Note: Betsy and I have no dogs, this article was written with grace by DIY Natural community member Lauren, who does own dogs, and does feed them this diet. If you are offended by raw meat or dogs eating such a diet, read with discretion.
Origin of the domestic dog
Did you know that your dog and a wolf are almost genetically identical? Did you know that this means that the raw, whole-prey diet of a wolf can also be safe for your dog?
Up until about six weeks ago, neither did I. But then a friend who had recently gotten a puppy posted a link on Facebook about BARF: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. From there, I was hooked. I spent about 2 weeks researching it, took the “plunge,” and haven’t looked back since!
Dog diets historically
You see, because dogs and wolves are carnivores, they do not derive much nutrition from plant-based food sources, which unfortunately are the primary ingredients in most kibble. The high temperatures that kibble is cooked at destroys even more nutrients, so, in a way, you could say that kibble is junk food for dogs. In addition to this, allergies or sensitivities to grains are very common in dogs. These may not be life-threatening, but you may recognize some common symptoms in your own dog. (More on that later!)
A much more nutritious and natural way to feed your dog is to feed him or her just about the same diet that a wolf would eat: raw meat.
Yes, that’s it. Bones and everything.
The fact is, because wolves and dogs are “designed” to eat raw meat, it is a very safe diet when administered properly. Dogs are much less susceptible to the bacteria that can be found in raw meat. And raw bones are actually quite safe for dogs (as long as they are not load-bearing, i.e. legs of animals larger than turkeys). Raw bones break cleanly when chomped on. Cooked bones, however, should never be fed to dogs because they are brittle and can easily splinter. Additionally, dogs should eat some organs for the nutrients that meat alone cannot provide.
Overall, a dog’s raw diet should consist of 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other organs. Literally the only thing that an otherwise healthy dog needs as a supplement is omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil (which is not necessary if you are feeding grass-fed meat).
As I said, we just started our dog Lily, a bulldog/terrier mix, on raw food about a month ago, and she is doing great. When we first got her about 18 months ago, she very frequently licked her front paws and had watery, teary eyes pretty much every day. Both of those symptoms stopped within days of starting raw! I did some more research, and found that both of those things are common allergy symptoms in dogs, so I think it’s safe to say that Lily was indeed allergic to her kibble.
Raw meat also encourages dogs to chew food properly and eat more slowly. (You should feed the largest pieces possible, even if this means one huge chunk of meat!) This chewing develops dogs’ jaw and throat muscles, and also helps keep teeth clean! (Since starting raw we’ve also stopped Lily’s [grain-based] “dental” treats, and her teeth are just as clean!) As soon as Lily is done eating I disinfect her bowl and the area she ate in with a disinfectant recipe from Matt and Betsy’s Natural Cleaners Book, and we haven’t had so much as a sniffle in our home since we started raw.
Community support helps
Believe me, I know the concept sounds scary, and there is more to it than this brief overview, so I highly encourage you to educate yourself thoroughly on the matter before making any firm decisions. Rawlearning.com and the Yahoo! rawfeeding group (requires membership) are two wonderful resources for beginners!
In addition to raw feeding, many members of the raw/natural/holistic pet movement advocate natural tick/flea repellant. This is because products like Frontline or Advantage are more pesticides than repellants, and because they are designed to kill parasites they contain neurotoxins that some dogs have had very serious reactions to. (Note: The following treatments are NOT safe for cats and should be administered to your dog with extreme caution [or not at all] if you have a cat!) During flea/tick season, the simplest solution that I have read about is to apply one drop of rose-geranium essential oil to your dog’s collar once a week (for ticks), and apply a 1 drop:1 tsp ratio of neem oil (found at gardening stores) and olive oil to various part of your dog’s bare skin once a month (for fleas). If your dog has fleas, you can use a flea comb to remove as many of them as possible and submerge them in warm, soapy water, then wash your dog with a bit of neem oil added to their shampoo. In addition, 2-3 times per year you can apply beneficial nematodes to your yard. They will parasitize flea larvae and keep your surroundings flea-free!
A final point I’d like to make is that many in this community also do not believe in vaccinating their dogs for many of the same reasons as some people are against vaccinating children: they consider vaccines dangerous and unnecessary. This is something that I won’t say much on because I haven’t done as much research in this area, and because vaccines are sometimes necessary (due to city codes, for example). But be aware that this is another issue you may consider if you are thinking of raising your dog naturally. For more information on raising pets naturally, you can join the Yahoo! rawchat group, an offshoot of rawfeeding for all non-dietary discussions.
I would also like to leave you with a friendly reminder that most contemporary pet care products (pet food, flea/tick preventions, vaccines) are fairly modern creations (commercially produced dog food became mainstream less than 100 years ago!), and our dogs’ ancestors got by just fine. All of the topics I have suggested here are very serious, so I encourage you to immerse yourself in all the fine resources out there and learn as much as possible before committing to any of these changes. I would also like to point out that almost the same raw feeding principles also apply to cats, so this is also something that you may consider for your feline friends!
I hope you (and your dog!) benefit from what you may have learned here today. Please be sure to leave comments with your questions and experience.
References and Resources