if you don't see marked improvement after a month or six weeks then you're probably overpaying for minimal benefit.

Good kibbles:
First Mate

Good raw brands:
Nature's Variety
posted by vito90 at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also predators do carry a LOT of internal parasites, which is probably not the best thing for Rover. He'll probably be ok with beef scraps, but I'd avoid raw pork and especially fish, esp. cod, haddock, and salmon.

Plenty of dogs live nearly entirely on salmon- any parasites they may have (which are low in salmon) are not going to jump species to a dog.`
posted by fshgrl at 5:34 PM on January 3, 2009

My dog's very tolerant with a stable digestive system, so he may not be typical, but he's stunningly healthy: shiny coat, bright eyes, perfect weight, and amazingly inoffensive poop. On a normal day, he'll get:

Breakfast: A whole raw egg, some veggie mash, fish oil and a little yogurt.

While I'm at work: A Buster Cube with some high-end kibble (see previous posts for brand suggestions; we rotate)

Dinner: "real food", often raw meat. Chicken wings most often (frozen, he has no patience for thawing); occasionally other meat such as turkey necks, sometimes even canned sardines.

For training treats, he gets the aforementioned kibble. He licks plates and also gets whatever falls on the floor while I'm cooking.
posted by tangerine at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2009

I should add that he's a pit bull, 45 pounds or so. He's a rescue too, so who knows when he was born, but he's probably about six years old.
posted by tangerine at 6:32 PM on January 3, 2009

I partially raw feed my two dogs, but I'm not a raw-feeding zealot. I agree, there are a lot of kooks out there, but that doesn't mean that there aren't compelling reasons to make your dog's food yourself. I'm not particularly hung up on the "raw" aspect. Dogs have been domesticated for 14,000 years, and I think they have been eating our cooked leftovers for a lot of that time. But, raw or cooked, I do think that I can provide much higher quality ingredients by making their food myself, and I don't feel so vulnerable to things like melamine-contaminated kibble. Plus, it makes them deliriously happy. I wouldn't want to eat baked dry pellets for every meal, either.

About once a month I make up frozen patties in accordance with the nutritional guidelines here, paying particular attention to getting the right amount of calcium. I feed these morning and evening, and use high-quality kibble for training treats or on days when I have run out of the patties. Their meals also frequently include chicken necks, sardines, eggs, mackerel, canned salmon, etc. They get a lot of variety.

They have glossy coats, no doggie odor, good breath, bright eyes, no allergies, and tiny, virtually odorless poops.
posted by HotToddy at 8:59 PM on January 3, 2009

HotToddy's link to nutritional guidelines got broken -- here's the working version (I hope) http://www.dogaware.com/wdjhomemade3.html.
posted by airplain at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2009

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